Links: The Year in The Links (Part 3)

by Lang Whitaker

And it don’t stop…

Feb. 21
Wow. Two days past Vegas and I’m still worn out. And it gets better: I’m leaving tomorrow night on an international flight and will be overseas all weekend, working on something for the next issue of SLAM. Where you at, sleep? What!

If you didn’t read Sam’s Vegas Odyssey, you should because it’s hilarious. We really had a great time, and it was a blast to travel with Ben, Sam and Khalid. I’m hoping the NBA gives Vegas and expansion team and allows them to add any player from any basketball team in the world to that team, just so the team will be amazing and we’ll be able to travel there as often as possible.

• Got my first copy of the next issue of SLAM (issue number 107) today. Can’t tell you much about it but you’ll hear plenty on this soon.

• Sam informed me earlier today that I’d won a Lifetime Achievement Award from Dan Shanoff’s blog. And sure enough, I did. I’m mostly excited about this because now I can honestly say I write “an award-winning” column. Thanks, Dan.

Feb. 23
Today word dropped that Wade’s injury could require season-ending surgery, which would essentially be season-ending surgery for the entire Heat franchise. Sure, the Heat could probably get Shaq going and make the Playoffs (they’re the eighth seed as of today) but there’s no way they’ll be able to get out of the Eastern Conference without DWade.

There’s also a chance that Wade could rehab for six weeks and then return, which would bring him back just in time for the Playoffs. Wade’s still young enough that this probably won’t have long-term repercussions on his career, and you know very well that Riles is praying he can talk Wade into the rehab option. But again, there’s no guarantee they’ll make another title run even with Wade.

The Heat have been forced to ride Wade hard all season, and the way he’s played, particularly the last few weeks, has been admirable. But here’s hoping that in treating this injury, Wade does whatever is best for him. I know, you’re thinking that players should give their all for the team, should play hurt for the team. Well, we’ve already seen Riley take a break halfway through; will Wade follow Riles’ leadership and pack it in? The clock may be ticking for the aging Miami Heat, but DWade has a long time left to wow us. Let’s hope he doesn’t exchange any long-term security for a short-term chance to play in the Playoffs this year.

Feb. 28
Catching up on what happened while I was gone…

• Apparently everyone decided LeBron isn’t playing all-out, which is interesting since that was one of the themes in my LeBron/SLAM 106 cover story that came out a month ago. People are trying to figure out if LeBron is coasting right now…and the answer is absolutely. He said it himself.

As LeBron told me in the story, “I think we’re a team that’s gearing more toward the playoffs. That’s the first time for me that we’re geared more toward the playoffs instead of gearing towards the regular season. I think we’ve got a good enough team now that we know we can make the playoffs. We’re not…we’re not going to write it in right now, but we know we’re a good enough team where we can go out there and win enough games and make the playoffs. But we have to win down the stretch in the playoffs and win on the road. So we’re pretty much geared toward the playoffs, just like some of the better teams in the league.”

The bigger question is, Should he be coasting? I think it’s the smart move. He’s played for the last two years in a row without a significant rest period, and he doesn’t want to break down like D-Wade.

• OK, are people still talking about All-Star Weekend? Seriously? Jason Whitlock wrote a post-All-Star column that got everyone riled up, and then our man Dave Zirin went on the attack right back. (Henry Abbott is all over everything here.) Look, I was there for the entire weekend. I slept about 6 hours the entire weekend. I was with 3 co-workers the entire weekend. And none of us were scared, none of us thought we were going to be attacked by gangs. Yes, there were a lot of young, drunk people there. Yes, a lot of them were black. But there were a lot of white people there, too. Can we move on now?

• I got a 2-way message from Russ about Shaun Livingston’s knee injury while I was in Spain, and I am choosing not to watch the Youtube clip of the incident. As a journalist I probably should watch it, to have some historical perspective and a reference point. As a human being, I don’t particularly want to see Shaun Livingston dislocate his leg “like, to Rhode Island,” as Russ so delicately emailed me.

Mar. 1
When I went to L.A. a few months ago to write about Andrew Bynum, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Who was I to know that a day later I’d be at Quizno’s with Bynum and that I’d inadvertently cause Bynum to have to hire a nutritionist?

Anyway, I arrived in L.A., parked and was walking to the Lakers/Bulls game when I came across a bunch of guys on the sidewalk wearing matching yellow t-shirts. I looked closer and discovered they were all members of The Bynum Brigade. I steered clear of them but made a note, and they eventually worked their way into my story in the mag.

Since then we’ve been in touch and the guys made me an honorary member of the Brigade (I think — if not I hope to someday be), sent me a lovely Bynum Brigade t-shirt and shouted us out on their website.

They emailed yesterday to let me know they’re planning another night out at the Lake Show. “I even wrote a press release!” Bynum Brigade VP Mikey emailed me. He also offered to buy me a $10 beer if I made it to the game.

• Late in last night’s Hawks/Hornets game, Hornets forward Desmond Mason was fouled and went to the free throw line.

The Hawks announcers hushed, and Steve Smith warned everyone at home to watch closely. It’s not every day, after all, that you see a free throw form as ugly as Mason’s. Smitty accurately noted that with Mason’s awkward release, it appeared that Mason had “a charley horse in his chest.”

For his second attempt, Smitty narrated Mason’s release by making a series of squeaking sounds, like the Tin Man trying to move before being properly oiled up.

Mar. 6
Honestly, considering Ron Artest has a rap sheet as long as my…well, it’s long, this latest incident with his wife is not that much of a surprise. (The most surprising bit may be that you can shatter a Hummer windshield with a frying pan. Who knew?)

When the Kings traded for Ron Artest last year, they knew what they were getting themselves in for. And it’s been one long, bumpy ride, involving questionable injuries, complaining to the media, an underfed dog named Socks and now this.

Last year, as the Kings were getting set to trade for Artest, I went to a Kings game and wrote the following on The Links the next day…

Last night in the Kings locker room, one of their players asked me if I knew Ron Artest. I told him I did, sort of.

“Really?” he asked. “What’s he like?”

Well…where to start?

“Remember JR Rider, and how much trouble he was?” I said. “Ron Ron is a lot like that, but times ten.”

I went on to explain that there is a pretty significant difference, though. JR Rider caused his fair share of trouble, sure, but he had kind of a vindictive spirit about him. Ron Ron just seems to stumble into trouble, like a cartoon character getting into some dopey weekly hijinks.

And the people in Indianapolis realized this. They liked the person, they just didn’t like what he kept getting himself into. After all the crap he put that organization through over the last four seasons, look at how the Pacers’ front office responded to him leaving:

Larry Bird: “We’ve done everything we could here to try to get him to feel like he’s needed and wanted, and it just didn’t work out.”

Donnie Walsh: “We wish Ron the best at Sacramento. There’s no doubt in our mind he’ll have an immediate impact on their team. We’ll miss him very much.”

Seriously? Has there been a more disruptive player in the NBA in the last decade? And that’s how you send him off? Wow. But that’s the kind of response that Ron Ron creates. You want to help him, you think you can help.

So many of Ron’s issues just seem like common sense things, where he could avoid all this trouble if he would just pause and think about it before reacting. So you think, “Hey, we’ll think for him. We’ll hold his hand and keep him from going to far. We’ll tame him.” As Donnie Walsh said, “If anything, I’ve probably gone too far with Ronnie because I felt like he was going to learn how to do things. At that point, which I thought was true, that as long as he was here, anything he did would get blown up and affect his teammates and affect everybody.”

The problem is, I think he does think before he reacts. He just doesn’t choose the right decision. How will he fit in with the Kings? I have no idea.

As I was talking to this Kings player last night, I said, “At least you guys have a lot of veterans, so maybe you guys can kind of strongarm him to keep him in line. I looked around the room and saw guys like Mike Bibby, Brad Miller, Shareef Abdur-Rahim…and Bonzi Wells. Whoops.

One year later, and the song remains the same: People love Ron’s spirit, they just don’t like they way he behaves, or, rather, misbehaves. Constantly.

The Kings have suspended Artest (with pay) indefinitely. As of this morning, they’re a game-and-a-half out of the final playoff spot in the West, but the longer they’re without Artest, the further their chances of playing in the postseason drift away.

People are already weighing in, saying this should be the end of the road for Artest, if not in the NBA then at least with the Sacramento Kings. Which, to me, would be disastrous for Ron Artest.

I don’t know Ron well enough to provide any kind of groundbreaking psychological insight, but I do think that the only real hope for Ron turning into a consistently productive member of society is that he needs to be surrounded (inundated, really) with support. And he needs to realize that he’s wrong. He’s wrong to hit other people, he’s wrong to constantly react the way he does. Like a child, he needs to have someone with him to always remind him to think before he acts.

At some point with Ron Artest, it’s going to become about something bigger than basketball. It hasn’t happened yet, though, because as long as he can back smaller forwards down in the post and defend positions one through four, Ron Artest will remain a puzzling bundle of promise and spirit.

Mar. 7
3) “The Hills”
I went to the Sonics/Knicks game last night to catch up with a few Linkstigators on the Sonics, and one of the Seattle players — and I don’t want to throw him under the bus so I won’t say who told me this, although his name is Nick Collison — admitted that he loves “The Hills.” And so do I.

The first season sucked, because it focused on Lauren Conrad and her lump of a boyfriend, Jason. But LC finally dumped Jason (who isn’t taking it well, apparently), and this season has been tremendous. LC and her BFF/roomate Heidi have been pried apart by Heidi’s boyfriend Spencer, and there were about three episodes in a row where it was pretty much all-out war. During this stretch, LC did her best to tell Heidi to step it up, that she was better than Spencer. But Heidi chose Spencer, leading us into three weeks of pure hell. Spencer has become a wedge between the girls, as now they do nothing but fight, and this is possibly the most exciting viewing on TV right now. For instance, last week another friend got involved by making out with one of Lauren’s ex-boyfriends, leading to this exchange:
Lauren: Tell me the truth, did she make out with him?
Heidi: Yes.
Lauren: Bitch!

This week’s episode was calmer, as the producers had to move the story along, but scenes from next week’s show again looked terrific.

After we stood there in the Sonics locker room discussing “The Hills” for a while, the unnamed player (Nick Collison) laughed and said, “Isn’t it kind of weird that we’re standing around here talking about the lives of these teenagers?”

I thought about that for a second and responded, “No.”

And the unnamed player (Nick Collison) agreed.

(To his credit, Nick says his favorite show on TV right is “30 Rock.” Mine, too.)

Mar. 8
I just watched the video of the Kobe/Jaric incident again and it’s pretty obvious that Kobe is trying to create contact with Jaric. I think we can all agree on that, no matter if you’re a Lakers fan or not. Creating contact is something that really good players do. Michael Jordan did it. Shaq does it rather forcefully. And Reggie Miller was probably the best of all time at doing this on the hush.

Kobe’s problem is that instead of doing this on the hush, he’s doing it flagrantly and obviously. (Insert tenuous Kobe Bryant psychological parallels here.) You can try to draw contact and create a call, but you can’t elbow people really hard in the face. And if you do elbow someone really hard in the face and get caught doing, you definitely can’t do it again a few weeks later and expect to get away with it.

Was Kobe trying to hurt Marko Jaric? I don’t think so. Kobe was trying to hurt the TWolves by getting a foul called against them. Jaric’s face just got in the way.

Mar. 9
First of all, my favorite story this week is definitely the saga of Lindsey Hunter, who is out after being suspended for, he says, taking one of his wife’s diet pills. Very strange. As is his explanation:

“I took a diet pill and it had a banned substance in it. I was just as shocked as everybody else. You go to GNC, you do this, you do that and to me it wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t steroids or nothing. I’m not any bigger then I was. It is what it is. A lot of times I don’t do my due diligence on that stuff because it’s not a big deal. I’ve never had a problem like that in my life. It was just as shocking to myself as it was everybody else.”

Actually, Lindsey, I don’t go to GNC.

If I have a cold, I’ll probably go to the medicine cabinet and search through it until I find cold medicine. If I don’t find cold medicine, I’ll probably either go to the drug store and get cold medicine. If there’s no cold medicine available, I won’t take anything at all. The last thing I would do is take a diet pill.

I guess this differentiates myself and Lindsey.

Mar. 12
Why does Durant always look like he needs a haircut?