Monthly Archives: February 2012

Wrap-artee: Tuesday, February 28 (A Leap Day Miracle?)

Last night in Dallas, the New Jersey Nets beat the defending champs. The Nets, who were 10.5 point dogs, are 11-25 on the year, good for the sixth-worst record in the entire NBA. In their last ten games, the future Brooklyn Ballers have won only three contests. But oh, those three games.

On Saturday, February 18, the Nets kicked off a back-to-back-to-back stretch by snapping an eight-game losing streak with a 97-85 wire-to-wire win over the listless (and Rose-less) Chicago Bulls. After a loss to Milwaukee at home, they topped the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, 100-92. Against their Tri-State rivals, the Nets grabbed the lead in the second quarter and never trailed the rest of the way, building their advantage up to 18 points in the third period. And then last night, the Nets beat the Mavs 93-92, thanks in large part to Brook Lopez, who scored 38 points in his third game back since returning from injury. The Mavs only held the lead for a 1:21 stretch at the end of the third.

Three games, three dominating road wins over three of the hottest teams in the league.

The Indiana Hoosiers are 23-7 this year, with a 10-7 mark in Big 10 play. Three of their losses came to bottom-five teams in the conference, and they have dropped three ugly double-digit decisions against the conference’s top three teams, Michigan St., Ohio St., and Michigan. But the Hoosiers have also accomplished a feat never before achieved in school history – they have beaten three national top-five teams in a season, adding last night’s demolition of #5 Michigan St to their wins over #1 Kentucky and #2 Ohio St.

Three games, three victories over the nation’s elite.

Now the NBA is a different animal, and catching a team on the right night in the regular season means a whole lot more than in college hoops. Bad teams beat good teams and it’s rarely anything to bat an eyelash over – heck, the Wizards beat the Thunder this year. But the Wizards won that game at home, and the Nets got their three big wins in fairly dominating fashion on the road.

For the Hoosiers, their win over Michigan St. reverses a semi-swoon of uninspiring play and reinserts their name into the conversation of intriguing March teams.

Are the Nets and Hoosiers just some sort of Leap Day William barter, trading the tears of disappointing losses for the candy of impressive wins? Or is there something substantive here?

I’m not willing to endorse either of them yet, but keep these teams on your watch list. The Nets probably won’t overcome the huge whole they’ve put themselves in and enter the playoff race, but with a healthy Brook Lopez, an increasingly impressive Kris Humphries, an improving MarShon Brooks, and one of the best point guards in the game, this might be the start of a .500 or better second half – even without Dwight.

Those Hoosiers, on the other hand, have had a special energy all year. They’ll land in the 4- or 5-slot and emerge as a prime candidate to either fall in the first round (technically, the second round, stupid NCAA), or take out a 1-seed in the Sweet 16. They’ve proven fully capable of both.

Consistency may be valuable, but moments of extreme success can do a lot to overcome those bad memories. Didn’t Aldous Huxley once say “The only completely consistent people are dead”? Maybe trading your tears for some candy isn’t a bad deal after all.

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Wrap-artee: Sunday, February 26

Actual conversation with a new basketball fan (NBF) during the first quarter of the NBA All-Star game:

NBF: So what’s the point of the All-Star game? To see who’s the best?

Trevi: Not really. The guys try and they have pride, but it’s more about entertainment and not getting hurt (*sorry Kobe*).

NBF: Wow, they aren’t playing defense at all. Why do people even bother watching this?

Trevi: Because there are cool dunks, ya know, a few highlights. And at the end, the big stars come out to prove who’s best.

NBF: But it doesn’t mean anything, right?

Trevi: Well, not really. The guys want a championship more than anything obviously. But winning an All-Star MVP is a nice notch on the belt. A good thing to throw on the old career tombstone.

During a commercial, we switched to the Oscars, and I realized that, with a few clever omissions, the conversation we just had could’ve described the biggest night in movies as well. My difficulty to explain the allure of the All-Star game translated to the big award show. Why do we tune in en masse?

We watch it mostly not to miss anything – “Of course I saw Wade break Kobe’s nose!”/”Of course I saw Angelina Jolie’s leg!” We have to slog through subpar entertainment and some sloppiness just to catch those few “ohmigod” moments and witness the last ten minutes when the superstars duke it out for the trophy.

I guess Pete Weber best summed up the sentiment that reigned this past Sunday evening. Pete won the PBA U.S. Open and capped off the dramatic win with a hearty celebration. Among some fist pumps and hand punches and bird flips, he screamed, “THAT IS RIGHT I DID IT!…WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? I AM!!! DAMMIT RIGHT!!!”

Kevin Durant, Meryl Streep, and Jean Dujardin had a bit more tact, but if you wade through the B.S. and tuned in to their internal monologue, they probably said just about the same thing.

My Simpsons Education

Over the last week or so, in honor of the show’s 500th episode, bloggers and writers have all paid their respects to The Simpsons. It was a predictable blend of sentimentality and a hipster-ish need to show just how big of a fan, no, way bigger than anyone else, you actually were. The underlying theme is “the show was great and pioneering, it’s slowed down of late, and we may not watch it religiously now, but we’re glad we had it in our life.”

Me? Not only did I grow up with The Simpsons, but they grew up with me, and not only did they grow up with me, but they actually helped me grow. The show taught me obscure facts, the basic plot to several works of classic literature, and armed me with zingers and anecdotes for every situation…”It’s like this one time on The Simpsons…” Most importantly, its vast cast of characters trained me to find the humor in all walks of life. The quirks of the elderly, wealthy, foreign, genius, idiot, or downright pathetic are not meant to mystify or intimidate, they’re meant to entertain. As I experienced more and more of the vast tapestry of the world, I didn’t let it overwhelm or confuse me. I chose to chuckle at it and let it endear itself to me. If Marge can love Homer, and I can laugh at and love Moe and Frink and Burns and Grampa and Willie, I’m prepared to laugh at and love just about anyone.

Our favorite Springfield-ians crashed into my world at eleven years old. The episode? “The Last Temptation of Homer.” The appeal? There were jokes I got, but it was more the presence of jokes I didn’t get that hooked me. The explicitness of sex, extramarital affairs, and illegal aliens named Zutroy opened my eyes to a world I knew nothing about, but about which I wanted to learn everything I could. The subject matter made it risque, but the cartoon characters, the yellow skin, and the “Eat my shorts” jokes somehow made it childish enough to be ok.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, the show taught me much of what I know today. Whenever I spouted an obscure fact at the dinner table, my parents knowingly asked, “Where’d you learn that? The Simpsons?”

The telltale moment (not to be confused with “The Telltale Head” ) occurred in 2000. I was 12 or 13 years old and was a sucker for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? John Carpenter, the first million-dollar winner, returned to partake in the Tournament of Champions, and he was cruising yet again, reaching the $64,000 question without using a single lifeline. Regis asked, “Which of the following operas features The Toreador Song?” I’d never been to an opera, but I immediately spouted, “Carmen!” Mr. Carpenter, on the other hand, didn’t know the answer and had to poll the audience. I was smarter than the smartest man in America. And I had The Simpsons to thank.

Maybe if I’d seen “Bart the Genius” once, I wouldn’t have known the answer, I’d have only been able to replicate Bart and Homer’s mockery of the song: “Toreador, oh don’t spit on the floor!/Use the cuspidor/That’s what it’s for.” But I’d seen that episode at least three times by then and vividly remembered the “Carmen” poster the family passes outside the opera house.

That moment somehow validated all the time I would spend watching and re-watching and re-re-re-re-re watching syndicated episodes. As long as other activities didn’t get in the way, homework got pushed aside at 5:30 and 6:00 every weeknight for reruns. I used my allowance to buy all the episode guides, which I carried in my backpack during junior high and read thoroughly. When I finally caught “Hurricane Neddy” and learned everything there was to know about the University of Minnesota Spankalogical Protocol and Ned’s “freaky beatnik” parents, I had seen all the episodes at least once. The only thing left was to watch them all again.

I’m probably at about 10,000 hours of watching The Simpsons at this point, so, at least according to Malcolm Gladwell, I’m an expert.

“How can you be entertained by this?” my mother would ask. “Even know the lines in this one.” But with each viewing came another revelation or three. Sometimes years passed between viewings, which opened my eyes to new jokes. Learning more about sexuality gave me access to more of the content and double-entendres (Homer shops for farm supplies at a store called “Sneed’s Feed & Seed…Formerly Chuck’s”). College reading assignments and the maturation of my library espoused new chuckles to literary and intellectual references (“You’re reading Gravity’s Rainbow?” “(Disgusted look) Re-reading it”). As I grew up, the show magically grew up with me.

To this day, despite the constraints of adulthood, I still make time for one of my oldest friends. My DVR records all the re-runs, and dead time is filled relaxing, laughing at jokes familiar, forgotten, or surprisingly refreshing.

Over the past couple years, watching the new episodes has transformed from a chore of obligation to a surprising treat. Everyone has their comfort blankets, mine just happens to be a dysfunctional family of five and their fellow townspeople.

One day, we’ll all have to witness the show moving to the Springfield Retirement Castle (where, we can only hope, it will at the very least have a good pair of slippers and an oatmeal spoon). But, like Grampa and his best buds Jasper Beardley and the Old Jewish Man, the show will never die. At least not for me. It will appear in my life once in a blue moon because it went to fetch the morning paper and got lost, or to substitute teach and issue out a paddlin’, or to drop its pants while singing “This Gray Mare.” The show will always embiggen the smallest man. It will live forever, never aging or passing away, not even yellowing with time.

Sposturing

Thanks to Facebook, I now know that a grade school chum is jamming to Talib Kweli in NYC and a college buddy is in San Fran listening to some band I’ve never heard of, but probably should have. I make a note to YouTube some of their songs later.

Spotify, the music consumption service that launched in the US this summer, has streamlined the music poser process. And by music poser, I of course mean 95% of the music listeners in the States.

Music, like all art, is deeply personal. Whether you’re in a packed concert hall or wearing ear buds in your bedroom, the way the sounds reverberate in your ear and the lyrics resonate in your soul is an individually unique experience. A song can evoke emotions from a decade ago or take on a completely new meaning depending on your mood and your growth as a person.

That being said, choosing to own a song or an album is a decision most make thanks to at least some outside influence. The vinyls on your bookshelf, the cassettes in your glove compartment, the CDs in your binder and the MP3s on your iPod all tell a story. Who you are, what’s your style, where you’re from. Since we can control the content of our musical memoirs, we cater our library towards fulfilling the profile we want to assume. The Shins and Shyne are neighbors in my iPod, so you can tell I’ve spent time as both a wanna-be gangsta and a wanna-be hipster.

When Spotify first landed Stateside, James Allworth wrote a post for the Harvard Business Review blog entitled “Why I’m Not Going Near Spotify (And Why You Shouldn’t Either). He made the obvious point that we consume music differently than movies or TV shows, and that paying a subscription fee could leave the library you build at the whims of a company known to make Netflix-like price hikes.

Allworth misses the point for millenials. We’re the generation that first stole music. We never really owned it because, in order to justify our giant thievery corporation, we had to trick ourselves into believing music wasn’t really “ownable” in the first place. A hard drive crash could wipe out our entire life’s savings of beats and tunes at any time. Losing our library? No big deal. We’ll just recreate it, but better this time. Transferring my CDs to my iTunes gave me that opportunity once, and I wouldn’t mind another round of Spring Cleaning

Spotify satisfies an on-demand culture’s musical cravings while simultaneously allowing us to posture in ways YouTube never could. Since users have to link their activity to their Facebook profile, they know damn well that all of their friends will see each and every song they choose to listen to. Each click of the mouse comes after the user weighs two factors: will I like this song, and what will others think of me “liking” this song?

In other words, nothing’s really changed.

TreviBits No. 1

Nothing too monumental today, in fact, the highlight for me was probably finding a toffee hard candy in a bowl of mints. Remember: a diverse candy jar is a happy candy jar.

  • The NBA named the dunk contest participants, a field of “no-names” that can all soar. Should be a good show as always that hopefully focuses more on the jamming and less on the props and gimmicks. Chase Budinger is the most exciting entry because a) we’ve never had a blonde dunk contest winner, b) the last (and only) time a white guy won the contest, Mr. Brent Barry, Charles Barkley had the best All-Star Weekend quote of all-time: “We need another Million Man March!” and c) the dude somehow overcame his volleyball prowess to become a useful NBA player. If your high school was anything like my high school, the minute a basketball player decided to play volleyball, that was the end. Volleyball turns potential post players into tall goons who lack muscle definition and treat any sort of contact or physicality like the plague. “Wait, I can be a star in a sport and there’s a physical barrier between me and the guys who want to push me, dig their elbows into my back, or step on my shoes when I jump? Sign me up!”
  • Big men rejoice! The field of three-point contestants includes not one but TWO post players, and…get this…they’re not even Europeans. Maybe this country can develop fundamentally skilled players after all. Kevin Love and Ryan Anderson will chuck for the trophy, but they won’t pack half the excitement of pioneer big man contestant Sam Perkins’ run in 1997. Perk’s slo-mo release was no match for a timed contest – it was a miracle he got to the fourth rack – but any time we can shout out Mr. Smooth, we’re happy to do so.
  • Josh Hamilton is “undergoing a Josh Hamilton makeover” per his interview with Glenn Beck (?) last night. The Rangers are accommodating of the slugger and his fight with addiction, but life as a pro athlete fighting that disease must be incredibly difficult. Temptation lurks at every corner. It reminds me of a Top 10 Anecdote, which Chris Herren shared in the incredible ESPN documentary Unguarded, a film you should absolutely watch immediately. Nick Van Exel and Antonio McDyess took Herren, then a rookie on the Nuggets, and pulled him aside. Well aware of his struggles with substances, they told him they would keep an eye on him during road trips. Van Exel and McDyess even spent their evenings at dinner with Herren to keep him away from temptation, and Herren stayed clean all season. That’s leadership, and with teammates like Ian Kinsler, who traveled to the bar to take Hamilton home during the night of his relapse, Hamilton has hope to ward off his disease.

When Talent Meets Opportunity

Two men have exceeded the loftiest expectations of even their biggest supporters, leaving the rest of us to split our time between creating puns and conjuring up black swan theories.

As Miami University’s head coach, Frank Haith amassed a 129-101 record, with a 43-69 mark in ACC play. He made the NCAA tournament once. When Missouri had to replace Mike Anderson, they eventually settled for Haith after their public flirtation with Matt Painter ended in rejection. Haith wasn’t an established program builder like Painter, nor was he a rising star like VCU’s Shaka Smart. Hiring Haith was the NBA equivalent of naming a Flip Saunders-type your skipper – a suitable yet unexciting also-ran. You don’t expect him to set the world on fire, but you also know he’ll bring a suitable level of expertise and professionalism to the job.

Meanwhile in New York, the Knicks desperately needed a point guard while they waited to see just how un-washed up part-time lumberjack Baron Davis would be once he returned from injury. Toney Douglas and a beat up Melo didn’t cut it as pick-and-roll ball handlers, Iman Shumpert is better suited for an off-ball slasher role, and Mike Bibby can’t do much more than look like Kermit the Frog on the bench. Enter Jeremy Lin, who almost had to exit when the Bulls cut veteran Mike James. Boy would that have been a mistake.

Lin hasn’t stopped #Linning (and spawning horrible hashtags) and Haith has Mizzou primed for a one seed despite having only one player taller than 6’8″. How does this happen?

Let’s be clear – there’s a reason the Warriors and the Rockets cut Lin and there’s a reason nobody offered him a scholarship. Racial prejudices definitely had something to do with it, but schools and NBA scouts aren’t going to overlook a once-in-a-generation point guard due to some preconceived notions about Asian-Americans.

There’s also a reason Haith didn’t turn Miami into a winter version of the gridiron “The U”. Haith is definitely an excellent motivator and basketball coach – he’s proved as much this year – but he’s also definitely not in that top-of-the-top tier of college coaches.

Haith found a group of talented, experienced players willing to buy into his message of selflessness and his style of play. Lin found a coach who runs a system that has turned mediocre point guards like Chris Duhon and Ray Felton into fantasy basketball monsters.

Recently, the “Wages of Wins” blog ran a post supposedly debunking the myth that D’Antoni’s system is generous towards point guards. They cite Nash’s ability to maintain his numbers even after D’Antoni took the Seven Seconds or Less system to New York and the system’s inability to boost Douglas, Bibby, or Shumpert’s numbers.

And this, in a way, proves my point. Of course D’Antoni can’t turn just any NBA ballhandler into a 17 and 8 point guard, but seeing what he did with Felton and Duhon, and what’s become of them since leaving his watch, proves just how accommodating his system can be for the right player. Nash is a unique and outrageous talent – of course subsequent Suns coaches would cater their system to his unique abilities, thus maintaining his lofty numbers.

Lin couldn’t be doing what he was doing if he wasn’t damn good at basketball – a player significantly better than Douglas or Bibby, although probably not at the level of a Steve Nash. The guy is clearly an NBA player, and an NBA contributor at that. He just needed his shot. Were the Warriors and Rockets inept not to give it to him? Of course not. Lin appears to be the type of player who can make great plays on a consistent basis when a coach runs a bajilion pick-and-rolls with him a la D’Antoni, but as your run of the mill NBA backup point guard not put in a multitude of scoring situations, the Warriors and Rockets probably saw a good but not great option who didn’t have that one outrageous skill that set him apart.

Your Kobe’s and your Calipari’s are going to succeed regardless of situation. They just have too much going for them. Disregarding this top 1% of the top 1%, players and coaches alike need that perfect blend of talent and opportunity to truly reach their potential. It may or may not be fleeting, only time will tell, but Haith and Lin both are proving they have what it takes when the moment is right.

Thibs’ Valentine

Dearest Basketball,

Today I reaffirm my love for you my sweet, my all, my everything. Wherever I go, you go with me. When I sleep, you haunt my dreams. I spend each waking hour dedicating my life to pleasing you.

Others may pursue you or claim to have you won you over, but I know they don’t feel for you the way I do. They have their hobbies – their golf and their blackjack and their summer homes. My summer home is a gym and a film room, my hobby is you, sweet basketball.

Mi amor, mi amor basquetbol. Don’t try and fool me with your questioning dimples, I know you speak Spanish. How else could you explain the sleepless nights I’ve spent scouting Pau Gasol?

I wish I could give you the world tonight, but we’ll have to settle for a date with the Sacramento Kings. It’s better than nothing; oh, imagine the horror if we had to spend this night apart? Torn from each other by the cruel fate of schedules? This summer, when others tried to separate us and I thought we might not spend this year together, I nearly died! Thinking of a cold winter without your leathery touch keeping me warm, oh, sweet basketball, the thought alone causes me to shiver.

Take my vow, lovely basketball, that I won’t rest until I perfect myself. In perfecting myself, I will perfect you, the game that occupies my thoughts as the sweet squeaks of sneakers rock me to sleep. We will always have each other, even when I’m old and gray. Because they can take away my team and break my clipboard in half, but they can never touch my heart, which is forever dimpled, laced, and signed by the commissioner David Stern.

Yours forever,

Tom Thibodeau