Thursday, January 29, 2009

"Mo' Better Hoops": Basketball and the African Aesthetic (Part 1)

Before we begin conversing in this P.O.T. blog space this week, I first would like to thank everyone who actually takes the time to read/browse/skim my articles. Last week, I found out from a friend that one of my articles was nominated by the Hilltop staff for the “Best Column of the Year” award given by the various newspaper staffs at HBCUs around the country. When I heard this news, I was absolutely floored, because as a writer, you’re never truly sure if your writing makes sense, if the words weave together like a Shakespearian sonnet, or if you actually inspire/entertain the reading audience. Simply put, getting public recognition from an established college newspaper like the Hilltop was a symbolic but important step in my growing process as a writer. People like me…they really, really like me, I thought.

After my friend told me this information, I felt like I had just ended my first kiss all over again. My mind turned to jambalaya, my head was spinning, and my lips were unable to conceal my enormous grin. So, to every person who has ever scratched their heads after reading one of my many topical jokes, to every person who wondered why I compared Andre Iguodala to Young Gunz, to every person that prayed for me during my travels to Delaware, Mexico, Panama, and Beijing, and to every person who argues my playoff picks to death, I thank you for your support. Last but definitely not least, I thank Jesus Christ for providing me with the inspiration and the skills. You the man, God.

Okay, now that the emotive stuff is out of the way, let’s get to the fun stuff.

Dr. Gregory Carr, professor and instructor of my course entitled “Black Aesthetics” at Howard University, discussed the concept of the “blue note” and its relation to the African (Black) aesthetic. Simply put, the “blue note” is more than just a string of notes and sounds compiled to create enjoyable rock music in America during the 1960s and 1970s. Carr asserts that “blue notes” – or notes played at a lower pitch for expressive quality – are indicative of the full African experience and influence much of Africana (Black) culture, politics, and tradition to this day.

For a contemporary example, we dissected the music of Mary J. Blige. First off, we collectively agreed - for the purposes of this exercise - that Mary J. Blige does not and has never possessed the greatest vocal pipes in the world. Simply put: Mary J. cannot sing. However, Carr argued that if one listens to “Real Love”, "I'm Going Down", or most of Mary J.'s other songs in her discography, an assessment regarding the influence of the African aesthetic can be made. Dr. Carr proceeded to sing “Real Love” a Capella in class, proving by emphasizing the “blue note” structure in the song that Mary J. Blige has perfected (ahem, mastered) the art of hitting the “blue note”. Because of this mastery, fans of her music can relate to her plight, glide along with the rhythm and motion of her songs, and generally block out her relatively mediocre (less than exceptional, anyway) vocals.

I agree with Doc Carr’s sentiment, and argue that the “blue note” phenomenon easily translates over to the formulation of black identity within the context of basketball. “Blue note” or the need to create an Africana identity is an impulse inherent in the minds and hearts of all African peoples and can be channeled into any aspect of society. I had a conversation with my friend Steve, co-host of the sports talk show “Instant Replay” on Mondays from 6-8pm at WHBC 830am with me, and discussed this influence of “blue note” aesthetics – flow, call-and-response, rhythm, etc. - on any players (most specifically, black players) who apply this “form” concept to basketball. I further argue that these black players generally exhibit a poetical mastery of basketball that remains absent from greater American basketball culture.

Check it out.

Before we deconstruct the attributes of basketball found in African cultural traditions, I must first show you, the reader, the two differing viewpoints in regards to basketball theory. In order for you to follow this paper’s line of thought, consider both basketball theory camps as the two different political parties present in the United States, Democrat and Republican. The first camp - Democrats, for the purpose of our example - possesses those purists who believe basketball should exist solely as a creative, free-flowing, untainted exercise in beauty – simply put, “form” or “poetry in motion”. The second camp (Republicans) believe the best brand of basketball to be a game that serves a purpose, a means to an end, a solution to a problem – namely, that basketball exist as “functional”.

Where can the purest expressions of both theories be located? I’m glad you asked.

“Poetry in motion” or “form” basketball can be analyzed in raw form on the playgrounds of tough inner city areas (Brooklyn, Southside Chicago, Harlem, and Lower East Side). Here, the game is played amidst radios blaring and beautiful women, far away from those seeking to poison its beauty with archaic constructions and mundane structures. (Hey, if you need strong movie examples of the blacktop basketball tradition for greater understanding, I’d advice watching “Hoop Dreams” or the first-half of “Glory Road” (when Coach Haskins travels to recruit black dudes on inner-city courts).

“Functional” basketball can be analyzed in its purest form primarily in the Hoosier state of Indiana, a state largely absent of black influences and African cultural meaning-making. Here, basketball was played largely in school gymnasiums due to the excess of farmland, with repetition and “hustle” (a undefined concept that stems from the rural tradition of "hard work" in Middle America) existing as defining characteristics of those individuals considered spectacular by the masses. (Again, for a generic movie example, watch “Hoosiers” with Gene Hackman).

In my next few blog entries, I’ll talk about the history of the struggle between “form” and “function” in basketball - a struggle that in some ways reflects a loose schism between blacks and whites in American society. After that, I’ll examine the lengthy trails left by both basketball theories and trace “form” and “function” theory to subsequent basketball superstars in the present day. In addition, I’ll argue for the need to society to once again embrace the elements of “form” basketball in our youth, elements that are swiftly being ignored because of rising greed found in individuals and corporate entities seeking to make dollars rather than promote artistic expression. Left unchecked, this outlook can be dangerous and stifle the creative genes that lay dormant in our youth, eroding away the artistry that makes basketball a unique and beautiful sport, similar to the traditions of preceding African societies.

By the way, don’t think I’m writing this to ridicule and attack white people. There are white players who exhibit "form" in their play similarly to blacks. There are also many white basketball theorists that embrace “form” theory in the sport. Anyway, just make sure to check out my next P.O.T. post for more understanding. Rest assured, it’ll pack a punch and help you waste even more quality time.

As for the Super Bowl, I’ve got Arizona over Pittsburgh. I have no real reason to pick the Cardinals other than my man crush on Larry Fitzgerald’s skills. So, deal with it.

And, as my man J-Till over at Fundamentally Unsound would say, “Peace”.

Michael A. Benjamin, II

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thank You Jesus...Barack Obama...#44!

Congratulations to Mr. Barack Hussein Obama, II....the 44th President of the United States!

- Mike Benjamin, II

Saturday, January 17, 2009

"The Butterfly Effect" (and some championship game picks)

My ankle socks sit comfortably in the drawer, admitting their uselessness against the natural elements. Colorful T-shirts from gospel concerts, basketball tournaments, and family trips become faithful undergarments, preparing to shield my birdcage from the slicing wind. Baseball caps adorn my closet wall purely for their aesthetic quality, the cold forcing me to wear a wool cap that completely covers my ears. I pray that my gloves will add warmth to my calloused hands, and trudge forth, steely-eyed and temperamental, to face the unbridled beast.

In the nation’s capital, winter has officially begun. I have ice water running through my veins, and not because I’m unconscious like Reggie Miller at the charity stripe or Mariano Rivera in the 9th. To put it clearly: It is freaking cold outside. I pass acquaintances and friends with a quick grin and nod, covering my teeth before the wind turns them into rock candy. With our local meteorologist predicting a temperature of twenty degrees (with the wind-chill making it feel like two), my body pleads with me to reverse direction and lay underneath my sheets, to acquiesce to the discomfort. I refuse, stubbornly vowing that the weather will not seize the joy from my winter months.

For this weekend, amidst the bitter cold, a new president will be sworn. Unlike his predecessors, however, this gentleman possesses quite a few additional drops of melanin. This individual will be the first of his kind to hold the highest public office in our land, a significant event that may change the course of history.

But then again, any event in life can trigger the butterfly effect. Could I have altered history by choosing to eat my absentee ballot instead of penning in my selection? Can circumstances change tomorrow if I order a cheeseburger over the fish sandwich today? Do I have the power to inspire the Arizona Cardinals to topple the Philadelphia Eagles by picking them in my football column? Eh, who knows.

I do know one thing, though. I plan to keep my Honda Civic parked in her space throughout the entire weekend. I plan to steer clear of the crowds that will flood the district. I plan to fill my stomach with junk food and skip Jeremiah Wright’s speech at Howard University in favor of NFC/AFC championship game action. Simply put, I plan to keep a low profile this weekend and watch some championship football. Let’s Go!

Arizona Cardinals (+4) over Philadelphia Eagles (27-21)
There is nothing more annoying than a fan from the city of Philadelphia. Unlike the Boston fan, who will scream at fans of other teams for overspending while their teams invariably spend large sums of money for their players (Kevin Garnett, Josh Beckett), Philadelphia fans have the innate quality of kicking a man while he’s down. Before the Phillies won the World Series, this haughty attitude towards the art of fandom was held in check and reserved for the players of their city. Yes, I’m black. I want Donovan McNabb to win a Super Bowl to prove all of his doubters wrong. But…he’s wearing an Eagles jersey! Plus, I haven’t forgotten about your decision to play phone tag on our sidelines, sir. McNabb, I hope you have an awesome game…but I need the Eagles to lose. You, dear reader, need the Eagles to lose. WE NEED THE IGGLES TO LOSE. Period.

ESPN’s Bill Simmons brought it up in his weekly picks column, but it’s worth restating in this space. The Cardinals have the chance to beat every other bird team in the NFL en route to a championship. So far (since Week 17), the Cardinals have beaten the Seahawks, the Falcons, and will play the Eagles on Sunday. If Arizona defeats the Eagles and the Ravens find a way to win in Pittsburgh, we’ll have a potential Alfred Hitchcock movie on the reel. Wouldn’t HBO have to use this opportunity to televise “The Birds” on a mundane Saturday afternoon in January? Wouldn’t Bruce Springsteen have to allow Birdman an opportunity to freestyle during the halftime show of Super Bowl XLIII? I’m getting giddy just thinking about the possibilities.

I can’t ignore the 1 Samuel 17, “David vs. Goliath” potential. I can’t ignore Larry Fitzgerald and his propensity to make sensational grabs in the secondary. Who am I to go against a guy who draws pictures of Jesus with his spare time? I can’t pick against this Cardinals team. As Sylvester Stallone said at the end of Rocky IV, “if I can change, and you can change…anybody can change!” The Cardinals…gulp…are your NFC Champs.

Pittsburgh Steelers (-6) over Baltimore Ravens (20-13)
Just like any football pundit, I was elated to see my pick (Baltimore) win on the road, in a tough environment. As my friend Melford wrote on my Wall last week, I even picked the correct spread for the final score (3 points). But let’s be clear…I got extremely lucky. First, Chris Johnson, who was destroying the Baltimore front seven, found himself sitting on the sidelines nursing an injury while Lendale “Fat” White did his best Ron Dayne impression, falling forward for three yards on every run play in the second half. After Alge Crumpler fumbled in field goal range late in the 4th quarter and Joe Flacco got an extra two seconds on the play clock to complete a much-needed 3rd down pass to Todd Heap, I knew that the Ravens would quote “Nevermore” on the Titans’ season. I took a rookie quarterback on the road (a no-no in the playoffs) and got away with it.

However, an inexperienced quarterback against another top-flight defense on the road just isn’t going to cut it this week. Sorry, Ravens fans...but I'm going to have to bail. Unless Sylar Joe Flacco suddenly turns into Tom Brady cerca-2002, I have a better chance of landing a commercial airplane in the Hudson River than the Ravens have of beating the Steelers this week. So, there you go.

(While we’re on this topic, I am perplexed by the amount of praise lavished on the pilot that actually pulled this landing off last week. While the captain did an excellent job of avoiding both the George Washington Bridge and the skyscrapers on the West Side, why are other aerial experts declaring his water landing an impossible feat? Granted, I’m glad to see those passengers safe (with a few minor situations), but shouldn’t we be concerned about pilot training? Check out this quote from the story:
"I don't think there's enough praise to go around for someone who does something like this. This is something you really can't prepare for," said former Delta pilot Denny Walsh. "You really don't practice water landings in commercial airplanes. Just the sheer expertise he demonstrated is amazing."
Wow, that's coo...Wait, what? Go ahead and re-read that paragraph. You DON'T practice water landings???? All this time, I thought guys like Jester and Maverick from Top Gun trained these guys on similar tactical maneuvers and all possible forms of expert crash landing. So, though our airline seat cushions have the ability to keep us afloat, most of our pilots probably aren’t
skilled enough to crash land an aircraft into a body of water. To me, that makes plane seat cushions even more useless. What the heck am I paying for? I think John Madden might have the right idea…just drive a bus around the country that emits a huge amount of toxic fumes. Wait, maybe I’m just overreacting. Can someone provide me some clarity on this issue in the comments section?)

Anyway, the Baltimore Ravens are like the Sarah Palin of the NFL Playoffs. Sure, Sarah, you were big news during the election (Wild Card Weekend), creating executive fashion trends and funny Halloween costumes, and you took this nation by storm (Ed Reed’s monster game). Heck, you even found a way to hang around on our news wires (yes, I’m looking at you, MSNBC) a little longer than we expected after the election’s end (beating the Titans). But the excitement has worn off, sister. Let’s stop the charade. You are officially old news. Trust me, it’s okay to walk quietly into the sunset of irrelevance. We forgive you for wasting our time. Hasta la vista, baby.

To all of my Washingtonian brethren (and sistren), be safe on the streets this weekend. Don’t get trampled by the influx of Barack Obama supporters on the Mall. And if you need a buddy to hang with until the wave passes over our city, you know who to call.

Just make sure not to wear those darned ankle socks. It’s freaking cold out there.

Mike Benjamin, II

Monday, January 12, 2009

"Career Fair"

I saw the best minds of my generation, trapped in business suits, clutching leather briefcases, being siphoned into a job market that doesn't really want or need them. I saw our innocence disappear behind full smiles at a moment's notice, with empty conversation flooding the parameters of the room. I get it. We'll pretend that we know about your regional, for-profit organization and agree that your website's graphic design is phenomenal. But I know the truth. You're a savant of suave, a hired company pawn, sent as a walking billboard to this pre-professional audience of skeptics. You remind us of our desire to be wanted, to be needed, or simply, to be.

I join you in this superficial dance, though a sheer look of horror is plastered on my face. Stop looking at my blue travel case. I picked it up at a conference once, and it's better to carry this than my Jan Sport book bag. I only mimic the movements of others, hoping that the flaws in my character don’t permeate my appearance.

Hello, beautiful girl that skips our mandatory class every Friday. Yes, I too am glad that we maintain this need-based friendship, and will forward you the homework assignment tonight. I notice that you are extending your arms to embrace me. If we had but time, I would hold you in my arms and whisper sweet phrases from my favorite lyricist into your ear. But here, in this dimly-lit auditorium, I shudder to think of their response to our warm embrace. You should know that the corporate world frowns upon hugging. I hope that my sweaty, nervous palm extended will suffice.

You see me walking, gripping my writer’s notebook, hoping that my internship experience will impress you. Yes, I know that I didn’t match my tie with my suit, but you shrug and offer a polite courtesy. I flinch, and then look at the unfamiliar lines of your palm to gain some semblance of a hint to your personality. I need to know what makes you tick. I shake your appendage firmly while looking into your eyes and nodding. Oh my name. You hold onto my hand too long. Now it sits in your grasp like a dead fish. I panic and say my name louder than expected. We decide to sit down and I hand you my resume. Unfortunately, my resume is Word processed like everyone else.

You grow tired of this dance and promise to contact me with any future opportunities. I brighten for a moment, gather your free mug and pen, and saunter toward the next booth. I know full well that I must be the one who initiates further contact regarding employment, but I know my role. I resign to my station and continue to play the game.

I grow tired of this rat race. I wish to return to my room to watch successful writers yell at each other for a half-hour. But, alas, I must remain diligent. I crave self-worth and mustn’t find myself absent of opportunity following graduation. Yes, I do like receiving your organizational charts and business cards, but I’m afraid that you just don’t want me. Let’s stop this charade and enjoy a refreshing stroll along the embankment of our pond. You like strolls, don’t you? Perhaps an afternoon beverage jaunt will be adequate.

I apologize for my intrusion. I promise not to break character again. I humble ask for employment. I’ll reprise my role…and continue to play the game.

Mike Benjamin, II

Saturday, January 10, 2009

NFL, College Cliches, and the Best Bro-Sis Combo Ever Assembled!

Fact: College is the best four years of your life.

ENNNNNN! Wrong answer!

I hate it when people use this phrase to summarize their college careers. Whenever someone casually tosses this cliche into conversation, I wince, peer into their eyes, and give them the People's Eyebrow. True, I'm enjoying college, but if this experience serves as the highlight of my life before I've lived my next two months, two years, or two decades of my life, that's a sad commentary in regards to my future. Granted, I'll miss the HBO network and the free Honors Office printers, but I'm not afraid of moving on. In God, I'm ready to take on the next challenge, accomplish the next goal, and inspire others for Christ along the way. These entries serve as a humorous but nostalgic signifiers of great moments and awesome experiences. Yup, I'm getting wistful already.

So, before we get to the next point on the list, let's agree to make college mean more than a stupid cliche quote. And if you haven't been maximizing college life, it's time to get moving. As Ferris Bueller would say, "life comes pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it."

Things I'll Miss About College #3: Going to School with My Sister!
Do you really want to know what love is? (More than anything in the world, Ron.) Well, I'll admit that I wasn't really sure what to expect when my sister, Arielle, formerly accepted the scholarship offered to her by The Howard University to join its few but proud students. (Note: I feel that using the determiner "the" prior to a common name gives that name way more credibility. (The Bronx or The Dark Knight, for example) So, look forward to seeing tons of "The Howard University" mentions sprinkled throughout this blog post.) However, I am so glad that Arie decided to attend the Real HU. I am convinced that her decision to attend our university was not only the primary catalyst that grew our relationship to that of "best friend status", but also provided a sensible but encouraging voice that has helped me to become the student and person that I am today. (Plus, she's probably the coolest person on our campus.) All jokes aside, I am truly a proud older brother who can only praise God for what he's doing through Arielle. By far, Arielle and I are the best brother-sister combination ever assembled! Period.

First, no one has better quips, funny theories, and quick-hitting jokes than the Arielle/Michael combo. Over the years we have promptly constructed a list of approximately one trillion quips, one million cripping disses, and ten trillion inside jokes. To me, Arielle is like the Android 18 to my 17, the Cheryl Miller to my Reggie Miller, the Cece to my Bebe Winans. If you've ever been blessed (or willing) to see a movie, eat a meal, or travel anywhere with Arielle and I, you understand that our dynamic duo is like taking a bite of a well-made cheesecake. You're not sure which section of the cake tastes better, the filling or the crust, but you know that you are consuming an awesome delicacy.
Secondly, Arielle's understanding about women that I would have no chance of knowing (and for the record, still have zero chance of fully understanding). When Arielle tells me not to date a girl, I listen 99% of the time - partly because I know that she's helping me out, and partly because she's just so dang convincing with her explanations. Really, I can rattle on for hours in the space about my sister and her accomplishments (ExxonMobil, Abbott, et al), her talents (poetry, anything using the computer, her geniousness, smiling), or just Christ in her life...but I don't want to sound like an overzealous B-list actor that receives an award at the stepbrother of the Academy Awards Golden Globes. Anyway, you get the point. When I move on from The Howard University this spring, I'm going to miss our time together. As I would say, it's been pure awesomeness.
Since I'm supposed to be a sportswriter, let's go ahead and get to some football picks:
NFC: Giants over Eagles (20-17)
I love watching Chris Berman's "Two Minute Drill" on Friday nights during the football season. This week before the big Eagles/Giants Super Bowl, safety Brian Dawkins dropped this gem during the segment.

"This is what the season's coming down to. Me running full speed into big men."
Really, has the season really come down to Dawkins headbutting 330-pound linemen in the sternum (a la Zinedine Zidane) on any given Sunday? Isn't that the most bleak outlook on professional football you've ever heard? Seriously, doctors calculate that football players crashing into one another on any given play is equivalent to a simultaneous car crash. For the record, you will never catch me destroying my shoulder blades for the betterment of the team! If my coach told me to commit spinal suicide during football games, I would stop, spit directly on his Dr. Scholls, and quote Julius's classic line from Remember the Titans: "Why should I give a HOOT about you, or anybody else on this team? NOBODY PLAYS! I'm supposed to wear myself out for the team? WHAT TEAM? YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"

Brian, you may want to sit a few plays out, champ.

NFC: Panthers over Cardinals (Infinity to Sub-Zero)
Okay, this might be the easiest game to pick this weekend. That's why the network executives argued to shove this borefest into the 4:15pm Saturday slot (because no one will forfeit an entire Saturday afternoon for this). Although I'd love to go against conventional wisdom and pick the Cardinals (so that the G-Men will have an easier route to the Super Bowl), I decided to concede victory to the Cats. Arizona is playing this game without WR Anquan Boldin (who in my definition is the most BOSS player the NFL has even seen), on the road, in a cold-weather stadium, with a terrible defense (who only beat Atlanta because they stopped the cutback system in the zone blocking scheme), the classic previously-underrated-but-now-overrated-because-everybody-talked-about-him-all-week guy (Edge James), and a quarterback who's probably hiding varicose veins underneath his leggings. Unless Ray Carruth breaks out of prison and flat-out maimes a guy on the field, we can all agree that the Panthers will take care of business with K-Ci and JoJo at the running back position.

AFC: Pittsburgh over San Diego (11-10)
I'm still bitter about the first meeting between these two clubs. First, we've got two offensive teams, slouching around in the crappiest field in the NFL today (Heinz Field), playing probably the most meaningess 4:15 game in recent memory. Of course, because I thought that Norv would wet the bed well before 7pm, I sidestepped my homework and watched this atrocity. Plus, my boy Troy Polamalu got robbed of a sure-fire TD that would have started heads rolling in Vegas (Pittsburgh would have covered the point spread). Uhh, not that I gamble or anything. (Ducks thunderbolt) San Diego can only hope that Mike Scifres (the guy who will be the highest-paid punter next season) drops about ten punts inside the 5 and that Big Ben's offensive line will offer Luis Castello 5years/$50 million by opening up the doorways to Roethlisberger's ankles. (It's possible - remember the Giants and Eagles games.) Otherwise, the Steel City rolls.

AFC: Baltimore over Tennessee (16-13)

Ray Lewis! Albert Haynesworth! Who's going to score the most defensive TD's? It's the NFL on CBS! This is going to be like one of those first-person, walkthrough, Nintendo 64 "Rampage" style bouts at LP Field. This summer, I drove by LP Field while in Nashville and laughed aloud. Why? Because I loved the idea of Titans fans possibly being one Vince Young injury/mental breakdown away from cheering hard for Kerry Collins, a guy who is guaranteed to look for cover when he sees flashbacks of the 2000 Super Bowl. (Yup, I'm still bitter.) Plus, without a solid deep-threat (really, the only weakness of Baltimore's defense...ask the Colts), the Titans have no chance of winning. And yes, I know I'm throwing my support behind a rookie quarterback on the road (Joe Flacco). Let's just not bring that up.

Plus, I can't stand the idea of my buddies (Ray and Earl) dancing in the streets of Vanderbilt University in jubilee while my New Jersey York Jets continue their search for the next Al Groh. Life as a perennial really can't get much worse.

Enjoy the games, everyone.

Mike Benjamin

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Courier's Tragedy: Christmas Day's Game-Within-The-Game

I, like most of the sports world following the opening of presents on Christmas morning, watched the revenge play unravel on network television with the Lakers/Celtics matchup. First, I'll admit that the game was well worth the wait. After living through a plethora of promotional commercials and melodrama over the last few weeks, I was glad to see both teams involved in a frenetic and stimulating game for our viewing pleasure. In the eyes of many spectators, the NBA season doesn't really begin until the NBA's annual double-header on Christmas afternoon commences. If you've decided to join the throng of basketball enthusiasts and begin your analysis of NBA action on this traditional celebration of the roundball, here's a quick wrap-up of what you've missed since October 28, 2008:

1. Devin Harris (NJN) and Danny Granger (IND), welcome to super-stardom. Both currently find their scoring averages (23.6 and 24.5, respectibly) among the league's leaders (7th and 5th). To put these stats in perspective, Danny Granger is averaging more PPG than Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Dwight Howard (members of the 2008 Olympic Team). Impressive.

2. Lebron = Best Player in the Game. Period. For a more detailed explanation, check out my boy Johnathan Tillman's post about Lebron's" ascension to the league's throne.

3. In 2006, the Suns' prolific "Seven Seconds or Less" offense featured Nash, Bell, Marion, Diaw, Stoudemire and game-changing coach Mike DiAntoni. Now? Steve Kerr's tinkering has left the hightly-touted team with a core group of Nash/Shaq/Stoudemire along with the monster contracts of Jason Richardson and Matt Barnes. Do you realize that if Robert Sarver had decided to pony up the Benjamins for Joe Johnson following the 2005 playoff-loss to the Spurs, the Suns could have been going to battle with a core group of Nash/Johnson/Marion/Stoudemire right now? I hate when owners get too greedy at the most inopportune times.

4. Starting pitchers C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and 1B Mark Teixiera all became New York Yankees! Oh, I'm sorry...wrong sport. (Flashes toothy grin...)

Instead of sitting motionless in front of my television watching Kobe's fustian theatrics or KG's menacing scowl during this Christmas basketball jamboree, I decided to examine the intricacies of the game-within-the-game. Just as the confused Hamlet monitored the king's reactions during the famous "Mousetrap" stage play (Act III, Scene 2) and Thomas Pynchon's Oedipa watched The Courier's Tragedy for clues to solve her personal dilemma, so also will I delve into an intriguing analysis of this titanic Christmas clash to make sense of this Boston/L.A. rivalry in the context of the NBA Season. So, let's pay homage to Public Enemy, and fight the power after the random (but somewhat relevant) photo:

Act 1 - Doc Rivers: "I'm" Smart and I Want Respect!"
First, let's agree that this game meant more to the Lakers than it does to the Celtics. Phil Jackson understood this idea, choosing to play only his trusted rotation throughout the 48 minutes. Looking at the box score, we see that while Phil Jackson played his horse (Kobe Bryant) for 43 minutes, Doc Rivers only played his main man (Kevin Garnett) for 37 minutes. Let's not kid ourselves into believing that this game erases Boston's 39-point Game 6 skewering of the Lake Show during the much-warmer month of June. No matter how much David Stern and Co. wanted us to believe that this game rivaled those with playoff implications, a regular season game is still a regular season game. Doc understood this, and decided to employ his reserves to give them some freedom on a level similar to what they'll be experiencing come playoff time. So, to quote Fall Out Boy...thanks for the memories, L.A. Doc just pwned your "revenge attempt" for talent evaluation.

Act 2 - Kendrick Perkins: "Oh, I'm Sorry...Did I Break Your Concentration?"
Kendrick Perkins is an angry man. Kendrick Perkins is a furious man. Kendrick Perkins is one of the reasons why Pau Gasol whimpered his way back to Spain to recover after the NBA Finals was over. Honestly, I don't think I've ever seen Perk smile. Henry Abbott, writer of the blog True Hoop, talked about the idea that Kevin Garnett is a basketball player that most people would hate playing against because of his purported bad attitude and propensity for trash talk. KG's on-court anger has fused with Doc's "ubuntu" concept, turning his teammates into a collection of athletes tenacious about winning. In other words, Perk has completely imitated KG. What's wrong with that? Absolutely nothing...if the league were fair and balanced towards big men. However, since Perk isn't KG, he'll be subject to criticism and issued technical fouls for his belligerence. To me, there's nothing wrong with furious long as it stays on the court. There's nothing better than seeing guys compete intensely in a league that has become softer than a roll of Quilted Northern towelets. Plus, it's great seeing the better players (Pau/Odom) cower in the midst of Perk's awesome might.

Act 3 - Paul Pierce: "It's" So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday"
To me, Paul Pierce represents the last of a dying breed of wing player; guys who can handle defensive assignments and carry a team in crunch time. Back in the NBA's Golden Age (1980-1998), you would be hardpressed to find a player incapable of guarding his position. Now? You've got "Wince" Carter, T-Mac (let's not blame it on the back problems) and guys from high school/colleges who rode their athletic ability, circumventing instruction in regards to the art of defense (think: Carmelo). Paul Pierce is the basketball equivalent to the five-tool player of baseball (Speed, Arm Strength, Hitting for Avg. and Power, Fielding). Basketball savants chronicle Paul Pierce's basketball game in the same way that guys do when they spot a legitimate 10 -- treasuring the moment, subtly smirking, elbowing their best friends to make sure they're paying attention, but sadly knowing that this specific moment will never be duplicated.

(A quick tangent: I'm angry at Terius "The Dream" Nash for trivializing the perfect-ten concept in his momentary hit single "Shawty is a Ten". The Dream violated Man Law by allowing a quietly understood system of male communication (i.e., the "rating system") to enter public consciousness. No respectable guy would ever toss this phrasing of "you're a ten" around in such a careless manner. As I mentioned in the last paragraph, we rarely use this phrasing due to the lack of actual tens in mainstream society. We guys cannot allow our vernacular terminology to become as useful as the American dollar in Europe. If a guy were to employ this philosophic term in the presence of a woman, it would mean one of two things:
1. The guy in question is married. Or engaged. No exceptions.2. The guy in question lacks game.So Mr. Dream, please don't use this terminology in such a cursory manner again. I really don't want to have to dust Suge Knight off to take care of business. Don't let the door hit you on the way out. Thanks.)

Act 4 - Danny Ainge: "I Need Mo' Allowance"
As the venerable Rick Pitino would say, "James Posey isn't walking through that door, fans. JAMES POSEY ISN'T WALKING THROUGH THAT DOOR!" Because of Ainge's refusal to pony up for Posey's services, the Boston Celtics aren't the same team that they were last year. Tony Allen isn't the same defensive stalwart that Posey was last year. In his attempt to guard Kobe on Thursday afternoon, Tony Allen picked up a paltry first-half stat line of 3 fouls, 0 points. With those old bodies getting older (Allen, Pierce, KG), the C's are going to need guys like Allen, Giddens, and Powe to fill in the gaps when necessary. If the Celtics look as miserable as they did in the first half of Jesus' birthday, it'll be tough for them to repeat.

Overall, the Christmas games were solid. Honestly, they should have stuck to the two-game slate, or just axed the Hornets/Magic drubbing.

But then again, maybe the basketball fan doth protest too much.
Mike Benjamin, II