Thursday, January 7, 2010

Step into the Arenas

See you just have to love the NBA.

I was walking down the street on New Year's Day this year, not so much headache hungover, but bleary-eyed and feeling loose and goofy.  I was walking with my roommate of Motel Motel fame and four of my best friends from growing up.  I had one beer already and we were looking forward to having a few bloody mary's at the local French restaurant, Le Baricou.  My friend stepped into a bodega to grab a pack of smokes, when I spotted the always beautiful back cover of the New York Post.  The headline read:

Wizards Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton pull pistols on each other

This eye-catching headline was followed by a scintillating bit of reporting that reads accordingly:

Guess they're still the Bullets at heart. 

NBA all-star Gilbert Arenas and his Washington Wizards teammate Javaris Crittenton drew guns on each other in the team's locker room during a Christmas Eve dispute over a gambling debt, The Post has learned. 

Now, when I saw this I just had to laugh.  There is only one sport where this sort of headline is conceivable.  Just when you think the sensational stories of Stephon Marbury and Isiah Thomas having group sex in the back of an SUV while they were both with the Knicks weren't low brow enough, this sort of head scratcher comes along.  Of course, the dry way the Post reports the story gives the chuckle effect, because when you read an action like two teammates pulling guns on each other in a dispute over a gambling debt in a newspaper it just seems too crazy to be true.  You also get the image of a smug sports reporter typing out the story in its detached manner and thinking "Oh, yes.  I am better than these two idiot millionaires."

That journalist may very well be right.  I haven't been the biggest Gilbert Arenas fan over the years.  Admittedly I was sleeping on college basketball when he attended the University of Arizona from 1999-2001 and went to the NCAA Championship Game against Duke in 2001 on team with Richard Jefferson and Luke Walton.  Even when Gilbert was catching fire in 2003, 2004 and 2005 with long 3's and big scorig nights, I didn't find him that appealing.  I only liked that he started calling himself Hibachi and fit under the category of "this guy is eccentric, he might be crazy, sort of makes up for him being a selfish player."  The thing about Gilbert that always rubbed me the wrong way, was that he espoused the fact that he was one of the top point guards in the league, but was never unselfish enough to truly be one.  Gilbert always reminds me of another era of basketball, one that I have only read about and not seen enough of to truly speak on: the late 70's early 80's.  He doesn't fit the mold of the spoiled stars in the late 90's and he certainly falls short in the golden era of '87 to '93.  However, his eccentric personality, his grace, and his undeniable talent put him snugly into another era of stars such as George Gervin and Elvin Hayes.  Gilbert has a terrific jump shot, but he relies on it too much - too many pull up threes.  He has great off the dribble moves, but he doesn't use them enough.  He has talked big and then choked like against the Cavs in the Playoffs in '05 and '06.  On a team with an unselfish and equalled skilled player like Antwain Jamison and a quality third man like Caron Butler, Gilbert should be facilitating more, those Washington teams should be doing a whole lot more to make an impression on sports fans and on an open era in the NBA.  However, they have not and I think a lot of it falls on Gilbert.  But who am I to say and who knew I would have gone on this long about Gilbert Arenas anyway.  I barely even care about him as a player.

But that New York Post reporter might not be correct.  Maybe I'm a sucker.  I know carrying guns with the correct license is legal and part of this country's core legislature - but its probably not the way to go.  I know that Gilbert bringing a gun into his team's locker room and then pulling one on his teammate over a gambling debt (doesn't sound any less insane the more you type it) is probably a little unwise. However, when I see those headlines about NBA players, it hits some soft spot in me.  Like the class clown or the rebel who can just never do good, but there is something so endearing about it, something that makes you want to say "Ah, he just doesn't know any better."  That's what the NBA is to me.

Its unfortunate that's the way its become. However, you have to take the highs and the lows - the ultimate arena for one on one showdowns, the most personal team battles, the most physically demanding and beautiful of all the sports, and the sport that draws the most "how is that even possibles." For all of the continued bad behaviour and the head scratchers that occur, I will be there every October through June scrolling through box scores, laughing at players I hate, trying to jinx players and teams I hate, and loving the players I love with complete and utter blissful ignorance.  Wade is better than Lebron - you're damn right.

Around the NBA:

- One of my favorite things about the NBA is watching players I appreciated and followed in college begin to grow and fit into their roles in the league.  This is happening in Memphis and Oklahoma City as a lot of young players are playing together and starting to gel.  We all knew that Oklahoma City would soon be a good team because Kevin Durant had star quality written all over him.  However, we didn't know that Westbrook would be able to continue his strong point guard play and that Jeff Green would become one of the best young "glue" players in the entire league.  Throw in rookie addition James Harden who has been giving them quality minutes and they are filling in the Durant-Green-Westbrook foundation well.

Memphis likewise has a nice foundation of O.J. Mayo-Mike Conley-Rudy Gay that has mixed suprisingly well with Zach Randolph who seems to have revitalized his career this season.  He is averaging a double-double and actually seems motivated.  They even picked up a nice bench piece in the draft when they got Sam Young from that tough Pittsburgh team from last year. The average age of the team is 24.3 so there is a chance that some of these guys will be able to stick together to actually gel into a team and perhaps gain some fanbase and momentum in Memphis.  I like the idea of a team in Memphis - maybe not the Grizzlies as a team name, though.

- The Heat.  They are terrible.  Wade needs help.  We need to get Chris Paul in Miami or we need to get Wade to a team where he will not be wasting the peak years of his career.  Right now, it is like watching a more complete, friendly, team orientated version of Kobe from 2005-2007.  Arguably the most talented two guard and arguably the best player in the league floundering on a sub-par team during the peak years of his career.

- Are the Celtics for real? Will they be able to make it all the way to the Finals? Will Rasheed appear to care about basketball so that his fans and supporters over his crazy years (me!) can continue to get his back.  Rasheed has always been one of my favorite players and personalities, but he seems to have just lost it.  I hear there is a rift in this team between the young players like Rondo (All-Star) and Perkins (one of the toughest low post players playing) and Garnett, Pierce and Allen.  Big Baby comig back will give them a boost and help spread out minutes, but if this team can't completely gel as they once did, then they may not make it to the Finals.

- Are the Lakers for real? What happened to that team that looked like a history maker?  Will Bynum ever become the center all basketball fans were hoping he would become? Is Kobe really becoming the reincarnation of Michael Jordan in 1997? He has tried so hard to emulate Michael and he is actually doing a damn good job of hitting Michael Jordan in 1997.  Sort of weird.

- Portland and their injuries.  They seem to be losing players left and right, but they are still at the top of the West standings.  I don't know how far they can actually make it, but when you watch them, you just imagine if they had all of  their players healthy, and a stronger veteran presence thrown into the mix to give them some sort of killer edge.  They just don't have it and I don't care how many nice, young talented guys like Roy (could become a killer maybe) they get, they need a killer.

- The Mavericks.  Maybe its their year.  Dirk is playing out of his mind and they have a toughness or an savvy that they lacked when they were so good in 2006 and 2007.  They sort of feel like an early 2000's San Antonio team.  Dirk is no Duncan.

- The Spurs.  They're lurking around.  Dejuan Blair.

- I don't know what is going to happen the rest of the season, but the offseason keeps getting more and more interesting. I hope it doesn't let down.  We are also getting closer and closer to the trade deadline and the All-Star Break so we'll see if there are any midseason shakeups.  This is a weird NBA season so far.  I can't get a real grasp on it.  But I'll keep you all up to speed.  Plus I'm catching a Knicks-Heat game in April with my buddy at the Garden so I get my first in person look at Dwyane Wade on the court.  Hopefully, he's not resting and the Heat don't suck as much as they do now.

Next: The much hyped, the much heard about, the award winning synopsis of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band starring the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton and a FRENCH HORN!!!

Now: The next installment of From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt.


Drum kick punch and the cymbols tip. I can hear the music from the speakers, they are wired along the edge of the roof.  It’s a good song but it sounds stale from overplay.  With space and time will come the love remembered; like any classic, like any old thing.
I move my attention from my ears to my eyes.  My heart is on edge watching Natalie as she fingers the bridge of her nose.  She must be self-conscious of it now that I’ve professed my love for its shape – its Grecian curve, although an art  historian would have a field day with that and with me in general.  How can I speak when there is flesh like that in the world? Taaaakeee and ssseeeee.  When objects move and perform and have a past that is well known but never fleshed out.  I’m not simple, but her nose is and I must take action in the silence among the torches.  Speak!
“Is this the first time you’ve been here since you’ve been home?”
“Afraid to be seen out?”
“No.  Well maybe yes.  I like to go to the Corner sometimes.”
I didn’t think she had it in her to go to a place like the Corner.  I’m always surprised that there are ever girls in there at all.  The bathroom is disgusting and seems like it hasn’t been cleaned in a decade.  The urinal doesn’t flush and runs a somehow never rising pool in its small ceramic basin.  The plastic soap dispenser is forever empty.  I’m not sure there is a girl’s bathroom.  But she goes and now that I look at her finger on the very tip of her nose - her glass oozing a slug’s trail on the flicker lit table – maybe it does make sense.
“I like the Corner,” is what I can say.
“What about you?”
Now she’s leaning over her drink. Her finger extends down from her nose where everything seems to emnate from – at least now – and falls over her pouting lips.  Not big and cartoonish and not thin – they simply are lips.  And that’s what makes my heart sharp.  The torches show themselves in the small puddles of condensation and melted ice on the table.  I can’t help but think of my friend Jeff.  He drank nothing but water until we were sixteen years old.  He was slim and nothing ever seemed to stick to him.  It was only until recently I connected that to his always drinking water.  Now he’s gone and I’m here.  He’s made of water -75 percent, maybe 80 – and I’m made of something I can’t figure out.  But I’m here and the torches burn and she’s leaning with a nose.
“Yes, you.”
“Aren’t you afraid to be seen out?”
“Well its not like I went away anywhere.”
She is about to say something.  She decides to touch her hair instead and I’m fine with that.
“Why was that?”
I’m not weak and I can’t really say why it was that it was that I did or didn’t.  But there is something about her that makes me want to tell her everything.  Even in this thick night that belongs to Georgia or Alabama, where the air smells faintly of fertile dirt, when she speaks I smell the mothballs of a church basement.  Which is to say that I want to confess everything to her as if I were seven and truly believed in reconciliation.  When I was seven and first understood death through the story of a cat being hit by a car in my CCD book and then later that night when I read – in bed with dad - the story of Martin Luther King.  And now mom is dead like the cat and the Doctor Martin Luther.  But she is here in torch light and wants to know me like we once knew each other.

“I can’t really say.”
“You can’t or you won’t”
She turns away.  All of sudden this seems much more intimate.  Her nose in profile, the dancing light, the moistness and earthy fragrence  of the night air.  It seems like we are a reconciling couple.  We were friends – very close friends at one time – sure, but the way she is acting would sound and look like something more.  If we were a painting on display, or merely caught by a nosy churchwoman walking her dog to burn calories.
“This is strange.”
She’s turned back. “Why?”
“Its been so long since we’ve spoken and now.  This feels like some kind of familiar rhythm.  Our postures.”
She looks at me.  She’s looking long and hard.  Studying my face to see if I’ll move or flinch or look away.  Maybe I’m too stupid to look away.  Maybe I’m too strange like everyone has always said.  But either I can’t or I won’t and she knows it now.
“Yeah,” she looks down. “I think there is something.  It makes me think that there might’ve always been.  There might’ve always been and…”
“I can’t really say why because I don’t really know,” I find myself saying.  She on the edge of a secret, revealing her sentiment, and I find myself talking.  Not wanting her to show everything, not wanting her to bear that.  Because I’m not sure if I am ready to hear what she has to say.  I just want to watch the glow around her nose and cheeks and feel my blood. I want to feel the dabs of drinks I’ve had over the course of this day.  I’m not ready to have anything bared.
“Oh,” she says.
Or am I?
“Let me buy you another drink.”
“No,” she says.  I’d be nervous, but I’m not.  I see her pause.  She looks back up, squinting a little.

She’s trying to see me better. “Do you want to come to my house?”

 I look at her.  I know I’m simply looking.

 “Er…my parents’ house?”
I smile at her.  I know I’m simply  smiling.
I don’t know if I want her to bare anything to me.  I might just want to walk with her and breathe in the soil richness of the air.  Or maybe its that I want to run.  To find a place that’s quiet like snow.  I’m kidding myself of course.  I just want to kiss her.

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