Friday, June 20th, 2008 at 3:03 pm  |  56 responses

Links: Best And Worst Of The Finals

Plus, NBA Friday!

by Lang Whitaker

OK, a few things to get to first today…

• Our friends and the NBA and adidas asked us to pass along this link to all you Celtic fans in case you want to decorate your desktop. Have at them.

• A quick public service announcement: Last summer Khalid and I were contacted and asked to be commenters on VH1′s new series, “I Love The New Millenium.” It’s their latest series of shows a la “I Love The ’80s” and “I Love The ’90s.” We were asked to comment of a lot of sports-related stuff, as well as some entertainment and pop culture topics. They sent us each a 50-page packet of possible topics and notes, and I went through and wrote as many relevant jokes as I could. Then I went in one day in September and sat in the studio for about 3 hours and was taped opining on as much stuff as I could. I have no idea if either of us will ever even make it on the air, although I did take a bite out of a McGriddle on camera. (And I wore my Bynum Brigade t-shirt.) The show debuts Sunday on VH1 and different episodes start running immediately afterwards. Hopefully SLAM will represent well.

• We sort of fell behind on NBA Fridays during the Finals, but our official illustrator, Joel Kimmel, has a little something for you: LeBron James.

“I was thinking about what to do with LeBron for this piece for a long time,” Joel says. “So, in the spirit of Lil Penny getting ready to face the Bulls in ’96, I researched LeBron, I chased chickens, I worked on my body and my brain. I read Ryan Jones’ book “King James,” and I even cut open a Zoom LeBron just to see what was inside. Finally, I decided to portray LeBron as King James surrounded by a pack of lions. I know it’s been done before, where he’s been placed on a throne with lions at his feet (in a photo shoot for Nike), and it’s probably been done other times as well, but I couldn’t resist the chance to paint some lions! Also, since he has a tattoo of a lion on his right arm I thought it would be a nice combination.”

Great stuff, Joel. Next week we get the Pistons. I’m hoping for Sheed. And also, Joel has an online shop where he’s selling prints of some of his NBA Friday pieces. You can check them out here.

• And finally, the Finals.

I’ve been home now for three days and last night was the closest I’ve come to getting back to a normal sleep schedule. Covering the Finals gets a little surreal after a while because the games all start so late, and by the time the game ends and you do the postgame routine and then get back to the hotel, it’s pretty damn late. Then I’m usually so worked up that I can’t sleep for a while, so I hit the hospitality suite for a few hours, and then I wake up and work, and then go to practice, then work, and then…

It just keeps rolling. And in between the games and practices and media sessions and everything else, a lot of funny stuff happens. Some of it is generated by us as a way to kill time, some of it just happens. So here’s my best and worst of the Finals…

I say this only from the perspective of a media member covering the series. Allen didn’t get much burn in the Finals, but he was always ready to talk and had something interesting to say. Plus, since he wasn’t a key member of the Celts, most of the media guys weren’t clamoring for information from him, so he was always available. I knew nothing about him going into the Finals, but now he’s one of my favorite dudes in the NBA.

Again, from the point of view of someone covering the Finals, getting close to either or these guys for a quote or a question was out of the question. They were invisible during the pregame media availability, and then postgame weren’t in the locker room at all, instead only showing up on the interview stand dressed to the nines. I understand that either of those guys would’ve caused a riot if they’d tried to sit in the locker and answer questions, but Ray Allen did it every night, and it would’ve been nice to see Kobe or KG at least appear human.

Before hitting the LA Sparks/Connecticut Sun game on Friday night, we stopped for dinner at the iconic LA spot Roscoe’s. I got the Scoe’s — 1/4 chicken, fried, with two waffles. I prepared it the way Ludacris taught me (for real, I interviewed him once and we went to a chicken and waffles spot in Atlanta): butter the waffles, shred the chicken from the bone, pile the chicken meat on the waffles, sprinkle with hot sauce and then cover with syrup. And man did it hit the spot (and then continue to hit the spot for about the next 36 hours).

I am not assigning any specific blame here, because all of us — Sam, Pascal and myself — were complicit. We left New York City around 12:30 on Tuesday to drive up to Boston, which is about 200 miles from New York. Assuming you travel at an average of 60 miles per hour (which is pretty much impossible due to traffic), the trip should be do-able in just over 3 hours. Ben and I actually made it in about 3 and a half hours after Game 2, but that was driving in the middle of the night with little traffic. Anyway, our trip on Tuesday somehow took just over 6 hours. Sam was driving, but Pascal and I both endorsed us exiting from the Interstate in Connecticut in what turned out to be a wild goose chase for some fast food. And as I mentioned in the comments here, when we finally found a McDonald’s, I walked into the bathroom and found an employee shaving in the sink. Which was interesting.

That kind of says it all.

I’d never taken Virgin America, and all I knew about it was that it was owned by the Rebel Billionaire, Richard Branson. But I flew on it both ways cross-country and had a great experience. It’s like JetBlue crossed with a Scandinavian nightclub — TVs in every seat, with mood lighting and rounded white plastic edges. And instead of serving drinks and snacks once or twice per trip, you order them from your seat and they’re brought to you on demand. Good stuff, other than the seats reclining way too far back.

The media hospitality suite that the NBA hosts is one of the greatest things about the Finals. Open bar and open buffet at the media hotel every night until 2 a.m., even non-game nights. Which makes it a great place to end the night, every night. And besides the bar, they always have some food out. On game nights they go all out (shrimp, potstickers, etc.), and on non-game nights they keep it simple (vegetables and dip, etc.). So one night we rolled in, late, stopped by the room, and the buffet appeared to have a large bowl of hummus. But instead of a little card with “HUMMUS” printed on it, there was a little card with “MIDDLE EASTERN SNACK” hand-written on it. A taste-test confirmed it was indeed hummus. But to me, from now on it’ll always be Middle Eastern Snack.

Late one night, a group of us ended up at the hotel bar at the Loews Santa Monica, which is where a bunch of the ESPN folk were staying. A few of us ordered drinks and the waitress asked, “Do you have a room number you’d like to put these on?” But since none of us were actually staying at the hotel, I said, “Well, I’m not staying at the hotel…but I can still give you a room number to put it on.” And she replied, “Would you like me to charge it to the Underhills?” To which I responded, “I’ll have a Bloody Mary and a steak sandwich and…a steak sandwich, please.”

Remember in our Game Two notes how we mentioned a late arrival? Now the story can be told. Ben and I had rented a car to drive from New York to Boston. We left late Sunday afternoon and were making great time, with plans of arriving in Boston around 7:00 p.m. By the time we got to Hartford, CT, we were running perilously low on gas, so we got off the Interstate in downtown Hartford and spent about 10 minutes vainly looking for a gas station. Finally we got to the outskirts of downtown and found a gas station. Ben went to fill up the car and I went inside to de-fill. A few minutes later I was wandering around looking for some coffee when Ben called and asked me to come out to the car. I did, and found the gas cap unable to be removed. Ben and I each tugged on it with all our might, but the thing wouldn’t budge. I suggested maybe we could just break it off and buy a new gas cap, but there was no way the gas station we were at sold gas caps. (Also, we were sure what would happen if we drove without a gas cap. Would the car explode or something? I was pretty sure it was OK to do it, at least to just get us to Boston.) I wondered if it would help if I squeezed the cap while I turned it, so I tried, but the thing broke off in my hand. Worse, the hole where the gas goes was still covered by some kind of plastic sheet the cap had left behind. So now we were not only out of gas but we couldn’t put gas in the car. I pointed out that the Hartford airport had to be nearby, and surely the rental car company would have a big facility there. We turned off the A/C and rolled down the windows and drove the 20 miles to the airport, holding our breath the entire time that we wouldn’t run out of gas. And we didn’t. But it was about an hour delay that we hadn’t planned for. Fun.

The car they gave Ben and me to replace the gas-blocked car had XM satellite radio in it, but for some reason we could only get about 5 channels. But the car Sam, Pascal and I rented had XM working in full, and we wore it out on the way home. Actually, I had it locked to the ’80s station. I really enjoyed satellite radio, and if I had a car I’d probably subscribe (but to Sirius so I could get Stern).

The best fan I encountered during the Finals wasn’t even a Lakers or Celtics fan but a Clipper fan. I wrote a lot about Clipper Darrell here, and there’s not much more to say. The man loves his Clippers. And it was pretty amusing to have a table of ten people engulfed in a discussion about Scottie Pippen and then hear from the end of the table, “Hey, what do you guys think about Brevin Knight as a starting point guard?”

I will not call out the offender here, but one night Khalid and I were out to dinner in Ventura Beach with a friend of mine who had never met Khalid, and after he’d said a few sentences, she asked Khalid, “Are you British?” Mindboggling, really.

Ben and I had some time to kill before Game One of the Finals, so we hit the sportsbar The Fours across the street from the BankCenterNorthGardenHouse. Had a great beer and order of nachos while watching the Sox game (the game where Coco Crisp got in a fight). A great way to set the table for Game One. I kept waiting for George Wendt to walk in.

This happened at the “Are you British?” dinner. My friend turned out to be an adventurous sushi eater. I tried it, yep — tasted like foie gras mixed with fish. Not bad, but not great, either.

I’ve been hearing Russ and Ryan rail on and on about In-N-Out Burger for years, but somehow I’d never actually made it to one. But these guys built it up like the burgers were so amazing that In-N-Out would pay me to eat there, so I was curious to check it out. One day after practice, my friend Jemele Hill and I went over to grab some burgers. Since she’s an experienced In-N-Out eater, I let her order for me (a double-double, fries and a vanilla milkshake). And you know what? It was pretty good. Better than McDonald’s or Burger King or McDowell’s to be sure, but I don’t think it trumps our friendly neighborhood Shake Shack. Between the two, I’d say the burgers are about even, but I thought the fries at In-N-Out were weak. Plus, Shake Shack is about 500 yards from my desk; In-N-Out is about 3,000 miles away.

It was colder than we expected out in Cali, so Khalid went by a Macy’s and bought a light jacket, a windbreaker even. That night he ended up leaving the jacket in the media hospitality…and never saw it again. Not for a lack of trying, though — the next day Khalid must have gone to the front desk a dozen times and asked about that jacket.

For all the celebs shown on TV at the games, I never saw any of them down under the arenas in the secure areas. Except for at Game Five in LA, when I stepped off an elevator and nearly stepped on Lionel Ritchie, who was about 5-5 or so. Hello, I said, is it me you’re looking for?

Normally, I’d enoy seeing Jack Black out and about. But to see him sitting in the front row at an LA Sparks game was just jarring.

Actually, the best email I received from someone’s mobile device during the Finals I can not re-print here, but let me give you some of the key words: vodka, showtime, couch, boobs, horse. That’s all I can say.

This was maybe the upset of The Finals. One night in the media hospitality a few of us were discussing the funniest movies from the past few decades, and films like “House Party,” “Coming To America” and “Harlem Nights” were being heavily promoted. The big surprise, however, was Hollinger’s comprehensive knowledge of almost every movie that was brought up. I’ve known John for years and never saw that coming.

I’ve now been in three NBA Championship locker rooms as the celebration was raging, and there’s really no experience like it. The NBA turns the winning locker room into the world’s smallest nightclub, allowing just a handful of media members in initially and then enforcing a strict one-in, one-out policy. Somehow Henry Abbott and I were two of the first people in there, and it was exactly as crazy as you’d expect it to be. I stood a few steps back from the main crush of players and managed to stay relatively dry, but still walked out of there smelling pretty horrible. Champagne stings. And stinks.

Anyway, that’s all I got. We had a great time bringing the Finals to you, and hopefully you guys enjoyed them, too.

Catch you guys on Monday for Draft talk…have a great weekend…

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  • http://www.slamonline.com Khalid Salaam

    Hollinger is the new Lang

  • tealish

    I’m sorry, the lions are pretty but that does not look like LeBron.

  • DwayneWayne

    First. Thanks for all of the awesome work you guys did during the finals, it was great to read.

  • DwayneWayne

    Nvm, no first:(

  • http://myspace.com/bodiebarnett jbn74sb

    Ventura Beach = Venice Beach.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Khalid Salaam

    Regarding the jacket, i take responsibility for leaving it in the hospitality suite in the 1st place but its still foul that someone just walked off with it. its BS if you ask me.

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    @jbn: Sure. Wherever.

  • mamadou n’diaye

    So Jemele Hill is an experienced In-N-Out eater. Well, at least she has that going for her.

  • http://slamonline.com Sam Rubenstein

    calm down Khalid, have some tea and crumpets. Worst part of the 6 hour drive: the first hour when we were stuck in the bronx

  • Jeronimo

    The ‘Boston is a Brotherhood’ wallpaper is dope.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    This article had plenty of funny quotes, but the Vinny Del Negro one was classic. Awesome stuff Lang.

  • poohbiz

    middle eastern snack
    i love it

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Joel actually read my book? Truly, the man is willing to sacrifice for his art. Hope it wasn’t too painful, man.

  • http://www.truthismygame.com/ Kevin

    another solid Links entry.. sounds like a blast

  • http://www.truthismygame.com/ Kevin

    PS. the Negro please comment was definitely the highlight

  • http://www.slamonline.com Ryan Jones

    Also: In N Out beats Shake Shack all day every day, at least in part because In N Outs are almost always busy, and yet you never have to wait in an 8-hour outdoor line in the middle of a mouse- (I’m being kind here) infested park. That said, Shake Shake is still pretty great. I hope to eat there next week. That is all.

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com/ TADOne

    I have to vote Sheed for the Pistons. Is there really another choice??

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    Ryan, the Shake Shack expansion has begun. An actual Shake Shack restaurant is opening in my hood in a matter of months.

  • http://www.joelkimmel.com Joel Kimmel

    Ryan, I really did read your book while I was working on this piece and I enjoyed it.
    Any other book plans in the future?

  • http://myspace.com/bodiebarnett jbn74sb

    Lang = Ventura is a sleepy beach community about an hour north of LA. And not exactly known for its restaurants.

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    In N Out > Shake Shack

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    @jbn: It’s all Cali to me.

  • http://www.rockets.com RV

    Is there a reason why Joel left the uni blank, or just lack of time?

  • http://www.rockets.com RV

    Lang, did y’all ever figure out if the gas cap was just stuck or if y’all weren’t taking it off correctly? Good stuff either way. Hopefully one day i can sample and In-N-Out or shake shack burger, too many mcD’s here in houston.

  • http://www.rockets.com RV

    Even some Roscoe’s down here would be nice, suddenly i’m feeling very deprived.

  • http://www.joelkimmel.com Joel Kimmel

    Hey RV, I originally planned on painting the jersey in but decided not to when I thought it would make the painting too ‘busy’.

  • The Last Kings Fan

    In n Out burger is the reason I live in California

  • http://slamonline.com Russ Bengtson

    Also, I left a brand-new zip-up hoodie at the Rose Garden once. Had to leave the game early to catch a flight, and I didn’t realize it was gone until I got to the airport. That sucked.

  • Aaron

    best links ever.

  • bennieblancoh

    In n Out is they chyt… but I still love White Castle. Good read Lang… my girl always wonders what the hell I am reading on a basketball site that makes me laugh so damn hard, and out loud. She swears I am chatting with Meagan Good, and cracking a chytload of jokes.

  • http://joeloholic.wordpress.com Joel O’s

    The Pistons? Joel Kimmel’s really awesome with painting animals, so why not do the Zoo Crew? With flamingos and elephants and whatnot in the background.

  • http://www.rockets.com RV

    should have the best wives/girlfriends of the finals also, there’s actually site showing celtics wives vs Lakers wives.
    i think Boston beat them there too…

  • niQ

    umm.. if lebron is king james.. shouldnt all those lions be female?

  • http://www.sprint.com/sero Dma

    hahah horse.

  • James AKA the artist formerly known as Krayzie Bone

    I know lebron’s a beast, but I don’t think he’s into beastiality niQ

  • http://shawn-kemps-offspring.blogspot.com Eboy

    Uhm….how has everyone bypassed the goodness of Lang & Khalid being part of “I Love This Decade”? Lang, those shows have 5 hours to fill, you’ll find your way on there. Can’t wait for that!!! I can tell my wife, “those are two of the SLAM guys that dislike me, too!”

  • KA

    lol at hollinger = new lang and negro please.

  • http://www.ballislife.com Arek

    Bro, you gotta get the Animal style fires at In-n-Out… you won’t be able to say In N Out fries are weak after that.

  • http://www.slamonline.com Cub Buenning

    I love me some VH-1, so I’ll be watching.

    Love the Lionel sighting/Fletch references.

    Better just take two portions of that, then….

  • Lz – Cphfinest3

    Nice links, had a fun time reading them. Two things:
    1)The best use of the Middle Eastern Snack is the following: Home-baked pita-bread smothered with Middle Eastern Snack, and a fitting amount of Chili-pasta depending on your taste. The Middle Eastern Snack-smothered pita filled with Shawarma-meat, fresh lettuce, tomatoes and onions. Topped of with a bit of cremefraiche-dressing, and parsley. I have an old schoolfriend who hails from Turkey, whenever his mom would make this back in the day, even his loud and obnoxious little brother would shut up. I’m sure In-N-OUT and the other burger-joints are tasty, but if you ever stumble upon this kind of heavenly food, make sure you don’t cheat yourself from this food orgasm.
    2) Sorry to say it Khalid, but if you forget something of value at a public place you can’t really be too angry/surprised about it being gone IMO. However it’s still a drag when stuff like that happens.

  • Lz – Cphfinest3

    And man did I curse out the world, when I left my beloved Gary Payton Sonics’ jersey at the gym.

  • Lenny

    Isn’t Jemele Hill that stupid espn reporter that compared the Celtics to Hitler??

  • T Money

    Joel, Please draw Jason Maxiell eating a baby

  • http://www.complex.com/blogs/2008/06/10/celtics-vs-lakers-the-wifey-showdown/ SOUSS

    the drawing is crap sorry
    Anyone saying the opposite is just being dishonest out of respect for Lang or the “artist”

  • http://www.rockets.com RV

    Souss, he’s obviously not Michaelangelo, but to say its crap is plain ignorance, it takes learned skill and natural talent do make a painting that actually resembles real-life objects. The average person has enough trouble drawing a straight line.

  • Krishan

    I’d like to visit your gallery someday, SOUSS.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    Hysterical stuff, Lang. You were teasing the Fletch reference for several days, but that was even better than expected.

  • ber

    khalid, i’m going to have to steal the “negro please” line.

  • el-bot

    yeh, negro please is genious and hilarious

  • Bryant Reevs

    I posted Del Negro Please in the comments section when it was still all about Collins. Check it.

  • tealish

    RV: The average person is not a retard…
    With that said, the painting is alright. Don’t be calling it ‘crap’. It just doesn’t look like Bron.

  • http://www.myspace.com/hemantsbeats what

    I think the concepts for all the drawings have been really good, but if there’s one consistent problem it’s that you don’t draw the eyes properly or symmetrical. If you fix that your drawings will be mad tight. Keep doin your thing though…

  • http://www.slamonline.com Cub Buenning

    Art hate?!?!? Damn. My best rendering of LBJ would be a stick figure with a #23 jersey on.

  • ciolkstar

    It does look like Bron, its not perfect but I’m not understanding the isht talking. “Negro Please” should’ve been the Chi Sun Times sports page headline that day. Priceless. Lang/ Khalid on VH1 will be sweet. A couple years back, I left my favorite hoody at Taco Cabana at 2am with $60 in the pocket. WACK.

  • Josh

    Wow, if you guys don’t think Joel can draw a likeness, then you haven’t seen ESPN magazine lately. Now those illustrators CAN’T DRAW. Keep workin’ it, Joel.

  • At The End Of The Day

    Glad to see your “friend” finally get called out..maybe she’ll learn to write an article without constantly playing the race card.

    and I agree, the drawing is crap. that looks more like turiaf than king james