How Nick Van Exel got his 20 assists

Excel­lent Dead­spin post about the undis­ci­plined and occa­sion­al­ly crooked world of NBA score­keep­ing. It's based on the sto­ry of a guy named Alex who once kept score for the Griz­zlies, and it includes this gem about how Nick Van Exel (who wasn't known for his pass­ing, let's say) racked up 23 assists one night:

A lit­tle more than a year lat­er, with Nick Van Exel and the Lak­ers in town, Alex decid­ed to act out. "I was sort of dis­grun­tled," he says. "I loved the game. I don't want the num­bers to be mean­ing­less, and I felt they were becom­ing mean­ing­less because of how stats were kept. So I decid­ed, I'm gonna do this total­ly imma­ture thing and see what hap­pens. It was child­ish. The Lak­ers are in town. We're gonna lose. Fuck it. He's get­ting a shit­load of assists." If you were to watch the game today, you'd see some "com­i­cal­ly bad assists." Alex's fin­ger­prints are all over the box score. He gave Van Exel every­thing. "Van Exel would pass from the top of the three-point line to some­one on the wing who'd hold the ball for five sec­onds, drib­ble, then make a move to the bas­ket. Assist, Van Exel."


Kevin Garnett / What can you say now?

Two things: (1) How awe­some would it be to play on KG's team? [Don't ask Big Baby that ques­tion]. Still, what if KG worked in your office? He could walk the halls, pump­ing peo­ple up, bring­ing every­one into pre-meet­ing hud­dles — one-two-three-UBUN­TU! — and he could remind peo­ple that it's about the lit­tle things, remind them that things are get­ting bet­ter and that they just need to hold it togeth­er a lit­tle longer for the title run (or the final design deliv­er­able, in my case). Seri­ous­ly, how rare is it that an ath­lete is so insane­ly gift­ed and so deeply, out­ward­ly pas­sion­ate? I'll tell you what: He would give Ter­ry Tate a run for his mon­ey in the office ath­lete depart­ment. [The pain train is comin]. And, (2) Some­one needs to cre­ate an iPhone app or an audio­book or some­thing that blends the inspi­ra­tional wis­dom of Coach Tay­lor from Fri­day Night Lights with KG's extem­po­ra­ne­ous pas­sion. That would be tech­nol­o­gy that I could use. (Okay, three things.) (3) Who­ev­er made this com­mer­cial is a genius. It's just doc­u­men­tary-ish enough to give you a sense of the entire arc of the sea­son; it real­ly brings out the grind, how long KG spends say­ing the same stuff again and again; and it ends in just the right way: "What can you say now?" Noth­ing. You can't say any­thing. Actu­al­ly, you could say one oth­er thing: "Any­thing is pos­si­ble!"


This guy must be someone.

Crazy NBA Finals guy

The guy on the left, in the black hat; the one who looks like he just stepped out of a Coen Broth­ers movie. He was on the floor dur­ing every game of the NBA Finals. Who the heck is he? Any­way, you got­ta give him cred­it for break­ing the mold with regard to Finals attire: The braid­ed-leather-cow­boy-hat-and-ban­dan­na-around-the-neck com­bo was unex­pect­ed­ly effec­tive at get­ting him noticed, by every­one in my liv­ing room at least. (I hope all you stars in your brand-new Lak­ers hats were tak­ing notes.)

basketball ideas

Ideas / NBA Season Ticket, the trash-talk edition

I've got the killer app for the NBA tele­vi­sion-view­ing expe­ri­ence, some­thing that will melt faces around the world and pro­vide the league with yet anoth­er license to print mon­ey. (Props to Justin and Zidane who sparked this idea last night as we watched Game 3.)You could call it: NBA 360, or the Court­side Pack­age, or the Real NBA Court­side 360 Pack­age or what­ev­er, but the con­cept is sim­ple … Arrange some micro­phones around/above the court, and cre­ate a pay TV ser­vice that allows fans to hear the trash talk that accom­pa­nies every game. Even bet­ter: You could elim­i­nate the announc­ers, and go au naturel: Game trash talk sound­track, noth­ing more.

Kobe Bryant & Kevin Garnett exchange pleasantries
"I feel so mis­un­der­stood, KG. Some­times I just wish the fans could know the real Kobe." [Pho­to: Stephen Dunn]

David Stern will nev­er go for it, you say? You may be right — today — but Stern is a prod­uct man­ag­er at heart. His recent crack­downs may seem moral in nature, but they're real­ly efforts to main­tain the integri­ty of the cur­rent NBA brand. Of course, cer­tain brands con­tin­u­al­ly change, and some brands are forced to change. (Gen­er­al Motors can't con­tin­ue to be known pri­mar­i­ly the mak­ers of Sub­ur­bans and Hum­mers for­ev­er, for instance). Some­time soon, I expect that Stern will do what all good PMs do: Evolve his prod­uct and brand to respond to the market. 

Why a trash-talk channel, then?

Well, my guess is that peo­ple har­bor few­er and few­er illu­sions about what's hap­pen­ing on the court. It obvi­ous­ly ain't Sun­day School, as much as the NBA wants you to believe it is. Also, even the slight­est peek at the trash talk is fas­ci­nat­ing. The one and only time I sat close to court­side — in Toron­to, 2003, end of the sea­son, against the Hor­nets — I heard Baron Davis and Rafer Alston go at it for a few sec­onds near the side­line and I was stunned: It was deeply per­son­al, and pro­found­ly enter­tain­ing. (It's also unre­peat­able on a fam­i­ly-ori­ent­ed blog like this). Curt Schilling sat court­side dur­ing Game 2 of the Finals, and he also was strange­ly com­pelled by the trash talk:

… About 43 times last night I heard things being said that would have made me swing at some­one. These guys talk MAJOR trash on the floor, and the great part is that most of the times I've seen it the guy on the receiv­ing end usu­al­ly doesn't respond much, if at all, and just plays the game, school­ing the guy who feels like he needs to talk to make his game better.

For exam­ple:

Last night KG goes to the line, Lamar Odom (who I became a fan of last night) is say­ing "Hey KG why don't you help on the ball down here?†Point­ing to the paint, and I am guess­ing he's ref­er­enc­ing the fact that KG wasn't down in the paint mix­ing it up. He says it again, loud­ly, KG doesn't even acknowl­edge him, and sinks both. Impres­sive, total focus.

For the record, I was ask­ing KG the same ques­tion from the pri­va­cy of my liv­ing room.

Anyway, on a philosophical note

For the last 10 or so years, the NBA has been in a sort of con­flict­ed ado­les­cence. Stern makes extreme efforts to man­age an out­ward appear­ance of nor­mal­i­ty, but this bare­ly masks the tur­bu­lence beneath the sur­face. He cre­at­ed a dress code, and he enforces strict poli­cies on com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the media. Mean­while, every­one asso­ci­at­ed with the league — fans, play­ers, coach­es, etc — knows that this is all win­dow-dress­ing, and dat­ed win­dow-dress­ing at that. There is a deeply com­pelling game with­in a game going on; why not pro­duc­tize it? There are per­son­al­i­ties, feuds, vil­lains, heroes, and so on — why not bring them out, and cre­ate a ser­vice that peo­ple will pay for in the process?

basketball san francisco visual

Warriors / Drama, elevation, a posterization, terrible officiating

The War­riors play­off ride is over, the Jazz's ride will come to an end some­time in the next week or so, but Baron's dunk over Kir­ilenko will live on FOREVER. Let's just sit back and appre­ci­ate it for a minute. (It's much bet­ter live).

the rise-upBaron ele­vates and ele­vates; he begins his leap before Kir­ilenko and is still going up as Kir­ilenko descends. Mind-bend­ing. To his cred­it, Kir­ilenko said after the game that it was an awe­some dunk and that "at least I got to be on the poster." Also to Kirilenko's cred­it, he didn't foul Baron; if any­thing, it was an offen­sive foul. More on the stu­pid NBA offi­ci­at­ing later.


stomach shotAs impres­sive as the dunk itself was Baron's stom­ach flash after he land­ed. Not real­ly sure where this came from. The ele­men­tary school play­ground? An And1 mix­tape? Wher­ev­er it came from, it was a stroke of genius in that par­tic­u­lar set­ting — Fri­day night, Oak­land Col­i­se­um, West­ern Con­fer­ence Semi-final blowout. You could prac­ti­cal­ly feel the Bay Area ele­vate that moment.


the dust-offAgain, haven't seen this before, out­side of a play­ground game in the Pan­han­dle, but Stephen Jack­son appeared to be dust­ing some­thing off Baron's shoul­ders. The remains of the rim? Some mag­ic dust from David Blaine?

Inci­den­tal­ly, the best pic­ture of all was not tak­en off my TV, but by an AP pho­tog­ra­ph­er from the oth­er end of the court. It cap­tures Baron as he descends from the dunk.

I really did believe

Like every­one in the NBA uni­verse has already said, the War­riors were huge­ly fun to watch this post-sea­son, and it was sad to see them go. It would have been nice to see more scrap­py, inspired Matt Barnes moments; more Stephen Jack­son dag­gers; more Baron Davis PERIOD. I've always liked Baron, but this post-sea­son he had it all work­ing: his fast-break vision, his high-arc­ing three-point bombs, his cross-over, his abil­i­ty to get in the lane and dish out to open shoot­ers. (More of Baron's finest career moments on YouTube.) It was nice to see Mon­ta get his game back in games 4 and 5, and Biedrins had some real­ly strong moments, by which I mean some ridicu­lous dunks and a few improb­a­ble free throw conversions.

Yes, the Jazz deserved it

At the same time, I admired Utah by the end of the series. Jer­ry Sloan is an ass­hole, but he proved in this series that he is an ass­hole who knows what to do with tal­ent­ed play­ers. The 3‑D guard play (Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Derek Fish­er) was unex­pect­ed­ly sol­id and impres­sive. Memo and Booz­er were Sports­Cen­ter fix­tures through­out the sea­son, but I was sur­prised at how eas­i­ly Memo was tak­en out of his game by the quick­er War­riors. I was sim­i­lar­ly amazed at how great Booz­er has become. The guy rose to the occa­sion, took lots of big shots, fre­quent­ly changed the momen­tum of the game and was by any mea­sure a badass among badass­es. To say those things about a for­mer Duke play­er requires a lot of pride-swal­low­ing on my part.In con­trast to the uneven, streaky War­riors, every Jazz play­er was tena­cious and grit­ty while exhibit­ing a pro­fes­sion­al­ism and char­ac­ter that has been miss­ing from the West­ern Con­fer­ence play­offs this year. Why are so many play­ers, espe­cial­ly War­riors, con­tin­u­al­ly try­ing to draw charges? Play defense. Draw the charge when it comes to you, but don't try to sub­sti­tute actu­al defense with step­ping in front of a play­er as they go to the bas­ket. Stephen Jack­son! Dude! You were huge in the Dal­las series, but against Utah you took your­self out of the game by try­ing to take charges and then get­ting pissed that the refs didn't call them! You know this: the refs are not going to give you those calls when the only thing you're doing is try­ing to draw them. Same goes for Barnes and Har­ring­ton. UPDATE: Hen­ry Abbott of True­Hoop has some thoughts on this very sub­ject:

There are a lot of fouls called on play­ers defend­ing against the dri­ve. What occurs to me more and more is that it's smart to do the whole "draw the charge" flop onto the butt, and only in part because you might draw the charge. A big­ger rea­son is that if your hands are up, and you're jump­ing, and there's con­tact, you have NO chance of get­ting the call, and it's like­ly a foul on you.

An inter­est­ing point; per­haps it's all part of an effort to enable slash­ing and to com­pli­cate phys­i­cal defen­sive play. On the oth­er hand, super­stars seem to get calls even if the defense seems to be legit. Baron obvi­ous­ly drew a lot of charges and hacks, which I think is evi­dence of a huger prob­lem: THE F%@$$%$ING CONSPIRATORIAL OFFICIATING. 

What the f%$#@%$?

It real­ly seems like the ref­er­ees go into each game with an agen­da. Like, the Jazz got every call in game one. Why? Did they want to even things up from the pre­vi­ous series when it seemed like there were some quick whis­tles on Josh Howard? The lop­sid­ed­ness of the calls make you won­der things like that. I mean, even Stephen Jack­son had some legit beefs that night! Then in Game 5, Baron got pret­ty much every call. He lit­er­al­ly ran over Deron Williams a cou­ple of times, no whis­tles. When Williams would so much as touch him, whis­tle. Did the NBA want to pro­long the series? Did they want to give Baron the super­star foul exemp­tion? UPDATE: And don't even get me start­ed on the role of the NBA front office in all this. If the sus­pen­sions of Diaw and Stoudemire end up cost­ing the Suns the series, I'm going to … protest. Some­how. How can the NBA be so bad at inter­pret­ing their own rules? Every sport in the world func­tions effec­tive­ly by imple­ment­ing the spir­it of its rules, not the let­ter. Why go by the let­ter in this case? Stoudemire and Diaw didn't esca­late any­thing; they didn't incite fur­ther may­hem; what gives?In spite of it all, great play­ers make great play­offs. Thanks War­riors, and go Suns.

basketball kansas basketball

Kansas basketball / Post-Julian thoughts

Julian at the SIU game

Julian Wright is tak­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty of a life­time, and who can blame him? He brought enthu­si­asm and ener­gy to every game, con­tributed huge­ly in many of the big wins in the last cou­ple of years (cf. these dunks dur­ing the Flori­da game and this epic 33-point per­for­mance at MU), and showed enough skill and poten­tial to be very high­ly regard­ed by NBA scouts. Who wouldn't seize a chance to be finan­cial­ly secure, and to play in the NBA? The future is rarely cer­tain in these sit­u­a­tions, as these guys can attest. Best of luck to you, JuJu.The KU-sports-relat­ed Inter­net is (pre­dictably) thrash­ing around with the news, and the emo­tions range from hurt to hap­py, fatal­is­tic to opti­mistic. And who can blame them, real­ly? The last four years have been tough on Kansas bas­ket­ball, so tough that the men­tion of cer­tain names — Roy, Mic­ah, Pad­gett, Galin­do, Gid­dens, CJ, etc — can pro­voke pangs and spasms of hurt and guilt. I guess Julian gets added to the list now, though per­son­al­ly I think he's ready and I'm hap­py for him. Most of the com­menters at the end of this sto­ry feel oth­er­wise. Julian's depar­ture is com­pli­cat­ed, of course, by the fact that he pledged to stay fol­low­ing the loss to UCLA. This CBS reporter was real­ly peev­ed that Julian recon­sid­ered his prospects after the sea­son end­ed, which seems kin­da sil­ly to me. Did it real­ly take Julian's change of heart to com­mu­ni­cate to him that big-time col­lege sports are bit­ter­sweet, unpre­dictable, and per­pet­u­al­ly com­pro­mised by the twin prospects of major, life-chang­ing injuries and major, life-chang­ing paydays?Whatever hap­pens, I think that Julian will even­tu­al­ly have a good NBA career. Ryan Greene of com­pares Julian to Shawn Mar­i­on, and I see the resem­blance as well. That said, he would be way bet­ter off with estab­lished, vet­er­an-heavy teams like Phoenix (who wouldn't?) or Chica­go, where he'd be able to learn and adjust out of the spot­light. Career-endan­ger­ing teams like Mem­phis, Atlanta or (once again) Sacra­men­to will give him too much respon­si­bil­i­ty too soon, though he may be able to sur­vive that either way. Long term, he's a West­ern Con­fer­ence play­er who will come off the bench, get his 12 and 8, con­tin­ue do all the lit­tle stuff that makes him great (deflect­ing pass­es, set­ting oth­er guys up, keep­ing offen­sive rebounds alive), and be a good team guy to boot.

The bright sides

Look­ing for­ward to next Novem­ber, here are three sce­nar­ios that reflect my think­ing on the remain­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties for ear­ly entries and (yikes, not again!) transfers.

  • With­out Wright: Actu­al­ly may be bet­ter. Like Drew Gooden's ear­ly exit, I actu­al­ly think there's quite a sig­nif­i­cant bright side here. Julian's ath­let­ic abil­i­ty and tal­ent require that he play a major role in the offense, which results in few­er oppor­tu­ni­ties for the tal­ents of oth­er play­ers — Mario's dri­ves and shots, Sherron's shot and dri­ve, Rush's entire offen­sive arse­nal, Shady's sweet moves inside 12 feet. When Good­en left, Collison's McHale-like low-post pres­ence and Hinrich's Stock­ton-like abil­i­ty to make the right deci­sion on every fast break end­ed up pro­vid­ing a sys­tem more sta­ble than the one focused on Gooden's always ath­let­ic, some­times errat­ic pres­ence. With­out Julian at the 4, Shady starts and gets more time. This means that the line-up gets bulki­er with­out los­ing that much in the way of speed. They'll miss Julian's explo­sive­ness and shot-block­ing, but they gain Shady's sweet touch and bet­ter abil­i­ty to (more depend­ably) make plays while post­ing up. If Rush is still around (not like­ly, so see the bul­let point below), I tend to think that this line-up may even be more dan­ger­ous than if Wright had stuck around.
  • With­out Wright and Rush: Lots of re-jig­ger­ing, lots of uncer­tain­ty. Los­ing Rush is a much big­ger deal than los­ing Wright, obvi­ous­ly. He's the team's best on-the-ball defend­er; he became the go-to scor­er dur­ing the games in San Jose, and he can stroke it. Unfor­tu­nate­ly for him, he's not the explo­sive ath­lete that Julian is, and scouts are not eval­u­at­ing his drafta­bil­i­ty in the crys­tal-ball­ish terms of upside and poten­tial. His capac­i­ty is known, appar­ent­ly, and there­fore it has lim­its in the eyes of scouts. Does this mean he can't become, say, a Bruce Bowen type of play­er? Heck no. In fact, I think he'd fit in real­ly well with the type of team who would draft him in the 20's or so. And this is prob­a­bly what will hap­pen, so it all works out for the best, for him. If mon­ey and aca­d­e­mics (which are a major has­sle for him) were not issues, he's in a great posi­tion to thrive next sea­son. He fits into Self's sys­tem real­ly well; he real­ly began to shine at the end of the sea­son; anoth­er sea­son would real­ly give him a chance to refine his drib­ble-dri­ve and his out­side shot. But this is not an ide­al world, and bar­ring the entry of the entire UNC team or an injury that pre­vents him from com­pet­ing in the pre-draft camps, I sus­pect he's gone. Good luck to him.
    So. How do the Hawks replace Bran­don? Who becomes the stop­per? Who takes over the offense at the end of games? Who attracts the oth­er team's defend­ers when­ev­er he's on the floor? I'm not real­ly sure about any of this. A cou­ple of things are cer­tain, though: This will be a sea­soned, capa­ble team. They've been through a lot, beat­en Kevin Durant twice, won two Big 12 tour­na­ments, etc. More­over, they'll be with­out a super­star like Bran­don and Julian, and this — weird­ly — might make them much more like Self's Illi­nois teams — grit­ty, hun­gry, scrap­py and dan­ger­ous in the tournament.
  • With­out Wright, Rush, and Collins: !@$#%$#@*&. Almost too painful to con­sid­er. How many times did I text the words "Thank God for Sher­ron" dur­ing the Big 12 sea­son? How many times did he sin­gle-hand­ed­ly change the pace and momen­tum of a game with a vicious dri­ve to the bas­ket? He's not ready to jump to the League, but rumor has it that he wants to be clos­er to home. But would he real­ly want to sit out a year, play for a school in a mid-major con­fer­ence, give up a chance to play in a Final Four, give up a chance to play on nation­al tele­vi­sion for 15–20 or 20–25 games next year? I real­ly hope not. Man, that would hurt.

Basketball / Hibachi!

I'm plan­ning to write a man­i­festo regard­ing cel­e­bra­tions in pro­fes­sion­al sports — Are they ever appro­pri­ate? I think so. But when? Where? How should they be reg­u­lat­ed? All good ques­tions. As I was look­ing for evi­dence of dif­fer­ent styles of cel­e­bra­tion, I found myself read­ing a lot about Wash­ing­ton Wiz­ards guard Gilbert Are­nas. In the past, he cel­e­brat­ed made bas­kets by exclaim­ing, "Hibachi!" In the Wikipedia entry for "hibachi", he is quot­ed as explan­ing it thus­ly, "You know, a hibachi grill gets real hot. That's what my shot's like, so I've been call­ing it that: Wel­come to the hibachi!'"The NYT not­ed that he also shouts "Guar­an­teed, yea-ah!†or "Let's make it hot-aaah" to punc­tu­ate a bas­ket. Add "Qual­i­ty shots!" to this list, after Kobe claimed that he takes too many bad ones. All of which prompts me to exclaim: I love this game! Are­nas reminds me of weirdo 70's base­ball play­ers, like Bill "Space­man" Lee (claimed his mar­i­jua­na use made him imper­vi­ous to bus fumes while jog­ging to work at Fen­way Park) and Mark Fidrych (talked to him­self while on the mound). His volu­mi­nous Wikipedia page con­tains dozens of anec­dotes, and links to many more. He has also inspired many excel­lent entries in Wash­ing­ton Post sports columns and blogs, includ­ing a clas­sic: "Gilbert Are­nas: I'm Not Quirky," which includes this scorcher:

When [Are­nas] was in Gold­en State, he once broke into Chris Mills's house, stole his throw­back jer­sey, then wore it on the team plane to upset him. "That's not weird. That's just fun­ny," Are­nas said, laugh­ing to himself.