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SportDime - by Book It


July 9th 2012 16:27
The NBA as a league is the closest thing to WWE wrestling when talking about the mainstream team sports. It's not the NFL, MLB, or NHL. The NHL isn't mainstream in the United States, but the NBA has always grappled with being a third stringer behind professional baseball and football. The modern NBA carries a stereotype congruent with hip hop and rap culture, because obviously many of its players on rosters are African Americans. Unfortunately, when casual basketball fans or fringe NBA fans look at Chris Singleton, Deshawn Stevenson and Kevin Durant, they most likely see the same thing and come to the same conclusion about the NBA and what many of its players represent. Such representations aren't shared among the populous, but only a certain niche of the population.

The NBA used to have playoff games and national games on tape delay in the 1970s because ratings were so low. Basketball has grown since the 1980s, but it remains the one league that has to constantly try to reach out and expand to new fans. That's why the NBA has played exhibition games in Europe and Asia, where the sport has risen in popularity. David Stern succeeded Larry O'Brien and is credited with taking the league to new heights. But it's very rare you get a guy so marketable and likeable by sports fans (Michael Jordan) who single-handedly propels the sport and turns it into a must-see event.

The NBA has tried various storylines and marketing strategies to continue an upward trend, but no one player seems to have the same kind of cache Jordan had when the NBA reached its zenith in terms of national popularity. Kevin Durant is an emerging, young star the NBA should look to build around without a doubt. For one, he's not covered in tattoos and is well spoken in interviews. Second, you see his family watching him courtside and his mother hugging him after every game. One problem. He's in Oklahoma City and while that means little to me in terms of identifying him as a superstar, the larger populations in bigger cities are what drive news and names. And while the formation of "Super Teams" is anything but a new concept in any team sport, the amount of media and news coverage nowadays makes it seem like idea of a "Big Three" started with Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett.

It's not, but as each decade and era passes, the past is forgotten. But the NBA is a big city league. The Celtics and Lakers own the most championships in NBA history. Sure, luck is involved in all sports, but if you are an NBA team in a big city and the team isn't run by someone like Isaiah Thomas then you have a legitimate shot to win. The Knicks won two titles in the 1970s and lost in the 1999 Finals, but have been in the mix up until around a decade ago. But bad luck and terrible contracts from management won't help your cause.

It's a big city league and I hate that because what hope do the Pacers, Bucks, Rockets, Hornets, Bobcats, Raptors, and Timberwolves really have to sustain a long period of competitiveness? The Portland Trailblazers have a billionaire owner Paul Allen who isn't opposed to spending money. So do the Dallas Mavericks and most recently the Brooklyn Nets. Teams like the Spurs and Thunder are the minority of well managed small market franchises. Those don't come along every day. That's why I respect the job Gregg Poppovich did in terms of scouting and development. San Antonio was deplorable before getting help from the "Twin Towers." But two Hall of Fame centers alone wouldn't have guaranteed a prolonged era of success as a basketball team. Small market teams need humble stars to build around and great role players in the starting lineup and off the bench to compliment them.

The fact Oklahoma City got to lock up Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant for five seasons is rare just because of the vast number of big names who bitch and moan about wanting to go to a bigger city (Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, and Eric Gordon to name a few). Steve Nash has now joined the crew and the only team I truly dislike in sports, the Los Angeles Lakers. I used to like Nash but now he just comes across as another veteran chasing a ring because he can do that playing for the Lakers. Good for him if he wins, but I'll put an asterisk next to his ring and I'll take John Stockton over Nash any day of the week now that he sold his soul to Jack Nicholson. Hopefully that's one of Nicholson's daughters I often see sitting next to him courtside because she looks like a teenager.

On Friday night, a very real "human" moment happened in Milwaukee's Miller Park. The Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Milwaukee Brewers 9-3, but that was hardly the story. Less than two weeks ago second basemen Aaron Hill hit for the cycle at Chase Field. He repeated the feat Friday in Milwaukee and in the process made MLB history. The last player to hit two cycles in one season was Floyd "Babe" Herman back in 1931. Herman actually hit for the cycle three times in his career when he played back in the 1930s.

But as a Bay Area native and San Francisco Giants fan, I know the Diamondbacks are one of the few teams the Giants will have to fend off for the NL West division. Hill was brought over last season in a trade from Toronto for Kelly Johnson. Hill wasn't too far removed from his best season as a professional back in 2009 when he was an All Star, hit 36 homers and drove in 108 RBI. Brett Boone type of numbers from his best season in Seattle. But too often, athletes and sports in general are perceived as game pieces or stocks instead of human beings.

More often than not, fans don't really care about what a player's personal life or off-the-field issues are unless it publicly affects the team. But when you run into something like I did about Aaron Hill you begin to appreciate a professional athlete who is not in the news because he isn't drawing unnecessary or negative attention to himself.

Aaron Hill will only make ESPN highlights if he does something extraordinary. Something out of his norm, like his 36 homer 2009 season. What you won't learn unless you search for it is that Aaron Hill lost his mother in a car accident when he was a young kid playing on a youth travel soccer team. His mother was killed in a car accident in Utah, where Hill's team had traveled from California to play. Hill is from Visalia, California, which is literally "Farmville" and not the popular online game version.

This is a guy with a small-town,humble type of demeanor. He knew he wanted to marry his girlfriend as a teenager and specifically dressed up with his high school jacket on to impress her father. Not exactly the kind of personality that will get a lot of website hits or viewers to tune in on sports highlights. But if you aren't a fan of the Diamondbacks or Aaron Hill, just know such personalities do exist for some pro athletes out there. Even if it is a facade, I am a fan of the humble athlete, whether he is a transcendent star or not. Every professional has to have a quiet confidence and ego about them to make it at the highest level, but I find certain guys like Aaron Hill much easier to like. He's dealt with a major obstacle in losing his mother and it's probably an obstacle he will never be able to completely overcome. But he's done quite well for himself, he's signed with Arizona through 2013 and hopefully his mother is just as proud.

Derek "the Diva" Fisher

June 2nd 2012 03:02
As the NBA regular season wound down, news surfaced that executive director of the NBA player's union Billy Hunter wanted player union president Derek Fisher to quit his position. Hunter and his union cronies cited numerous infractions committed by Fisher for not fulfilling his duties as player president. The NBPA probably took insult to Fisher's requests for how Hunter and company were managing the union's finances. Perhaps, a schism has evolved over time and the lockout helped widen the gap between Fisher and Hunter since both were not on the same page in that dilemma as well.

But other players who make up the executive committee did confirm they wanted Fisher to step down. I'm sure Hunter had as much to do with the demand for resignation as Maurice Evans, Roger Mason Jr., and Keyon Dooling did. In recent years, the NBA with all of it's questionable antics from the lottery to its officials has started to creep closer to that scary association with the sports of soccer and WWE wrestling.

And Derek Fisher's antics as a player himself have me pining for him to step down as well. He's 37 years old and way past the productive years with the exception of veteran leadership. A new era is coming and with that should be the younger and more marketable faces seen on NBA floors. I don't hate Derek Fisher, but I hate the Los Angeles Lakers despite the fact I am from California. I am from Northern California, but I have no rivalry gumption in me. I hate what the Lakers stand for and the "scene" associated with the city and the basketball team. Why do we all know who Derek Fisher is as opposed to say another anonymous point guard such as Emmauel Davis?

Well it's quite simple. Fisher played in Los Angeles, made some shots in the playoffs due to other stars being double teamed, and won championships. Yet somehow Derek Fisher was rewarded by my hometown Golden State Warriors with a $37 million dollar contract for six seasons in 2004. Realistically, Fisher's two season tenure with the Warriors is a perfect example of unearthing his importance within the NBA. Yes, he was on winning teams in Los Angeles and made wide open jump shots in big moments, but he posted career lows with the Warriors because he played with no superstar to divert multiple defenders attention.

After being traded to Utah in 2006, Fisher eventually asked to be released from his contract so that his sick daughter could be closer to medical assistance should she need it for her rare type of eye cancer. Fair enough and a good story is there of him making a return to the Jazz during the 2006 playoffs to play despite his daughter's emergency. He returns to the Lakers in 2007 with a new contract and the love affair is renewed. This was also the year he replaced Antonio Davis as player union president.

But how did Derek Fisher come to command such authority and influence? Who knows maybe because he and his best friend Kobe Bryant share the same agent, Rob Pelinka, the former Michigan Wolverine guard who watched the Fab 5 play from the bench. An aging Fisher became expendable this season for Los Angeles. He and Bryant were the only two names left from Lakers' rosters 10 seasons ago. And Bryant is the star under contract for close to $30 million.

Just like when he got out of Golden State because he couldn't create his own shot, and left Utah for what seemed more plausible reasons, Fisher was traded to Houston for former New York Knick lottery pick center Jordan Hill. This time he showed his true colors by refusing to show up and demanded a buyout of his contract. Can you make any more mockery of the trade process than that? I don't think so.

The Rockets and Coach Kevin McHale were waiting for the veteran point guard to show up, because well, they traded for him. Think what you want about the impact he would have had on the team, the Rockets were fighting for an eighth seed spot and their starting point guard Kyle Lowry had been plagued by a weakening virus most of the season. McHale was quoted as saying "If he shows up, we'd play him." But no sign of Fish. That's because Fisher knew the Rockets had no chance of winning a coveted championship and he was too far into his career to deal with petty .500 teams. What a perfect example of a player union president. Win multiple titles on the NBA's cash cow franchise, float around for a few season on lesser teams and illustrate his ineffectiveness without superstars, and then demand a buyout by the team who traded for him. The little guard from small town Little Rock, Arkansas really soaked in all that Los Angeles lifestyle to become a Class A diva. Congratulations Fish.

And there he is on the bench in his Oklahoma City warmups, encouraging his young teammates primed for a possible NBA Finals run. Yes, the Thunder couldn't resist the temptation of having a quality, veteran guard who now logs more minutes than Thabo Sefalosha and Daequan Cook. I'm not sure that's a good thing, but at least Fisher can sit in the corner on offense and shoot wide open three pointers due to Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden drawing so much attention. Hope he doesn't hit the side of the basket for the Thunder's sake.

Yes the Chris Mullin retirement night made me do some thinking only because I saw one of the most polarizing Golden State Warriors of all time come to new owner Joe Lacob's defense that night in the midst of being rained with a chorus of boos. Even though I was never able to see Rick Barry play live every other day since I was not born yet, it hasn't stopped me from watching old games and looking up all the statistical accolades of NBA greats of the past. I love basketball and it only made sense to me I should at least know of past players including those of the home town Golden State Warriors.

And yet as I have gotten older and watched more basketball and looked up more information about the game's past and it's players, one of my most favorite things to do is to compare great players. Instead of Jerry West being present that night (he is on board with the Golden State ownership as a consultant and a very minority owner), Rick Barry toko the microphone and chastized those who evidently made too much noise for Joe Lacob to talk over. Sure the whole night was ruined for Chris Mullin, but it only reaffirmed my position on Rick Barry as a man and as a player. I think Rick Barry is a better basketball player than Jerry West. It's not an indictment on Jerry West, it's just my personal opinion.

I don't think it's entirely heresy for basketball aficionados to at least consider the suggestion if they actually sit down and do their homework. I'm sure a bunch of Los Angeles Lakers fanatics would suggest I'm crazy. Perhaps as crazy as saying Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson do not even deserve to be compared. But that's best put aside for a different time. I recently talked about the possibility Rick Barry's career is more impressive than West's with a friend who immediately scoffed at my notion. It makes sense at first glance for a lot of people on the periphery to laugh at the idea Jerry West was less of a player than Rick Barry. But I think his reaction was based more on the aura surrounding Jerry West. West was a Laker, "the Logo", and an all around good guy. He was beloved by fans and his other nickname "Mr. Clutch" suggested notions of buzzer beaters and game winning shots under duress.

Rick Barry was more vocal and outspoken, not afraid what people thought of him. He wasn't "the Logo," but instead "The Miami Greyhound" and shot underhanded free throws without shame. It explains why he only lasted so long as a broadcaster and why he never was offered a coaching gig in the NBA despite his wealth of knowledge about the game. Barry was an arrogant man and may have been considered unlikable by some teammates, but he got the most out of the marginal talent he was surrounded with most of his career. This, for me, is one of the biggest issues I have with West's legacy.

Not only was he fortunate enough to be drafted onto the NBA's marquee franchise, he only won one NBA title despite being part of nine NBA Finals appearances when he was playing for the Lakers. In contrast, Barry spent his blossoming younger years in the rival ABA, where he averaged over 30 points per game twice in his four seasons from age 24 to 27. West is also about six years older than Barry. His Lakers often beat the Warriors when matched up in the playoffs simply because they were a better team. When people talk about "The Big Three" and the collection of talent on one particular team, that notion has hardly been foreign to NBA franchises throughout the league's history. I don't think West, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, and Gail Goodrich is too shabby of a roster.

Rick Barry played with a few notables including Nate Thurmond, Clifford Ray, and a young Jamaal Wilkes the season Barry helped lead the Warriors to their only title with the franchise in California. I know the statistical minded are inventing new formulas aside from the obvious averages to determine a player's value and impact on a team in each season. I, for one, will not really put much stock in win shares, player efficiency, and the like. I'm not dismissing it, but I don't feel I really need it to make my argument.

Look at the basic numbers and accomplishments. They have each one championship, double digit All Star Games appearances, an NBA Finals MVP award, and an All Star MVP award. Both have led the league in scoring once, but Barry is the overall scoring average leader in the ABA with a 30.5 ppg. West led the league in assists during the 1971-72 season, the only championship team West was on. His career assists of 6.7 best Barry's career average of 5.1, but again please go back and look who West passed to as opposed to Barry. In contrast Barry led the league in steals one season with 2.9 and was in the top 10 in steals four times in his NBA career. West never came close to that feat. And for all the ribbing Barry took and continues to take about shooting underhanded free throws, Barry is the career percentage leader in the ABA and led the NBA in free throw percentage six times. He is also third all time in the NBA record book with a 90% career average. Barry also averaged 6.7 rebounds for his career as opposed to West's 5.8. West's career scoring average of 27 ppg beats Barry's 24.8 mark. But their shooting percentages (West 47% and Barry's 46%) are practically identical. Barry also averaged 10.6 rebounds in his first season in the NBA, something Jerry West never came close to doing.

At the end of the day, comparing greats to one another is a fascinating thing to do for basketball fans. It is for me at least. Jerry West was the more liked and more popular player of his day. As was John Havlicek. But Rick Barry was just as, if not, more versatile than either of those players with a competitive mean streak in him that rivals any of the game's most maniacal when it comes to winning. Jerry West may have beat Barry's team more often, but he played on a better team. When I think of Jerry West, I think of a great player who was also embellished a bit because of his stature and personality within the league. To me, Rick Barry seemed to get more out of his talent and career than West even though he played on lesser teams. He won a title with a lesser team and West won only one title with a title contending teams for multiple seasons with future Hall of Famers as teammates.

One of the fun things I also do is wonder about the circumstances of a great player's fate. What if Rick Barry was drafted by the Lakers and was in West's shoes? Obviously it's all speculation, but I really believe if Rick Barry was in Jerry West's place, the Lakers would already be past the Boston Celtics for the most championships in franchise history.


Being born in San Francisco and loving basketball, I've grown up watching the local Golden State Warriors essentially run on a treadmill since I was a single digit year old kid watching pro hoops on television. And so it seems fitting a franchise seemingly so cursed, snake bitten, and jinxed as the Warriors would have a night in which one of their Hall of Fame players jersey retirement night was ruined due to a prolonged berating of the new team owner Joe Lacob.

But it was also a night that made me think about one man associated with the Golden State Warriors in a winning light: Richard Francis Barry. Now I'm 26 so no I was not around to see local games or nationally televised games on a nightly basis of Rick Barry. But I've watched the legendary 1975 Warriors playoff games on the way to their only Bay Area championship winning season and I've seen Barry's infamous underhand free throw form. And I know when he took the microphone to help a clearly overwhelmed and speechless Joe Lacob who refused to forge through his speech despite the boo birds, I came to think about Barry in an even more respectful way

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Kevin Garnett- In A Class By Himself

March 21st 2012 08:56
When you think of great NBA players who paved the way for the wave of NBA stars that came out of high school in the mid to late 1990s and all the way up to 2005, one name comes to mind. It's not Darryl Dawkins or Moses Malone. Not Shawn Kemp or Connie Hawkins. It's a 35 year old power forward once known as "The Kid" and now more often referred to as "KG" or 'The Big Ticket." Kevin Garnett is the ultimate superstar who led the trend for talented high schoolers to become some of the NBA's best players. In his 17th season as one of the best power forwards to ever play in the NBA, Kevin Garnett could have become one of the more unappreciated stars of his generation.

No longer flashy and bouncy in the legs to the tune of younger high schoolers like Josh Smith or Dwight Howard, Garnett relies on his intensity, unselfishness, and completeness as a teammate. It's remarkable he has been around so long and been as effective as he has been like Tim Duncan. To me his wholeness as a basketball player represents having experience, intangibles, and fundamentals trumps the skill of raw athleticism younger players may have over aging veterans. But Garnett is not a selfish superstar. He's not an egomaniacal shot-putter, but he was definitely the leader in the clubhouses of both Minnesota and Boston. Sure guard play in the NBA is more exciting to watch and fans are entertained more by talented perimeter players, but basketball aficionados really understand greatness does not lie in highlights alone

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Tourney Time 2012

March 13th 2012 08:18
I really don't understand the point of NCAA basketball conference tournaments.I was looking over some of this season's tournament winners and it sort of boggled my mind. I guess if St. Bonaventure hadn't knocked off Xavier on Sunday in the Atlantic 10 tournament final, a different team from a list of tourney snubs would be headed to the big dance instead of the NIT. Drexel, Seton Hall, Miami, Northwestern, Washington, and Nevada would have been one of the teams who missed the cut for better or worse. Selection committee chairman Jeff Hathaway would not explain the details of the decision making process, but even if he did that wouldn't satisfy schools who failed to make the cut. And really the conference tournament are partly to blame because you get teams like Florida State and Colorado winning conference tournaments to earn an at-large bid. I'm not downplaying teams' successes in conference tournaments. They are merely playing the games scheduled for them to compete in, but it seems somewhat erroneous to have a regular season followed by a conference tournament if the team that wins a tournament gets an automatic bid. Even if that team did not have a better regular season. There is a reason the regular season and postseason are two different things.

The conference tournaments serve as a type of second-chance for any team who may catch the better teams in their conference disinterested. Top seeds Kansas, North Carolina, and Kentucky all lost in the conference tournament and didn't seem terribly bothered by it. Nor should they be because they deserved top seeds as the most dominant teams in the regular season. Washington and Cal lead the Pac-12 this season, but they collapsed in the tournament and may have only one or two real NBA worthy players in the entire conference this season. Nevertheless, Colorado propelled themselves into the tournament in their inaugural Pac-12 season. Cincinnati also used this season's Big East tournament to upset Syracuse, but then Louisville beat them to earn a seeding

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Coaching runs in Bob Toldeo's blood and football runs even depper in his veins. Originally from San Jose, California, Toledo played football at three different colleges (San Jose State, San Jose City College, and San Francisco State) from 1964-1967. Toledo played quarterback and played in the Camellia Bowl back in 1967 in Sacramento, California against Don Coryell's San Diego State Aztecs. After graduating, he tried out for the San Francisco 49ers but failed to make the roster.

With his playing days through, Toledo got right into coaching back at his high school, Archbishop Riordan in San Francisco. Right after graduating in 1968, Toledo began coaching the freshmen Riordan Crusaders and by 1970 he was the head coach. I know such things because my dad was one of his players. In his mid twenties, Toledo took over the Riordan varsity team and coached from 1970-1972. Eventually, he went to UC Riverside and my dad followed him there too. My dad's football career ended at UC Riverside, but he was never too far removed to remember the influence Coach Toledo had on him and a bunch of other players along the way

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I don't mean to sound like a grouchy and frustrated basketball fan, but this shortened season has soured me on the idea a real All Star weekend in Orlando is worthwhile in 2012. The NBA would never pass on an opportunity to soak up more corporate dollars and television air time, who can blame them?

But does it really reflect what it means to be an All Star anymore? Similar to the Pro Bowl, I'm of the mind simply picking the rosters and labeling them as deserving of the title to be called an "All Star" or "Pro Bowler" is good enough for me now. I don't need to see a pointless exhibition where the players are half invested and just toying around. I'd hate to be at the game too, since the price of those tickets are in the thousands, unless you are sitting up where you need binoculars

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Neophyte Golden State Warriors head coach Mark Jackson instituted a policy of energy, effort, and defense for the 2012 season. Not the same run and the gun Warriors of the past few seasons under Don Nelson and Keith Smart. And in this 66 game shortened season the Warriors are 29th in scoring defense at just over 100 points and are 4th in offensive scoring at 99 points. Scoring is down league wide, but the Warriors are really the same team under Nelson and Smart with a few minor tweaks. But they still rank 21st in opponent field goal percentage at 45.1% and are the 24th worst rebounding team in the league at 44.1 per game.

While Jackson may have the gameplan for the job, he certainly doesn't have the horses to implement exactly what he wants to do. He has talent but not a complete roster, which means he does not have a complete team. The new ownership group of Joe Lacob and Peter Guber have promised to be a passionate and very involved ownership to get a winning product on the field. But as a native of the Bay Area and with basketball being my favorite sport, the futility with which the Warriors have operated in the front office and on the court has been more than apparent over the years

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