Monday, November 23, 2009

Your 2009-2010 NBA Season

(Listening to "Isis" by Bob Dylan on repeat. Which logo doesn't belong?)

Now, since I've taken a little while to step back into the room, there have been quite a few things that I missed speaking out about. I missed a chance to analyze an agonizing World Series between the two best teams in baseball this year. A series that could have swung in a number of different ways, but really ended up finishing the way we could have predicted it: the team with the better pitching one. I could go on for paragraphs and sentences about sitting on the edge of my couch, cursing at the Phillies' inept middle relief and shouting "Fuck the Yankees!" at a Yankee team that I actually kind of liked all year. In any event, it was an entertaining series and a week of baseball (maybe the whole month?) that may very well be repeated next year when we come to the fall.

But, in the end, October is memorable for really only one thing: (no, not the Alien marathon on AMC; no, not the Mad Men season finale - that was November) the beginning of the NBA season. Each year, in the week leading up to Halloween, the NBA kicks off its season on TNT with the best in-studio analysts in any sport: Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and the immortal Ernie Johnson. Plus, now we have Chris Webber to add to the mix as well. And if anyone has read any Bill Simmons, they will know that his take on Chris Webber as an in-studio personality is quite true - there is something about Webber as a personality that strikes similar to him as a player, he is polished, well rounded, gifted and full of potential, will this end like his NBA career (i.e. mildly fulfilling but not the satisfaction you were hoping for)? We'll see. In the last year, he has been a welcome addition to the studio.

This NBA season had some intriguing storylines going in:

- Lebron free agency (read "to New York") hype. As well as the rest of the 2010 Class (Bosh, Boozer, Wade, Amar'e Stoudemire, Tracey McGrady, Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, etc.)

- Dwyane Wade pushing himself even harder to become MVP.

- The Lakers vying for a repeat.

- Ron Artest living in L.A., playing with Kobe, with even greater odds to out-crazy himself, starting with picking his number 37 after the amount of weeks Thriller was the #1 record. (Artest is my all-time crazy person and I have a proclivity for enjoying crazy people.)

- The Celtics looking for a bounce-back (read "winning the NBA Title") year, especially Kevin Garnett.

- Shaq & Lebron (terrible combination?)

- The Orlando Magic quietly improving after a run to the Finals.

- The Spurs having perhaps the best offseason of any NBA team

- Blake Griffin hype and the fact that if you look at the Clippers, they actually have a good team.

- Can the Thunder become everyone's new favorite team because of their young talent?

Anyway, with that last one, we are becoming a little bit more minute, but needless to say there were a lot of storylines heading in. I, for one, was particularly excited about this season. Although, this summer's draft was not the deepest in years, the league is slowing regaining control of itself and building a core of talent that is entertaining and enjoyable to watch. Good teams like the Spurs are getting deeper so that can obtain that "look-back" factor, when you think back about a good team and remember, "Damn, they even had (insert player you can't believe played for the team)." After one month of the season, here are my top storylines:

- The Atlanta Hawks. Who knew? After years of bumbling draft picks and ineptly constructed teams, the Hawks are legitimate at least in the early going. They had a breakthrough year last year (maybe even in the 7-gamer against the Celtics in 2008?) and have gotten even better. Their roster is freakishly athletic and long with Al Horford, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams and quick with Jamal Crawford and Jeff Teague, experienced with Mike Bibby, and all-around talented with Joe Johnson. The question becomes, in crunch time, who is the star? Joe Johnson is a fine player, but we won't be looking back at the "Joe Johnson Atlanta Hawks." He lacks a star power, and although he is a terrific shooter, I don't know how clutch he is. The Hawks have a lot of likeable players and they do play tough, but they are missing a killer. They strike me as a slightly more experienced and gelled 2006-2007 Chicago "Baby" Bulls. Lots of nice pieces, some of which should be moved to get a killer in the summer of 2010. Or another veteran?

- An Improved Heat? Miami started off the year (much to my pleasure) playing as if they wanted to keep Dwyane Wade in South Beach. They have cooled off some (they were never as good as 7-2, but it was nice to see at least), but you still have to be pleased at the progress of Chalmers and Beasley in their second years as well as Jermaine O'Neal's knees holding up. If they can hold up all year, the Heat may have a chance to make a run in the playoffs, if only because they have Dwyane Wade (see his game-winner against the Nets). The most interesting aspect of the Heat this year does have to be the legitimate theories that Wade and Lebron want to play together next year. This strikes me as a terrible idea. I think they could both co-exist on a team, but you want the two best players in the league (yes, the two best) to be playing against each other in their primes, not with each other. Bird and Magic on the same team? Jordan in the backcourt with Isiah? Doesn't work.

- Blake Griffin's injury: Of course.

- The Lakers may be the best team in the NBA. They are deep at all positions. They are talented. Bynum is coming to play this year and Gasol has been on the bench with injuries for most of the early games. Kobe is playing to regain the league MVP and the Lakers do look dangerous. I don't know who stops them in the West. The Suns will run out of steam and they don't have the toughness to outlast the Lakers. Once again, it comes down to Duncan and that deep Spurs team. If they can all gel (too many nice guys to not gel) then they are the only ones to stop the Lakers from getting to the Finals out of the West.

- The Dysfunctional Cavaliers and Celitcs. The Cavaliers started out abyssmally while the Celtics started out on fire. The Cavs have turned it around and are developing chemistry with Shaq. I still think Shaq handicaps them when the playoffs come. I think Mike Brown mishandles their lineup and doesn't play J.J. Hickson enough in crunch time (playing real well so far). The Celtics are missing Big Baby (don't even get started on that) even though Sheldon Williams has been a nice surprise for them off the bench. Rondo has been playing remarkably besides setting historic lows for free-throw shooting and this team's season is going to come down to Garnett's health and whether or not Rasheed can last for the whole season. A player I have enjoyed for many years (UNC ties, but he did underachieve) could very well be past his prime and mix that with an aging Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and this could be a disaster come May. However, I think Rondo has fireworks coming this year and he may carry this team to a Finals run and we could remember this Celtics team as Rondo's.

- The Orlando Magic: Best in the East? The certainly look like it again at this point. However, it is still early in the year and we are getting middling performances from many of the Eastern conference teams. The Atlantic Division is atrocious, while the Central (the Bucks?) and Southeast Divisons remain competitive. Meanwhile, the West is just as competitive as always, and the Mavs are definitely a team to watch this year - they are playing well together, even if they are extremely bland. Dirk seems rested and is putting up great early season numbers.

Other quick points:

- Brandon Jennings: is he really this good?

- 2009 Rookies: underrated?

- The Bulls: some nights so entertaining, other nights, perplexing

- Stephen Jackson: will Captain Jack get moved again? I think so.

- Carmelo: Where does he finish in MVP voting this year? Third? He's going to have a huge year.

- The Thunder are going to get attention for a lot of televised games next year. They are definitely fun to watch if you get the chance.

Alright, that is all I have for NBA rambling for the moment. My writing on this doesn't feel inspired, even though I love it so much. Just watch the games. You can't go wrong with the NBA on TNT on a Thursday with a few beers. And read Bill Simmons' Book of Basketball, it really says it all. Remarkable, remarkable basketball book.

Next: review of Beach House's upcoming third album Teen Dream and some musings on Jerry Seinfeld's improv genius this past season on Curb Your Enthusiasm

Now: an excerpt from From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt. I am currently revising my first draft and hopefully during this winter I can make something happen with an agent or a publisher. If you read this blog, tell someone how good I am.


They’re all gone now. I feel bloated sitting in this damn comfortable chair. I’m passing my hand over my round food belly. I’m sticking it out a little, I never really grew a gut. That has to be one of my greatest achievements, staving off the onset of middle age old age fat. It’s bound to happen to so many people. You lose metabolism, you work longer hours, harder hours for the wife the kids, you don’t eat meals when you’re supposed to – I even did it sometimes too. Sometimes when I’d be stuck in our office looking over patient files or doing the god damn books when we had some fuck-up of a bookkeeper the greatest thing was to think about coming home and devouring whatever roast or dinner that Rose would’ve had still waiting for me. So it’d be cold but you just warm it and it didn’t matter because she’dve been waiting for me there anyway. I can feel the acid in my stomach eating away at all that steak in there. That girl can cook cant’t she, Jimmy? I toast his little league lacrosse picture that sits on the shelf. I bet that steak pizzaola would taste great late at night.

I listen to the drum sound of my stomach. I try to play it like bongos. There is no resonance. Only a good fleshy smack. Thock. Connor and I both never grew bellies. Our father never had one either. We weren’t a lanky family, all just sort of lean, gaunt maybe. My father’s hands and arms sinewy strong. His palm disproportionately large looking and feeling to the rest of his body. It wasn’t fleshy or soft and you wouldn’t call it a bear paw either with an encompassing vice-grip. No, it was slightly rough, it was weathered, it had lived and touched. I think Connor and I both aspired to something like that in our whole appearance, genetic or otherwise. I don’t know what he eats or how Erin feeds him, but when we worked together we both tried to keep a diet, stick to the words and promises that came out of our mouths during the day to those people sitting on blue paper waiting for us.

I didn’t want to go to the Checkmate with them all. It’s not my place anymore and it hasn’t been in such a long time. Checkmate, oh checkmate, my home away from home! Just the sound of my own singing voice coming back to me in this room. It’s funny to think of all the songs and all the times wasted in that ramshackle house of a bar. Were they really wasted times? Well in the one hand they look wasted and they absolutely were. Aye stood meself quite a few droonks standing aside the barnacle. However, on the other hand they weren’t wasted at all, there was a remarkable clarity that usually comes with the passing of time, or the strange once in a blue moon occurance of recognizing the significance of a moment as it occurs. But our president hires the poets, writers and playwrights to do that and they still haven’t taught me so I guess that government laureate spending is going to waste. Who started that? Clinton?

I can’t help but laugh out loud, though. The nights Connor and I would have there when we were young. He was so much more reluctant to take a drink than I ever was, but when he did it was a different side you’d see to him nothing like the quiet and thoughtful appearance he’d always give though I suppose the reason he took that on was probably due to me and the way I acted when I was younger, in middle age and I guess even now with me entering old age or already well into it.

That one night when he and I were playing darts – cricket – and we met those girls. The sassy ones who’d just moved here from Minnesota. It must’ve been some time before my accident. Yes, it was because I had been hanging out with Billy and his whole gang or I guess entourage is what it was really. The practice was doing alright but I still felt I could get somewhere going to the City all the time or out east, doing my best to rub my elbows and make people laugh – to know me as a character because its always been my belief that the secret to life lies in how you can read someone’s character. And the trick to success was to know that about other people and then to do your best to emit a sense of character a sense of wholeness within yourself that another person could make out amid all the other bullshit and clutter of life and truly grab onto and lose themselves in whether over a few drinks or if you were really good at it, over two hours on a movie screen.

That night, though, we’d been going at pints of Budweiser. I can’t remember who was winning the game – I never really cared for darts.

“It’s not like how we’d imagined it, is it?”

“No, it’s not.”

One of them was blonde with long hair. She was tall but I couldn’t tell how tall she was when I saw her in the corner of my eye as she sat.

“People make such a big deal about the glamour. All this Hamptons bull and the Great Gatsby.”
“I know.” The other laughed. “The Great Gatsby.”

I couldn’t help myself. I was drunk and feeling funny. So I staggered over to their table by the long front window that looks out to the street. I placed the darts between their glasses. At first they were startled, but I smiled. They seemed amused then.

“And what is wrong with The Great Gatsby?”

“Excuse me,” the blonde said.

“Gatsby. What’s wrong with him?”

She paused and the other sized me up. They weren’t sure what to make of me? Was I oppressive or playful. The blonde touched the tip of the dart.

“Well I just think he’s not all that he’s cracked up to be.”

“Sure he is. I think he’s a great guy and a great character too. That is one beautiful book.”

The other laughed, short and halting.

The blonde held her finger to her lips, then she looked up at me blinking.

“I don’t know. I’ve been living here for almost a year and I haven’t seen anything like him or the world he was supposed to live in. Seems kind of seedy around here. Things have fallen off haven’t they?”

“Scathing reviews!”

“I just don’t see what the big deal in romantizing him is. He’s just a guy from Long Island. Billy Joel is too and I hate that “Piano Man” song.”

I turned around to check on Connor, but he’d left the dart area. I saw him hovering by the jukebox and the bar. I went back to the blonde.

“Well, Billy happens to be a friend of mine but I think you are getting a bit off the topic and missing the point of the book.”

“This guy sure thinks a lot of himself,” the other said.

“Where are you girls from?”


“Ah, give it some time. You’ve both got cold charms and you need to have them warmed by a few glorious Long Island summers.”

“Cold charms?” The blonde pushed the darts toward my waist. “What does that mean?”

I shrugged. I was about to speak, but from the speakers I heard the beginning of “Piano Man.” I pointed up in the air as if it were some divine coincidence. Then I felt Connor’s hand on my back. He stood beside me cradling his pint glass.

“ ‘Piano Man’,” he said. “Great song.” He winked at me and I broke up. The girls groaned but they warmed up to us. He could’ve made the blonde one when the night was all said and done but he didn’t. He and Erin were off and on and not so serious at that point, but I think he saw a future in her and didn’t want to mess that up. She ended up picking us up that night anyway. A sweet brunette who was originally from New Hampshire but ended up at the university and she stuck around.

“What are you doing going out like this, Ben? You’ve got a baby daughter at home. You should be helping out your wife. Why she stays with you I have no idea.”

“She’s got a good sense of humor.”

“You’ve got to control your big brother, Connor.”

“He’s not such a bad sense of humor.”

I started giggling in the back of the car.

“What? I don’t get you two.”

No one did and we were terrific together.

There’s that picture of the two of us at my bachelor party. It’s on the shelf above James’ lacrosse picture. We’ve both got our ties loosened and dishevelled around our necks, our hair still thick and brown, arms hooked. You can’t put a price on a good sibling. I hope all of the kids know that. I think they do otherwise they wouldn’t all be going out together tonight. I’m surprised it was Tom that had the idea. He is my strange son and I don’t think I’ll ever know everything about him and I’m not supposed to. But it was good to have a drink with him watching the rain today. What’s he going to do with himself? I don’t know the what but I know that he is going to because he will. He’ll solve his mysteries without my help. Without James’ help and certainly now without Rose’s help.

He reminds me of Connor a lot. They both were reserved and Connor was quirky though not as introspective or strange. I reach next to me and take a drink from the bottle. It’s almost done, so I ride the burn and the bloat and take another glug to finish it off. It’s time to start on the next one. I stand myself up and drag myself over to the desk. I slide my hands along the top listening to the squeak of my palm on wood. That’s all I’ll have for now on – it’s what I’ve been used to for many years now. But what is wrong with me to be thinking like that. I’m drunk and I slouch in the rolling chair. It’s leather too. My eyes are closed. My arm drops to the bottom drawer and my fingers pull at the handle which is cooler – metal.

She’s there against the blackness. It’s all auburn now – auburnette more accurately. It’s her white sundress that makes her shine more than the hair. But where is this? No its not heaven. This isn’t the afterlife – it couldn’t be because even though I’m Catholic I never thought about it: she thought about it. But she must be thinking about me because of that dress, she knew I loved that dress more than anything more than her naked.

It has to mean more than that. She walks along the black. It gives way to the rocks down at the jetties. I took her there on our second date - an afternoon walk. The sun is shining just the same. Is this it? Is this eternity? An endless day remembered in my eyelids? She’s pointing out to the sound. I see a sailboat, someone is actually sailing the way they used to by the beach.
And its gone its all gone and I can see Connor. It’s nothing but Connor his hair like mine blowing in the breeze. We’re down by the docks. He stands behind me sitting on the planks looking into the water. I’m holding an O’Doul’s between my thighs. It’s his reflection I see. That’s what brothers are for.

“You let her die,” he says.

“Which one.”

“Maybe it’s both. You’d have to decide about Rose.”

“You’re right, Connor. Are you tired?”

Then it’s my desk. It’s the wood everywhere – the brown shades, the shines. Me and the bottle in between my thighs at the desk. I look to the shelves.

They’re all gone or going.

No comments:

Post a Comment