Bestern Conference

Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki's summer vacation was all about travelling the world and engaging in meaningful introspection. Hopefully these experiences have provided him with the insight and perspective necessary to deal with this season's inevitable playoff disappointment. Oh, and somebody should tell Josh Howard that blindsiding Brad Miller doesn't make you tough.

Enver Nuggets: That isn't a typo. There's no "D" in Denver. Until that changes -- and trust me, it won't -- this team won't "contend" for anything more than 45-50 wins and a first-round playoff exit.

Golden State Warriors: Last year's Cinderella Team is going to be this year's floundering disappointment. Seriously, don't expect the Warriors to revive the magic of last year's late-season surge and improbable playoff run.

Houston Rockets: The Rockets really beefed up their team in the offseason, and they now feature a second unit of Mike James, Steve Francis, Luther Head, Bonzi Wells, and Dikembe Mutombo. As benches go, that one's not half bad; it's only about 2/5 bad. But until Yao Ming stays healthy for a full season and Tracy McGrady figures out how to close out a first-round playoff series, I'll hold off on preordering my Houston Rockets championship t-shirts.

And yes, I know they have a new coach and a new offensive philosophy. But Rick Adelman couldn't win a title while coaching some wildly talented teams in Portland and Sacramento. I can't say I have much confidence that's going to change now.

Los Angeles Clippers: No Elton Brand means no reason to follow the Clippers this season.

Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe, Kobe, Kobe. God, I'm sick of Kobe. Will he or won't he be traded? The drama never ends. But this team isn't going to be a contender with or without Kobe. Yes,'s a good time to hate the Lakers.

Memphis Grizzlies: Ah, Memphis, the latest stop in the "Darko Milicic might finally fulfill his potential" tour. The Magic Eight Ball says "not likely." A lot of people expect Pau Gasol to have a big year since he's finally healthy and the team signed his best friend, Juan Carlos Navarro. But last time I checked, the team's starting point guard is still Damon Stoudemire, their starting center is still Stromile Swift, and Brian Cardinal still has three years and more than $18 million left on his contract. And I'm supposed to be excited about this team?

Minnesota Timberwolves: What a mess. Look, I'm not going to criticize the Kevin Garnett trade because it was waaaay past time to let KG go, and in return the 'Wolves got some promising young players, a couple first-round draft picks, and future salary relief. That's the best return-on-investment we've seen in any recent superstar trade (just ask the Lakers and 76ers). But dealing Ricky Davis and Mark Blount for Antoine Walker's mummified remains?! There are four years and almost $40 million left on his contract! Did Pat Riley slip Kevin McHale some roofies during their negotiations? Man, oh man...

Here's one sidenote to the McHale-as-GM Era. Garnett's defenders like to point out that the "only" time McHale gave KG some quality teammates -- specifically Sam Cassell and Latrell Spreewell -- the team won 58 games and made it to the Western Conference Finals. Somehow, this has become Exhibit A in the Case of Kevin McHale Sucks As A GM. But here’s the thing: Cassell and Spreewell were around the next season, too, and the team won only 44 games and failed to make the playoffs. That was because Sam and Spree were upset the team didn't immediately offer them lucrative contract extensions, and so they basically sandbagged the whole season. How exactly was that McHale's fault? And why doesn't anybody remember it?

New Orleans Hornets: Okay, real quick, name three Hornets who aren't named "Chris Paul." Yeah, didn't think so. Look, this team has some talented young players and a few moderately decent veterans. They'll win a few games they should've lost, lose several games they should've won, and end up right back in lottery after everything's said and done. End of story.

Phoenix Suns: The Suns really should have gone all-out to get Kevin Garnett in the offseason, even if it meant giving up Amare Stoudemire. They probably won't fully realize this until right after they lose Game 1 of the 2008 Western Conference Finals to the Spurs.

Portland Trailblazers: The Blazers lost their aging center before the season even started. Before, in fact, he had even played his first ever NBA game. We all wish Greg Oden a speedy recovery. I actually read one NBA season preview that said, "In Oden's absence, the Blazers will need a big contribution from Joel Przybilla." I promise you that the writer was completely serious, too. Anyway, if that's what the Blazers need, then you can officially relegate this season to being one long training camp for next season.

Sacramento Kings: Losing Mike Bibby for the first six-to-eight weeks of the regular season will really hurt the Kings' chances of winning 35-40 games and not making the playoffs. Now they'll probably win only 30-35 games and not make the playoffs. On the upside, I figure we're only about a month(ish) away from Ron Artest's next outburst / trade demand / psychotic episode.

San Antonio Spurs: Tim Duncan is the best player in the NBA, and has been for most of the last decade. There. I said it. Prepare for boring championship numero cinco of the Duncan Era. But look at the bright side, rest of the NBA. Maybe a meteor will hit Duncan's house.

Seriously, though, look at Duncan's team. Tony Parker is an excellent scorer but isn't proficient at running an offense (although, in that system, he really doesn't have to be). Manu Ginobili is really good at a lot of things and great at nothing (except for flopping, of course). Brent Barry, Bruce Bown, Michael Finley, and Robert Horry are all in their mid to late 30s. Their starting center is Fabricio Oberto. That backup point guard is Jacque Vaughn. You know why these guys all look as good as they do? Because Tim Duncan makes everybody better. Kobe should watch Duncan and take notes.

Seattle Supersonics: The city of Seattle is a pretty depressing place. It rains almost every day, the sun only shines five or six days per year, and it's cold most of the year. But damn it, at least the city has its Starbucks and the Supersonics! Oh, wait; they might not have the Sonics much longer. Hopefully Kevin Durant can thrill and entertain the fans during what may well be the team's farewell tour.

Utah Jazz: Rumor has it that Jerry Sloan has acquiesced to team owner Larry Miller's edict and is now complimenting Andre Kirilenko at least as often as he criticizes him. Sloan has also agreed to hand out unicorn stickers for every properly executed pick and roll and will bake cookies for any player who gets a DNP-CD.

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Nash fix
It's going to take more than a hammer
to fix the Suns' problems this year. published a huge NBA Season Preview on Friday. Some of you may (or may not ) have noticed that Basketbawful was asked -- via Henry Abbot at TrueHoop -- to say a few words on the Phoenix Suns.

Since my contribution was limited to 100 words, I'm going to expand on my thoughts here. It's no secret that I really dig the Suns and want them to win an NBA title, partly because they're a great team, and partly to stick it in the face of the naysayers who take shots at Steve Nash and claim that fastbreak teams can't win championships (uh, Showtime Lakers, anyone?).

The good news is that the Suns are one of the three, maybe four teams that have a legitimate shot at winning it all this year. Of course, the same thing was true the last three seasons as well, but it didn't happen for a variety of legitimate reasons: Injuries (to Joe Johnson during the '05 playoffs, to Amare Stoudemire and Tim Thomas in '06), departures (of Joe Johnson and Quentin Richardson in '06), and of course The Suspensions.

Unfortunately, these near misses have established a disastrous mindset in The Valley, as evidenced by the Suns' offseason strategy, which can be best described as "hold steady." They gave away Kurt Thomas and two future first-round draft picks for a second-round pick and some cash relief. Not only did that move potentially handicap them in the future, it also hurt them in the present: They no longer have an interior defender to guard anybody, let alone Tim Duncan. They ostensibly addressed their depth issues by picking up Grant Hill on the cheap, but considering Hill's age and history of injuries, it's hard to imagine him playing a fulll season, much less becoming the "missing piece" that pushes the Suns over the top.

I'd feel better if the Suns had dealt for Kevin Garnett, or if they'd converted one or more of their tradable assets into an influx of young talent. I understand money was an issue. Robert Sarver wants to stay under the salary cap, and he hired GM Steve Kerr to make sure that happened. But the team didn't improve at all. In a best-case scenario, they're "as good" as last year; they might also be worse.

Here's one seemingly incontrovertable truth of the NBA: If a team wasn't good enough to win a championship one year, it won't be good enough to win one the next year without making one or significant offseason moves. Looking back in my lifetime, I can see many examples of this. The Lakers added Magic Johnson in '80. The Celtics added Robert Parish and Kevin McHale in '81. The 76ers added Moses Malone in '83. The Celtics added Dennis Johnson in '84 and Bill Walton in '86. The Lakers added Mychal Thompson in '87. The Pistons added James Edwards in '88 (although he didn't pay off until '89). The Rockets added Clyde Drexler in '05. The Bulls added Dennis Rodman in '96. The Pistons added Rasheed Wallace in '04. The Heat overhauled their roster in '06. And the Spurs have made a variety of little tweeks during their championship runs.

The Suns are going to win around 60 games this season. They're going to make noise in the playoffs. But they have to address so many questions: How long will Steve Nash's body hold up? How about Amare's knees? Hill's everything? Can Shawn Marion keep his chin up? Will Boris Diaw step up his game? How much will all of these guys have left in the tank in May?

I'd love it if the Suns could answer these questions and win a title. I just don't think they can.

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When I was just a wee tot, my mom taught me that if you don't have anything nice to say, you shouldn't say anything at all. Then, after almost 20 years of silence, she begged me to start talking again. Which is great, because I have a lot of not-so-nice things to say about the NBA's Eastern Conference.

Atlanta Hawks: I have never forgiven the Hawks for trading Dominique Wilkins to the Clippers in '94. And neither has God. That's like sending your favorite grandfather to the nursing home where they serve cat food and administer nightly beatings. Some people might think that the last decade worth of losing seasons was enough of a punishment, but I don't. And neither does God.

Boston Celtics: I've been a Boston Celtics fan for my entire life, so I was intially thrilled that the Celtics had acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Finally, the team was relevant again! Finally, they might actually be contenders again! However, the media fellatio being performed on the Red Sox and Patriots is starting to make me hate anything and everything related to Boston. I even tossed a brick through the window of a Boston Market last night. Can I really root against one of my all-time favorite teams? Check back with me after the World Series.

Charlotte Bobcats: This is a promising team with a lot of young talent, but I don't think they can overcome season-ending injuries to Sean May and Adam Morrison. And that should tell you pretty much all you need to know about the Bobcats.

Chicago Bulls: Speaking of promising teams with a lot of young talent. Thanks to the continuing development of the core group (Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon) and the additions of Joakim Noah and Joe Smith, the Bulls should be even better this year. But even though this team should win 50+ games and will win a playoff series or two, I just can't see them making it to the Finals without a go-to guy or a low-post scorer.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Sasha Pavlovic and Anderson Varejao are still holding out. Look, I know the Cavs got to be the Spurs' hors d'oeuvres in the NBA Finals last year, but when the ultimate fate of your team comes down to guys like Pavlovic and Varejao...well, I think it's safe to say Cleveland won't be making a return trip to the Finals.

Detroit Pistons: These guys are like the NBA equivalent of a horror-movie killer: They never go away. Why, Pistons? Why won't you go away?

Indiana Pacers: With the additions of Travis Diener and Stanko Barac to a team that already featured Jeff Foster, Mike Dunleavy Jr., and Troy Murphy, the Pacers are whiter than ever. That might not be good for wins, but thanks to white privilege at least a couple of these guys should make the All-Star Team or win an MVP, right?

Miami Heat: Pat Riley pulled off a total coup by unloading Antoine Walker's rotting corpse (8.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 39 percent shooting) and a couple nobodies for Ricky Davis (17.0 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 4.8 APG) and Mark Blount (12.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 50 percent shooting). But think about that: If your team is radically improved by the acquisition of Davis and Blount, you're in big trouble.

Orlando Magic: I still can't believe the Magic signed Rashard Lewis to a $118 million contract. Unless the Magic know something about Lewis nobody else knows -- like the fact that a single drop of his sweat grants eternal life -- they're paying about $60 million more than they should be. And outside of Dwight Howard, the rest of the Magic's roster is just kind of sad.

Milwaukee Bucks: You know, that Yi Jianlian hasn't looked half-bad in the preseason. He even had a 15 point, 12 rebound night against the Timberwolves. But he's no Wang Zhizhi. Need I say more?

New Jersey Nets: Will Vince Carter's new $61.8 million contract inspire him to improve his game? Did Jason Kidd spend the summer working on his jumpshot? Can Richard Jefferson finally stay healthy enough to finally fulfill his potential and justify the $78 million contract he signed in 2004? The answers to these questions are: No, no, and no. That should make the answer to "Are the Nets contenders?" pretty self-evident.

New York Knicks: I won't be able to take this team seriously while Isiah Thomas is still the GM and coach. Until that situation changes, they're doomed, and anybody who says differently should be punched in the face.

Philadelphia 76ers: In non-basketball related news, did you see Brian Griese lead the Bears on a last-minute, 97-yard touchdown drive to beat the Eagles last Sunday? Not Bob Griese, Brian Griese. The is the same guy who injured himself by tripping on a driveway (because it was "too steep") and then later injured himself falling down a flight of stairs (because his dog ran down the stairs and "clipped" him). This of course came a few weeks after the Eagles' quarterback, Donovan McNabb got sacked 12 times, probably because he's black, and black quarterbacks get criticized more than white quarterbacks. Or something like that. Anyway, the Eagles are 2-4 and I really doubt the 76ers are going to do much better. I just feel so sorry for Philidelphia sports fans. Seriously.

Toronto Raptors: I must be slipping, because I don't have a single bad thing to say about this team. I mean, other than that they overpaid for Jason Kapono. And that they haven't sorted out their point guard issues. And nobody on that team can play defense. And they can't really score on the inside. Other than that, they're solid.

Washington Wizards: The Wizards biggest offseason "moves" were surgeries for Gilbert Arenas (knee) and Etan Thomas (heart). Thomas is out for the season and Arenas has shot 29 percent (15-of-51) in five preseason games. So, you know, if you live in Washington, I wouldn't suggest getting your hopes up.

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The Basketbawful spies are everywhere. Literally. Case in point: The September issue of HOOP magazine, the NBA's official bi-monthly publication, contains a very special Easter egg. A seven-foot, two-inch, incredibly funny-looking Easter egg. Check out the S in HITS:


Okay, now take a closer look:


Yep. That's our boy. Here's a mug shot for comparison purposes:

Greg Face

I assure you, this isn't a gag or some form of Photoshop trickery. Somebody at Hoop actually faded Ostertag's funky coconut into the cover's background. It's good to see the big guy is gone but not forgotten. Especially the "gone" part.

Greg-tastic Trivia: Ostertag claimed he was once abducted by aliens and replaced by an imposter. Seriously.

A note of appreciation: This post was made possible by the acute and penetrating observations of LooseChange from The Penny Tray.

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Unibrow compiled a list of the 10 Greatest Crying Moments in Sports. Six of the 10 videos featured weeping basketball players, which is kind of sad. After all, real men don't cry tears. They cry barbed wire fencing and explosions. Make of that what you will.

One strange and unforgivable omission from Unibrow's list was Adam Morrison writhing around on the floor after Gonzaga was beaten by UCLA in the 2006 NCAA Tournament. I will correct that mistake

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Legitimate MVP, or simply the poster boy
for a vast white-wing conspiracy?

white-wing conspiracy (wit wing kuhn-spir'-uh-se) noun. The theory that there is a vast positive bias -- be it unconscious or calculated -- given to white basketball players by the mostly white media. Some people believe that this prejudice led directly to Steve Nash's back-to-back MVP awards as well as his overall reputation as an NBA savior.

Usage example: [Some snark from Hardwood Paroxysm] "Jon Barry does a bit of instant history and he's part of a vast white-wing conspiracy to supplant black NBA stars of the past with Nash and his army of Canadian clones."

Word Trivia: After the Boston Celtics defeated the Detroit Pistons in Game 7 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals, Dennis Rodman flatly stated that Larry Bird was ''very overrated'' and that Bird had won three consecutive MVPs only ''because he was white.'' When asked if he agreed with Rodman's assessment, Isiah Thomas said, "'Larry Bird is a very, very good basketball player, but I'd have to agree with Dennis. If he was black, he'd be just another good guy.''

That one ridiculous comment almost destroyed Isiah's reputation, and he claimed afterward that it was only a joke (and we all know how honest Isiah is). But many a truth is said in jest, and the truth is that Isiah and a lot of other people felt (and probably still feel) that Bird received undue attention and accolades because of his relatively pasty complexion. Those people and their present-day counterparts also believe that Nash's chalky hue is largely responsible for the praise and recognition that's doted on him by the white-washed press corps. Is a little achromatism all it takes to own the NBA?

Just ask John Stockton. He had several years in which his numbers were on par with or better than Nash's, and he even led the Jazz to the NBA Finals in '97 and '98. But the white-wing conspiracy must have failed, because Karl Malone won Stockton's MVPs. Okay then, maybe we should ask Jason Kidd. Oh, but he's only half white. Maybe that's why he lost the 2002 MVP to Tim Duncan , who happens to be all black. And I forget, how many MVPs did Kevin McHale, Tom Chambers, Chris Mullin, Jeff Hornacek, Detlef Schrempf, Mark Price, and Tom Gugliotta win between them? That's right: Zero.

I'm not saying Nash's skin color might not have been one factor amid many others, but I do think it was a very small factor that paled (get it?) in comparison to other more important winning. This particular conspiracy theory -- like most others involving the NBA -- is wildly overblown.

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Answer me this: Was anybody really surprised when Brad Miller punked Devin Harris the other night? Miller may have a pretty face, but he also has a history of setting teeth-rattling picks and committing bone-jarring fouls. But he's a Big White Center. That's what Big White Centers do. It's been standard procedure since the days when "Jungle" Jim Loscutoff was roaming the hardwood.

What actually was surprising was Josh Howard's reaction, namely sprinting 80 feet downcourt and delivering a flying elbow the the back of Miller's beautifully cornrowed coconut.

Howard claims he was just protecting his teammate from a dirty play. I guess his mother never taught him that two wrongs don't make a right, since blindsiding somebody with a sucker punch to the head is about as dirty as it gets. And you know what? He wasn't "protecting" anybody from anything. It's not like Miller had Harris in a choke hold or anything. There's a difference between protection and revenge.

The word out of Dallas is that this isn't the first time Miller has taken a shot at Harris. Harris claims that it's happened three other times, and that he was even knocked out of a game one of those times. Personally, I think Harris is a bit of a drama queen. Watch the video closely and you'll notice that he puts a little extra mustard on his fall. You'll also notice that things had calmed down right before Howard's sneak attack, but Harris still decided to take an extra shot at the dazed Miller after said sneak attack.

This is nothing new for Miller, though. Back on January 12, 2002, Shaq responded to a hard foul* by taking a clumsy swing at Brad Miller's head. The only reason Brad's still among the living is that Shaq missed, although I understand the gust of wind generated by Shaq's arm was equal to a Category 3 hurricane and actually killed three people in the crowd. Like Howard, Shaq took his cheap shot while Miller's back was turned. What's up with that?

*The foul was actually committed by Charles Oakley, who also hit Miller in the face on the same play. That's the reason Miller was stumbling away from Shaq, which helped him to avoid Shaq's clubbing blow. I'm not sure whether Shaq new who had actually fouled him, but I'm guessing that, if he had known, he wouldn't have taken a swipe at Oak.

The video is great. Shaq tries to hit Miller, Miller retreats in abject fear, Shaq lumbers around like a rampaging bear, Ron Artest and Charles Oakley jump on Shaq's back, and Miller somehow ends up shirtless. Best of all, Chicago's hometown announcers Johnny "Red" Kerr and Wayne Larrivee call the action. The funniest line belonged to Larrivee: "Shaq is violent!"

One last note: Brad Miller has been in two relatively serious confrontations during his career. Ron Artest was his teammate both times. Coincidence? Maybe Artest just brings The Crazy with him?

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An artist's interpretation of our interview with Henry.

ESPN's TrueHoop is as routinely awesome as a Tim Duncan bankshot or a Phoenix Suns fast break. TrueHoop's founder and man of fortune is Henry Abbott. Fair-minded and well-spoken, Henry provides a continuing commentary not about the game of basketball, but about the essence of basketball: Its players, events, and culture. Yesterday, he was kind enough to answer a series of questions that were designed to delve into his heretofore untapped dark side. Unfortunately, the interview didn't lead to Henry choking people with his mind or executing order 66. But we did learn -- among other things -- that he loves t-shirt cannons, watches HBO serial dramas, knows what solipsism means and can use it in a sentence, and thinks that Larry Bird is...not pretty. Read on to find out more about the things Henry doesn't like about basketball, and a few things he does.

Basketbawful: You love hoops. That much is obvious. But there must be something you hate about basketball. A pet peeve. An annoyance. A perturbation, if you will. What is it?

Henry Abbott: Oh, I sound like an old man with this I'm sure, but I get so tired of going to an NBA game, and being directed by the Game-Ops people to be UP AND INTO IT at every stupid moment there's a dead ball. I think events need to have a certain pace -- exciting times, and more restful times. Times you stand up, and times you sit down. Times you talk to your friend, and times you scream your guts out. I'd rather have the wild and exciting parts coincide with the most exciting parts of the basketball game -- not the timeouts.

Basketbawful: Red Auerbach is resting peacefully in his grave now that you've said that. I hate the manufactured excitement, too. Do you participate or tune out?

Henry Abbott: Usually I'm in the media section, where you pretty much are required to look glum. It's the code. If I'm with friends, though, I'll try to make the best of it.

I should make a side note: I love the t-shirt cannon. Don't want the t-shirt. Don't care about the hoopla. I just think the t-shirt, tumbling high as hell through the air, is beautiful, in the sense that that kid in American Beauty loved his video of a plastic shopping bag swirling around in the wind. Somebody needs to make a scene in a movie where time stops as we watch that little bundle of t-shirt make its way through stadium space. It's amazing, somehow.

I'm also kind of partial to the parachute drop.

But I will not abide people telling me to stand up during the timeout, when we were all seated during the game. If the game requires it, I'm up.

Basketbawful: What annoys you most about basketball players? This can be a generalization, or something specific regarding a particular player or group of players.

Henry Abbott: A fair percentage of all celebrities are so self-centered it hurts. Many are not, but some are. I learned the fantastic word "solipsism" in a Korean Civilization class in college, it was describing the former Korean dictator Kim Il Sung, but you could also use it on some NBA superstars.

Word-tastic Trivia: Solipsism is the theory that the self can be aware of nothing but its own experiences and states. It's the educated man's way to say that people are, by nature, selfish bastards.

Basketbawful: Same question, but replace "players" with "coaches."

Henry Abbott: Some coaches feel emboldened to scream at people and demean them. I accept that happens sometimes, but I think it's good if we agree that is not the best part of sports, and is worth avoiding.

Basketbawful: On the flipside, how can certain coaches deal with players who won't listen? Particularly players who you know are going to play? (Like when Chris Ford tried to put the clamps on Allen Iverson.)

Henry Abbott: That's the deal, right? They won't listen. I'll tell you that right now, before you take your coaching job. None of them will, unless you have something special to tell them. They don't have to. You make x and have a non-guaranteed contract. They make 10x and have guaranteed contracts. Ergo, you can lead them only as far as you can entice them. They are mice. Your coaching plans better smell like cheese.

Honestly, though, I was thinking more of, say, Gregg Popovich ripping some foreign reporter a new one.

Basketbawful: Random question: Favorite superhero?

Henry Abbott: Terry Porter. Don't even tell me he's not a superhero.

Basketbawful: I wouldn't dream of it. I loved Terry on those late 80s / early 90s Blazers teams. But what was up with that scar on his arm?

Henry Abbott: I asked him about that! I always assumed he was in some fearsome Wisconsin street gang. (That was always faulty logic.) The truth, he says, is that he was "a Curious George" one time when his mother was cooking, and a huge pot of boiling water dumped on his arm. Terrifying moment of his life -- and he says he's still a little wary approaching hot things on stoves.

Basketbawful: Okay, what annoys you about team owners / general managers / etc.

Henry Abbott: Owners are typically billionaires living out their dreams. Many are great, obviously. But that unrestrained, bigger than life feeling can lead to the same kinds of harassment, DUI, and sexual weirdness stories that dog superstar athletes. Thrown in some obscure transactions starring taxpayer dollars, and I'm sure there's plenty of reason for concern.
Basketbawful: What kinds of things do basketball fans do or say that gets you riled up?

Henry Abbott: Drunk idiots yelling, in any environment, can be annoying. It doesn't bother me much, but I imagine it will start to as my kids get older and I start taking them to games.

Basketbawful: What about fans in non-game situations? Particularly the increasing scads of bloggers and commenters. They / we can be pretty reactionary at times.

Henry Abbott: Oh, yeah, but what did you expect? I have low expectations for the level of discourse, and have pleasant surprises day in and day out.

Basketbawful: I know you're a Portland Trailblazers fan. What's been your worst, or most painful moment (or moments) following the Blazers?

Henry Abbott: Probably that moment when Shaquille O'Neal threw down that monster alley-oop, all but assuring Portland would not make the 2000 Finals. That collapse was dreadful to watch. That team didn't deserve it, but I had defended Rasheed Wallace, Damon Stoudamire and the like in stupid sports discussions for years. Then they just lost their minds. And if they had held on to their massive fourth-quarter lead, they would have won a title. A title!

Basketbawful: Hey now, hey now! Don't go disrespecting my Pacers. They may have lost to L.A. in the Finals that year, but they matched up better against the Blazers (if only because Rik Smits' corpse was trying, and failing, to defend Shaq) and in fact swept the season series against them. I don't think the Blazers winning the title was a foregone conclusion.

Henry Abbott: Must you take that from me, too?

Basketbawful: Right. Sorry. Uh, moving on then...what has been your overall worst moment as a basketball aficionado, period?

Henry Abbott: Times 1-100 that I have been stood up by some big shot who promised to meet or call at a certain time. A lot of people in the NBA work on their own schedule, and if they're famous, that's something you just have to kind of roll with.

Basketbawful: Random question: Favorite movie?

Henry Abbott: Does The Wire count as a movie? I was raised on stuff like The Life of Brian, Apocalypse Now, The Fugitive, and The Empire Strike Back. I have seen a million better movies since those days, but nothing has nestled so deeply in my soul.

Basketbawful: No, The Wire doesn't count. It's great drama, though. Speaking of drama, have you ever felt the glorious power of hatred toward a particular player or team? Even if that hatred didn't last. Like maybe an old Trailblazer rival?

Henry Abbott: No, honestly, the Blazers are the best entertainment I know of, but they're still only entertainment. In a world with wars and shootings, I can't bother to hate someone for how they play basketball.

Basketbawful: Okay, okay. Maybe you've never hated anybody. But has there ever been a team or player that just got under your skin, and that, on some level, you enjoyed seeing them be defeated (fairly, in a good game)?

Henry Abbott: I grew up in Portland! So the only real answer is the Lakers. But I don't really dislike any of the Laker players, and at this point they're not so terrible to me.

Basketbawful: That was a beautiful answer. Down with the Lakers! Uh, anyway. On the subject of Trailblazer rivals...everybody knows how Michael Jordan tormented Portland in the '92 Finals. But Larry Bird tormented Portland throughout his entire career. He averaged over 30 PPG a game against them. There was one four-year stretch (1984 through 1988) that he averaged over 40 PPG against them. He had two games against them in which he had over 40 points and a triple double (47 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists on February 14, 1986; and 49 points -- the record for most points scored while recording a triple double -- 14 rebounds, and 12 assists on March 15, 1992). He beat the Blazers with buzzer beaters in '85 and '86 (in the '86 game, he hit buzzer-beaters in both regulation to tie it and overtime to win it). He also had the famous buzzer-beater in '92 that you see in almost every Bird highlight reel. Were you aware of this? Do you have any idea why Bird hated the Blazers so much? Did rampaging Trailblazers attack his hometown when he was growing up or something?

Henry Abbott: In basketball terms, consistently playing your best against a certain opponent is not hatred. That's respect. That means he circled those games on his calendar.

Basketbawful: Back in middle school, I could not beat the first Mega Man game on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. I got so mad that I put the game away and swore I'd never play it again. Of course, I played it again later that same day. Have you ever felt that way about basketball? Like you didn't want to watch it anymore? Or maybe you didn't want to watch a particular team or player anymore?

Henry Abbott: Honestly, no. There are moments I'm dissatisfied with this or that thing about basketball. But I know not how to quit it. Never occurred to me.

Basketbawful: Who, in your opinion, is the worst player in the NBA today? In your lifetime? In NBA history?

Henry Abbott: Honestly, I don't even know how you judge that. Presumably it's some lumbering center -- seven-footers have the fast-track to NBA contracts -- who almost never saw the court.

Basketbawful: I'll translate that answer to "Greg Ostertag," then. How about this. Who was the worst player you remember for a team you actively rooted for? Somebody you prayed wouldn't get any PT, and who made you cringe any time he touched the ball.

Henry Abbott: It made me cringe to watch Patrick Ewing shooting all those jumpers against smaller defenders. But he's not close, obviously, to terrible. If I had a functioning memory I could probably give you a better answer.

Basketbawful: Name the top five ugliest basketball players you've ever seen.

Henry Abbott: Larry Bird. Larry Bird. Larry Bird. Larry Bird. And Larry Bird.

Basketbawful: Ouch. Was that really necessary? Okay, look, I'll admit that Larry was not an attractive man. Yes, his face would melt cheese. But is he really uglier than Gheorghe Muresan? Or Popeye Jones? Jake Tsakalidis? Mengke Bateer? Chris Kaman? Admit it. You're still bitter about how Bird used to scorch the Blazers.

Henry Abbott: I'm not trying to be mean. In fact, I feel bad. Bird never did anything to me. An Eastern team you see twice a year, max, on TV? They barely even touch your season record. If you're a kid who loves the Blazers and the NBA, you hope to see a big show from the Birds of the world. It's not like we saw him in the playoffs. That's when enemies are made. So, to clarify, he really is that ugly. I hate to say it, but that is my belief.

Basketbawful: You know we all love you, Henry. But occasionally someone disagrees with you. Sometimes strongly. What's the worst e-mail / comment / response from a fan you've ever received?

Henry Abbott: Oh, just about every day I get something from some nut job teenager calling me the worst names said teenager can possibly imagine. Teenagers are pretty imaginative these days!

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I learned 97 percent of what I know from the feral wolves that raised me. The other three percent I learned from Internet porn and the Nike Fun Police commercials. Despite the fact that they starred a group of professional basketball players with a combined contractual worth of over $200 million, the Fun Police taught me that life isn't about fame, fortune, or gaudy statistics. It's about living life the right way. It's about the team over ego. And, most importantly, it's about cuddling.

Fortunately, some of the Fun Police commercials have made to YouTube. Unfortunately, the best of the group has not (so far). It's the one where the Fun Police interrogate a fat white kid who won't pass to his teammates. Someone (I believe Damon Stoudemire) inspects the kid's ball with infrared goggles and determines that "There's only one set of prints on this ball" while Gary Payton just keeps saying, "C'mon, dawg...pass the ball...pass the ball!" Then someone else (Jason Kidd?) cries "Look!" and opens a closet door to reveal hundreds of basketballs. Great stuff.

These are the Fun Police commercials I was able to find. In this one, Kevin Garnett, Tim Hardaway, and Alonzo Mourning force a rich white couple to sit in the nosebleed section so a group of black teens can have their courtside seats. But don't get the wrong impression. This isn't about race relations. This is about fun. (And apparently getting one up on Whitey is how NBA players have their fun.)

Here, Damon Stoudemire, Gary Payton, and Jason Kidd discuss what is and isn't fun at a laundromat. No look passes? Fun. You get the idea. Kidd's final suggestion draws a little hairy eyeball from Stoudemire and Payton, but honestly, what did they expect? They're a group of grown men wearing matching black turtlenecks and slacks, and they're hanging out at a local laundromat in the middle of the night. Cuddling is the least I would have expected in that situation.

This last one shows Kevin Garnett menacing former teammate Cherokee Parks about the length of his shorts (two-and-a-half inches above the kneecaps, I believe). The video doesn't have any sound, but that makes it funnier somehow, especially at the end when Parks points an accusing finger at Tom Gugliotta and Googs almost kills him. In the closing shot, Parks looks like a guy who just got put in jail for tax fraud and has to share a cell with a couple guys nicknamed "Velvet Anvil" and "Bluto the Ass Blaster."

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This commerical for Turkey's Dimes Fruit Juice truly redefines the word "korkunç." Forget Russell versus Chamberlain or Magic versus Bird; this is Mehmet Okur versus Mehmet Okur. I hate to ruin the surprise for you, but Mehmet Okur wins.

Of course, the real winner is anybody who drinks Dimes. Seriously, I think Memo had a drinkgasm at the end of this clip. Have you ever in your entire life seen a look of such totally refreshed satisfaction on a human face? If you said yes, you're lying.

I always thought that the Pistons gave up on Okur too soon, and the way he's played for Utah has pretty much confirmed that. Not only has he given the Jazz a solid 18 and 8 over the last couple years, he's also provided some clutch heroics. Case in point: The following game winning shot against the Bulls:

Mehmet also hit a game-winner against the Spurs. Listen to those Turkish broadcasters go absolutely crazy. I think Memo must be a Turkish Elvis or something. Or maybe Elvis was really just an American Memo.

And let's not forget when Memo blocked Rip Hamilton's last second shot to secure a win for Utah. He even plays defense. Who knew?

Speaking of blocks, I think we need to give Mehmet a new nickname: "The Duncan Stopper." Okay, maybe not.

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Reader John Marzan asked "If you were an NBA manager, who would you pick to build your team around: Dirk Nowitzki or Kevin McHale?"

I think the immediate answer you'd get from most NBA analysts would be Dirk Nowitzki. This is because the league is in the midst of a versatility movement, and Dirk is certainly more versatile, offensively speaking, than McHale was. He's a legitimate seven footer who can rebound, run the floor, stick the three at a high percentage, and score with efficiency from almost anywhere (except in the low post). He can also handle the ball better than McHale did. In NBA parlance, he's the more "talented" of the two players.

Whereas Dirk can do a little bit of everything on the offensive end, McHale was a specialist. But while McHale's skill set may have been more limited, it was also more refined. He had the best low post moves in NBA history, which made him virtually unstoppable. In his prime, McHale was an automatic basket from 15 feet and in, unless he was immediately double or triple-teamed. And make no mistake: McHale was a tenacious rebounder. His career average may be "only" 7.3, but you have to keep a few things in mind. First of all, he was the Celtics' Sixth Man for eight of his 13 seasons. He averaged 31 MPG or less for seven seasons, and he played more than 35 MPG only three times (and for the record, his Per 40 Minute rebounding average was 9.5). He also played with two other guys -- Larry Bird and Robert Parish -- who were averaging around 10 RPG. Think about that for a minute: Most teams are lucky if they have one guy averaging close to 10 RPG, and the 80s Celtics had three of them.

Anyway, one of the knocks on McHale is that he was a black hole who never passed the ball. But again, this is misleading. The Celtics didn't run their offense through McHale the way the Mavericks run theirs through Dirk. McHale was a scoring specialist who was expected to shoot the ball every time he touched it. Bird himself put it best when he said, "Everyone cries that [McHale] can't get the ball out to the open man when he's double or triple-teamed. But you gotta understand something: We wouldn't have thrown the ball to Kevin if we didn't want him to shoot it." [quote from Peter May's The Big Three] And once again, McHale was usually the sixth man, which affected his numbers. McHale averaged 2.4 APG during the five seasons in which he was a starter, which isn't too far off Dirk's career average of 2.6.

There's another very important distinction between the two players: Defense. McHale was on the All-Defensive first or second team six times, whereas you won't see Dirk on an All-Defensive team any time soon, and for good reason. Moreover, McHale wasn't just a good defender at his position; he could defend any frontcourt player from Patrick Ewing to Charles Barkley to Dominque Wilkins (before he started getting injured, anyway). In fact, McHale was usually responsible for defending the opposing team's best frontcourt scorer, whether he was a center, power forward, or small forward. The Mavericks have to hide Dirk on the defensive end; the Celtics used McHale as a stopper.

In some ways, it's hard to compare the two players, because, unlike Dirk, McHale never got a chance to be The Man on his team. We'll never really know how good McHale could have been had a team been built around his skills and abilities. But McHale was certainly tougher than Dirk, both mentally and physically. After all, McHale was the team's leading scorer (25 PPG) in the 1986 NBA Finals, despite going up againsts the Houston Rockets' Twin Towers tandem of Ralph Sampson and Hakeem (then Akeem) Olajuwon (a 12-time All-Defensive Team member, and two-time Defensive Player of the Year). And remember, McHale played through the 1987 Playoffs with a broken foot, yet he still managed to average 21 PPG and 9 RPG while shooting 58 percent against teams like the Bad Boys Pistons and the Showtime Lakers. Compare that to how Dirk basically wimped out in the 2006 Finals and last year's first round series against the Warriors, and you can hardly question who you'd want to go to war with.

My last point. Even while playing limited minutes and acting as the Robin to Larry Bird's Batman, McHale's game is very similar to that of another current NBA superstar: Tim Duncan. They can both score at will down low and command immediate double teams. They are both top-notch defenders who rebound and block shots with aplomb. They may not play every phase of the game -- ball handling, three-point shooting, etc. -- but they have nonetheless mastered every phase of the game they do play. And let's face it: Eight of the last nine NBA championship teams have been built around a low post player (Shaq and Duncan). So for all the thrilling perimeter exploits of the Kobe Bryants and Dirk Nowitzkis of the league, building around a dominant post player has proven itself to be the best method for success.

I take Kevin over Dirk.

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Back in the day, guarding Kevin McHale in the low post was correctly referred to as being in The Torture Chamber. This was primarly due to McHale's towering height (6'11"), precise footwork, and pinpoint shooting ability. It also helped that McHale was assembled at the Freaky Body Parts Depot. He had the arms of a 15-foot man, and they either didn't have any joints, or the joints swiveled in every conceivable direction. Seriously, watch this video and take note of how his arms twist and bend in ways that no human limb ever should. It's a little creepy. Okay, a lot creepy.

That is how I want to remember McHale. Not as the lousy GM who couldn't build a team around Kevin Garnett and then traded K.G. to his old team for pennies on the dollar, but as a fierce, talented competitor who was the absolute and undisputed master of inside scoring. The dude has forgotten more low post moves than most guys in today's NBA will ever know. He was also a fantastic defender -- three times All-Defensive First Team, three times All-Defensive Second Team -- who perfected the art of the "soft blocked shot" (where you lightly tap it to yourself or a nearby teammate).

One last note on McHale. Everybody talks about that mythical 50/40/90 benchmark, where a player shoots 50 percent from the field, 40 from three, and 90 from the line. There are only five or six guys who have ever done that. Well, there's only one person in NBA history who has ever shot 60 percent from the field and 80 percent from the line. It was McHale, and he did it twice (in '87 and '88).

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fan whore
As punishment for fan whoredom, Lebron was
forced to sit by supernerd Poindexter T. Finkman.

fan whore (fan hor) noun. A fan who either roots for multiple teams or who foresakes certain obligatory loyalties -- such as to the hometown team -- to support another team of his or her own choosing.

Usage example: Lebron James was seen last night rooting for the New York Yankees to beat his hometown Indians. What a fan whore.

Word Trivia: A couple weeks ago, somebody asked me which NBA team I followed. I replied that my favorite teams were the Bulls, Celtics, Jazz, Pacers, Suns, and Spurs. His reaction was priceless; it was like I'd just admitted to eating a live kitten. He wigged out and said, "What a fan whore! You only get to have one favorite team. Choose one and stick with it."

I got the same kind of reaction a few months ago when a guy on the train platform asked me whether I rooted for the Cubs or White Sox. "Well, I live in Chicago," I said, "so I root for both teams." The dude literally jumped up and down like he was stomping huge, poisonous spider. "Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?! You can't root for the Cubs and the Sox! That's like, it's like rooting for God and Satan. You don't getta be good and evil, kid. You gotta pick one or the other."

Lebron James got a dose of the same medicine last night, when he was seen rooting for the New York Yankees, and thus against the hometown Cleveland Indians. Lebron was even wearing a Yankees hat, and fans started jeering him and chanting "Take of the cap!" One fan even screamed "Go to New York, then" (another fan heard that and said "No, no, please don't"). Today, there are countless stories in the media and across the blogosphere calling James things like "traitor" and "betrayer." The thing is, Lebron's allegience has never been in question; he's a lifelong Yankees fan. So the anti-Lebron uproar is a pretty blatant overreaction. Especially since Lebron isn't really a fan whore, he's more of a bandwagon fan; he's always been a "frontrunner" and therefore footed for the Chicago Bulls, Dallas Cowboys, and Yankees during his teen years.

Frankly, I don't understand the mentality that you can't root for whomever you want. Especially since, logistically speaking, it increases your chances for potential happiness. By rooting for six NBA teams instead of just one, I increase my chances of seeing one of my teams go all the way by 15 percent! (I think; I'm not a mathmologist.) And what if I'd only pulled for the White Sox this year? By rooting for the Cubs and Sox, my baseball-induced misery will ultimately have been postponed almost an entire week. That, my friends, is the sweet smell of success.

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Remember earlier when Isiah was "looking forward" to taking the stand to debunk the "pretty wildly fabricated" sexual harassment allegations levied against him? What ever happened with that?

Well, A New York jury has declared that Anucha Browne Sanders is not a B-word, regardless of what Isiah Thomas says, forcing the Madison Square Garden owners to pay to the tune of $11 million dollars in punitive damages. But, according to Zeke's not-so-smug-anymore press conference, things went differently. Very differently. Didn't he get the memo?

In our fine tradition of (pretty wildly) kicking people when they're down (very down), check out this list of Isiah's wrongest wrongs during his Knick days. That list seems long. Has it only been four years? Ugh.

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If you looked up "mondo hunky stud" in the dictionary right now, you'd find this picture of Bradley Alan Miller:

Brad Miller

Not only did this seven-foot heap of certified beefsteak lose 25 pounds over the summer, he also unveiled a suave, parted-down-the-center haircut with sweeping bangs and a striking, come-hither gaze that could retroactively take your virginity away (so be warned).

Brad Miller Fun Facts: Here's some fun trivia from Brad's Wikipedia entry:

Brad's mother's name is Rosie and his father's name is Maurice.

Brad has three uncles who played college basketball: Jim Heitz University of Oklahoma, Mike Heitz West Virginia University, and Tom Heitz University of Kentucky.

He has a Black Dodge truck with an Indiana license plate.

Brad has a love for the outdoors.

In his spare time, he enjoys hunting, fishing, and ATV riding.

He is also an avid bowhunter; turkey, bear, and deer tags are in his wallet.

Brad looked like this in college:

Brad college

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This has already been a great October. Bulls tickets go on presale this week, and Isiah Thomas has wasted even more of the Knicks money. All that and a new batch of NBA video games are on the horizon! Good times.

I've always felt that NBA Live wins people over with their sharp visuals and presentation, and presentation goes a long way. Not to mention the EA Sports factor (They made Madden! This is Lakers vs Celtics XVIII!). And it's perfect for when you have people over, a halftime to kill, and you just want to pickup-and-play. But Live 08 is coming and I have this sinking feeling that I'm going to hate it, just like 07. Why does NBA Live always remind me of Double Dribble?

NBA 2K is the slower, less flashy, more realistic of the two (sort of the San Antonio Spurs to NBA Lives' Phoenix Suns). And this couldn't be symbolized any better than Ben Wallace appearing on the cover of 2K5. But 2K isn't for everyone. For one thing, there's a steep learning curve, partially because of the Rube Goldberg-like controls, but also because the CPU can be flat-out sadistic. Get caught in a mismatch or miss a rotation and it will be used against you immediately, like a team of John Stocktons and Karl Maloneses. But it looks like 2K has completely redone their visuals, finally bailing on the "chunky chew" look. Take one look at this video and you'll realize that 2K is worth a look this year, even if the gameplay will make your brain tired.

What are your thoughts on this round of NBA titles? Will it be possible in Live 08 to shoot above 25% in the paint? Will we ever be able to make a free throw in 2K8? Will Live 08 finally stop passing out of bounds and dribbling out the shot clock? Will 2K finally record some new commentary?

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Ben headband
It just looks so...right.

It's official: The 'band is back.

Scott Skiles has relaxed his "no headband" policy. But only for Ben Wallace. "We still have a no-headband rule. I just left it up to the guys who have been here if they wanted to make an exception for Ben. I was fine with it. They were fine with it."

Bulls' GM John Paxson is a big fan of Skiles' new "One Tolerance" Policy. "I think it takes a coach who is willing to adapt a little bit and listen to his players, understanding the big picture is winning. Scott's one of the best coaches in the league. There's no doubt in my mind. And he's able to adapt."

Now that Skiles has shown the willingness to modify his Draconian policies on a player-by-player basis, several other Bulls have stepped forward with one-shot requests: Andres Nocioni wants to use "men's garters" to keep his socks up, Ben Gordon would like to have his favorite Cabbage Patch doll on the bench during games, Joe Smith wants to be referred to as "Buster Thunderstick" in the team's media guide, Joakim Noah wants to practice Polovetsian dancing during timeouts, JamesOn Curry requested a captial "R" for his last name, and Will Perdue asked for a little playing time. When reminded that he hasn't actually been on the team since '95, Perdue broke down into tears and had to be consoled with hugs and unicorn stickers.

Frankly, I'm glad Big Ben gets to wear his headband again. He didn't look quite right without it. It was like seeing Fonzie without his leather jacket, Britney Spears without some 'ho outfit, or Superman without the little red panties he wears over his blue tights. Good call, Scott.

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That's Amare: It looks like Amare Stoudemire is having arthroscopic knee surgery today. The Suns are insisting that this is a simple procedure, and that Stoudemire will (probably) miss only two to three weeks and still be ready for the season opener on November 1. It's a pretty ominous portent for the Suns' championship aspirations, though. Kind of like the how the human finger I found in my Fruity Pebbles this morning was a portent of a bad breaksfast. Anyway, think the Suns want to punch Shawn Marion's "Get Out Of Phoenix Free" card now? Sorry, Lakers fans; you won't be getting Marion of the Suns' value menu.

Free Agent Jackpot: Apparently, Gilbert Arenas isn't that impressed by the Celtics' offseason moves. In fact, he's predicting imminent doom when the Wizards travel to Boston for the C's home opener. That's because Washington countered the Kevin Garnette / Ray Allen acquisitions by signing their own "Little Three": The pitifully ancient and herertofore retired Tony Massenburg, Jamon Gordon (who?), and Willie Deane (who??).

For the record, Massenburg last played in 2004-05, averaging 3.2 points and 2.7 rebounds in 37 games for the Spurs. But I hear he waves a mean towel, so good pickup for the Wiz. Gordon is an undrafted rookie from Virginia Tech; he averaged 11.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 4.5 APG as a senior last year. (Did you hear that? It's the sound of nobody in Boston giving a crap.) Most mystifying of all is the Deane signing. He graduated from Purdue in 2003 but went undrafted. According to his prospect profile, Deane 17.8 PPG and 5.1 RPG during his senior season, and even "erupted" for a career-high 36 points against Michigan. Impressive. I doubt he'll play much, but having an extra "Willie" on your roster never hurts.

Michael Jordan has the power: BusinessWeek released a list of the 100 Most Powerful People in Sports. NBA commissioner David Stern came in third, behind both NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (1) and Tiger Woods (2). No surprises there. What did come as a surprise is that Michael Jordan was number 11.

Jordan is a part owner and "Managing Member of Basketball Operations" for the Charlotte Bobcats. Let me highlight the "Charlotte Bobcats" part of that last sentence. That kind of "power" wouldn't get you a handout on the street, even if you were missing both legs and had a sign that said "Jesus luvs you." It's also important to note that, after Jordan was fired by the Washington Wizards, no legitimate NBA would touch him with a 10-meter cattle prod. Make no mistake: Charlotte hired him because they needed money and Jordan had it to spend. The power he wields within the confines of his sport is negligible at best.

But according to BusinessWeek: "No athlete -- active or retired -- has a higher Q Score than his Airness." The Q Score is a way to measure the familiarity and appeal of a brand, company, celebrity, cartoon character or television show. So okay, Jordan can sell stuff; we already knew that. But how, exactly, does that translate to power in sports? Remember, this is the same guy who drafted Kwame Brown and Adam Morrison, failed spectacularly as both a player and an executive for the Wizards, and didn't even get voted onto the All-Star team during his final "farewell tour" season. That all sounds pretty weak to me.

Other notable NBA power brokers: Lebron James (19), Jerry Reinsdorf (47), Mark Cuban (50), Shaq (78), Kobe Bryant (88), Yao Ming (89), and Magic Johnson (95).

"Hey, I look...pretty gay right now."

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Give your basketball gland a cookie and watch this fun little Bill Walton tribute.

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