A Right Kind of Buzz



As one of the biggest New Orleans Hornets fans this side of the Pacific, you can imagine my delight with the success they had this season.

Sure, they didn’t exactly win the championship, but if one looks deeper inside their season-for-the ages then you’d understand why this year will go down as the most successful – and most memorable – season in the franchise’s history.

If you’ve been following this team for as long as I have – 16 years and counting – you know that the Hornets aren’t exactly a ‘storied’ franchise. They haven’t won a championship and the farthest they ever got was Game 7 of the Conference Semifinals. It’s easy to forget that out of the four teams that entered the league during the ’88 and ’89 expansion years, the Hornets are the only team that hasn’t reached the Conference Finals. The Miami Heat already has a championship banner hanging in their building after Dwyane Wade led them to a title. The Orlando Magic reached the Finals in 1995 and if it weren’t for Nick Anderson’s world-class choke job, the probably would have had one by now. Even the Minnesota Timberwolves – perennial underachievers that they are – reached the Conference Finals during the peak of KG’s reign in ‘Sota.

Sadly, the Hornets’ past reads like a laundry list of unfortunate, ill-fated events and circumstances. On the court, they’ve always been a good – not great – team. And when they were a great team, they were damned – as with all the other teams, anyway – to have played during Michael Jordan’s reign of terror in the league. They also couldn’t attract big-time free agents to join them, primarily because most players were turned off by North Carolina’s glowing reputation as the “Bible Belt”. Go figure.

It gets even worse when you consider what’s happened to this team off the court. From George’s Shinn unprecedented fall from grace in Charlotte (ironically, due to a sexual harassment case), to relocating in New Orleans in what was then known as a dead basketball town, to enduring the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, to relocating AGAIN - albeit temporarily - to Oklahoma City, and finally, moving back to New Orleans in a time where the effects of the hurricane was still fresh on everyone’s minds and hearts.

The adversity this team has gone through in the past couple of years is unheard of in sports. It’s absolutely ridiculous when people make such a big fuss about a ‘supposed’ franchise player’s trade demands on YouTube, or another team who, until recently, employed a coach responsible for single-handedly burning what was once a storied franchise to the ground.

Would you trade that for what the New Orleans Hornets have gone through?

Me thinks not.

Their biggest headaches are walks in the park on a sunny Saturday afternoon compared to what the Hornets have been through.

And that’s precisely why as a Hornets fan for three-fourths of my life, this season will go down as the best one in their history - both on and off the basketball court.

Before the year began, the New Orleans Hornets were actually considered an up-and-coming team, penciled in most mock play-off trees somewhere along the sixth to eight seed. If somebody actually said the Hornets would finish number two in the West, he would have been called a cocaine-sniffing, ecstacy swallowing delusional idiot. “The Hornets having a better record than the Spurs, Mavs, Suns, Jazz, and Rockets?! Please!”

Most had them rated, predictably, as a good – not great – team. Good enough to make the play-offs and be offered as a sacrificial lamb to any of the true contenders. It was the usual step for a franchise, people would say. From not making the play-offs the past three years, to getting a taste of it and eventually, be bounced out wanting more. That’s how everybody thought New Orleans’ season would go.

For my part, I actually had them as a sixth seed, but I didn’t think they’d go quietly into the night. I thought they had a great young nucleus of Chris Paul, David West, and Tyson Chandler, complemented by veteran guys like Peja Stojakovic and Mo Peterson. They were a good team that had tremendous upside.

But not even myself, die-hard New Orleans fan that I am, thought that they’d be one of the West’s elite teams for most of the season - spending the last month of the season as the conference’s number one seed (they ended up being the number two seed).

So imagine the number of jaws-dropping after every New Orleans win. With every blowout of San Antonio, with every trashing of the Suns, the Hornets were slowly earning recognition around the league. But most importantly, their success has spurned the city to finally support them.

Playing their home games in front of crowds that resembled a Saturday morning YMCA scrimmage, the Hornets’ success began drawing in more people. In the end, the half-filled arena became a hotbed for rabid and delirious fans that at the beginning was a complete afterthought.

And it wasn’t just at the New Orleans Arena. The Hornets, with the irrepressible Chris Paul leading the way, were doing their part in galvanizing the city.

Even after two years of rebuilding, New Orleans was still a shell of its former party-town self. There has been an increasingly absurd lack of progress, with various parts of town still looking more and more like a third-world country.

But in spite of that, the Hornets were determined to do more than their fare share. When their minds weren’t on basketball, they could be seen fixing homes, visiting children, and participating in community events.

That’s what makes this team different from all the other 29 teams in the league. They weren’t just playing for a championship; they were playing for a city that was left in tatters.

That mindset carried them throughout this season. Through all the win streaks, through all the bumps, they rode on that motivation and it led them to the play-offs were they manhandled the Dallas Mavericks and took the defending champion San Antonio Spurs to the brink of elimination (would you believe that the aggregate final score of that series was 645-645?).

After being eliminated by the Spurs, head coach Byron Scott said that the Hornets needed to learn from this experience to become better next year. “You don’t go from not making the playoffs to winning a championship. It just doesn’t work that way,” he said.

With apologies to Byron Scott, I believe the Hornets won more than just a championship. It’s easy to get caught up in that quest for the title because, after all, that is what everybody’s playing for.

But while everybody is focused on reaching the destination that is the “promised land”, they begin to lose touch of the journey that led them there.

And that’s where the success of the Hornets’ season lies. It’s not how far they made it into the play-offs, but how far they came from being a wandering vagabond of a franchise a little over three years ago to becoming a symbol of hope the city of New Orleans desperately needed.

I’ve been waiting a long time for the Hornets to hoist the NBA championship. And while they fell short in that task this year, I’m left with a lasting thought that while no trophy was won, this team still hoisted something far more important than championship hardware.

They hoisted their city, put them on their shoulders, and gave them what nobody up until then had given them – a reason to cheer and a sense of hope that one day, New Orleans will rise again.

Hide the Lighter






I am suffering from kleptomania. There, I said it.

But before you wonder where your hard-earned 500 peso bill went, I’ll be the first to
tell you that I didn’t take it. Not that I didn’t want to, but I believe that I still have enough moral fiber in my body to stop me from considering such a dastardly deed.

My fascination – if you can even call it that – for lifting items ring true only for lighters.

Yes, lighters.

If you ask me to rack my brains for a month in order to explain, I could spend 12 months and still wont be able to find an answer to satisfy your curiosity.

It’s because I can’t explain it. I don’t steal lighters because I hold secret satanic rituals in my room. I don’t steal lighters because I don’t boast of any sword-forging skills. And I most certainly don’t steal lighters because I have no plans of setting myself on fire. I just can’t find any rhyme or reason for this fixation.

At first, I didn’t notice it. Nobody did. After all, it’s pretty normal to borrow something and “forget” to give them back. It all happens to us. We borrow, we forget, they remind, we remember, and we give back. Everybody, at some point, goes through it. But as weeks passed, and the complaints of missing lighters grew, the suspicions and the finger-pointing all went in my direction.

I swear it’s a reputation that I’m slowly building – and it’s something that I am neither pleased nor proud of. There are days when I’d go to work with matchsticks that I got (not stole!) from fine-dining restaurants only to come home that night and discover that I had two lighters in each of my front pockets.

If you happen to see my room, it wouldn’t surprise me if the first thing you notice is the proliferation of these lighters said lighters. As of my last count, there are 26 of them – some with an emblazoned ‘Fuma’ sign on the side, others with pictures of scantily-clad women, and even one with a profile photograph of a video game villain.

Even the colleagues at the workplace have noticed my irreparable obsession with lighters. What was once a selfless act of lending has turned into a begrudging experience for most of them. “Will I see my precious Crickets again or will it just be the latest in a long line of lighters that have made their way to his pockets?

Even newcomers in the office have been forewarned of my sticky-hands. It’s interesting to see how I am now introduced to new employees: “This is Kirby. He’s the writer. And if he’s not doing any press releases, he’s probably stealing your lighter.”

Melts your heart, doesn’t it?

Now if some of you don’t understand why I don’t just return the lighters I steal, believe me, I’ve tried. But I’ve discovered that it’s not something that I can just turn off and stop doing. On my best behavior, I still find myself picking out a lighter or two from my pockets.

So, as a solution, I have reconciled myself to just giving a warning of sorts to anyone concerned about losing their precious lighters.

Don’t let me borrow them. Because if you do, it’ll be probably end up in my room, along with the 26 other lighters I have – unintentionally - pick-pocketed.





A Feature: We Don't Change


(co-authored by sciolist Migs Bassig, in lieu of Oktoberfest)

Change.

Change pervades the world of the Filipino, and it has become, so to speak, a norm of life. It dictates the lives of our people. As such, Filipinos have been - for a lack of a better term - forced to go with it or be left behind. Eat or be eaten. Hunt or be hunted.

Such kind of life has, in turn, spawned an attitude of 'what-you-can-do-I-can-do-better', and conceived a behavioral exercise which may best be described as one-upsmanship. Indeed, Filipinos have always aspired to be at the head of the game.

But fads come and go, fashions roll through and past, and today's trends will eventually dissipate into yesterday. Very few transcend the realm of vogue and, in the minds and hearts of Filipinos, even fewer enter the rare air of tradition.

At first glance, basketball and beer seem to have little connection. Maybe none at all. The first is a sport involving the fundamentally physical activity of putting inflated orange balls in a hoop despite a host of defenders. The other is an alcoholic beverage best enjoyed chilled, with a group of friends, in pursuit of relaxation. The disparity may seem obvious, but in confronting this seemingly stark contradiction, one will realize that basketball and beer are uniquely intertwined.

In the distinct consciousness of the Filipino, basketball and beer are traditions that share a familiar bond. And that bond is love.

As the undisputed leader in the industry, San Miguel Beer has not only carved for itself a dominant presence in the market of Filipino drinkers. It has also built a unique emotional attachment to local niches.

SMB, for more than a century now, has evolved into the beer of choice for metro-based Pinoys and provincial consumers alike. With its rich golden color -refined by a distinctly smooth and crisp taste - the drink is now a staple in parties, concerts, get-togethers, and your usual al fresco inuman sessions. Even foreigners have so declared their affinity for this beer that the "San Miguel Escudo" has become a universally-recognized seal - known and loved by people in countries from Australia to America, from Mexico to China. Yet despite having attained a truly global appeal, the San Miguel brand remains to enjoy a kind of phenomenal following amongst the Filipinos.

Right alongside San Miguel in the pantheon of Filipino traditions is the sport we call basketball. Born and raised overseas, the game has grown to acquire an astoundingly strong hold among Filipinos, and is second to none as the most widely played sport in the Philippines. At fabled gymnasiums, along street corners, under the roofs of plush villages, and even in the shadows of run-down city jails - these are places where one will always hear the unmistakable sound of a bouncing basketball.

To Filipinos, basketball is at once a simple diversion as well as the paramount battle - just a game yet at the same time life itself. Upon the hallowed ground of polished hardwood or skewed asphalt, people play either to settle serious scores or forget serious miseries. Within a 94 x 44 ft. boundary, Filipinos have found a refuge, a home, and a tradition that's shared agreeably with common society.

And this, in a way, is how basketball and San Miguel Beer are reconciled. When times are turbulent and the odds seem insurmountable, we take the time to go play. Or go drink. And for those few precious hours, there are neither worries nor inhibitions - simply Filipinos who've grown to enjoy two traditions near and dear to their hearts.

"Manalo, matalo - mag-San Miguel tayo."

Sundays are not supposed to be spent this way.

You see, God designed Sundays to be a day of relaxation. Ideally, He wanted it to be a day spent – if not with the family - in front of the television. I, for one, already had a plan on how to spend this particular Sunday. The Evander Holyfield fight would be shown on TV and - as part of my growing obsession of watching finely chiseled adults swap merciless haymakers at each other - I was excited to catch it.  

Unfortunately, my anticipation of the Holyfield – Ibragimov fight would be left at just that: anticipation.

A few days ago, a client called the workplace and asked if I could cover an event at the PICC for an award ceremony for some supposedly intelligent children. Being a grossly obedient (for the most part) employee, I had no choice but to adhere to client’s wishes all the while resigning myself to the fact that not only would I not be able to watch the Holyfield fight, but I would also be doing something even the Lord never did: work on a Sunday.

(Forgive me, Lord, for my lame attempt at humor.)

I deliberately held off from going to the Philippine International Convention Center until 10 in the morning as a sign of utter defiance. ‘They make me work today, I’ll make them wait’, I thought. I even texted my colleague Ozmund about my deliberate act of delinquent behavior only to find out that he, too, would leave his home at a time much later than he should have. At least now I’m comforted by a workfellow harboring equal resentment of having to work on this day.

-0-

The PICC, for the uninitiated, is a labyrinth of stairs, corridors, stairs, gardens, and even more stairs. So, upon arriving (naturally), I got lost inside.  A gracious janitor finally took pity at this wandering idiot and led the way to the Plenary Hall, which, as it turns out, was in the adjacent building from the one I spent an inordinate amount of time exploring. Now, I had planned to show up 10, two hours after the supposed meeting time. But the unexpected field trip of the PICC grounds pushed my arrival time by an hour.

In an effort to save face, I sneaked inside the Plenary Hall and sat at a dimly lit area of the room, pretending to have been there for a while and applauding the children whose names I don’t even know. Client, however, saw my devious deed of deception, sat next to me, and promptly informed me that it was 11 in the morning and I was, as a matter of fact, late.

I had, of course, anticipated such a reaction and came prepared with a heartfelt and remorseful excuse about how I had overslept, ate some questionable yoghurt, ran into heavy traffic, and got lost in the PICC.  None of which – except for the last part – was true. Client still didn’t buy my “eventful morning” explanation and told me that, as punishment, myself and Ozmund, who showed up much later than I did, would have to sit and observe the entire ceremony.

-0-

Had it not been for separate incidents of juvenile fisticuffs and two children making out, the whole afternoon would have passed by without any meaningful episode.

So as one can expect, both of us were bored to extinction. To pass time, Ozmund commented and dissected the entire event, making recommendations on how he would have organized it. From improving the less than spectacular bubble-inspired stage to rearranging the sitting arrangements, nothing was spared from his keen observations.

As for me, in between listening to him and playing a Family Computer-inspired racing game on my week-old Nokia, I was, as expected, sleeping.

After an afternoon that dragged on longer than we had hoped for, we decided to plot our exit strategy.  I would confess to client that I had to pick-up my brother at the airport at 3:30 p.m. and Ozmund would use an unexpected meeting with an ethnic dance group in the heart of Binondo as our tickets out of the conference.

With our game faces on, we took turns explaining our respective plights to the client, saying that we had other matters that need to be addressed. Fortunately, Ozmund was well adept in pitiful facial expressions as his batting eyelashes proved to be a formidable asset.

So after being excused, the two of us hastily made a run for the door, fearful that client would have a change of heart and hold us hostage for the rest of the day. When it became obvious that we had, indeed, been spared, we smoked our final cigarettes and went our separate ways.

 If I may be excused, I would ask for forgiveness for not being captivated by young children - some bright enough to be potential future leaders of our country – receiving plastic trophies. It’s admirable, really; maybe even significant.  But entertaining it was not.

And unfortunately, entertainment was what I was hoping for this Sunday. And I’m willing to stake a week’s worth of lunch and say that I would’ve been more entertained watching Evander Holyfield dance around the ring than I would’ve been watching young children accepting plastic trophies with blank stares on their faces.

 

A Supernatural "Kobe-rage"



The night before I was set to meet Kobe Bryant, I scavenged through old Sports Illustrated magazines to look for whatever tattered poster I could find of Kobe. Fortunately, a late delivery of the July Slam Magazine arrived that morning and, as if through some kismet happenstance, Kobe Bryant was featured on the centerfold.
 
Victorious, I packed everything I needed for the big day and went of to bed; hopeful that I could beat my adrenaline to the punch and fall asleep before it kicks in.
 
Unfortunately, the extra five minutes I spent watching highlights of his previous tour here ten years ago proved to be disastrous as it only triggered my anticipation even more.
 
So after about an hour of sleep, I picked up fellow-writer Migs Bassig and photographer Nykko Santos – two of the biggest Kobe ‘nuthuggers’ this side of the Pacific – and set for Makati Shangri-la, the site of his press conference.
 
As the organizers began ushering the media to the Quezon ballroom, I immediately scampered my stocky frame towards the front of press row, determined to get as close as possible to Kobe. Even the sumptuous lunch buffet of Makati Shangri-la (which, by the way, serves the best buffet amongst all hotels in the Philippines) became an after-thought. Food be damned, I figured!
 
After the longer-than-expected two-hour wait for Mr. 81, the man finally showed up looking excited as can be over the several hundred people craning their necks to get a glimpse of his 6’7” frame. Fortunately, my two-hour hunger strike paid off as, from the front row; no obstructions were in sight to keep me from taking photos of him. I had a pretty clear shot.  So with no limbs obstructing my view, I gleefully snapped as many photos of Mamba as my Sony digital camera could hold.
 
After the press conference, the Kobe circus made its way to the Fort for a charity event with Pampaga’s Eliseo-Belen Elementary School. Kobe donated two signed backboards to the school and, as a gesture of thanks, the students of the school gave Kobe what can only be described as a sort of collage-looking frame, made from drawings the children made of their beloved hero. Nykko, our resident photographer described it as aesthetically gawky. Hearing this, I ever so subtly reminded him that “They’re kids, you idiot! Anything looks good as long as kids make it.” Ok, maybe it wasn’t as subtle as I made it out to be, but you can paint a picture, right?
 
Anyway, as the festivities – which included Kobe taking a photo-op with a pimped up Kobe jeepney and throwing signed basketballs to the salivating crowd – came to a close, I sneakily made my way to the side entrance of the Nike store, a.k.a. Kobe’s exit point. I figured this would be the best time for my Slam centerfold to be signed. Unfortunately, about a hundred other people had similar ideas and, as Kobe came out - hopping and jumping like a kid that just came out of a candy store - he started high-fiving every hand he could see. ‘Perfect!’ I thought.  If he saw that beautiful, glistening centerfold of himself throwing down a vicious reverse dunk on the Memphis Grizzlies, he’d stop, take out a Sharpie and put his John Hancock on it.
 
Alas, he did none of those things. 

He did, however, slap my hand and, in the process, crumple up the said poster. 

After the mob scene in the Fort dissipated, my two colleagues and I set out for Kobe’s free-clinic at the Ultra. Watching Kobe demonstrate his “Blackout” workout to a selection of Nike Elite Camp players made me realize how sadistically appropriate the name ‘Blackout’ was for that workout. He was giving these young studs the workout and they couldn’t keep up. I could just imagine if it was me who Kobe was giving the workout to, I’d be out of gas just after the stretching.

After the two-and-a-half hour session,  and amidst the constant pleas of the 10,000 fans – it was more nagging than pleading, actually – Kobe finally treated the crowd to a dunking exhibition worthy of YouTube. Unfortunately, my camera’s battery was close to dying out on me and I had used up most of its memory on pictures of Kirk Long running after loose balls. Begrudgingly, I settled for my courtside seat and reveled in the atmosphere of Kobe jumping over two players on his way to a thunderous dunk. 

On the way home, I kept thinking of the surreal day that had just passed.

I spent the day with Kobe Bryant. 

And while I did fail in securing an autograph, I was happy knowing I was going home with over 1000 photos, a crumpled up centerfold, and a memory to last a lifetime.

Celtic Pride?

Raise the 17th banner.
Map out the parade rout.
 Carve a shamrock-shaped diamond for the championship rings.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you’re 2008 NBA champions, the Boston Celtics!”
The way the off-season has gone, it’s nothing short of a miracle that the Boston Celtics have somehow turned themselves from laughingstock to championship contenders overnight - and they didn’t even have to rely on ping-pong balls to do it.
When the C’s acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to join forces with resident Celtics superstar Paul Pierce, Boston - for all intents and purposes - now boasts of a formidable trio the likes of which haven’t been seen since the days of the Bird-McHale-Parish troika.
Beantown must be rejoicing.
 They have one of the best shooters in the league in Ray Allen, one of the most underrated superstars in league in Paul Pierce and one of the top 50 basketball players EVER in Kevin Garnett.
These three have what it takes to go all the way! Who cares about the rest of the roster, right?
Wrong.
---

If you look at history as a precedent, you might recall a certain Houston Rockets team about a decade ago who fielded the exact same roster structure as this years Celtics. They had Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, three quality subs in Eddie Johnson, Kevin Willis and Mario Elie, and a bunch of cast-off nobodies rounding out that team.
That team had the make-up for one championship run. Or so it seemed.
 Everything was going according to plan until they met the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Finals and that’s when their lack of depth came back and bit them on the ass. They may have had three Hall-of Famers that time, but they also had an unproven, rookie point guard in Matt Maloney. Regrettably for Maloney and the Rockets, he was matched with one John Stockton. Predictably, Stockton thoroughly destroyed Maloney and that spelled doom for the Rockets season.
We can use Maloney as the scapegoat for the demise of the Rockets season that year, but that is understating the obvious. The Rockets had no depth. Apart from Barkley, Drexler, and Olajuwon, along with the contributions of Willis, Elie, and Johnson, the team’s depth chart boasted of perennial also-rans in the forms of Matt Bullard, Sam Mack, Randy Livingston, Tracy Moore and Elmer Bennett (who?!).
So what do the ’97 Rockets have anything to do with the ’07 Celtics?
A lot more than you think.
The Celtics are going to face a similar problem this year. Outside of Garnett, Allen, and Pierce, their line-up is made up of Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, Eddie House, Scott Pollard, “Big Baby” Davis, and Gabe Pruitt. Not exactly play-off material.
(Word from the grapevine is that the Celtics are courting Reggie Miller to come out of retirement to play for the Celtics. It’s a good fit for Reggie if he decides to come out of the TNT booth,  but adding a 42-year old Hall-of-Famer isn’t exactly my idea of bolstering their bench)
You can say that the Garnett-Allen-Pierce trio has a leg-up on the Olajuwon-Drexler-Barkley triumvirate because, by comparison, they’re younger than their Houston counterparts. But what Dream, Glide and Sir Charles fall short in age, they make up for in durability. At that point in their careers, they were three of the most durable players in the league. On the other hand, Pierce and Allen have had major injuries in their careers. With the kind of supporting cast they’re expecting to have, it would spell doom for the C’s if one of the Big Three takes up residence at the end of the bench in their suits.
But, there’s still is a silver lining for the Celtics – thin bench and potential injuries aside.
Unlike that ultra-tough Western Conference of ’97, this year’s Eastern Conference is insanely weak. So weak, in fact, that the Celtics have a legitimate chance to win the conference.
In the atrociously flimsy Atlantic Division, the Celtics’ Big Three have what it takes to win the division title. The Knicks shot themselves in the foot with the signing of Z-Bo, thereby creating a messy black hole in the frontcourt with Eddy Curry. The Sixers are in a clear rebuilding mode. The Nets are in a similar situation with Boston but the C’s Big Three trumps New Jersey’s any day. Only the Raptors seem to poise a threat on the Leprechauns for Atlantic Division supremacy.
 Between Toronto and Boston, I’d probably give the nod to Boston, only because Doc Rivers can “out-coach” Sam Mitchell (take that for what its worth).
Winning the Atlantic should, in theory, pave an easier road for Boston in the play-offs. The worst they can do is land a third seed and doing so would mean that they avoid the top seed until the conference finals. And the way the East is stacked right now, it’s basically a free-for-all for conference superiority. Miami hasn’t addressed their “age” issue, Cleveland is still a “one-trick pony”, Chicago is still one scorer away from making serious noise, and Detroit is beginning to look like a shadow its former self. Boston, with its Big Three, has a chance to upend any of these teams, in the same way these teams have a chance of beating the Celtics. That’s how wide-open the East is.
Should the Celtics come on top and reach the NBA Finals, that’s where it becomes an entirely different story. That’s where it becomes ’97 Rockets redux. Inevitably, the Celtics thin bench is going to be their downfall. Garnett, Allen, Pierce and a bunch of cast-offs might be good enough in the East. But in the West, they’d get slaughtered.
If I were a Celtics fan, there’s reason to be excited. The Boston Celtics, one of the most decorated franchises in all of professional sports, is relevant again.
But to start thinking about championship plans?
I wouldn’t go that far.

A True Role Model



To an avid basketball fan, the name “Stephon Marbury” usually generates responses along the lines of “he’s a selfish point guard who thinks it’s always about him” or “I wouldn’t want that overpaid bum on my team! All the team’s he got traded out of became contenders!”

 

It’s easy to sympathize with these unflattering and discourteous statements because to some extent, they possess grains of truth behind them. Marbury has never been known as a team-oriented point guard. He’s talented, no question about it. But while his skills on the hardwood cannot be doubted, it’s his leadership skill that always crumbles under the spotlight of scrutiny.

 

Under the glaring lights of arguably the biggest basketball market in the world, Marbury has choked on the pressure of being the so-called “savior” of the New York Knicks.

 

His hasn’t endeared himself to the Garden faithful with his style of play. While his stats may deceive a common fan (he’s only the second player in NBA history to average 20 points and eight assists in a career. The other one: Oscar Robertson) the basketball purists will shun at this statistic and invariably compare him to the two point guards (Jason Kidd and Steve Nash) who replaced him after his stints with the New Jersey Nets and the Phoenix Suns.

 

(Note: Marbury had little to no success with both teams and after he left, both the Nets and the Suns flourished under the leadership skills of both Jason Kidd and Steve Nash. The Nets made the Finals twice with Kidd at the helm and the Suns have been one of the leagues premier teams since Nash became their point guard)

 

In addition to his self-glorifying style of play, Marbury has also been known to engage in verbal, sometimes physical, spats with teammates and coaches. The most notable example of this boorish behavior was his “soap-opera-esque” saga with former Knicks coach Larry Brown.

 

After a promising start, his relationship with Brown went sour and deteriorated to the point that the coach jumped ship after only one year as the head man of the Knicks. After the whole saga played out, Marbury’s popularity plummeted faster than a Wall Street crash. He was called selfish, spoiled, and egotistic. Two columnists from the New York Daily News, Frank Isola and Michael O’Keefe, even went as far as calling him the “most reviled athlete in New York."

 

It‘s safe to say that after everything that has been said and written about him as a basketball player, Stephon Marbury probably heads the list of athletes you’d want your children to NOT emulate. 

 

But then, judging his character solely on his basketball skills - as so many people seem to do nowadays - does not do justice to his entire personality.

 

If you go beyond his proclamation of being the “best point guard in the NBA”, you’ll realize that there’s so much more to Stephon Marbury than people give him credit for.

 

Much, much more.

 

What never gets brought up in conversations about the guy is the fact that while he continues to get maligned by the critics for his “selfishness” on the court, nobody seems to realize the fact that off the court, this guy, with the exception of Dikembe Mutombo, is one of the most charitable players the NBA has ever had.

 

A lot of people don’t know that Marbury donated 1 million dollars of his own money to aid the victims of Katrina - by far one of the biggest donations of any athlete for those affected by the deadly hurricane. In addition to that, he has also donated over 3 million dollars to help the NYPD, FDNY, EMT’s and New York City teachers.

 

Marbury also hasn’t forgotten to give back to his hometown of Coney Island. He hosts a summer basketball camp there at Surfside Gardens called the “Stephon Marbury Basketball Classic.” For this year, he is requiring each participant of his camp to read three books and write an essay. Apart from his basketball camp, Marbury has also built countless state-of-the-art basketball courts throughout Coney Island and regularly hires barbers to give free haircuts to neighborhood children.

 

Let’s also not forget about the “Starburys”. Marbury understands that a lot of inner-city kids can’t afford the Nike’s and Adidas’ of the world. So, he teamed up with Steve and Barry’s to create and promote sneakers that sell for only $14.98. He’s not being paid to endorse the sneakers and whatever profit he makes out of them goes directly to charity. Marbury has also promised to give out a pair of these same sneakers to every high school varsity basketball player in New York City.

 

If only more people knew this side of the guy, then maybe they will come to grips with the reality that “selfish” is the last word you’d ever use to describe Stephon Marbury.

 

So how ironic is it that one of the most maligned basketball players in the NBA is also one of its best humanitarians?

 

Stephon Marbury may not make the best decisions on the basketball court, but his heart for the world is, without question, always in the right place.

Make it a series, Mike!

For Mike Brown and the Cleveland Cavaliers, there are two ways to look at the reality of being down 2-0 in the NBA Finals to the San Antonio Spurs: they pack their tails between their legs and run away, or they make adjustments and take the fight to the Spurs.

For the fans of the NBA, and fans of quality basketball for that matter, we pray it's the latter.

Play-off basketball is the time when making proper adjustments on your team becomes the thin line between winning and losing a series. It's not the regular season anymore, where you can receive a grade-A pounding like the ones the Spurs laid on the Cavs in Game 2 and face a team like the Knicks the next night.

In the play-offs, teams don't have that luxury; which makes the need for adjustments so much more crucial.

Against a team as good as the Spurs, the Cavs coaching staff, especially its head coach, needs to understand that the they need to change their approach for them to have, at the very least, a fighting chance of even keeping this series a competitive one.

Unfortunately for us, the Cavs head coach seems to be either allergic or inept in understanding that rather simple logic.

                                                        -0-

Mike Brown has to realize that Larry Hughes has become a liability for his team. Sure, it's admirable that he's still playing his heart out even with an injured foot. But last time I checked, the NBA is still about the team scoring the most points and Larry Hughes has failed miserably for the Cavs in that department during the Finals. In the two games, he has scored a mouth-watering total of two (yes, two!) points on 1-for-10 shooting. When he injured his foot, it took away his slashing ability (his only offensive skill, for that matter) and he was reduced to a one-legged jump shooter - someone who never had a good stroke even when he had two good legs!

Compounding to his misery is the utter abuse Tony "Don't call me Mr. Longoria" Parker has been laying down on him in the first two games of this series.

Put one-and-one together and you'd come to the conclusion that Larry Hughes has become Eric Snow with no defense! (Think about it, that's not an exaggeration)

The coach has to do the smart thing and take out Hughes out of the game and have Daniel Gibson start in his place. The man they call "Boobie" has been a god-send for the Cavs this play-offs, and after two games against San Antonio, he's more than held up his own by averaging 15.5 points while shooting 13-for-21 from the field. Gibson has shown that he has what it takes to limit Parker's forays to the basket, and at the same time, hit the open shot whenever he has one.

Come to your senses, Mike Brown. Take out Hughes and give us some Boobie!

                                                          -0-

As great a defensive team as San Antonio is, there's still a way for the Cavs to make this a series, shocking as it may sound now.

They should try to create as many transition opportunities as possible so they can exploit LeBron's open court, runaway train skills. There's no better finisher in this game apart from Kobe Bryant than LeBron James. The Cavs should defend like crazy, pray the Spurs don't make their shots, get the rebound, and RUNNNNNNNNNN!

(Easier said than done, I know. But to Brown's credit, he did manage to turn the Cavs into a great defensive team and if they buckle down and focus, I believe they can slow down the Spurs' offensive onslaught.)

If the Cavs are forced into setting up in the half court, Brown should go back to his attic, dust off his offensive playbook, and maybe, JUST MAYBE, incorporate a few more plays in his gameplan. It was absolutely ridiculous how during Game 1, he went to the EXACT same play through most of the night.

Here's the play in all its glory:

Lebron gets the ball 35 feet from the basket, surveys the defense, calls for a screen, and attacks the basket. The Spurs, being as good as they are, collapse on the King and forces him to either, a) pass the ball, b) force an ill-advised shot, or c) re-set and do the entire sequence all over again until the shot clock goes down and he forces an even harder ill-advised shot.

Add a few more plays here and there to give the Spurs different looks throughout the game. With any luck, it might cause San Antonio to scramble on defense and allow LeBron enough room to work his magic.

Instead of LeBron dominating the ball at the top, the Cavs should get him the ball off of picks set by Gooden or Varejao (ala Rip Hamilton) for catch-and-drive situations. This way, LeBron will have the luxury of catching a defender vulnerable. Maybe even getting a mismatch once in a while. This scenario would even make it a little tougher for the Spurs to send a double team at him, something they've been able to routinely do in the first two games.

The Cavs should also try looking at taking something away from the Spurs playbook. Instead of LeBron bringing the ball up court and waiting for a Gooden pick, why not let the point guard, preferably Daniel Gibson, bring the ball up and work a pick-and-roll with LeBron James! If executed properly, LeBron would be salivating at the thought of Tony Longoria trying to contain him in the post. Sure, the Spurs will send the double team, but if Lebron thinks fast enough, he can attack the basket before the help arrives!  

                                                          -0-

One of the Cavaliers strengths as a team is there ability to rebound. So far, they've been outjumped and outhustled by the Spurs in the Finals. For them to make this a series, they must take control of the paint and limit San Antonio's second chance points, and at the same time, get enough offensive rebounds to score some putbacks of their own. And if they can control the boards, they may have a better chance of doing the "Lebron-Runaway-Train" play I mentioned earlier. 

 
                                                           -0-

These are some of the adjustments I'd like to see Coach Brown make. All of it, however, remains up to him. Whether or not he sticks to his guns or tries something new is still his call. It's just my belief as a fan that with the way things are going for the Cavs, any new approach would be a good approach.

Then again, I'm just hoping and praying that the remaining games will be more exciting than the snoozefest that was Game's 1 and 2.

Point Taken




 

 

I’ve always had an affinity for the point guard position. More than any other position in basketball, I love how they can affect the outcome of a basketball game. Depends on who you ask, but more often than not, point guards have the ability to change the course of a game to their teams favor.

 

Yes, I still believe that “height equals might” in basketball, albeit with a little reservation. While it’s always convenient to have a low post presence on the offensive side of the ball and a “patrolman” on the defensive side, centers don’t have many responsibilities apart from scoring down low, guarding the rim, and getting rebounds.

 

On the other hand, point guards play the role of coach on the basketball court. Similar to a quarterback in football, the point guard is tasked to call out the plays in the game. He reminds everybody where they’re supposed to be within the context of certain plays. The point guard also controls the tempo of the game. Depends on what system they run, point guards can either push the ball out in transition or slow the game down to set up their teams half court plays.

 

So while the bigs do possess a certain degree of responsibility, it still pales in comparison to the responsibility of being the point guard.

 

That being said, basketball is still a team game and point guards can’t win games by themselves. They still need their teammates to make their shots, set screens for them, and finish off their passes on the break.

 

“It takes five”, as Adidas would say.

 

-0-

 

Regrettably, one of the lingering images I will take away from this year’s NBA playoffs shows a Hall of Fame point guard put up performance after performance worthy of his legacy, only to have his teammates go AWOL when he needed them the most.

 

And no, I’m not talking about my man, Baron Davis.
 

I’m talking about Jason Kidd.

 

How about J-Kidd, huh?

 

This guy is 34 years old with two bad knees (one knee underwent arthroscopic surgery, one of the most serious injuries anybody can have), a bad back, and a family in shambles. 

This guy’s career was supposed to be on the decline.

 

Instead, what did he do in the playoffs?

 

He averaged a triple-double.

 

Let me write that down again: He AVERAGED a triple-double.

 

For those who don’t know how hard it is to record a triple-double in a game, let alone average it for 12 games, it’s really hard (I couldn’t come up with a suitable comparison, so try to be convinced with my ‘it’s really hard’ quip).

 

His shooting could have been better, but he’s never been known for scorching the net. What he does bring to the table, however, is a steady diet of everything.

 

In Game 3 of the Toronto series, Kidd recorded the 10th triple-double of his postseason career with a whopping 16 points, 16 rebounds, and 19 assists. Two weeks later, he followed it up with his 11th triple-double when he did in Game 3 of the Cleveland series. In all 12 games, Kidd’s lowest assist outing was 6 and his lowest rebounding figure was 7.

 

His average for the playoffs? 14.5 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists.

 

That’s amazing stats for anybody.

 

But then again, Jason Kidd isn’t just anybody.

 

Besides the gaudy stats, it was J-Kidd’s veteran leadership that kept the Nets this long in the playoffs.

 

The 16-16-19 line? It came a day after he didn’t practice because of a knee injury.

 

In Game 6 of the Nets-Cavs series, Kidd almost rallied the Nets from a 22-point 1st half deficit all by himself. In the 3rd quarter alone, he was unstoppable, seemingly willing his team to an improbable comeback victory. When the Nets were down by 15, Kidd put on a show worthy of a superstar with daring drives to the basket, relentless defensive pressure on the Cavs, and timely dishes - including a beautiful bounce pass to Mikki Moore for a three-point play. Everything was set for Kidd to add another chapter to his legacy.

 

But then LeBron James took over and after Jason Kidd led that third quarter comeback, he was physically spent. He had nothing left for the stretch run.

 

And that’s when Jersey needed their other superstar, Vince Carter, to step up. But alas, Carter choked and everybody was robbed of seeing Jason Kidd continue his brilliant playoff run.

 

The sad reality? New Jersey just may have seen the last of Jason Kidd in a Nets uniform.

 

(I know this is a Kidd post, but I’m still annoyed at Carter’s late game no-show that I must give space on this post to rant about him:

 

For the record, I haven’t seen a superstar stink up the joint this bad since, well, Dirk Nowitzki became the poster-boy of the LVMVP (Least Valuable Most Valuable Player) a couple of weeks ago. Vince has been so disappointing this playoffs that I’m actually wishing the Nets let him walk in free agency.

 

Late in Game 6 against the Cavs, when the Nets needed a basket in the worst way, how did Carter respond? On one possession, he dribbled the ball too much which eventually caused a shot-clock violation and on numerous possessions, he passed up the ball instead of taking it strong to the hole.

 

That’s not what superstars do, Vince. They rise up to occasion, not wilt under the pressure.

 

People used to call you “Half Man, Half Amazing”. Now, you’re just “Half Tin Man, Half Cowardly Lion”).

As the Beatnik Walked By




The discussion has raged on for months now and the day has finally arrived. While I do not fault you for deciding to shut down your ECS permanently and finally heed your “artistic calling”, it is with a heavy heart that I pat you in the back, light your cigarette one final time, and set you of on your quest for literary euphoria.

 

I wish that you didn’t leave, at least not this soon. After all, I didn’t want to inherit the burden of writing a newsletter (that nobody reads anyway) week in and week out. I don’t want to write customer success stories of products I have no intention of using. Most of all, I don’t want to be checking my e-mail on a Sunday night thinking of the workload that lies ahead when morning comes. 

 

But this is what you wanted. You told me about your goal of reading five books a month. You can do that now without worrying about the content of this week’s newsletter or how many pick-ups a client gets for their latest photo release. You don’t have to curse at the high heavens anymore when you attend meetings at an ungodly hour or share a conference room with self-serving clients.

 

You have all the time in the world now. What you do with it is your decision and yours alone. But if my opinion has any weight (I sure hope it does), I would like you to finish your short story. I believe that with a free mind and a relaxed hand, it has the potential to be something not just worth reading, but something worth picking up in the classics section of Powerbooks.

 

I once told you that your writing “inspires me to write.” You brushed it off the same way a grubby individual brushes off dandruff off his shoulders. You thought I was pulling your leg. While I plead guilty of having my fair share of bald-headed lies, that statement was anything but. I said that, and will continue to say it, with the sincerity and genuineness of a good friend. No lies. No bullshit. No fugazi.

 

So as you march on your journey towards Palanca glory, do leave bread crumbs along the way. Let these crumbs guide those who wish to follow in your footsteps. Let these crumbs inspire those who, one day, will seek their own “artistic calling”.

 

A toast to you, Artel, for choosing the road less traveled. I wish you nothing but good tidings and warm blessings on your new journey.

 

“Cheers.”