Friday, July 27, 2007

Killer Expectations

It was Bill Maher who recently said: "The problem with kids (in the U.S.) today isn't that they lack confidence; they are overly confident". Now Kobe Bryant isn't the kid anymore like he was when he came into the League 10 years ago (that long already? I'm getting old), but maybe that was, and still is the case with him today.

The man is confident, some might call him arrogant. Truth is: if you want to make it in the NBA you need to have some arrogance in you, because you are battling over 350 guys a year who all want to dunk on you, swat your shots, pull that rebound away from you, make you shoot 2 for 20, make your coach sit you on the bench with a towel over your head. Nice guys can't take that shit 82 games in a row, let alone the playoffs. Get ready for a cliché here: nice guys finish last (well, okay, David Robinson not included). How affable and charming Michael Jordan was during interviews on national television, he was a beast on the court, out to destroy anybody who got in his way, grabbing every opportunity to make you look like a fool, with only one goal: to win every game he played in. Even Magic Johnson, maybe one of the most charismatic players ever to grace the NBA hardwood, was all business as soon as the game started.

Call Kobe anything you want. Anything, because it won't matter. Call him selfish, call him a whiner, but he is the one you will watch when he's on TV, and you know it. He was the one who scored 81 damn points in a game, he was the one who made 12 threes in a game, he dropped 62 points in just 3 quarters in a game against Dallas, and the list goes on and on and on and on and.... on. I hate it when I post on a forum and people call out the guy on what he says and does off the court. In all fairness, yes, Bryant has made his mistakes, more than one. But since this guy is not in jail, but out on the court let's judge him by what he does on that court, and not mix his personal life with his professional one. And whether you're a Laker fan or not, if you look at it objectively Kobe Bryant might the best player in the NBA today. Hell yeah I said it. If you would compare him to Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, Bryant is better-rounded offensively, but most importantly, he actually is an above average defender; an art James and Wade still need to master. The only other player who is great at both ends of the court is Tim Duncan. And although Duncan is the best big man in the NBA, the killer-instinct that Bryant has is matched by no one.

So hate him for all his boneheaded comments about wanting to be traded, blame him for running Shaq out of town, because the real fan knows better. They see Kobe going up for a shot in a scrimmage held between the players of Team USA. They see Tayshaun Prince with his Go-Go-Gadget Arms reaching out, trying to make the shot maybe a little bit more difficult. They see the perfect arc of a perfect jumper, and we all know what followed after that. A pick-up game played by some of the best players in the world, and one ending the game like you expect him to do. How can you hate on that?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Tip-Off

This had to happen. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, and so is the internet. I'll tell you this: no one is waiting for another moron blogging all of his random thoughts about the NBA. I understand this, but again, it had to happen. I've been bottling up this feeling for too long.
You know, when you're in love with that cute girl you've know for ages, and that finally becomes something, you want the world to know about it. Who cares if anyone listens? As long as you can get it out, all will be good.

My love for the NBA started in the early nineties. Growing up in The Netherlands, in a small village, your friends either play soccer or do judo. I'm dead serious. Judo? I never understood that, nor have I tried it. A former colleague of mine shared the same feeling, wondering why two guys in their pyjama's are "fighting", and after a while one dude is on top of the other, and he wins. That's not fighting, that's not a sport, that just a random Saturday night which involves red wine, lubricant, and two people who both are able to grow beards. And soccer? I just didn't care about that.

So on one day I was at a friend's place and he had a basketball. I think I was 11 years old. We were watching a Bulls-Blazers Finals game. Not live, because due to the time difference that game was played in the middle of the night (I can't write "in the middle of the night" and not sing the Billy Joel song). Michael Jordan? Who? Playing against who? Clyde Drexler? Hm? Since we were young and we didn't have the patience to watch an entire game, we went outside and played some basketball ourselves. And for the first time in my life: I liked a sport. Not that I was a fat little boy, but before that I hardly did anything outside. Yup, I was one pale kid.

In 1992 you had the Dream Team wrecking havoc in the beautiful city of Barcelona. This provided me the opportunity to learn about the greats of the game: MJ, Magic, Bird, Pippen, Barkley, and all those guys who demolished every team who happened to stand in their way. After that, with a little help from CNN and some basketball magazines, I tried to follow the NBA as much as I could. Not an easy task, because there are only two televised games per week over here. To compare it with the US: to watch those games it's sort of a pay-per-view thing in The Netherlands. Long story, too boring. Of course I was a teen back then, and couldn't afford that. In 1999 I was financially able to watch those two games every week. I mentioned the time difference earlier, so watching a game meant setting your alarm clock at 3 a.m. and be kinda tired at the office the next day. Hell, I didn't care. The channel showed the same game the next day too, but I needed to see it live, at 3 a.m., and checking all the other boxscores on the internet the next day on - that's love in my opinion.

Yes, I was a Bulls fan during the nineties. My favorite player in the League was Scottie Pippen, but in 1997 a young and interesting team, called the New Jersey Nets, grabbed my attention. Sam Cassel, Kerry Kittles, Kendall Gill, Keith Van Horn and Jayson Williams - I thought they would take over the East in the next few years. They got their asses whooped by the Bulls during the '98 playoffs, but I had hope. And man was I wrong. Year after year they started to get worse and worse. Maybe it was the coach (John Calipari), and later on career-ending injuries (Williams), or failed expectations (Van Horn). Bringing in Stephon Marbury didn't really help either, although he played pretty good, the team was far too mediocre to make some noise in the Eastern Conference. And suddenly it was 2001. Jason Kidd arrived on the scene, and with Van Horn, Kittles, a young man athletic forward called Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson the Nets went all the way to the 2002 NBA Finals. Although being sweeped by the Lakers, New Jersey proved their appearance in the Finals wasn't a fluke, and battled against the mighty San Antonio Spurs in the 2003 Finals, but after six hard fought games the Spurs grabbed the trophy, and sent the Nets home.

So here we are, in 2007. My interest in the NBA is still sky high, but there isn't a single person over here who shares that feeling, so it was time to vent, time to release my thoughts on the League, on its players, on whatever the hell is going on at any giving time during the season (and off-season). Because when the season starts, I know I have to get up again when the rest of the country is sleeping (or drinking, or having sex, or both), sitting through another game which last for 2,5 hours, another 48 minutes of actual basketball, hoping for that one moment during the game when you think: "Fuck yeah, glad I set my alarm clock tonight!"