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Ten Things I’m Hoping to See in LeBron James’s FA Decision Special

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 8, 2010

It had to end this way. Yeah, you can hem and haw about the morality of the whole thing–lord knows that Adrian Wojnarowski took his crack at it from that angle, and he was certainly well within his right to do so–but really, what’s the point in complaining at this point? If you had woken up groggily at 7:30 A.M. to an ESPN.com headline: “LeBron to Cleveland: ‘I’m Comin’ Home!'” or “LeBron James: In a New York State of Mind!”…it wouldn’t have felt right, would it? After two-plus years of media hype leading up to two-plus weeks of utter media freakout, it would have seemed anti-climactic to just say to yourself “Oh, huh, looks like LeBron decided to go with the Cavs/Knicks/Bulls/Nets/Heat/Mavs/Bafana Bafana/Monstars, how about that” and then go about your day’s business. No, it had to be a media event unto itself, happening at a specific time that everyone knew to anticipate–primetime, no less. It had to happen the day after most of the other high-profile free agents announced their upcoming teams–possibly unwittingly–to whet the public’s appetite for the main event. It had to end like this.

So yes, I’ll be watching tomorrow at 9:00 when LeBron James goes live on ESPN to announce the team he will be signing with as a free agent (and possibly dictating the next ten years of the NBA in the process). I can’t wait, really. But in the interest of accepting this event in the spirit that it was given–that of straight-faced crassness and a severe distrust of moderation–I have a couple ideas of elements for the event itself, to allow it to best reach its maximum potential. (By the way, this max potential does not include LBJ buzz-killingly giving the game away in the first ten minutes, as he’s bone-headedly suggested he will do, so I’ve ignored that bit entirely.) After all, I’m gonna want to see this event marathoned endlessly on NBA Classic in the weeks leading up to July of 2015 or 2016, when we doubtless will be going through all this glorious nonsense once again.

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That Guy Salute: Jim Joyce, Umpire of Baseball’s Credibility

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 3, 2010

Over the next few days, you’re going to hear a whole lot of hubbub about a controversial call that took place in last night’s game between the Tigers and Indians. Facing catcher Jason Donald with two outs in the top of the ninth inning, Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was one retired batter away from a perfect game, a feat to ensure his place in baseball immortality. As Donald grounded sharply to first and Galarraga rushed to cover the bag and take infielder Miguel Cabrera’s throw for the sure put-out, the accomplishment looked to be in the books. But umpire Jim Joyce ruled Donald to have beaten the throw, granting him a base hit to ruin the perfecto. Showers of boos rained from the Comerica Park stands as what at first looked to be a questionable ruling turned out, upon replay, to be just a straight-up blown call, as the ball clearly beat Donald by a good half-step. Tigers color man Rod Allen (always one of MLB broadcasting’s more entertaining figures) memorably lamented upon review: “Oh! my! goodness! Jim Joyce, nooooo!!!!

Instantaneously, Jim Joyce reached such a level of infamy that quizzes like “Detroit Tiger Fans Worst Umpire,” “The Worst Umpire in the World,” and my personal favorite, “Perfect Games that Jim Joyce Has Blown,” all popped up on Sporcle within about a half-hour, and the comparisons to Don Denkinger ran so rampant that the Denk briefly became a trending Twitter topic. And as much as we’d like to defend his ruling–that it was a bang-bang play, that Donald wasn’t that far off, that maybe it was close enough to a tie and the tie always goes to the runner–there’s really no sugarcoating it: Dude blew the call. But while Joyce may have destroyed what should have been a career-making night for Armando Galarraga, he ended up saving (whether consciously or not) something much more important: The integrity of the Major League Baseball perfect game.

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Posted in Clap Clap ClapClapClap, That Guy Salute | 5 Comments »

Take Five: Delineating the Qualifications for “M! V! P!” Chant Recipients

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on April 25, 2010

You know the scene. A star player on a home team gets fouled, and as he goes to the free-throw line to take his compensatory shots, the crowd serenades him with the salutatory chant: “M! V! P!…M! V! P!” The implication, of course, is that the crowd is endorsing their franchise player as a worthy selection for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award.  But while these chants may have been more practical in nature once upon a time–it’s hard to say exactly when, where, why or for whom they started, and they might even have their roots in other sports–these days, the award is handed down by adoring crowds with precious little discretion. For instance, during a recent playoff contest between the Bulls and Cavaliers in Chicago, I noticed that Bulls point guard Derrick Rose being the recipient of such a chant. Now, Rose is indeed a fine player, one who has played particularly well this post-season, and one who one day very well may find himself in post-season-award contention. But the kid is just a second-year player who was ineffective and/or injured for half the season and has yet to even make the All-Star Team (whoops, he actually made the ASG this year, though I’m not entirely sure how). In any event, MVP, he is most certainly not.

Now, truth be told, I absolutely love this custom of NBA culture. During the right situation, with the right crowd and the right player, these chants can be absolutely electrifying, the most vocal, emotional and appropriate way for a fanbase to show their true appreciation for their beloved star. But I would like to install some sort of system to ensure that the players receiving these accolades are indeed worthy of such honors. If we keep letting the bar slip lower and lower like this, soon enough they’re gonna be yelling “M! V! P!” at Andray Blatche during Wizards home games. Amusing as that would be, it would cheapen the credibility of the chant far more than I’m comfortable with.

So I have a short list of player categories that, in my opinion, qualify him for the fan-MVP designation. If your guy does not fall into any of these categories, please find a more appropriate three-syllable chant to proffer during his next appearance at the charity stripe.

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Posted in Clap Clap ClapClapClap, Take Five | 9 Comments »

Power Rankings: NBA Bandwagon Teams Going into the Post-Season

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 1, 2010

So we’re about two-thirds into the NBA season, and already for many of us (especially those of us in the Tri-State Area), there’s nothing really left to root for with our home teams until the lottery comes. However, in the age of enlightenment (and NBA League Pass), while we grit our teeth and remain supportive to our flailing franchises, we can also let our eye start to wander a little, in search of a team worth hitching our wagons to come post-season time. So as the playoff races tighten and shit starts to get real, the question arises: Who’s worth getting in the bunker with?

The qualities one looks for in a good bandwagon team are many. You want a team that’s familiar enough that you feel like you can kind of naturally slip into their fandom, but not one that’s not so stale that you feel that they can’t surprise you. You want a team that’s maybe a little up-and-coming so you can kind of grow with them, but not one that’s so raw that they don’t have a chance to even make a dent in the first round. You want a team that maybe offers a league vet or two a long-delayed shot at true glory, but definitely not one with so many has-beens that it starts to get depressing.

With all that in mind, I’ve taken the 18 teams remaining with a shot at making the playoffs (defined as within five games of the conference eighth seed for the sake of this article) and ranked them based on their potential for a rewarding bandwagon experience from this point forward. I’ve disqualified the Lakers and Cavaliers due to their being the overwhelming favorites to make the finals, since I can’t really endorse such shallow front-running (And because for wildly differing reasons, I find it utterly impossible to remain objective about either LeBron James or Kobe Bryant). But don’t worry–there’s still plenty of teams to choose from. Here they are, from 18 to 1–and be sure to let me know who you’re watching for these days as well:

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Clap Clap ClapClapClap: Notes From All-Star Weekend

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 15, 2010

People who complain about All-Star Weekend sicken me a little. Yeah, sure, there’s nitpicking to be done here and there, and I’ll certainly do my fair share below, but on the whole, I’ll never understand how anyone who considers themselves to be an NBA fan can not get excited over the general celebration of NBA culture that is All-Star Weekend. Even when certain parts of it don’t quite live up to expectation, the rush of just seeing all of these guys together under one roof (well, two different roofs in this case I guess, depending) doing there thing is enough to make just about anything forgivable. And when it’s actually good, too…man, it’s just so much fun to watch. Getting through the long first half of the season can be something of a slog at times, and it’s my opinion that All-Star Weekend is our reward as fans for sticking with it. So here are my hopefully mostly open-hearted and not-too-judgmental thoughts on the unfoldings of All-Star Weekend, in chronological order:

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One Moment in Time: The 2000 NBA Slam Dunk Contest

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 12, 2010

If there was one sporting event from the 2000s that I wish I could have seen live, this probably would be it. I don’t even mean live as in live in person at Oracle Arena–although undoubtedly that would have been especially righteous–but rather, just watching it at home on TV as it was happening. Not being much of an NBA fan at the time, I obviously didn’t see it until much, much later, by which point I had heard about it so much that I figured actually watching it so far after the fact would be extremely underwhelming. Not so. When I finally saw the 2000 NBA Slam Dunk Contest on an NBA TV marathon rebroadcast of every Slam Dunk Contest in history (God bless NBA TV for doing this every year, by the way), it still had me jumping out of my desk chair. You can take your World Series comebacks, your Super Bowl upsets, your potential Triple Crown winners. Give me Vince Carter and a windmill 360.

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Posted in Clap Clap ClapClapClap, One Moment in Time | 3 Comments »

Take Five: Looking on the Bright Side With the Blake Griffin Injury

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on January 14, 2010

As an NBA fan, this was really one of the last things you wanted to see happen this season. It was bad enough when Blake Griffin, the #1 pick of the 2009 draft, had to sit out the first three months of this season with knee injuries, but reports came recently that Griffin, just a week away from his tentatively-scheduled debut with the Los Angeles Clippers, would be undergoing further surgery, now lost for the entire season. It sucks for many reasons, mostly because unlike many recent high draftees (Oden, Rose, Durant to an extent), where we were cautioned that it would take time for star potential to develop into star performance, Griffin looked for all the world like he could come in and be the best player on a playoff team right away. Everything about his game and his makeup screamed “NBA-Ready,” and the Clippers were starting to heat up just in time, playing their best ball of the season in anticipation of his arrival. Everyone wanted to see the kid, and everyone wanted to see the kid succeed. Now…well, balls.

There’s a whole, whole lot of additional negative to focus on with this injury–the destructive impact it’ll have on the petulant drive of Clippers point guard Baron Davis, the bad lineage it now puts Griffin in with regards to the history of big men with early-career health issues, even the further perpetuation of the so-called “Clipper Curse” that it represents. But there’ll be plenty of people who are going to be happy to tell you all about those. I’m more interested in focusing on the positives–few in number and poor in consolation that they may be–that seem possible to arise from Blake’s unfortunate, if not exactly unpredictable, circumstances. Here’s five potential benefits to the injury woes you might not have contemplated. (Unless of course, you saw me Tweet about them earlier, in which case, apologies for the double dip):

1. Gets a Legitimate Chance at Rookie of the Year Honors. Early on, some pundits were wondering if, in this year’s supposed weak rookie class, Griffin could swoop in at the beginning of 2010 and play well enough to merit Rookie of the Year honors, even with missing the first two months of the season. Unexpected breakthroughs from rookie PGs Brandon Jennings and Tyreke Evans, however, dwindled the likelihood of that down to nil. Now Blake gets a full season to make his case, and for a rook as hyped as he, it seems only fair. Besides, with the presumed NBA debut of current Kentucky point John Wall (a prospect currently causing NBA scouts to speak in tongues) coming in the same season, it could set up a nifty little “Griffin vs. Wall” debate that could make for the most exciting ROY debate since LeBron vs. Darko. OK, bad example, but…you know.

2. Avoids Friction with Marcus Camby in the Frontcourt. Camby, the Clippers’ 14th-year power forward, is clearly the past, while Griffin, who plays the same position, is undoubtedly the future. But the Camby Man has played fairly well this year, and despite his cringeworthy shooting touch and near-non-existing mobility, he can still be dominant enough on defense and on the boards to rightly demand playing time. With center Chris Kaman elevating his play to a near-All-Star level, something’s gotta give, and if Griffin did struggle early, he’d have Camby breathing down his neck and possibly subbing for him in late-game situations, potentially hurting the future star’s confidence. With Camby a free agent at year’s end, however, and the Clips unlikely to re-sign him, Grififn can enter next year unquestioned as the team’s starting power forward. And we’d all avoid a bunch of annoying blog debates about how to split up the trio’s PT in the process.

3. Misses the Ricky Davis Era in Los Angeles Completely. With Stephon Marbury on the outs with the NBA, Zach Randolph and Ron Artest having rehabbed their images, and Vince Carter playing (if not exactly thriving) on a decent team for once, the shortlist is now down to Tim Thomas and Ricky Davis for the proud honors of being the NBA’s most infamous cancer. To be fair, neither is really getting enough playing time to perpetuate any real on-court malaise, but lord only knows what goes on behind closed doors in those locker rooms. With Davis’s contract expiring at the end of the year, it seems likely that Blake will never actually have to share the floor with him. And while Davis’s presence wouldn’t necessarily guarantee draft bust status–that guy the Cavs took with the #1 in ’03 turned out OK–you don’t really want to take any chances with this shit, do you? Especially not a karmically-challenged squad like the Clippers.

4. (Possibly) Gets a New Draft Pick and New Coach to Work With. It’s far from guaranteed, but envision the not-too-far-fetched scenario: With Griffin out for the year and the post-season starting to fade beyond the horizon, Baron Davis goes into Operation Shutdown mode, undercutting his recent inspired play by packing on another 20 pounds and reverting to chucking up five threes a game. Kaman and Gordon miss time with their recurring injuries, and suddenly the team is giving key minutes to Steve Novak and Brian Skinner. Losses pile on and the team slips into the Western Conference cellar. But, there’s a silver lining: With the bad vibes mounting to a new high around the Clippers franchise, Donald Sterling finally offers the fanbase an olive branch by firing much-detested coach Mike Dunleavy, luring Avery Johnson or Jeff Van Gundy back from ESPN’s clutches to take his place. Now Griffin has a decent coach, and in all probability, a high lottery pick–maybe a defensive-minded swingman, or a better backup point for Baron Davis than Sebastian Telfair–to start his career with next season. Wouldn’t be so bad, would it?

5. Has Plenty of Time to Hone His NBA Sense of Humor. Don’t underestimate the importance of this one. From all indications, not only is Griffin a phenomenal athlete, a commendable teammate and a tireless worker, but the seeds of him having one of the better senses of humor in the league are definitely there as well. I remember a quote from an ESPN The Magazine profile where after Clips sharp-shooter Steve Novak missed a three or something in practice, Blake went over to him and with a straight face–so much that Novak wasn’t even sure he was kidding–offered to work on him with his shooting if he needed. It’s not so much the joke, which is only mildly funny at best, as the fact that he did it with a straight face. Do you have any idea how few players in the NBA can pull off a straight face? I seriously doubt you need a second hand to count them–most are so comedically clumsy, and so in love with the idea of themselves actually trying to make a joke, that the straight face (which in many ways is the key to being funny) is basically impossible. Plus, his response to a question about L.A. being big enough for both him and Kobe (“I don’t know if it’s even big enough for Kobe himself”) shows an awareness, and a knack for off-the-cuff repartee, that is similarly rare among the NBA greats. He’s got the raw potential, and we need funny dudes in the NBA even more than we need quality big men. So in between rehabbing stints, I hope Blake’s concentrating on what’s important, and doing plenty of fucking around on YouTube, maybe filming a SportsCenter spot or two for ESPN.

Posted in Clap Clap ClapClapClap, Take Five | 2 Comments »

Clap Clap ClapClapClap: What Would LeBron James’s Expiring Contract Be Worth?

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 12, 2009

lebron1

Although I am by no means a LeBron James fan–he seems somehow lacking in character to me, something I unreasonably demand from my NBA stars–I am still, like many people, absolutely fascinated with the drama surrounding the expiration of his current contract in the summer of 2010. It seems unlikely that there has ever been a free agency so anticipated in professional sports, to the point where entire franchises have started planning their sales pitches years in advance, and speculation about the end game has reached such a fever pitch that JFK-level conspiracy theories have abounded about potential outcomes. Will he stick with the Cavs? Will he get seduced by playing at MSG with the Knicks? Will he hook up with Jay-Z and the crazy Russian billionaire in New Jersey? Will he invade Kobe’s back yard with the clippers? Will he join the Kings because fuck it, nobody expects him to join the Kings? Nobody knows, and try as we might to decode his cryptic statements on the matter, LeBron isn’t telling us. We’ll just have to see in the summer of 2010.

But then again–what if we didn’t have to wait so long to see LeBron on the move? What if the Cavaliers decided that the likelihood of LeBron hanging around past the summer of ’10 was so low, that they decided to cut their losses, and see what they could get for him before he signed with another team for nothing? What would other teams–second and third-tier NBA powers, maybe, teams that aren’t championship contenders as currently constituted, but very well might become one if they added the best player on the planet to their roster–give up for only a guaranteed half-season with him? How much of their future would they mortgage to get a chance to play with the King?

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Clap Clap ClapClapClap: The 33 (Other) Most Intriguing People of the 2009-10 NBA Season

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 27, 2009

I Love This Game

It’s a little weird, I know. I’m currently a Philadelphian living in New York, which means that as a sports fan of just about any degree, my thoughts, viewing schedule, and life in general should be absolutely dominated by baseball–what with the Yankees and Phillies about to play in the World Series and all–these next few weeks. But while I’m pretty ridiculously excited for that, it’s the upcoming start of the NBA season that I can’t get off of my mind. Even with my team probably heading into a year of maddening inconsistency and the ceiling of a third-straight first-round playoff exit, I still found myself just as excited to watch the Sixers’ pre-season games as I was to see the Phillies in the divisional and league playoffs. What can I say? It’s been a long, basketball-less summer. I need dunks, three-pointers, “Sirius” and Jeff Van Gundy back in my life.

With the return of the NBA season invariably comes the return of epic Bill Simmons basketball preview columns–which, in itself, is one of the best things about basketball being back. His column for this year was of the 33 most intriguing people of the upcoming season–the players, coaches, and executives that would provide the most interest subplots over the course of the next 82 games. Some minor quibbles aside–Tim Duncan at #2 is way too high, and Shaq probably should’ve been #1B next to LeBron–it’s an excellent list, and one which I would be ill-advised to try to better. But I feel like writing a lot of words about the NBA, and since any basketball column I write would probably end up ripping off Simmons anyway, I figure it’d be slightly more righteous to instead just piggy-back off him–with my list of the next 33 (or as they’re presented here, #66 – #34), the ones that Bill excluded.

In any event, you should read his column before (and arguably instead of) mine, as it’s far better and (basically by definition) much more relevant. But if you’re like me, and you just can’t wait for the season to fucking get here already, hopefully mine help tide you over a little while longer too.

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Listeria: The Ten Levels of Avoiding Sports Media

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 19, 2009

kill_your_tv001

One of the weird functions of working at night means that the amount of sports news I watch is vastly disproportional to the amount of actual sports I watch, since I’m away for when all the events actually happen and can only see what I deem important enough to tape and watch when I get home at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. But home all day in the afternoon, I invariably end up watching an unhealthy amount of after-the-fact sports news coverage, just because it’s often the only thing on that’s at all worth watching (at least when SOAP and A&E are cycling through re-runs of The O.C. and The Sopranos that I’ve already re-watched recently). Naturally, in the eight hours between the start of First Take and the end of Pardon the Interruption, things can get a little bit repetitive.

All I can hope for during this time period is that certain topics don’t happen to pop up. I can handle endless replays of the same game highlights, or different commentators’ lame jokes about the same blooper reels, but there are certain news stories that have recurred so often over the last year or two, and have become so mundane or asinine over that time, that when they happen, it can force me to actually make the effort to find something better on TV, or turn the TV off altogether (well, usually nothing that extreme, but you know). The mere sight of these buzzwords in headlines fills me with dread and positively ruins my Wednesday afternoon. If you’ve read this far, you can probably already guess most of ’em off the top of your head. But just in case…

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