isaiah rider
Worse champ than Slava Medvedenko? Oh yes.

Looking back at the Lakers' 2000-01 championship squad, it's tempting to assume that Mark Madsen or Slava Medvedenko were the least deserving ring recipients.

Not even.

That dishonor goes to none other than Isaiah "J.R." Rider.

In case you're not familiar with Rider's background, allow me to provide a history lesson. Isaiah didn't catch on with a major NCAA program coming out of high school. Instead, he became a standout at Allen County Community College in Lola, Kansas, where he managed to get a GED before flunking out...but after pleading no contest to a battery misdemeanor and serving a probationary sentence. Following his flunkout, Rider moved on to Antelope Valley College in Lancaster, California, where he had to "earn" eligibility by taking seven units of physical education in summer school just to get his GPA up to 1.91. That was still below the minimum of 2.00 needed for eligibility, but an appeal was made to the state board of community colleges, which ruled that Rider eligible.

His academic efforts notwithstanding, Rider's fat stats earned him a spot on Jerry Tarkanian's squad at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

While he was at UNLV, Rider became a Second Team All-American during his senior year. He was also dogged by allegations of academic dishonesty and attitude problems. The latter came to a greasy, pus-filled head when he was arrested and spent a night in jail for assaulting a drive-through attendant at Jack in the Box. The exact nature of the crime? He threw a milkshake in the dude's face. Because it was vanilla instead of strawberry.

Still, Rider was an amazing athlete and had enough raw talent for some crappy team to take a wild gamble on him. Sure enough, the Minnesota Timberwolves selected him with the fifth overall pick in the 1993 NBA Draft. (I almost can't blame the T-Wolves for this was a pretty lousy draft.)

Believe it or not, things started out pretty well for Isaiah, who won the Slam Dunk Contest and made the All-Rookie First Team. Here's the classic between-the-legs jam that won him the dunk contest and freaked out Charles Barkley the hell out:

The next season, Rider was even better. And worse. He averagd a career high 20.4 PPG while feuding with Minny coach Bill Blair all season long. I mean, he feuded so hard that the team was compelled to suspend him in December. But hey, he won an ESPY award for converting one of the craziest shots you'll ever see (against the Kings...sorry chris):

I would be failing as a blogger and a human being if I didn't include in Rider's accomplishments his infamous "Funk in the Trunk" track from the 1994 Basketball's Best Kept Secret CD:

Rider's attitude and behavior continued to regress the following season. No only did he resume the feud with his coaches and the front office, Rider was also convicted of fifth degree assault for kicking the manager of a sports bar. And did I mention the manager was a woman? Yeah.

After that, the T-Wolves opted to give him a one-way ticket to Portland, but not before Rider was arrested for marijuana possession. Oh, and during that arrest, he happened to have an illegal cell phone that had been modified to charge every call he made to someone else's cell phone.

Three weeks later, he was arrested for public gambling in Oakland.

Rider's three season's in Portland were highlighted by a 19.7 PPG average in 1997-98, a conviction for possession of marijuana, and a three-game suspension for spitting on a courtside spectator.

Despite his dubious history, the Hawks felt Rider was the missing piece of their puzzle. I'm not sure what kind of effed up puzzle they were putting together in Atlanta, because after flipping Steve Smith for Rider, the Hawks went on to win 28 games. This was after having finished fourth in the East the previous season. The Blazers, meanwhile, won 59 games with Smith and would have made the NBA Finals if not for one of the greatest fourth quarter collapses in NBA history.

The Hawks would have done almost anything to have taken a mulligan on the Rider trade...which was an unmitigated disaster even by the standards of a team that traded their best player ever (Dominique Wilkens) to the fucking Clippers and recently gave Joe Johnson a contract worth one billion dollars. Rider's one-season stop in Atlanta was marked by missed practices, more feuds with management, an incident in which he parked in the space at Philips arena reserved for Atlanta Thrasher's head coach Curt Fraser, another incident in which he threatened to have teammate Dikembe Mutombo killed, and of course more arrests. When it got out he'd smoked pot in an Orlando hotel room, the league tried to make Rider attend drug counseling. Naturally, he refused and was fined $200,000, after which he decided to attend the counseling.

In March of that season, Rider got tagged with a three-game suspension for showing up late to a game against the Pistons. After that, Rider demanded the team release him, to which the Hawks replied, "YES! YEA, GODS! YES!" But it was too late for the Dirty Birds...the damage had been done. The Rider trade began a nine-year playoff drought for the Hawks. I'm just sayin'.

At this point, Rider probably should have been D-U-N. But the Lakers -- like everybody else -- were intrigued by his enormous upside potential. Furthermore, they were convinced that Phil Jackson, who once upon a time had tamed Dennis Rodman, could keep Rider under control.

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak seemed to think Rider could be everything Glen Rice hadn't been:
"This was a great opportunity to get an experienced and very talented player and we're happy to have Isaiah join our team. His explosiveness and ability will help take some of the pressure off our other players, and with his youth and skills, he could be a great addition to this team for years to come."
For his part, Rider was excited about his latest new beginning:

Rider said he was grateful to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, coach Phil Jackson and owner Jerry Buss for "having the faith in me to give me this opportunity."

"I'm looking forward to a new start in my career," Rider said in a statement released by the Lakers.

"I've been a Lakers fan since I was a kid growing up in Oakland watching Magic and those Showtime teams," Rider said. "Now I'm excited to play with Shaq (O'Neal), Kobe (Bryant) and the rest of the guys and to hopefully get a championship ring next spring."
In his "new start," Rider played 67 games, starting in six of them, and averaged 7.6 PPG while shooting 42 percent from the field and 37 percent from beyond the arc. He added 2.3 RPG and 1.7 APG while compiling a Player Efficiency Rating of 11.8. His Offensive Rating was (gak) 97 while his Defensive Rating was (double gak) 108. He finished the season with 0.8 Win Shares.

And while he wasn't quite the troublemaker he had been in Minnesota, Portland and Atlanta, it wasn't all violins and roses for Rider in L.A. During one regular season stretch, Rider missed the team bus to the Alamodome for a game against the rival Spurs. When he arrived late for the game, Rider gave Jackson a note from the hotel manager saying that the hotel operator had failed to provide Rider with his wake-up call. In March, as the team was starting to get playoff ready, Rider was suspended five games for violating the league's anti-drug program.

These incidents (not to mention his sub-par play) apparently soured Jackson on Rider, because Isaiah -- despite being the team's leading scorer off the bench and one of their better three-point shooters -- was left off the playoff roster in favor of Devean George (3.1 PPG, 30 percent FGP, 22 percent 3P%) and Greg Foster (2.0 PPG, 42 percent FGP, 33 percent 3P%). The decision didn't backfire on Jackson, as his Lakers went on to win the title anyway.

And that's how Rider became an NBA champion despite not appearing in a single playoff game.

I know this is going to shock the socks right off your feet, but the Lakers didn't re-sign Rider. The Nuggets gave him a shot, though. And Rider wasn't terrible. During his brief stop in Denver, he hit 40 percent of his treys (a career high) and averaged 9.3 PPG in only 17.3 MPG. But the Nuggets waived him after only 10 games. Rider refused to say he was retired and vowed to play in the NBA again.

He never did.

But here is a log of his post-NBA accomplishments (courtesy of Wikipedia):
In January 2006, Rider was arrested on kidnapping charges in Marin City, California for taking a female friend in his car against her will. He was charged with domestic violence and ordered to stay out of Marin City.

Despite this court order, he was spotted in the area a few weeks later. A Marin County sheriff's deputy confronted him, and while fleeing, Rider hit another car. He was arrested in Alameda County in late 2006, and transferred to the Marin County jail after three judges in that county issued bench warrants against him. In February 2007, Rider pleaded guilty to several charges, including felony cocaine possession and evading an officer.

He was sentenced to seven months in jail, 120 hours community service and three years' probation. He will also have to complete a drug education program. At sentencing, Rider admitted to a longstanding problem with marijuana; he'd also begun lacing it with cocaine.

On January 6, 2008, Rider was again arrested, this time in Berkeley, California after a confrontation with a taxi driver upon a no-bail warrant for unlawful firearm possession and separate $5,000 warrant for grand theft issued by the Oakland Police Department.

On March 5, 2008, Rider was arrested and was held in the Marin County Jail in San Rafael, California. He was charged and pled guilty for possession of a controlled narcotic substance, disobeying a court order, evading a peace officer, providing false information to a peace officer, and driving on a suspended license.

On early Saturday morning, March 29, 2008, Rider was arrested in the Skid Row district of Los Angeles for investigation of auto theft and was released from Los Angeles County jail in the afternoon. He was scheduled to appear in court on April 23, 2008.

In October 2009, Rider signed with the North Texas Fresh of the American Basketball Association. Rider played one game for the North Texas Fresh, and then was cut in early January from the team.

On April 9, 2010, Rider was arrested near his home in Mesa, AZ for assaulting his fiancé and stiffing a cab driver, after having been involved in three separate incidents in five days.

On April 14, 2000, he was again arrested for allegedly kidnapping his one month old son the previous evening. Rider was released after questioning with the police stating they would submit the details to the county attorney's office for a possible custodial interference charge.
That's right, kids. Rider has more arrests for kidnapping than rings.

But he has a ring.

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glen rice
One of these things is not like the other things,
one of these things just doesn't belong...

In 2005, Glenn Robinson "won" a championship with the San Antonio Spurs. In 2006, Antoine Walker "earned" a title with the Miami Heat. In 2008, years of barely repressed rage and uncontrolled vomiting related to these traveshamockeries led me to coin the term championship piggybacking.

But it wasn't enough...not nearly enough.

For the last year or so, I've been promising to make a list of the worst (read that: least deserving) NBA champions. That list begins today, and it starts with the 2000s. Which leads us to Mr. Glen Rice.

Rice was a three-time All-Star who made two All-NBA Teams (the Second Team in 1996-97 and the Third Team in 1997-98) and actually finished fifth in MVP voting in 1997 (behind Karl Malone, Michael Jordan, Grant Hill and Tim Hardaway). And the dude could flat out shoot. During his 15-year career, Rice hit 40 percent of his threes (which ranks 27th in league history) and he led the league in three-point percentage in 1996-97 (47 percent).

It's no wonder Jerry West thought Rice was the final piece of the championship puzzle for his Los Angeles Lakers, who already featured the best big man in the game (Shaq) and the best up-and-coming two guard (Kobe Bryant). West figured that Rice's outside shooting would be the perfect compliment to Shaq's inside play and Bryant's cutting/slashing/attack-the-basket game.

That's why The Logo traded away fan favorites Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell to get Rice, who had been languishing away on an incredibly dysfunctional Charlotte Hornets team (players were demanding trades, coach Dave Cowens resigned, his best teammate -- Anthony Mason -- was out for the year, Rice himself was coming back from elbow surgery, and the team owner George Shinn was on trial for sexual abuse).

And yet...Rice didn't really want to play for the Lakers. Seriously.

See, Rice was an All-Star and former (giggle) MVP candidate who was going from being The Man to being The Third Option (Maybe). Was he interested in winning? Yes. Was he interested in giving up shots? Hell no. As Ian Thomsen of Sports Illustrated put it:

The trade almost fell apart because Rice feared his scoring opportunities would diminish with L.A., reducing his value as a free agent. But the deal was finally consummated, according to Rice's agent, David Falk, when the Lakers agreed to ignore the 1999-2000 option year of the contract Rice had signed with the Hornets.
During his first partial season in L.A. -- the crappy crap lockout year -- Rice got enough shots (14.7 per) to average 17.5 points while knocking down 39 percent of his treys. Unfortunately, the Lakers were swept out of the playoffs by the Spurs. And things went downhill from there.

Falk says Los Angeles owner Jerry Buss informed him an hour before the 1999 draft that the Lakers would pick up Rice's option year, and under the terms of the contract they paid him $7 million last season. "Glen had had an operation [to his right elbow, in January 1999], and we wanted to see him play before we made any commitment," says Buss.
From that point, it became a war of words. Rice and his agent insisted that Buss had lied to him and thereby cost him countless millions, while Buss maintained he had never promised Rice anything. Meanwhile, some rumors had it that the Rice fiasco played a big part in West's decision to retire from the Lakers' organization. (Other rumors had it that Falk started those rumors.)

The whole situation was made worse by the arrival of Phil Jackson, who apparently didn't think much of Rice's game and wanted to bring in a Scottie Pippen-type player (preferably the actual Pippen via trade). Rice claims that Jackson's desire for Pippen led to a power struggle between Phil and Jerry for control of personnel decisions. Further, Rice complained that his minutes and shots were yanked because of Jackson's attempts to prove he was right.

Whatever the reason, Rice's 1999-2000 season was a huge disappointment. He averaged 15.9 PPG but shot 43 percent from the field and only 36 percent from downtown. Rice seemed increasingly reluctant to share the ball and started taking a beating for his inability to a) fit into Jackson's triangle offense and b) stay anywhere close to in front of his man.

Despite all that, the Lakers won 67 games and won the NBA title in six games over the Indiana Pacers. But Rice had an bad series. He was okay in Games 2 (21 points, 7-for-15 from the field, 5-for-6 on threes) and 6 (16 points on 5-for-7 shooting), but his shooting was turrible in the other four: 1-for-8 in Game 1, 3-for-9 in Game 3, 3-for-8 in Game 4, and 3-for-8 in Game 5. Rice wasn't contributing much else either. He had two one-rebound games and one game with zero rebounds. He also barely finished the Finals with more assists (10) than turnovers (9).

Rice's feud with Jackson actually came to a head after Game 3 of the Finals:

Rice had ended his interview session with these words: "If people don't think I can be out there doing things to get this team a win, then ... I shouldn't be here."

An NBA public relations official quickly ended the interview, hustling Rice away after he had spent the better part of 15 minutes explaining his frustration with being benched and offering insight into his less-than-rosy relationship with Jackson.

Meanwhile, beneath the stands at Conseco Fieldhouse, Jackson was sounding like another coach from down the road in Bloomington as he explained why he and Rice were supposedly on the same page.

"I play whom I want to play when I want to play them, and how they play and what I think is best for the team. That's it," Jackson said.


The Rice controversy is "not a distraction to us," Jackson said. "That's nothing to us."

Rice didn't agree, admitting "it plays with your head a little bit."

He was asked: Had he talked to Jackson about it?

"No, I have not."

Did he plan to talk to Jackson about it?

"No, I do not."

What harm would it do to simply discuss it with the coach?

"I've been down that road before. The best way is to go out there and let my actions speak for themselves."
But it didn't end there. Oh no. After that, Rice's wife got involved.

In an article published Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times, she claimed Rice was being used as a pawn by Jackson in his dealings with Lakers owner Jerry Buss and team president Jerry West.

"Jackson has never wanted Glen, he's always wanted somebody like Scottie Pippen, and this is his way of getting back at management for not letting him make a trade," she said. "This is Jackson's way of showing the people on top of him who is in control. It's crazy.

"It's all a mind game. It's all about control. Jackson did not get his way with the general manager or the owner about trading Glen, so who pays for it? Glen does."

Rice's wife, Christina Fernandez Rice, said she has counseled her husband to keep quiet about the situation until she thought it was hurting the team.

"How many players would have stayed as quiet for as long as Glen has? But finally, when the team is affected, you have to say something," she said. "Now if it was me, I would have already been Latrell Sprewell II."
That's right. Mrs. Rice inferred she would have choked Jackson down had she been her husband. And...Mr. Rice backed his wife.

Asked about his wife's comments, Rice said he agreed with them.

"Definitely. Why not?" he said.
Holy fuck. But wait, there's more.

Rice admitted he would not be 100 percent focused in Game 4 but said he would dedicate himself to addressing the deficiency in his game that Jackson said was the reason he removed Rice in favor of Fox in Game 3.

"I'm going to come out and be very aggressive on the defensive end," Rice said. "If I get beat, I never claimed I was the best defensive player on this team individually. Jalen's a great player, and when I get beat I expect the help to be there."

That's right, Rice said "when" he gets beat.

Despite Rice's best efforts to destroy L.A.'s chances in the Finals, the Lakers won the championship anyway. And Rice got his ring. But by the time the ring was delivered, he was playing for the Knicks. This is what Rice had to say immediately after his ring arrived in the New York locker room:

"I was unhappy with the Lakers and things were so bent out of shape," Rice said. "When I was first traded to L.A. from Charlotte two years ago, I knew right away the big thing was they had Shaq and Kobe. I was coming off the best three years of my career, so I was not trying to slow down. I knew I had to sacrifice but I didn't know I had to sacrifice so much and sometimes be the only one sacrificing."

Rice said Lakers Coach Phil Jackson listened to him but would not talk to him. He said the Lakers' owner, Jerry Buss, lied to him about his contractual situation. Rice was used sparingly as the Lakers rolled last season.

The ring, indeed, is his, but somehow its circle is not complete.

"Being traded here gave me a chance to show some new things and play in a place I've always loved," Rice said. "I've had great games in the Garden before and I love the rims here. Some people here have told me now I get the chance to light it up for the home team instead of against them."
Rice "lit it up" in New York for exactly one season, averaging 12 points as (once again) the third option behind Sprewell and Allan Houston. After that, he was traded to the Rockets for one last shot at being a first option. Unfortunately, plantar fasciitis and a partially torn tendon in his knee ruined his two seasons in Houston. During the 2003-04 season, Rice finished his career by playing 18 games as...a Los Angeles Clipper. His final game was a seven-minute, zero-point "effort" in a one-point loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

But he has a ring.


During a recent interview with, Tracy McGrady let the world in on a little secret: Tracy McGrady is back. No, really.

"I feel good -- I feel really good. What I can tell you is the stuff I'm doing now, I couldn't do that when I was playing for New York. I'm going to surprise a lot of people. What people saw in New York, if that's the type of player they think I'm going to be, man, they've got another [sic] think coming."
What people saw in New York was an aging volume shooter with diminishing physical skills who couldn't come to grips with his basketball mortality. Whew. I'm sure glad we won't be seeing that this season.
"I'm so used to going 100 miles an hour in the offseason. I came in here the first day and worked out with [Strength and conditioning coach Arnie Kander] and I looked at him after the workout and said, 'Is that it?' He said, 'Yeah, that's all you need.' I'm like, what? I'm used to coming into training camp in tip-top shape. He said, 'We don't want you coming in in tip-top shape -- we're going to use camp to get you in that type of shape.' It made sense. He said if you come to camp in tip-top shape, your body is going to break down (eventually). I never really thought of it like that."
So the Knee-Mac injury mystery has finally been solved: He was in too good a shape. His body simply couldn't handle being in such good shape. Because when your body is in tip-top shape, it breaks down. Remember how that used to happen to Michael Jordan all the time? And how it happens to Kobe Bryant. Hey, wait...

"I don't care if I don't make the All-Star team."
That's a relief. Because I think he's suffered enough crippling disappointments, don't you?

"What I'm saying is I want to get back to that caliber of player that I know I can be, that elevates the team, that gets the team to the playoffs."
Can McGrady get back to being the kind of player who leads his team to a first round playoff elimination? I don't know about you, but I believe he can.

"There's no question [I get back to being an elite player]. There is no question. Yes, because my body feels good. I'm in great shape. I'm in better shape than I've been in for the last three years. I'm a lot leaner. I'm telling you, a lot of people are going to be shocked. That's all I've got to say."
I look forward to being shocked, Tracy.


In pickup basketball, offense is as unpredictable as a dinner date with Ron Artest. (That's just a wild assumption, by the way. I've never actually had a dinner date with Ron Artest. As far as you know.) Some nights your teammates won't pass the ball, other nights you might not hit your shots. There are a lot of unknowns on offense.

But you can almost always play consistent defense.

Defense isn't about natural physical skills. It's about focus and effort. That's why guys like Bruce Bowen and Raja Bell -- fairly average NBA athletes -- were able to become elite defensive players.

Several years ago, I decided I wanted to become a better defensive player. This attitude is pretty rare in pickup ball. After all, it's the first team to 11 points, not 11 steals, right? But trust me, you can swing games by playing great defense.

Here are the defensive principles I live by:

Commit to defense: The majority of pickup ballers are pretty lackadaisical on defense. In most cases, the only time they actually try is when their man has the ball during a halfcourt set. They jog back in transition and they space out when their man isn't directly involved in the current play. This behavior results in easy baskets for the other team. Consistent effort results in stops.

Committing to defense is step number one to becoming a better defender.

Develop the proper defensive stance: This is step number two. Here are the 10 keys to a great defensive stance from Breakthrough Basketball:

1. Fronts of the Feet - Most of your weight should be on the fronts or balls of your feet and the majority of the weight should be on the big toes. Heel should still be in contact with the ground.

2. Wide Base & Feet Turned Slightly In - Your feet should be pointing straight ahead or slightly turned in (pigeon-toed). This creates an angle that allows you to provide more force against the ground. In the picture to the right, the feet are bowed out which is improper form.

Your feet should also be slightly wider than shoulder width apart.

3. Hips Back & Knees Bent - Butt should be behind the heels and your knees should be pointing forward, but not past the toes.

4. Knees Inside of Feet - This helps create better push-off power.

5. Butt Down - Staying low helps maintain balance.

6. Shoulders Over Knees - Your shoulders should be over your knees with your chest out and back straight or slightly arched.

7. Hands up - Depending on the tactic (Hands out or hand up to defend shot/dribble).

8. Eyes focused on the player's waist or chest.

9. You should be able to draw a vertical line from the front of your forehead thru the front of your knees thru the front of your toes.

10. All of this should create GREAT BALANCE.
Watch your man's midsection: No, not to admire his six-pack abs. This is a follow up to step 8 of a great defensive stance. Watching the midsection is the best way to determine which direction he's moving. That way, you won't get tricked by ball fakes, head fakes or foot fakes.

Play off-the-ball defense: Karate Kid III taught us that "If a man can't stand, he can't fight." Similarly, if a man doesn't have the ball, he can't score. Chase your man all over the floor. Deny him possession whenever possible. This doesn't always work in the NBA because coaches are able to write up plays that free up their players, and the players are good enough to execute those plays. Pickup basketball isn't that organized. With the right amount of effort and intensity, you handicap your man by limiting his shot attempts.

To do this, pay close attention to the ball-man line. That's what coaches refer to as the imaginary line between the ball and your man. Do your best to a) stay between that line and the basket and b) impede that line so that your man can't easily receive the ball.

Sprint back on defense: It's amazing how many buckets you can stop by doing this. I can't tell you how many two-on-ones and even three-on-ones I've stuffed just by getting my ass back in transition. Remember, this isn't the NBA. There's no guarantee a pickup baller is going to finish a fast break.

Block out: They call them "defensive rebounds" for a reason, people. Rebounding is the final step of a successful defensive play. When the ball goes up, put your body between your man and the basket and make contact so he can't get around you. It's as simple as that. But you'd be surprised how many people can't or won't do it.

Grab rebounds with two hands: Dr. J was the master of the one-handed rebound. When he did it, it looked fucking cool. Guess what? You aren't Dr. J. Don't try to one-hand the rebound. Don't tap at it. Go after it and grab it with two hands.

Jump to the pass: Whenever somebody passes teh ball, take a few quick steps in the direction the pass was thrown. This will put you in the proper position to stop your man if he cuts to the basket or help a teammate who gets beaten off the dribble.

Call out picks: Seriously. Your teammates need to know.

Fight through picks: A lot of people get stopped cold by picks...or they stop themselves cold. Seriously, a lot of people hit the pick and then give up on the play. Fight through it. Again, this isn't the NBA. You can get through that pick.

Pressure your man when he has the ball: Make him work. Make him think. And whatever you do, don't keep backing up and letting him move to his sweet spots. Never concede anything. The harder you make life for the man with the basketball, the better the chance your team gets a stop.

When pressuring your man, keep your hand up and active so he can't see the court, shoot an open shot or make an easy pass.

Stay between your man and the basket: That's where he's trying to go. On that subject...

Slide your feet: When guarding a man who's dribbling the ball, step sideways with the lead foot (the foot closest to the direction you want to go), then push off with your trail foot. Keep your feet in contact with the floor. Stay in a low stance and keep your feet wide. Make quick slides.

Deny the middle at all costs: Always keep your inside foot high to deny dribble penetration toward the middle of the court. Overplay toward the middle to force your man baseline. This way, the baseline becomes an "extra" defender. The backboard can also become an extra defender if you force yoru man to dribble partially behind it.

Get in your man's shot pocket: Never heard of the shot pocket? Here's the definition: The position the basketball is in when a player begins his jumpshot. Typically, the ball is "in the shot pocket" when all parts of the shooting arm -- upper, lower, hand, and two shooting fingers (index and middle) -- are in a vertical plain to the side of the face, out in front of shoulder.

If you keep a hand inside your man's shot pocket, he's going to have to move the ball around your hand in order to shoot. This effectively takes him out of his natural shooting motion. Muscle memory is a key component of shooting, so making a player shoot in an unusual way often results in a missed shot.

Contest every shot: But do it the smart way: Stay on your feet and keep your hands up.

Do some scouting: Remember: Most pickup ballers have limited skill sets. They probably have only one or two moves. They can only hit a few pet shots. You should be able to figure out what someone's tendencies are after a handful of games. Once you know what they like to do, you can stop them.

My buddy Mister P loves to shoot threes from a specific spot. I always put extra pressure on him when he's near that spot. He also has this move where he takes on hard dribble to the right, comes back to the left and then pulls up for a jumper. When he's going into that motion, I overplay him left because I know he wants to come back that way. It disrupts the move and he usually has to pass the ball away.

Guard everybody: I don't care if your man isn't an offensive threat. D him up anyway. Why give somebody an open shot? Even bad players hit the occasional jumper. Or they earn garbage points -- open layups or putbacks -- because their defender isn't paying attention. I've been on teams that lost because bad players were given the green light. Many times. On the flip side, putting intense pressure on lousy players can cause turnovers. That's a better outcome, right?

Avoid All-Star Defense: Blocked shots and steals. There are people who think these are the only defensive plays that can be made. Blocking lots of shots or grabbing a lot of steals help make people an All-Star in the NBA. They also make SportsCenter. But fundamental defense rarely results in blocks or steals. Going for them, on the other hand, will get you beat. I play with guys who love to gamble for steals so they can go the other way for an easy bucket. Unfortunately, more often than not, the team defense gets disrupted by their wild gambles.

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Shaq can't sink a free throw, but he can sink a clutch putt. Who knew?

When not busy being (lamely) pranked at a Waffle House, Shaq has been doing the latest season of his Shaq Versus reality TV show. (You know, the show whose concept he stole from Steve Nash). His latest escapade on the show? Turning into basketball version of The Big Happy Gilmore. Well, minus the Bob Barker ass-whuppin', natch.

Having never before played golf, Shaq hit the links to take on none other than Charles Barkley, the man who has quite possibly the single worst golf swing in the history of the game. It only resembles a golf swing in the way that Greg Ostertag resembles a finely tuned athletic machine.

In something of a surprise, nobody was killed by an errant drive, and Shaq actually won. Shaq never wins these things! Okay, yes, Chuck is pretty much turrible at golf these days, but at least he's actually played before. Anyone who has ever swung a golf club knows how ridiculously difficult it is to hit that damnable little white ball with a stick and get it to go anywhere other than the woods or the lumberyard.

Then again, even considering that difficulty level, beating Sir Charles at golf is something like beating a ten year old at wiffle ball. (Unless of course the kid has been studying Tom Emanski's defensive drills. Gotta throw that caveat in there. You don't mess with a kid who can throw a ball in a trash can from center field off one bounce.) So I wouldn't exactly throw a DVD of that episode in the trophy case at the Shaq household. Gotta leave some room for that 2011 NBA championship ring, right? Right? Oh damn it, I can't even delude myself into thinking Shaq on the Celtics will work out...

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Back in July, Richard Jefferson opted out of the final year of a contract that would have paid him $15 million for the 2010-11 season. Leading financial experts immediately agreed that $15 million was about $15.5 million more than Jefferson was actually worth, which made RJ look like the world's biggest sucker...

...until the San Antonio Spurs bailed his dumb ass out with a four-year, $38.8 million deal that made some of Kelly Dwyer's tender parts shrivel and die. That's a lot of years and a lot of money for a rapidly declining 30-year-old who shot 31 percent on threes last season and compiled a Player Efficiency Rating of 10.9 in 10 playoff games. According to this handy reference guide, that PER puts him somewhere between "scrounging for minutes" and "definitely renting."

Of course, ESPN's John Hollinger explained that Jefferson's new contract actually saves the Spurs a Shaqload of money this season, which means the whole thing kinda-sorta makes sense until you remember that they're still going pay Jefferson almost $40 million over the next four seasons.

So how did Jefferson celebrate this wonderful manna from heaven? By going on vacation with his homeboys of course! From MediaTakeOut via Basketbawful reader anne:

rj and friends
Okay, seriously: What's with the bulges? Because unless
this picture was taken by a naked Scarlett Johansson...

In case the image above caused irreparable damage to your optic nerves, I should point out that it also features Kareem Rush, former University of Missouri basketball player and son of Nuggets Owner Josh Kroenke, Luke Walton -- Luke Walton wearing tiny purple shorts -- and two other men that should be beaten to death with heavy, wooden things.

MediaTakeOut described this pic as "Richard Jefferson and his boys looking sweeter than a bag of jellybeans." Personally, I think the group looks cuter than this Hello Kitty with Sky Blue Dolphin toy. But maybe that's just me.

Note: Apparently this pic made the rounds a few weeks ago. Doesn't matter. There's no expiration date for making fun of crap like this.

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Some of you were disappointed by the notable lack of Kevin Garnett in yesterday's Worst Evers: Potty mouths post. That's a fair point. After all, KG's mouth is so foul that most psychics can actually see the air around it die screaming. If Garnett had been around in J.R.R. Tolkien's day, Tolkien might have had Frodo destroy Sauron's ring by dropping it into KG's mouth instead of the fires of Mount Doom.

Anyway, here's a collection of KG's greatest potty mouth hits:

Update! This video of KG cussing up a rookie was submitted by an anonymous reader:


second coming
Article fail.

When last we checked in with Antoine Walker, he had been cut by Mets de Guaynabo...a Puerto Rican team. In the eight games before he got cut, Walker averaged 12.4 PPG, 8.6 RPG and 2.1 APG while going 6-for-27 from downtown (22.2 percent) and a Shaq-like 15-for-29 from the line (51.7 percent)...on a Puerto Rican team.

On the bright side, he didn't commit a single turnover.

You'd think the facts that he's a) broke and b) too washed up to make it on a freaking Puerto Rican team would have put a Mortal Kombat-style finishing move on Walker's NBA career. But no: Mr. Shimmy is plotting a comeback. Probably because of that whole "broke" thing.

'Toine's uncle, Chico Walker, recently had this to say to Jessica Camerato of

"He's definitely looking to go into training camp, but he knows it's not going to be a guaranteed contract. He's going to have to go in and make a team, and he understands that. That's where he is in terms of his conditioning. He knows he has to go in there and earn a spot. Nothing's going to be given to him regardless of what he's done in the past. I think the main concern is that this other stuff is going to follow him around. Is that going to be a deterring factor for a lot of teams? Hopefully not because basketball-wise, I still think he has a little bit to give to the game."
Shouldn't that first bold-faced sentence read "Nothing's going to be given to him because of what he's done in the past"? During the 2007-08 season -- his last in the NBA -- Walker appeared in only 46 games (starting once) for a 22-win Minnesota squad, averaging 8.0 PPG and 3.7 RPG. His PER of 11.4 accurately qualified him as a "scrounging for minutes" player.

The following summer, Minny traded 'Toine to the Grizzlies, who willingly paid Walker $9 to go away and never come back. That was money well spent if you ask me.

My point is: Walker didn't have "a little bit to give to the game" three seasons ago, so I seriously doubt he has anything to give now. But Chico wants us to believe otherwise:

Now as Antoine attempts a comeback in the NBA, he turned to someone he has trusted over the years. Antoine has spent his summer working out at the University of Louisville with Rick Pitino, his coach at the University of Kentucky and on the Celtics, and the Cardinals basketball team.

Chico estimates Antoine has dropped between 18 and 25 pounds as he continues to improve his conditioning under Pitino's watch. "Four to six" teams, he said, have already expressed interest in the forward, who is fighting to land an NBA roster spot for the first time since 2008 when he received a buyout from the Grizzlies.
Four to six teams? What YMCA league is Chico talking about? Because I promise you there aren't four to six NBA teams that would hire Walker to hand out jockstraps in the locker room let alone play.

This whole thing reminded me of an article Scoop Jackson wrote about Walker after the Celtics took him with the sixth overall pick of the 1996 NBA Draft. Here's an excerpt:

As the smile spreads across his face, you realize that Antoine is a 20-year-old man living a dream, happy just to be here, but not satisfied. Not yet. He's the one rookie that truly wants to run the NBA. He wants to rejuvenate the Celtic legacy. Championships in droves. Winning the jewels last year in Blue Heaven spoiled him. That's the difference. Being a part of an NCAA championships program is something neither [Len] Bias or [Reggie] Lewis were able to claim.

He's also got that arrogance. "It's not arrogance, man!" he insists. Yet he's got that arrogance that anybody who's gonna make it, needs in order to make it. The Celtics need it. They miss it. There used to be no such thing as a Boston player without arrogance. That's why you hated them, that's why they were so loved.
Huh. I guess that whole "arrogance" thing doesn't work in Puerto Rico.


As they say, ball don't lie. Neither do the camera and audio.


Psst. Have you heard? Carmelo Anthony hasn't signed a contract extension with the Nuggets yet. Rumor has it he wants out of Denver and that he's eyeing New York, New Jersey and Houston as potential trade destinations.

Of course, nothing is certain yet...and this saga could drag out well into next summer (the deadline for Anthony to sign an extension is June 30, 2011). And according to the Denver Post, 'Melo's being totally chill about this:

"I'm just taking my time with it. Obviously, everybody knows I'm loyal to the Denver Nuggets community and to the Denver Nuggets. I've shown that over my seven-year stint here. I don't think anybody can question that. But at this point in time I have to do what's best for me and my family. I'm just taking my time, figuring out if I want to take that extension or not."
Loyalty is a word that gets thrown around an awful lot by athletes...usually right before they mention the welfare of their family. And you know what that means. To wit, let's harken back to what LeBron had to say right before he rammed a knife in the back of every Cavaliers fan both living and dead:

This is tough. This is very tough, because you feel like you've let a lot of people down. You've raised a lot of people's expectations also. But it was a tough decision, because I know how loyal I am.

And one thing my mother told me when I was going through this process and what ultimately helped me make my decision is you have to do what's best for you and what's going to make you happy at the end of the day, because no one can live with the consequences or anything that comes with your decision besides you.

And once I heard that from my mother, the person that I always look to for guidance, [the decision to leave Cleveland] was easy.
Mind you, this was after he said "I never wanted to leave Cleveland. And my heart will always be around that area." So...yeah.

All I can say in response to all this loyalty talk is:

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knee mac
Wise men once said, hard work often pays off after time,
but laziness always pays off now. Just ask Knee-Mac.

Tracy McGrady to WDFN in Detroit (via TrueHoop):

"It's tough to play 82 games balls out. It's tough to do that. When I say that, yeah I get criticized. Basketball players know there's a lot of truth to that. I know it's not the right thing to say. I don't care what people think of it. It's the truth if you play basketball."
McGrady has finally admitted he doesn't go balls out for 82 games? No shit. Hell, Knee-Mac never even played a full 82 games to go balls out in. So, yeah, not exactly surprised here.

As for the sentiment, well, I have a feeling I know how guys like Larry, Magic and Michael would respond to what Tracy said...

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"The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That's pride fucking with you. Fuck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps." -Marsellus Wallace, Pulp Fiction

Generally speaking, men have a lot of pride. Maybe even too much pride. But that's not our fault, is it, guys? Of course not. Pride is hard-coded into our DNA, right next to "farts are funny" and "Look! Boobies!" If it hadn't been, cave men would have spent their short lives cowering in a cave instead of venturing boldly forth to get squashed by wooly mammoths or eaten by sabertooth tigers.

But pride often backfires because it prevents men from recognizing their limitations. Why else do you think Evel Knievel spent 79 percent of his adult life being fed by an intravenous drip from the comfort of his full body cast? Because that stubborn bastard never figured out it was impossible to jump his motorcycle over 10 cars, three school buses and the Grand Canyon at the same time. Then again, his idiocy gave us that classic Happy Days episode where Fonzie water-skied over a shark. So I guess everything worked out okay.

Pickup ballers are as prideful as anybody. They'd have to be to attempt some of the dumbass shots I've seen (and tried) over my pickup career. Forget trick shots -- behind the backboard, halfcourt, fullcourt, etc. -- players regularly take ridiculous shots during actual games. Three-pointers from several feet behind the arc, double-clutch reverse layups, off-balance jumpers that are chucked up after a wild spin move while fading away...I could describe a hundred insane shots. Maybe a thousand.

Why do they happen? It's not because these people are retarded, even if their shot selection screams "special needs." It's because there's a tiny voice inside every man saying: You can do this. You can hit that shot.

Pride is most evident in good players because they're the ones who have the ball most of the time. Their mistakes are magnified. But it's not just the pickup league superstars. The pickup scrubs can be just as prideful. Take my buddy Paul for example. He has what you'd call "limited basketball skills." He's tall and does a decent job on the boards, but his every layup attempt is an adventure in the same way taking a bath in a tub full of live sewer rats would be an adventure. Poor Paul is our league's unofficial all-time leader in airballed layups.

The sad thing is, 90 percent of his layups are so wide open he could leave the gym, drive to another gym, spend an hour ot two practicing layups, drive back to the first gym and then take his shot before the defense recovers. And he still misses. Some of his problem is mental -- he wigs out because he misses so many layups, which usually results in another botched layup -- and the rest of the problem is that his arms work like unbending plastic rods.

A year or so ago, Paul joined my gym and asked if we could practice together. When we met up, he asked me quite sincerely if there was anything he could do to improve his game. I told him to practice layups. He snorted. I told him I was serious. He laughed. I told him, no, I was really serious. Now he choked out a nervous laugh.

"Layups?" he asked. "You aren't kidding around?"

"Paul," I said, "what's your biggest problem on a nightly basis?"

"Missing layups," he said.

"So...?" I asked.

"I'm not practicing layups."

And that was that. The idea of practicing layups was too embarrassing for him. Considering how many offensive rebounds he pulls down (because nobody blocks him out) and how many wide open layups he gets (because nobody guards him), I'm telling you: Paul could become a real force in our pickup league because the effort and hustle are there. But he doesn't want to lower himself to practicing the "easiest" shot in the game.

Here's another example. There's a guy named Keith in our pickup league. Keith played Division I ball for a major NCAA school. He is very fucking good. He is a legitimate pickup league superstar. One night last session, he got hot from downtown. I mean really hot. His defender kept pushing him further and further out, and he just kept shooting. By the end, he was chucking 'em up from halfcourt...and hitting them. There wasn't a damn thing anybody could do to stop him.

That's Keith.

When he pulls down a rebound, I half-wonder if the ball is going to explode between his Hulk-like hands. When he drives to the basket, people duck out of his way. Everything Keith does is impressive. Well, everything except playing defense. Don't get me wrong. His D is great when he's motivated to play it. It's just that he usually isn't motivated. Especially when he's guarding a perimeter player who moves a lot without the ball. When that happens, Keith just sort of sags off his man and concedes open jump shots.

There was a game last Spring where Keith was guarding my buddy Brent, who is a streaky three-point shooter. Brent hustles for his shots, and Keith clearly didn't want to chase him around the arc. As a result, Brent got open three after open three, and he was knocking most of them down. I was on Keith's team, and it was driving me nuts.

After we lost our second game because of Brent's three-point shooting, I went up to Keith and said, "Hey, you want me to take him?" I figured Keith would be happy to switch over to my man, who wasn't contributing much offensively. But my asking sparked Keith's pride. "Nah, man, I got this," he said.

But he didn't have it. And Brent kept getting -- and making -- open shots. The only thing that really changed was that our team won. So afterwards Keith came up and said, "See? I told you I had it."

Pride can manifest in all sorts of crazy ways. One time this player we called Backward Hat Guy was checking the ball in at the top of the key. Evil Ted was guarding him, so BHG handed the ball to ET. For whatever reason, ET turned around to make sure everybody was in position, then bounced the ball between his legs to BHG before turning back to face him. BHG took this as a pretty serious insult and demanded an immediate recheck from a confused ET.

Speaking of ET, there was a game last session where ET had the oddest mini tantrum I have ever witnessed in pickup ball. ET and I were on opposite teams. My team ended up a little stacked, and we were clobbering ET's team. It was one of those blowout situations where the winning team basically stops playing defense. A guy name Bruno, who isn't exactly a crack defender to begin with, was guarding ET. Well, in theory. In reality, he wasn't even within 10 feet of ET on most possessions, so ET was getting all sorts of uncontested jumpers. Finally, ET posted up and hit a hook shot over Bruno, who was standing there, hands at his sides, not even looking at ET.

Before his shot had even cleared the net, ET screamed, "Fucking guard me, Bruno!" That was the first and only time I have ever seen a pickup baller get pissed off because somebody wasn't guarding him.


You know what really pokes pickup ballers in their pride gland? Female players. When a guy plays against a girl, his pride will take things in one of two directions. Either he will act like he's playing against a 5-year-old -- not trying to score against her on offense, letting her do whatever she wants on defense -- or he will become ridiculously overaggressive, charging over her on drives, trying to swat every shot she takes, etc.

One time, Backward Hat Guy (whom we've already established is kind of an asshole) was guarding this girl named Tanya. He was all over her on defense, constantly trying to swipe at or steal the ball from her. This culminated in a moment where, while guarding her from behind, he reached around and made a two-handed grab at the ball...and got two handfuls of breast instead. Everybody just stopped and looked at him. It was hilarious. And he backed off a little after that.

Pride will also keep players from trying hard, because if they slack and fail, it's because they weren't really trying. It's much more humiliating to try hard and fail anyway. Pride will prevent good players from making an honest effort against bad players. It will cause people to start fights over stupid things, or call phantom fouls, or complain about the quality of their teammates, or refuse to admit when they've committed a traveling violation, so on and so fourth.

Like Mr. Wallace said, pride only hurts, it never helps.

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I don't know about you, but it felt like a good day to post videos of Michael Jordan repeatedly jamming wieners into his mouth.

"They plump when you cook 'em!" Tell me that's not a double-entendre...

Note: Have you ever read the textbook definition of "wiener"? Here it is: "A smoked sausage of beef or beef and pork, etc., enclosed in a membranous casing and made in cylindrical links a few inches long." Gak. Yet another reason to never eat a hot dog again.

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When I failed in my mission to make the varsity basketball team during my senior year, I didn't just stop playing basketball. I loved playing too much to stop. It was in my blood.

Certain things changed, though.

First off, I stopped training. That's not to say I stopped working out, or stopped running, or stopped practicing my jump shots and post moves. But I wasn't really trying to get better anymore. I realize that sounds like a contradiction: I was working to improve myself physically and practicing specific skills...isn't that the same as trying to get better?

All I can say is: It's different. Working with a specific goal (such as to make your high school team) and just doing stuff differs in terms of focus and intensity. I mean, think about watching people shoot around before a pickup game. Technically, they're practicing, right? But that practice doesn't make them any better, does it?

That's what I'm talking about.

Unfortunately, the side-effect of this was that I began to develop bad habits. My shooting form started to get deformed. My shot selection became a little more careless (unless I was in an intense game and needed to win...then I'd focus on high percentage shots). I didn't necessarily go all-out on every possession. Instead, I went all-out when I needed to. I expended only as much energy as was necessary to win.

Which leads to the second major change: I started shaving points.

Here's the thing. Most of the time, I couldn't find full pickup games, so I would usually end up playing one-on-one or 21. And since I usually played at the same places, I would usually end up playing the same people. Unfortunately, I was better than most of the people I played against. It was pretty rare I faced a serious challenge.

When you play the same people over and over and you always beat them rather handily, they stop wanting to play against you. After all, it's not really all that much fun if you know you're never going to win.

What I should have done was seek out better competition. And sometimes I did, but human beings are often creatures of convenience. If I know there are going to be a few people playing at such-and-such a court at such-and-such a time, I can spend less time trolling for opponents and more time playing basketball.

So I started making sure that games against inferior opponents stayed close. If I ever got too far ahead, I would stop going inside. I would take bad or sloppy shots. I would ease up on defense. As far as I know, nobody ever caught on. It's surprisingly (perhaps alarmingly) easy to make it look like you're trying really hard when you're not.

For instance, take a bad shot you're likely to miss and then, when ball bounces harmlessly off the rim, yell something like "Damn it!" Or make a really determined gamble for a steal you have no chance at. It will look like you tried while giving your opponent a free lane for an easy layup.

Let them keep the score respectable and they'll believe they had a chance. Then they may make it a personal goal to beat you. And if that's not enough, you can let them win the occasional close game.

The bad habits, the point not only was I not actively getting better, I was making myself a worse basketball player.

But I didn't realize it at the time. I never consciously thought about any of it. Even with the point shaving, I just sort of did it. I never planned it out. I would just sense when people were getting bummed about getting beaten all the time, and I would pull back.

I guess these behaviors were, in part, the result of not having a coach or a strong male role model to provide instruction and guidance. But hey, I was still winning most of the time, especially when I wanted to, so I didn't see a problem.

And I still seemed like a basketball junkie. Which led to various funny incidents. The funniest of which I've recounted at least one other time, but I'll repeat now anyway.

I had a friend named Cindy that I had had a crush on for almost my entire high school career. Unfortunately, Cindy had had a boyfriend for that entire time...which kind of put a damper on any potential relationship.

But I hung around and waited and played the whole "best male friend" role like a sucker. I even showed up for her 18th birthday party with a ridiculously elaborate and thought out gift with the intention of showing up her boyfriend (which I did) and winning her heart (which I didn' the time anyway).

(In case you're wondering what the gift was: Cindy was really into clowns. Yeah, I know. Creepy, right? Well, I went to Service Merchandise and found this really expensive porcelain clown doll dressed in her favorite colors and mounted on this nice wooden stand. I think it cost $80, which represented a lot of toil at the Ponderosa, let me tell you.)

At any rate, Cindy and her boyfriend broke up near the end of our senior year. I was such a tool that when she called to tell me about it I immediately asked her out. I know. I was a little too quick on the trigger with that one.

Still, she was interested in trying to go out sometime. She just didn't tell me when exactly. So I was on the Cindy Date Watch. My mom knew about it. My friends knew about it. I was seriously intense about it. And everybody who knew me wanted to throw up, I think.

One afternoon after school, I was shooting around by myself at Boulevard school when my mom drove up to deliver a message: Cindy had called and wanted me to go to a play with her. (Remember, this was well before everybody had a damn cell phone.) Only the play was starting in about five minutes.

The good news was that the play was at our high school, which was only a couple blocks from Boulevard. The bad news was that I was dressed to play basketball. Specifically, I was wearing a gray Celtics t-shirt and a pair of Celtics practice short-shorts with black bike shorts underneath.

Now, when I call this the "bad news," I say that only in retrospect. At the time, I thought I looked good. I thought the outfit was totally cool and that it made me look fit and athletic. But thinking back about it, it looked pretty stupid for playing basketball...

...and tragically fucking stupid for going on a "first date"-ish thing with the girl I'd been crushing on for almost four years.

So I jump into my trusty Plymouth Fury and rocket the two blocks to my high school. I got out of the car and literally sprinted up to the back doors of the school, where Cindy was waiting with her friend Holly. Cindy was gracious about my appearance, or at least pretended to be. Holly, on the other hand, kind of laughed and said, "Nice legs." I actually thought she was paying me a genuine compliment.

So I sat through some play, sweaty but smiling, sure this was the first of many dates to come. It wasn't. And although I honestly don't think that outfit killed my chances with Cindy at that time, I doubt it helped.

Ah well.

Two last basketball related memories before my time as a high school pickup player ended. The first happened in early May. I was out with my buddy Dave and his friends Mike, Mick and Rom (short for Romulus). Mike, Mick and Rom had actually been friends with Dave's older brother, Derek, who had graduated a couple years before us and joined the army.

In Derek's absence, that trio had semi-adopted Dave as a Derek substitute. They became increasingly pushy about it. To the point that Dave and I were playing basketball together less and less. But one day, out of the blue, they decided to play with us.

We gathered at Boulevard school. None of these three guys had ever really played basketball before, so they were predictably terrible. And if you've ever played basketball with non-basketball players -- especially if you're any good at all -- it makes you look incredible. I felt like friggin' Michael Jordan. No, seriously, they were that bad. And although Dave was pretty good, he just sort of stood back and watched.

Now here's where things got weird. Even though Boulevard was almost always the most deserted court in Kokomo, a group of girls (and one guy) from our senior class spontaneously showed up to good around at the opposite basket. They certainly weren't the cutest girls in our school, but they were girls, which meant it was time for some peacocking. Suddenly, Mike, Mick and Rom were trying really hard. And I was trying even harder to show them up, and show off for the girls.

I started making all sorts of crazy drives, trying to hit reverse layups and fancy double-clutch bullshit. And I was hitting a fair share. Now, you have to understand that Rom was an imposing man. He was over six feet tall and probably weighed a solid 300-plus pounds, some of which was fat but a lot of which was muscle. But in my experience, Rom had always been a gentle giant, someone with a high-pitched (almost girlish) laugh and an almost too-pleasant demeanor.

Not now, though. He started flinging his arms around like clubs. Powerful, man-killing clubs. Then I made a drive and, to avoid his defense, try to go up for a left-handed layup. Rom got his hand cleanly over the ball and forced it down with all his might, which twisted my elbow in a direction roughly opposite to which it was supposed to bend.

I hit the ground with a scream and a thud.

Whatever Rom did effed up my left elbow. I mean big time. Of course, I never went to the doctor to find out what was wrong, but the pain was intense...and it didn't go away any time soon. For many months after that, the slightest touch was like a dagger of pain. Bending the arm hurt like hell too.

I basically stopped doing any kind of working out that required me to bend the arm. I couldn't do it. It hurt too much. And you know, there aren't many upper body exercises you can do without bending your arm. This would be an ongoing issue until late in my freshman year in college. If I had realized it was going to go on that long, I might have gone to the doctor. Who knows? But I was a stupid teenager.

The final story took place on my final night as a student at Kokomo High School. After the graduation ceremony for my senior class, KHS held an event called The Final Fling. It was sort of like a little carnival in the school. There were food, games, prizes, a live band, etc. It was basically a big, alcohol-free party.

As it so happened, they also opened up the gym so people could play basketball or partake in various other activities. As soon as my group of friends got there, Dave and I went straight to the gym. As I walked under the basket to retrieve my first shot, I saw Dave taking a three-pointer out of the corner of my eye.

Dave tossed up an airball. And it hit me right between the eyes.

You may remember that I was still wearing glasses at the time. Well, my glasses shattered. What's more, the shattered frame cut my face in several places. So now, at the final party of my high school experience, I was blind and bleeding. My friends had to basically guide me around the rest of the night as I held a wad of paper towels over my face to stop up the blood flow...all for one measly shot at basket.

All in all, it was a fitting way to finish my high school pickup career.


So... how many more months until NBA 2K11 comes out?

Ever wonder how Jordan would fare in today's NBA? With the hand-checking rules on defense changed so that you are no longer allowed to do everything just short of clubbing your opponent upside the head with an aluminum bat, people have long speculated that Jordan could average 40 or even 50 points per game if he was able to play in today's game during hs prime. Well, here is your chance to find out.

For all the fun I've had playing NBA 2K10, I've always wanted to see more than just a handful of old-school players available, and of course we all have heard by now that 2K Sports is delivering just what we want. NBA 2K11 will feature Michael Jordan with old-school teams, old-school players, and even recreating 10 specific games from Jordan's career. However, this article informs us that 2K Sports is taking a step further. After beating all 10 of NBA 2K11's Jordan challenges, you will have the opportunity to play an offline-only, single player game mode called Creating a Legend.

In this game mode that operate in similar fashion the My Player mode that made last year's game so amazing, you are able to draft a raw rookie version of Michael Jordan onto any current NBA team:
"The idea behind MJ: Creating a Legend is that you're going to step into today's NBA with a rookie Michael Jordan," Boenisch says. "He is rated a 79 overall, which gives you plenty of room to improve, but he has all of the physical tools of Michael as a rookie -- the fast speed, the high jumping, the quickness -- but he lacks a lot of the shooting skills and the offensive and defensive awareness. So you're playing with a raw prospect who can do just about anything, but can't deliver in the clutch just yet.

"And the cool thing about this mode is that you're player-locked to Michael Jordan, so you're kind of recreating the career and the legend of Michael Jordan."
Young Michael Jordan? Getting pissed off at inept teammates and punching them during practice? Making ridiculous buckets look stupidly easy? Getting books written about being such a demanding, overcompetitive asshole? Sign me up!

Also exciting is the news that Jordan's physical appearance will transform as he ages in the game. Adds Boenisch: "When you start out as a rookie, you're going to start out with the short fade, the short little hair. Then as he gets older you're going to see him go with the bald look, then the mustache in the middle years, and his body will bulk up a little bit as he slowly becomes the older Jordan. For fans of Jordan, it's really cool to see the progression and play as Michael and see what it is like to relive that skill that he had to takeover any game."
The game will let you play all the way up from Jordan's rookie year until age 40. I guess this means you won't get to wear Hanes t-shirts under your jersey with a weird little Hitler mustache. Also, you don't get to spend a year and a half playing MLB 2k11 because David Stern suspended you for gambling because you are bored of dominating basketball and want to take a baseball sabbatical. Then again, maybe that's not a bad thing. You also are spared the pain of being majority owner of a fairly crappy expansion franchise -- but, hey, if you want to draft Jordan onto the Bobcats so that he can play for them, be my guest. Just don't come crying to me when Virtual Jordan tells you to get bent and demands a trade after playing with teammates like Erick Dampier and Nazr Mohammed. And if you draft Jordan onto the Washington Wizards, you are a sick bastard.

(And Lord knows what happens if you try to draft him with the poor New Jersey Nets...)

And no, there's no truth to the rumor that the game comes packaged with playing cards, a cigar, and a golf ball. Sorry. We can only hope they include a hidden mini-game where you get to play $10,000-a-hand blackjack in Vegas with Antoine Walker until 'Toine goes broke and goes to the buffet to eat away his sorrows.

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You thought this was the lowest moment in New Jersey's
franchise history? Then you thought very wrong.

The 2009-10 New Jersey Nets -- also known as the "New Jersey Nyets" around these parts -- opened their season with 18 consecutive losses and finished with only 12 wins, earning them a spot among the worst teams in NBA history.

But, believe it or not, neither the 0-18 nor the 12-70 qualify as the worst, most embarrassing moment in New Jersey's franchise history. So come with me on a journey through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of suck.

Yesterday, chris sent me the link to a Deadspin post about the Nets' impending name change (possibly only to the "Brooklyn Nets"). He found one sentence of that post particularly entertaining:

Yes, the Nets go back to the '60s, and are one of four remaining links to the ABA days. But a long history does not equal a storied history. Remember that time they had to forfeit a playoff game because the only arena they could get had baskets of uneven height? Remember when they sold Dr. J because they couldn't afford the cost of joining the NBA? Remember those 432 games below .500, in just 34 years in the league?
That sounds pretty sad, right? I mean, losing a playoff game by forfeit because your arena sucked? Well, put a protective cover over your shame gland, because it's even more pathetic than it sounds.

First understand that this happened back when the "Nets" were actually the New Jersey Americans of the ABA. Now...from's New Jersey Nets History page:

1968: The Playoff Game That Never Happened

New Jersey's 36-42 finish earned the team a tie with the Kentucky Colonels for the fourth and final playoff spot in the ABA's Eastern Division. A single-game playoff was scheduled to determine which team would advance to face the Minnesota Muskies in the first round of postseason play. Unfortunately for the Americans, the Teaneck Armory was booked for a circus on the scheduled date. Owner Arthur Brown scrambled to find an alternate site and managed to reserve Commack Arena in the Long Island, New York, town of the same name.

When the teams showed up for the game, however, they found that the court was in unplayable condition, with floorboards loose, bolts unscrewed, and basket stanchions unpadded. The Colonels refused to play. ABA commissioner George Mikan ruled the game a forfeit, with Kentucky the winner. The Americans' first taste of postseason action had ended without so much as an opening jump ball.
So they had a one-game playoff -- thanks to a sparkling sub-.500 record -- and lost it by forfeit. Ouch. And notice that last sentence? That game was supposed to be New Jersey's first ever playoff contest...and they lost it by forfeit. And it was a home game. How utterly perfect. It couldn't be any more Nets-like, even if Brook Lopez travelled back in time to facepalm about it.

But don't you want more details about this ball-crusher? Of course you do.

From Remember the ABA:

For the first several months of the 1967-68 season, the Americans struggled to keep up in a series of high-scoring shootouts. On November 2, 1967, in New Orleans, the Buccaneers crushed the Americans 141-117. The 141 points for the Bucs established a new ABA high mark. On November 27, 1968, in Louisville, the Kentucky Colonels humiliated the Americans 138-100. And, on December 19, 1967, the Pipers pounded the Americans in Pittsburgh, 146-124. The 146 points for the Pipers set still another ABA high mark. And, Pittsburgh's 80-56 halftime lead also set a new ABA record for most points scored in a half.
Wow. Basketbawful before there was a Basketbawful! Let's continue...

In March 1968, the Americans went on a "mini" playoff push. ... Ultimately, the Americans tied the Kentucky Colonels for fourth place in the Eastern Division with a 36-42 record. A special one-game playoff was scheduled between the two teams to decide which team would qualify for the regular playoffs. The game was scheduled to be played at New Jersey. However, the Teaneck Armory was booked by a circus the entire week of the playoff game.

The Americans decided to move the game to Commack Arena on Long Island. What followed truly became the stuff of ABA legend.

When players, fans and reporters arrived at Commack Arena the evening of the game, the scene was chaotic. Workers hired by the Americans were feverishly trying to tape new 3-point lines onto the court. Parts of the floor appeared to have gaps and holes. Some areas of the court were unstable. There were numerous player complaints about goal padding, floor marking and even the height of the baskets.

Walt Simon observed: "This floor is a shame. You step on one side and another side comes up. That's dangerous."
No shit, Walt.

Levern Tart recited a litany of obvious problems: "One basket seems a little higher than the other. And the 25-foot arc looks a little crooked. And there isn't any padding on the backboards or basket supports. It looks like things have been put up too quickly."

Colonels coach Gene Rhodes summed up the condition of the court by saying: "It's something out of Rube Goldberg!"
Wait, wait, wait. I thought the point of a Rube Goldberg contest was designing a ridiculously complicated machine to perform a seemingly simple operation. This sounds more like inventing an obstacle course where the winning prize is death.

Others at the game also recall that parts of the court were very slippery. This was apparently the result of condensation from hockey ice directly underneath the court (Commack was the home of the Long Island Ducks of the Eastern Hockey League).

Despite the bizarre conditions, most of the Americans players were suited up and ready to play by game time. But, only 3 or 4 Colonels bothered to dress. After Kentucky refused to play, a call was placed to ABA Commissioner George Mikan in Minneapolis. After consulting with Americans and Colonels representatives, Mikan finally ordered the game forfeited in favor of the visiting Colonels. "I just don't want anyone injured," explained Mikan.

A slim crowd of about 400 had showed up for the game. Many of these fans had waited a full hour after the scheduled tipoff, hoping that the game would still go on.

When the forfeit was announced over the P.A. system, many fans in the small crowd gave a sarcastic cheer. To add insult to injury, the Americans had given out numerous free tickets to their one-game playoff, without any special markings. When a line formed for refunds, many of the free ticketholders got in line with paying customers. The arena's ticket crew mistakenly gave refunds on about 80 complimentary tickets.
Well, that was $7.28 the New Jersey owner would never see again...

A short time later, Americans owner Brown stormed out of the arena, saying to his own coach, Max Zaslofsky: "Come on, let's get out of this stinking joint."

The next day, Brown bitterly complained about Mikan's decision to forfeit the game. He threatened to sue Mikan and the ABA. In response, Mikan told the Louisville Courier-Journal: "I suppose Brown has the right to go to court. That's his opinion. I made this ruling for the good of the league. I don't want to try it in the papers."

For a short time, the league actually considered flying the Americans AND the Colonels to Minneapolis for a special "replay" of the game. The winner would have simply stayed put in Minneapolis to face the Minnesota Muskies in Game 1 of a regular 5-game playoff series. A scorecard was even printed for Minneapolis fans who (for inexplicable reasons) might have wanted to see the game. Eventually the league decided against a replay -- the Colonels started their playoff series with Minnesota and that was the end of the saga.
So let's sum this up: the Nets (then the Americans) lost their first-ever playoff game by forfeit because their normal arena was booked by a circus and their substitute arena was like a demilitarized zone. The forfeit happened because commissioner George freaking Mikan's unilateral decision to just cancel the game outright. Then fate squeezed a big, fat lemon all over the wound when the Nets/Americans accidentally refunded money on free tickets. Then they were screwed out of a replay of the game too.

Man. And we thought the Clippers were cursed.

And the kicker? Wait for it...waaaaaait for it...

After the fiasco, Brown was asked by several reporters whether the Americans might move to Commack Arena for their next season. Brown harshly responded: "I cannot see any possibility of negotiating with these people. Anyone in the arena business should know that what's here is inadequate and improper. We definitely won't be here next year!" The manager of Commack Arena, John Steele, shot back: "I wouldn't want Brown here now for all his millions and I told him so."

But in the summer of 1968, Brown decided that the Americans could not survive in New Jersey. He announced his plans to move the team into the New York area -where he had intended to base the team in the first place. It would play as the "New York Nets." And where would the Nets play all of their home games for the 1968-69 season? Commack Arena, of course!

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So sayeth The King of Pain (via Twitter):
"Don't think for one min that I haven't been taking mental notes of everyone taking shots at me this summer. And I mean everyone!"
That's right...everyone.

Yes, even you, Gertrude Meredrith Walsh, retired special education teacher from Ostrander, Minnesota.

I bet you thought your seemingly innocent statement -- "That LeBron fella sure did the people of Cleveland a nasty bother." -- would just slip through the cracks and disappear forever didn't you, Mrs. Walsh?

Well, now you'll understand what's happening when LeBron shows up to end you. I hope you know how to breath through broken teeth and fist, Gertrude. And, uh, if you haven't filled out any organ donor cards lately, now's probably the time to do it.

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Robert Parish is one of my favorite players ever. I grew up screaming "CHIEF!!" every time Parish hit one of his patented turnaround jumpers or jammed home a pick-and-roll pass from Larry Bird. I loved his poise, his unselfishness, and his aura of stoic nobility. I also loved it when he sucker-punched Bill Laimbeer in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals.

Yeah, I probably shouldn't love that, but I do. If anybody ever had it coming, it was Laimbeer.

All that said, I'm starting to think Parish has lost his nut a little. And not just because he recently said: "I think Shaq will definitely bring a defensive presence along with Garnett. He's going to cause a lot of havoc defensively."

I'll concede that was pretty crazy -- Shaq causing defensive havok? In what universe? -- but here's what's eat-your-grandmother's-wig crazy: Parish thinks Paul Pierce is a better offensive player than Larry Bird:

"I think Paul Pierce, the way he manufactures points is the best player the Celtics have seen thus far. That's saying a lot because you are talking about John Havlicek, [who] was the best offensive player that the Celtics had, the way he manufactures points. But Paul Pierce has them all beat. He’s got the Sam Joneses, the (Don) Nelsons, the Tommy Heinsohns, Jones, Havlicek, (Larry) Bird, (Kevin) McHale, myself. Paul Pierce is the best offensive player the Celtics have seen thus far."
That statement is stunning. No, really. I'm stunned. Parish played with Larry Bird. And I'm going to go ahead and assumed he's watched Pierce play at least a few times.

How could Parish be so wrong? Then again, Chief once had two ounces of wacky weed shipped directly to his house via FedEx. So I guess you could say his decision-making has, at times, been a wee bit questionable.

But still, I'm not sure what Parish could have possibly smoked enough of to make him think that Pierce is a better offensive player than Bird. Don't get me wrong. Pierce is pretty darn good. He can nail the three, has a solid mid-range game, and perfected that sweet move where he spins right and pulls up for a jumper. Paul also has a nice head fake, can get to the basket, and either finish or draw fouls.

Of course, Bird could do all of that and more. He could shoot either either hand. He could post up. He had a hook shot going righty or lefty. Heck, Bird once got so bored with being so awesome he tried to spend an entire game shooting left-handed (and finished with 47 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists...the night after going off for 35/15/11 in Seattle).

I mean, have you ever seen Pierce do something like this:

Or hit buzzer beaters like this:

And how 'bout the passing:

To be fair, Pierce has hit some buzzer-beaters of his own and has generated his fair share of highlights.

But c'mon...really?

Don't take my word for it, though. If my progressive series of Larry Bird tattoos is any indication, I can't think clearly when it comes to The Legend. So let's consult the stats.

Note: Bird played 897 career games. Pierce has played 884 so far. Also, where appropriate, I have included the all-time rank next to the stat.

Career Stats: Raw Numbers
Larry Bird
PPG: 24.3 (16)
FPG: .496
3P%: 376 (92)
FTP: 88.6 (10)
APG: 6.3 (41)
ORB: 2.0

Paul Pierce
PPG: 22.5 (29)
FPG: .445
3P%: .369
FTP: .802
APG: 3.8
ORB: 1.0
As you can see, the raw numbers all favor Larry Legend. Some other random facts:

Bird ranked in the top 10 in PPG six times. Pierce has done it five times.

Bird shot 50 percent or better five times and barely missed 50 percent two other times (.496 in 1985-86 and .492 in 1983-84). Pierce has never shot better than .472. Bird's career worst FGP of .454 (which happened during his injury-ravaged 1990-91 season) eclipsed six of Pierce's seasons and equalled his 2000-01 campaign.

Bird ranked in the top 10 in three-point percentage seven times and shot better than 40 percent six times. Pierce has never been a top 10 three-point shooter and has hit 40 percent or better three times. It's true that there are more and better three-point marksmen today than there were in the 1980s, but this shows how Bird measured up to his contemporaries.

Bird ranked in the top 10 in free throw percentage 11 times and led the league four times. Pierce has never ranked in the top 10 in this category.

Pierce has 19 career games in which he scored 40 or more points.

Bird had 27 games with 40-plus points from 1986-87 through 1991-92. That included one six-game season (1988-89) and his final two injury-ravaged seasons (1990-91 and 1991-92). It also doesn't include any of his three MVP seasons. (Man, I wish Basketball-Reference would get box scores going back to before Bird's career.)

Bird ranks fifth all-time with 59 career triple-doubles. Pierce has six.

But hey, maybe the raw numbers lie. Let's take a look at the advanced stats that are supposed to take various confounders (pace, era, quality of teammates) into account.

Career Stats: Advanced
Larry Bird
TS%: .564 (95)
eFG%: .514 (94)
ORB%: 5.9
AST%: 24.7
TOV%: 12.7
ORtg: 115 (50)
OWS: 86.8 (28)

Paul Pierce
TS%: .565 (91)
eFG%: .495
ORB%: 3.1
AST%: 19.3
TOV%: 13.1
ORtg: 109
OWS: 68.3 (48)
Pierce has a very slight edge in True Shooting Percentage...and that's it. All the other advanced stats go Larry's way. Some other random facts:

Bird has three top 10 finishes in Offensive Rating. Pierce has none.

Bird has six top 10 finishes in Offensive Win Shares, including a first place finish in 1984-85. Pierce's best finish was 10th in 2004-05.

Look, Pierce is one of the great scorers of his era. Bird is one of the great scorers of all-time. The only reasonable conclusion I can come to -- and Zach Lowe of CelticsHub agrees -- is that The Legend was clearly a better offensive player than The Truth.

Sorry, Chief.

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