Wednesday, May 26, 2010

LeBron James and the Dangers of Living Vicariously

Are LeBron and I kindred spirits? No. But...well, no.

When it comes to analyzing sports, athletes are often painted in broad archetypes. You have your heroes. These are the fantastic teammates. They play the right way. They rescue player-pianos from burning houses. They win. Going through the NBA, you can rattle off "heroes" with ease - David Robinson, Steve Nash, and, of course, your favorite player on your favorite team. As a Nets fan, I am dying to list Jason Kidd here.

Unfortunately, I cannot. More often than not, athletes are seen as "villains". Not the "scheming to rule the world" type (although I don't rule out Stephen Jackson having a grand machination), but selfish, entitled jerks. Even those with spectacular on-court displays often find themselves tarnished by off-court mistakes, like Kobe Bryant and the aforementioned Kidd.

I followed basketball too much in high school. I knew entire rosters around the league, knew where the players went to college, and watched more than 70 of the Nets' 82 regular seasons (and caught every playoff game). Back then, I was totally into the "heroes" and "villains" thing. The first villain to feel my wrath was Stephon "All Alone 33" Marbury. Marbury and many others probably laid awake at night, unable to sleep due to my scathing criticisms. "This guy doesn't work hard!" "He's not a team player!" "He only cares about the money!"

This dynamic changed in 2003. After graduating high school, LeBron James entered the NBA. Few high school classes can clearly identify who their most successful graduate has been. For the Class of 2003, however, the answer is clearly LeBron James. And, now, there was a player my age (well, 35 days younger) in the NBA.

(Side note: I consider myself a Nets fan, and usually don't buy into following a specific player that some fans do. I know it doesn't make much sense - as I am basically rooting for a corporation [or "laundry" as Jerry Seinfeld once put it, but nowadays even the laundry changes]. It is akin to cheering for Universal Studios movies. But, with LeBron, I've made an exception to my silly rule.)

As the years progressed, LeBron grew and adapted to his new world, and so did I. Younger players continued to infiltrate the NBA, and soon my criticisms seemed petty and cantankerous. I don't work hard. I'm not a team player. I only care about the money. Where do I get off criticizing these kids?

Extreme narcissism allows me to continue to track my life along with LeBron. That's why I'm writing this. After his defeat in the second round of the 2010 Playoffs, the media came down on him, and began to write him off as another NBA "villain". Maybe his teammates weren't the problem - maybe LeBron just couldn't win a title. Maybe he'll abandon his team for selfish reasons. Maybe his mom is banging his teammate.

Extreme narcissism (and perhaps some delusion) allows me to deny these insinuations. I mean, LeBron is MY generation. It cannot be over already, right? Sure, he's been in the NBA for 7 years without the all-important ring, but he is (and I am) only 25. Sure, we're all a bit scared and thinking that maybe we ain't that young anymore. The Class of 2003 hasn't had their lives go according to the script - there haven't been multiple titles, but we do have our highlights and game-winning shots. And we're still fighting, trying to cement our legacy.

So what should LeBron do? You know just as well as I do. However, I felt my life significantly improved once I left my hometown. That isn't an indictment of Nutley, New Jersey, mind you. I was just forced to get out of my comfort zone and experience new challenges. I'm a Nets fan first and foremost, and would love to see him come here, but I do not see it happening. But, for his sake, I believe he needs to leave Cleveland behind.

Furthermore, I think Cleveland is cursed. Like the Los Angeles Clippers, the city has openly mocked Native Americans with the Cleveland Indians for far too long. It is no wonder that bad karma has always gone this city's way. So, pick a new team LeBron - if not for yourself, then for your generation. It is a town full of losers, and he has to pull out of there to win.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Draft Lottery - Quick Thoughts

I know it has been nearly a week since the draft lottery did not go the Nets way. But, there was a ton of hullabaloo about the Nets this week, so I figured it is best to sit out the shitstorm, and come at it with a fresh mind. A few quick thoughts:

- Well, my dorky white guy corollary did not come true this year. This lady won:

...and I should have seen it coming. This seems to be the year (possibly decade) for old ladies. First, Nancy Pelosi is instrumental in passing national healthcare, then Betty White hosts Saturday Night Live, then Irene Pollin takes home John Wall. What's next? I'm betting on Estelle Harris winning an Oscar.

- It isn't the end of the world. Duh. Assuming there are no crazy trades involved, taking Favors (or Cousins) alleviates the Nets need to sign a power forward to a big money deal (although I think they should try for a one year rental of Troy Murphy, but that's another subject). The main targets - Amare, Boozer, and David Lee - will probably get huge contracts that may end up looking like Jermaine O'Neal's or Tracy McGrady's contracts in a couple years. Granted, if Philadelphia drafts Cousins at #2 and the Nets take Turner at #3, I'll probably be taking all of these words back.

- I know nothing about college basketball, but I do know that every time the Nets were involved with someone who had character issues before being drafted, it did not end well. One is an 11th man in the NBA (Marcus Williams), one is out of the league (Sean Williams), and one is deceased (Eddie Griffin). With that in mind, I'd prefer the safe pick of Derrick Favors rather than the "high risk" DeMarcus Cousins. Plus, "Der-rick Fav-ors" is way easier to chant. But, knowing the Nets, whichever one of these two they draft, the other one will have a better career.

That's it for now. The draft is just a month away, and the free agent speculation is heating up. While I don't like doing mock drafts and mock offseasons, I do hope that the Nets play it conservative this offseason. Obviously, I'd love LeBron on the team, but I'd be happy with drafting Favors, a shooter, and a backup point guard, then making a move for a player with an expiring contract (such as the aforementioned Murphy or Andrei Kirilenko). Rome wasn't built in a day.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mikhail Prokhorov: "I am Iron Man."

Mikhail Prokhorov is just days away from getting approval by the NBA to control the Nets. This is, quite easily, the best piece of news for Nets fans in the time that I've been running this blog. While having an uber-rich owner does not guarantee success (see Dallas and Portland), it will surely signal the hopelessness we as Nets fans have felt since Ratner took over and started cutting costs in 2004. With a limited budget, the Nets could only get so far and offer so much. In a way, Prokhorov coming to the Nets is reminiscent of Iron Man coming to America - he cannot guarantee world peace, but goddamn, it is awesome having him around. Also...

Both Tony Stark and Prokhorov are billionaires, using their vast resources on something completely impractical. Basketball teams are notorious for operating in the red. And, Iron Man? Not only does the suit cost billions, but you have to factor in the evil scientists stealing the technology and the billions of dollars caused in collateral damage during the fights in Iron Man 1 and 2. Hey Tony, it is probably better to use that money to, say, feed the poor, build hospitals, etc. But...

Both have a flair for the dramatic. Tony Stark loves to ride around in his Iron Man suit and hold parties with garish neon lights in Queens. Prokhorov loves to ride on jet skis, while a video team films it, and then set this footage to hardcore metal. Gotta say, these are the types of things that an 8-year-old would come up with if given that type of money. This attitude can cause problems, as....

Both have trouble with government bodies. Gary Shandling was busting Stark's balls in Iron Man 2, while the French government busted Mikhail for buying prostitutes for his business clients. However, it all worked out for them: Shandling was forced to basically kiss Iron Man's ass; and Prokhorov was forced to sell his company weeks before it would lose nearly half of its value. Finally...

Both love the ladies! Both are bachelors well into their 40s, but it isn't because they are immature men-children with tons of money and commitment issues. God no. They just haven't found their soul mates! Tony needs a woman who can keep up with his lust for life, and Mikhail needs a lady who can cook!

Now, from what I can gather from the two movies, Tony Stark does have some more advantages. He's thwarted villains (I am eagerly anticipating the rivalry between Prokhorov and Jim Dolan), has a trusty token African-American sidekick who changes appearances from film to film (I have a feeling this will be what happens to the coach), and he has a father with one of the most disturbing hair dye and fake mustaches in film history (seriously, what was with that?). But, unlike Iron Man, the Nets will be one continuous summer blockbuster this year, as the coach search, draft, and free agency will give Prokhorov more opportunities to make a name for himself.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Idiot Tax - Fixing the NBA Draft Lottery

Every May, the NBA holds its draft lottery to determine the top 3 picks. It gives every team that missed the playoffs varying odds on winning the top pick. This system is based on the idea of no tanking. If you purposely lose games, there is only so high of a pick you can guarantee yourself. The Nets (who did not tank, but rather perfected losing) are this year's worst team, and are guaranteed no lower than pick number four.

Now, as a fan of the Nets, I am dreading the draft lottery. I just suffered watching the worst season in team history, and now there is a 75% chance that the pain will increase. Does this system make sense? Let's examine.

As mentioned earlier, this system relies on the "no tanking" principle. However, there is still tanking that goes on regardless among non-playoff teams, as they will shut down their top players to get more "lottery balls" for the draft. Furthermore, there are also cases of playoff teams tanking to ensure a favorable first round match-up. So, the system is already broken and not carrying out its sole purpose. I say we scrap it.

My idea: back to basics. The worst team gets the top pick. Sure, you may have some tanking, but will there be more than what is going on right now? It gives fans of losing teams some optimism, rather than another kick in the teeth. It is also in the league's best interest to have all teams being competitive - so why not give the worst team a shot at the best player? The NFL does it, and they are only the most successful sports organization in the country. Furthermore, we get an extra month of mock drafts! Who doesn't love those?

But, obviously, this won't change the Nets' current situation. I am fully bracing myself for a Derrick Favors/Wesley Johnson debate. My advice for the Nets: send me to the NBA Draft Lottery. Why? I am a dorky white guy. Teams usually use this opportunity to send players, coaches, or celebrities associated with the team (Jay-Z went two years ago to represent the Nets). But who wins? Well let's see...

Lewis Katz represented the Nets last time they won the draft lottery in 2000.

In recent years, the Bulls were represented by this guy when they won...

And this dude represented the Clippers last year...

Notice the trend here? Dorky white guys are winning the draft lottery! And I'm the dorkiest, whitest, guyest guy I know! Prokhorov, I await your call.