by Lang Whitaker

First of all, I’d like to point something out…

espncopycatIn case you don’t know, the image on the left is the cover of SLAM 127, which came out on March 3 and was on newsstands for about six weeks. The image on the right is the cover of ESPN the Magazine, which came out yesterday. Just saying.

• Moving on, a couple of weeks ago I was talking to Eric Gordon of the Clippers and he told me about this new site he was involved with called MogoTXT. Before I could even investigate what it was, they approached us and today I can announce that the SLAM MogoTXT channel is launching.

What is this? I’m still not exactly sure. All I know is Ben and I can text updates to the SLAM channel and you guys can subscribe and read what SLAM is up to. You can read it on your computer or you can get it sent directly to your phone. And it’s free. Also, it’s launching in Chinese right now, too. So I guess I need to step it up on my Mandarin texting. And they’ve got a bunch of actual NBA players (Battier, Gordon, LaMarcus Aldridge, etc) on there as well.

• The one NBA team getting slept on like a Certa thus far in the Playoffs is the Denver Nuggets. They blew out the Hornets but everyone ended up talking more about the Hornets getting swatted than the Nuggets coalescing into this force they’ve become the last month or so. They can run, defend, shoot, scrap…they might mess around and make the Finals if people aren’t careful.

The only thing I really don’t like about Denver are their uniforms. For a team as explosive and dangerous as the Nuggets are, those baby blue and yellow and white uniforms are about as threatening as an Asher Roth album. It’s strange, because in a way their current uniforms sort of undermine all the tats and crazy hairstyles and make the Nuggs the most palatable team of roughnecks in recent memory. I wrote on Twitter the other night that the Nuggets need to change their uniforms and start wearing black and silver, so they’ll look as menacing as they play.

Also, Chris Andersen looks like he’s really into rockabilly music, doesn’t he? And do the TNT/ESPN announcers even know his name is Chris Andersen, or do they think his actual name is “Birdman.”

• Speaking of ESPN the Mag, I thought Bill Simmons’ latest ESPN the Mag column was interesting on a couple of levels. First, his description of the Kobe documentary is pretty much exactly what I expected the movie was going to be. Simmons writes: “I nearly impaled myself with a Twizzler near the end, when Kobe jokes on the bench with Pau Gasol (who has an “I didn’t even know Kobe knew my name!” look on his face), followed by Spike’s cutting to Kobe’s kids holding MVP signs. I had to take a postmovie shower.”

I have not seen the documentary, though I plan to watch it at some point. I did see a clip on SportsCenter or on the NBA on ABC or something. The bit that I saw featured the Lakers going into their locker room at halftime of the game Spike filmed. The players filed in and sat down, while Phil Jackson and the coaching staff went into Phil’s office to regroup, leaving the players alone in the locker room. As soon as they sat down, Kobe started giving advice to every player on the Lakers, literally going around the room and telling guys what they could do better in the second half. And Ira Newble was sitting next to him, looking like he was trying hard to keep a smirk off his face.

Anyway, Simmons’ column was mostly about athletes controlling their own image, a topic that has come up from time to time the last few years, usually in a first-person screed from older newspaper columnists bemoaning how younger guys don’t want to hang out with them on the road anymore.

I’d argue that access is still available, just in different forms. Some of the old school journalists are used to riding trains with guys and staying next door in motels on the road or whatever. These days, you’ve got to be able to exchange text messages or twitter direct messages or whatever.

I also think so much of understanding these guys is context and generational. For instance, I think it’s hilarious when Bron quoted “Friday” in his MVP press conference, though I’m sure 95 percent of the media out there had no clue what he was referring to.

It’s not that nobody gets access any more, it’s just that getting that access requires more finesse than ever before. Guys will still talk to the media, still give you access and time. It’s just that they are no longer forced to if they want to monetize their fame.

• Hey, Doug Collins might coach the Sixers? Awesome. I was worried we might have to worry about the Sixers becoming better the next few years. Whew.

• I have no interest in talking about the Hawks/Cavs series right now. The Hawks are down two starters, we’re playing the best team in the East, LeBron’s averaging 1 foul per 39 minutes. We’ll take our beating and come back next year a smarter, deeper team, I hope. (Oh, and tonight’s refs include Danny Crawford AND Violet Palmer.)

• And Kobe has to be suspended for Game 3, right? If he got suspensions for throwing out his elbow while shooting jumpers, he’s got to get one for nailing Artest in the throat, Playoffs or not.

• I enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell’s lengthy article in the new New Yorker about underdogs, which uses as an example a 12-and-under girls team that employed the full court press to overwhelm many of their opponents.

Gladwell compares this girls’ team to David overcoming Goliath, but more relevantly to hoops, Gladwell also says that the full court press is an effective way for any basketball team, regardless of how untalented they are at the fundamentals of basketball (shooting, dribbling, passing, etc.), to have a chance of winning a game.

To me, Gladwell’s theory breaks down when the full court press meets talented, skilled players. Twelve year olds? Sure, it’ll probably work. But Gladwell also heralds Rick Pitino as a purveyor of this strategy. And there’s a reason Rick Pitino was 192-220 as an NBA coach and why, when coaches who used the press get to bigger programs and go against better competition, one point guard can break the press on his own. Gladwell never mentions Pitino’s abject failure using the full court press in the NBA.

The other thing I think Gladwell underplays regarding the effectiveness of the press is the element of surprise. (I actually did a search in the piece for the word “surprise,” but it’s not in there.) If you don’t know you’re going to be facing a harried, harassing defense, you’re way more likely to be caught off guard and go down 20, 25 points to start the game, like the team in the story does to their opponents. To me, surprising your opponent is sort of the crux of the story. How did David beat Goliath? He surprised him.

Anyway, it’s a fascinating story and worth reading. There’s also a great story about a doctor they call “the Marco Polo of neuroscience.” In the story this doctor is treating a patient who is battling a lifelong compulsion to have his perfectly healthy leg amputated. For reals.

• Been meaning to talk about the SLAM Podcast for a minute. We did two full-on episodes about a month ago before I realized that I can’t do all 26 of my jobs and produce and edit a podcast also, at least a podcast with a couple of guests each week. So I’m gonna try to bring it back with fewer guests but more frequency. And once we get iTunes on board I’ll link that up, too.