The Commish Memo

by March 19, 2008
For basketball fans, there’s no time like right now. For the next month, all we’ll have to to do is flick through some channels and we’ll either find some underdog college squad hitting a flurry of threes, scaring some teetering Goliath to death or we can we can find two pro squads clawing for a playoff spot, trying to out-grind an opponent. I imagine it’s how people felt in Austin this past week, with 26,345,871 bands playing at South by Southwest. For a hoops fan — particularly this year — it’s more than a smorgasbord.
With that said, let’s get at some Memo bullet points….
You all know that I’m a hater, so I spent the entire Houston Rockets Streak waiting for them to lose — actually hoping that they’d lose. I felt like they were imposters. It really irked me that this squad was going in the record books, this rag-tag outfit that rode a wave, snatching vics from lowly squads and banged-up elite squads. That’s a sucky way for me to go about my fandom, but that’s how I get down. So, count me as one of the few jerks that found some pleasure in how Houston went out, whimpering like Boston was the school-witch and it just pulled the tissue out of Houston’s bra. It was embarrassing. The crowd was sitting on their hands for most of the fourth quarter, mustering only some psuedo-grandiose standing-O at the end of the game. I can’t blame them. Watching Mac sleepwalk bored me too. With Boston putting that veteran-OG-smash on this pretender-squad, Mac was spending successive offensive possessions hiding on the baseline, letting Shane Battier take awkward forays to the lane that made me blush. Mac shrunk again, just as I thought he had morphed into a Franchise-type. Let’s see how he and the Rockets bounce back with this treacherous schedule ahead.
Chris Paul plays like Barry Sanders. Not metaphorically, but literally. He makes holes appear. It’s a jarring thing to watch. He straight-up plays a different kind of basketball than everyone else. The way he uses space and momentum, what he sees, the way he sees…it’s just plain ‘ol advanced…I’m saying that he doesn’t play within the physical framework that most humans use. It’s like he’s a computer. Watch him.
You know that Kobe leads the NBA in techs, right? He has 13, three away from a suspension. The dynamic he has with the refs, however, is much different than some of the previous malcontents like Sheed and AI (both dudes have grown up, noticeably). AI took complaining and whining to Laimbeer-levels. It was annoying. In AI’s younger days, his reactions to calls and no-calls were like that of an ornery brat. Sheed had a persecution complex. His constant bickering and arguing was informed by his idea (probably true) that the refs were out to get him. Kobe is on some other stuff, though. For a while he was actually confronting and excoriating officials on nearly every play. He’d do so in an extra-volatile manner, too. It’s all about entitlement with him. He’s Kobe, so blow that whistle when he misses a shot or gets touched on a drive to the basket. It was downright startling at times. He’d drive to the hoop, get some typical NBA contact, the ref would let it ride and Kobe would come down, glaring, flailing his fist, foaming at the mouth and dropping 26 F-bombs within two or three manic sentences. When they threw him out of that Portland game, it was probably the most deserved ejection of the season — for any player. He was on some bully-ish. He seems to be getting it under control (you see a lot of helpless, limp-armed sulking now), which is essential. If that kind of dynamic returns in the playoffs, it could get ugly.
I was big fan of both the Jason Kidd Trade and the Shaq Trade. I’m not giving up on the Kidd swap, but Dallas is looking ugly. Shaq and the Suns, on the other hand, are on a sinister creep right now. If you can believe it, they’re playing under the radar these days. But check ya boy Diesel. He’s averaging a double-double in March, playing with a purposeful chip on his shoulder. Phoenix? They’re scoring just fine: 132, 123, 127 and 111 in the Suns past four wins.
I’m straight-up sick of explaining to people why the NBA is far superior to college basketball — not just superior, but far superior. Interestingly, the chasm is never more apparent than during March Madness, because it’s during March when the NBA really heats up, while the college game features a bunch of unfamiliar teams playing games high on emotion, but low on skill and execution.
Years back, I was a newsaide/intern with the Washington Post copy-desk. On the first Friday of the tournament, I switched one of the televisions from the tourney and threw on an L.A.-Minny game that held serious playoff-seeding implications. My copy-desk crew was both furious and confused. How dare I switch to an NBA game during the first round of the tourney? How could I switch to an NBA game during the first round of the tourney? I believe I was the only NBA fan of the whole crew, but they all loved college basketball. I can see why that would be the case. Everyone goes to college and has a ball getting blitzed, heading to the game and acting like a crazed loon in the student section, rooting for their squads. That kinda stuff holds nostalgic value that doesn’t vanish after you graduate. It’s also easier, for many Americans, to root for young kids playing with a conspicuous devotion, as opposed to millionaire athletes that you believe to have ingrate-streaks. The college crowds of students and alumni are typically more amped than the corporate-crowds in pro arenas. And, yes I’m going here, America is more apt to root for a game that features a good amount of white players (see the previous note on Tyler Hansbrough) than a league that seems like an extension of the MEAC.
The reason I switched to that L.A. game was simple, tho — better basketball was going to be played in that game. Of the 10 players on a college court, usually only three or four are capable of creating their own shots, less than half can knock down an open jumper, very few can finish drives with regularity, squads spend 25 seconds passing the ball around the perimeter — it has it’s charm, but college basketball is a straight-up inferior game. So when people tout the college game over the NBA, it truly dumbfounds me. They can’t seriously believe that. If you wanna say, “College basketball is nostalgic, I like the amped-crowds and I enjoy some ethnic diversity amongst the players,” then cool, I’ll give you that. If you want to debate the merits of the college game over it’s professional brother — with a serious face — then I’m going to smirk and keep it moving.
I’ve read several columns and nuggets about Tyler Hansbrough and race. I enjoyed them, but, then again, I simply enjoy to read the two sides/opinions jostle back-n-forth. One side says, “This Tyler Hansbrough kid is getting slurped…because he’s white.” The other side replies: “Tyler Hansbrough is getting slurped, yes, but…it’s because he’s awesome, not because he’s white. Racism doesn’t exist in sports.” One side offers some simple-minded sentiment, the other responds with either indignation or naivete. That’s how it always goes. I, for one, find this dance to be entertaining.
Here’s what I’ll say about this issue: 1.) Fans, more than media experts, dig Tyler Hansbrough because he’s white; and it comes from — as I’ve said before in this space — an inclination toward familiarity/commonality and not the more nefarious seat of racism. 2.) Tyler Hansbrough wouldn’t be nearly as loved or fawned over if he were black, because Psycho T — as a black man — would be viewed as a menace.
Think about it. There are a ton of rah-rah, tough-as-nails, psycho white dudes that love them some college basketball. Why, as a human, would they not revere and root extra-hard for a dude that, on a fundamental level, looks and behaves like them? However, it is up to “experts” — announcers, beat-writers, columnists — to put his actual game in perspective. That means, watch the hyperbole and compare/judge him accurately. Is Psycho T a better ball-player than Michael Beasley? Of course not. Is Hansbrough the NCAA Player of the Year? How can he not be? He had an incredible season — statistically and abstractly — for the top-ranked squad in college basketball.
Give him the award and shut up.
Now — for the more interesting and volatile aspect of this discussion — think about Hansbrough’s general behavior and demeanor on court. He’s never tried to punch an official or choke a coach or punch an opponent in the gonads, but he’s typically unhinged. He actually plays like a roid-raged football player, the special teams dudes that yell and, I don’t know, try to gouge their own eyes out when sprinting down the field on kick-offs. That kind of mania is pretty much standard-fare on a football field; on a basketball court it’s an oddity. Black people, specifically in this country, operate under a series of behavioral stigmas. The Angry Black Man is often an umbrella designation, placed upon any black man, showing more than (sometimes) a mere modicum of emotion. Hyper-emotion in black men is often seen as dangerous. Give Hansbrough some pigment and he wouldn’t be Psycho-T, he’d be Gangsta-Thug-Pariah T, he’d be called for a slew of techs and flagrant fouls and announcers would talk about how volatile, angry and unpredictable he is, not how tough and inspirational he is. That’s how I think race plays out in sports, it actively informs our perception.
With that said, I hope Psycho-T kills ’em over the next few weeks…pun intended.