Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Audacity to Hope: The Story of the ’99 Knicks (Part 1)

We had no business being there.

It was a season to forget for most, one miscast among a decade of supremacy and legitimacy for a league that had once feared expulsion. Money rained down from sponsors, consumers, and television networks into the hands of the league's glowering tyrant, a media maven whose sanguine expression hid a more sinister disposition. This sport, once dismissed by Madison Avenue because of its inability to take root in the national myth was now being embraced by these same white collar types, men eager to market a new American hero in the image of their watershed creation, one Michael Jeffrey Jordan.

This team was an ugly team, one riddled with eccentric personalities and wayward castoffs. For years they had played villain to the hero, the archetypal Legion of Doom to the championed Justice League (Bulls). The de facto leader (mostly due to tenure) was a much maligned center, a man whose career was unfortunately tethered to the success of this team, his team. Over the previous summer, he was at the center (no pun intended) of the league's one unsightly blemish of the decade, a work stoppage that pit he and other talented (mostly black) players against the league's dominant (and mostly white) oligarchy of officials and executives. Standing in proxy for the league's interests was the phantom menace, Mr. David Stern, an evil genius with a bevy of resources and tactical devices at his disposal. Stern quickly asserted his dominance and dismissed the disorganized collective of million dollar slaves, crushing the ill-timed revolt.

But there were many onlookers angered by the proceedings carried on by these men paid to play the game that they loved and those select few capitalists that owned their rights. They wanted to see the game of basketball, unrestricted by litigation and manufactured "good ole boy" loyalties, captured in an effervescent array of grandeur by standard definition cameras, and (if necessary) presented neatly to them by the network synonymous with Seinfeld, Friends, and the widely popular "Roundball Rock". They wanted fewer distractions. They wanted to see the next Jordan. But our center and his NBAPA cronies represented gratuitous chaos. And they hated him for it.

No doubt the smell of defeat singed his nostrils. But he was too proud to show it. His former coach fled the Big Apple for sunnier skies, and a younger, meeker – less experienced – teacher replaced him. Younger centers, more agile and spry than he, fought constantly for their share of his reputation. Older centers, those of his generation, had owned him for his entire professional career. And after more than a decade of carrying the hopes of a city on his shoulders, Ewing's knees finally began to give way.

The coach of this ragtag bunch was a young professional, a guy seeking to elude the shadow of his former boss and to shake the notion that he was a mere B-O-Y coaching a man's game. He carried with him a pure shooter, a Christian in word and deed that sank jumpers and guarded perimeter superstars with aplomb. The other wing boasted a real hothead, suspended by the league only a year prior for choking his head coach following an intense practice. He wore decorative braids (a hairstyle unknown to most NBA spectators and worn only by he and a young guard from Philadelphia) and seemed to always sport a scowl, almost relishing in his reputation as a crazy man. An undersized big controlled the low block. Once a man known for his great leaping ability, it seemed as if this pudgy forward's newfound wealth sucked the athleticism right out of his game. A Heisman recipient and a waiver wire castoff shared duties at the point, and a young, wiry understudy (the new sort that frustrated Ewing) patrolled the paint and spelled the franchise center for increasingly longer stretches of game time.

Ewing, Houston, Sprewell, Johnson, Ward, Childs, Camby. Van Gundy.

We had no business being there. But we...were...there.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Joakim Noah Is Legit. Period.

In the wake of Eddy Curry's monastery diet and will he/won't he return talks and Ty Thomas's injuried shoulder, it's time to talk about the butterfly effect of that disastrous Isiah Thomas trade which led to those three (counting Utah's freebie in 2010) first rounders that left the Mecca back in the good ole year of 2005.

Today, on November 10th, looks like Joachim Noah, pupil of the Billy D design and son of the great Yannick Noah, ended up being THE BEST PLAYER OUT OF THAT DEAL. Yes, you read that correctly.

Like many others, I thought Noah was good enough to be this generation's version of the Junkyard Dog, only with more hair and less Baraka. Looks like I wasn't the only one who was wrong about that one:

That's one less piece that Derrick Rose'll need to pull the Bulls into championship form. Now, what's Dwayne Wade up to?? Hmmmm.....

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

“Real Recognize Real”: New York Knicks, Version 2009 (courtesy of The Till Show)

Ladies and gents, turn up your sound system to the sounds of Carlos Santana.

Na, just kidding…we've got something even better courtesy of one of our favorite guest artists, Johnathan Tillman, the creative force behind the blog Fundamentally UnSound. Readers, you've definitely seen J-Till's rhetoric disseminated across various comment sections, and some of you have even dialogued with Tillman and myself ad nausea. (Till, feel free to that extra Snapple in the fridge.)

I've decided against dropping a Knicks season preview here this year. Trust, you'll hear enough of my mindless rants as the season progresses, so why spoil the surprise? Instead, Tillman-san and I have exchanged column inches this year. In other words, he'll be astounding us with his Knicks knowledge here, and you can see your boy drop rhymes over at the FU paradise. Since he's one of those rare Knicks fans that lives outside of the state of New York (Maryland, to be exact), I'm cool with it. (Haters, we'll see you in 2010...)

The floors all yours, Till...


For those of you that read my blog, you know that the New York Knicks are the team to which I pledge my NBA allegiance. That sigh was for the futility of the Isiah-Marbury era. The franchise begins its second season under Donnie Walsh and "SSOL" mastermind Mike D'Antoni. Most people feel that this is a meaningless season until the 2010 Summer of Lebron & Others; but that's far from the case. It's another year in the highly-uptempo system; and another year closer to Eddy Curry's exit (obligatory shot at Eddy Curry). I rarely write season previews to avoid the mundane keys to success like avoiding turnovers and defensive rebounding. So, this one will be written the FU way: outside the box score. Peep after the random picture…

Where do I start? The Knicks' struggles over recent years have been well-documented. Various players have combined to be the joke that bottom-feeders like the Clippers, Detroit Lions, and Washington Nationals are the proverbial butts of. Zach Randolph, Stephon Marbury, and Eddy Curry have been the MSG version of the Three Stooges of the past few years. This season, the Knicks have no reliable shooting guard on their roster. Some of you may bring up Larry Hughes; but perhaps he would be dependable if he stopped taking so many bad shots. So, the 2-guard position will be filled by Wilson Chandler. D'Antoni is looking for Chandler to make more strides like he did last season. If Al Harrington isn't overly stingy, Chandler should be way more productive in his third year.
New York will have to outscore every opponent this season. With no center in the rotation—the one on the team can't fit into his uniform—team defense and rotations will be……nah, what am I saying? The Knicks play defense by choice. In Knicks' practice, defense is like a serious exercise program. Sure, you know it's good, but you're not really committed to it after the first week. It's always an excuse like, "I'm gonna hit the gym;" as you're downing that last burger (obligatory shot at Eddy Curry). Well, threes are those favorite fast food goodies that the Knicks feel will help them achieve success. For those that say the SSOL Suns didn't play much defense forget what Shawn Marion meant to that team. The Knicks have no one that versatile; so they'll probably take at least 2000 shots from behind the arc in 82 games. Even Jared Jeffries thinks he's a shooter now and floats along the perimeter. Someone needs to sit him down and tell him that just because your friends are doing something doesn't mean you can do it, too.

This past Draft, the Knicks picked up Jordan Hill and Toney Douglas. Hill's a big man from Arizona; and Douglas is a combo guard from Florida State. Hill's selection at #8 proves that D'Antoni feels he can mold the next Nash instead of the next Amar'e; otherwise, the Bucks would have had one less point guard to choose from. The problem with that is Hill isn't the explosive athlete or offensive locomotive that Stoudemire is. As of right now, he isn't in the rotation. He has some skill, yet his athleticism doesn't allow him to produce and develop like Amare's did. Douglas, to me, was the better pick. He's already more complete than any point guard, and should supplant Chris Duhon due to his knack for scoring and playmaking. This actually isn't a slight to the former Blue Devil. He actually did well in his first season as a full-time starter last year. However, the SSOL system needs more than just a serviceable floor general. It must have a more impulsive man at the helm, and Douglas is more spontaneous that Duhon.
While I'm on the subject of young players, I'd like to mention last year's first-round pick: Danilo "El Gallo" Gallinari. After a wash of a rookie season due to a back injury, he's won the starting small forward slot. Truthfully, if Danilo were American-born and NCAA-educated; he'd be much more heralded. Instead, he was booed on Draft night and labeled as a bust shortly after by fans. He can shoot and has an arsenal of moves. Once he adapts to the physicality of the NBA, if it happens, fans should change their opinions of him. What is a Knicks' preview without mentioning the upcoming Summer of 2010. The Knicks are poised to have a bunch of money coming off the books, and it's no secret they have their eyes on a certain crab-dribbling King. I'm not sure if not landing Lebron would be a failure for the franchise considering the superstar talent that will be available. I'm not even sure if Lebron will make that move to MSG. That makes this season paramount for those young players I mentioned. They must make significant progress. Donnie Walsh has a track record of building solid teams, and as long as he and D'Antoni have a blueprint to how the team should look, the Knicks will be on the upswing and returning to contention soon. This year, they probably won't make the playoffs, but they won't be an easy win either. I think my team will win at least 35 games and give Garden patrons an entertaining product on the court. So there's my season preview for the 2009-2010 New York Knicks. We'll see how close I am to being right.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My Dirty Little Secret

Shhh, I've got a secret.

I never shared this with anyone before. I'd rather not say, but we've been together for so long now. I feel like I can trust you. I think it's something you should know.

I hate power rankings.

I know I know…hate is such a strong word.

Power rankings are the biggest slap in the face to the sports fan. Power rankings declare your ineptitude. Power rankings take your mother out for a nice seafood dinner and never call her again. Power rankings erase your brain cells and leave you walking around your office building like Gabriel from Fences. Sans pants.

During the MLB and NBA seasons, power rankings get swept underneath the rug. Why? Because everyone's too busy, uh, watching the games. Who needs some self-touted "sports expert" telling them that the Bobcats stink. We know this, man. At the very least, that's why we'd put up with the Stu Scott's BOOYAHS! in the middle of a highlight package. And even that's pulling teeth.

But, hey it's the NFL! There's SO much time between games! Surely you, erudite plebian, would like to read a column detailing your team's abject failure! What fun!


Like I've said before, making a power poll is the sportswriter's Western Union. It's the fastest way to write columns worldwide. (Hey, look…a pun!) If overused, this list can (and will) slowly drag even the best writer down the treacherous road to perdition. It's our MMQ, our Simmons podcast, our way of manufacturing content juuuuust in time to make tee time at the country club. We know that 60% of the time, it works every time.

Why does it work? Well, that's easy. Power rankings create buzz. They generate controversy. They get your average American riled up and ready to talk smack by their first water break.

The bad part? Power polls divert your attention away from some great stories. Like Mike Sims-Walker – a guy who Jacksonville probably snagged for his hyphenated name – actually producing. Or Glen Coffee, whose name looks as fake as the fantasy-esque stats he's racking up for his least-coast NFC leaders. Or the implosion of the highly regarded Todd Haley, the Kansas City coach whose press conferences are bound to be Coors Light fodder by 2011.

Yeah, that's right, Arizona Cardinals! The talking heads and idiots I read in my local paper say you're only the 7th best team in the freaking NFC. You ain't playoff material! NOBODY CARES WHAT YOU THINK!

But now that that's off my chest, I have another admission to make. I'm going to write a power poll column. (Zoinks!) I've got a lot of random stuff to unleash after a month of dormancy, and this just seems like the best way to unravel without this boring you with an entire column. Maybe I'll defend my placements…maybe I won't. It's just a freaking list column anyways.

I just hope the guys over at KSK don't catch wind of this.

Mike's POWER Rankings

(Brought to you by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and VIEWERS LIKE YOU!)

10. San Diego Chargers (2-2): Because we recently switched over to FiOS at the house, the gents that run the company gave us the Home Box Office network for A LIMITED TIME ONLY. Of course, I was giddy with anticipation. To top it off, Verizon installed their fiber optic do-dad mere days before the season premiere of Entourage. Perfect timing.

Or so I thought. I got hosed.

Every summer, there's that one movie that EVERYONE is anticipating. The movie your co-workers gossip about at your internship's water cooler. The movie that you're not going to waste on a first-date scenario. The movie you spend all summer dreaming about the stirring drama, living and dying with every commercial, adrenaline escalating with every gripping trailer. The movie you buy your ticket for way in advance, and even consider taking the day off for.

And then you get to the theater. And sit down. And realize thirty minutes in that you're really just sitting in on a nicely disguised bowl of excrement. Yuck.

Entourage felt like that to me. Adrian Grenier hasn't begun to remotely develop as an actor (i.e., he's TERRIBLE), Kevin Dillon and Jerry Ferrera are trapped in limited character models, and everything revolves too much around the little man with the melodramatic life (E) instead of the head honcho and his variable personality (Ari).

Honestly, the show left me frustrated. Cameo appearances and Hollywood girls can only hold my attention but for so long.

This year's San Diego Chargers are like that too. People seem to think that this hodgepodge of characters led by a fragile front man with tremendous upside (LT) can realize their potential…but we've read this script before. This isn't the same team. This idea's been done already.

Really, there's only one way to save both Entourage and the 2009 San Diego Chargers. Kick it up a notch. Allow Philip Rivers (Jeremy Piven) to shoulder more of the offensive burden. Exercise Darren Sproles (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) as the explosive running option. Keep Vincent Jackson (Johnny Drama) and Chris Chambers (Turtle) hungry.

And even though it may be hard, don't be afraid to cut LDT (Vincent Chase) loose. You've already put his protection (Lorenzo Neal = Eric Murphy) out to pasture. He's no worse than a wet blanket girlfriend at this point. It's for the best.

Be risky. Be self-indulgent. Be dangerous. Be everything that Norv Turner isn't.

9. San Francisco 49ers (4-1): Am I listing the Niners here in a futile attempt to reverse jinx them for the rest of the season? Yup! You guys know me too well. Sorry Tillman.
(By the way, wasn't it great seeing Mike Singletary for the first time since the Vernon Davis incident? His Coors Light mock conference can't come fast enough.)


8. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2): They're the defending champs. It's wayyyyyyyy too early to count them out.

(I'm embarrassed to say this, but I'll be honest: I caved and started listening to Christmas music last week. My first song? Wham's "Last Christmas".

"Laaaaaaaast Christmas, I gave you mah heart but the VERY NEXT DAYYYYY…you gave it ahhhwayyy (you gave it aw-hhayy). THIS YEAR, to SAVE ME FROM TEARS, I'll give it to sum-one spe-cialllllllllllllll (specialllllllllllll)."

How can you resist listening to this song? There's enough unintentional comedy here to keep Craig Kilborn relevant for years. Wait, he's not on TV anymore?)

7. Baltimore Ravens (3-2): Last weekend, I went to one of those sanctioned LSAC law school fairs thingies in Manhattan. (By the way, it’s so weird to hunt for information about college after graduating. I’m officially the awkward old guy at the frat party. Ewww.)

Anyway, I saw a friend of mine strolling the corridors for university brochures. Of course, it was a young lady (a shrty in the vernacular, so to speak). We had a brief conversation, one of those “How’s school now that I’M not there?” (polite chuckle) dialogues, and I found myself just STARING at her face. I was absolutely mystified by how beautiful and intelligent she was.

It only took six months, but I totally forgot how mesmerizing a Howard Woman can be. Yeah, there are oodles of fine women out there…but I’m not talking from the perspective of a slobbering buffoon. (You know that’s not my style.) Howard women (and the rare, stable New York girl that I HAVEN’T FOUND YET) just have this intrinsic quality that insulates them from outside ignorance. They have such unique perspective on their world and the global community. This aura surrounding them seems kind of majestic, almost regal.

I was blown away. I felt like one of the mechanics from “Uptown Girl”.

(In other words, I need to find a wife like THAT. Period.)

6. Cincinnati Bengals (4-1)

Wowwe-wow-wow! I can't wait to see their epic road victory this week on NFL Network. Who knew that a team from Ohio could actually be GOOD? Of course, that means they're a historic collapse away from becoming a Jay Leno punch line:

"Did you hear about the Cincinnati Bengals collapse last week? Yeah, they were 4 and 1 early on and fell rrrrr-right outta contention.

(Makes sweeping gesture with right hand)

That's a darn shame. A DAMN shame. Fell faster than Conan's numbers after I moved my (expletive) to ten o'clock!"


5. Denver Broncos (5-0): I'm gonna stick them here. I refuse to believe that the Broncos are this good. I almost fainted when I heard Bob Costas say that Kyle Orton was better than Tom Brady.

Wait, WHAT? It's Kyle Orton! From Perdue! With the neck-beard! He's killing fantasy teams left and right! He's this generation's Trent Dilfer!

(Wait, Dilfer retired two years ago? Oops. My bad.)

4. Indianapolis Colts (5-0): Is it possible that after all this time, Peyton Manning's having his first eff-you season? Think about it. He's coming off one of his worst years. His long-time coach handed over the reins to a rook. His favorite target (Marvin Harrison) is cracking chrome domes in Philly, and his replacement receiver (Gonzo) is done indefinitely. They barely beat a very bad Jaguars team. Everyone writes them off. Enter 2009 football season.

Four weeks later, the elder Manning is seen polishing off his Offensive Player of the Month trophy. Coincidence? I think not. This team is GOOD.

3. New Orleans Saints (4-0)
They're the first team to make my boy Mark ("Ohmygodohmygodohmygod, did YOU know that Mark Sanchez is considered to be physically attractive? OOOOooooo!!!") Sanchez look human. Of course in the NFC, that makes you legit.

(Since I started writing these "notes" (which eventually found solace in my blog), I've gotten immense respect from you guys in regards to my writing talent. I am so humbled. Trust me, I appreciate the encouragement and appreciation. But one of the realest sentences I've ever read came from my dude Jarrett Freeman, who put together this masterpiece in his Facebook status:

"I remember when getting high meant swinging at the playgrounds, the worst thing you could get from a girl were cooties, race issues were who could run the fastest, life was so simple and carefree, but the thing I remember most was wanting to grow up."

Wow. Thaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat's great. Remember when (insert sentimental moment)?

Time moves FAST.

2. Minnesota Vikings (5-0) This has got to be the worse time to be a Packers fan. I mean, after Brett's egregious display of fist-pumping with a total disregard for human life, there's no love lost now. I'd feel like Michael Corleone from Godfather II:

"I know it was you Brett. You broke my heart. You broke my heart."
In related news, Vlad Masters has agreed in principle to buy the Green Bay Packers from the state of Wisconsin.

(Wait, this just in…yup, it's confirmed. That last joke just went over everyone's head. Awwwwwwesommmme.)

1. New York Giants (5-0):
Everything rests on Elisha's heels. Literally.

(By the way…I've heard the belly-aching from the twelve Twins fans and the eighteen zillion Yankee haters over the last few days, so it's time for clear the air right quick.

Sure, I'll admit it: The Minnesota Twins got totally jobbed on Friday night. The ump completely missed the call even though it was inside the foul line by a CLEAR TWO FEET, and that fissure derailed the Twins hopes of winning the series. It's the Jeffrey Maier incident all over again.

However, I can't justify a single call dashing a team's dreams. I mean, Joe Nathan (easily one of the best closers this decade not named Mariano Rivera) allowed the anti-clutch A-Roid to yam a homer after Nick Blackburn (WHO?) held us to one-run ball. Carlos Gomez overran second and got thrown out. Plus, Jason Kubel, the man who filled in for injured slugger Justin Mourneau, went 1-14 for the series – striking out eleven times in total.

Yes, you read that correctly. ELEVEN TIMES.

When your cleanup hitter's is batting a beautiful .071 with eleven K's, you're not winning the series. Just ask A-Rod. He knows what I'm talking about.

(Yes, I refuse to mention that Alex Rodriguez has gotten ultra clutch over the last three games. I'd rather keep being surprised by his awesomeness. This way, I won't get my heart broken (if/when?) he chokes in a big spot. Again.)
So, there you go. With over 2,000 words in the books, I think I'll shut up now.

Well, actually there's one more thing.

Barack Obama!

(Remember, it's not an article written by a black guy until he's mentioned.)

Got to LOVE post-racial America.

Michael Benjamin, II

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Losing Your Voice

We've all had bad colds before. I'm not talking about your garden variety cough to break up a monotonous conversation, but those big whooping coughs, jarring wheezes, and loud sneezes that thrust your body backward ten feet.

You know…the ones that force everyone at your friend's dinner party to give you some room.

Hands down, the worst colds I've experienced are those that rob me of my voice. Usually, it's because I slept with my window cracked, or chanced it with a thin jacket before a looming downpour, or decided to go house shirt and hoop shorts while pulling garbage to the curb in the dead of winter. Getting a "voice cold" feels like a spider web is caught in my throat, refusing to come out no matter how forcefully I try to cough the sucker into my hankie.

By the way, hope you're not eating while reading this.

For the past few weeks, I've been fighting a moderately bad voice cold. No, not physically struggling, but fighting to keep my writing free from the lingering vice of cliché.

I've spent many an hour looking at my notebook, trying to think of the next clever pun or idiomatic expression to jar your mind, simply wishing to appease my reader hoping to find significance in the lines of my articles. But I've torn up more pages than I can remember in my career. No, that's no good. Too Simmons-y. Too Till-Show-esque. Too Leitchian. My pages, now crumpled in my hands seemed to speak of me as more of an inlier than an outlier.

Every writer says the same things, so it must be true. In order to be a great writer, you've first got to be a great reader. If you read those persons you find humorous, enlightening, encouraging, even disparaging…you'll eventually combine those great characteristics in your own work and become a writer of ill-repute. Blah, blah, blah.

But with so many writers, so many blogs, so many voices filling the could I find my own?

That's where I was frozen for the past five weeks, since the King/X hoops collaboration between Tillman and myself, before my job began to burn my critical hours and show me the corrupt nature of the game. People swear they're trying to be world changers…but that dream is quickly deferred by the proposition of a cushy life with sweater vests and pocket squares.

But, I couldn't sit still. I had to write. First, came a word…then a phrase, a sentence, and soon a paragraph. Quickly, I lifted my eyes from the blinking cursor and saw lines and lines of thoughts, dashed across the once blank slate of a Microsoft page, telling me something that I'd already begun to notice while typing.

Michael, you have a voice. Because I said you do. And I love hearing your voice.

So, you…person who blew the dust off your thesaurus to interpret my sayings, who don't know why they've embarked on this journey called life, who are wondering why I haven't made a Lamar Odom/Khloe Kardashian one-month marriage joke yet, who are looking for purpose in a bleak world that much rather rob you of one and strike you with the ole whooping cough.

You matter. Because Christ says you matter.

Your life, your mind, your voicecounts.

Michael Benjamin, II

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Inaugural Hoops Movie Draft (Part One)

Folks, when the guys at Free Darko have admitted it, it's true: We are officially mired in the dog days of summer. Minus the occasional playground tourney and the distant EuroBasket, summer marks the time when hoops heads are deprived of their daily dose of the round ball. Even I can only follow the White Chocolate Comeback Tour but for so long.

Because we writers love to be undercover innovators, I've devised a groundbreaking plan to break up the monotony, Fresh Prince style. To help out, I've tapped into the philosophic practice of one Johnathan Tillman. Some of you know him as the superstar behind the hoops blog Fundamentally Unsound (FU), and others from the "Searching For the Answer" guest masterpiece he dropped here at Points Off Turnovers. Anyway, I've decided to solicit his assistance in my plan to alleviate the doldrums of our hoop-less summer. Yup, it's time to bring out the big guns.

Without further ado, I'd like to welcome you to our inaugural Hoops Movie Draft! In a heated debate featuring disses, jokes, and references to Sidney Poitier and black actors who can ball, Tillman and I went head-to-head to pick our favorite basketball movies from the Hollywood lexicon. It's on like Donkey Kong in Melee. Enjoy.

Before we get started, here were the ground rules for the selection process:

  1. No Docs: Yes, though it's tempting to select a hardwood classic like "Hoop Dreams" over an Enjoyably Bad Movie like "O" (I'll get to that concept later), it'd be impossible to whittle down the choices. Plus, I don't like making jokes about talented hoopers that bombed. I don't want to chance running into Arthur Agee in a dark corner of a Super Wal-Mart five years from now.
  2. No "Hoosiers": This one kind of evolved during the initial phases of the draft. I mentioned it in my Senior Thesis PowerPoint and intimated as much in my "Basketball and the Black Aesthetic" series, but it's worth mentioning again: "Hoosiers" reeks of racism. I loathe watching the championship game scene, which showers praise on an all-white squad for their ability to defeat the menacing black miscreants from the opposite side of the state. (We can debate this more in the comments.)

Since I'm about treating my guests like family, Tillman's got first pick. This way, you can make fun of his picks before I get in the ring, you dig? I'm not sweating the pick. Luckily, in a movie draft that's got more blue-chip prospects than the '96 Draft, there's nothing to fear. I know I'll get a solid squad. Where you at, Till Show?

1. J-Till selects…Duane Martin, Tupac Shakur, and Leon in "Above the Rim."

This is a solid first overall pick. It's not Lebron or Tim Duncan, but it damn sure isn't Kwame brown either. Hoops fans already know the plot. Talented inner city youth (Duane Martin) must choose between the purity of college ball--with "purity" being tentatively used, especially given the current events--over his ties to Birdie (Tupac) and the streets. But to me, Leon as Shep steals the movie. Playing one-on-one against an imaginary person with no ball and smacking the backboard as a bucket? Then playing a blacktop game in loafers and slacks? Yeah...crazy. For some reason, most Black movies aren't Black movies unless Leon's in it (see: "The Five Heartbeats"). Also, bonus points for "Regulate" on the soundtrack. Where is Nate Dogg, anyway? He went from singing diss track hooks on "The Boondocks" to...? Apologies for the digression, I'm just really worried about his whereabouts. Ok, it was a joke, but so what? What's he gonna do? He wears Dob hats. Alright, I've stopped for good. Your move, Money Mike.

2. Mike selects…Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson in White Men Can't Jump.

Hollywood is a town of trends. Over the last 20 years, we've witnessed a 3-D renaissance, the glorification of Compton and West Coast Rap, the launch (and abuse) of CGI technology (thanks to "The Matrix"), as well as the gawd-awful Jennifer Lopez-era. However, one of my favorite en vogue movie trends was the Buddy Cop Era, a movement that took off with Eddie Murphy's epic feature film "Beverly Hills Cop" and chugs along faithfully to this day. The Buddy Cop blockbusters were cut from the same cloth: A socially inept but white guy teams up with a debonair and comical black guy to solve a mystery, foil a robbery, and end up forming a permanent friendship of mutual respect along the way. We had Enjoyably Bad classics like the Eddie Murphy/Nick Nolte collaboration "48 Hours", refined family comedies like "Lethal Weapon", and later…the blockbuster known affectionately by barbers everywhere as "That Movie With The Funny Karate Guy and That Dude From Friday" (Rush Hour).

In the same vein, "White Man Can't Jump" was basketball's tribute to the popular genre of the decade. Ron Shelton supplied us with our lovable loser (Billy), a straight-laced gym rat from the American Midwest looking to earn his keep by hustling black players who think him a chump because of his appearance. "Jump" gave us Wesley Snipes in his prime, fresh off "Mo' Better Blues" and years before he was forced to cop a jail cell with Mystical for tax evasion. Good times all around.

The only bad part of this movie? The incorporation of the Wet Blanket Girlfriend. In a career-altering role, Rosie Perez plays the role of the girlfriend (Gloria) whose mission is to make our hero miserable along his road to redemption. And Billy LOVES her, on that "Once I get some cash, I wanna marry YOU!" level. Crazy thing is, after he shamefully drags himself to Sidney's house to beg for his half of the loot back, and sinks an impossible shot to give her the opportunity to dominate on Jeopardy, she walks out of him when he fulfills the ONE obligation to his running buddy. Geez, can she be a little more supportive? She doesn't even have a job! What the heck has she contributed?

How much do you wanna bet Billy's first unscripted reaction was similar to that guy from the ADT Home Security Commercials? "Wait…she's GONE? YES!!! I'M FINALLY ABLE TO RELAX!!!!!!"

The lesson, as always: Girls of the world ain't nothing but trouble.

3. J-Till selects…Denzel and Ray Ray in He Got Game.

I'm Taking Shuttlesworth at #3. Not quite MJ at #3 back in '84, but it's at least Deron Williams at #3 in '05. While the main plot was good, it's the subtle nuances that make "He Got Game" a high-value selection. The prime example is, of course, the lovely Rosario Dawson, as "LaLa" (no, not this La La...shout-out to her though), a mischievous woman who tried to get Shuttlesworth to forego Big State U for pro dollars. The second intangible is the appearance by Rick Fox as the upperclassman that shows Shuttlesworth the college life. It's that he was talking about "hoes" and what not; it's that he was damn near 30 doing it.

But the third reason why I like "He Got Game" is that the legendary one-on-one scene between Denzel and Ray Allen is a real game. That means each one of Denzel's five points were unscripted; and the lines are partly written, partly ad-libbed. The story goes, Spike Lee had it written for Ray to win 11-0, but during filming, Denzel scored. Spike wanted to keep rolling to see where it goes, and the end result is that scene. Money Mike says that should've been Stephon Marbury as the lead instead of Ray-Ray; but given his current state and what he does now in front of cameras, it's probably for the best that he didn't get that role.

4. Mike selects…Nick Nolte and Shaq/Penny in Blue Chips.

Once upon a time, Shaquille O'Neal was fifty pounds lighter and played center for the Orlando Magic. Before he gave us Shaq Vs. and Kazaam, Shaq and his dynamic running buddy teamed up with Nolte were to provide us what with was supposed to be "an unflinching look at college basketball". Instead, it became a classic riddled with bad acting (cough, Penny!), ludicrous scenes, and unintentional comedy. Simply, the story examined the life of a corrupt college program through the lens of Coach Pete Bell, the leader who compromises his morality and institution for a chance to bring the famed Western University back to glory. Eventually, Coach Bell can no longer deal with his team's dirty laundry, leading him to blow the whistle in a riveting press conference which dually secures his termination and exorcises his inner demons. Cut and print.

But I didn't pick this movie for the plot. Let's be honest: We've been down this road before. For me, the rewatchability of "Blue Chips" comes from the absolutely ridiculous scenes. Like when Coach Bell embarrasses the top recruit (Ricky Roe) during his college visit for requesting a handout, but Roe instantly forgets and attends Western University after getting a tractor delivered to his house in the VERY NEXT SCENE???? Or when Penny gets homesick and wants to transfer but fears for his mom's job? (Vintage comedic scene.) Or when the entire coaching staff is reviewing last year's championship game and notice that the star point guard commits 25 turnovers. You read that correctly. Veinticinco. Are you kidding me? If your star PG turns the rock over 20+ times in a game, don't you HAVE to suspect something fishy? It's like Barry Bonds' head going cantaloupe on us during the home run race.

Sure, the acting is cringeworthy, the cameos (Calbert Cheaney & Bobby Hurley…NICE!) are priceless…but unintentional comedy is what puts this over the top. You're up, Tillman.

5. J-Till selects…Love & Basketball.

Never mind the hoops. What basketball-playing man wouldn't want to have the affections of Sanaa Lathan, only to leave her for Tyra Banks; and is STILL able to end up with Ms. Lathan in the end? I'm not sure if I'm more envious of this scenario or of the one Taye Diggs was blessed to have in "The Best Man." Nia Long...Nia Long. Wait, where was I? Oh, right, the actual movie. Every guy that hoops lives vicariously through Mike Tomlin's, uh, Omar Epps' character, "Q(uincy) McCall." I still hold out hope that I meet a female basketball player and we fall in love over a game to five. Double or nothing, indeed.

Don't sweat us…we'll be back with Part 2 of the draft in no time. When it's ready, we'll tell you to check it over at FU.

But until then, best keep your head on a swivel. Out.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Couch Potato Series: “I’m No Superman”

"And even though it felt warm…and safe…I knew it had to end. It's never good to live in the past too long. As for the future, it didn't seem so scary anymore. It could be whatever I wanted it to be." (John Dorian, M.D.)

I started watching Scrubs on Comedy Central in my freshman dorm room at Howard University. Sure, the show wasn't as dramatic as ABC's Grey's Anatomy or as suspenseful as Fox's House, but it was a simple doctor show that spoke about life in a humorous matter. I didn't travel to my television set to receive a lecture on the intricacies of the endocrine system…I had my mandatory biology class to thank for that. I came to Scrubs (which I realized later that year was still being taped on NBC) for a reprieve from life's worries, fears, and confusion.

To me, J.D. was more than a character in a fictional teaching hospital. In a way, J.D. was ME.

J.D. was that awkward prodigal son, a young man timidly entering a new world filled with expectations, chaos, additional responsibility, and social growth. J.D. was that geeky teen, trapped in his comic book collection and penny loafers, searching for his place in an often chaotic and troublesome profession. J.D. was the inquisitive skeptic, a transitioning adult who sometimes got lost in his own thoughts and dreams, completely detaching himself from the outside world.

And, as a college freshman, his fantasy life fit mine like a glove.

Well, maybe not exactly. I mean, I was black and he was white. Pretty white, I might add. I had an extensive background in sports and the young doc probably couldn't name a basketball star if his life depended on it. I was born in Brooklyn and raised in the neighborhoods of Queens, he was an unknown character from an unknown town living in a make-believe city. But somehow, in some way…we connected.

I could relate to Dorian's self-conscious narration, thinking at times that the screenwriters had found a way to invade my own subconscious. Precarious relationship with coworker at job? Been there. Awkward bromance with longtime buddy? I'm there. Taking alternate forms of transportation in order to save loot on rising gas prices? Yup, I'm there.

Because of this self-reflective comedic style set in a teaching hospital, no issue or circumstance was able to elude its grasp. The show discussed depression, anxiety, interracial relationships, bromances, fear, and hope in a way that could bring elucidation to the narrowest of minds. I tip my hat to those creative artists, who boldly went where no show had gone before.

Well-scripted and well-produced, Scrubs lasted a respectable seven seasons. Every year, when it seemed like the show's cancellation was inevitable, the actors and writers would respond with an even better season. Heck, the show almost convinced me to pursue medicine. That is, until I remembered that I hated science.

Like a Christmas toy in February, my show eventually fell out of favor with the powers that be. As constant chasers of the elusive advertiser, those media managers of network television canceled my show to pave the way for the humdrum comedy of My Name Is Earl and Chuck. I witnessed the messy adoption of my show by the competing American Broadcasting Channel, a calculated gamble bearing resemblance to my football team's acquisition of Brett Favre during the accompanying year. Like any proud papa of a toddler's artistry, I feigned enjoyment in this distorted collage for posterity's sake. But as far as I was concerned, I had seen the final cut. I had read the finished script. Even though it felt warm and safe, I knew it had to end. It was time to move on.

As J.D. walked through those automated doors of Sacred Heart for the final time, I realized that my future didn't seem quite as scary anymore.

My life could be whatever I wanted it to be.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Couch Potato Series: Running With The ESPYs

"Ladies and germs, welcome to our coverage of the 16th Annual ESPY Awards! That's right…it's the only award show on television that rewards sports employees for…gasp…trying to be the best at their jobs! I'm your host, Michael Benjamin, and I just sold my dignity to the highest bidder on EBay! I've been practicing my fake-laugh for weeks! Let's Go!!!!!!!!"

(You have now entered Mike Benjamin's official retroactive diary of the ESPY's – and there's no turning back. Just don't give me sass about my decision to write an epic post-show diary of the proceedings. Hey, if ESPN's gonna show the awards on a five-day tape delay, why can't I do a retro-diary based on the rerun of the rerun? I can't wait to hear the high-pitched sound from a bleeped-out expletive!)

Like I was saying...LET'S GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!

6:31pm (EST): Our host Samuel L. Jackson, wearing a silky white three-piece, stops mid-walk to pose with Venus and Serena, who happen to get front-row seats to the ceremony. Next to them on the front row: Michael Phelps (and MOM!), Kobe and Vanessa Bryant, and…Matthew Stafford? (Just kidding.)

6:32pm: Any opening bets on the over/under for camera shots of Phelps' mom's tonight? 10? 20?

6:44pm (EST): Jeremy Piven and Marisa Miller (your typical smoking-hot supermodel) walk out to present the first ESPY – Best Championship Performance. Ten years ago, did you ever think that Piven would be one of the go-to actors in Hollywood? He was George Costanza's understudy, for Pete's sake.

6:47pm: Phelps takes home the first ESPY of the night, with Mom failing to hold back her crocodile tears. Why Phelps? Because as Sammy J predicted, this is the only year that anyone gives a crap about swimming. 6:50pm: Just so you know, I'm going to start calling Sam Jackson by his various movie roles for the rest of the retro diary. Like DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, I'm all about breaking up the monotony.

6:51pm: Jules (Pulp Fiction) introduces Will.I.Am and Danica Patrick to present the "Best Upset" award, which is accompanied by a pre-recorded "Damn!" to openly gawk at her hotness. Personally, I'm starting to get sick of the media fawning over Danica, even though she's won like NO races since entering Formula 1. Plus, she's just not that hot. She's like the sports equivalent of Erin Andrews. 6:54pm: The U.S. Soccer Team wins "Big Upset" award, with Landon Donovan hosting a bitter "Yeah, We Know Nobody Really Gave a Crap About Us Before Last Week" look on his face. He's just happy to be back in the tabloids after telling his ex-teammate (Beckham) where to stick his 25 million dollar salary.

6:55pm: Ahh! NOOOOO!!! Stuart Scott's eye in Hi-Def! He just broke my HD tuner. Crap.

6:56pm: Oh boy…they just showed Stacks Edwards (Goodfellas) acting like a bama for TV again. (Why does this sound so familiar?) I've got to give ESPN some credit here. It takes skill to squeeze references to chicken, weed, Obama, and F-bombs into a three-minute segment.

7:01pm: Rashida Jones and T.O. engage in some stale banter, with T.O. coming across as really lame. Since his off-field career has taken off, T.O. has always rubbed me as an athlete that just wants to be seen as funnier than he is. Dude, you don't always have to bring home the funny. That's why they created Ad Libs.

7:02pm: I can't believe Matt Ryan's taking home the "Best Breakthrough Athlete" award over D-Rose. Okay, so I guess it's cool to vote a perennial second-tier QB over a basketball player that will be no worse than Michael Ray Richardson before the coke. This looks like it's gonna be one of those ESPY awards that I'll be laughing out loud at in ten years on ESPN Classic.

7:05pm: Great thing about being a black man: Shaving your head takes 10 years off your appearance. Just ask Gary Payton. By the way, did you know that Sam Jackson's now 60?

7:07pm: Yes! Sylar (Zack Quinto) from NBC's Heroes and a woman wearing a dress littered with glitter are on stage now. Go ahead, Sylar! You know you just want to tear her head off! She deserves to be punished for her fashion felony!

(*Personally, I'm just excited at the fact that there's another Zack in our lives. Shoulda been you, Mark-Paul Gosselaar.)

7:11pm: It's a crime against sports that "Best Game" award was given to the Super Bowl in a year that had the Phelps relay, the Celtics Game 4 comeback, and the Tiger/Rocco duel. Plus, I've already had my fill of Ben Roethlisberger for the night. Just saying.

7:12pm: I just got faxed a transcript of Santonio Holmes acceptance speech: "Hey yall, thanks for letting me win. I look forward to performing more crotch grabs next year."

7:13pm: Similar to the Oscars, ESPN is doing a quick rundown of all the crappy winners that won't get any television time during the show. Why cut the ESPYs short? It's not like we're in a rush to watch WNBA highlights.

7:15pm: Sam Jackson: "It's nice to see all the true fans out there." Uhh, who's he talking to? Isn't he in a theater full of athletes?

7:16pm: Mace Windu and Wyclef collaborate on an old-school blues rendition praising sports fandom. Here's hoping that Will Leitch or Bethelhem Shoals jump on stage and start doing the Charleston.

7:19pm: The Guy Who Akeem Thrashes (Coming to America) begs the audience to get up and dance. Cameras just cut to Dara Torres awkwardly flexing her guns in place. I guess no matter how much success a white person has, they'll never be able to make up for that inherent lack of rhythm.

7:24pm: Hey, look, it's Barack on the big screen! Didn't you know that he's a big sports fan too? Man, he's so relatable to his constituents! (For the record, Barack's sports fandom is starting to get so played out now. It'd be great if he spent all this time trying to fix our economy. Or, better yet, getting me a job.)

7:26pm: Ahh, they just cut to Condi Rice clapping! My retinas! Too much ugly in Hi-Def!!!

7:28pm: Great piece about Arthur Ashe, Nelson Mandela, and the power of rugby uniting the peoples of South Africa. I'm really impressed by the fact that we're actually watching a second-class sport (played in an African nation, no less) get a serious chunk of television time. I guess ESPN's trying to cover their rugby highlight quota for the year in one fell swoop.

7:35pm (EST): Who's that girl sitting next to T.O. in the audience? Judging by her lack of guns, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that she's not an athlete. Just playing a hunch.

7:37pm: Why does Nelson Mandela's grandson look like a poor man's version of the guy from Blood Diamond? More important, why did ESPN cut to the one guy (Jim Boeheim) who's definitely not going to donate a cent of his cash to the cause? Everyone KNOWS he's gotta save that cheese for his recruits!

7:42pm: Jeff Gordon walks out with Olivia Wilde from House to present the "Best Moment" award. I'm just glad to see that Jeff decided to go with the Filene's Basement look for tonight's festivities. Glad to see that his celebrity status hasn't dissuaded him from shopping at his neighborhood discount retailer.

7:46pm: Wow, they just cut to Mike Phelps' mom about five times in the last twenty seconds. Wait, make that six. She's about twenty camera shots away from taking home the Mateen Cleaves' "Most Face Time For A Complete Non-Factor" award and hosting her own mid-morning cooking show.

7:48pm: Peyton Manning is freaking hilarious. I can't wait for him to host a game show in twenty years. He's our generation's Carl Weathers. Or, more likely, the anti-Rick Fox.

7:54pm: Condi Rice, again, is on stage. I know she's got a lot of free time nowadays, but they couldn't find ANYONE else to present this award? I'm now three HD Tuners in the hole. Thanks a lot, ESPN. 7:57pm: Doesn't Nastia Liukin look like…every single white teenage actress you've seen? I swear I just saw her making out with Pacey on an episode of Dawson's Creek this morning.

8:01pm: I can't believe they seated Mike Tyson directly behind Kurt Warner. Either Kurt's walking out with a tattoo directly above his right eye, or Tyson's gonna end up a born-again Christian by the night's end. I really shouldn't be hoping for this, but I'd like to see Matt Leinart try to give Kurt lip when he's got Iron Mike on speed dial. I know he saw what Tyson did to Andy from The Office. (Or, his friend, anyways.)

8:05pm: Came back from a commercial with a random guy on-stage screaming "I AM THE CHAMPION! I AM THE CHAMPION!" at me in my LaZBoy. (That's gotta be the worst Final Cut dissolve-edit EV-VER.)

8:08pm: Looks like Phelps is going to clean up on the men's side of the awards bracket tonight. Kobe's got to be seething by now. Yup, yup…they just cut to him making that clenched jaw smile. (And you Laker fans thought that he put that one away for good.) I'm holding out hope that we'll see his "chipmunk face" by the end of the night.

8:11pm: Don Meyer's gotta be pissed that he's not winning an award for holding the record for more dubs all-time, but because he got mowed down by a tractor-trailer and is down his left leg.

8:13pm: After what's gone down with the Erin Andrews video over the past few days, doesn't Don Meyer have to feel like he just got hosed? Last week, he would've been another dirty old man. Now, he's a full-fledged pervert. ESPN really should've edited out his "Glad I walked the red carpet behind Erin Andrews! (with a cheesy smile)" comment.

8:14pm: Michael Phelps' mom camera count: 14. Who had 20 in the prop bet?

8:23pm: "BULLETIN, BULLETIN, BULLETIN, BULLETIN! No more Stevie Wonder behind the piano! No more dreads that start at the back on his scalp and continue down his back! No more fake laughs from Kobe in the first row!"

8:27pm: Crap. Guess we're not gonna get the chipmunk from Kobe tonight, since his team brought home the "Best Team" award. Wait, why is Sasha Vujacic on-stage? Did he even hit a three at all during the playoffs?

8:28pm: Mister Senor Love Daddy (Do The Right Thing) jogs out to wisk us away to ESPN backstage coverage with his blessings, and finishes the show with a duet with Stevie Wonder amidst confetti and Matthew Stafford man hugs.

8:59pm: At last, the ESPYs have been signed, sealed, and delivered. Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Who wants to watch the post-ESPY's Backstage Show? Umm, me neither. Adios.

(For more pictures of the ESPYs, here's the link. You're welcome.)