Thursday, September 27, 2007

Endless Summer

Two weeks ago on a Saturday morning my alarm clock went off at 8:30. I got up half an hour later, but still, it was early. For some people that’s late, but to me, after five days of working, I like to sleep ‘til at least 11. And more often I get up even later. During the weekend I just need to catch up on my z’s, but not on this specific morning. Something else had to happen. There are only a few good reasons to break up R.E.M., and I’m not talking about Mr. Stipe and his posse (note: the following is in completely random order):
1) Food (breakfast, or in my case lunch maybe)
2) Sex
3) Basketball
Basketball? Yes. Besides the fact that I have to get up in the middle of the night to watch a NBA game, on this Saturday I was actually going to play some ball myself. But me playing basketball is like watching Mark Madsen (or Mark Cuban) dance. It ain’t pretty.

One of my best friends, Niels, arrived at my place at 9:30. The sun was shining, and it was one of the few and final good days of the summer. Laced up the black adidas sneakers, grabbed the worn-out Spalding, and walked to the (rather small) court. We started to shoot a little bit, maybe going for a lay-up, maybe not. The thing is: we’ve been doing this for years, and a lot of times we would always go 1-on-1 on Saturday morning. Because of the circumstances, we hardly play anymore since 2006, but we both do miss it. After the game you actually feel like for the first time in the whole week, you did something useful. It’s almost therapeutic. Before we start the actual game, we talk like we’re some old hags at a tea party. Everything has to be discussed, from goals in life (or lack there-of) to women (or lack there-of).
And then, ladies and gentlemen, then the game starts. Two guys in their late twenties, no stamina, no athleticism to be found, 20% shooting percentage at the most, battle it out until someone scores the winning basket and is king for a day. I think when you count back all the games Niels and I played against each other, it’s 50-50 when it comes to wining and losing. Niels is definitely quicker than I am, a better ball-handler by far, and a better defender, but I’m taller, weigh a bit more than he does (which can be helpful) and have a slight rebounding edge. Overall, we match pretty well. We’ve been playing since the mid-nineties, and there were times I experienced some difficulty in trying to beat him, maybe he won several games in a row and I would be wondering if he really was the better player, and if I would never win a game against him anymore for the rest of my life. But whoever had a so-called winning streak; it never was a long one.

The summer of 2007 was awful in The Netherlands, and when you’re waiting for the NBA season to start again, the summer sometimes seems endless. Usually I love the summer, but when it’s that fucking bad like it was this year, you just want the new season to start already, focus on something else. The weather on that morning however was great. No wind, warm but not too warm, perfect basketball conditions. I can’t even remember the last time we played a 1-on-1 game, but it was months ago. We decide who starts the game by shooting free throws. The first one who misses loses the ball. I missed, so he started the game. We always play “losers out”. When he scores, I get possession, and the other way around (needless to point that out, I suppose, but just to be sure). In the end the only thing I possessed was an imaginary crown, because I was king for a day. I beat him 11-5 (yes, we only go to 11, we’re sad, old geezers), and I felt pretty good about myself. Happiness is not a constant state of mind; it’s the small victories in life that provide happiness. Scoring the eleventh point did it for me.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Alarm Bell

Now that the new NBA season is nearing, there are only a few remaining free agents who are actually interesting to have on your team. To me, one of the most underrated free agents (although restricted) was Charlie Bell. Yup. I wrote “was”. Apparently the Milwaukee Bucks matched the offer sheet the Miami Heat presented to him last week. This means the Bucks now have one, unhappy basketball players on their hands. Sounds like fun times for everybody!

I’m not sure what to think of this situation. Now here’s a guy who can definitely play, do a little bit of everything, doing it last season for 82 games in Milwaukee, but during the summer got unhappy about the talks that he had with the Bucks and basically wanted to be traded. He probably felt disrespected, and wanted that respect in the form of more money, who knows. So here came the Heat to the rescue, and signed him to an offer sheet worth $18 million for five years. In earlier negotiations the Bucks offered Bell $9 millions for three years, so if they would’ve let him go to join Pat Riley and friends, he would get $600.000 per season more. That, and playing with Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal are better odds to do some damage in the East than staying with the Bucks. Nice team, but won’t compete for a championship soon. Oh how nice it would be to move from the chilly Wisconsin to the warmer climate of South Florida, how nice it is to dream. This became a nightmare, since Milwaukee decided to keep him.

Then again, a nightmare? When Bell’s alarm clock goes off every morning, he wakes up with the feeling knowing he will make $18 millions bucks (pun intended, sorry) in only five years, damn it. 18 million dollars! I know he said he said his heart isn’t in it anymore (when talking about the Bucks organization), but it’s not that he’s on the worst team in the League anyway, so I truly hope he will make the best of it. Charlie Bell is a good player, and a lot of teams need someone like him. And the Bucks decided they needed him the most.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

GO goes KO

Training Camp is only three weeks away? Did the summer go by that fast? Wait, I live in The Netherlands, we didn’t have a summer in 2007. Unless you call grey clouds and rain summer. This means you are one depressed person. The first NBA game of the 2007/’08 season is October 30th, and to be seen on TNT. The reigning world champion San Antonio Spurs, led by veteran big man Tim Duncan, will take on the Portland Trail Blazers, and rookie big man…. Josh McRoberts. No disrespect to Mr. McRoberts, but damn, it should the number one draft pick, maybe the best center coming out of the draft since Shaquille O’Neal, a guy who along with Bill Russell could be the NBA’s version of the Olsen Twins; ladies and gentlemen I am obviously talking about Greg Oden, aka The Man Who Wasn’t There. Sadly enough.

I wonder what’s going through David Stern’s head right now. Obviously, after the ref-scandal the League had a lot of negativity to deal with, but now with a new season nearing, with the huge trade that landed Kevin Garnett in Boston which also made Stern very happy, life was getting better again. And on that evening, late October, Tim Duncan, who portraits the NBA the Stern way, would square off against Greg Oden, a humble rookie. Now that would be good for the ratings, wouldn’t it? Arguably the best team in the whole League versus an exciting up-and-coming team should generate some interest, so desperately needed since no one watched the Finals last June. The Trail Blazers would be on National Television (TNT, ESPN and NBA TV) 18 times this season, with even a game on Christmas Day, where Oden would play against number two pick Kevin Durant and the Seattle SuperSonics. Let’s just hope Kevin Durant (R.O.Y. ’08) will be there, or else we would be better off setting fire to our Christmas trees for no specific reasons (not that I’m a pyro, but who doesn’t like a nice fire in the middle of the winter?).

I read people comparing him with Sam Bowie, or Ralph Sampson, but that’s ridiculous. Oden is still very young, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t fully recover from microfracture surgery. But as a fan of the game you feel bad. I would love to see him finally play. Watching him donning the black Blazers jersey, and living up to the hype that has been surrounding him for years. A true center giving a city, craving for some success, finally something to cheer about. Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard rightfully so admitted he was disappointed about the whole situation, but also mentioned the future is “incredibly bright”. When you look at players like LaMarcus Aldridge, most recent rookie of the year Brandon Roy and Channing Frye, of course Pritchard has all the reasons to be optimistic about the future of the franchise. But with a healthy Oden the bright future he spoke of would’ve been right now, instead of next year.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Got Mike?

They didn’t get Mo Williams, they didn’t get Mike James. Maybe taking a risk and get Steve Francis? Nope. Hell, they didn’t even go after pass-first veteran Brevin Knight. So what do you do trying to fill the need of a pure point guard? Well, if you’re the Miami Heat you sign Smush Parker. Somewhere, Tim “The Homophobic” Hardaway is rolling over in his grave.

Did I forget about Jason Williams? Of course not. The man who’s got more highlights when he is not scoring, but only by dishing the rock still can play, that’s for sure (is it just me or does anyone else still get goose bumps watching clips when he was still playing for the Kings?). The question is an obvious one: can he play for 82 games with his shaky knees? In fact, when Miami’s most durable player is Udonis Haslem (79 games last season) you’ve got a problem. Even Alonzo Mourning played 77 games, turned 37 last February), but the rest of those guys aren’t very durable. I understand injuries can happen to anyone at anytime, but when your two main players only play a combined 91 games, you need help, because I don’t believe that either Dwyane Wade, or Shaquille O’Neal will play more than 70 games this season. And as much as I like Williams, he needs a backup. Since good ol’ Gary Payton is looking for a new home other than a retirement home, the Heat are still in search for a PG coming off the bench.

So in comes Anfernee Hardaway, 36 years of age, on the verge of becoming a great player in the mid-nineties, but ultimately had a career defined by injuries, and basically hasn’t played a meaningful game since 2005. He and Smush aren’t the solution and won’t take Miami back to the Finals in ‘08. I truly hope Penny will close out his career with some dignity, that he can provide some valuable minutes, but he is not the missing link Miami has been searching for.

That missing link, in my opinion, is Mike Bibby. Rumors around Bibby have been swirling around forever, so if the Heat have any chance to make a trade and land him in Florida, they should do whatever it takes to get him. He would flourish playing alongside Dwyane Wade, or dishing the ball to Shaq in the paint, and Mike himself can score 20-25 points if needed. We’ve heard about the talks before, we know Miami wants him, and I can’t imagine why Bibby himself wouldn’t want to play alongside Shaq and Wade, and have a legitimate shot at the title, something that won’t happen while staying in Sacramento in the forthcoming years. The fans in Miami got their championship in 2006, and Miami isn’t that far off in doing it again, but they just need that one piece to bring the franchise back to the elite level they were on not too long ago. And no disrespect to Chicago, but getting eliminated in the first round of the playoffs after winning the trophy one year earlier, is nothing less than embarrassing. So do the right thing Miami: get Mike.