The Links: Melo, Iverson, LeBron

by Lang Whitaker

I didn’t have a chance to post any Links this week because I was out of the office and the city (and state, actually) earlier this week. Can’t say where I was just yet, but you’ll find out soon enough. I’m pretty wiped out. Just had to make it through this week, I think, because next week is Christmas and I’m about to hit the road again to work on some more stuff for SLAM.

(I did just manage to post the latest column from SLAMonline columnist Etan Thomas.)

I was at an NBA team’s practice on Monday when word came down about the suspensions for Melo and everyone else, and after the 15-game hammer dropped I spoke to: a) someone who is very close to Melo; b) a high-ranking NBA executive; c) a couple of prominent NBA players d) a few people who are close to prominent NBA players. Since then I’ve been in contact with Melo’s peoples and talked about it with other NBA folk, and it’s been nearly unanimous that 15 games is a ridiculously long suspension considering the crime. This is not meant to absolve Melo: Defending his teammate or not, he shouldn’t have hauled off and smacked Mardy Collins like that, especially after things had settled down. But 15 games? The Sternbot is making a point, and Melo finds himself at the end of Stern’s pointer.

Now there are more questions than answers. Why did Melo do it? How will this affect his All-Star chances? Will this affect his legacy? Will this change the way people perceive him right now?

The most puzzling thing to me is the mass media’s wild overreaction to the whole thing. It was on major network news less than 24 hours after it happened, and even Nightline did a whole thing about it two nights ago. Today Northwest Airlines announced they were pulling their in-flight magazine with Melo on the cover. (This from an airline called NWA?)

Why all the fuss? Because it’s a hot topic, and networks hope this means ratings. But think about long term. Remember all the stuff last season after Antonio Davis went into the stands? Does anyone ever mention that these days?

I’ve also heard from a lot of people that basketball fights are no worse than baseball or football fights and the media is all over this just because it involved a bunch of African-American athletes. I see the reasoning there, but I’m not sure I agree. Basketball fights are different from other fights. I saw a quote about this from Scot Pollard, of all people, that made a lot of sense: “We’re not hockey players. It’s not an accepted part of our sport. Hockey has a glass wall around them. When two guys get into it, they take off their gloves. They have pads on. They duke it out for a little bit and they say, ‘You’re out.'”

In those baseball fights and all the other sports, the athletes are pretty far away from the audience. In the NBA, the fans can reach right out and touch the players. It’s not the same thing. But that still doesn’t justify the deafening noise coming from the media machine.

Melo made a mistake and punched someone during a basketball game. He screwed up. Ten years from now this will be the tiny blip on the radar screen of his career. This is all part of the conundrum that is a 22-year-old kid (yep, he’s still just 22 years old) finding his way through his NBA life.

And now we’re going to get AI and Melo together, which could be a pretty remarkable combination. I’m not sure how they’ll fit together, but I’ve been told Melo is genuinely pumped about this. So am I. Actually, I’m more curious about how Iverson will get along with George Karl than with Melo.

Anyways…it’s late and I’ve way too much stuff to do. Went to the Cavs/Nets game tonight in Jersey, but I didn’t really take notes. It was a close game through three quarters, even though the Cavs were shooting about 35 percent from the floor. Then the Cavs rested Bron and the Nets pulled away. When Bron came back in the Cavs made a late rally, but they just didn’t have it in them. The Nets won 113-11. Vince went for an entirely unspectacular 38 points, mostly on mid-range jumpers. LeBron was LeBron (37 points and 8 assists) but nobody else on the Cavs could make anything.

After the game, someone asked LeBron what he thought about Melo and Iverson playing on the same team, since he’d played with both of them on the 2004 Olympic team. “I’m very, very, very excited to Allen Iverson go to Denver…and out of the Eastern Conference,” Bron joked.

While he was getting dressed, someone alerted LeBron to the presence of a huge bowl of mayonnaise on the postgame food table, and Bron was immediately and visibly repulsed by it. I started telling Bron about how I offered Sam $5 a few years ago in the Knicks press room to eat a heaping spoonful of what was either mayonnaise or vanilla pudding. (Well, we told Sam it was either mayonnaise or vanilla pudding. I knew it was mayo. Sam found out rather quickly.)

Bron cut me off, a disgusted look on his face: “I don’t want to hear the end of that story.”

I also caught up with former SLAM rookie diary keeper Drew Gooden, who I hadn’t seen in a while. After the game Drew was sitting in his locker with his feet in a big bucket of ice, and an older sportswriter wandered past and said aloud, “I haven’t seen a bucket of ice that big since the last time I was in a hockey locker room.”

A few seconds later, Drew asked me, “I wonder why hockey players ice their feet after a game?”

Incredible question. And I had no answer.

Other stuff: I was told tonight that Allen Iverson’s All-Star votes will transfer over from the East to the West, which according to the most recent results would place him third among guards in the West, behind Kobe and T-Mac ….. How about those Suns? Are they peaking too soon? Can they keep this pace of play going during the postseason? ….. Anyone else notice the Clippers are in last place in the Pacific? ….. Nice of the Hawks to roll over and get drilled by the Jazz last night …..

That’s it. I’m signing off for the rest of the week, and will catch you guys right here next week, after the holidays.

Happy holidays and all the best from everyone at SLAM to all of you out there. As Stephen Jackson might say, Tis the season, wodie.