Stephon’s Assist

I’ve been a critic of Stephon Marbury for years, since he played for the Nets. Even a few weeks ago, when I heard him in a radio interview, I thought, “He’s as selfish as ever; he just doesn’t get it.”

But at the NBA’s announcement of donations for hurricane victims (in conjunction with Feed The Children) today, he stood at the podium, tried to talk about the league’s efforts to help, and cried until he couldn’t go on.

So, yeah, he’s still a selfish basketball player till proven otherwise, but he’s also a father and a man.

Cuban Sanction

Tom Spurgeon and I will post another NBA Preview this October, but the league has been going through upheval thanks to a weird, one-time clause in the new collective bargaining agreement, allowing teams to cut one player (they still have to pay him) to remove his salary from their luxury tax. It’s a complicated issue, but the upshot is that about 20 teams have cut players whom they’d recently given big contracts to.

Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, just wrote about his decision to cut Michael Finley, saving the team around $90 million. It’s a neat post, because it provides some insight into the financial landscape of the NBA, and philosophies on player development:

When the annual league revenue increases stopped and a luxury tax loomed, teams adjusted their financial profiles. To get under the tax threshold, they offered good players packaged with horrible contracts. We took them. We hoped the talent would get us a championship before the number of bad contracts we took on in trades caught up with us.

It didn’t happen.

Of course, he never does get around to explaining the Raef La Frentz contract . . .

Or there’s this

If you’re not interested in reading about the genocide in Darfur, perhaps I can bore you with sports.

In the past week, Fox Sports’ NBA writer Charley Rosen has been ranking the all-time best players at each position. Charley may have a giant axe to grind against some players, coaches and officials, but he’s a smart and observant hoops writer. Here are his rankings, by position:

Point Guards

Shooting Guards

Small Forwards

Power Forwards

Centers

I think he’s going to follow this up with ranks of best coaches and sixth men, but I’ve bored you enough. Get some sleep.

Job Opening

There’s a vacancy in the NBA! With Shawn Bradley’s impending retirement, we’ll need a new “favorite guy to dunk on” next season!

After this play last January by Stromile Swift, I nominate Yao Ming as the guy everyone will try to throw down on:

Self-Aggrandizement Thursday

Just got back from the BIO show last night, but I’m swamped with work. I’ll try to write about the event during the weekend. Meanwhile, it’s Self-Aggrandizement Thursday here at the palatial Virtual Memories estates.

In honor of the last game of the NBA Finals, I figure I’ll share a story with you from last year’s Finals. This happened last June, the night of what would turn out to be the last game, when Detroit completed its stunning 5-game upset of the Lakers. This year we have a game 7, so this’ll be the last night of pro hoops for a while.

Here’s what happened last year: I went out after work, did some shopping, and got home about 15 minutes before the game started. I settled into my comfy leather chair and got ready for the game.

At which point, a blackout hit my section of town.

I waited a couple of minutes, then went out to see how bad it was. It turned out not to have hit houses about 100 feet away, but there was a significant stretch of town that was blacked out, here in my little suburban, wooded enclave (the aforementioned palatial VM estates).

So I drove around, picked up a Cherry Coke at a convenience store in the next town over, and listened to the game on the radio for a while.

I decided to drive out to my dad’s place and watch the game there. He lives about 12 miles from my house, and his electricity was working fine.

It was pretty stuffy/stanky around here, mid-80s and humid all day, with a big rainstorm impending. On the way to the main road outta town, I saw a guy walking pretty forlornly, with a rolling/carry-on suitcase and a shoulder bag. I figured he was heading down to the bus stop on Skyline Drive, about half a mile away, for the bus to NYC. I didn’t want him to get caught in the rain, so I stopped and asked him if he needed a ride.

He hurried up to my passenger window, peered in and excitedly asked, “Spreichen sie deutsch?”

No, really.

I stared at him for a second. He was wearing a button-down shirt, but it was soaked with sweat. I thought, “This guy’s been walking a while. There’s no power, so there’s no one in the central shopping area of town, where he might otherwise find people who can help him out. And that big rain’s gonna hit soon.”

Here’s what I believe: if you’re in a position to help someone and you choose not to, then you’re a bad person.

So I opened the passenger door and said, “Get in.” He put his little suitcase in the back, and we drove.

He could barely speak English. I was able to figure out that he was Polish, not German. He must’ve figured there was a better chance of finding a German-speaker than a Pole. I wasn’t either, but I’m pretty good with etymologies, so we worked at it.

As far as I could tell, he had some sort of job waiting in NYC, but that didn’t explain why he was in my town, trudging down the street in the evening. It’s a small town.

I figured I’d take him to the train station a few towns over, and then he could get the train to Hoboken, go on to NYC, and get to his job.

But then, as we started driving over the mountain out of town, I thought, “Well, shit: This guy’s not going to find anyone in that town who can tell him where to go, and he’s much more likely to get pinched by the cops there.”

Okay, I decided: I’ll drive him to NYC. A few minutes later, I called my buddy Rene, who’s German, and put my passenger on the phone with him.

My passenger must’ve talked for at least three straight minutes, without seeming to pause for my friend to say anything. I think he was REALLY happy to have someone he could vent to.

He gave the phone back to me, and Rene explained the situation: Janusz, my passenger, had been in my town for a month or so, doing renovation on some guy’s house. That day, the guy refused to pay him, and kicked him out.

He’d been walking a while when I found him (and he was pretty sweaty and stanky). He had a friend in Forest Hills (but didn’t have the guy’s phone number), so if I could just get him to a bus or train, he’d be able to get out there to him. I was a little dubious, because I can’t find my way around Queens with a map, but hey.

We drove to NYC. Near the George Washington Bridge, I stopped at a gas station so I could hit an ATM and get some cash, since I was down to $5. Janusz got out of the car and started walking around. He thought we were in New York, but I convinced him that we weren’t there yet. “You’ll know when we get there,” I said.

A few minutes later, we reached the bridge, and he knew. “THAT,” I said, pointing to the city lights.

“NEW YORK!” he said.

We drove down the West Side Highway, then turned off by the Intrepid on 46th St. We got down to the Port Authority, where we sat in some traffic. We talked, in our limited manner. He asked about cars and engines, figured out that I had the basketball game on the radio.

A block away from the Port Authority, we were behind a cab, backed up at a traffic light. A rear door opened, and a woman of, um, ill-repute got out.

“Janusz,” I said, pointing at the girl, and speaking in a weird, east European accent, rolling my Rs, sharpening my Ts, “you know: prostitute?”

“Ya, ya!” he cried. “Prostitute! Like in bordello!”

We laughed. The light changed. Around the corner, I showed him where the PA information booth was, figuring he’d find SOMEONE who could speak Polish, German, or Slovakian (the other language he tried out on me).

I tried to give him $20 (my real reason for stopping at that ATM earlier), because I wasn’t sure how badly he’d been screwed by his employer. He refused to take any cash from me.

I watched him go inside, then headed home. I got back with about 6 minutes left in the fourth quarter. The electricity had been restored.

Actually, when Janusz and I were leaving town, I looked in my rearview mirror and saw the lights coming on in the parking lot behind me. I thought, “Sonofabitch . . .”

I got back to my comfy leather chair. Detroit beat LA, people celebrated, and I haven’t heard anything about Janusz since. The chair got moved downstairs. I have a sofa and loveseat up here now.

The next morning, I said to the official VM girlfriend, “There are people in this world who think I’m a bad man. Other people think I’m alright. There’s now a day laborer from Poland who thinks I’m delivered from God, even if he has no idea what my name is.”

A long-ish story, I admit. I didn’t make a Virtual Memory out of it when it happened, because I prefer to be self-deprecating. But I like being able to do beautiful things for people, so hey.

Spurs in 7.

Guest column

New VM reader Sam enjoys my basketball writing, so I offered him a chance to post here, following the latest Shaq-Kobe match. Because he’s in Canada, this means I now have a foreign correspondent!

A buddy invited me over to his place last night to jam a little and watch the Heat/Lakers game on his new 52″ HDTV. Last night was the first time I have had a chance to watch HDTV and I must say, outstanding! I couldn’t get over the clarity. It was awesome!

[Ed. note: I know, I know. I saw the Superbowl on HD this year, and sports is pretty obviously going to drive that consumer market. Especially in my house. Grr.]

Now I’m going to go into an NBA rant. Okay, deservedly so, everyone is on Toronto GM Rob Babcock’s case for screwing up the Vince Carter trade and then doing nothing at the deadline, but what about the Lakers and the cluster f*ck screw job they have done to their team?! They go from an elite championship team to nothing — that’s worse than the Raptors in my opinion because the Raps were NEVER going to win a playoff round, let alone championship with VC (I hope you are paying attention, Nets fans, ’cause its also going to happen to you).

So what did the Lakers get in return for Shaq? A bag of basketballs from Miami, which is no different than the Raps, and they are going to miss the playoffs (are you seeing the similarities here?).

Who’s talking about this travesty? Who won that trade? Heat 51 – 16. The Lakers and their fans should be embarrassed. Another example of a team catering to the wishes of one superstar player at the expense of the team (are the similarities spooky, or what?).

Lamar Odom was a non-factor last night and it looked like Kobe is on the decline (like VC – scary, oooh). They got spanked.

(Take a deep breath, Sam.)

Peace, out.

–Sam R.

PS: I saw the post-game interview with the Godfather, er, Shaq. He compared Penny Hardaway to Fredo, Kobe to Sonny and Wade to Michael — the heir apparent. This guy’s hysterical. Really funny stuff. Shaq truly is the most electrifying man in sports entertainment today.

Puts my NBA preview in a new light

The Sports Guy has a new mailbag column, and it includes a letter that made me laugh like a retard:

Q: Not that there is anything wrong with this, but have you ever noticed that most NBA team names sound like gay bars? Bulls, Bucks, Rockets, Cavaliers, Nuggets, Mavericks, Jazz, Hawks, Blazers, Warriors, Heat, Bobcats, Pistons, Spurs, Timberwolves, and Grizzlies all sound like they are catered to the leather and mustache set. I also think Magic, Wizards, Kings, 76ers, and Pacers sound like male performance enhancement pills. Rockets could also fit into that category as well.
–Scott G., Chicago, IL

Just thought I’d share.

My new psychic technique is unstoppable

To quote my own NBA preview:

The Pacers believe they were one knee-tweak to Jermaine O’Neal away from getting to the Finals last year, which avoids the reality that Ron Artest is a freaking maniac whom David Stern would’ve given his left arm to keep out of the NBA’s biggest stage.

And [Artest is] the #2 guy on this squad, although he contends that he’s the MVP of the league. Great talent, no head: the Jeff George of the NBA . . . I still don’t trust [the Pacers] under real pressure, because I think Artest will explode, and O’Neal’s too in love with his jumper (and a little too fragile).

So I was partly wrong. Jermaine O’Neal might not face much wear-and-tear this season, since he’s suspended for 25 games.

It was wrong of the fans to throw stuff at the Pacers. It was wrong of Artest to race up into the stands. It was wrong of Ben Wallace to keep trying to incite Artest by throwing a towel at him.

But it was really bullshit of Artest to lie back on the scorers table, put his feet up, cradle his head, and preen for the opposing crowd, after he and Wallace were separated. That must’ve burned his general manager’s ass (some guy named Bird) to no end, to see his player dump that much disrespect on the game.

I agree with the season-long suspension that Artest’s been handed. Given his history of wig-outs, he needs some massive penalty to show him that it’s time to start taking those meds.

Oh, and nice job selecting Dennis Rodman’s number for your jersey this season, dick.