Entries from May 2012
May 30th, 2012 · Comments
Now that the ping pong balls have stopped bouncing, let's pick who each of the lottery teams should take in the 2012 NBA Draft.
In this special "lottery edition" of Basketball by Association, Assistant NBA editor Ethan Norof and resident NBA general manager Joel C. Cordes discuss what each team needs and who they will select.
Basketball by Association is a brand new podcast series and your court-side seat for all things NBA on Bleacher Report.
It's about as certain as can be that the New Orleans Hornets will take Anthony Davis first.
How disappointed must the Charlotte Bobcats be right now? It's gonna be awhile for the sting to wear off.
Yet it doesn't have to be all doom and gloom: there are actually a lot of helpful options for the league's worst team.
This is a deep draft with a ton of athleticism and upside. However, the rest of the lottery does not have a clear-cut hierarchy in the other top nine spots.
This means that most teams can be comfortable drafting for need, rather than feeling locked into just taking the "best player available."
Most of the lottery rosters do have glaring needs at a specific spot or two. Thus, finding their guy will be narrowed down by position, with more than one choice to consider.
Outside of Anthony Davis, there aren't many "sure-thing" superstars. Yet, there are plenty of players with a reasonable chance. Upside is so much fun and so nerve-wracking at the same time!
On the bright side, it's even more certain that the top half of the draft can provide long-term solutions and career starters.
Your 2012 NBA Draft prognostication begins now...
May 29th, 2012 · Comments
In the wake of yet another major match fixing scandal in Italian soccer, where police have arrested 17 people including 11 players and are investigating more than 50 players from 22 different Italian clubs, we are once again left staring straight into the ugly, unscrupulous world of professional sports.
Could something like this happen in America? It would be naïve to think it can't.
Clearly, there are issues in Italian soccer. Just six years after a match-fixing scandal that rocked Seria A to its foundation–relegating the likes of super club Juventus and knocking AC Milan and Fiorentina out of Champions League play–Italian authorities have built a case so strong they're arresting people during Italy's training for Euro 2012.
Are things more untoward in Italy or are their authorities just better at investigating? Does it have to be that black and white? The world is so quick to point a finger at Italian soccer's misdeeds, who's to say the same thing isn't happening on our shores.
The NBA had a recent scandal that may not have involved players or coaches, but did land "rogue official" Tim Donaghy in prison. There have been many point shaving or game fixing scandals in college sports, even very recently, which stands to reason (in some unfortunate way) given the lack of money paid to college players. The high profile nature of college sports coupled with the lack of pay for players is a breeding ground for third parties to shatter the structure's integrity by throwing a little cash at key players.
That makes sense, in some perverse way. Heck, even NBA referees taking money makes sense, given their pay in comparison to the players. There is no way you can convince me college referees aren't taking kick backs to cover spreads or help determine winners. Certainly, one would need proof to out any referee in particular, but it's hard to believe so many officials are that inconsistent without some more nefarious inklings at work.
Professional players, though, make so much money it seems nearly impossible to be able to orchestrate a wide spread game-fixing syndicate. And yet, we have Italy.
Nick Tarnowski and I discussed this topic on our weekly show and he brought the astute point that players don't necessarily get paid off to fix matches or cover spreads. Players could have their own gambling issues and get involved in fixing results in an effort to get out of their own bad debts.
Some situations may be even less seedy than that, to be fair. Given how public the lives of athletes have become, it would not be hard for criminal organizations to target players or their families in an effort to create a regular money-making advantage. In other words, if a mob boss threatened to kill your wife and kids unless you let a few balls go past you, wouldn't you think twice before diving to stop the next free kick?
That's probably giving the Serie A and Serie B players involved in this recent scandal a bit too much credit. With 52 players on 22 teams involving 33 matches reportedly under investigation, it would mean a whole lot of threats without anyone putting a stop to it. More likely, some (or all) of the players are benefiting financially.
It makes sense in a lower division, but for Serie A players to be involved, especially given the issues a few years ago, seems impossible.
Could a net this wide be cast upon an American league?
In baseball, it would be easy to pay off a pitcher. We talk about how much the top-flight pitchers make, but every team has a fourth of fifth starter who clearly isn't making as much as the rest of the rotation. Heck, even a young player who hasn't reach his arbitration age probably makes so little in comparison to more established players that someone could find enough money to have him groove a few fastballs. Nobody would really ever know, but there is no way a pitcher can keep his team from playing solid defense and scoring runs
When the BlackSox Scandal rocked baseball, there were eight players from that team banned from the game (and a player from another team who was banned for betting on games with the information he was given from one of the players). Keep in mind, in 1919, players weren't exactly making what they are today, inflation be damned. It was much easier to pay off a player in those days and still there were eight players–or seven if you believe the innocence of Shoeless Joe Jackson–who conspired to throw the World Series.
The NBA obviously has gambling issues, but does anyone think the players would ever get involved? Sure, a shooter could have an odd off night or a player could get injured or find himself in early foul trouble to take himself out of the game. That said, NBA players make so much money, the payoffs to an impact player would have to be immense. Even if one player was taking a bribe, there's no guarantee his team couldn't still win without him, meaning payoffs of at least two superstar players to throw any NBA game.
However, NBA teams do get accused of tanking to get more lottery balls, so can we really assume teams wouldn't tank for actual cash?
Still, it's much easier to just pay off the referees. It's probably more effective too.
A goalie in hockey, much like in soccer, would have the biggest impact if a game were fixed. Still, goalies who give up a few soft goals often get pulled for the back-up and teams can routinely come from behind after a goalie change, meaning anyone hoping to really fix a hockey game would have to get a few players to conspire.
When compared to NBA or top flight MLB players, NHL players make lower salaries perhaps making it financially, if not morally, easier to bribe a hockey player. Hockey may be the most similar situation to soccer, but given Serie A's status in Italy and around the world, we might need a higher profile American sport to compare.
Individual sports like tennis and boxing are obviously the easiest to fix. Let's leave those aside and focus on team sports.
Really, we are left with the NFL and in a way, the bounty situation is tantamount to match fixing.
If reports are true that external parties were offering bounties to knock specific players out, isn't that eerily similar to asking a player to take a dive for money? Yes, one is asking the player to go above-and-beyond to try to help his team win, while the other would be trying to make his team lose (or keep the game close to cover the spread) but both situations hypothetically involve people giving money to players to go outside the rules of the game to impact the end result.
If that's not match fixing, I'm not sure what is.
That said, this is a lot like the old notion that Pete Rose bet on baseball but only for the Reds to win. There is something far more unethical about taking money to tank.
Still, it would be pretty easy to ask a kicker to miss a few kicks or pay a punt returner to muff a key return. Running backs fumble all the time and quarterbacks can throw interceptions a few times per game. Defensive players constantly miss tackles or get flagged with terrible pass interference penalties. Offensive linemen destroy drives with untimely holding calls. The list of in-game errors could go on.
Point being, there are a lot of ways to throw a football game and not all of the players on the field are making millions upon millions of dollars the stars do. With non-guaranteed contracts and short NFL careers, even star players may find it hard to ignore the opportunities there for a player to grab a quick payday to keep a game close.
It could be any of them. It could be all of them. We hope it is none of them.
It's naïve to think this only happens in Italian soccer and it's just as naïve to think it doesn't happen in the current climate of American professional sports.
Herman Edwards once coined the famous line, "you play to win the game." We surely want to believe that to be true. Only sometimes it's not.
May 24th, 2012 · Comments
This week, Josh and I talk with ESPN's Business of Football analyst Andrew Brandt. Andrew is also the co-founder of the National Football Post, an excellent website that every NFL fan should visit daily, and probably most importantly he spent over a decade as the Vice President of Football Operations for the Green Bay Packers. We talked to Andrew about the NFLPA's filing of a collusion suit against the NFL as well as Jonathan Vilma's defamation suit filed against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
May 21st, 2012 · Comments
It's hard not to like 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.
LeBron James put in a ridiculously clutch performance in a must-win situation for Miami, helping the Heat take game four of their the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Indiana Pacers. For the first time since The Decision, and maybe for the first time in his career as a professional, I found myself rooting for LeBron. I found myself rooting for the Miami Heat.
This is an uncomfortable feeling. I suddenly want LeBron to win.
There was a point in the second half of Sunday's game where a switch clicked and all the off-the-court nonsense went away. LeBron wasn't the guy who sat across from Jim Gray in a Boys and Girls Club outside of New York City, holding America hostage for an hour. He wasn't the guy who strung along his entire hometown before breaking Cleveland fans' hearts in the most public way possible.
On the court on Sunday, LeBron wasn't that guy. He was simply the most talented basketball player in the world coming through when his team needed him.
This feeling truly is uncomfortable. LeBron has been so unlikable for so long, it's impossible to think one stellar performance could change that.
As a sportswriter, part of me wonders if rooting for LeBron could be for professional benefit. The longer LeBron and Miami are in the playoffs, the more chances we have to write about (and potentially write-off) LeBron's "clutchness." When the guy pours in a dominant 40-18-9 performance for the ages, sports experts can still yell about doing it in an elimination game or showing up like that in the NBA Finals.
Really, though, it may be more than professional interests at play. Rooting for LeBron may be more than the subject of a column or a talking point on radio and TV. He is exciting to watch. The backdoor passes to Dwayne Wade. The defensive stops. From a talent standpoint, James is just flat out fun to watch play.
Which is why this feeling seems strange. Everything we've known about LeBron James has led people to reject him as a hero. The Decision. The self-serving ads. The refusal to shake the other teams' hands because he's a winner. Heck, this goes back to high school, when LeBron showed up at an All-Star camp too injured to play, but worer a jacket declaring himself "King James" on the back. In high school.
LeBron has never been easy to root for. And somehow, on Sunday, I was pulling for the guy.
James had 14 of his 40 points to go along with three assists and two steals in the third quarter, helping an eight point halftime deficit turn into a six point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
In the fourth, James had seven points and pulled down nine rebounds, with one assist and one block. As amazing as his state line was, the numbers don't tell the real story of how dominant LeBron seemed on the court.
Every hero needs a villain and every villain needs a hero. Right now, it's not the Pacers who have become LeBron's villain. They are a likeable bunch of players. Though I will say that seeing Danny Granger get up in Wade's face was part of the reason I went from appreciating the Heat's comeback to rooting for it.
Still, it wasn't the Pacers who played the villain. It was the LeBron backlash after every missed shot. It's sports writers lining up to tell story after story of how he let his team down when they fail, then giving begrudging respect when he they win.
It's old. Even if he really is the villain, the story of LeBron being the villain is old. Telling and retelling it is possibly making us the villains now, making him a sort of anti-hero. He can still be hated, though perhaps less hated than those who write about how hated he is.
Who knows how long this feeling will last? It could be a matter of time before LeBron is back to being the easy target, back to looking like the villain.
If the Heat get past the Pacers–no easy feat with the series tied at two game apiece–they will face either the Celtics or the Sixers. As a Philly guy, LeBron will quickly turn back into the villain for me if the Sixers win the series, but you have to wonder if most NBA fans would rather see the Heat in the finals than the overachieving Sixers. There is no way the Sixers can contend with San Antonio or Oklahoma City. The Heat, with or without Chris Bosh, have a fighting chance. Does that make LeBron the hero, asked to help save the NBA Finals before they even begin?
As for the Celtics, there cannot be anyone outside of Boston who will root for that team. The hatred for LeBron is one thing, but that has to be trumped by the "Boston can't stop winning things" hatred. There is no unbiased fan in his or her right mind who would rather see a Boston team in the finals over Miami.
Yet if Miami does make it to the Finals, the Heat immediately become the villains again.
Oklahoma City is the feel-good team of the league and nobody will want James to beat Kevin Durant to his first title. The Spurs have be one of the most likeable (read: boring) teams over the last decade, making the Heat the likely villain in that series too.
Still, there's a large part of me (and I suspect you if you've gotten this far without shooting off a "LeBron sux" note in the comments section and clicking off the story before you got to the fourth paragrph) who will be happy if LeBron wins a title this year. It sounds crazy, I know, but we have to assume he has enough talent to win a title at some point in his career. The sooner he gets his first ring the sooner we can all move on from this annual storyline. Forget about LeBron…I'd root for that alone.
LeBron is, at times, the most and least clutch great player in NBA history. If he doesn't win the title this year with this group of talent around him, he may never win one. Or he may win one next year or the year after that or the year after that. Perhaps my sudden change of heart with LeBron has less to do with rooting for him (or against the media) and more to do with getting on with the inevitability of his career.
The sooner he wins his first ring, the sooner the playoffs can be less about LeBron. Which, after writing an entire story about LeBron, seems like something I wouldn't want happening any time soon. (Did I just make myself the villain?)
These new feelings sure are confusing. Eh, blame LeBron.
(Note: in the podcast embedded in this story, Nick Tarnowski and I talk about LeBron and the Heat but also discuss the UEFA Champions League final with Jon Tannenwald of The Goalkeeper, as well as discuss if the state-of-the-art knee surgery called Orhokine is closer to Tommy John surgery or illegal blood doping. We also touch on the Preakness and ESPN's First Take, if only to link to this hilarious SNL spoof of Stephen A. Smith.)
May 14th, 2012 · Comments
When Matt Kuchar dropped in a gimmie putt to win The Players Championship–by far his biggest title in twelve years on the PGA Tour–his two sons ran onto the green to hug him. Kuchar scooped up one of his boys and shook the hand of playing partner Kevin Na, apologizing for grabbing his son before getting a chance to formally complete the round.
Amidst the greatest moment of his professional career, with his son dangling from his arm, Kuchar made sure to not upstage Na. More than victories, it's those small gestures that have made Kuchar such a likeable player on tour.
You cannot dislike Kuchar. As golf fans, it feels good to root for one of the nice guys.
Always smiling on the course, Kuchar showed off the biggest grin of his career after two-putting on the 18th green at Sawgrass, hugging his boys, kissing his wife and explaining what it meant to win this title on Mothers Day.
During his post tournament press conference, Kuchar was asked about his trademark smile.
"I love playing the game of golf. I have fun doing it. I am a golf junkie. I have to force myself to take vacations where I cannot play golf, where the clubs don't make it. The game is always so challenging, and I think that challenge is addictive to me.
"I feel like I am so lucky to be doing what I do. I'm out there, enjoying myself, having a good time. The smile is there because I'm having a good time, because I am loving playing golf."
It certainly shows.
It wasn't just Kuchar who was smiling after he won the Players. Galleries were chanting his name all weekend, a scene that has become rather commonplace at each tournament stop. He has always been likeable, but now Kuchar is becoming more and more a fan favorite, especially during golf's Southern swing.
Who says nice guys don't finish first? This year a lot of them have.
Kuchar continues a run of good players who also seem to be good guys winning the big tournaments. Nobody was easier to root for than Bubba Watson as he took home the green jacket at Augusta. In golf's unofficial fifth major, the next huge tournament on the calendar, Kuchar took home golf's richest prize. It sure was easy to root for both of them.
Is rooting for the good guy a change in philosophy, or are we really only rooting for them because they are winning? Fans have a tendency to gravitate toward those who win. Are we happier for them because they seem nice?
Tiger Woods has the deepest galleries in all of golf because people like to be around excellence. While it takes nothing away from Woods' career accomplishments, it hasn't been lost on golf fans that he has always been distant from the crowds. Tiger seems to tolerate the galleries while other players have embraced them.
Phil Mickelson has been an easy champion to root for because–whether genuine or not–he seems to enjoy performing in front of the crowds. People have long suggested Mickelson is a bit of a phony, but it's hard to be a phony giving as many high-fives as Lefty has. If he's faking his appreciation for the fans, he does an amazing job at it.
The bottom line, with Mickelson or Watson or Kuchar or any of the other "good guys" on Tour who have won this year, is that it's fun to root for guys who look like they are having fun.
It's that simple. We want the smiling guys to win. We want the accessible players to succeed. We want the likeable guys to be atop the major leaderboards because nobody wants to back the bad guy.
There is an unwritten rule in golf that you never cheer for any player to fail, which makes it that much more important to root for the good guys, like Kuchar, to succeed.
The final round on Sunday wasn't easy for Kuchar, but his demeanor never wavered. Playing with Na who is battling demons that often preclude him from hitting the ball–he freezes up over the ball and physically cannot swing the club–Kuchar seemed unfazed. Talking to reporters, he gave credit to his family and former teammates for helping him see the game in a more relaxed way.
"I feel like my mental game is one of my stronger suits. I feel like not a whole lot gets under my skin. I'm good about letting things roll off and not affect me. I had a great up-bringing with a father that pushed me, that challenged me…you had to have thick skin, you had to be able to handle anything thrown your way.
"I had a mother, as well, that made sure that I also enjoyed the game. I found that the more fun I had on the golf course, the better I played. For me, playing with a guy who may be a distraction, it's not going to bother me."
Nothing bothered Kuchar all weekend. He stayed composed after hitting a ball in the water on 17. He was not thrown off by Na's struggles or the throngs of fans or the late charge of Rickie Fowler, another likeable guy with a win this season.
The whole time, Kuchar had that trademark smile, taking it all in and bringing home his biggest victory. Everyone can smile about that.
(Note: If you listen to the audio of the attached podcast, we discuss the Players, but also cover the epic finish to the EPL season, the contract situations for Josh Hamilton and Cole Hamels and the connection between sports and Mothers Day.)
May 10th, 2012 · Comments
Our third installment of the Go Route Podcast finds Josh and I talking Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns - and Baby Mamas.
Yes, we dove head first into the latest Terrell Owens debacle, along with some of our thoughts on the AFC North and East. In fact we may have even found our first recorded disagreement (!) regarding Mike Holmgren's inability to step away from the microphone.
But the real treat this week was getting to speak with John J. Miller, author of The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football. Miller talked to us about how the book came about and some of the parallels he sees between a time when football was on the verge of extinction and today's NFL. It is an extraordinary book that is a great jumping off point for some intelligent conversation about this game we all love so much.
With the NHL Conference Finals nearly set, I had the pleasure to chat with America's foremost hockey blogging authority, Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo's Puck Daddy, about a host of stories in and around the NHL playoffs.
The Conference Finals will feature the third seed Phoenix Coyotes and the eighth seed Los Angeles Kings in the west, while the east will see sixth seed New Jersey face off against top seed New York or seventh seed Washington. Even if the Rangers defeat the Capitals, this season's playoffs would have six of the 12 series won by the team without home ice advantage.
Is there an advantage in the NHL in being the road team? Do coaches react to often when getting the last change before a face off? Is there too much pressure on the players when 18,000 fans scream "shoot" at them?
Wyshynski and I also talk about the best storylines heading into the Stanley Cup finals, including the story of the Kings riding a host of misfit castaways and a hot goalie going against the team owned by the league, to see which team will play for the Cup in the west. In the east, it's looking more and more like a New York area final, which is great for ratings but terrible for people who are sick of New York teams winning things.
We touch the suspension of Flyers superstar Claude Giroux and what (obvious) impact that had on the series with the Devils. That does lead to a larger conversation about the NHL's openness with explaining suspensions and fines. Brendan Shanahan's almost daily videos provide a great window into the NHL decision-making process, but has he been so forthcoming, it has opened the league up for criticism?
Speaking of Giroux, we discuss if he is really the best player in the world and if Alex Ovechkin is suddenly the worst. Yes, that is a tad oversimplified, I admit, but sometimes it does feel like prevailing sentiment.
We talk a lot about TV, including Wyshynski's article about why hockey fans don't need ESPN and why, seemingly, ESPN has admitted it doesn't need hockey fans. So, where do hockey fans go for their on-ice fix? Has NBC's coverage of the Stanley Cup Playoffs drawn more fans in to watch later rounds, even if their teams are knocked out?
Is there any chance even one Flyers fan would watch Mike Richards lead the Kings into the finals against the Devils or Rangers?
The prevailing sentiment with snarky online commenters after the Kentucky Derby this weekend was, and I'm paraphrasing, "great race, see you in two weeks and maybe two after that and then again in a year."
Horse racing has become a three-event season, maybe four if you are particularly into the Breeders Cup. What was once widely called the "Sport of Kings" has fallen out of favor with many American sports fans, save for three glorious afternoons every spring.
There are several reasons why horse racing is no longer as popular as it once was, but I'm not so sure any of them are particularly good reasons. Sure, more and more people have taken issue with how the horses are bred–with all that muscle heaped upon four stick legs–but career-ending injuries and sports-related deaths aren't making us stop watching football, so it's far fetched to think that's the reason why people stopped caring as much about horse racing.
Many tracks around the country have closed over the last 30 years, relegating horse racing to off-track betting with the occasional TV appearance for big events. Spending a day at the track used to be an event. Let's face facts, "Kings" aren't spending an afternoon at the corner OTB.
The fact is, horseracing is still a sport for kings. Owning a thoroughbred horse is still a symbol of status and wealth around the world. I am trying very hard to avoid the suggestion that horse racing isn't as grand and exciting as it has ever been. The Kentucky Derby on Saturday was as thrilling as any major race in recent memory. It is still a great spectacle.
If I'll Have Another can win the Preakness, the Belmont Stakes will be the must-see sporting event of the season. If he loses at Pimlico, the Belmont will be a bust. To say horse racing is a three-event season is true, if only the same horse wins the first two events.
Horseracing, like boxing to some extent, is largely ignored unless there is a marquee event. They are sports for a day gone by, a sports world we no longer live in. On today's show, we posed a simple question with a difficult answer: what is this generation's sport of kings?
There are three possible answers. First, the sport we did not discuss but could be the best answer is tennis.
For fans, tennis has a lot of the same characteristics as horse racing. The sport has sophisticated "old money" sensibilities. Heck, at Wimbledon, players must bow before royalty when leaving the court. If not the Sport of Kings, it's certainly still the sport of queens, dukes and dutchesses.
Yet much like horse racing, tennis has been hampered by a competitive sports calendar. As popular as tennis is in America, it has still been relegated to a four-event per year schedule. That's not exactly what we are looking for.
(Note: at this point we should address golf, which is not on this list for one reason: the stars in golf are far more accessible than ever before and the sport has made great strides in the last 20 years to become more of an everyman's game. Golf may have once been the true sport of kings. Now it's the sport of guys like Bubba Watson, and we are better off for it.)
The obvious difference between horse racing and tennis–outside of the species of athlete–is that tennis players are not owned like horses. The Sport of Kings was given to horse racing not just because the rich and royal liked to watch the ponies run, but because many of them–still to this day–owned the ponies that were running.
Owning a racehorse is quite regal, and you just don't have that in tennis. But you do have it in soccer, which is the next sport we considered.
More and more American billionaires are dumping their money into international soccer clubs. Soccer, like horse racing and few other sports, is able to seamlessly combine the rich and famous fans who get dressed up to sit in box seats with shirtless degenerates who fill the bleachers (or infield).
There is an aristocratic quality to high-level soccer matches, right up until the bonfires begin.
As stated before, soccer is more a sport of kings on the ownership side than the fans. In older times, owning a racehorse was the ultimate status symbol. Now, that status symbol may have become a soccer club.
That said, we are looking for the Sport of Kings for American sports, and as popular as soccer has become, more American billionaires are buying international clubs, not MLS teams.
Maybe it's the NBA that has become the new American Sport of Kings (as pointed out on the show by Nick Tarnowski.)
Yes, the NBA.
For years, an NBA arena has been a place for celebrities to be seen as more than ever stars pour into courtside seats for big games in big cities. The playoffs have people lining up to be seen. Sure, an NBA sideline may not be a place for a julep and fancy hat, but it's probably just as expensive to sit on the floor of an NBA game as it is to, well, own a freaking racehorse at this point!
Seriously, how much money do you need to sit next to Doc Rivers or high five Kobe Bryant as he's checking out of the game? Season tickets on the first row for an NBA team
I guarantee we can find a champion horse for cheaper than that.
The NBA athletes are total stars around the world, perhaps more than any other sport from superstar to last guy on the bench. The ability to have such intimate access to NBA players is unlike any other professional sport in America other than golf, but the fact that dozens of events are happening at the same time in cities around the country, makes basketball far more accessible to the everyman.
Accessible yet not. Great for rich elite and the everyman. That sounds pretty familiar.
The NBA as this generation's Sport of Kings. That's pretty fantastic.
(NOTE: if you listen to today's show, embedded above, you will hear us chat about the Kentucky Derby, baseball fans bringing gloves to the game to catch foul balls, soccer's big upcoming weekend and a lot more. Thanks for reading and listening.)
Is the new Brooklyn Nets logo too hipster or too hip hop? Is there such a thing as "hiphopster?" And have LeBron James and the Heat–more specifically, their quest for a title–become too boring?
There is no way to truly explain any conversation with NBA Lead Writer Nathaniel Friedman, aka Bethlehem Shoals, aka @FreeDarko. It goes where it goes and it is what it is and it's usually somehow tangentially related to basketball.
With time constraints on our side (we needed to keep this to around 30 minutes) Shoals and I stayed inside the framework of the NBA, talking mostly about the Nets logo, what Derrick Rose's ACL injury means to the Bulls, the general buzz around the NBA's second season and, most specifically, the legacy of LeBron James.
We talk a lot about LeBron, wondering if he can possibly get any more heat (pardon the pun) thrust upon him should Miami not make it out of the Eastern Conference. With Dwight Howard and Rose out of the mix, there is no real threat to James and the Heat, meaning a collapse would feel so much greater if Miami manages to flame out (ahem) before the finals.
Shoals is unapologetic about being a LeBron apologist, so he refuses to buy in to my assertion that even the apologists will stop apologizing for LeBron if the Heat don't get to the finals. I'm sorry, but it's true.
Those who support LeBron will begin to turn on him, an assertion that doesn't interest Shoals in the least. Perhaps he just assumes the point is moot and the Heat will get to the finals. Perhaps he didn't like my attempt to put him in a box. Either way, getting yelled at for asking stupid questions is always more entertaining than listening to two people who agree, so I may have let that LeBron chat run longer than its natural course dictated. You are welcome.
We actually started the conversation with the new and improved Brooklyn Nets. Does moving to Brooklyn make you cool? Can the Nets suddenly reboot their corporate message and grow a fan base out of disgruntled Knicks fans and Brooklyn transplants?
Nobody really thinks the Nets are going after the hipster crowd, or the hip hop crowd, as the new black and white logo is nothing more than a sanitized way of appealing to those middle-of-the-road folks who want to be cool by dressing like the hip hop crowd. Or hipsters. Or both.
Shoals and I do chat about the rest of the playoffs, too. We discuss which move was stupider, Amare Stoudemire punching through the glass door of a fire extinguisher or Rajon Rondo bumping into a referee. (Note: the latter.)
We also talk about the Thunder-Mavs series to get to Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki and the idea that playoff series are better when teams don't like each other.
As Shoals points out, games are only better when highly-skilled players are angry, creating the kind of playoff one-upsmanship fans crave. It's one thing to have teams hate each other, leading to ugly foul-laden series. But when the superstars of the game are involved, there's nothing much better.