Commish’s 2008 Rewind
Memories and minutiae from 2008.
There were better basketball-related stories in 2008. There were more important basketball-related issues in 2008. There were more entertaining basketball-related moments in 2008. But, for me, what follows are 10 of my random, personal favorite basketball-related moments/stories/events of 2008, in no particular order…
Barack Obama hoops footage: The most profound story of 2008 in America (and perhaps in the world) was the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. I know more than a few fellow sports junkies that, like me, almost had to begrudgingly turn from CNN/MSNBC to ESPN or close the NYTimes/WashPost and political blog windows and open up Hoopshype or read Peter King’s Monday Morning QB. The drama and import of his campaign were mesmerizing. But through it all—the primaries, the debates, etc. —my favorite moment leading up to Nov. 4 was the footage of Obama driving to the hoop for one of his wack lefty bankers in that pick-up game in Kokomo, Ind. I loved this YouTube clip with the play-by-play and a final score that read Hope 15, Away 5. Obama’s game was actually pretty impressive for an older cat. He knocked down a 20-footer, drop off a couple slick passes, one needle-threader to a cutter. And if that weren’t enough, he was rockin’ the requisite Bill Cosby sweats: High on the waist, slim cut and a tad highwater. His game reminded me of Cos, too: A little stiff, but contextually spry. Go ‘head, Pres.
Memphis-Kansas: I love watching college basketball. I also kinda dislike watching college basketball, because, well, it’s not pro basketball. I know…it’s just that, so often, no more than two or three players on an NCAA court look to be of the pro caliber. The championship game featured seven players drafted in the ’08 class and at least two others (namely Sherron Collins and Robert Dozier) who could possibly see some NBA hardwood in their future. That’s two squads with a cumulative nine pro-caliber players, playing a lot of man-to-man, giving the game a conspicuous pro-vibe. And then, of course, there was this shot.
Kobe’s Game-Changing Trey in the Beijing Gold Medal Game: Until we get to the ’09 Playoffs, Kobe’s performance in the 4th quarter of that gold medal game will remain the last defining play of the brewing Kobe-LeBron-DWade argument that will rage in ’09. I don’t think we can say—definitively, at least—that Kobe is, hands down, the best in the world. That’s never been more debatable than this season, given the type of ball that Bron and Wade are playing. In an ESPN interview, Kobe told Magic that he won’t be ready to relinquish his crown until he retires. But by the time Kobe retires, it’ll be more like that 1983 charity event where James Brown called Michael Jackson and Prince to the stage to do something slick-n-improvised for the crowd. That was probably the most symbolic passing of the torch caught on tape. The Godfather—old, spandexed, sweaty and still rollin’—relinquishing his stage to the King of Pop and the Baddest Dude on the Planet, leaving them to battle for supremacy. (Sidenote: Mike had just dropped Thriller on the heels of Off The Wall and Prince was coming off 1999 but hadn’t dropped Purple Rain; so, at the time, Mike was still The Man). We’re not quite there—Kobe’s not an old-head, yet. At the moment, Wade and Bron are both balling like lunatics while Kobe seems to be somewhat coasting. Until February rolls along and it gets super-real for everyone, we won’t really see the beast come out of all three. And it won’t be until May or June before we can declare a clear-cut individual victor. Until then, we have that gold medal game. Spain was on a scary-charge, until Kobe hit that three, plus the foul and then held his finger up to his lips. That capped a fourth quarter where Kobe almost singlehandedly staved off Spain’s comeback. Right before the four-point play, Doug Collins asked, “Who’s going to hit a shot for Team USA?” Kobe, of course. That play said it all.
Shaq’s Kobe Rap: I wrote a column about how much I loved this incident and why. An excerpt: “It actually made me, a fellow Gen-Xer, proud to see Shaq on that stage—albeit in a family-reunion getup with Damon Jones’ twin beside him—getting at Kobe. Only a Gen-Xer could have pulled that off. Shaq’s formative years were soundtrack’d by Biggie and Public Enemy and Pac and EPMD and Wu and, well, you can dig. Pat Ewing and David Robinson were pumping Luther Vandross and Freddie Jackson through their headphones. So, at 35, Ewing’s commensurate recourse would have been going to a bourgeoisie supper-club and crooning about how Charles Smith broke his heart in the ‘93 Eastern Conference Finals. When Kareem was 35, he’d have to go get a band and perform a protest song directed at Kevin McHale or grab two tenor saxes and challenge Elvin Hayes to a cutting-contest. But Shaq, forever young, got on stage and spit, what I deem a fairly clever line: “Kobe, tell me how my a$$ tastes.” Or, in other words, “Kobe, I’ve just spent the past few minutes—or few years, really—sh&%$#ng on you, so, tell me, how does the product of my anus taste?” Hilarious, classic and, if you ask me, culturally monumental.
LeBron/Jay-Z vs. Stevenson/Soulja Boy: Quite simply, I was comforted when LeBron compared Stevenson to Soulja Boy. For most people, including me, the name Soulja Boy automatically conjures images of a buffoon, so we know that Bron’s comparison came from a seat of contempt. This pleases me, since I’m the type of cat who places far too much importance on what music someone listens to. So when I was relentlessly bombarded with footage of LeBron reciting Yung Joc lyrics a couple years ago, it made me think less of him as a person. I’d like to think he’s seen the light. It was even more pleasing to see their whole pseudo-rivalry—sparked by Stevenson calling LeBron overrated—turn into a mini soap-opera. Bron’s big homie, Jay-Z, inexplicably slummed and recorded a song set to Too Short’s “Blow The Whistle” that included shots aimed at Stevenson and Soulja Boy. Then Stevenson invited Soulja Boy to Game 3 of the Wiz-Cavs season. He sat courtside in red-rimmed sunglasses. The whole charade was hilarious and a welcome diversion last spring. This season, this needs to happen between two new players and for Nas and T-Pain to be involved.
Watching a Lakers Playoff Games with Actual Laker Fans: It’s often incredibly difficult to be a Lakers fan outside the confines of Southern California. This is the case for a couple reasons: 1.) I’m not from L.A., so I have to constantly explain the very practical and compelling reasons for why I’ve been a Lakers fan since I was a toddler (before I was even a fan of my hometown Bills); 2.) The Lakers are like the Yankees and (recently) the Patriots in that they have a ton of bandwagon fans, casual fans, transplant fans and idiot fans; 3.) These fans range from corny to obnoxious to insufferable. So, let’s say I’m at a bar in Cleveland or D.C.—or some other city that has no real reason to harbor Lakers-disdain—and I’m politely rooting for the Lakers during a random regular season game against the Bobcats; this polite partisan display might possibly get me lynched. That sucks as an experience. If that tension isn’t especially palpable, I’ll have to deal with a bunch of twits rooting against L.A. so hard you’d think it was the 100-yard dash in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. As you can imagine, this gets tiresome. Well, last May, I was in L.A. as a Forum guest on Jim Rome Is Burning while the Lakers were in the process of handling the Spurs in the Western Conference championship. I watched Kobe drop 39 on the Spurs at Staples to clinch the series. My own personal exhilaration was muted because I was in attendance as a member of the media and the motto is, “There’s no cheering in the press box.” Two days earlier, though, I got a chance to check Game 4 at sports bar near my telly in Huntington Beach (JRIB tapes in Orange County). Orange County is a weird place. It’s very white, very scrubbed, very pristine. Rome’s radio producer, Travis, calls it “plastic.” I’d have to agree. But it also houses a population that appears to be far more “indigenous” than its northern neighbors in Los Angeles County. The joke in L.A. (much like, say, D.C.) is that “nobody is really from here.” Translation: We’re all transplants. Now, I’m not saying Orange County is some Hicksville county in the middle of Oklahoma, populated by four generations of five families, but you can meet folks in OC that actually grew up there. And, of course, everyone that grows up in SoCal is a Lakers fan. So, when I stepped into this plastic, spring-breaky bar in this resorty beachtown, it was no surprise that I stepped into a cage of manic (and I mean MANIC) Lakers fans. It was a mixed-group (white, Hispanic, Asian, young, old, monied, not-monied) all seared together by the Lakers and these people were in an absolute uproar. I loved it. Sipped my beers out of plastic cups and felt right at home. The fact that L.A. won a close game (93-91) in San Antonio to go up 3-1 made it even sweeter.
Devean George Temporarily Blocks the Kidd-Harris Trade: I’m a fan of any time a player exerts his freedom. When George blocked the trade, he effectively said: “Nah. I’m not leaving a contender, going to New Jersey and giving up my Bird rights. Find another contract to deal.” It was ballsy. It also invited scorn from Mavs fans, some even brought threatening signs to games and boo’d him. I was as annoyed as most fans that a blockbuster trade was being held up by a marginal rotation guy, but, in hindsight, it was a gangsta move. I was on Outside The Lines a few times during that period, extolling the virtues of the planned Kidd-lead Mavs. I called Kidd “transformational.” Ummm, I got that one wrong. About a year later, we can see the product of the trade. The Mavs simply moved laterally and now Harris is On The Verge. Maybe Mark Cuban should’ve looked at George’s stubborness as a sign…
GP, CWebb and Ahmad: It’s weird, because I can’t get enough of Tuesday’s “NBA GameTime Live,” but I know that one day per week is the proper dosage, here. This isn’t the best studio show—College GameDay is better, TNT’s “Inside the NBA” is the best—but this is my favorite. I mean, where do I begin. Ahmad always seems to be on Ambien. CWebb and GP never actually offer analysis of highlights, they just make sounds like “Chank, chank!” for 3s or “Arggghhh!” for dunks. They don’t actually ask players questions, instead they typically give 30-second monologues and then ask players if they agree with their assertions. Unlike Ernie, Kenny and Chuck, their chemistry still seems a little contrived. Somehow, though, their interaction is off-the-charts entertaining. And then we have Gary…oh, Gary. On one show, when asked to compare Chris Paul to John Stockton, GP said Stockton was different player based on these stats (I’m paraphrasing): “Stockton is the kind of guy where, he’d take about 12 shots and make eight of ‘em. Then, he’d get about 10 free throws and make nine or 10 of ‘em. And he’d go out and get you 14 or 15 assists, plus have about five or six steals.” So, apparently, Stockton was shooting about 75 percent from the field, about 95 percent from the line, while averaging 15 assists and 5 steals. I rewound that one back about 10 times and laughed more and more hysterically. I still don’t know if I like the show for the wrong reasons. All I know is that I like it more than any other studio show on television. Must See TV for real.
Brandon Jennings goes to Italy: I hate the NCAA as an entity. I think it’s pious, conniving and opportunistic. At its worst, the NCAA is, in some ways, like The Church at its worse. If the NCAA collapsed tomorrow, I’d cheer. The NBA’s age-rule—something I now begrudgingly agree with—has placed even more restrictions on young men coming out of high school, seemingly forcing them to spend one sham of a year playing NCAA ball. So, you can imagine my glee when one of the most heralded incoming freshmen spurned the NCAA to go play professionally in Italy and make a little dough. The fact that it was Jennings made it three times doper. From the moment I saw him and his gumby-box throwing no-look passes and GP-alley-oops in the McDonald’s Game, Jennings has been a mini obsession of mine. His choice to diss the NCAA and head overseas was what I’ve been waiting for. I’m always hoping for a blue-chip revolt. A few months later, the gumby is gone, he’s not necessarily setting Italy on fire and Jennings himself is questioning how much of a trendsetter he’ll be; but his move, in theory, was a big middle-finger directed at the NCAA, and I always dig that.
Tim Duncan and the Black Joe Pesci: I wasn’t discreet at all about my basketball crush on Chris Paul. Toward the middle of the piece, I wrote, “The crush began when I saw him darting through the ACC at Wake Forest and didn’t even begin to subside when he punched Julius Hodge in the nads on Hodge’s senior-night. In fact, that made me dig the little dude a bit more, it was like he was a black Joe Pesci.” I still find Chris and his Black Joe Pesci routine wildly entertaining. He has one of the shortest fuses in the League; it’s a wonder he isn’t more heavily tech’d and more frequently involved in fisticuffs. Watching Chris, specifically during scrums for loose balls, is a study in Napoleonic rage. Sometimes, however, his behavior can be downright petulant. It’s like he takes offense to players actually making anything other than polite contact with him. Soon, I started thinking, “Someone needs to tell Chris to chill.” Enter Timmy, who Chris grew up idolizing as a kid in Winston-Salem. During a testy December game in San Antonio, Chris was at his surly, ornery best. At one point, though, the Red Rocket (Matt Bonner) stumbled into Chris. Chris reacted wildly, taking this incidental contact as an obvious sign of disrespect and an invitation to stalk Bonner for a confrontation. But Duncan stepped in Chris’ path and put his hand against Paul’s chest—almost like, “hold up.” Then Tim shot Chris a couple stern glances and very plainly and paternally told Chris to “Calm the f–k down.” I loved that! Chris, knowing not to give Duncan any sass-talk, just put up his hands and stood down. Tim’s discipline was the OG Moment of year.
Vincent Thomas is a columnist and feature writer for SLAM. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.