by Lang Whitaker

First, an apology for not writing anything here since last week. The reason I haven’t written is because we’ve been finishing the latest issue of SLAM, which we got out the door yesterday. And we got our next cover shoot done yesterday, too. Which means now I can go Christmas shopping. Great.

At the same time, this has been one of the most predictable NBA seasons that I can remember: Oden’s injured and Steve Blake dribbles too much, the Suns can’t defend anyone, the Celtics and Lakers are killing everyone, Stan Van Gundy is about to have to bench Anthony Johnson again, the Spurs are the Spurs, the Heat are once again completely and totally dependent on Dwyane Wade, Dallas is pretty good but not quite dominant, the Wizards are a mess yet they still believe they’re a good team, Ron Artest is saying wacky things…and on and on.

The NBA’s biggest surprise — and I’m as shocked as anyone else about this — has to be my Atlanta Hawks, who are on pace to win a franchise record 61 games. 61 GAMES! Hollinger even has the Hawks pegged at 5-1 odds for winning a title, an NBA title, which obviously means Hollinger’s computer has a horrible virus. Holler at the Geek Squad, John! Quick!

I am thoroughly unconvinced that if this season was played five times, these Hawks would win a title one of those times. They have been playing great all year, and they obviously know how to win and how to get ahead and stay ahead of lesser teams, but I’m not sure that’s going to matter in the postseason against teams like Boston and Cleveland, and definitely not against L.A. The Hawks are still such a young team (Josh Smith just turned 24, and Al Horford and Marvin Williams are both 23), and having watched every game in this painstaking rebuilding process, I’ve learned that getting better does not happen overnight.

For instance, it’s taken Josh Smith five seasons to figure out that he’s an exponentially better player if he doesn’t take 19-foot jumpers from the wings. Yes, he hoisted many of these shots the last few years, but the key thing is that he doesn’t any more. In fact, he’s attempted three 3-pointers all season, and two of those were full-court shots as the end of quarters. Consider three seasons ago Josh attempted 152 threes, and it’s a jarring difference. Now he’s shooting over 50 percent from the floor for the first time in his life, and it’s made the Hawks a better team and it’s going to make Josh an All-Star in a month or so.

(BTW, the Hawks bench is now officially called The Wingmen. Make a note of it and use it as much as possible.)

Anyway, I wanted to write something here as we approach the end of the decade, because I’ve been here at SLAM going on nine years now, so I’ve been here for the entire decade and have seen many things. I know Ryne’s organized another of his themed extravaganzas on the home page with contributions from all of our contributors, and I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.

HOWEVA! I was thinking this week about my favorite stuff of the decade — biggest shots, funniest players, best dunks, coolest moments — and I was at the same time going through stuff on my computer, and I realized I have tons of animated gif files on here.

Oh, wait. One story I want to share about my decade is the best game I saw in person, and I’m sorry Pistons fans, but it was Game 5 between the Spurs and Pistons during the 2005 NBA Finals in Detroit. Khalid and I were in Detroit covering the Finals for SLAM, and we’d been there for about a week, sharing one hotel room that seemed to be getting smaller and smaller each day. I think I wrote at the time that it was almost like a Fox sitcom: white guy and a black guy forced to be roommates in a hotel. Although if it was a Fox show, our maid would have been a million times hotter.

The Spurs had won the first two games of the series in San Antonio, and Game Three and Game Four of the Finals were terrible, both huge Pistons blowouts. And then we had to wait three days until Game Five. The hotel the NBA made all the media stay in was out in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to do anywhere nearby. On the Saturday night before the game, I couldn’t take it any more and decided to leave and go see “Batman Begins,” which had just come out and Khalid and I really knew nothing about it. Khalid decided to stay in the hotel because he wanted to watch TNT’s “Into The West” miniseries. So I went alone and saw “Batman Begins,” and it was so entertaining, particularly considering how I was about to go stir crazy like Ra’s al Ghul, that it was like the greatest movie I’d ever seen. I actually almost stayed at the theater and watched a later showing of it.

Anyway, we’d been in Detroit for a week and were assuming that game 5 was going to be another blowout Pistons win. It was a close game through three quarters, and then Robert Horry became otherworldly:

Watching it on video now it’s still pretty incredible. I love how Al Michaels and the usually unflappable Hubie Brown are howling in disbelief, because that’s exactly how we were reacting at the press table just behind the Spurs basket. Each of those three-pointers went in just in front of us, each with an increasing degree of difficulty. You know that with each make, there’s a diminishing chance the next one will go in, but Horry just kept banging them home, eventually sending the game into overtime. And then in OT, when Horry pump-faked Prince, drove into the lane and tomahawked the ball in, Khalid and I nearly fell over. Who expects that to happen? Anyone?

Lost in all of this is that Detroit kept scoring and taking the lead. And the Detroit crowd was really unbelievable, screaming and chanting, with Mason egging them on over the PA system. Each one of Horry’s shots broke the hearts of the Pistons fans, little by little, which only added to the drama.

Current Hawks coach Mike Woodson had been an assistant with Detroit the season before, and he brought Detroit’s defensive principles with him to Atlanta. I got to sit in some team meetings with the Hawks a few weeks ago in Dallas, and one of the things Woody stressed was double-teaming a guy when you had the opportunity. With 8 seconds left in OT and Detroit sitting on a 2 point lead, the Spurs inbounded the ball on the wing. Horry threw it to Ginobili, and Rasheed ran over and double-teamed him in the corner. It was a pretty good trap, but it wasn’t good enough (Sheed didn’t really seal him off). Horry was open enough, and with 8 seconds left in OT, it was finally over. The Spurs won the game 96-95, and then won the series back in San Antonio.

I’ve seen a lot of amazing basketball players over the last decade, from MJ to Kobe to LeBron, but that was probably the single greatest performance I’ve ever seen in person. It was such an emotional roller coaster — even for Khalid and I, who weren’t even rooting for either team — that after we left the arena, we just sat in our rental car for about 10 minutes and listened to Lenny Williams and tried to calm down.

OK, anyway, back to the animated gifs. Some of you guys out there might be too young to remember this, but way, way, way back in the day — you know, like five years ago — before it was simple to embed video like I did above, animated gifs were the ish. Web sites were all static text and images, so if you had anything with any movement, it was like you were looking at a time machine. When I moderated that panel at Blogs With Balls out in Vegas, current ESPN.com E-I-C Rob King told a story about how he had a personal website many years ago, and when he figured out how to put an animated gif of a barber pole on there it was the coolest thing ever.

Many years ago, when I began regularly spilling words across SLAMonline, I discovered animated gifs. I couldn’t embed video of stuff, but occasionally someone would send me animated gifs, and I’d run them on here. So, in honor of the end of the ‘00s, here are some of my favorite animated gifs, basketball and non-basketball, from the last decade. Consider these my holiday GIFs to you…

kobe

Kobe went on to bigger and better things. This is mostly what Chris Childs is remembered for.

jopunch

There are many images from the brawl in Detroit that are seared into my brain, but Jermaine O’Neal’s sliding roundhouse to that poor kid along the sideline was almost as brutal as Snooki from Jersey Shore getting popped.

shaq

Shaq dunks in Jersey, brings the basket with him.

 

szczberiak

Hey, anyone remember Wally Sexyback? Bruce Bowen definitely knew how to stop him — kick him in the face!

chuck

During Yao Ming’s rookie season, Charles Barkley bet Kenny Smith that Yao wouldn’t score more than 19 points in a game, and if he did, Charles said he would kiss Kenny’s ass. Of course, Yao immediately scored 20 in a game. To make Chuck make good, the TNT crew brought in an ass — a donkey, hilariously named Shorty — and Chuck puckered up. (Kenny always says the best part was that Chuck kissed it on the ass, even though he didn’t have to. I like that the donkey was named Shorty. Also, that Jesse Ventura was there.)

kidmissespoolanim

Kid tries to jump into a pool and misses. Nothing to do with basketball, but the non-hoops ones are some of my favorite gifs.

christie

Doug Christie hits Rick Fox with the uppercut. Hello!

foxshaq

Later, Shaq showed Fox his love during the postgame interview.

kgpeeler

You know how people say nobody ever responds when KG talks trash? Anthony Peeler did. Gotta love the multiple angles in the gif.

vick

This was supposed to be the start of something special, instead of the end of something special.

asg06-intros

All-Star Weekend. Vegas. This is about all I remember from that weekend.

Anyway, I could go all night, but let’s end with a few funny ones to give you a laugh. Besides, it’s FRI-DAY! YES!

Catch you guys next week…

585catattack

gangsta

pedro

penguins