Monthly Archives: April 2013

Asking Questions of Tall Naked Men: A Fantasy

Here are some questions I would ask the participants of Sunday’s Celtics-Knicks playoff game if I had locker room access, which I don’t, and if I had the balls to challenge professional athletes standing around half-naked on their performance and craft, which I definitely don’t.

 “Doc Rivers, what’s it like coaching a professional basketball team in a playoff series without playing a single point guard or center?”

The Celtics had one point guard on the roster this season, and his name is Rajon Rondo. Avery Bradley is not a point guard, Jason Terry is not a point guard (or an NBA-basketball player at this point), Courtney Lee is not a point guard, and Jordan Crawford is, almost, relative to the rest of the guards on the roster, sort of a point guard.

And KG is not a center, which is something we know because only two years ago he said he didn’t like playing center. Brandon Bass is being asked to guard Carmelo Anthony when KG is in, and then play the five when KG is out (which is a Lebron-level demand of someone’s full range of athletic abilities, a demand which he very admirably met).

But that’s the issue with this team. Only the Heat can get away with playing without a 1 or a 5, and that’s because Lebron is a terrifying monster-movie villain that cannot be killed and can switch forms into whatever shape is necessary to murder or disembowel you. He’s like the liquid metal guy from Terminator 2. Or the clown from IT. He is terrifying. I guess if you actually like Lebron, you would see him more like Mega Man at the end of the game, when he can switch between a litany of ammo and powerups to perfectly compliment the enemy’s weaknesses. That’s whats terrifying about the possibility of facing Lebron in the playoffs. You know he has the ice ray for the C’s fireballs. Just like he’s got the boomerang ray for the Knicks flying robot machines and the heat seeking missiles for the Pacers….bouncy bombs? Ok, it’s been a while since I played Mega Man. I guess D-Wade is kind of like the dog he had in that one game?

Speaking of not having a center….

“Shavlik Randolph, as the only true center on this team, we could really use your defense and rebounding when KG sits and we are playing Brandon Bass at the 5. So, my question is, what did you do to Doc? Can you apologize please?  ”

Shavlik Randolph’s per minute averages are insane. He can rebound, defend, and he’s got a pretty good sense of how to move without the ball, and when he gets it down low he can finish. Most importantly, Shavlik knows his limitations perfectly. He doesn’t try to do anything he can’t.

Also, he gets hit in the face a lot.

shav

He averaged 4.4 rebounds over 12.4 minutes per game this season, which projects to 17 boards a game over 48 minutes. He also shoots 58% and would average a block and a half over a complete game. I know this kind of projection is a kind of fool’s errand, sort of like projecting the proliferation of Elvis impersonators. Those stats aren’t going to hold up, and in limited action he somehow manages to put up complete game foul totals. But that being said, Shavlik has had some solid performances in limited minutes when KG was out (including a 16 and 7 against a Varejao-less Cleveland and a 9 and 13 against Atlanta in 22 and 13 minutes, respectively). He’s tough and smart. He can play in small doses. So why can’t he get ten minutes a game when KG sits and the C’s are playing Brandon Bass at the five?

“Mike Woodson, what’s it like knowing you can play three guards and two forwards against a team playing four forwards and not get out rebounded? “

The Celtics started big with one guard and four forwards, sending out Avery Bradley, Paul Pierce, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, and Kevin Garnett for the opening tip. They stayed with this line up for much of the game, while bringing in only guards off the bench to go small at times. Doc’s plan with the big lineup is to have three guys on the floor, Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, and Paul Pierce, who can guard Carmelo at any time, which prevents him from destroying smaller defenders on switches.

(Amazingly, Bass guarded Anthony the best, which I found surprising. I forgot how big Melo is, how quick Brandon is, and how much Jeff can get muscled around.)

With that large lineup, you would expect the Celtics to have a rebounding advantage, but the game ended with both teams grabbing an even 40 rebounds. For a weak rebounding team like the Celtics, this could be seen as a victory.

But if you look at who the Knicks played, it becomes pretty apparent that they are getting away with going small and quick while not sacrificing rebounding in the process. Tyson Chandler played 20 minutes and Kenyon Martin played 28. After that, you had 6’8 Chris Copeland playing thirteen minutes, and that’s pretty much it for the Knicks big men, other than Melo, who doesn’t exactly protect the rim.  This leads me to my question for Kenyon Martin.

“Kenyon Martin, I understand you are happy to be back in the NBA, and especially the playoffs, after playing in China for most of this year. But can you act like you maybe aren’t totally shocked to dunk the ball? Like maybe, you don’t need to scream at the sky like a ‘roided out coyote at a full moon every time you do anything? What’s the deal with that stupid pick up artist lip tattoo on your neck? Can you be any more unlikable?

I have hated Kenyon Martin ever since Jason Kidd and him used to beat the Antoine Walker-Paul Pierce Celtics in the early 2000’s. I have hated Kenyon Martin since before there was a Southern Sudan.

Speaking of hate…

“Officials, you do realize that Jason Kidd’s veteran savvy does not mean that the whole forearm of the ball handler magically becomes part of the ball when he goes for a strip, right?”

Alright…now that I got that off my chest, let’s get back to more positive things.

“Paul Pierce, I love you.”

(Realizes that’s not a question.)

“Paul Pierce, guess how much I love you?”

Paul had a great sequence in the third after Jeff Green mentally left the game and the Celtics offense was suffocating and on the verge of collapsing (a condition it would succumb to in that abominable fourth quarter). Paul was having an off night shooting, and he had just air balled a mid-range jumper. You could see that Paul had decided “we need a bucket, and I don’t have my shot. I need to get to the line.”

Over the next five minutes Paul took the ball to the rim, drawing fouls on Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd, which are match ups he needs to take advantage of. He then pulled up over top a KG screen and hit a three that revolved three times around the rim before dropping in. It looked like Paul had self-medicated his limp jump shot with a few quick trips to the line, a remedy we’ve seen him use a thousand times to get his shooting going. When he hit the three, the C’s went up 70-64. But then he pulled up the next time down the floor and missed a three with a hand in his face. C’mon Paul. You hit one shot, not exactly time for a heat check.

That being said, even though his scoring wasn’t there, the Captain led the team with seven assists and three gutsy charges.  Paul is the point guard now.  It certainly isn’t Avery, and the JET should be permanently grounded and put in some sort of aerospace museum dedicated to housing antiques, like combo guards that could win titles. The problem with Paul at the point is that he had six turnovers. That can’t happen. Paul needs to score or he needs to be an efficient point guard. If he’s neither, the C’s are pretty doomed.

The good thing about all of this is that Paul is going to find his offense, and he can score against all of the Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton, and J.R. Smith match ups he gets when the Celtics go big. He will be fine, and if he can get the pick and roll game going with KG, they have a chance. They stopped a Knicks’ run with a pretty oop off the pick and roll in the second. Especially when it’s Tyson Chandler or Kenyon Martin , Melo, and three guards in the game, the C’s have to run lots of pick and rolls with KG, bringing Chandler or Martin away from the basket for Avery cuts and Jeff Green driving lanes.

That’s the thing about this series, the shots are gonna be there for Paul and KG. They also held Melo to a pretty low percentage (13-29). The C’s have a shot.

“Avery Bradley, you realize you can bounce the ball into the post, right?”

Avery had a decent game, and was effective on the offensive end. But he had some pretty egregious turnovers trying to lob the ball to KG in the post from near half court.

I feel for Avery, because watching him trying to make entry passes at MSG reminded me of myself trying to make entry passes while playing NBA 2K. How is there not a bounce pass button? I see the lane, why can’t my little digital man see it? Why do they randomly bounce the ball sometimes and not others? Just put a bounce pass button in the game. How hard is that?

(After writing this it occurred to me I have not played the newest NBA 2K13. I looked it up, and turns out they have implemented the bounce pass button. So, thanks EA Sports.)

“Kevin Garnett, are you ready for game two?”

Just checking that you have, you know, a couple missiles.

And finally….

“Mike Woodson, what is your goatee? It looks like it is one solid thing, like the individual hairs have fused together to make some sort of composite material that could be used to stop bullets. How does your hair grow so perfectly to the borders of your lips, not just the top lip, but the bottom lip as well? 

woodsons beard

Can I touch it? What? This is the last time I’m allowed in the locker room isn’t it?”

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On shaving your head – Follicular Euthanasia

There is the knowledge, always there in every mirror and every Facebook tag, that it is inevitable.

Every shower reminds you of it, every hoodie put up, every beanie pulled down, every brim curved just so, reminds you that your hair is fading. Retreating. Dying.

Which, in and of itself, is fine.  This is the way of things, the nature of the universe. The world will take your hair away, strand by strand.

What’s terrifying is knowing that you will have to, at some point, decide that the fight is over. You will surrender, on your own terms, and shave your head. You will keep your beard, maybe get it down to a goatee, and then you will look like Stone Cold Steve Austin, but flabby, which is kind of the opposite of what Stone Cold is all about.

You’ll have to do it, go right at it with the razor, knowing that there is no going back to running your fingers through your hair, knowing the last time a woman grabbed your hair by its roots had already happened, and that you probably hadn’t even appreciated it. There’ll be the moment when the hair will start to tumble down off you in clumps as the clippers howl a swan song.

That’s when you will know that you have taken matters into your own hands. (You can’t just let it wither and die).

You will reassert your autonomy, your humanity, your power to control your environment, all at once. You will be refusing to engage in an agonizing campaign of attrition against the inevitable. So you’ll trim it down to stubble with the clippers, and then finish the job with the razor on bare skin. There might be a little blood. You’ll be choosing to cut your losses, to blow up the bridges, to burn your own crops. You’ll set the oil fields on fire, and watch the flame grab at heaven from the tops of the derricks, burning the night apart.

You will leave nothing behind.

You’re going to have to shave your head. It’ll be a woman who does it, who convinces you. One who swears she’ll love you after it’s all gone.  Who gives you the courage.

Or maybe it will be the next one who convinces you. The one you don’t know yet, the one waiting for you to rip up the carpets and find out what’s underneath before she walks into your life.

Asking Strangers Questions – A Preemptive Eulogy

Strangers still ask me questions. Usually the questions are about directions, and I usually stutter and stammer giving useless and imprecise instructions that culminate in me pointing toward a rough point on the horizon and saying “that way.”

I am new to New York. These strangers should see how loose my jeans are, realize how un-native I am, and not ask me.

But the truth is my familiarity with the area shouldn’t affect by ability to give directions. My direct knowledge of the area only matters because I don’t own a smartphone.

The strangers who ask me for directions have that in common. They don’t own smartphones either. If they did, they wouldn’t need to ask for directions. They would be getting effortlessly from place to place via algorithm generated vectors and coordinates, their journeys data sets ready for analytical compilation and review.

Sure, sometimes the technology fails, or you don’t have access to it, or it leads you somewhere wrong. But these are only growing pains that will be rectified soon enough, like bed wetting or drawing on walls. We are in the infancy of the information age. If you don’t trust the map on your phone, it’s not because the concept isn’t good, it’s because you don’t trust it to sleep through the night or be left alone with crayons in a white-walled room.

The point is the time when we get directions from other people is almost over.

I ask people for directions sometimes. Sometimes I emerge from underneath the pavement out of the subway exit and I’m disoriented, unable to find a cardinal landmark I can use to start the lyrical reminder to Never Eat Shredded Wheat, and therefore, unable to figure out where I’m going, assuming I even know an address, or what direction my destination is in relative to the subway exit.

So I ask strangers for directions. If they don’t know, they pull out their phones and look it up for me, and while I wait (only a few seconds and getting shorter with each new iPhone release) I excuse myself for not having a smartphone, or I lie and say its dead.

I am a 21st century hitchhiker, depending on the kindness and technology of strangers to get to where I want to go.

As someone who has hitchhiked the old-fashioned way, let me tell you: when you’re standing on the side of a highway, thumb out, and you make eye contact with a passing driver through that windshield, that windshield feels like a thousand miles between you and that driver, it feels like a mortgage, a swimming pool, a trust fund, being called “sir,” it feels like two tax brackets and wine knowledge, it feels like all of that and the judgment that goes with it.

People stop, and obviously not everyone who has a car is rich. But that’s what it feels like.

Soon asking people for directions will feel like that too.

Years from now, when the last of the baby boomers have either adapted to smartphones and finally figure out how to type with their thumbs, or when they are just gone, and when obsolete iPhones are being handed out like after dinner mints, and when they figure out how to keep cell phones charged at all times, asking someone for directions will be the same as declaring:

“I’m too poor to own a smartphone.”

If you are well-dressed enough to convey a certain class status, that status being comfortably above the unwilling luddites of the lower class, people will respond to requests for directions with:

“Did your phone die?”

As of now, everyone gives directions. That is, just about no one refuses to answer the request, whether they know the answer or not. That’s because answering requests for directions is part of the basic social contract. But when access to smartphones become ubiquitous to all but the untouchables, will there be a point where providing directions moves from social nicety to charity? And if so, will people refuse to answer that question, will people ignore it the way anyone looking poor enough asking a question or starting a conversation is ignored? Will the very act of asking directions mean that the person must, by the fact their question betrays a lack of essentials, want something from the one being asked beyond the stated? Will the follow up question automatically be about money?

You want to know where the nearest Starbucks is? Get a fucking job.

I’ll admit that this all seems like pretty meaningless speculation until you consider that directions are just the most common kind of information that we can gather from strangers without feeling intrusive or making anyone uncomfortable. But there are other types as well, other questions we ask strangers from time to time in order to gather objective information.

Consider that with smartphones, we have the entire human knowledge library in our pockets, which, to paraphrase Louis C.K, is a fucking miracle, one that makes the printing press look like a blue ribbon entry in the science fair.

So when will asking questions seeking objective answers disappear altogether?

With all of the world’s information a finger stroke away, how can we continue to justify asking someone about the weather, or the score of the game, or where the subway goes? (And don’t worry, there will be network access in all subway stations soon enough).

How soon before asking someone for information becomes an obvious ploy to start a conversation?

But outside of trying to hit on people at bars, when do you ever need ploys? We don’t really speak to the strangers around us all that often anymore because we don’t have to. We are never bored enough to have to make conversation with strangers, unless we are at some party where the point is to meet people. We play with our phones on buses and in line, and when we are lonely we can call up anyone we know, because everyone has a phone on them, and everyone is reachable.

We are eliminating the space between us and our friends, and the space between our questions and the knowledge that those questions seek, thanks to the direct line we have to the group consciousness that we carry in our pockets.

But what used to occupy that space between us and our friends and between our questions and their answers was other people, strangers who might have the information we are seeking, who might provide conversation on a boring train ride, who might tell you about the hidden gem in the neighborhood you are in, who might even become a friend.

The problem is you can’t map your way to serendipity.

Strangers still ask me questions. I’m dreading the day I’ll judge them for it.

I’m dreading the day they’ll stop asking even more.

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