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 void...how 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