October 2005 - Posts
The Lakers made their way down to San Diego for their annual pre-season game. I've attended twice in the past - see Lakers v. Suns - but decide, like last year, to sit this year's game out. The pre-season games are mostly the scrubs playing, and to top it off the competitors were the Charlotte Bobcats... yawn.
In the end, the Lakers ended up winning a tight one that came down to the wire, 98-97.
I saw the highlights last night, the Sports Arena, where they play their pre-season game here in San Diego, sure looked empty. I haven't been since the season with Karl, Gary, Shaq, and Kobe, but that year it was packed in the lower tier, and decently crowded in the upper tier.... ditto the year before that. The highlights from last nights game, however, showed many, many open seats in the lower tier. After last season it's probably going to take some W's before fans start showing an interest again.
Bill Simmon's latest article, Houston, We Have a Problem, talks about the effect of Game 5's NLCS to the Astros team psyche. The 'Stros were up 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, no one on, and their best closer on the mound. And then it happened. They gave up a base hit. Then a walk. And then a three-run slam from Pujols. Ouch.
In his article, Simmon's talks about how such a blow can wipe out a team for a series, how one definitive play can demoralize a team and its fan base to such a point that the entire series shifts in one split second. The Cardinals went from one out away from the end of their season to now having the wind at their backs. Bill commented that the effect of one of these moments is much greater in baseball than in basketball. I tend to agree. While a harrowing loss can surely crumple a fan and player in the NBA, next game is always next game, and rarely, if ever, have I seen a team basically derailed to the point where I wondered, “What's the point of playing the rest of the games in this series?”
The only exception in my opinion was Fisher's 0.4 second miracle. Recall in that series that the Spurs had come out strong, winning the first two games of the series at home. But then the Lakers got their traction back at home, winning rather convincingly in Game 4, setting up a classic Game 5, in San Antonio with one question looming: “Have the Spurs crumpled, and this is the Lakers series, or are the Spurs for real?” The best the Spurs had played in Games 1 and 2 outshined the best ball the Lakers had played in their two wins. Nevertheless, the Lakers game out and took control of Game 4, having a 16-point lead in the second half at one point. But the Spurs came back, and as they did you could feel the energy and excitement in the Alamo Dome building. The buzz. The electricity. The, “Hey, this is our year. These hall of famers can't beat our team”-vibe. And with Timmy's shot over Shaq to put the Spurs up by 1 with 0.4 seconds left, the crowd errupted.
But they did not count on Fisher hitting that shot.
But he did.
And the air came out of that crowd, of that team, of that city, like that. Game 6 was a formality, in my opinion. The Spurs played dejected, like a whipped dog. They had the energy zapped out of them. They were away from home, they were down 2-3 in the series, they had had the wind knocked out of them.
Another sucker punch moment was back when the Bulls dynasty was put on hold when MJ went to play baseball. Here we were, MJ-less - it was Scottie's turn to shine. Despite no MJ we had done well and were in the second round of the playoffs against New York, the team that had taken us to 7 the year before. Game 1... big game. And we were up big in the 3rd, the game was ours to win. And what happened? The Knicks came back. Got closer and closer in the fourth, the Bulls could not stop the scoring. And then, with just pocket change left on the clock, Derek Harper shot that three (which he missed), but Scottie Pippen brushed his arm when the ball was about half way to the hoop. And Hugh Hollins called A FOUL. That was sickening. Harper his the free throws and the Knicks won. (Granted that didn't taint the entire series, as the Bulls made the Knicks go 7 before capitulating, but still. One of those games where I walked away from and felt ill to my stomach. Had the Bulls won that game I believe they would have made it to the Finals that year, and maybe even have won a ring sans MJ.)
Back to baseball... should be an interesting to see how the Astros come out looking tonight. If they have that mopey demeanor, expect the Cards to head to the World Series. Hopefully, though, the 'Stros come out with this loss off their backs, and we have another great game (or two).
I saw what some call the best basketball movie of all times, and still others call the best movie of the entire 1990s for the first time this weekend. The movie I am talking about is the three hour documentary Hoop Dreams. The documentarians that created Hoop Dreams spent six years following the lives of two inner-city Chicago youths, William Gates and Arthur Agee, as they live out their's - and others' - hoop dreams.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
Hoop Dreams begins with Earl Smith trolling the inner-city playgrounds, looking for young talent to introduce to St. Joseph High School, a Catholic school out in the Western suburbs known for its basketball programs. (It's where Isiah Thomas got his start; the St. Jo coach commonly talks about finding the 'next Isiah' and Zeke even makes a presence in the movie, speaking to the St. Joseph summer camp both William and Arthur attend before high school.)
Both William and Arthur make it on scholarship to St. Joseph's, spending three hours each day commuting from the projects to the 'burbs. William is a very coachable and talented player and makes the varsity team as the starting point guard his freshman year. Arthur appears to be less coachable and has yet to grow into his body; he is relegated to the JV team. Both boys are far behind academically, but William becomes the model student and quickly catches up, getting As and Bs in his classes; Arthur, on the other hand, seems to do just enough to pass.
Sadly Arthur doesn't live up to the expectations of the St. Joseph's basketball program, and his scholarship is cut. His parents, living on welfare through part of the movie, can't afford to pay the tuition, so Arthur leaves St. Jo's after one year and instead attends and plays ball for Marshall, an inner-city public school. William, on the other hand, is excelling at St. Jo's, becoming "The Man" on the team and getting press in print and on TV. He's dubbed the next Isiah by many.
Of course life and dreams seldom fit hand in hand, and William suffers a knee injury and must have arthoscopic surgery, which sidelines him for most of his Junior year season. He returns too prematurely and ends up reinjuring his knee, requiring further surgery. By his senior year, his knee is strong enough to weather a season, but his confidence is shaken. Too, his dreams seem less his own and more of those around him. He becomes disillusioned with basketball and sees his coach as someone who's living vicariously through him rather than serving as a role model. Conversely, Arthur is having a breakout year his senior year, as Marshall goes from having a losing record his Junior year, to finishing 3rd in the state. Both boys make it to college on basketball scholarships, but barely, due to poor ACT test scores - William gets a full ride to Marquette, while Arthur ends up at a community college in Missouri.
And that's where the movie ends. There's an epilogue - William quits the basketball team his Junior year, but then rejoins his Senior year and ends up graduating from Marquette with a degree. Arthur plays two years at Mineral Area Community College and then gets a full ride scholarship to Arkansas State. Neither boys make it to the pros, although in 2000 William was practicing with Michael Jordan, helping MJ prepare for his comeback. There was talk of William trying out for the Bulls or Wizards, but before this could materialize a broken foot grounded William.
This movie has really received a lot of acclaim from critics. ESPN calls Hoop Dreams the 13th best sports movie of all time. Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel both named it the best movie of 1994, and Ebert went as far as to dub it the top movie from the 1990s. I would probably put Hoop Dreams on my Top 25 of all time, but I don't see how it could come up in the top 10 realm - there are too many solid films from years past that have a lock on those positions. Regardless, this was one of the best movies I've seen in a long time, made even more interesting due to its basketball storyline and powerful commentary on "the dream," inner-city life, the business of sports, and hope. One of the most real and honest portrayals of life in the inner-city.
The movie is about so much more than basketball. There are some excellent scenes in this movie that will stick with you. At one point, Arthur's parents are split up because his dad has started using crack. One scene shows Arthur shooting hoops at the playground when his dad shows up, talks to him for a bit and then wanders off. The camera follows him (as, I assume, Arthur's eyes) and we see him buying his next fix. Similarly, there's a great scene near the end of the movie, after Arthur's dad has done some jail time and cleaned himself up, and is back with the family, he and Arthur play one last father/son basketball game. It goes from Arthur really not interested in playing to a sort of battle between the two, with Arthur using the court to sort of get out some of the anger and disappointment he feels toward his father. There's also some great scenes between William and his coach; you can tell that the relationship they share is totally opposite of what you'd like to see between a struggling kid and his coach. A coach has so much potential to positively affect the outcome of William's life, but the coach, it appears, sees only basketball promise in William, and focuses on doing his best to improve that aspect, rather than spending anytime trying to help William become a better human being.
After seeing the movie I was interested in finding out what, exactly, happened to these two guys. Where were they now? What were they doing? Fortunately I found a Washington Post article titled Looking Back at Broken Dreams, written in July 2004, which serves as a look back at the post-movie lives of William Gates and Arthur Agee. What was nice to see was that the documentarians split the profits of the film with both the Gates and Agee families, which the Agees used to get out of the projects.
All in all, a highly recommended movie by yours truly. If you've not seen Hoop Dreams, rent it (or buy it) this weekend - you'll be glad you did.
Ron Artest is back - and in more ways than one. Artest played in his first NBA game tonight since “the brawl” back in November 2004, recording 8 points, 3 boards, and 3 fouls. But not only is he back in presence, he's also back in spirit. Before the game began, Artest commented:
"I'm going to continue playing hard and out of control, like a wild animal that needs to be caged in. I'll let the referees handle it."
Good to have you back, Ronnie!
I'm sure the David Stern was hoping it would be sometime before the first preseason game of the season before Artest was quoted as saying he would play “out of control,” but what did you expect, Mr. Commish? I think the NBA frontoffice will have a very tight eye on Artest throughout the season, and expect the hammer to fall if he steps out of line. David Stern is not a guy to mess with - you'll lose - and I think Artest is going to find that out sooner than later.
Hopefully Artest pulls a “Rasheed Wallace” and transforms from an out of control player better known for their technicals and brash behavior to one who quiets down, concentrates on the game, and doesn't give the reporters any fuel for the fire.
We shall see................