Thursday, July 30, 2009

Button Mashing of the Future

Since we're on a bit of a video game kick, lets continue with some news of a couple of upcoming games that are of interest to The Hoops Manifesto - NBA 2K10 and EA Sports: MMA.

First, some exciting news from our good friends at 2K Sports - NBA 2K10: Draft Combine. Rather than summarize it for you, here it is straight from the horse's mouth. This press release was sent to me by 2K Sports:

2K Sports Announces NBA 2K10: Draft Combine, a Totally New Downloadable Game Experience

Get a taste of NBA 2K10’s all-new gameplay and My Player career mode while living the life of an NBA hopeful going through the real NBA Draft Combine.

New York, NY – July 28, 2009 – 2K Sports today announced NBA® 2K10: Draft Combine, a download-only title that will provide pre-season fun for basketball fans leading up to the fall launch of NBA 2K10. Planned for release this September on Xbox LIVE® Arcade for the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft and PlayStation®Network for PLAYSTATION®3 computer entertainment system,, NBA 2K10: Draft Combine will allow fans to create their own custom player with the utmost detail and, for the first time in the NBA 2K series, begin their career by experiencing the on-court life of an NBA hopeful going through the NBA Draft Combine at the world-renowned, ATTACK Athletics gym in Chicago.

“We’re giving our dedicated NBA 2K fans an incredible opportunity with NBA 2K10: Draft Combine,” said Greg Thomas, senior vice president of sports development for 2K. “Gamers will have exclusive access to online content and get to test drive NBA 2K10’s new gameplay features, advanced player progression system and the all-new My Player career mode before the game launches this fall.”

Features of NBA 2K10: Draft Combine include:

· Building custom players by working with a mentor, the 2K Insider, and increasing their NBA stock through a variety of challenging basketball drills and 5-on-5 games.

· Over 300 different signature customizations, including player-specific shooting animations, dunk and dribble packages and more to allow each created player to have his own unique personal style.

· Ability to strengthen all parts of the created player’s game with a variety of drills, such as shooting, post offense and defense, attacking the basket, dribbling, challenging shots, boxing out for rebounds and more to progress through the NBA Draft Combine.

· Organized games that will allow players to gain valuable skill points and offer a variety of specific in-game objectives that will need to be accomplished in order to gain them. At the end of each game, a full analysis will be available for gamers to review their player’s performance and strategize their further improvement.

· All players created in NBA 2K10: Draft Combine will wear a special patch on their uniform throughout the rest of that player’s career to denote that they have completed the NBA Draft Combine.
· Online leaderboards to track the highest ranking custom built players, and where a player stacks up against the competition.

· Opportunity to unlock special achievements on Xbox 360 and trophies for PLAYSTATION 3 system.

· Fans can take their custom built players from NBA 2K10: Draft Combine and use them in the all-new My Player career mode in NBA 2K10 launching this fall, allowing them to continue their journey of becoming an NBA legend.

NBA 2K10: Draft Combine, developed by Visual Concepts, is planned for release in North America, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and India this September on Xbox LIVE Arcade for Xbox 360 (400 Microsoft Points) and PlayStation Network for PLAYSTATION 3 system ($4.99). For more information about NBA 2K10: Draft Combine, please visit

Obviously that is very exciting news for hoopheads, video game addicts and draftniks like yours truly. The Hoops Manifesto will be all over this on its release and will give you a full review of it.

Also announced this week was some more news on EA Sports: MMA, which is scheduled to drop in 2010. Among the announced fighters for it are Fedor Emelianeko and Randy Couture, but with no UFC fighters on the roster, will the average fan be interested in buying it (especially considering how good a game UFC Undisputed is)?

If you can't wait for either game to drop, here are links to the pre-orders:

Pre-order NBA 2K10 Here

Pre-order EA Sports: MMA Here

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tiger Wood PGA Tour 10 Review

I suck at putting. Not real-life putting - I haven't played real golf in over a decade, and I'm decent enough at the mini variety. No, I suck at virtual putting. And to add insult to my injury, the announce team in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 like to remind me of this fact.

My three and four-putt woes are in no ways a fault of the game, as the new "precision putting" feature, where you use the same putter regardless of the distance of the putt, is pretty easy to use. You basically line up your putt and pull back on the joystick to hit the ball. My main problem is that I rush through it and don't take enough time lining things up. My lack of patience is probably why I don't have any desire to play real golf either.

If you've played past incarnations of the Tiger Woods game you know what to expect - there aren't a whole lot of massive changes to this year's game. Now, I reviewed the game on the PS3 so I can't comment on the Wii version of it (unless Nintendo wants to send me a free Wii system of course - holler at me Nintendo!). Most of the major changes this year for the XBox/PS3 version take place online, where you can play live tournaments with real-time weather conditions and even play real-world tournaments as they happen, matching up your scores with the pros. The U.S. Open at Bethpage Black is one of six new courses in the game, bringing the total number of different links up to 16. Another fun feature is the "dynamic attributes" of your created golfer. Depending on how you do during a round, your various skills will increase or decline. And Tiger's long-time coach Hank Haney is in the game to give you drills to improve your skills.

The actual gameplay is pretty easy and intuitive, and with four different difficulty levels it is easy for anyone to pick it up and master it pretty quickly. The game pretty much offers all that you could hope for in a golf game. But, with that being said, it still is just a golf game, so non-golf fans might get bored with it pretty quick. As an added bonus, if you buy the game you'll get a free subscription to Golf World or Golf Digest magazines (unless you live outside of the U.S. like me).
Now, excuse me while I go and practice my putting so announcer Scott Van Pelt stops making fun of me.

Buy it here:

My fellow Canadians can get it here:

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10

Monday, July 27, 2009

He Blew His Mind Out

Stephon Marbury is sabotaging any other story ideas that could possibly come into my head (as well as also sabotaging my attempts to go to bed at a decent time at night). Starbury is sleeping right now so I have a chance to write something quick. How do I know he is asleep? Because he is still living in front of his webcam.

This is society's obsession with voyeuristic, reality television at its worst. If you haven't caught any of the surreal scene that has gone down over the past few days, you've truly missed out. Most of it has involved a wild-eyed, shirtless Marbury rambling incoherently, getting his head shaved and dancing to music. The parts I caught of this train derailment last night involved Marbury sitting in a darkened room, blasting the same Drake song over and over and dancing while doing the #1 sign with his hand. When he did speak, he went into extensive details on how to wash a woman's hair. Oh, and a few nights ago there were more than a few tears.

What has become obviously apparent is that this man needs help. He is in the throes of a mental breakdown of some sorts, with many speculating that it is chemically induced. I'd be called a hater by Starbury supporters for saying that, but this is based on facts, not hate. His emotions are all over the map, he is rambling about nonsense, his eyes are bugged out, and he doesn't seem to sleep too much. All pretty much warning signs that something is amiss. The boys at SLAM were trying to convince me a few days ago that Marbury has always been like this, but that is not very believable at this point (plus NYC tends to be overly protective of their basketball products).

Regardless, someone in the Starbury inner circle need to step in and stop this tragic scene. While this is highly entertaining (in a voyeuristic way) for the viewers, it amounts to nothing more than career suicide on Marbury's part. Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski confirmed as much in a column over the weekend - NBA executives are paying attention to this and are not in the least bit impressed. The free agent point guard was going to have a hard enough time getting himself signed as it was, even before this gong show. There are a few positions in sports that being a little loony is a good thing - hockey goaltender and closing pitcher are a few that come to mind - but NBA point guard is not one of them. Especially a 32-year-old who has a history of being a disruptive force on a team, shoots too much and still thinks he's a star.

This whole saga is tragic to say the least. Marbury is in no way a bad person - he is notably charitable and his cheap shoe line - Starbury - is a godsend for kids from low income families. Perhaps he isn't the best teammate or husband (see: backseat of truck, banging Knicks intern) but his heart seems to be in the right place. Which makes his descent into dementia a shame. With that being said, I better run - he's bound to wake up soon.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

"They're Trying To Put Me In A Box"

Stephon Marbury continues to outdo himself. I never would have thought I'd write about him twice within a span of a couple of days, but I can't resist. In case you haven't heard, he recently did a 24-hour straight show on Ustream, which was as loony and contradicting as you could have hoped. If you missed the stream (like I did), here is a great site that transcribes most of the action along with links to the actual video. Some of my personal favorite lines:

"I’m going to set up a foundation for the world. I’m gonna take the money and start building cities all over the world. I’m a comet. My man told me I’m a comet. I said “I’m a comet?”

"We don’t have Ustream doing the feeds. They’re just doing the feeds."

It's truly mindblowing stuff. Enjoy.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Humpty Dunkty

LeBron James sat on a wall,
LeBron James had a great fall,
You admitted you smoked pot,
Stored the dunk tape to rot,
Can all The King's advisers,
And all The King's men,
Put LeBron's reputation back together again?

P.S. - Don't worry LeBron, its not like you got accused of rape or anything, you'll bounce back (now concludes The Hoops Manifesto's Daily Kobe Bryant Bashing Comment).

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Staring At The Sun

I know this is my second video post of the day, but I couldn't pass up the newly uncovered LEBRON GETTING DUNKED ON VIDEO!!!! Like I said previously, everyone gets dunked on and LeBron and Nike just made this a bigger deal than it should have been. So, without further ado.

Crazy Is As Crazy Does

We all should count our blessings and be thankful for the presence of Stephon Marbury in the basketball universe. No, not because of his on-court exploits - I've always felt his nickname "Starbury" was pretty ironic. No, we all need to give thanks and praises for Marbury's too numerous to count crazy, bizarre quotes. The man was at it again this week, making a rambling appearance on Ustream, whose highlights you can read here. My personal favourite from this latest monumental appearance: "Can I rap? Yeah, I can rap. But I don't. Rap is just fast talking".

As a tribute to the endlessly entertaining man known as Starbury, I wanted to post THE GREATEST INTERVIEW DONE BY AN ATHLETE OF ALL-TIME. If you've already seen the video, it is worth checking out again. Make sure you watch it in full. Reminds me of a punch-drunk boxer trying to give an interview. I especially enjoy when he talks about kissing his sister.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I Still Love You

I've been real busy doing some articles for the upcoming Athlon NBA preview, so I haven't had much time and energy for any meaningful posts on this here blog. Just wanted to let you that you are not forgotten and a more substantial post will be coming in the next few days. Until then, enjoy this video of the Dream 10 Welterweight Grand Prix finals straight from Japan.

UFC The Ultimate Fighter Sale

Friday, July 17, 2009

Feets Don't Fail Me Now

Not surprisingly, it was announced today that Yao Ming will probably miss all of next season after undergoing foot surgery. Not surprising, but still disappointing news for Rockets fans and the millions of Yao supporters worldwide.

I called for the Rockets to cut ties with Yao and Tracy McGrady ages ago (well, maybe not ages), and this certainly hasn't changed my stance. Yao still has $34 million left on his contract when you include the player option he has for 2010/11 and the Rockets should do all they can to get out from under his enormous shadow. While the Rockets won't appear to be very compassionate buying a guy out of his contract while he is injured, they need to worry about fixing their franchise. McGrady and Yao are two huge albatrosses weighing the franchise down, and they must do all that they can to rid themselves of them. Yao wasn't reliable enough even before this latest setback and even if he is able to get back on the court, it may only be a matter of time before the other shoe drops (in this case, the other foot breaks).

This is eerily similar to what happened to another legendary NBA big man, Bill Walton. The Big Redhead was one of the greatest college players of all-time and was on his way to being the same in the pros until fragile feet zapped him of his powers. Basketball is so demanding on your feet it's surprising more players don't have problems with their puppies (maybe today's high tech shoes really are worth their money). In Yao's case, his size probably compounds the problem, as each time he leaves the floor his feet take the brunt of the impact of his 300-plus pounds as he lands again.

While I'm no doctor, I have serious doubts whether Yao's feet will ever be trustworthy enough for him to be a considered a franchise player. The Rockets can't afford to wait around a year or even two to see if he is able to make it back. Its more than just a burden on their salary cap - it is also an emotional burden for everyone involved in the organization, including Yao. The waiting and hoping that he will be healthy again puts too much pressure on both the player and the organization. They weren't winning any titles with Yao anyhow, so the time is now to cut ties and start rebuilding their franchise.

And on more cheerful note, if you haven't heard the stories of the adventures of Mike Miller and his pet monkey, then you need to right now.

Tickets To All NBA Games

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Fight Night Round 4 Review

I stopped being a boxing fan quite a few years ago. I enjoyed the sport back in the days when every Mike Tyson PPV was an event due to his boxing, and not biting, skills. Plus when my hometown hero Lennox Lewis ruled the roost I obviously paid attention. But the million different title holders in a million different weight classes and the rise of MMA pretty much squashed any enthusiasm I had for the sweet science.

So it was with a little trepidation that I popped in a copy of Fight Night Round 4 on my PS3 to review. The fact that I love the UFC Undisputed game made me even more doubtful that Fight Night would be able to hold my attention for long. As is usually the case, my concerns were unnecessary. Surprisingly, I love Fight Night as much as I love UFC Undisputed, perhaps even more. When I played an earlier version of the game years ago I found it difficult to master using the joystick on the controller to throw punches. Now it seems so natural, I can't imagine button mashing instead. You want to throw a right jab, you push the controller up and to the right. A right hook, you hook the joystick up and to the right. Pretty simple stuff.

While the graphics aren't as good as UFC Undisputed, they aren't bad either. Most of the classic fighters that are in the game look pretty realistic, and if you want to create your own fighter you can even upload photos onto the game - nice touch. As you probably know if you've seen the commercials (or from the box for the game) Fight Night allows you to do "dream matchups" pitting some of the sports legends against one another, regardless of weight class or era. So if you've always wondered who would win, Tyson or Ali, you can now find out (sort of, in a virtual way).

My favourite part of the game is the legacy mode, where you create your own fighter and try to rise through the ranks to become a champion. Or if you can't be bothered to create your own pugilist, you can use one of the legends in the game, with their skills stripped down, and try to bring them back to the top.

After playing Fight Night Round 4 for a while you will feel like you've actually boxed for 10 rounds. My eyes are bleary and my thumb sore as I attempt to write this post.

Grab yourself a copy here: - PS3: Fight Night: Round 4 - XBox: Fight Night: Round 4 - PS3: Fight Night Round 4 - XBox: Fight Night Round 4

New Items Marked Down! Shop the UFC Sale

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Not The Answer

Have pity upon thy lowly L.A. Clipper fans, for their team just doesn't get it. As if it wasn't bad enough to have to share an arena with the much more popular Lakers, they are now the WORLD CHAMPION LAKERS. And the Clippers are still the Clippers. But rejoice Clip Nation - all is not lost. Things are actually looking up - you got the first pick in the draft. Better yet, you didn't draft a Michael Olowokandi clone this time, you got the real deal in Blake Griffin. With young, talented wing players in Eric Gordon and Al Thornton things are looking up. You were even able to get rid of Zach Randolph, who is a known carcinogen to young talent. The future's so bright you gotta wear shades.

That is, until this conversation took place in the Clippers war room (an old broom closet that the Lakers weren't using) this week:

Lowly Clipper Lackey - So Boss, what's our next move to strengthen our roster and steer our ship towards the bright future just over the horizon?

The Boss (GM Mike Dunleavy) - Well, I think what we really need now is an undersized, ball-dominant, poor shooting, defensive liability shooting guard who is on the wrong side of 30 and still thinks he's a superstar so he has to be a starter.

Lackey - Brilliant idea Skipper! He'll fit in well with our ball-dominant, poor-shooting, injury prone 30-year-old point guard!

Note to L.A. Clipper management - DO NOT SIGN ALLEN IVERSON!!! When I say do not, I mean don't kinda sign Allen Iverson, or sorta sign Allen Iverson, I mean DO NOT SIGN ALLEN IVERSON!!! Why is it that some people, whenever they have a bit of success and seem to be headed in the right direction find a way to sabotage things. Clippers, AI would sabotage things for you. Iverson doesn't want to come off of the bench, so you're going to send Eric Gordon - who had a very good rookie season - to the bench? You're going to give the minutes Gordon needs to develop to a 34-year-old 6'0" shooting guard who is going to miss 12 shots a night? You're going to introduce Blake Griffin to the NBA by putting him out there with a backcourt that is going to hoist up 40 shots a night? Doesn't Dunleavy know that the contest for the most inept GM is over now that Kevin McHale and Zeke are no longer in the League?

I used to be an Iverson fan. I even risked my life to drive through a horrendous snowstorm to watch him play while he was in college. He is all heart. Fearless. A relentless scorer and competitor. He was perfect for the underdog attitude in Philly. A real life, modern day Rocky. But didn't you see what happened when he left Denver and went to Detroit? Didn't you see the Nuggets become a legit title contender and Detroit implode? Didn't you see him causing grief about coming off the bench? Don't you want to give Gordon and Thornton and Griffin the responsibility, shots and minutes needed to develop? Haven't your fans suffered enough?

You will not become a better team with Allen Iverson and Baron Davis sharing a backcourt. This is only a slight improvement on the nightmare backcourt that was Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis. Don't sign Iverson. Try to trade Davis. If you're going to lose (and trust me, your going to lose with David and Iverson), lose because of youth and inexperience. Not because of bullheadedness and age.

No Clippers, The Answer isn't the correct answer to this question.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

MMA Manifesto - Who's Not Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

I guess the odds makers in Vegas really do know their MMA. All three of their picks for the headline matches at UFC 100 came through - GSP, Henderson and Lesnar. While this was a fairly entertaining PPV to watch, parts of it did leave a bad taste in my mouth.

First off, apparently Dana White and co. need explained to them what the phrase "main event" means. If Henderson-Bisping, GSP-Alves and Mir-Lesnar are your "headline" matches that you are giving the most lead up publicity to, then they should be the last matches on your card, in that order. You don't put the Jon Fitch-Paulo Thiago fight - a fight I was looking forward to see - on after the main event. The crowd was already dead, and to pour more salt in the wounds, the match was pretty slow. Add in a weak main event match leading into this and you end the card on a downer, instead of a high note. Kinda like how performers would never go on stage after James Brown. Some things you just don't follow.

More about the dud of a main event later. On a more positive note, the first three matches on the card - Yoshihiro Akiyama-Alan Belcher, Henderson-Bisping and GSP-Alves - were worth the price of admission. I'm glad Henderson won but, at the same time, I lost a lot of respect for him for pounding a knocked out Bisping in the face knowing full well that he was already seeing birdies. That was one of the most gruesome knockouts I've seen in a while, but the usual classy Henderson should have remained that way rather than pound on the helpless, sleeping Brit.

Nuff respect due (word to Big Daddy Kane) to Thiago Alves for going the distance with Georges St. Pierre. Alves was totally dominated and outclassed by GSP, but I was impressed with the way he was able to thwart off St. Pierre's ground game and get back up to his feet time and again. At only 25-years-old, Alves still has a very bright future ahead of him. Unfortunately for him (and every other 170lb fighter in the world) GSP is only 28-years-old and is only getting more dominant every match. There is NO ONE currently in the weight class who has any shot at beating GSP. Alves had the best chance of the bunch and all that got him was a mangled face. Which causes a dilemma for the UFC. With no one able to legitimately give GSP a run for his money - and the fact that he'll have real trouble moving up a weight class (at least in the very near future) - what is the incentive for people to purchase future PPV's that he headlines? The main reason we are all drawn to sports is the thrill of the unknown. There is no unknown with GSP - we know heading in that he is going to dominate his opponent.

Which brings us to the most disappointing of storylines in the sport - the reign of Brock Lesnar. While Lesnar playing the role of the bad guy is good theater (Vince McMahon taught him well) and makes me want to see him get punched in the face, who has any shot of beating him? Just take a look at Frank Mir's face after the match (photo below) and let me know who wants to step up and be the next contestant in Brock Lesnar's Ground and Pound of Doom?

Lesnar isn't good for the sport for several reasons. First of all, as mentioned above he is so big and strong (and the heavyweight division so weak), that there are no legit challengers for him currently, especially as he gets more experienced. He appeared on the scene at just the right time to dominate. Randy Couture and Minotauro Nogueira have seen their best days, we just saw what he did to Mir, and the next generation of up-and-coming heavyweights aren't ready yet. Additionally, his fights aren't that exciting. He basically just overpowers his opponent and pounds on them, like a bully stealing kids lunch money.

Also, what kind of image of MMA does it convey when an inexperienced fighter can jump right into the sport and dominate? A former professional wrestler no less. With MMA battling to be fully recognized as a legitimate mainstream sport, this is not a good thing. So Brock Lesnar needs to be stopped for the good of the sport. But I don't see anyone currently in the UFC who can do that. So I'm begging - pleading - that Dana White can persuade our white knight from Mother Russia to come over and save us all. Help us Fedor Emelianenko - you're our only hope.

New Items Marked Down! Shop the UFC Sale

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The King Gets Crowned

You are truly blessed - two new posts from me in just over a couple of hours. Give thanks and praises.

I couldn't pass up the chance to talk about the big news of the day. LeBron James and Nike are currently hosting a skills academy for high school players with NCAA guys as counsellors. The organizers claim it isn't a meat market because skill development is emphasized and college coaches aren't allowed to be there to scout. But then they go and invite NBA scouts to it. So, basically, it IS a meat market. Anyhow, as is common at these things, in the evenings the NBA players in attendance and the college guys scrimmage. And in the course of the scrimmage last night, Xavier's Jordan Crawford threw down a nasty dunk on James. No big deal, right? Everyone gets dunked on, especially in pickup games. Hell, I even dunked on people back in my prime and I wasn't exactly the second coming of Tom Chambers.

Well this has become a big deal because of the most recent news that leaked out about it. Apparently shortly after eating the ball, James called over one of his Nike reps and had a little tête-à-tête with him. Shortly after that this rep appeared before some cameramen at the event and confiscated all video of the scrimmage. If this is actually true (and by all current accounts it is), this is the BIGGEST PRIMA DONNA MOVE OF ALL-TIME!!!

Now we'd expect something like this from Kobe (sorry Kobe lovers, but I'm going to cheap shot the guy any chance I get - deal with it), but not from James. I'm sure LeBron and his people are feverishly working on an explanation right now, but the damage has been done already. Basically no one would have cared about him getting dunked on - it was just a little news blurb that would have gone away. Like I said before, everyone gets dunked on. Now this has become a major attack on LeBron's character and manhood, more than getting dunked on by some college kid every would have caused.

I know I called for James to be more interesting, but I didn't mean like this. And to think, this was the man who famously stated in a commercial that "dunk contests are bourgeois". No, Lebron, thinking you are above getting dunked on is bourgeois. Say it aint' so, King.

Read To Achieve - The Breaks of the Game

A book about the 1979/80 Portland Trailblazers, a team that only won 38 games and whose best player was Kermit Washington shouldn't be an interesting read. But, when that subject is put into the hands of a Pulitzer Prize winning writer like David Halberstam, things get interesting. Originally released in 1981, The Breaks of the Game has recently been revived in paperback form and it is well worth your time to pick it up. It is truly one of the greatest basketball books ever written.

Even though he was no longer on the team, the real star of the book is the San Diego Clippers Bill Walton. Walton's shadow still loomed large over the Blazers as the 1980s unfolded, so he rightfully got plenty of ink in the tome. This is what makes Breaks such a classic book - Halberstam spends plenty of time not just documenting the 1979/80 Blazer season, he spends even more time dealing with side issues - race, contract disputes, television deals, biographical info on former players like Walton - in the book. The NBA held a much more precarious position in society at this time than it does today - can you even imagine having to watch the NBA Finals on tape delay at midnight like what happened in those days? So it is very refreshing and entertaining to read about where the NBA was and where it is today.

In terms of the best basketball books of all-time, this one ranks right up there with Heaven is a Playground. So, basically, what I am saying is if you are a basketball fan and you haven't read this book yet you have to RIGHT NOW. And to make anyone who read this book when it originally came out feel old, current NBA player Luke Walton is born at the end of the book, with his dad naming him after former Blazer teammate Maurice Lucas.

You can grab this must-read hoops book here: The Breaks Of The Game

or here: Breaks of the Game, The

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Chemistry 101

I never was good at science - I only took chemistry up to grade 11. However, I do know the importance of chemistry, especially in regards to compiling a winning basketball team. With some of the free agent moves going down this past week, apparently some GMs need a refresher course in Winning Chemistry 101.

Yes, the most important thing for a championship team is talent. You aren't going to win if you don't have a roster full of top-shelf talent. But the most talented team doesn't always win - look no further than the Pistons beating the Kobe-Shaq-Mailman-Glove Lakers squad in 2004. That is because when it comes to adding talent to a roster, eventually the Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in. More talent does not equal more wins and more rings. After a certain point, chemistry and players willing to accept and thrive in the role they are assigned is more important than talent.

I'm of course talking about this past season's top two teams - the Lakers and the Magic - tearing apart their rosters. Both teams' key players were relatively young and thoughts of long time domination for both wasn't a far-flung idea. Then Orlando went out and lost three starters - Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee & Hedo Turkoglu - from this year's team. Its true that Rafer Alston wouldn't have been the starting point guard if Jameer Nelson hadn't been injured, but losing three starters from a championship contending team and only getting Vince Carter back in return isn't a recipe for prolonged success. Then there is the case of the champion Lakers. They have replaced their young breakout star of the playoffs - Trevor Ariza - with the combustible Ron Artest. Now, on paper that is an upgrade in talent - at this point in their careers Artest is the better player of the two. And the defensive intensity that he brings to your team - not to mention his scoring ability - is substantial. But he's not exactly the most stable of players.

This is where that chemistry word comes in to play. Turkoglu - not Dwight Howard - was the heart and soul of the Magic with his versatility and size. Ariza was a formidable third scoring option and solid defender for the Lakers. Not to mention both guys worked well within their team's structures. While adding Carter and Artest might upgrade your talent level, it is at the expense of your team's chemistry and cohesiveness. In my not so humble opinion, the Magic and Lakers are worse off today than they were a few weeks ago. I won't be betting on either to win the title next year (not that I would ever dream of gambling).

I'm a big believer that the core of a team has to be together for a couple of years before they become serious title contenders. While there are exceptions to the rule (2008 Celtics), if you go through the list of recent NBA champions you'll see that their key players were given multiple seasons to gel. The Spurs and the Pistons are prime examples of teams that kept their core guys together for a long time and, subsequently, each spring and summer they were among the last teams standing. Look what happened to the Pistons this season when they did break up their core by shipping out Chauncey Billups.

But you can't put all the blame on the GMs. It is next to impossible to keep winning teams together, especially in today's day and age. There are too many factors conspiring against keeping a team intact. The salary cap and the luxury tax (especially now with the economy tanking). Players with different agendas - some guys aren't interested in being the second or third banana on a team; some guys would rather play closer to home or in a bigger media market; some guys only care about the dough - the highest bidder wins. Basically it is all the same reasons why I argued that they should get rid of the NBA draft. The teams that can keep their big happy families together (those dastardly Spurs) tend to be perennial contenders. But in today's NBA, rightly or wrongly, the players call the shots so teams have to do the best they can patching together their rosters from year to year. Power to the people. Death to the dynasty.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The King of Pop and the King of Hop

As you most definitely know by now, the world lost one of its greatest entertainers this past week in Michael Jackson. Now, I know you are wondering why I'm writing about Michael Jackson on a basketball website, and to that I have answers. Let us not forget that he helped save basketball, or the cameo made by Michael Jordan in his Jam music video. As a child Marvin Gaye used to come over to the Jackson household to play hoops with the boys (video please) and there is a rumored hoops game at Paisley Park between MJ and Prince (VIDEO PLEASE!!). And the King of Pop was even supposed to release a song with Ice Cube called We Be Ballin' that was going to become the theme song for the NBA but never saw the light of day (probably a good thing).

But the main reason I feel MJ's passing is related to basketball is because of how he reminds me of the other MJ, Michael Jordan. And it goes deeper than the mentioned Jam video and the fact that when I interviewed Jordan's son, Jeff, a few years ago he reminisced about a childhood meeting with Jackson. For people growing up in the 1980s (the decade I did most of my growing up in), the MJs were a large part of our childhood. If you came up during this decade, there's a good chance you have the Thriller album and at one point owned a pair of Air Jordans. Both performers truly transcended their genres and were worldwide phenomenons. Being a fan - or at least respecting their talents - was a bonding thread amongst us.

Both men did more than just entertain us - they inspired us. They showed us things we had never seen before (the moonwalk; the above the rim game taken to a new level). They allowed us to dream. But as much as they inspired, they also brought out the worst in their fellow man, especially in Jackson's case. The adage "you can't judge a book by its cover" was never ignored more than in the King of Pop's case. He was roundly viewed as a freak because of the plastic surgery he chose to have done. When a skin condition contributed to the lightening of his complexion the "black or white" jokes rained down. Why is how a person chooses to look so threatening to a society? And - newsflash - artists are SUPPOSED to be eccentric. Eccentricity and flair are necessities for someone to excel in the arts, just like Michael Jordan's ego and competitive drive were essential for him to dominate on the court. And Jordan was also judged based on appearance - at least in the early years. He was viewed as just a flashy player due to his dunks, the long shorts and his fancy shoes when in reality he was as fundamentally sound as they come and a menace on the defensive end of the court.

We also convicted and sentenced both men without a fair trial. Of course Jackson molested kids - he was a weirdo and have you seen what he's done to his nose? Of course Jordan's father was murdered because of his son's gambling problem and of course Jordan didn't really retire from basketball the first time - David Stern suspended him for gambling on the game. I guess that is the tabloid world we live in, but you can't help but wonder if this type of pressure the world put upon Jackson contributed to his untimely demise.

But it is not all sad news. This is a time for us all to reflect and be thankful to be alive during the time that these men plied their crafts. And be thankful that there were serious enough challengers to these men's thrones (Prince, Madonna, Lionel Ritchie; Barkley, Malone, Magic) to push them to new heights. Be thankful that you were witnesses to works of geniuses.

With that being said, mostly Jackson's passing is a very sad time. Sad because we lost a great entertainer. Sad because the way we treat celebrities may have helped lead to his death. But mostly sad because with Jackson's passing we are reminded that we're not kids anymore.

And, in a related note, this man is still alive: