Friday, February 12, 2010

“The Running Jumper”: (’99 Knicks, Part 2)

The orange sphere danced around the cylinder, clanging violently against the metal, yelling for silence from the massive Miami-Dade crowd.

We hated them, and they hated us. It was simpler that way.

It was before the years of intense AAU basketball, the unspoken meeting ground of future NBA superstars who meet time and time again in tournaments designed to bolster their draft stock. It was well before the Ron Artest melee, a black mark on the league's rep that forced Stern to eliminate even a pretense of anger between rivals. And it was right after the "end" of MJ, an uncomfortable time for fans and players alike that would shape the league over the next ten years.

It was back during the golden age of the NBA rivalry, when players despised their opponent right down to the uniform colors, when guys would refuse to sign with the city rival in free agency, and when guys would decline dinner dates with each other before intense playoff games. Or so we believed.

We didn't need to feign anger. They stole our coach, a guy who sculpted the Showtime Lakers into perennial champions and promised our naïve bunch a return to the glory days. He promised to make Ewing into Kareem, to make our jumbled backcourt (Harper, Starks) into Magic, and almost delivered. We were so close to the NBA crown that we could taste it.

Then Starks happened. The amount of shots he missed is still a confused algorithm. Then the fight for front office hegemony happened. And now, our Dean Smith sat comfortably on the rival bench, intent on snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in another titanic battle.

It was a fierce rivalry, with Riley as the lynchpin. The big men stood underneath the basket, all bent on securing supreme post position. Sweat dripped from uniforms and accessories alike, as bodies leaned, clawed, and pressed underneath the rim to secure as much unoccupied parquet as possible. Familiar foes with similar histories, these players were taught by the same man to unleash as much physical damage on their opponent as possible, akin to heavyweight fighters letting loose tremendous body blows.

Our shooting guard, who caught, drove and released the ball in what seemed to be one fluid motion, now glided towards the basket, his momentum sweeping him into the painted area below.

And we all waited.

Around the city, elder Knick patrons held heads in hands, anticipating another letdown. Kids squirmed down in couch cushions, hoping to witness a brief glimpse of success. Mommies and Daddies with matching "FRAZIER #10" jerseys sat hand-in-hand, hoping to transfer that final shroud of the glory days to their kin.

And then, the unexpected happened. The shot went in.

Utter joy. Unfamiliar chaos. Crash Bandicoot dancing in the streets.

It was an ugly victory. We hated them and they hated us. But this time, we got the best of them.

Knicks 78. Heat 77.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Revelation Song

The Super Bowl is such a weird "holiday."

The hype machine knocks softly when the month of January begins, then gets increasingly violent as championship Sunday comes and goes. Diehard fans are thrust into the fray with wannabes and jigaboos, like a Los Angeles Lakers bandwagon gone wrong. The three-hour tour begins and ends before we can get a refund on our wasted time, and then the depression hangover sets in.

I just think the day's just flat-out overrated.

I wrote about this phenomenon briefly last year in an article for The Hilltop, choosing to cover a Federer/Nadal Australian Open final instead of the Big Game in a rather pithy measure of defiance. But you can't fault me for that. Do we really need another writer to give us a Flintstone vitamin analysis? Every year it's the same thing. You've got your bevy of pre-pregame shows, with talking heads spewing opinions and overused rhetoric faster than a Republican senator at a press conference. We get new ways to present old matchups, new angles for our superstar stories, new prose to decipher Peyton's facial expressions, and a new Pentagon-sized brief on Mr. Irrelevant. It's really a case of Project Overload.

We're in a trance, controlled by the advertisers and the networks, fake-laughing and jostling with the supermarket heathens to catch up with the rising tide. The Super Bowl takes everything the diehard loves about sports and hooks it up to a dialysis machine. And we'd better move with the cloud or risk getting left behind when water cooler conversation reaches sports for the yearly pit stop.

Then, in an instant, the conga line stops. Everybody takes off their beads. And it's time to get ready for school in the morning.

It's all stupid, really.

But to dismiss the whole ordeal as irrelevant would be treason. Super Bowl is as American as apple pie, America Online, and Barry Manilow. It's the only bearable moment during winter to emerge for a New York minute before submerging for those final six weeks of winter.

I had no team in the fight, and no player worthy of analysis. Maybe that has something to do with it. But the whole event just seems like a charade, an event set up by the affluent minority as a vehicle to siphon our resources and monitor our population. But perhaps this view is a tad too Soylent Green for an issue that may be just Veggie Tales at its essence. Perhaps I should just watch this particular game without bothering to deconstruct.But then…Manning happens. And Brees happens. And Reggie Wayne realizing he's not Marvin happens. And Garrett Hartley being clutch happens. And then…the inevitable happens. Pizza pie and chocolate cake take a backseat to the study of QB ratings and the 4-3 defense. I find a way to entertain myself while submerged in the fracas. I just can't help myself.

As a sportswriter, I can never dismiss it entirely. That would be an indictment on my credibility.

There's a thin line between love and hate, and Super Bowl week can really push the envelope.

But I'm not gonna hate too hard. Congratulations Louisiana. Even though that means we'll probably see Kim Kardashian shake hands with the President in a few months.

Then my brain will explode.

Friday, February 5, 2010

P.O.T. Off Topic – Snow Bowl

(Editor's Note: Hello, all. After reading about 10 gillion people all along the Eastern Seaboard complain about the impending snowstorm, I decided to eschew my planned Super Bowl column for a Snow Day piece. If you care, I'm taking the Colts over the Saints, 31-21. Just can't bring myself to bet against a Manning. Or a black coach.

So, indulge me please, after the not-so-random picture...)

Last summer, my sister had an internship in California.

The best part about my sister's internship is that it gave me an excuse to visit California.

Ain't I the best big brother ever?

You see, I'd never been to the far coast. I'd heard the legends of snow bunnies putting their fur coats away for tighter fitting apparel and hoopers playing hoops until 7pm…on weeknights. I'd seen my share of Tony Scott and Ron Shelton movies. I even memorized Doughboy's final lines in Boys 'N Da Hood.

Either they don't know, don't show, or don't care about what's going on in the hood. Booyah.

But when I stepped off the plane in sunny San Francisco, I immediately started grinning from ear to ear. And it wasn't because I saw two Brazilian chicks making out on the conveyor belt in airport luggage. It was the feel of that California sunshine on my face, the smell of an ocean not rotting from guys with cement sneakers, and the lingering aroma of the famed In 'N Out Burger ($3 value meals? BARGAIN!) that tickled my nostrils and got me chomping at the bit.

(Okay, so they were just checking their IPhones. You got me.)

I'm afraid that if I ever moved to California, I'll never move back.

Where else can you get 70 degree weather all year? Where else can you run into Kyla Pratt randomly at a neighborhood block party, or step on Verne Troyer's face while playing in a McDonald's playpen?

Plus, you can get away from all this darned snow. And that's what I was getting at in the first place.

(That was one heck of an intro, eh?)

Remember when Nickelodeon used to force feed us a rack of money-making movies (Harriet the Spy, The Rugrats Movie (with Mase on the soundtrack!) so that we'd beg our parents for cash and line the pockets of Mike O'Malley and Doug Funnie? Well, one of those movies was Snow Day.
The premise was simple enough: The main character, a little girl determined to stop the neighborhood bad guy (in this case, the snowplow man) from pushing the white stuff off her streets, gathers all the kids of the suburban cul-de-sac together in an effort to throttle the beast. Granted, all of these kids probably had bedtimes around 8:15, but whatever. You get the point.

(Meanwhile, the older brother spends his entire day trying to impress the hot next-door neighbor (a young Sloan from Entourage) but ends up falling in love with the Best Friend That Was Around the Entire Time (an oft-abused movie concept that would NEVER work in real life). Really? Pullllleeazzze. Can't you just wait and fall in love with her on a school day?)

There used to be a point in my life where I'd root for the little girl from the comforts of my basement, praying that somehow, she'd be able to stop the evil plow man for cleaning up her street. Come on! You can do it! Stop trying to make us go back to school, you herb! I remember yelling at the TV screen right up until the point where Nick would transport us right into a Crossfire commercial. YOU GET CAUGHT UP IN THE….CROSSFIRE!!! YAAAAAAA!!!

Unfortunately, those days are gone.

Snow was just a lot more fun to deal with when I was a kid. Now? I'm the dude waking up early to dig out my car for work, I'm the guy that starts the cars to get them warm, and I'm the guy who has to sprinkle salt down on the sidewalk so that some random old lady doesn't slip, sue, and take our house. That's something that 'dem Cali kids have never had to deal with.

Get on my level. Heck, I'm the guy that cheers for the snowplow man now. If I could, I'd give him a Google Map right to my house. I get antsy when the dude doesn't show by the four hour mark.

If I could, I'd take a huge plastic liner and cover the entire driveway so that the snow would slide off like Teflon. You know, to save me time on the back end. But alas, I have to wait. And so do you.

Batten down the hatches, eastern seaboard. Get your popcorn ready. And a copy of House Party.

It's gonna be a looooong weekend.