Not Another List
No list here—just some final bball thoughts of 2010.
Year-end lists are to bloggers what waves are to surfers.
When the first list hits, it momentarily takes your breath away, reminding you that it’s that time of year again. When the second list appears, it’s exhilarating, reminding you of all the great moments you’ve already forgotten. Same with the third, fourth and fifth ones. By the time the sixth, seventh, eighth, millionth year-end top-10 lists appear, you’re equal parts exhausted and disappointed. Exhausted, because you’re tired of slogging through wave after wave of ubiquitous top-10s. Disappointed, because some of the uninspired and unoriginal torrents failed to crest at a desired height.
Yesterday, while reading one of the year-end lists I truly enjoyed (written by good friend and great writer Ben Collins), I came across an article titled “Top 10 Reasons I Hate Year-End Top-10 Lists.” Drowning in year-end bitterness, I dove into the Seattle Weekly’s inviting post. There, the author, John Roderick, touched on a lot of what I was feeling. None of his 10 reasons resonated more than No. 5:
The proliferation of year-end lists is now a competition in itself. By January we will all have read 200 top-10 lists, which we will mentally rank in order of credibility … The top-10 lists are all vying for our attention, all conscious of each other, all trying to surprise us without venturing too far off the beaten path. It’s like being fed a huge dinner of pre-chewed turkey.
In all honesty, I’d been planning on writing a list of my own for the better part of December. A blank Word document’s sat open on my screen as I conjured up ways of veering from the “beaten path.” The longer the empty and evil doc blinked, the less I felt like adding yet another list to the never-ending tsunami of them.
(By the way, I’ve never been surfing; I’m not about start.)
Tyreke Evans had, arguably, one of the greatest rookie seasons of all-time. Brandon Jennings had, arguably, one of the greatest rookie games of all-time. Stephen Curry had five outings where he accumulated at least 30 points and 10 assists. It’s no surprise then that these three rookies overshadowed all of their Draft classmates last season.
Thirty games into their second seasons, though, none of these three are having the best sophomore season for a 2009 draftee. Excluding Blake Griffin, who is technically a rookie this season, and Wesley Matthews, who amazingly went undrafted last year and therefore isn’t a member of the Draft class, that honor belongs to Philadelphia’s Jrue Holiday.
The only thing that’s changed for the 76ers since last season is the coach, yet it seems like everything’s different for their 20-year-old point guard. The stats—14.2 ppg, 6.3 apg, 1.3 spg and a PER of 15.4—only tell a small part of the tale. Jrue’s teammates’ ever-increasing respect for and reliance on him is the real indicator of how far the 6-3 guard’s come since year one.
On any given night, but especially on the Sixers current West Coast swing, Holiday’s looked more confident, comfortable and capable than anyone could have expected this early in his career. Handed the keys to a hoopty, Holiday hasn’t exactly turned Philly into a Benz—but he does have them in the Playoff picture.
With six games of more than 20 points and six games of more than 10 assists, Jrue’s shown an ability to be both a scorer and a facilitator. More than that, though, with 102 free throws attempted—or 16 more than he took all of last season—he’s shown an increased ability to maneuver around the basket. A nice complement to his improving outside game.
Still, to keep it 100 percent real, Holiday’s streaky and is prone to making infuriating mistakes. But that’s to be expected of a 20-year-old with only two season of post-high-school experience.
While a lot of 2009 Draft picks have regressed this year—be it due to injury or circumstance—Jrue Holiday’s vaulted from 17th straight to the head of the class.
From one Philly point guard to another.
For a moment it felt like AI’s career was going to come to the conclusion that it rightfully deserved—when he was ready, and in a Sixers uniform.
Then, all too quickly and for murky reasons, the moment passed and Iverson’s NBA career ended the way his detractors would’ve wanted it to.
Maybe it’s because some writers saw it coming; maybe it’s because Finger Guns and The Decision dominated the headlines; whatever the reason, Allen Iverson’s hasn’t garnered attention from the mainstream year-end lists.
That’s a shame.
I am not an Allen Iverson apologist. I’ll readily admit that Chuck bobbled the proverbial ball on more than one occasion—especially near the end. But, he deserves better.
One of the greatest scorers of any era, the diminutive Iverson worked with so little to make so much of himself.
Exactly how much? If Chuck isn’t inducted into the Hall of Fame immediately upon eligibility, then the basketball shrine may as well close its door to the public.
I don’t know. Maybe the powers that be can’t identify with Al. Maybe they never could. But, people—from the deepest, darkest and most dangerous hoods to the grassiest, sunniest and wealthiest suburbs—did.
Why? The reasons are many. Because he left his sweat and blood on the court every time he took it. Because, whether it was a smile or a scowl, he played with emotion. Because when he had the ball, it was mesmerizing. Anything could happen; like those few moments between getting a wrapped gift and tearing it open—you knew the present was going to be dope, you just didn’t know what form it was going to take. Because he epitomized swagger a decade before it even existed. But more than anything else, it’s mainly because Allen Iverson pulled a Sinatra and did it his way—something all of us wish we could do.
He was an electric player, one of the smallest and fastest, fearless in charging to the basket, smacked to the floor again and again by players who weighed almost twice as much as his buck-65. He never got angry at opponents. He simply kept attacking. He hogged the ball, often ignoring his teammates, but the speed and relentlessness made him impossible to stop, by either an opponent or his own coaches. He was going to do it his way, and we had never seen anything quite like it.
The NBA would not publish the photo of Allen Iverson being named rookie of the year: He showed up at the award ceremony in a white skullcap. Then it was cornrows. And heavy jewelry. And tattoos that crept all over his body.
In Philly, we ate it up. It was his defiance, and skill, and something even better: He was incapable of hiding, of not being himself. No other athlete is like that.
I can’t speak for anyone but myself when I say this: I miss him. I miss all of that.
In that December press conference that took place 13 months ago but feels like 13 years ago, between sobs, Chuck croaked, “all I want to do is play basketball.”
Well, all I want is for the apparent end of Allen Iverson’s NBA career to receive some acknowledgment. For him to receive his just due.
It’s the least we—those who cheered on his My Way existence—can do.
Now that Allen Iverson’s out of the League, it seems like Kevin Garnett’s emerged as the player people love to hate.
Though KG issued a statement saying that, in fact, he said Villanueva is “cancerous to [his] team and our League,” it was too late to dead the issue.
Everyone felt the need to weigh in, mostly with anti-KG sentiments. “Garnett shouldn’t have said it.” “Garnett’s a punk.” “Garnett has no respect for the game.” “Garnett only takes shot at people smaller than him.” Yada. Yada. Yada. Hate. Hate. Hate.
Over night, the 34-year-old All-Star morphed into the world’s tallest punching bag.
Two nights ago, December 29th, 2010. The Celtics and Pistons met in Auburn Hills for the first time since The Incident. Moments before tip-off, as players dapped and hugged, Charlie and Kevin noticeably did their best to avoid one another. Less than three minutes of game time later, Villanueva exited the game after picking up his second foul while guarding Garnett. For a lot of people, the duel between the two ended then and there. Yet for many others it didn’t end until KG went down with an injured leg five minutes later. It didn’t end until Pistons announcer Greg Kelser vocalized something that many people were thinking: “The basketball gods have spoken.” What Kelser was saying was that the injury must’ve been some sort of cosmic karma, payback for KG’s trash talk months prior.
That people were tweeting and writing that was one thing. To hear an announcer who was in the building say it was another. I don’t know if Kevin’s cancer comments crossed an invisible line. I do know that Kelser’s did.
The difference between the two? Athletes have been conditioned to talk all sorts of smack on the court; announcers are paid to be poignant background noise.
David Shield’s magnum opus Black Planet memorably weighs in on the topics of Gary Payton and language. While there are a lot of quotes I could’ve pulled, the following reverberates when speaking about Garnett.
We pick it up in the middle of a Payton quote.
“I’m not going to stop what I’m doing [talking trash]. That’s my ballgame.” Shortly after Payton was drafted by the Sonics in 1990, he told a Seattle reporter, “My brother and father were always telling me not to back down to anybody. That’s where I got my verbal game, because I always had to talk to the older guys and prove myself to them.” Last year, he said, “If someone says something to me, I’m going to yap. If something happens, and I feel like I’m going to talk, I’m just going to talk.”
Like Payton—like the majority of players who’ve come before and will come after him—KG was taught to talk on the court. Taught to try to establish some kind of mental advantage over his opponent. Taught to yap—about the game, about women, about everything under the sun—while the ball’s in play.
While players play (and talk), viewers view (and listen).
Real hoop heads want to know everything about NBA players and games. That includes what’s being said on the court between ballers. For the most part—mic’d up coaches excluded—what’s said on the hardwood stays on the hardwood.
Example: With 4:46 left in Miami’s Christmas Day dismantling of Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James engaged in some verbal sparring. After the game, when Lisa Salters asked Dwyane Wade about the Kobe/LeBron exchange he replied: “Even though I know, I can’t tell you.”
This isn’t an anomaly. Players are loathe to share that info.
Back to Villanueva/Garnett.
When Charlie tweeted what Kevin said to him, breaking an unwritten pact between players, every true fan got their wish; the veil of trash talk secrecy was momentarily lifted. What they found out, though, is that they’re better off not knowing what’s said between the painted lines.
And that’s okay.
As long as the fans get to share in the visuals, the players can keep the audibles.
Okay, time is running out on 2010, and there’s still so much to discuss. Lest I be remiss, let’s quickly touch on another topic.
In light of yet another season—nay, maybe career—ending injury, Yao Ming dropped that gem of a quote.
Three years removed from telling SI’s Chris Ballard “eighty-two games. I need to play 82 games,” it appears that Yao has come to terms with his career arc.
So while I feel for the “totem of the exploding global sports economy,” as Ballard once called him, because of Yao’s upbeat outlook, I feel like it—whatever “it” is—will work out for him.
If Ming never plays another game, he still will have proved the greatest boon in the NBA’s seemingly successful attempt to take over the world. (For much more on the matter, read Adrian Wojnarowski’s excellent column.)
On a related albeit somewhat sadder note, if Greg Oden doesn’t recover from his latest season-ending knee injury, what will his legacy be? On the court, rightfully or unrightfully, it’ll be having failed to outplay No. 2 pick Kevin Durant. Off the court, thanks to gossip blogs, it’ll be about his dong.
For many, many reasons, this saddens me.
As former author of The Post Up and current friend Holly MacKenzie poignantly pondered one Oden injury ago, “Imagine being separated from the thing you love more than anything else in the world, because your body has ‘betrayed’ you.”
I don’t know about her or anyone else, but, fortunately, I can’t even imagine what that’s like.
So, here’s to Greg Oden’s full recovery. Everyone, in and out of Portland, is rooting for you, big man.
And if, NBA god forbid, GO’s knees are too damaged to have a meaningful career, here’s to hoping the following Sam Bowie quote holds true.
“What I’m trying to say to Greg is that, while it looks like negativity, I promise a lot of good will come out of it. God forbid that he doesn’t get back on the court, but if that’s the case, his life is a lot longer than his basketball career. Life is great. Life is really good.”
Twenty-ten was, in my novice opinion, a great year for sports writing.
I say that because a lot of columns and features written months ago are rattling around my brain at this very moment. So it’s with no offense intended to any other piece of writing when I say that nothing resonates with me as much as 922 words written by Chris Ballard titled “For Love And The Game.”
From word one, I knew the column was written about my situation—even if Ballard, a guy I’ve had the pleasure of playing ball with, didn’t know it. Specifically, though, the third paragraph grabbed me. It was like Ballard burrowed into my brain and borrowed a thought that’s crossed my mind.
For my older brother and me, hoops was the language of family. We never “talked it out” with Dad, a laconic, humble Midwesterner who can make a 45-minute drive in near silence feel comfortable. His idea of a heart-to-heart was preaching the prudence of bounce passes; our dialogue came in games of three-on-three on our makeshift backyard court, Phil taking it to the other dads. We spent countless twilight hours playing H-O-R-S-E at the park, and often the only sound was the hiss of the ball and the shiiing! of its arrival into the metal net. Who needed words—wasn’t the meaning clear?
My details are a little bit different but the gist is the same.
Example: I doubt my old man recalls this but a few months ago, en route to a 7:15 a.m. Sunday morning run, he jokingly told my older brother and me, “a family that plays together, stays together.”
Though pops said it in semi-jest, it’s stuck with me.
So what did I learn from Ballard? What did I learn from my old man? What did I learn in 2010?
At least for me, basketball signifies family, and family signifies basketball.
And that’s a good thing.
Fam is a word that figures prominently in the SLAM lexicon. On the site; on Twitter; on Facebook; we use it often. I feel bad about it sometimes, like we’re sullying the word by dropping it indiscriminately. But I don’t feel bad about the way I’m about to use it.
My final online act of 2010 is to wish my SLAM Fam—a family forged through print and www-dot fire—the happiest of new years.
Hope to catch all y’all in 2011.