Monday, March 31, 2008

In the Beginning

It’s early September 1979, my best friend Nathan and I climbed into our brown ’72 Pontiac Le Mans, chauffeured by my Dad, and proceeded to take the 20-minute drive to Ogden’s Dee Event Center. Most likely the windows were rolled down because my Dad didn’t believe in AC, and the radio was tuned to some static-filled AM news station if he had his say. If I was the DJ, I am sure we were listening to Rock 99.5 or 103.5 hoping to catch the latest Styx block-party. Life couldn’t have been better because in a few months I would finally turn 16, would finally get my drivers license and finally (and most importantly) the girls would come in droves (or so I thought, because Le Mans means “chick magnet” in French). To top things off, we were headed to the very first Jazz game ever played in Utah.

For months I had read with much excitement of how the troubled New Orleans Jazz wanted to leave their past behind and head for some clean-livin’ in Utah. The differences were striking, for in Salt Lake you might have strangers ‘bear testimony’ to you, while on Bourbon Street strangers might bear something of a slightly different nature. Visions of Pistol Pete dribbling, spinning, shucking and jiving danced in my head. With 3 channels of splendid orange-tinted semi-Technicolor and no ESPN on our Magnavox console, the chances of seeing much NBA action in those days were fairly limited. Until then, the closest thing to getting my NBA fix live was the annual Harlem Globetrotters smack down of the Washington Generals. After seeing their shtick over and over it would take years before I would realize the old ‘throw the bucket of water’ gag was not a routine, or necessary, part of an NBA game.

The move was approved and the Jazz moved to Utah. The NBA was finally here! Jabbar, Magic, Bird, the Iceman, Chocolate Thunder. It was a league of extraordinary superheroes with extraordinary superpowers doled out in 48-minute increments. Dr. J, are you kidding me? He was the subject of my ninth grade Engllish essay and to watch him dunk would be like watching Superman fly.

That first pre-season game was against George McGinnis and the Denver Nuggets and being a 15-year old connoisseur of autographs, I wanted to add McGinnis to my sizeable collection of signatures. Sizeable meaning two: Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon and L.A. Ram Merlin Olsen. We arrived early and maneuvered our way down near the player’s tunnel to get closer. Finally we got our chance and excitedly shoved a paper and pen in McGinnis’ face and he happily scribbled out his name. We did it! We had documented signed proof that we annoyed someone famous and couldn’t have been happier.

Later on as we puzzled over the scribbled name, the “G” began to look more like an “O” and the “M” sort of resembled a “B”. Having read about McGinnis more than seeing him play we began to wonder if we had the right man. It finally dawned on us that it wasn’t the 6-time all-star McGinnis’ signature we had possession of and after much forensic work we found out we were proud owners of an Odell Ball autograph. Odell Ball, a graduate of Marquette was recently voted the 75th best player to come out of that program. He was a 6th round pick who ended up not making the team which explained why he seemed much happier to sign his autograph than we were to obtain it.

Time flies and ‘like sands through the hourglass’ the Jazz have played something like 2366 regular season games since and scores of playoff games. I recently was able to return the favor and take my Dad, now 80, to his first Jazz game since the Jordan administration. We didn’t try for any autographs (thanks again you Nazi-like ushers!) but we had a good time anyway. Somewhere in a box buried in the basement under my high-school diploma sits my prized and dusty collection. A Globetrotter, A Ram and Odell Ball.

To Live and Die in L.A.

“If Kobe would have been smart, he would have mended those fences with Shaquille, let Shaquille be ‘The Man’ and we wouldn’t be in this position. Now, after four years later, he understands that he can’t do it by himself. Now he’s blaming the organization, and some of that blame should be on him and some on the organization.”
- Ervin Magic Johnson, October 2007

Last summer, Kobe Bryant was finished with the Lakers. He had publicly ripped on his teammates one last time, the same teammates who watched him throw-up 46 field goal attempts in a 48 minute game the year before. He had publicly ripped on management one last time, the same management who traded Shaq to appease Bryant so he wouldn’t have to stand in Shaq’s shadow anymore. He was ready to trade his Laker blue and gold jersey for the Bull’s red and white. Kobe was ready to go and the Lakers were helping him pack. Nothing could stop it, except for the Bull’s brilliant GM John Paxson.

Paxson had a secret weapon called Luol Deng. The Lakers wanted him as the main part of the trade but Paxson wouldn’t budge so he told L.A. to talk to the hand. In hindsight, how did that work out for you there, John? Now the Lakers are tied for first in the tough-as-nails West while Paxson’s Bulls trail the Celtics by a mere 27 games while playing down in the junior varsity Eastern Conference intramural league. Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak is now as giddy as a school girl at a Hannah Montana concert with this trade of omission and is more than willing to take any and all of Bryant’s tirades with a big “thank you sir, may I have another” attitude.

Of course the non-trade is not the only reason the Lakers are back on top. If the Lakers pull off a championship with this team, then Memphis Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace should get the first cooler of Gatorade poured over his clueless bean. He was the one responsible for delivering Pau Gasol, complete with a big red bow on his head, to Phil Jackson’s doorstep. Wallace was the one who pulled the trigger on the trade that Greg Popovich called “beyond comprehension”, which sent Gasol’s 19 points and 9 rebounds to L.A. for Kwame Brown’s 4 points and 5 rebounds. This would be similar to the Jazz trading Hot Rod Hundley for Lebron James.

Maybe it is just a coincidence that it was none other than Jerry West himself, the man who built the Lakers and then moved on to Memphis, who hired Chris Wallace as the Grizzlie’s GM just last June. While West is no longer with the Grizzlies (and who could blame him?) it is just a matter of time before he rejoins the Lakers and reunites with Gasol. West has denied any link to this trade, but in the history of the NBA has there ever been a more lopsided trade?

I have never been big into NBA conspiracy theories, but it brings to mind the Mike Myers character in So I Married an Axe Murderer where he plays the dad who thinks “there’s a secret society of the five wealthiest people in the world, known as the Pentavirate, who run everything in the world.” His theory includes “the Queen, the Vatican, the Gettys, the Rothschilds and Colonel Sanders”, who “meet tri-annually at a secret country mansion in Colorado, known as The Meadows”. After this trade, I have come up with my own NBA conspiracy theory fantasy team which runs everything in the NBA. This team includes David Stern, Jerry West, Michael Jordan, Bill Walton and then a Ouija board to help contact the ghost of Red Auerbach. They meet semi-annually at Oprah’s and order trades like this one, as well as the Kevin Garnett to Boston trade, which has helped the Lakers and Boston return to their glory years.

So thanks to forces beyond our control Kobe and his Lakers are back on top at the moment but if there is such a thing as karma I just hope that Kobe gets what he deserves. And if next year we see Dwight Howard or Chris Paul or Lebron playing for the Bulls then I will know my theory is not just a theory.

Kyle Korver : The Closer

In the late innings of any close baseball game, most managers will decide to bring in the bazooka, the big-gun, the flame-throwing relief pitcher who can make opponents quake in their cleats. He is the hired-gun, the specialist and it’s his job to come in and close out the game with a wicked curve or slider or unleash the 100 mph heater. He is known as The Closer. I am not talking about the retail world’s version of The Closer. You know the slimy dude with slicked-back hair smelling of Aqua Velva that sweet-talked you into the rust-proofing and undercoating on that ’93 used Taurus or a 4-year extended warranty on a toaster. I am referring to the alpha-male man’s man with icy Gatorade running through his veins, who wants the ball in his hands in the game’s closing moments.

In basketball, usually the best players start the game and play the majority of the time and usually there has been no clear-cut basketball equivalent to The Closer, until now. For the Utah Jazz, Kyle Korver is The Closer. Instead of hurling split-fingered fastballs from 60 feet, he is dropping 3’s unconsciously from 23-feet-9 inches away. In the place of the 100 mph heat, he is sealing wins by nailing 90% of his free-throws. Even if his shot is not on, he is making the defense come out to guard him which opens up the middle for Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams. He is the zone-buster.

Although he usually plays the second quarter and helps start a few good runs, it has been the fourth quarter which he owns. Rewind back to December when the Jazz lost 11 games and I bet the Jazz only lose a few of them with Korver in a Jazz uniform in that fourth quarter. Since his arrival, the Jazz are on a 20-5 tear and he has just nailed big shot after big shot.

In Denver, he scored 5 points in the last 48 seconds to help the Jazz win by 3. Against Orlando, he dropped 5 in the last 36 seconds as Utah won by 4. Most recently against Atlanta, he scored the last 6 in a 20-second span to close out the 6-point win. If the Jazz ever win a championship, they must give Philadelphia some props because they have given the Jazz two of the best pure shooters in team history- Jeff Hornacek and now Kyle Korver. Maybe Philly is taking the ‘brotherly love’ creed a bit too far but speaking for the Jazz, we sure appreciate it.

If possible, the Jazz should borrow one more thing from baseball to raise the roof even higher in the ESA: the theme song. When Trevor Hoffman, the closer of the San Diego Padres and the all-time leader in saves leaves the bullpen and begins to head onto the field, the Padres’ P.A. announcer begins blaring the slow rhythmic gong…gong…gong from AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells and the crowd goes absolutely nuts. Mariano Rivera enters Yankee Stadium to Metallica’s Enter Sandman and the Dodger’s Eric Gagne enters the field to the Axl Rose wail that begins Welcome to the Jungle.

Korver needs a theme song, some bass-thumping, hard-pounding, blood-pumping, stadium-rocking anthem that puts the crowd over the edge and puts the sound at unsafe decibel levels. I think they could borrow from Hoffman. Just imagine the closing minutes of a game 7 with the Lakers in the Western Conference finals. Jerry Sloan calls a timeout and The Closer walks slowly on to the court and it starts… “gong…gong…gong.. I’m rolling thunder…a pouring rain…I’m coming on like a hurricane…” It would be crazy.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Deron's Dunk

‘Statement’ (Melissa Majchrzak - NBAE/Getty Images)
‘Statement’ (Melissa Majchrzak - NBAE/Getty Images)

“And it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last”
—- Counting Crows

At 9:40 remaining in the third quarter of the Jazz blowout win over the Hornets, Deron Williams had a quick decision to make. He had just dribbled between the legs, behind the back, faked left then drove around All-Star, and MVP candidate, Chris Paul and then eyed 7-foot-1 Tyson Chandler standing between him and the hoop.

It was Chandler but it might as well have been Byron Scott, coach of the West team, who left Deron off the All-Star team again. It could have been fickle (IE…clueless) NBA fans who voted for at least 10 other point guards ahead of him for the All-Star team. It could have been any other critic who thought he couldn’t carry Chris Paul’s jock strap. But it wasn’t. It was Tyson Chandler and Deron quickly decided that dunking on the 7-footer and nearly tearing off the rim would ease the pain just a bit. I believe it did.

That exclamation point of a dunk, along with totally shutting down Paul once again, showed everyone that regardless of how good Paul is, Deron Williams can tear him up. And regardless of how great the Hornets have been this year the Jazz have still won 7 of 8 when Deron is playing against Paul.

Now this is The Team all Jazz fans were waiting for and here is the good news: Even including that horrible December stretch when the Jazz lost ELEVEN games, this team has still won a higher percentage of games than last years Western Conference finals team.

Everyone who jumped off the bandwagon should hop back on because this team is much better than last years. Mehmet Okur, is now back to playing at last year’s pace. Andrei Kirilenko is twice the player he was last year. Last season the Jazz had no real shooting guard and now are overloaded with talent. Ronnie Brewer’s average has more than doubled to 12 points and 2 steals while playing half the game. Kyle Korver gives them confidence down the stretch and something tells me that he can shoot the ball. Williams and Carlos Boozer averages continue to climb. Their number one pick, Morris Almond, can score 53 points in a d-league game and still can’t get on the court.

The great Jazz finals team of 97-98 had a total of 3 players who averaged double figures and none of their top players were under 26 years of age. This year’s team has 6 players scoring in double figures and have 8 players averaging over 8.1 points per game. Ten players on the Jazz roster are under 26 years old.

This team has got it goin’ on and if keeping Deron off the All-Star team makes him play like this, then Chris Paul will get all my future votes.

Paul Millsap Pulls Impala

‘Rearranging Milsap’ (Lisa Blumenfeld - NBAE/Getty Images)
‘Rearranging Milsap’ (Lisa Blumenfeld - NBAE/Getty Images)

As 2007 fades to black and the lingering strains of “don’t tase me bro!” drifts from our consciousness it is time to start anew. As the Jazz’ ‘trail of tears’ December debacle coincided with my annual end-of-the-year ‘trail of hacking mucus’ debacle of my own, I had to come up with something to amuse myself. So to copy an idea of Steve Rushin, a former writer for Sports Illustrated, I created some anagrams.

An anagram is a word or phrase formed by rearranging the letters of another word or phrase and using every letter just once. Sometimes they can ring truthful like rearranging ‘George Bush’ becomes ‘he bugs Gore’ or they can make little sense like how ‘Detroit Red Wings’ becomes ‘wetting disorder’. I really didn’t create these anagrams but through the miracle of technology I went here and entered some names in and it was interesting what popped out.

While rearranging his name I didn’t see ‘Paul Millsap’ as ‘a small pupil’, but I can easily believe that the rebounding machine ‘pulls Impala’. Deron Williams usually ‘owns allied rims’ or when the Jazz need him he ‘dials rim wen lo’. If you add Deron’s middle name of Michael you get ‘lewd millionaire chasm’ which foretells much about his future contract. I don’t believe for a minute that Ronnie Brewer is a ‘reborn wiener’ but I can see coach Gerald Eugene Sloan, in the near future when he finally hangs up his clip board, as ‘a renegade lone slug’ as his anagram suggests. While fickle Jazz fans boo former players like Fisher and Giracek, there is still “no angry noise seat rule” in place at the Energy Solutions Arena.

Matt Harpring appears to be in decent shape but his name suggests he’s more ‘rampant girth’. Much has been said about newcomer Kyle Elliot Korver’s looks but mix up his name and he’s just a ‘killer overt yokel’. CJ Miles’ given name is Calvin Andre Miles and his anagrams look more like National Enquirer headlines as in ‘Lends Maniac Liver’ and ‘Ill Rinsed Caveman’ to ‘Vermin Dalliances’ but my favorite was ‘recalled minivans’. John Houston Stockton was ‘hotshot jock; no nu snot’ and Carlos Austin Boozer is definitely a ‘zealous orb star icon. While I don’t really think that Andrei Gennadevich Kirilenko is ‘a deliverance drinking honkie’ but a ‘honkie in invalid redneck rage’ might explain this past summer.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Calling Dr.Freud

(POSTED Dec 20, 2007)

'Is there a doctor in the house?’

“You know you really need some help. A regular psychiatrist couldn’t even help you. You need to go to like Vienna or something….You need to get involved at the University level. Like where Freud studied and have all those people looking at you and checking up on you. That’s the kind of help you need! Not the once a week for eighty bucks. No. You need a team. A team of psychiatrists working round the clock thinking about you, having conferences, observing you, like the way they did with the Elephant Man! That’s what I’m talking about because that’s the only way you’re going to get better.”… Jerry Seinfeld to George Costanza

In the far outer reaches of my right hemisphere, I dig deep trying to dredge up anything from my Psychology 101 class of many years ago. I find nothing but dusty stats from the ’72 Dolphins and, for some bizarre reason, the license plate number from the girl I loved (stalked) in the fourth grade (FHJ111). I have Googled everything from anxiety disorders and multiple personalities to schizophrenia and restless legs syndrome and still have absolutely no clue as to what has happened to the Utah Jazz.

Nine games ago, the Jazz were rated as high as number two on some of the power rankings. There was all-star talk and even MVP talk. Every game was in reach. They could have won every single game but walked away with just that… one single game. Their rankings have since dropped like a Jarron Collins flop and their total collapse reminds me of some old Vegas hotel brought down by synchronized explosive charges. In nine games they have gone from Big Man On Campus eating at the cool table to Computer Nerd With Headgear eating with the stage crew.

Each game has been particularly painful like some white-hot festering bunion. As each loss has merged into the next, I am reminded of the time I gave birth to, what seemed like, a two-pound jagged kidney stone that looked like a meteorite from the depths of Hell. The only thing that got me through that was an IV full of Morphine in the emergency room.

I could go back through each and every game but why should we when they have all been the exact same game. At this point I would rather take a blowout loss than one more last-minute choke job. Eight of the last nine games have been as predictable as a Gilligan’s Island re-run. Here is a portion of my notes from the last minutes of the Charlotte game but again, they are almost interchangeable with any of the other previous losses.

5:44 remaining Jazz leading 86-74
Boozer miss
Boozer sags off Mohammad who scores on him
D.Williams turnover
Boozer foul
D.Williams throws it away-Jazz get it back-shot clock violation
Brewer missed shot
D.Williams almost turns it over then misses lay-up
Boozer foul
Boozer turnover
Boozer miss
Brewer’s shot blocked
Boozer foul
Brewer traveling - turnover
Brewer miss
D.Williams foul
Boozer foul
Charlotte outscores Jazz 18 to 6 in the final 5:44
Charlotte goes on 13-0 run in 2 minutes and 20 seconds!!
Jazz lose 98-92

Deron Williams is better than that. Ronnie Brewer is better than that and we all know that Carlos Boozer is better than that. I still think this is a great team led by great players but they need to yank this ugly monkey off their backs. I think it is all mental. Pink Floyd sang that “the lunatic is in my head…there’s someone in my head but it’s not me…. and if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes. I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon” I don’t think the Jazz are quite to that point yet but if they don’t exorcise “the lunatic” soon even the Morphine won’t kill the pain.

Friday, December 14, 2007

"My Friends call me Chip"

‘My friends call me Chip’ (Barry Gossage - NBAE/Getty Images)

When Carlos Boozer’s elbow came into direct contact with Steve Nash’s grill Wednesday night, it brought out several interesting facts besides flying teeth: 1- Boozer didn’t actually chip the tooth, he simply knocked the crown off Nash’s lateral incisor #9 (which also happens to be one of my favorite Beatles tunes). It was originally chipped in 2003 when Karl Malone, as a Laker, gave him two tickets to the gun show with a roundhouse elbow to the choppers. 2- It made me relive the classic Brady Bunch episode where Peter (Boozer) defends Cindy’s (the Jazz) honor against the school bully Buddy Hinton (Nash) by knocking his tooth loose. 3- Nash with a chipped tooth looks strikingly similar to Jim Carey as (Lloyd Christmas) in Dumb and Dumber.

Nash and Lloyd have other similarities too. Lloyd was known for his goofy hair and drove a limo. Nash is also known for goofy hair and could own a fleet of limos. Nash is the head of his team and does everything he can to keep his team playing together. Lloyd’s parrot’s head ‘fell off” and he had to scotch-tape it back on. Nash has big dreams of taking his team to the finals and winning championships. Lloyd had big dreams of opening a worm store and going to Aspen “where the beer flows like wine, and the women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano”.

One final movie came to mind while watching the Sun’s game: Groundhog Day. Four of the last five games have seemed like I was watching the same thing over and over. Jazz look great early on. Jazz keep it close until the final moments. Jazz choke. Maybe, as in Groundhog Day, the Jazz need to learn from their mistakes and play a complete game from start to finish and then maybe they can move on. Hopefully Boozer’s elbow, while painful for Nash, might evoke memories of the great Jazz teams from the past linking Malone to Boozer and Stockton to Williams and put these last five games in the rear view mirror. The sooner the better.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Say my Name, Say my Name

‘Nickname Blame’ (Joe Murphy - NBAE/Getty Images)
‘Nickname Blame’ (Joe Murphy - NBAE/Getty Images)

D-Will has definitely got to go. Not the man but the horribly generic nickname that has been thrust upon him like an unsightly goiter. He has been lumped in with the likes of T.O, A-Rod and K-Fed. These are monograms not nicknames. It’s like whatever initials are on the guy’s towels, well then there’s your nickname. I think these so-called nicknames must have been given by those same creative geniuses who wrote all those great WB sitcoms.

If yesterday’s sports stars would be given nicknames today, Babe Ruth would probably be B.R instead of the Sultan of Swat. Ted Williams would cleverly be bestowed with T-Will instead of the Splendid Splinter and we would have had W-Gret in place of the Great One. Instead of Walter Payton’s Sweetness we would have W-Payt and Muhammad Ali, in place of The Greatest, would go down in history known forever as M.A. It would be blandness wrapped in dullness and drowned in mediocrity and it needs to be stopped.

This past summer the website had this to say about Deron Williams…

“He’s already been slapped with the dreaded and generic ‘D-Will.’ As the breakout star of the playoffs, he needs something more suitable for one of the best young players in the game. Give us your suggestions for a worthy nickname for Deron”. They received 566 responses. A few were even worse than D-Will as you will read but there were a few good ones among them. Some were based around his jersey number and others were based on his style of play. Here is just a sample of what their readers chose.

“The Octagon”, “Ill Will”, “The Drone”, “Scrappy (Doo) Williams.”, “The Ocho”, “8-ball”, “Coast to Coast”, “Dizzle”, “The Conductor”, “The Drill”, “The Stockton 3000”, “D-WIZZLE”, “Optimus Prime”, “The Terminator”, “Kingpin”, “D-WIZZLE”, “The Death Star”- “because he’s loaded with weapons, capable of destroying opposing teams, and cannot be stopped!” , “D-Train”, “Hit Man”, ”The Mortician”, ”The Virtuoso”, “The Enigma”,“D-Swag”, “The 8th Wonder”, “D-Rock”, “Dainja”, “The Catalyst”, “The Fifth Element”, “Illy Willy”, “D Wizz”, “The Gladiator”, and “Shakespeare”–because he makes plays”.

A few of these have a nice ring to it. I kind of like the idea of Deron ‘ILL WILL’ Williams breaking down an opponent. I know my 7-year old son would love watching “The Death Star” blow up and I am certain that all Jazz fans would love to get on board the “D-Train” to the Promised Land. I am also sure that C-Booze, R-Brew and P-Mill would love to join J-Slo and L-Mill hoisting up the championship trophy.

A Cross-Over Star

‘Rising Star’ (Melissa Majchrzak - NBAE/Getty Images)
‘Rising Star’ (Melissa Majchrzak - NBAE/Getty Images)

My rewind button on my DVR is almost shot and I still can’t fathom how he is pulling it off. I have seen it live, watched it over and over on ESPN, and replayed it many times on the Internet and it still happens at hyper-speed. I have tried breaking it down frame by frame, as if I am scanning the grassy knoll on the Zapruder film and I’m still left shaking my head in amazement. I am talking about the incredible signature moves by Deron Williams: The Killer Crossover and its evil twin The Dreaded Killer Double Crossover.

Williams has turned into Houdini in high-tops and he’s breakin’ more ankles than Kathy Bates in Misery. He’s shakin’ and bakin’ like Colonel Sanders and he’s bustin’ more moves than a clogger on crack. He’s making opposing guards head’s spin around like they’re in The Exorcist. Not since the Globetrotter’s Sweet Georgia Brown’s choreographed routine pulled on the Washington Generals have we seen such bewilderment and befuddlement with defenders flailing and grasping unsuccessfully after Williams and just knowing it’ll make SportsCenter that night.

Against his mentor Derek Fisher Friday night, Williams smoked his bud more times than Snoop Dog. In one season, the student not only became the teacher, but might as well be the bus driver too as he took Fisher to school all night long. William’s legend is growing fast as this video from Friday night’s Lakers game had been viewed over 238,000 times with over 600 comments after being on the Internet for only one day making it’s the 2nd most recently viewed video on YouTube.

To see his poetry in motion, check this out as Deron makes the Bull’s Kirk Hinrich look more like Kirk Douglas. Hinrich pays dearly for taking the first fake and just about topples over. Then there is this one where Williams pulls off the dreaded behind-the-back double crossover on a confused Jose Calderon from Toronto. Or this one where Williams drops a Jello-kneed Jaque Vaughn like a bag of rocks and in the process, Vaughn became ‘posterized’ as well as ‘posteriorized’.

In the past week or two I have watched Deron Williams go up against the likes of Chris Paul, Jason Kidd and Chauncey Billups and the Jazz won each time. The next few games will bring Steve Nash and Tony Parker. If I had to pick among any of these great point-guards to build my team around right now I would pick Deron Williams hands down. In just his second full year as a starter, Williams amazes me more each time and I can only image how good he will be when he hits his prime in about 5 or 6 more years. In the meantime, when he’s not playing point-guard for the Jazz, I think he could headline at the Bellagio. No showgirls, no white tigers, just Deron Williams and his crossover. I would pay big money just to watch that.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Worlds Best Boss

World’s Best Boss (NBC/The Office)

Well the holiday season is finally here. It officially began late Thanksgiving evening when, according to police, a man threw out the ceremonial first “can of gravy” of the season at another man “striking him in the head”. This incident at a West Valley nursing home parking lot brought new meaning to ringing-in-the-holidays and really what better way to say Happy Holidays than a well flung 18-oz can of heavy turkey gravy that splits your skull.

This time of year, the Jazz usually hit the road and this year is no exception. Next up for the Jazz is the team that gives train wrecks a bad name. Utah is scheduled to be in New York’s Madison Square Garden tonight to face the Knicks. This once-proud, storied franchise of Walt Frazier and company really isn’t as much of a basketball team anymore as they are part Ringling Brothers and part dog and pony show. You can argue over who is the dog and who is the pony, but either way you have got the head clown, Isaiah Thomas as the ring master.

After reading recent accounts of Isaiah and what he is doing to the Knicks, it occurred to me that he has many similar traits as another famous boss, only this one is fictional and can only be taken in half-hour increments. That would be Michael Scott (played perfectly by Steve Carell), the manager of Dunder-Mifflin on NBC’s The Office. So, I put together a quiz to see which boss is worse and who really should own the ironic “Worlds Best Boss” coffee mug: Isaiah Thomas or Michael Scott.

Question 1 -Which manager has the worst financial skills? Isaiah assembled a team with the highest payroll and in return the Knicks continue to have one of the worst records in the league. As GM and coach, Thomas signed Jared Jeffries to a $30 million dollar contract and gets 2.5 points per game. A few years back, he bought the CBA and within 18 months the entire league, which had been running fine for 54 years, folded and declared bankruptcy. Michael sold his condo on E-Bay for 80% of what he paid and gladly exclaimed that it “sold in record time.” He also lost money twice to pyramid schemes and in a Nigerian e-mail scam. “When the son of the deposed king of Nigeria emails you directly — asking you for help – you help. His father ran the freaking country ok?” said Scott. Answer-Michael just lost his own money, so this one goes to Isaiah hands down.

Question 2 - Who organized the worst basketball team? In one episode, Michael puts together a team to play the guys in the warehouse. His team was based solely on racial stereotypes (ie..Stanley, the lone African American employee was to be his secret weapon and Oscar, an Hispanic, was told he would be better at baseball or boxing) Isaiah’s team of high-priced free agents and short-sighted trades had a league-record $141,666,359 payroll last season and 33 wins to show for it. He recently benched his starting point-guard, Stephon Marbury, who then reportedly said the following “Isaiah has to start me. I’ve got so much (stuff) on Isaiah and he knows it. He thinks he can (get) me. But I’ll (get) him first. You have no idea what I know.” Answer- Dollar for dollar, I would take Dunder-Mifflin over the Knickerbockers.

Question 3 – Which manager has the worst people skills? Isaiah reportedly yelled and cursed at employee Anucha Brown-Sanders “We’re not going to do any more of these @#$! community events,” and. “I’m here to win !@#$ basketball games.” He reportedly verbally abused and sexually harassed the former vice president of marketing for the Knicks and then had her fired. Isaiah and Madison Square Garden lost the lawsuit and $11.5 million in damages.
After he wouldn’t give them a discount on pizza, Michael Scott told a pizza delivery guy “You don’t even know what stupid is! It’s about to get all stupid up in here!” He then held him hostage. He also mistakenly continued to call an overweight employee ‘Pudge’ when her name was really ‘Madge’. He was angry when employees cared more about an employee’s skin cancer test than his own birthday. When pressed by his HR director about his relationship with his boss, Scott replied “I bet you would love all the details, wouldn’t you? Scurvy little perv!” Answer-Michael has some pretty bad people skills, just not Isaiah-bad. Isaiah wins this one too and goes for the trifecta.

As Michael Scott once said, “I swore to myself if I ever got to walk around the room as manager, people would laugh as they saw me coming and they’d applaud as I walked away”. Well Isaiah, that might be sound advise because even though the Knick fans are booing you now, maybe there is one last chance to hear the applause. You just need to pack up your coffee mug and walk away.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Zen and The Art of Dunking

‘Le dunk de la mort’

Sydney Australia Olympic Games, Sept 25th 2000: Frederic Weis had no clue that he was about to be immortalized, posterized and vincecarterized. As USA’s Vince Carter stole the ball about 40 feet out, he immediately kicked in the jets and sped rapidly toward the unsuspecting 7-foot- 2 Frenchman like an F-16 rocketing down the runway. Weis heroically, yet foolishly, stood his ground and prepared to take the hard charge as he probably had done hundreds of times before in some Euro league. However this wasn’t against some ordinary Euro team and Vince Carter is, by no means, an ordinary player.

It would be a safe bet that in the annals of organized basketball no one had ever safely completed, nor lived to tell about what the French media later referred to as “le dunk de la mort” or the dreaded ‘Dunk of Death.’ Vince immediately sized up the situation, took two last steps, crouched down and shot up into the warm Australian air leaping spread eagle ala the Nike Air Jordan insignia, up, up and over a stunned and horrified Weis. Vince leaning in towards the basket with the ball cradled in his right hand and with his left giving Weis the ultimate comb-over and using his noodle like a pommel horse to complete his “now this is happening” moment. Carter finally touched down behind Weis and his royal flush stunned the French so much that they immediately surrendered to the US and to Australia. The French can keep their fries, their toast, and their unsanitary kissing but we will keep The Dunk.

If one strips down sports to its barest core elements, it is but a series of moments stitched together over time. Most moments of the games we watch and follow are of the mundane variety, pro football’s 40-second wait between plays and up the middle 2-yard gains, baseball’s endless dead time between pitches and batters, basketballs whistle-fest and slow parade to the foul line and every last second of every soccer game ever played on earth. It’s the Big Play that keeps me coming back for more. There is the game-winning last minute touchdown drive or 95-yard kickoff return, the walk-off home run and the suicide squeeze. Basketball has great rivalries and exciting finishes but most of all it has The Dunk.

To the fair-weather basketball fan, they might see a dunk as just two points, the equivalent of a pedestrian jumper, but anyone who has ever played basketball knows it is worth much more than that. A properly administered rim-rattler in your opponents grill is you serving notice to him that you are The Man and that you own him and that he is a chump and will forever be a chump. A dunk can change momentum and fire up your team and getting your bean dunked upon is a humiliation and brings disgrace to your team, your girlfriend, your family and your manhood.

In the past week, the only moment which literally brought me out of my seat was the coast-to-coast dunk of Ronnie Brewers. That’s what fans live for. Some sort of adrenaline jolt that drives us temporarily out of our naugahyde existence. It was a near life-changing moment when I first witnessed the flying glory of Julius Erving, in full-flowing afro, soaring impossibly high over the Laker’s Michael Cooper, his right-arm cuffing the ball and then in one perfectly timed clockwise windmill motion, rocking the rim and proving to the world that he was the baddest man on the planet. He was cooler than any super-hero could dream of being. He was real and he could fly.

Darryl Dawkins, gave his dunks actual names such as the ‘in-your-face disgrace’, ‘the rim-wrecker’, and the ‘Chocolate Thunder Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham, Bam, Glass-Breaker I-Am-Jam’. He also started a trend of backboard shattering dunks, which while causing quite a delay, would forever solidify the dunkers status as immortal hoops deity among legions of wannabe dunkers.

Shaq tore down entire basketball standards and Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins and LeBron James have raised dunking to a new art form. Spud Webb proved the little man can dunk too. Vince’s cousin Tracy McGrady and Kobe Bryant have pulled off plenty of 360 dunks in games but there is also a guy who has incredibly mastered the 720 dunk!

Physicists have broken down The Dunk into a formula that calculates that velocity = v, in relation to the centripetal acceleration = c and ultimately the centripetal force = … yada yada yada… you have Vince Carter leaping over 7-foot Frenchmen. It’s really that simple. Anyone can do it, but until they do Vince Carter will be the King of The Dunk, just ask Frederic Weis.

My Name is Earl

‘Sharp-shooting squirrel’

With the weather getting colder and the holiday season fast approaching, I am eagerly anticipating the traditional holiday gorge-fest followed closely by the annual projectile-vomiting and a little football. However I am having a hankering for something just a little different than the usual turkey this year. I am having a serious craving for a little squirrel. Not just any squirrel, not any water-skiing squirrel or cutesy Rocky and Bullwinkle type squirrel, and certainly not any of the angry Russian squirrels which recently made news when they tore apart a stray dog!

The internet is chock-full of mouth-watering squirrel recipes for that special day, such as Chicken fried squirrel, squirrel cacciatore, fried squirrel with mushroom gravy, and then a heaping slice of squirrel pie alamode for you sweet-tooth junkies, to cap off a perfect day. However, New Jersey recently issued warnings not to eat any of the little guys found near “toxic waste dumps” because they might be “contaminated by lead”, The warning has since been retracted, but I think a good rule to live by would be to not eat anything found near a “toxic waste dump”, unless of course you’re at the EnergySolutions Arena. (just kidding Larry) And if one still insists on getting their rodent or varmint freak on, at least do so responsibly, for “if the squirrel is green and glowing, just keep on going”.

The squirrel I am interested in is not a delicacy and is not part of the menu. He is 5-foot-5 and can bench press over 300 lbs. He averaged over 14 points a game last season while backing up Allen Iverson and Mo Williams. I am talking about Earl “The Squirrel” Boykins. Last season Earl opted out of his contract with the the Bucks, hoping for more bucks, but it didn’t quite work out as planned. For now he is sitting patiently by the phone, on a big stack of phone books, waiting for a call.

Why would a 7-2 Jazz team need any help? In nine games, the Jazz duo responsible for backing up Deron Williams has scored a grand total of 22 points at a .250 clip. In Earl’s last game for Milwaukee, he poured in 28 by himself. He had 36 points twice last season. At the current rate, it would take our two back-ups at point almost half the season to get 36.

All it takes is a look at the two Jazz losses this season and the games that went down to a last shot to see that there could be potential trouble ahead. Obviously the defense, or a lack thereof, played a huge part in those games but lack of offense from our guards off the bench made things much worse. Against Houston and the Lakers, all Jazz guards off the bench only mustered 2 points total for both games! In the two close wins against Cleveland and Seattle the guards off the bench contributed 7 points total. Jason Hart or Ronnie Price are probably great guys and might yet work things out, but Earl has proven over and over that he can light up the scoreboard.

When Boykins was 3 he was so small his dad would carry him to the rec center in a duffel bag. He has been mistaken for ball boys and always gets carded at NBA arenas where security guards don’t believe he is a player. He may be small but a few years ago he had 12 blocks one season which is 4 more than 6-11 center Jarron Collins had last season. He shot over 39% on 3-point shots and 89% from the free throw line and made ‘only’ $2.95 million last season which is what Larry makes in hot dog sales alone. I think he would love to play for a contender if given the chance.

If we don’t get him, I am sure the Jazz will still be a very good team, win 54 games and quite a few playoff games but if the ultimate goal is to win a championship, I think we could use a ‘little help’ from The Squirrel.

Lets go Crazy! Lets get Nuts!

‘The Landlord collects the rent’ (A. Bernstein - NBAE/Getty Images)
‘The Landlord collects the rent’
(A. Bernstein - NBAE/Getty Images)

What does Carlos Boozer, Three’s Company’s Mr. Furley and Donald Trump have in common? Well, they are all famous landlords, One is a budding NBA superstar, one is a goofy bumbling loser of a landlord and one was played by Don Knotts. I am assuming that being a landlord has its own set of problems and trials, mostly involving dripping faucets, wacky tenants, and clogged up toilets.

Lets Go Crazy!

One story that I thought sort of flew under the radar in Utah last year was about the troubles Boozer was having with his latest tenant. For landlords, its probably a pretty common problem, you rent out your place to a guy who is maybe just a little odd, but you rent to him anyway and then when it’s time to collect, you realize much to your horror, dude has made a few changes!! Probably every landlord has seen it, just the usual things like oh, “PAINTING the EXTERIOR of the HOUSE with PURPLE STRIPING!” and installing “a PURPLE MONOGRAMMED CARPET” in the MASTER BEDROOM!” for starters.

Keep in mind that this tenant wasn’t renting your average 2-bedroom tri-plex, with covered parking in Kearns. We are talking Boozers’ massive, yet strikingly humble, 10-bedroom, 11-bath West Hollywood pad for $70,000 PER MONTH! And this wasn’t just your average renter partying it up like it was 1999 in Boozers home. This wacky tenant, who obviously must not have read the fine print of his renter’s agreement, was none other than 6-time Grammy Award winning artist Prince.

Apparently, the little funky one needed a place to shack up for awhile, while in LA and the Holiday Inn was booked and the Motel 6 didn’t allow the birds (doves) so Boozer let him rent his little cottage. Boozer sued Prince when he discovered the new renovations, which also included “plumbing and piping” added to a bedroom “for water transfer for beauty salon chairs!” and the ‘Prince’ symbol also painted on the exterior of the house!

So Boozer is Prince’s landlord! What other little secrets did we not know about Boozer? Does he play Secret Santa for Warren Buffet? Does he pay Steven Spielberg to mow his lawn? Does Tom Cruise clean his pool? All I know is this: Carlos Boozer, you have officially ‘made it’ when Prince is renting from you.

Doesn’t this sound like the basis to a great sitcom? Boozer, played by Chris Rock, comes home from a long east-coast road trip, afraid to find out the latest trouble that our diminutive Prince, played by diminutive Gary Coleman, has gotten himself into. “Yo, PRINCE, get your little freaky, purple butt over here and explain to me exactly why my entire house is painted PURPLE?” or “why is my little red corvette now PURPLE?” Or “why are the elephant man’s bones in my hyperbaric chamber again?” (Oh wait, I am confusing my eccentric pop star references.) Coleman, playing Prince, can throw in a trademark “what you talkin’ bout Boozer?” and queue to laugh track.

They eventually settled their lawsuit and I just hope there are no hard feelings between the two superstars. In fact I think Prince was being prophetic all those years ago when he wrote Purple Rain. I think he had Boozer and his purple palace in mind when he wrote the following as only Prince can do:

I never meant 2 cause u any sorrow
I never meant 2 cause u any pain
I only wanted 2 one time see u laughing
I only wanted 2 see u laughing in the purple rain
Purple rain, Purple rain

I guess Carlos didn’t get the joke.

Sympathy For Tim Donaghy

(Ronald Martinez - NBAE/Getty Images)

The biggest story in the NBA this past year had nothing to do with Kobe, Lebron, the Spurs or Jazz. It was all about a regular guy with a whistle and an agenda. After an FBI sting operation snagged NBA senior official Tim Donaghy, he admitted that over the past few years he worked games, including the playoffs, with a betting slip in one pocket and The Mob in the other.

He whistled while he worked the pivotal game 3 semi-final match-up this past season between the Suns and the Spurs, which at the time ESPN called “the most atrociously officiated game of the playoffs”. Maybe he helped himself and some low-level Mafiosos afford one more diamond-encrusted pinky ring and maybe he altered sports history by fixing a playoff game.

Donaghy’s admission to betting on games he was officiating for cold-hard cash was the equivalent of him rushing the stands and cold-cocking every NBA fan right between the eyes. Even Pete Rose and O.J. Simpson think the guys a weasel.

Our main man was also one of three refs officiating the Pistons-Pacers game in November 2004, which turned into the ‘Malice at the Palace’ after players went after fans in the stands. While there was no evidence of his gambling on that game, there was much criticism for the way that game was officiated and how the refs let things spiral out of control.

So before Donaghy transitions from officiating stripes to prison stripes where hopefully his cellmates are big, huge, hulking NBA fans I would like to send out a long-distance dedication to him. The only song that comes close to summing up Donaghy’s betrayal to the game was the Rolling Stones’ classic Sympathy for the Devil, and with a little embellishment it becomes Sympathy for Tim Donaghy, and it goes a little something like this…

Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a ref of wealth and fame,
I’ve been around for long, long years
Stole many a fan’s soul and faith

And I was ‘round at Auburn Hills
at The Palace when The Brawl stained the game,
Chaos reined in the stands, on the floor
washed my hands, shift the blame

Pleased to meet you
hope you guess my name
But what’s puzzling you
is the nature of my game

Deep in debt over wayward bets
when I saw it was a time for a change
now its mansions, cars and an entourage
To be on Cribs would be insane!

So, games I tanked
holding a senior officials rank,
When the playoffs raged
And the calls? They stank!

Pleased to meet you
hope you guess my name
Ah, what’s puzzling you,
Is it the nature of my game?

I watched with glee
while your Suns and Spurs
fought fixed playoff games
Oh the bank I made!

Stern shouted out
“No ref conspiracy!!”
When after all
it was only me

Let me please introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and shame
And I made calls that were hideous
against teams before they reached L.A.

Pleased to meet you
hope you guessed my name,
But what’s confusing you
Is just the nature of my game

Just as every ref isn’t a criminal
and all mobsters saints
The Gambino family
just calls me Donaghy
when they need a ref on the take.

So if you meet me
in my tiny cell
bring a file in a cake,
for Satan’s calling to collect his debt
my crooked soul is his to take…

Paging Dr. Dunkenstein

‘Answering the Page’ (Don Grayston - NBAE/Getty Images)

‘Answering the Page’ (Don Grayston - NBAE/Getty Images)

The following is a rebuttal to my own airing of grievances, of a couple of weeks ago. Here is my list of the Top 10 Best Moves the Jazz made since moving to Utah.

1. (tie) “I was never big on creeds” While Seinfeld’s Newman might not have lived by the mailman’s creed, Karl Malone always did. Whether he was rasslin’ with Rodman or referring to himself in the third person, Karl Malone always had to do what Karl Malone had to do, which was score a lot of points. The part-time actor, body-builder, exercise maven and long-haul trucker ended his career with more points in NBA history than every other player not named Kareem. Not bad for the 13th pick out of Louisiana Tech and he sure made the ‘city of Utah’ proud.

1. (tie) Sweet Sixteen! The Jazz draft a relatively unknown choirboy named John Stockton with the 16th pick of the 1984 draft. Over his stellar career, the Great Pasty One gaveth (15,806 assists) and he taketh away (3265 steals) but can you imagine him without Malone? That would be like Siegfried without Roy or Milli without Vanilli.

3. Would you like the undercoating with that new Collective Bargaining Agreement? While car dealer Larry H Miller has had plenty of critics over the years, one thing is perfectly clear, without Larry there is no Utah Jazz. There would be no Delta Center (or EnergySolutions Arena) no Jazz dancers and no man in a mangy carnivore suit shooting silly-string and t-shirt missiles from point-blank range. Larry stepped up and rescued the franchise when Sam Battistone was ready to sell to out-of-town investors. The Jazz would now be in Vegas, Minnesota or Miami, and I doubt TRAX would have extended that far. Without the Jazz, Larry Miller would be Ken Garff and instead of the EnergySolutions Arena, there would be a strip mall full of pawn shops, bail bondsmen and methadone clinics.

4. Yo! Adrian! He still gets no respect Adrian Dantley, the 6-foot 5 inch guard/forward with the girls name and a manly man’s ability to score, averaged over 24 points a game and a .540 field goal percentage for over 15 seasons. He was the Utah Jazz for many years. He finally got his jersey hung in the rafters in ESA, 20 years after he last wore that Jazz jersey. A.D. not in the Hall of Fame is a travesty. There must not be any room for the 18th leading scorer in NBA history out of 258 individuals currently enshrined. Who votes for the Hall of Fame you ask? A secretive screening committee led by Carrot Top, David Hasselhoff and a tipsy Paula Abdul is my best guess.

5. Good Will Hunting for a championship banner. Deron Williams drove the Jazz to the edge of the finals in his first full year as starting point-guard and he got better with every playoff series. Larry knows he’s going to have to back up the Brinks truck to Deron’s backdoor and throw in a few Lexus dealerships to keep him here. I am not going to fully relax until Deron has signed the bottom line on that long-term max deal. D-Will is the future of the franchise as long as they can keep him happy.

6. “It was 20 years ago today, Jerry Sloan taught his team to play. They’ve been going in and out of style, but they’re guaranteed to raise a smile”. Unlike Sgt. Pepper, Jerry has had more than his share of critics (including yours truly at times). Over time, I came to see how Jerry helps make good players great. He takes teams full of low draft picks and other team’s castoffs, runs the pick and roll into the ground, yet he still finds ways to beat more talented teams filled with lottery picks. We’ll agree to disagree on some things, but you can’t deny his record and his success.

7. Utahns Love Booze! When Kevin O’Conner and the Jazz Punked the Cavs on the Carlos Boozer deal, all that was missing was Ashton Kutcher running out and laughing in Cleveland’s general manager Jim Paxson’s face. The Cavs messed up big time by not locking up Carlos to a long-term deal when they had the chance. The bamboozlement for Boozer gave the Jazz as close to a reincarnation of Malone that anyone can ask for. While no one will ever replace the Stockton-to-Malone legacy, the Williams-to-Boozer legacy is just getting cranked up.

8. Philadelphia Freedom Philly, the city of brotherly love and home of the 76ers, shows Jazz fans the love by giving us Jeff Hornacek for Jeff Malone and a draft pick. Horny, originally shipped to Philly in the Charles Barkley trade, was able to escape an awful 76ers team and become a huge cog in the Jazz machine of the late 90s. Things get even worse for Philadelphia fans, already depressed by their city’s sports teams, when they realize their bell has a crack in it.

9. From Russia with Love…gone bad. When our Russian diva Andrei Kirilenko is on, his stat sheets look like a pro-bowlers score sheet. In the history of the NBA only AK has had a five-by-six night, in regulation play (at least 6 each of all five stats -points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals). And only Hakeem Olajuwon and Andrei have had multiple five-by-five games.

10. “He’s the one they call Dr. Dunkenstein. He’s the one that make you feel alright.” When the Jazz drafted the high-flyin’ Louisville Slammer Darrell Griffith, he gave the Jazz instant offense. Griffith teamed with Dantley to lead the Jazz into the beginning of their long playoff run in 1984. His monster dunks brought in the fans and the playoff run made the team legit.

The Ronnie Brewer Slash-O-Matic Show

Before Utah Jazz radio announcer Ron Boone ever strapped on a headset, he used to strap on the old sneakers where he put the func in the now-defunct Utah Stars. The Booner lit up the ABA while dominating with the red, white and blue ball and later retired with the Jazz. Since then, Salt Lake City has seen a few other Rons come and go. From the political, (Reagan) to the musical, (I went to a Ronnie James Dio concert once) to the creepy red-headed afro clowns (McDonald).

And speaking of clowns, let’s not forget Ron Artest. While thankfully not ever a Jazz member, this Stephen Hawking in shorts, actually applied for a job at Circuit City during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls, just to get the employee discount. He arrived at a game once in a bathrobe and broke teammate Michael Jordan’s ribs in a pickup game!

As an Indiana Pacer, Artest asked for A MONTH OFF during the REGULAR SEASON to promote his upcoming RAP ALBUM! Then two weeks later, there was the minor incident in Detroit when he ran into the stands and attacked a fan who had thrown his beer at him. This sparked the biggest brawl the NBA has ever seen. He was suspended 73 games and was politely asked to turn in his Mensa membership. The silver-lining for Artest was that he then had plenty of spare time to promote his new album Call Me Crazy!, which sold 9 copies.

Then there was Rony (pretty boy) Seikaly who famously didn’t play in Salt Lake City. He, along with his Sports Illustrated swimsuit model wife, refused a trade from a lukewarm Orlando Magic team to the red-hot Utah Jazz team in 1998. He vetoed the trade reportedly because he loved the way his reflection gazed dreamily back at him from the Atlantic Ocean.

Well, it’s time for all you Pseudo-Rons to step off because there is a new Ron in the house. He is Ronnie Brewer, 2006 first-round pick of the Jazz, son of Ron Brewer, 1978 first-round pick of the Portland Trail Blazers. But he looks like he could have been the creation of Ron Popeil, the infomercial king. His company, Ronco, gave hope to the bald with the classy Ronco Hair-in-a-Can and eternal happiness to the housewife, with the Veg-O-Matic. This new concoction could be called the Ronnie Brewer Slash-O-Matic. He slices, dices and scores at will, but wait, there’s more! He is the Jazz leading scorer so far in the pre-season.

While Kevin O’ Connor scoured every playground and gym from Paris, Idaho to Paris, France looking for a shooting guard, the best one available was at the end of the Jazz bench, between the Gatorade and the guy running the Jazz Blimp. Brewer, the former Arkansas star, has been attacking the basket like the feral hog, or Razorback, he is. He has not only dropped the gauntlet on the rest of the wannabe shooting guards, he dunked it, slammed it and was fouled in the process.

Brewer is averaging over 18 points per game after the first 5 games and his field goal percentage is at .614 and he is not being spoon-fed anything. He is creating his own opportunities and most of his points are coming on a mixed assortment of driving dunks and spinning lay-ups and getting fouled on top of that. He is also knocking down 91% from the free-throw line.

Among the other guards, Morris Almond has the sweetest release and is probably the best pure shooter on the team but will take time to develop. Ronnie Price and Jason Hart are the 2007 versions of Devin Brown and Milt Palacio, a pair of journeymen NBA guards who will end up playing a year or two with the Jazz before they end up in Europe. Neither is knocking my socks off yet. CJ Miles has wilted like a dried-out rhododendron with a shooting percentage south of baseball’s Mendoza line (below .200). Gordan Giracek hasn’t been able to hit the broad side of Croatia lately. Defensively, they have all looked atrocious at times.

So, I think the decision is crystal-clear. However if history is any guide, on opening night when the starters are announced, I expect to see Ronnie Brewer walk over and sit next to the Gatorade as he watches the veteran Hart or Giracek take the floor. And if that happens we should all break out the Razorback cheer…Woooooooo, Pig Sooie!, Wooooo Pig Sooie! Woooooo Pig Sooie! Razorbacks! And maybe that will get our point across.

The Soviet Block Party

John Stockton could have driven drunk through Temple Square on his way to referee a dog fight, while pumped full of steroids, crack cocaine and horse tranquilizers, and shouting anti-Republican rhetoric and he never would have been booed in Salt Lake City. Every summer Karl Malone could never decide if he was disgruntled or merely gruntled and said many a wacky thing, but he was never booed in Salt Lake as a Jazzman.

To the uninformed, Carlos Boozer might seem to get plenty of boos in Salt Lake, but the fans are only happily yelling his last name. Come to think of it, how do opposing fans boo Carlos Boozer? They must think they are booing him when they are, in fact, cheering him on. This must be extra hard to swallow for the angry Cleveland fans who let Carlos slip away on a technicality and want to show their immense displeasure by booing him. Maybe they have to revert to the not-quite-so-popular or effective hiss to get their point across.

I’m trying to remember the last time a Jazz player was booed during pre-game introductions and I can’t think of one. Well, on Wednesday night’s pre-season opener, when number 47’s name was called there was a steady chorus of boos and catcalls that could not in any way be confused with any sort of joyous cheer or a misconstrued Welcome Back Andrei Kirilenko greeting. The fans were clearly not happy. It was obvious that Jazz fans don’t take lightly to the dissing of their team and the throwing of their elderly coach under a John Deere combine. For saying you would rather play anywhere, for any team, for almost no money than for playing another year here, true Jazz fans would not stand up and cheer for such a player.

Well, at least until he swats his first blocked shot which leads to a break-away Ronnie Brewer dunk at 6:08 remaining in the first quarter. Then it was Kumbaya time in Kirilenkoville. The love-fest was ratcheted up a notch when our crazy cosmonaut pulled off a sweet baseline behind-the-back pass to Paul Millsap who finished it off with a dunk. And when his stat sheet was filled with 10 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocked shots, all was forgiven at least on this night.

Well, as George W. Bush so eloquently put it once, and I quote, “ Fool me once, shame on….(long pause)… shame on…. you, fool me - you cant get fooled again!” Besides being a shameless shout-out to Pete Townshend and The Who, I think what our president was trying to say was that we need to not let Andrei trick us with his gaudy stats and that if he starts acting up we might just have to bomb the Kremlin.

Jerry Sloan was quoted recently as saying that he wasn’t looking for a shooting guard, since the shooting part isn’t the problem, but that he was looking for a “making guard” or one who can actually make their shots. Well, Round One went to a new and improved Ronnie Brewer who put up 17 points, from all over the place, in about 21 minutes. He was followed closely by first round pick Morris Almond who nailed his first four shots on his way to double-figures in his first Jazz game.

Among the veterans, it was Andrei who looked the best and he looked like the Kirilenko of old and that is good enough for me. However, it was obvious the Jazz were also missing Carlos. We hope he rejoins the team soon and that everything is okay with his son. It would be nice if the only boos we hear are reserved for the opposing team or for another driving left-hand dunk by Boozer.

A Festivus for the Rest of Us

You had me at Hello!

October ’79 was a crazy mixed-up time full of Sony Walkmans and mood rings; Village People and disco balls. I was just a pimple-faced dork, complete with bad hygiene and a voice as squeaky as my Converse All-Stars when YOU first walked into my life.

I was fresh off the rebound from my first love, Farrah Fawcett and you were coming off a breakup and was just looking for someone to care. You were new in town and seemed unsure of yourself. So unwanted! So vulnerable! You walked into my life, the aroma of Cajun jambalaya still thick in the air, a lone string of Mardi Gras beads hung haphazardly around your neck. Yet, you looked so incredibly HOT in that wacky getup! What was it? PURPLE, GREEN, and GOLD? Elvis Presley himself couldn’t have pulled that off! But somehow you did. Utah Jazz, you had me at Hello!! It’s been 28 years since you moved from New Orleans. 28 years later and we are still together.

Since you traded in your shrimp gumbo for brine shrimp and Mardi Gras for General Conference, we have had plenty of good times. However there have also been plenty of bonehead moves that I have got to get off my chest. Years ago, there was a classic Seinfeld episode where Frank Costanza came up with his own holiday. He called it Festivus and one of it’s main traditions was the Airing of Grievances, where you lovingly “gather your family around and tell them all the ways they have disappointed you over the past year”. So, looking back over the history of the Jazz, it’s time to gather around the aluminum Festivus pole for my inaugural Airing of Grievances, which has been many years in the making:

We’ll take Gail Goodrich for 500, Alex: When the New Orleans Jazz signed free agent Goodrich from the Lakers they had to give up a first round pick which eventually ended up being a guy named Earvin Magic Johnson. Could Showtime have played in SLC without Kareem and Jack Nicholson? How about with Ben Poquette and Rich Kelly?

I’ve got my mind on my money and my money on my mind: A cash-starved Utah Jazz trade Dominique Wilkins, The Human Highlight Film, and his 47” vertical to Atlanta. In return they get John Drew and Freeman Williams and cash. Just not enough cash to pay for all the drug rehab for both washed up players. And not enough cash to dry my tears for not ever seeing Dominique throw down a windmill dunk in a Jazz uniform.

He’s only the NBA’s leading scorer: The Adrian Dantley trade for Detroit’s Kent Benson (4.5 points) and Kelly Tripucka (10.1). It was too bad we couldn’t have kept the NBA’s leading scorer and Frank Layden happy. I know they were thinking addition by subtraction on this one but imagine John Stockton having Karl Malone and Dantley to pass to year after year? If nothing else I would think there would have to be a better blockbuster deal than this.

“He hates these cans”: Luther Wright, Jazz 1993 First round pick: 15 total games, 19 total points and one major meltdown where Luther was found banging on garbage cans at a rest-stop in the middle of the night! Who was minding the store on this one?

At least give us Eva: Tony Parker was still available when the Jazz were on the clock for the 2001 draft, but instead chose gimpy-kneed point guard Raul Lopez instead. But, in the end we got desperate help from Deron Williams and Parker got Desperate Housewife Eva Longoria so it was a win-win.

And a few of the rest: Trading my favorite Blue Edwards was like a punch to the gut. Letting Mo Williams go, choosing Curtis Borchardt while Tayshaun Prince and Carlos Boozer were still available. Not starting D-Will from day one, letting Dee Brown walk, protecting Jarron Collins and not Sasha Pavlovic during the expansion draft and substitution by time-clock just to name a few.

Well, Utah Jazz, if this is all I came up with after all these years you must be doing something right. So here’s to the next 28 years and a Happy Festivus to all and to all a good night.

A New Sherriff in Town

When John Stockton threaded the needle with one last perfect pass, slipped past his last annoying reporter, and punched his last NBA time-clock, he stepped off the hardwood and into near-deity status among Jazz Nation. He became Saint John the Distributor; Patron Saint of assists and steals, distributing good will and easy buckets whenever he pleased. With the face of a choirboy, he delivered bone-jarring picks and could swipe your Timex like nobody’s business. He was The Pasty Gangsta’ as Jim Rome liked to call him. He was a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, stuffed into a pair of short shorts.

The Long Arm of the Law

Fans will forever speak in hushed and revered tones when discussing the NBA’s all-time assist and steals leader. For 19 seasons, Stockton was a 5-star floor general, artfully guiding the Jazz into 19 consecutive post-seasons. His stats and reputation were bundled up and FedEx’d to Springfield, Mass to forever sit on the top shelf in the Hall of Fame. There could never be another John Stockton.

However, what if Larry Miller has stumbled across some alternate universe and discovered some sort of new cloning process? I am not sure how, maybe with some combination involving stem cells, cold fusion and pixie dust, but he has done the impossible. He has built Stockton 2.0. This version is bigger and quicker, with baggy shorts and a chip on his shoulder the size of Chris Paul. Without the benefit of a De Lorean flux capacitor we can only giddily speculate how good Deron Williams is going to be.

Stockton 2.0?

So how does his great sophomore season stack up to other great point-guards?

Deron Williams: 16.2 points and 9.3 assists. 19.2 points and 8.6 assists in the playoffs.

Jason Kidd: Only one time in 13 seasons has he averaged over 16.9 points and he has had two seasons where he averaged more than 10 assists per game.

Steve Nash: It took the 2-time MVP 9 years before he averaged over 9 assists per game and 6 years before he averaged over 16 points a game.

Isaiah Thomas: D-Will’s 9.3 assists is as good or better than 8 of Isiah’s 13 seasons with the Bad Boys of Detroit.

Magic Johnson: Magic, the triple-double king, was magic and won a title his rookie year, but Deron had more assists in his second season and without the benefit of a Showtime cast.

Chris Paul and Tony Parker: Paul has similar stats and Parker has Duncan but D-Will has better stats.

Gary Payton, Bob Cousy, Walt Frazier: Deron’s assists were higher than any of them ever had in one season.

John Stockton: His second year totals, while sharing point duties with Ricky Green, were 7.7 points and 7.4 assists. His personal best seasons were his sixth and seventh, when he averaged over 14 assists and 17.2 points and he is the all-time steals leader.

There are plenty of other stats where we can compare him but either way, the Utah Jazz should be very grateful that lightening can strike twice. With the exception of Magic and Parker, none of these great players took their team as far into the play-offs during their sophomore season like Williams did last year. “He has all the tools to be one of the top point guards,” Jason Kidd said recently of Williams, “if not the top point guard, when it’s all said and done.” Okay so he is not going to be the next John Stockton, but that is irrelevant, because he is already Deron Williams.

Captain Underpants Revealed

As any good psychotherapist would do, he has me go back to the root of my problem. So, here I am once again, reliving the horrific final moments of game 6 of the 1998 NBA finals…Michael Jordan is still hovering high above the Delta Center floor.

He’s above a bruised and broken Bryon Russell; above everyone else on the court. The ball has just left Jordan’s hand and is in mid-arc right below the shot-clock, where 6.6 is forever emblazoned; 6.6, a new number of the beast. 6.6 could have represented how many fouls he got away with!

The sheer look of horror fills every face in the crowd for they all know what happens next. After the ball settles through the bottom of the net, Jordan stands there admiring it, his right arm still extended, The Shot is embedded forever in my memory playing like a YouTube video on constant replay. Years of intense therapy and several 12-step programs later, he is still there, standing there, arm extended, like a silent sentinel. The image is as real as Karl’s and John’s bronze statues. The image, like a total eclipse is blocking out two Jazz championship seasons. 6.6 seconds has now become 9 years! Time heals all wounds, except this one.

So what did our hero and The Greatest Player of all time do after winning his sixth and final championship? Disneyland or Disneyworld? No, apparently, the first order of business was a long-overdue sleep-over with Kevin Bacon for some real serious underpants talk. Just hangin’ out, talking pros and cons of comfort fit waistbands and 100% cotton briefs. Here is how this brilliant commercial went down: Sleazy Hollywood Agent: “Okay MJ, here is the dealio. We got you and Bob Saget alone, big house, discussing boxer briefs. 3 million bucks! What do you say?” Jordan: “Are you serious? I am MICHAEL JORDAN! I am no SELLOUT! Don’t insult me!!’ Sleazy Hollywood Agent: “Okay, how about the Footloose kid and 3.5 million?” Jordan: “Deal!

Cheese Plate Special

“Nobody said it’s going to be cheese on a plate” — Andrei Kirilenko

When Andrei dropped this classic line, back in May, about wanting to win an NBA championship, Jazz fans everywhere were on his side. We could feel his pain. With each errant airball and with every awkward drive to the basket, we were rooting for him. We all wanted the cheese on a plate. We wanted to watch him gorge on the cheese, with a big old cheese-eating grin. Provolone, cheddar, you name it. A whole industrial-sized vat full of Velveeta poured over his spiky faux-hawk, by delirious Jazz fans and teammates, while fireworks and confetti rain down from the rafters. Well, we now know he wasn’t referring to the American cheese variety. That’s right. AK wants to pack up his ball, and his 47, and pull a reverse Captain Ramius, of Red October fame, and defect back to the Motherland.

As you cooked the borscht, so must you eat it” — ancient Russian proverb

If I am anything, I am a connoisseur of old Russian proverbs (or at least, Google) and many of them spring to mind when contemplating the latest drama emanating from Kirilenko. The very minute that Andrei signed his mondo-max deal, he began to “cook the borscht”, to the tune of 86 million dollars (or 2.15 billion rubles) and he should have set his gold-plated timer for 2011. Last time I checked it was 2007 and his, once warmed, borscht is now just cold beet soup. To loosely paraphrase Pink Floyd, “ How can you have any cheese, if you don’t eat your borscht?”

In America, you watch television. In Soviet Russia, television watches you” —Yakov Smirnoff

That’s right. We are dusting off the old-school Yakov Smirnoff jokes. Since Kirilenko chose to give his interview with the Russian newspaper Sport Express in Russian, we are left to interpret what he meant, literally. After running his lengthy manifesto thru the on-line translator Babel Fish, here is a portion of what it belched out….“But indeed when signed contract, future was seen entirely in other light - that I will play, conquer and obtain pleasure from this. Alas, now, about this there can be no discussion. Even in the successful matches. This sensation, most disgusting. By the way, my frequent injuries recently, also the consequence of this moral break.”….Give me a “moral break” Andrei! And yes, this sensation, most disgusting!

“Any sandpiper is great in his own swamp” — ancient Russian proverb

Kirilenko’s break-out year was 2004 and that coincided with the Jazz’ having their worst record in 23 years. The Jazz were definitely the swamp that year and Andrei was Head Sandpiper. Andrei, apparently, has a hankering for those good old days. For the rest of us? Not so much. Lenin’s system, as well as Sloan’s, preaches against ‘exalting the individual’ which, from a pure basketball standpoint, is how it has to be. Andrei was also quoted as saying “I can feel that my country needs me now”. So, either he is (A) going to be Vladimir Putin’s newest Secretary of Defense. (B) designing the newest Sputnik, or (C) having delusions of grandeur and might be better off back in the warm grasp of his Motherland. And the correct answer is (C), and if he can find his proverbial cheese plate special over there, I bet its Limburger.