by Russ Bengtson
On some level, Rafer Alston must dread coming back to New York.
It’s not the pressures of playing in front of friends and family—Skip has been doing that for a long time now, both at the Garden and before that on blacktop from Queens to Harlem. No, it’s the hours before the game. More specifically, the media time. Even more specifically than that, the same local reporters who pepper him with the same questions every freaking time. It has to be infuriating.
But Skip takes it all in stride as he always does, talking to a massive pre-game crowd more appropriate for a superstar—not that many superstars talk before games. Dwight Howard doesn’t. He just cruises through again and again, topless as usual, like he’s fishing for tips. Or at least compliments. Mickael Pietrus is wearing the same reinforced adidas undergarment that Howard does, but doesn’t have quite the same physique. No one does.
I listen in for a few moments from the periphery of the Skip scrum, where he’s talking about New York City basketball. He remarks that kids today are far more distracted than they were when he played, what with their iPods and video games. His words are solemnly recorded in notebooks, on cassette tapes. He closes that particular subject by bringing up Myspace and Facebook. What the hell, I think, you can’t blow your ACL on an XBox 360. I also realize that, on some level, Rafer must feel very old. Which means I might be dead.
Someone asks him about Stan Van Gundy, and Rafer is effusive in his praise—a good idea since his coach sits less than 10 feet away, diagramming plays on a portable board already so filled with cramped writing that it looks like a prop from Se7en. At the moment he’s writing out the various Knicks’s three-point percentages, led by Danilo Gallinari at, well, 40-something. Chances are good he won’t be adding to that tonight, since he’s a) in Italy, and b) not playing. But points for being thorough.
Tonight the Knicks will be honoring legends from each decade, including Patrick Ewing (in town as a Magic assistant) and Clyde Frazier (who’s at every game since he’s an announcer). They’ll be joined by Bernard King (‘80s), Willis Reed (‘60s), Richie Guerin (‘50s), the daughter of Carl Braun (‘40s), and Dick McGuire (maybe they had an extra invite). Since the Knicks pregame historical highlight video starts with Willis Reed limping out of the tunnel, then jumps directly from a Clyde Frazier steal and layup to Patrick Ewing, it’s nice that they’re acknowledging other aspects of their history. There will be no player representing the ‘00s—considering we’re into ’09 you’d think they could have picked someone—which, actually, is more telling than the selection of any single player could be. The representative would have likely been Allan Houston, also already in the building (as Donnie Walsh’s special assistant or something), but we all know who it should be. He plays for the Celtics.
Most of pregame has been covered above, but it’s worth noting that the guy who sings the anthem apparently sang it before every game for a long stretch in the ‘80s. Why not? It’s not like the team switches starting lineups every game. Not since Larry Brown, anyway.
Nate Robinson has a pair of those ubiquitous “Beats By Dr. Dre” headphones in his locker, only his are neon green with his “Kryptonate” logo. The only other custom Beats headphones I’ve seen this year are LeBron’s. This sparks a brief discussion with a Knicks beatwriter on the prevalence of said $350 headphones, and a theory that the price players pay for them can be shown on a bell curve—superstars get them for free, some rookies and role players probably pay full retail, and a vast majority of guys must get them at cost. Someone needs to look into this.
Nate note number two: His street clothes hang in his locker, and his fitted and hoodie are purple and green—the colors of the Joker. It’s possible he’s mixing his superhero mythos, and this isn’t good. Nate, you need to hire a comic book consultant.
Question that vexes me in the press dining room (dinner is meh roasted chicken and pretty good mac and cheese): Exactly how many times has MSG aired John Starks’s playoff dunk on the Bulls? I’m talking gross, here—including repeats and promos and whatnot. If you told me 50,000, I wouldn’t even blink an eye. The number of times they go on to mention the Bulls went on to win the series in question must number in the tens. At least.
Larry Hughes is out with a sprained big toe. Cheikh Samb is out with a “sorry, we’re not renewing your contract.” He’s replaced on the roster by Courtney Sims, a big, genial, D-League call-up who’s got about as much chance at getting minutes as I do.
David Lee is sent to the center circle to jump against Dwight Howard. What ensues is almost exactly like the David and Goliath story, only not at all: Lee doesn’t even bother jumping.
Wilson Chandler fouls Dwight 21 seconds in. It would be kind of cool if they just started up the Hack-a-Dwight now, except the game would go on for six hours and the entire Knicks team would foul out by halftime. Dwight goes one for two, utilizing a short-armed form he learned from a Tyrannosaurus. Or Kevin Willis.
The Magic hit their first field goal with 8:31 to go in the quarter. With the exception of Howard, they’re playing like they just flew in from Guandong 20 minutes before tip-off. Howard, meanwhile, might not be aware that he’s being guarded at all.
With the Knicks leading 8-3, Rafer airballs a three with no one even near him. Stan Van Gundy quits and goes into accounting.
OK, not really.
Dwight Howard splits a double-team, apologizes profusely—probably too much—and dunks.
Richie Guerin and Bernard King are sitting together in the front row. They must have a lot to talk about. “Hey Bernard, I was a Knick great, too you know.” “I know, Richie. Hey, who was the best black guy you ever played against?” *Uncomfortable silence for next two hours*
Dwight swats a Q Rich attempt out of our universe.
Q, undaunted, buries a three to put the Knicks up seven with 5:07 to go.
Lee takes a deep two from the top of the key, backpedals, misses the shot. This does not bode well for an offensive rebound.
Jared Jeffries has ended the Air Jordan I Experiment after one game. Tragically, Mike D’Antoni has not seen fit to end the Jared Jeffries Experiment after, well, however many games he’s played.
Larry Johnson is actually at the game, sitting baseline. This is the first time he’s been back at the Garden since he retired, and he gets a tremendous ovation. He looks better than he ever did as a Knick, trim and fit. I estimate he could give Dwight 14 and six without too much trouble. Of course Dwight would get 60 and 35, but hey, the man’s in his 40s.
Seeing that the good feelings are getting too deep-seated, Stan Van Gundy cleverly inserts J.J. Redick with 1:21 to go in the first. Predictably, the boos rain down. Those Van Gundys are clever.
We’re locked up at 24 after 1.
Marcin Gortat replaces Dwight Howard, and immediately wreaks havoc. He—for whatever reason—leaves Chris Wilcox to double Q on the baseline, Wilcox drives the lane, gets the ball, and is fouled by a late-arriving Tony Battie. And 1. Next time down, Nate drives right into Gortat and loses the ball, Jeffries sort of picks it up before thinking better of it, the possession goes the other way, and Redick misses a three.
Redick hits a three to bring the Magic within two, but Al Harrington scores on a layup and gets the and 1 since Gortat had his feet in the restricted area while attempting to draw a charge. Which boosts the Knick lead back to five.
Wilcox—who’s been quite active this quarter—dunks back a miss on the baseline, but is called for offensive interference. And D’Antoni goes ballistic. You don’t see this many angry guys with mustaches stalking the sidelines outside of the NFL, so you have to cherish it.
Chris Wilcox doesn’t give up. He gets an and 1 courtesy of Hedo Turkoglu, misses the one, but Wilson Chandler corrals the rebound, gets it back to Wilcox, who’s fouled again by Hedo. This time he misses both. Maybe giving up would be a good idea.
Rashard Lewis misses inside and falls down, which gives Dwight Howard the opening he needs to dunk hard enough to temporarily suspend daylight savings time.
Hedo misses a three, so the next time down he just throws an alley-oop for Howard, who reverses it with the ease of a man who has a 45,092” vertical.
Chris Wilcox simply will not be denied. Well, except by the free-throw line and referees. Jumper works, though. 40-32, Knicks.
Anthony Johnson responds with a driving dunk that doesn’t say much for the Knicks interior defense, or lack thereof. Wilcox tries to respond with a dunk of his own, but just adds the rim to his list of enemies.
Dwight connects off glass on a pretty spin move. He’s got 20. The rest of the Magic are still considering whether they want to play tonight.
For the next Appleson post, Jake and I are considering having a rap battle. (The discussion went something like this: “Hey, let’s do a rap battle next time.” “Yes!”) Obviously said battle will not include the Orlando Magic, but Courtney Lee’s corner three makes me wish it would.
A few minutes later he does it again, just to vex me.
Halftime, Knicks lead 54-50.
It’s been noted in the local papers, but it’s worth repeating. As Patrick Ewing is introduced (to much applause and cheering), the Orlando Magic stand in front of their bench, applauding themselves and encouraging the crowd. The Knicks? Nowhere to be found. Sure, OK, preparation takes precedent, but come on. This is embarrassing.
Clyde Frazier is wearing a black leather SUIT. Oh, the questions he must get on a daily basis.
The Knicks stretch the lead to eight with 8:45 to go, and Stan Van Gundy calls time out in order to sacrifice a goat.
OK, not really.
Al Harrington draws a charge on Hedo, who now has four fouls to go with his four points and four rebounds. Four shame.
Dwight doesn’t get a call on the offensive end that he thinks he should have. He shrugs his massive shoulders, nearly dislodging the world, then heads back the other way and blocks a David Lee shot so hard that it goes through the backboard and kills 17 people.
Nate Robinson appears to be talking a stream of non-stop shit to Courtney Lee, who in turn appears to be taking it all in stride.
Knicks lead 79-70 after three.
The Knicks stretch the lead to an even 10 after a Magic deuce and a Q Rich trey. With 9:15 to go, Gortat checks in for Dwight. Zoinks!
Hedo finally seems to be coming out of his game-long daze. He gets to the baseline, pumpfakes Chandler, gathers, pumpfakes Wilcox, gets fouled.
Enough Gortat. Howard and Rashard enter for Gortat and Battie. It’s assumed that Van Gundy delivered some sort of motivational speech—something like, “you’re aware this is an NBA game that actually counts in the standings, right?”
With 7:14 to go, it’s 86-78 Knicks, and the lead is anything but safe.
Hedo buries a corner three from right in front of the Knicks bench and yells something at someone a couple rows in. Uptempo Collapse™, engage.
After cleverly pointing out to everyone within hearing range that “it looks like both teams flew from Gstaad at 4 a.m..” I write “Skip fouls Rafer” in my notes. As I consider myself to be fair game, I share this as well. The Magic are over the limit with 6:28 to go, possibly because their players have resorted to fouling themselves.
Rashard hits a three from up top, Lee gets a dunk when Dwight challenges Q, and Hedo hits another three from the opposite corner. The Knicks are trading twos for threes, and the Magic are playing an impromptu game of Around The World. I’ve seen this movie before. It’s 90-87 with 5:20 to go. That’s way too much time.
A Courtney Lee driving layup cuts it to 90-89, and Orlando finally regains the lead on a Dwight Howard putback dunk with 3:52 left. Their last lead was, um, 1-0.
Hedo stretches it the Magic lead to three on a driving layup, Q re-ties it with a trey, but the Magic aren’t even remotely concerned. Skip buries a three at the end of the 24-second clock from in front of Spike’s seats, steps on someone’s foot out of bounds, and bends down to brush their shoes off before heading back downcourt.
The rest is, as they say, purely academic. The Knicks cut it back to one, the Magic pull away. Courtney Lee hits all his free throws down the stretch, the Magic reach 100 first, the Knicks lose. Final count is 106-102.
Numbers: Dwight finishes with 29 points, 14 rebounds, and what appears to be a criminally low four blocks. Courtney Lee winds up with 22. And Hedo gets 16 (12 in the fourth quarter) and eight. Over on the Knicks side, Lee gets a 14/13 double-double despite fouling out in 30 minutes, and Nate finishes with a team-high 19 off the bench despite shooting 6-23. Both teams are abysmal from the line, missing a combined 25 freebies.
Stan Van Gundy is talking, and I’m not listening. Mostly it’s because I’m too far away, separated by too many people, but also because Larry Johnson is less than 10 feet away, reminiscing with various Knicks employees and beatwriters. Apparently he’s back in Dallas, playing lots of golf. All of a sudden, though, Stan’s voice rises a couple of decibels, and I’m drawn in. He’s talking about Patrick Ewing. What I scribble is this: “while they’ve got a lot of ex-players in their organization they haven’t made an effort to hire him, which is amazing.” He goes on to say quite a bit more.
Now, I hate to editorialize—especially after you’ve stuck with me through 2,400 words of this—but what business of it is Stan Van Gundy’s whether the Knicks hire Patrick Ewing (or even interview him) as head coach? Plenty of organizations merely honor their former greats. And Patrick Ewing is far from the only former great who works for a different team than the one he starred for. Michael Jordan is an executive with the Bobcats. Larry Bird is an executive with the Pacers. Will Stan say similar things about the Bulls and the Celtics? And while yes, it would have been nice if the Knicks interviewed Ewing for the coaching job, does anyone think he would have been a better choice than D’Antoni? Much ado about nothing, I think.
Hedo Turkoglu emerges from the shower in a plush black terry robe—the only player I’ve ever seen in a robe. Most make do with the towels provided by the home team, which are often too small and simply not up to millionaire standards. It’s amazing that Turkoglu is the only NBA player to have come up with this solution. (Apparently he isn’t—a locker room attendant mentions that Antawn Jamison also has a robe, and the Rockets actually travel with their own towels and washcloths.) One of the Magic staff guys actually calls Hedo “Hugh Hefner,” which he takes in stride.
Dwight takes his time getting ready to talk, asking a reporter from NBA TV China (a young female one, natch) to check whether his tie is straight. Too bad I’ve got an earlier ride to catch than he does.
Photo by Atiba Jefferson
Originally published in SLAM 89
Ask these three Spurs. Basketball sure is fun when you’re winning. – Tzvi Twersky
by Sammy Newman-Beck
With some of the top colleges heading into the final rounds of the NCAA Tournament, high school hoopers all over the country have been watching, some of whom plan on attending these universities next year to play. While most of these kids finished their respective high school seasons, one basketball program (Basketbull, LLC) set up a talent showcase and All-Star game this past weekend at Springfield College in Springfield, MA—also known as the birthplace of basketball.
The Russell Athletics sponsored event which featured two different All-Star games, a dunk contest and a 3-point competition drew talented players including diaper dandies who will next year attend schools like the University of Connecticut, Notre Dame, Drexel and UPenn, to name a few. Basketbull extended an invite so I, as SLAM’s New England rep, checked out the scene.
1st Game- Public School Game North vs. South
North Teams Notable Players:
Thomas Knight (Dirigo HS, Maine) 6-9 — headed to Notre Dame
Luis Montes (Brockton HS, Brockton Mass) 6-4 — Marianopolis Prep
Ike Azotam (O’Bryant HS Boston, Mass) 6-7 — Marianopolis Prep
South Teams Notable Players:
Daryl McCoy (Hartford Public, Hartford CT) 6-7 — Drexel
Anthony Ireland (Crosby HS, CT) 5-10 — Undecided
Steven Samuels (Windsor HS, Windsor CT) 6-4 — Undecided
The Public School game featured some of the best non-prep products from Massachusetts and Connecticut. Primarily consisting of players searching for Division II and lower Division I scholarships, this game was close to the end. While these games were closed to Division I college coaches, Division II and III coaches were out in full force. Coaches from these schools (and more) were repped: Adelphi, American International College, St. Anslem’s College, Brandeis University, Williams College and Springfield College. While the game was close it was the play of Windsor HS (CT) Steven Samuels (19 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds) that made the difference for the South team who won 111-99. Samuels is currently receiving interest from Fresno State and UC-Santa Barbara. Leading the North team was little-known big man Ike Azotam (Boston, MA) with 14 points and 6 rebounds.
Between the Public School game and the Prep School game, a 3-point contest and an emphatic dunk competition ensued…
3-Point Winner: Scott Tavares-Taylor (5-10, Tilton School — U-Mass Lowell)
Dunk Winner: Kyle Casey (6-7, Brimmer and May — Harvard)
**On a side note the dunk contest was one of the most impressive displays of athleticism I have seen on a high school level. Casey, who won the dunk contest proceeded to in his first dunk jump over 6-9 big man Ben Crenca. With his second dunk he pulled 10 kids ages 8 and under from the stands and swiftly leaped them to catch an alley-oop. This kids athleticism is outstanding… Harvard must be extremely happy!**
2nd Game- Prep School Game East vs. West
After the fun-filled contests the second, and somewhat more publicized, the prep school game took place. While it didn’t receive the quite the same attention, the talent was actually more impressive. The game boasted the likes of Jamaal Coombs-McDaniel (UConn — pictured), Brian Fitzpatrick (UPenn), Kyle Casey (Harvard) and a bunch of undecided mid-major level players like South Kent’s Rashad Wright, Worcester Academy’s Austin Carroll and Winchendon Prep’s Preye Preboye.
With this game having some bigger players and more athletic ballers, it was more exciting than the previous game. Surprisingly though, it was the play of less heralded Sam Martin (Yale) and Marianopolis Prep’s Chris Flores (Undecided) who won the game for Team West. Despite a second half onslaught by Team East’s Jamaal Coombs-McDaniel and the solid play of Brian Fitzpatrick, Team West played a more team oriented game and came out with the win 107-100. Martin finished with 21 points and 5 assists for the West, while Coombs-McDaniel led the East with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists.
Overall the Basketbull LLC put together a great event for local high school seniors. Giving these kids (especially the ones still without scholarships) some exposure and providing a fun atmosphere was well appreciated by those in attendance. For more info on Basketbull visit Basketbull.org.
While you can’t see the ball go in the hoop, there’s no need to guess whether it went in.
Junior guard Chris Roberts takes the inbounds pass at his own foul line with 0.9 left and launches a 75-footer. The ball floats in two seconds of pure silence, banks off glass and through the goal, sending 5,007 Bradley fans into Madness. The prayer shot gave the Braves a 76-75 victory against Oakland, MI. Bradley advances to the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament Final Four this Wednesday. And, apparently, the CIT is a real tournament.
Somewhere in Toronto, Patrick O’Bryant is celebrating. (via The Dagger)
by Ben Osborne
SLAM 127 is on sale everywhere (in the US at least) by now and subscription copies have gone out too…time for a-a reminder to those of you who do not have it to go get it! and b-a dope contest related to the issue.
As always, our friends at Converse (what up Paul!) have come up big in an effort to deliver DWade goodies to his real fans. Check out all that we have in store for deserving readers…
-Two signed Wade 3 shoes (right foot only; pictured below the cover). As you can see in the image, it’s got a really nice silver signature on one of Dwyane’s great shoes.
-10 pairs of Wade Slashes (any size, any of the three colorways shown in this post). As in, whoever wins will get to tell me their size and what colorway they want and Converse will send us a pair specifically for the winners.
How do you win? I wish I could make sure only owners of the issue entered, but we don’t get down like that. Technically this is a “no-purchase-necessary” giveaway (like always) and anyone on here can win. So here’s what I came up with…to me, while Kobe and LeBron have been typically amazing (don’t want to sound like I’m taking their greatness for granted, but in a way you could say their seasons were expected), Dwyane has been the individual story of the season. I’m not ashamed at all to say I didn’t see it coming. Yes, I know what he did in the Finals. Yes, I saw the gold-medal game. Yes, I stated vehemently that the Heat would win 45 games (in Eboy’s preview, in some Lang comments, and in NOYZ all season; shoot, Lang and I have a bet on it). Shit, I wrote one fo the first national features on Dwyane before he left Marquette, so it’s not like he hasn’t been on my radar for a long time. But still…30-5-8-2-1? At 6-4? After two straight severely shortened seasons? Leading a young, short, mediocre team to the brink of home-court advantage in the first-round of the Playoffs? Remarkable. Given all that, my question is: When did YOU see Dwyane in his current light, which is Top Three Current Players and a MVP candidate, if not favorite? At Robbins High? Marquette? Rookie year? The Finals? If you’re like me, the true answer might be like March 9 of this year! If you really saw it coming a long time ago, cool. But I’m not necassarily going to give the prizes to those who can claim the longest lead time on seeing DWade turn out like this. As always, I’m looking for creativity, passion and good reasoning.
That’s it. Just do your thing in the comment section by explaining when you knew Dwyane could be this good. In my opinion, the two signed shoes are the cooler of the prize options, so they’ll go to places 1 and 2. Places 3-12 will win their own pair of Wade Slashes (from top, the colors are black-silver, white-black-red, and white-blue).
We’ll let this percolate this week and then pick winners Friday.
Thanks for playing!
Self-awareness is good, and depressing: “The decision to practice during this extended break wasn’t Natt’s only tactical change. During the same four-day game reprieve in early March, he threatened widespread benching if there wasn’t more defensive dedication. But little has changed since, leading Natt to admit his uncertain status hinders his authority. ‘(The players) know my situation,’ said Natt, who has signed a one-year contract option for next season that the Kings have until May 1 to decide if they want to exercise. ‘They know I’m a lame-duck coach. I’m not like (Miami’s) Erik Spoelstra, with a three-year contract. You have to listen to him. Kenny Natt? He may not be here. So they deal with that; that’s the way players are. From that standpoint, it’s been a tough challenge, but I’m still battling with it.’”
by Marcel Mutoni
CB4, perhaps more than anyone else in the L, works very hard at branding himself and creating a certain public persona. That of an accessible, somewhat goofy, fun-loving guy.
His ex-girlfriend (who became kinda famous last year), though, says there’s an other side to Chris Bosh. The “deadbeat father” side to be precise. And she’ll see him in court.
From the Toronto Star:
Chris Bosh, the face of Toronto’s struggling NBA franchise, is being cast in U.S. court documents as a deadbeat father who broke up with his girlfriend when she was seven months pregnant, leaving her destitute and without medical care even as she fell ill.
Four-month-old Trinity Meyers Mathis, according to the documents, has laid eyes on her father but twice, both times in his hotel room when the Raptors were in town to face the Wizards. The complaint, which contains allegations that have not been proven in court, says Bosh contested his paternity before genetic testing determined a 99.97 per cent probability that he is Trinity’s father.
Bosh, of course, denies the allegations and his attorneys say they’ll work to clear his name of any wrong doing.
He’s desperate for more playing time: “If Celtics [team stats] fans want to see more of Kevin Garnett, the power forward has a simple suggestion. ‘Y’all pray for me, cross your fingers, call (coach) Doc Rivers - start the ‘Give KG more minutes campaign,’ Garnett said after the C’s 90-77 win against the Clippers at the Garden. ‘I think (Rivers) is going by feel. It’s an open dialogue and we’re trying to figure it out as we go.’”
by Marcel Mutoni
Patrick Ewing and a host of other Knicks greats were feted at the Garden last night. Stan Van Gundy and his Magic were in town, and Orlando’s coach wasn’t exactly in a celebratory mood.
After watching the Knicks honor his assistant coach, Van Gundy tore into them for not giving their former center a fair shot at a coaching gig. From the NY Daily News:
“I’m a cynical person,” Van Gundy said following the Magic’s 106-102 win at the Garden. “If they feel he’s one of the greatest players in franchise history and they’ve hired a lot of other prominent players, why won’t they even give him an interview? But on a night like tonight, they’ll want him to help him sell out the building.”
“I’m not trying to needle anybody or tell them their business,” Van Gundy said. “But they honor the guy every year and what’s amazing to me is that while they have a lot of ex-players in their organization, they hadn’t made any move to try to hire him. This is a guy who is not only the face of the franchise and their best player ever and who works as hard as he does, and they say great things about him. But when it comes time to put up or shut up, they don’t do anything. It’s our good fortune.”
If there’s one way to quickly gain some much-needed public support this summer, it’s not hard to see what the Knicks should do.
James is on his Yoga game: “When James first came into the NBA at the age of 18 he didn’t even tape his ankles, sometimes ate McDonald’s an hour before tipoff and his main use for ice was cooling beverages. As he’s matured, part out of necessity and part out of pride, he’s serious about preparing and maintaining his body for the rigors of an NBA season. That includes a wide range of measures from diet and recovery techniques to the Vajrasana, Virasana and the particularly stunning Salamba Sarvangasana. They are yoga poses and they are also an essential part of James’ routine every week. ‘Yoga isn’t just about the body, it’s also about the mind and it’s a technique that has really helped me,’ James said. ‘You do have to focus because there’s some positions that can really hurt you at times if you aren’t focused and breathing right.’”
The Denver Nuggets are trying to come up with all kinds of creative ways to save money: “Kroenke Sports Enterprises last week announced layoffs. Also affected has been the Denver Nuggets Cheerleading team, whose performances have been scaled back from all home games to only weekend games…So how money would be saved by benching the cheerleaders for seven games this season? It would seem to be less than $17,000.”
Wildly expensive, too: “Nubeo, a high-end watch brand known outside the U.S. for its jellyfish-shaped watches, has teamed up with the basketball star to create a limited-edition line of high-tech sport watches starting at about $21,000 and topping out at $285,000. The Black Mamba series — a play on Mr. Bryant’s nickname — will be unveiled this coming week at Baselworld, the watch and jewelry show held annually in Basel, Switzerland, and will go on sale in the U.S. this fall, the watchmaker’s American debut.”
by Marcel Mutoni
Last week, Harvey Pollack, the legendary Sixers’ statistician, celebrated his 87th birthday. His longtime friend Bill Walton marked the occasion by leaving him precisely what you’d expect a Bill Walton voicemail to sound like.
The Philly Inquirer got their hands on the loopy, rambling audio and have transcribed it for our reading pleasure:
“Happy birthday, happy birthday. Harvey, this Bill Walton just in case you thought it might have been Neil Young or Tony Bennett or Barry Manilow or someone else. But I just wanted to call and wish you the happiest of birthdays and just say thanks for everything, Harvey. You make our lives so wonderful, so full, so complete. And you are such an intergalactic treasure. I cannot believe it’s gone so fast - 87 years young. Oh. My. Gosh. You have given your life to make everybody else’s better, Harvey, and we just wanted to say thank you on this most special day for you. And we hope that you have just many, many, many, many more birthdays. Happy birthday, happy birthday. Thanks for not only making a difference, Harvey, thanks for making the difference … in all of our lives. Where on earth would we be without Harvey Pollack? Happy birthday to you.
“You’re the absolute greatest. We could never thank you enough. Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Keep it going forever, Harvey. You are our true inspiration. You are our beacon of hope. You are our moral compass and guiding light. Happy birthday, happy birthday, happy birthday to you. Thanks Harvey. Bill Walton here just in case you thought it might have been somebody who can really sing. OK. You take care. We love you, Harvey. Thanks again. Bye.”
I wish Bill could call me for my birthday.
You can listen to the madness here.
by Holly MacKenzie
I am succumbing to my body’s demands for sleep. It is 1:56 a.m. and I spent the night unraveling some Chris Bosh drama that I’m sure you’ll all hear about soon enough. I’m not a fan of this story but that is an opinion for another place and time. Anyway, I saw some of the Denver/Phoenix game and that’s it!
Today is a throwback day… to SLAMonline pre-Post Up. Fill me in. Fill yourselves in. Please.
Oh, about the news that Gil plans on coming back this weekend: if he feels the need to come back so he can mentally go into the offseason knowing he played and felt good, then great. I support whatever he does, but my goodness part of me wishes he’d just wait until next season. I’ll be holding my breath when I watch him out there for the first time.
And, in Syracuse news, Jonny Flynn said yesterday that he will be back in Orange next year. Hmm.
Suns won their fifth straight with a victory over the Nuggets that went down to the wire. Grant Hill saved the day with a jumper and a free throw to give Phoenix the 118-115 victory.
Flip Murray had 30 points for the Hawks in a victory over the TWolves. He keeps on coming with the good games.
Heard the Philly/Portland game was a good one that went into overtime before the Sixers pulled it out, 114-108, thanks to Andre Miller’s 27-point, 10-rebound night. Most underrated pg out there.
by Chris O’Leary
With the Madness and going down all around us, I want to start things off today with an apology to all of you who entered last week’s Kevin Garnett UCLA jersey/sneaker giveaway. I’ve kept you waiting too long on announcing a winner. A crashed laptop (RIP iBook G4) and a chaotic week have me playing catchup. So let’s get to our winner.
We had lots of great entries for this thing that dug up a lot of great memories from the tourney. We got mentions aplenty for Illinois in ‘05, a few for Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble, the ‘85 Villanova squad, and a lot others. In the end, it came down to these three entries, from TADone, Clark 13 and the entrant with the strangest/funniest name in here, KobeWearsAPurpleThong, respectively. I’ve pasted my finalists below. If you’re anxious, skip past the entrants to catch our winner.
My brotherhood moment would have to be Loyola Marymount and Bo Kimble after Hank Gathers passed away during their conference tourney. Playing on the emotion of Gathers memory, the team made it all the way to the Elite Eight before succumbing to eventual champs UNLV. I especially loved Kimble shooting freethrows left handed in honor of Hank.
March 19, 1966. It was the day the brotherhood was born. It was a day before public relations and marketing campaigns. It was a day before color TVs and a colored president. It was a day before racial equality. It was a day when a movement began. Not only a basketball revolution, but an entire social outcry was observed. On paper it looks like any other game. Texas Western. Kentucky. 72. 65. What paper cannot capture are the ramifications of that liberating contest. In 40 minutes an entire nation was changed within a gymnasium. Through the looming masses of hecklers and infinite mounds of hate mail, the Miners dug deep into America’s unjust core. Many attribute them with blazing a trail for Los Angeles’ Showtime and Michigan’s Fab Five, but to simply credit them with changing a sport is blatant disrespect. From biographies to a feature film, the El Paso emancipators will forever be remembered for their unified opposition of irrefutable racism throughout the country, on and off the court. Much like adidas’ new sales pitch, Michael Jordan to the Tar Heels and Tubby Smith’s championship with the Wildcats would have only been a dream. Without their courage, Cinderella stories like Loyola-Marymount and George Mason would have struck midnight long before the game ever began. Hill. Lattin. Artis. Worsley. Fluornoy. Shed. Cager. Haskins. This brotherhood not only saw past prejudice to ignite the hopes of athletes from young to old and black to white, they also wrote history with one lineup. One lineup inspired a society. One lineup served as a beacon for civil rights. One lineup reminded everyone in a country’s promise that all men are created equal. One lineup defied the death threats, defeated the doubters, and triumphed over Goliath. That lineup became the precedent of all brotherhoods to follow. And it all started on March 19, 1966.
My favorite NCAA Brotherhood moment I remember watching took place in 1992. I (and everyone else) thought Duke was finally going to lose. Kentucky was going to knock them off the pedestal. Then came “The Shot.” Grant Hill throws a beautiful baseball pass to Christian Laetnner and the rest is history. Remember Thomas Hill crying because he was so shocked..? Now those guys were brothers-and Coach K was Dad. That team had such a bond between players/players and players/coach it was ridiculous. You had the “little brother” Hurley, the “older wiser brother”, Laettner the never shakeable “rock of a big brother” G.Hill, and the list goes on. But don’t forget “Dad”, Coach K. As much as I disliked that team because they were just so damn good, they had an unbreakable bond. They always knew what each other was going to do next, and would do anything for each other-true “Brotherhood”….
I kind of feel like Michael Buffer standing in the ring at the end of some weird sort of triple-threat boxing match that went the distance, with the duty of announcing a winner. Ladies and gentlemen, your winner via judges’ decision…
Before anyone with a good memory gets their stuff up in knots, I want to address something. Clark won the KG giveaway we had back in November. I spent a good part of the weekend going over the three finalists and weighed out a few different options. Let me take you through my judging process:
First off, Clark killed it in his reasoning for the 1966 Texas Western Miners team. To me, out of all of the moments in the tournament listed here, the Miners’ win was the most culturally and socially important out of any other tourney winner. The ‘92 Duke team may have been the best team night-in night-out out of the three finalists’ topics, and the Hank Gathers/Bo Kimble connection runs deep, no doubt. But the Western Texas team transcended like no other team in college basketball. That starting five was a brotherhood within a brotherhood of that team and it was impossible for me to look past that.
At the risk of stuffing one person’s closet full of exclusive merch in the future, I’m gonna institute a one-time winner policy on all future giveaways that we run on this blog. Just to give some props to Tad and Mr. PurpleThong, we’re gonna set you two up with a little something for your efforts as well. If I haven’t thanked everyone who entered yet, let me put that out there now. I loved reading over everyone’s entries and remembering some remarkable stuff from the last 40-plus years back with college ball.
The Celtics did exactly what they’re supposed to in Memphis over the weekend. Big Baby did exactly what he was supposed to and more: 24 points on 8-11 shooting.
by Ryne Nelson
Gilbert Arenas may be back on the court this season. That is, as soon as he makes up his mind about it.
Word of his return came this morning when Arenas texted CSN’s Chris Miller, “Ur the first to get the truth. I’m playing Saturday against Detroit.” Of course, it didn’t take long for Agent Zero to renege his statement. The Post’s Ivan Carter got at Arenas, who recoiled a half-step back:
“It’s true if that’s what ends up happening. First, I have to see how I feel in the practices this week, then I have to be totally cleared with the medical staff and then I have to talk to [interim coach Ed Tapscott] about a plan for how I’m going to play.”
This is the inscrutable Arenas we’ve come to know over the past two seasons. The team will have three practices before Saturday’s game to determine if he’s ready to go. If he does make it a return, playing back-to-back games is already ruled out.
by Ben Osborne
I don’t think Beanie Sigel gave a shit about Steph and KG, but I sure did. I had been a fan of Steph’s since I met him when he was a sixth grader, and I rooted for KG since he declared for the Draft. And then they were together! A promising first season. A very exciting second season. And in the middle of it all, SLAM hired yours truly as an editorial intern…
This cover, which remains one of my all-time favorites in SLAM history, is the one that was being completed on my first days in the office (those of you with serious SLAM collections will notice I’m nowhere to be found on this masthead but show up as “Editorial Assistant” in SLAM 22/Rafer Alston).
It was meant to be. SLAM had a bright future. These two great teammates had a bright future. And if I was looking for signs, maybe I figured I had a bright future if I could be lucky enough to be starting work at a publication cool enough to do this cover. Well, SLAM is still going strong…with a dope website that was only a dream back then, to boot. And if you’re on this site you probably think being Ed. of SLAM is a cool gig, so I guess I did okay. But Steph and KG? Steph got paid but has had more than his share of issues. KG has become a media darling and an NBA champion. But together? Not so much.
The rest of the history has been told and retold a million times, so I’m going to skip all that. But I did just want to share that last Friday night, when most bball fans were probably watching college hoops, I was watching Steph and KG together again in Celtics uniforms for the same game (and a hell of a game it was; road wins at San Anton don’t come easy) and tripping off what a long trip it’s been.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that this hasn’t really been talked about too much—SLAM’s editorial tastes tend to be different than most other media outlets. And I’ll be the first to admit that Steph is hardly setting the world on fire. His gamelog, not to mention just watching him play, shows a man whose jumpshot has been way off. But he can still handle, he can still pass, and he’s still got a body that gives many opposing guards fits. As for KG, he’s just rounding back into form for the homestretch.
We’ll probably have a photographer at the last game of the NBA Finals, looking for potential cover images, and if it’s the C’s we will definitely be looking to get these guys back in this pose. Truth is, they didn’t rule the world back then…but win a title together and maybe they will.
Photo by Atiba Jefferson
Originally published in SLAM 47
Possibly, and silently, the best player of the decade, nine winters ago TD21 told us that his only fears were heights, sharks, and “not being able to play anymore.” Still playing at high level, he doesn’t have to worry about that last fear for at least a few more seasons. —Tzvi Twersky
by Eric Woodyard
The act of getting a pregame interview with Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade is like seeing Bishop Magic Don Juan sporting anything but green and gold (…it just doesn’t happen much!). I found this out when Wade and the Heat made their visit to the Palace of Auburn Hills to take on the struggling Detroit Pistons yesterday.
I came into the arena with high hopes! For what it’s worth, it was an ESPN/ABC nationally televised game, a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and Wade’s a humble dude so I knew that I could be lucky enough to pull of this feat. Wrong! Not only was I unable to get an interview with him, I was unable to even see the MVP candidate until about 10 minutes before the tip off. Despite my failed attempt with the Flash, I was successful in my other efforts. The actual game was action-packed but most of the real action took place before and after the exhibition. Here’s what happened…
Upon entering the arena, ESPN cameramen were everywhere and I spotted a few familiar faces even before visiting the team’s locker rooms. The first person that I encountered was NBA legend turned analyst, Mark Jackson, who was friendlier than most. The New Yorker was engaged in casual conversation with another person from the media when I briefly interrupted him for a short interview. After quizzing me about my background info and asking me if I knew SLAM Editor-In-Chief, Ben Osborne, he agreed to answer a few questions.
SLAM: How do you feel about being here today watching DWade take on the Detroit Pistons here in Motown?
Mark Jackson: Well it’s gonna be a lot of fun. You’re talking about getting the opportunity to watch arguably the best player in the game and a guy that has a legit chance to win MVP so it should be a very entertaining ball game.
SLAM: Your (analyst) style is pretty creative, you’ve got your own punch lines like “Mama there goes that man,” and things like that. How do you come up with those types of things?
MJ: Well it’s really New York talk. It’s something I grew up with playing basketball on the playgrounds of New York City, playing with family and friends, [and] no matter what I’m doing all day everyday, I’m a trash talker and I’m having fun. So it’s just an extension of me calling the game almost like I’m sitting on the couch with my family just having fun with it. So I’m trying to put my own spin on it.
SLAM: We have a guy here in Michigan by the name of Rodney Stuckey. A lot of people like to compare him to Dwyane Wade, what’s your take on that?
MJ: It’s really not fair to compare him to a guy that has ultimately won a championship and is a guy that is one of the top-three players in the world today. But Rodney Stuckey is a phenomenal young basketball player and you can see the similarities in both players and you can see how bright his future’s gonna be. Outstanding scorer, tremendous strength and a bright head on his shoulders.
SLAM: Who’s your MVP? Do you feel DWade should be considered for it despite his team’s record?
MJ: Well his team is in the Playoffs so he certainly should be considered but when you’re talking about the MVP, I think it’s a toss up between Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. It’s awfully tough to pick one of those guys. I think the rest of the season is going to tell who separates themselves.
From there it was off to the locker rooms. The Heat’s side was pretty dead as most of the players took part in shoot around. Mario Chalmers listened to music while Luther Head and Udonis Haslem had their eyes fixed on film of the opposition.
On the Pistons’ side, Rodney Stuckey munched on a pre-game meal after taking a few pre-game shots and signing autographs to the rowdy fans. Stuckey was cool, calm and collected as he too was watching film of his basketball idol Dwyane Wade while sitting at his locker. There was also an Allen Iverson sighting as he stretched in the training room looking as if he would take part in action.
After peeping the scene for a little while longer, I decided to step into the media room where breakfast food was being served. Without trying to be too much of a pest, I decided to approach former Bad Boy Rick Mahorn who was stern but fair.
“What’s up Mr. Mahorn?” I asked as he ate.
“If you mess with me while I’m trying to eat I’ll kill you,” Mahorn said smirking.
“Oh OK,” I said not knowing whether to take him serious or not.
“I’m for real! Naw but what can I help you with?” he said grinning looking up from his plate of pancakes, hash browns, and bacon.
“I work with SLAM, and I was wondering if I could get an interview?”
“Yeah, I’ll get you when I’m done eating.”
Instead of waiting around because he wasn’t nearly finished, I decided to camp out in the hallway to watch as the Pistons stormed their home court. Mahorn ran into me out there and said he’d get me after the game but I didn’t see him again. He wasn’t dodging me, but we were both very busy after the game and we didn’t cross paths.
– Without A.I., Rip, and Sheed, Wade dominated as usual! 39 points, 2 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and 4 blocks… including the game-winning swat on Stuckey that made me feel like a proud father as he did wonders for my fantasy league team.
– Stuckey held his own, though, as he chipped in 24 points, grabbed a board, and threw 3 dimes. The Pistons lead for most of the game but fell in the end, 96-101, moving three games behind Miami in the Eastern Conference standings.
– Rip was the only player from the injured trio to sit on the bench and support his team. A.I. and Sheed teased the fans as they came out during warm-ups and signed a few autographs before heading back into the locker room to watch the game.
– In the second quarter Rip even seemed amused as he and Kwame Brown watched himself on the scoreboard’s large screen in the “24 seconds with Rip” feature during a time out. When asked who his favorite actresses were he responded with “I have two, Halle Berry and Pam Grier. Only people from the old school know about Pam Grier… I have an old soul.”
Following the game near the tunnel of the visitor’s locker room, I ran into another distinguished African-American actress who unfortunately didn’t top Rip’s list…Gabrielle Union. Caramel skin glowing, dimples glaring and looking as beautiful as ever, I wanted to spit a few words in her ear but I decided not to (…just kidding). I couldn’t say the same for the fans who bombarded hip-hop star, Flo Rida, before I reached Gabrielle Union. He seemed to enjoy the attention as he posed for pics and gave out his signature to just about anyone who asked.
This, minus the autographs and photos, was a lot like the media frenzy around Dwyane Wade in the visitor’s locker room as he sat at an unnamed locker and answered each question fired from reporters with grace and humility. Although I was unable to get a direct interview with the Flash, I can take credit as being the first person to show him a copy of his third appearance on the cover of the SLAM Magazine.
A video of this occurrence will be posted later this week on SLAMTV… Stay tuned!!
By Matt Caputo
Mateen Cleaves knows how to dance. Back in 2000, Cleaves led Michigan State to the national championship and was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. Cleaves, the Spartan’s career steals leader, is Michigan State’s only three-time All-American. He was named Big Ten Player of the Year twice – leading college and conference in career assists with 816. After four years at Michigan State, the short and stocky entered the NBA draft.
Cleaves slid into the League early in the first round. The Pistons took him with the 14th pick in the first-round, but Cleaves struggled to fit in after his rookie season. Although he was named to the NBA’s All-Rookie Team, he didn’t make the playoff roster when he was shipped to Sacramento, where the Kings went to the Western Conference Finals. Since then, the majority of his NBA career has been spent trying to keep his dream alive. He bounced from the Kings to the Cavs before making his first stop in the D-League with the now defunct Huntsville Flight. He’s shuffled back and forth between the big and little leagues, even spending decent stretches of two seasons with the now non-existent Seattle Supersonics, where he played sparingly. Though he’s been to camp with the Nuggets, Celtics, Raptors and Nets, he hasn’t found a permanent place on any roster. Over the last three seasons, Cleaves has brought a ton of veteran knowledge to the Bakersfield Jam of the NBA D-League.
SLAM recently spoke with Cleaves about his March Madness memories, NBA and D-League career after practice with the Jam.
SLAM: What are you up?
Mateen Cleaves: I’m hanging in there. I just got out of shoot-around; we got a little game tonight. We’ve got to play the Dakota Wizards tonight and pretty they’re decent. I couldn’t watch today because we had practice, but I’m fitting to go and watch the tournament right now.
SLAM: What are your Final Four predictions?
MC: Oh man, I filled out about three different brackets. I got Michigan State, UCONN, Pitt and Memphis or something.
SLAM: This time of year, you have to think a lot about the 2000 National Championship.
MC: You always do. I think Magic Johnson told me that it gets better every year. He said that you wouldn’t appreciate it until you get older and that’s how it is. I still get chill bumps, the memories come back and the phone start righting, you know (laughs). It’s always a good time of the year. People took for granted how athletic our team was and how good we were in transition. I think we showed that against Florida when they tried to press us. Coach Izzo had a hell of a game plan, him and the rest of the staff.
SLAM: What’s your most vivid memory of the 2000 Title?
MC: Finally just winning it! I sit down with my brothers and my father and watch the tournament every year. As a kid, you fantasize about being in it and winning it, but at that time it was only a dream. We started out with Valparaiso, the next game we beat Utah, after that we beat Syracuse and Iowa State. We played Wisconsin and we beat Florida. To actually have it happen was priceless.
SLAM: What was the most intense moment?
MC: I would say, it was probably when we were playing Syracuse and we were down. Coach called a time our and Morris Peterson came in and we called our favorite play a “back-door lob.” Mo said “Coach, I think I can make it.” I came off a screen-and-roll, turn around and come back, dribble at Mo’Pete and he cut backdoor. He caught it and it went through. We went on to win and it was a great moment for us.
SLAM: What made that team a championship team?
MC: What made us special was that we needed our entire team to play well if we were going to win. Everybody on that team brought something different. Morris Peterson has did a lot of things, Charlie Bell was our do-it-all type of guy, AJ Granger played a hell of a role and made great plays. Andre Hutson was probably the most underrated player on that team. I don’t think he really got credit for how great he played throughout that whole year, not just in the tournament. We had Jason Richardson and David Thomas coming off the bench. We didn’t care who got the credit or who scored the most points; our main goal was to find a way to win by any means necessary. We all depended on each other.
I’m constantly in touch with those guys, like Morris Peterson and Charlie Bell. Coach invites us back for a football game and a big dinner ever year. We all managed to stay in touch over the years.
SLAM: Coach Izzo’s son’s middle name is “Mateen,” after you.
MC: Man, that’s an honor. Our coaches put in so much work to build the best possible game plan. The players played, but the coaches did a hell of a job preparing us. Coach Izzo was big on playing one game at a time and not looking ahead. Our theme that year was “leave it all on the floor.” Basically, we didn’t want to come back to the locker rooms with an ounce of energy left. That’s something we kind of took to heart.
SLAM: Can you compare playing in the D-League to playing major DI ball?
MC: It’s different, to be honest. DI, especially like Michigan State, - it’s two different leagues. In the D-League, you’ve got some traveling guys and some guys who I think could play in the NBA. Everybody here is hardworking and trying to move on to the big leagues. Other than that, I can’t compare the two to be honest.
SLAM: You’ve moved from the NBA to the D-League to the NBA and back. How much have you seen it change in your time there?
MC: It has changed. They’ve done a heck of a job. I played in Huntsville, Alabama and the bus rides were eight hours. Nowadays these guys are flying mostly everywhere. The league has grown. Even the Coaches have NBA experience, they have played in the NBA and they have grown. I’d like to take my hat off to the people that are running it, because they’re doing a heck of a job.
SLAM: You’ve got a lot of experience now, that’s for sure.
MC: I done been in every possible situation. I been an All-American, the superstar on the team, I’ve been the guy on the end of the bench that don’t play that much and has to just come to practice and work hard. Every situation I’ve been in has helped me out. In the D-League, and even when I was overseas, I’d come to practice and work guys out, so, being in all these situations has helped me a lot. There are little things you can do that make everybody better.
SLAM: How long do you see yourself continuing to play?
MC: Everybody I’ve spoken to tells me to play as long as I can and play until I get it out of my system. The veterans and the older guys tell me to keep going until I can’t anymore. I’m not going to play until I’m crippled, but I’ve got a good three or four more years. After that, I do have a passion to want to coach.
by John Krolik
I am a huge fan of 82games.com. If you consider yourself a real fan of basketball and haven’t been to 82games yet, do so right now. For years, 82games has provided data to fans that has long been misconstrued or only given in anecdotal evidence, and last week I was able to interview its founder Roland Beech. Here’s a transcript of our conversation, which you’ll hopefully enjoy.
SLAM: First off, the basic stuff: How did 82games get started up? What was the original mission statement, if there was one? Has it changed at all?
Roland Beech: I had worked on NFL stats for a while and I guess saw an opportunity to do some interesting things in basketball, which is a game like football that has a lot of interaction between players. The goal was to get involved with actual teams and so in some ways I guess the site was a bit of an online resume…
SLAM: Who does all that game-charting for you guys?
RB: I have access to a lot of different resources and then there are people charting games for additional detail, much of which doesn’t actually show up on the public parts of the site. On some of the little oddity things we’ve charted it’s been a huge number of people.
SLAM: As a creative writing guy and someone who finds math quite terrifying, one thing I like about your site as opposed to a lot of APBRmetrics places is that there are really very few formulas on the site—it’s mostly a combination of curiosity and data most others don’t have to put values on things that have long been assumed, like what guys shoot on midrange jumpers, how many of their baskets are assisted, and the like. Do you consider 82games an advanced-stats place, or do you think you’re doing something different?
RB: Right I kind of intentionally present most data in really a raw, unadjusted form. Anytime you make adjustments you are using some kind of assumptions, which may or may not be true. I do think the site is ‘advanced stats’ but I’m much more of a ‘let’s collect more data’ type of analyst rather than delving into trying to infer things through regressions, etc.
SLAM: That said, there are formulas on your site—how firmly do you believe in them? Does the “Roland Rating” represent the guys, to the letter, you think are the best players in the NBA? Do you think the best clutch players in the NBA are the guys with the best “Clutch” stats? Are these formulas closer to mathematical proofs or just another tool?
RB: I am not a fan of one number, overall type player ratings since I don’t think players have constant value. Their contributions depend heavily on who they play with, the coaching schemes, the role they are asked to play, whether they are happy, healthy, etc. The Roland Rating used to just be straight on/off but then people started to think I was advocating that as a stand alone player rating, so I added in a few more simple elements, intending maybe one day to publish a more comprehensive rating system, but that hasn’t been a priority since I don’t really look at players in that way. On the other hand something like ‘clutch stats’ is a pretty straightforward look at some specific numbers and so yes, I’m happy to say that a player is a good clutch scorer or something by stats.
SLAM: Does it frustrate you sometimes that you have this wonderfully uncomplicated data available, for free, in plain sight, and people still choose to ignore it and use anecdotes to fill in gaps in their knowledge your data covers? Joe Morgan became a poster-child for willful statistical ignorance in baseball. Please don’t call out any media guys because I have to share $7 media dinners with them, but what are some things you hear announcers or columnists write or say all the time that just drive you insane?
RB: Not entirely in that I’ve done very little to market the site. Basically once I started working for a team the site in some ways just plods along without a lot of the more innovative things I’m doing now being visible. At the same time I am frustrated when people hold opinions which are clearly refuted with stats that to me seem readily available.
SLAM: There was an anecdote in Pistol about a post-Maravich LSU coach going back to the play-by-play data of all Pete’s LSU games and seeing how many threes he would have hit per game based on how many 21+ foot jumpers he was making. Is there retroactive data that exists like that for the NBA for people that would want to know? For example, what Michael Jordan and Larry Bird’s eFG% on jumpers would have been, or what percentage of Dominique’s shots were dunks? If there is, would you just need a lot more interns to record it?
RB: It will be a while I think before we will get any full detail on the eras before say 2000. That will require some group to make a concerted effort to go back and track all kinds of data that wasn’t being done at the time. For example, we don’t even know how many shots Bill Russell blocked since the NBA didn’t track that back then. By the same token, eFG% can be calculated from box score info.
SLAM: I know you guys have some higher-level data that you provide privately to pro teams—how many NBA franchises use your service or a similar type of service?
RB: I work for one team exclusively, and have done so for a number of years.
SLAM: Could you maybe even just drop a little hint about what the types of data the public can’t see would be?
RB: It’s a lot of additional detail on what’s happening during the games. For some reference Synergy certainly carries a lot of things that look at player traits, team play types, etc. What we do is also along the lines of tracking performance with the nuances, for example using a screen, driving into the paint, who is guarding who on a play, etc.
SLAM: On that note, there seem to be two general schools of thought with regard to how APBRmetrics will work moving forward—there’s a more box-score based metric and a more +/- based school of thought. PER seems to be as well as anybody’s done in trying to make what you see in the box score a sort of all-encompassing stat, and Hollinger himself will tell you it’s far from perfect and he uses it more as a tool than an end-all. Meanwhile, David Berri and the Wages of Wins guys took a crack at using conventional stats to explain why teams win and lose, and the consensus seems to be they missed their intended mark by a fairly wide margin and ended up coming to conclusions like shot creation isn’t a skill and all credit for a defensive stop goes to the rebounder. I’d imagine the brass ring of APBRmetrics is to find something like PECOTA in baseball, which predicted not only which players would do what but tied that production into an explanation of team success, and Nate Silver ended up doing worlds better than any conventional “expert” at predicting what would happen in baseball last year before moving onto bigger things. Is it possible to find a PECOTA, Win Shares, or Equivalent Average-like formula in basketball from the numbers we have, or is it a fool’s errand?
RB: Well I am not after the one number rating, neither is Dean Oliver and a number of other people. Yes the stats folks often tend to be people using box score data only since that’s what they have at hand. Similarly there are a number of folks who are ‘true believers’ in regression based +/- type metrics. I simply feel we need to go out and collect more data on the specifics of games and that when we have this data things will be much more self evident. This is already happening. For example, a lot of people point to defense as one of the missing ingredients in the box score, but by tracking who is guarding who on plays and what transpires you can actually create very detailed defensive stats, and then even adjust them by the quality of player being guarded, etc. There’s no need once you have the data to try and deduce things, it’s right in front of you.
SLAM: Let’s talk about the other “half” (I’m oversimplifying) of APBRmetrics, the +/- data that really started with you guys and has really picked up steam since that Michael Lewis article, which made Shane Battier into the geek hero that Jason Collins never quite became. I found it interesting that Battier became the focus of the article, because perimeter defenders have always been guys no stat could find, not even opponent PER, since they’re always guarding the best scorer, or +/-, since they’re coming in when the best scorer is. There are obviously some holes in both your kind of +/- and the NBA.com kind, but it fills in a lot of what were previously dark areas, and I know some work is being done with adjusted +/-. Is this what we should look for as the player evaluation tool of the future and what’s going to get the brass ring? Or does the fact that the “Roland Rating,” which bears your name, gives equal weight to +/- and PER answer my question already?
RB: I like to include team influence numbers in any kind of player evaluation and that can be on/off, a simple adjusted plus/minus (not regression based) and so on. Yet I don’t think you ever want to fully rely on only those kinds of things—it’s just part of the puzzle. Oddly while I have published a lot of regression based ‘adjusted +/-’ articles on 82games, I am not actually a fan of that approach. I think again, with more data on hand you can really understand a player’s strengths, weaknesses and traits very clearly without having to resort to mathematical techniques to try and extract info that you think is ‘missing.’
SLAM: What’s the most surprising thing you guys found when you guys had accumulated enough game-charting data to have significant findings? (For me, it was how inefficient mid-range jumpers are across the board.)
RB: Yes I think the mid-range shots being so low a percentage for so many players is a key finding (when you consider it’s rare to draw a foul on those shots, the offensive rebound rates are not good, it’s even worse!) and something that we may see become more apparent in team strategy going forward. A team like Orlando is certainly upping the ante on a 3pt/inside skew, as has D’Antoni for some time in both Phoenix and New York. Likewise despite all the myths of ’super clutch players’ the actual league-wide performance in game-winning shot type situations is startling low (about 30 percent).
SLAM: Do you think your site changed the way the game is played on the floor? Do you think it will? For example, at the recent SLOAN conference, John Huizinga presented some fairly definitive evidence against the “hot-hand” theory. We know Daryl Morey believes in this stuff; he hosted the conference. So how long until coaches and players start buying in and we see Ron Artest holding back on a contested jumper after he’s made two in a row? (By the way, easily my favorite part of that story is picturing Morey going up to Tracy McGrady and explaining that his 13 points in 30 seconds was a “Black Swan.”)
RB: I think there is already influence in the front office type decision making for a lot of teams, and I know there are indeed a lot of coaches who are quite into stats, although still a lot who don’t and in some cases have such accumulated wisdom that stats may not be helpful for them. At the same time, it’s not always easy to communicate to a player some piece of insight that is going to help them. So it’s an ongoing process. Obviously if teams known to be using more statistical analysis have success that will probably hasten the acceptance and usage, whereas if say Houston flounders that might be used as ammunition against stats people playing more significant roles.
SLAM: As all-explaining as baseball statistics have become, for a long time their blind spot was defense, which has given APBRmetrics guys some fits too; PER doesn’t account for it at all, and everyone knows counting blocks and steals are just as incomplete as counting errors was in baseball. +/- does some great things for accounting for defense. How close are current defensive statistics to offensive ones?
RB: Well the readily available defensive stats that incorporate team level performance are useful already and the more detailed charting that is perhaps not so freely seen is able to also take us a long way. In a few years I don’t think anyone will be talking about the difficulty in measuring player defense…
SLAM: Are there any more holes in stats that can be filled in the near future? I think assists are woefully incomplete for rating passers; not only does a chest pass from the top of the key to Ray Allen curling off a screen for a contested three count the same as a behind-the-back feed for a dunk after slicing through the defense (although your new “passer ratings” take that into account), but assists leading to fouls count for nothing, and, as Laker fans will tell you, a “hockey assist” doesn’t exist on the box score. Are these the questions that sites like 82games will be able to measure in the near future, or are we just going to have to continue guessing and ultimately deciding that we need to watch every play to know how truly good players are, like football linemen?
RB: Right, assists are probably the most biased box score stat and make little distinction between a ‘heavily assisted’ and ‘lightly assisted’ scoring chance. By tracking every pass you can obviously do a lot more interesting things with passing stats like fg% off a pass, pts/poss, breakdowns of specific passes (location to target), player patterns, and so on. This is an area that is easy to ‘correct.’ Whether what we’re doing now comes to light more on 82games publicly depends quite a bit on whether I continue to work for a team under the guise that it’s more useful for one team to know something than to dilute the value, or elect to move away from that to making the site a more significant public resource force.
SLAM: Finally, a lot of people think stats guys are robots who hate sports. Explain how APBRmetrics have helped you love basketball more.
RB: I certainly like NBA basketball a great deal and for me understanding the game and the players better typically only furthers my enthusiasm, but the truth is many fans probably get more enjoyment out of being somewhat ‘in the dark’ as to NBA realities and that’s fine. It’s ultimately entertainment. I take issue with the notion that teams should be all about a championship or they need to blow things up. It was sad to see the Suns dismantled prematurely to my mind when they were such a great team to watch, and had certainly some significant success with still the hope of finally breaking through.
Playing in NBA arenas everywhere: “He sat at his locker for several minutes. Motionless. O.J. Mayo’s hands were cupped to hold his head, but parted enough for the Grizzlies’ rookie to stare at the floor. Presumably, Mayo’s deep thoughts centered on making sense of the downward spiral. When Mayo finally moved, his head wagged right and left — a polite way of denying an interview request while maintaining silence. It was a scene that, frankly, summed up Mayo on the court over the past couple of months. Mayo has shaken his head disapprovingly more than he’s celebrated making shots. His game — dynamic, jaw-dropping and incredibly productive earlier in the season — suddenly isn’t making any noise. That is, unless you can hear the sound of people jumping off Mayo’s Rookie of the Year bandwagon.”
He’s tired of waiting for an opportunity to come along: “I hope so,” Ewing told The Post last night before the Magic hosted the Knicks. “I think every assistant coach in this league would love to get an opportunity. Herb [Williams] would love to get some interviews, too. We’re not in it just to be assistants our whole career. We would love to have the opportunity to be a head coach. Either him or myself hopefully will get an opportunity this summer. I’ve coached under great coaches. I played with great coaches. Hopefully my resume will be sufficient to warrant a job.”