Addendum to ‘Where Swearing Happens’

Coaches, by nature, don’t tolerate a lot of nonsense. It’s part of the job description. After all, they spend the bulk of their time cultivating a standard of professionalism among their players that will theoretically translate into game-time success.

This might be at least partially why so many coaches speak (and likely think) using the vapid lexicon of sports clichés. They drone on and on about abstract concepts like effort, defensive intensity, execution on offense, urgency, tempo, and so on.

Furthermore, players, coaches, and the media are all equally complicit when it comes to the types of empty exchanges that define the status quo of post-game interviews and press conferences, which is why it’s so refreshing when a coach or player goes off script and says something candid or forthright.

For obvious reasons, this sort of rogue activity is more or less universally discouraged by coaching staff and team brass, both of whom share a responsibility to protect the team’s brand. In fact, in the interest of avoiding just the types of gaffes that threaten to undermine an organization’s public image, incoming rookies and sophomores are assigned mandatory seminars on how to navigate the relentless and unforgiving gauntlet of the press. The result is a sort of dull consistency to the exchange – pointless questions followed by carefully rehearsed responses that are nearly indistinguishable around the league.

That’s why we love it, for instance, when someone like Gregg Popovich – a notoriously taciturn man to begin with – stares holes right through an otherwise widely-respected veteran reporter like David Aldridge (who admittedly should know better) after he trots out a magnificently hollow term like “happy” in a luckless attempt to ascertain the coach’s general temperament toward the game in-progress.

Nobody is better than Coach Pop at calling attention to the media’s absurdity. He doesn’t suffer fools lightly, and his scathing responses, deadpan delivery, and palpable contempt help break the spell cast over any media event and consequently demand a higher level of discourse. Ask him what his strategy is for any given game, and he’s liable to respond with “score more points than the other team.” Ask him why they just lost a game, and he’ll most likely say “because the ball didn’t go in the hole.”

Popovich notwithstanding, the NBA’s grizzled media stalwarts are mostly impervious to the insipid line of inquiry customarily on display in post-game pressers, but even someone like the usually unflappable Phil Jackson was not wholly immune to the occasional lapse of etiquette. Exhibit:

Given the general tenor of post-game press conferences, it must take a near-Herculean effort on behalf of the coaches and players not to unleash a maelstrom of profanities on the attending masses. When the media zombies aren’t drooling with toothless, empty-headed questions, they are predominately in passive-aggressive mode, courting controversy wherever they can via gossip and rumors and needling criticisms, the tediousness of which is surpassed only by its cynicism.

Admittedly, it can be maddening just how boorish and aphoristic some coaches can be. They have to exercise a tremendous amount of restraint when it comes to dealing with the media, and are tasked with being the default ambassador of their franchise, and even a minor P.R. misstep can reflect poorly on the team and result in any number of unexpected consequences, so the fact that they have to sit through so many insufferable interviews and offer stock replies to seemingly endless rounds of questioning tends to create an atmosphere of repressed hostility. Ergo, those rare and glorious occasions when somebody actually blows their top.

Just watch as George Karl is subjected to a bafflingly convoluted accusation and, to his credit, tries to keep his composure and wait patiently for the reporter to finish before striking back a well-earned invective. (Go to the 3:58 minute mark below)

And who can forget the delicious irony of Rasheed Wallace’s “both teams played hard” interview, a response that brilliantly subverted decorum by employing just the type of worn-out cliché that is designed to passive-aggressively evade questions, with the added effect of making his displeasure known while simultaneously avoiding saying anything that might earn him a fine.

During an 82-game slog, someone is bound to lose their cool, and this year so far, we’ve seen Mike D’Antoni get a little…well…defensive…after being criticized about his team’s defensive struggles and Russell Westbrook, dressed in what appears to some sort of bovine-patterned shirt, not take kindly to being admonished by an equally clownishly-attired Craig Sager.

Make no mistake, all parties involved are prone to general dickishness, but more often than not, reporters get what they ask for. Poking the bear is part of the routine. Whatever it takes to get a quote for press time, and the more salacious the better.

The fact that everyone is aware of this dynamic only adds to the tension, so as the season winds down and the playoffs loom large and the storylines grow that much more fraught with intrigue, you can be sure that tempers will continue to flare, and the question is not if, but rather when and who will be the next in line for their own personal public meltdown.

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Church is Now in Session: Glory Be to God Shammgod

A player’s legacy is not always defined by championships, longevity, or even individual accolades. Every so often, someone comes along who revolutionizes a certain aspect of the game and influences an entire generation of players. During the late ’90s and early 2000s, Vince Carter embarked on a crusade that set the gold standard for dunking. In the mid-’90s, it was a little-known player from New York City who was responsible for transforming the art of modern ball handling.

His Christian name (pun partially intended) is God Shammgod. As a McDonald’s All-American, he played alongside Metta World Peace (then Ron Artest) at La Salle Academy in Manhattan and then at Providence College for two seasons before being drafted by the Washington Wizards with the 46th overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft. After a brief and unremarkable tenure in the NBA, Shammgod went on to play professionally, both at home and abroad, but has since vanished into relative obscurity.

So why is it that his name still resonates in many NBA circles among both current and former players? The answer is twofold: (1) whenever the argument comes up about the best ball handlers in the history of the game, as it did during an episode of NBATV’s Open Court last season, Shammgod’s name is inevitably mentioned among the ranks, and (2) the signature move that bears his name, i.e. “the Shammgod,” is routinely on display in today’s NBA by players like Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, and countless others.

Any point guard worth his salt has “the Shammgod” in his repertoire. It’s something of a rite of passage, particularly among streeball players from New York City. It’s also an homage to Shammgod himself, a knowing wink among players who have achieved a certain level of mastery of their craft. It’s the type of streetball move that, when executed correctly, can be effective during the ordinary ebb and flow of an NBA game and at the same time elicit the types of crowd reactions that all players secretly covet.

It should be noted that the precise origins of this move are the subject of some controversy. For instance, there are those who trace its lineage to a pair of obscure European players who frequently trotted out a remarkably similar move during the ’80s and ’90s (see video), but without question, it was Shammgod who popularized the move in America and added his own bit of panache to it. When a player like Manu Ginobili or Danilo Gallinari uses it, there’s something unmistakably European about its utility. It appears stripped down and subtle to the point of being virtually imperceptible, which by no means detracts from its effectiveness (quite the opposite in fact), but when Shammgod, Tyreke Evans, or Brandon Jennings break it out, it’s usually accompanied by a little shimmy designed to distract the defender and add an extra layer to its overall aesthetic appeal.

Shammgod is also credited with teaching a young Kobe Bryant how to do the Crossover version 2.0 that Allen Iverson used to such devastating effect during the late ’90s. Today, he is an assistant coach at Providence College and works one-on-one with NBA players on the side to help them improve their ball handling, and whether he’s influencing players directly or by virtue of reputation, Shammgod’s presence can be felt all around us.

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Review: ‘Black is the New White’

Most people know Paul Mooney from his unforgettable appearances on Chappelle’s Show (“Ask a Black Dude, “Negrodamus,” “Mooney on Movies,” et al.), but the veteran writer/comedian has enjoyed a significantly more storied career that for decades ran parallel to his friend and writing partner Richard Pryor’s and included stints writing for shows like Sanford and Son, Saturday Night Live, and In Living Color, and numerous stand-up albums and television specials.

In some respects, Mooney’s fantastic 2009 memoir Black is the New White reads more like an abridged biography of Pryor’s life, with Mooney’s own autobiographical exploits seeming more like footnotes or sidebars to the narrative arc of their intertwined careers.

Much like his standup routines, an all-encompassing preoccupation with race permeates the book and acts as backdrop for the story. After all, Mooney and Pryor arrived in Hollywood on the heels of the volatile Civil Rights movement, an era in which black comedians and performers were clamoring to infiltrate the mainstream consciousness while struggling against the endemic racism of the entertainment industry.

Add to this Pryor’s predilection for substance abuse and general self-destructiveness, and you have all the makings of a familiar Hollywood tale: early-failure-leads-to-breakthrough-moment-leads-to meteoric-rise-to-fame-leads-to-inevitable-bottoming-out-leads-to-eventual-redemption. And who better to tell it than a raconteur like Mooney, the man who was right there by Pryor’s side, sober as a nun, through all the turmoil and triumphs?

One of the great achievements of this book is the full-scale rendering of Mooney’s inimitable voice on the page, the mannerisms and cadences of his speech patterns captured so precisely as to sustain a level of intimacy and engagement with the reader from cover to cover.

At a little more than 250 pages, the book moves along at breakneck pace (my wife finished it in a matter of hours the other night), and rarely sinks into the suffocating autobiographical quicksand of self-indulgent languishing over irrelevant details.

The overriding preoccupation with race, however, can grow wearisome at times and is potentially alienating, not necessarily to readers who have a general aversion or uneasiness about racial discourse, but to those who maybe don’t find the subject quite as compelling or omnipresent as Mooney likes to think it is or should be. It would be obtuse not to notice that he has essentially made an entire career off his uncompromising point of view on the topic, and there are occasional and sometimes extended meditations on matters such as the function and persistence of the dreaded N-word in society, the Michael Richards meltdown, and other issues.

Additionally, Mooney’s occasional self-aggrandizing toes the line between smooth self-confidence and unbridled arrogance (e.g. he claims to be the progenitor of certain ubiquitous cultural expressions such as “nigga, please” among others, makes frequent albeit amusing references about his handsomeness, and more than once refers to certain of his work as among the “best” or “bravest” ever seen on television), but in many ways he is the perfect foil to the insecure, self-loathing Pryor.

For all of the transcendent humor it produced, the story of his lifelong friendship with Pryor and their pioneering of contemporary black comedy in America is ultimately a tragic tale. Without question, Richard Pryor was a comedic genius, and as with many geniuses, he was tormented by a host of personal demons.

Mooney tends to spare us the particulars of Pryor’s drug abuse and marital catastrophes, except to occasionally interject comments like “he was using more than ever” or “he loved drugs more than anything else” or “I know he was an abusive husband,” though he offers an unflinching look into some of the darkest recesses of his existence, most notably his infamous suicide attempt, an incident that they later chronicled in Pryor’s semi-autobiographical film Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling.

Hollywood is simultaneously captivating and repulsive, and their navigation through the gauntlet of fame and recognition escorts us through fascinating vignettes of Mitzi Shore’s legendary The Comedy Store, Pryor’s seminal appearance on Saturday Night Live, the creation and dissolution of the ill-fated Richard Pryor Show, and other significant moments of their lives and careers.

Mooney’s memoir is a riotous account of one of the most influential duos in modern American comedy, but more than anything, it is a tale of friendship and unconditional love. Through all Pryor’s personal and professional failures and through the long, debilitating disease that eventually took his life, Mooney was right there by his side, determined to ease both his physical and psychological pain through the healing properties of laughter. We should all be so lucky to have such a steadfast companion.

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RIP Tyrone “Alimoe” Evans aka “The Black Widow”

Put on And1 Mixtape Volume 1 and you’ll see a familiar scene: a boyish Rafer Alston skipping down the court during a 1995 NYC All-Star Game, clowning on everyone around him. But if you squint hard enough at that grainy VHS footage, you’ll notice another skinny teenager from Harlem with a 6’ 7” frame handling the rock as if he were a point guard and battling Skip for streetball supremacy.

While not quite as recognizable as Skip, that equally precocious kid on the tape is none other than Tyrone “Alimoe” Evans aka “The Black Widow,” one of the New York City playground legends who helped launch the global streetball phenomenon.

According to various news outlets, Alimoe died Tuesday after suffering a seizure. In a 2010 Slam article, Alimoe revealed that he was diabetic and that at times he had neglected his health by refusing to take the medications prescribed to treat his condition.

Like most legends, Alimoe was something of an enigma. While Rafer Alston eventually left New York to play in college and the pros, Alimoe stayed behind in the Harlem neighborhood of his youth where he was known and loved.

Like Skip, Alimoe was given an opportunity by Jerry Tarkanian to play college basketball at Fresno State but opted instead to take what he saw at the time as the easier route. He admits as much during an episode of the popular ESPN2 reality series Streetball, and some of his quotes from the Slam article are equally as maddening on the surface.

When asked if he had any interest in playing overseas, his response was “Nah. You have to work to play overseas.” In response to the follow up question “So you don’t want to make money?” he replies “I do, but I just don’t want to have to work for it.”

There’s a whole spectrum of reasons why some players never “make it” in the conventional sense, and a puzzling lack of ambition is often chief among them.

But there was another undercurrent to the Slam article that seemed at odds with the image of the confident, charismatic figure who stole so much screen time during that first season of Streetball: a crippling insecurity that seemed to border on paranoia.

When Alimoe joined the And1 Mixtape Tour, he became a fixture of the ESPN2 reality series which documented the team as they traveled around the country each summer taking on local players in different cities and hosting a competition for those vying to become “the next streetball legend.”

But after a few summers on tour, Alimoe grew increasingly suspicious of his And1 teammates. He became disillusioned when the friendships he made on tour were not maintained off the bus. He worried that his teammates might think he was gay because he didn’t have any children or that he was strange because he didn’t spend his money lavishly like some of the other players. He was also suspicious of the show’s producers for watering down the game with overnight sensations and even went so far as to publicly accuse them of staging some of the tour games.

Alimoe left And1 at the peak of the streetball craze, which has been on the steady decline ever since. Perhaps he saw the writing on the wall. For Alimoe, and for many And1 fans, streetball had jumped the shark. After the novelty had worn off, all that was left were the gimmicks. Stepping away from it could be seen as move for self-preservation.

Of course, there’s danger in trying to distill too much about someone’s life from so little information or to speculate about their motives. From the outside looking in, it’s tempting to fault Alimoe for being too complacent, for being too scared to step out of his comfort zone, for not having bigger dreams or aspirations, and for not putting forth the effort necessary to meet the expectations laid out before him. That’s just what he’d expect from someone who doesn’t really know him.

But that’s the extraordinary thing about fandom. It creates an artificial intimacy between us and the celebrities we admire, and it gives us a false and unsettling sense of ownership over them. And this, at least partially, appears to be what alienated Alimoe from this particular lifestyle.

For the last few years of life, Alimoe lived in Harlem surrounded by his friends and family, occasionally playing in streetball tournaments when he was healthy enough and visiting local schools to speak to kids about life and basketball. Below is a quote from a 2011 HoopsVibe interview in which he was asked what he’d like to be remembered for.

“As somebody that made somebody else get up and do better. They don’t have to let me know that I lit their fire; just go out and do it. They don’t have to thank me and bring me out to the game; just go do it. Just knowing that that little kid watching me took something home with them. See, basketball is a teacher of life. The lessons you learn in basketball – don’t be selfish, work hard, and treat everybody good – they’re the same lessons in life.”

If you listen closely enough, these pearls of practical wisdom sound a lot like the antithesis of what the streetball mentality eventually became – a mockery of a game that glorified tricks, gimmicks, individual performances, and, like every other reality show, fostered an environment in which the untalented are indiscriminately allotted their 15 minutes of fame. Even during the filming of the show, Alimoe was highly vocal with his criticism about the commercialization of streetball, and he was always careful to draw the distinction between entertainers and real basketball players, and that’s probably one of the best legacies he could leave behind for his younger fans.

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94 Feet and Falling: Kobe’s Last-Ditch Efforts to Unseat the Throne

It’s no secret that Kobe has a history of showing up Lebron during the All Star game, and Sunday was no exception.

Flashback to the 2010 All Star Game in Los Angeles, when Kobe “posterized” Lebron, in the absolute loosest sense of the word, then smugly patted him on the backside, or last year in Dallas, when he could be heard taunting Lebron for refusing to take the final shot in the waning moments of an uncharacteristically close All Star game which the West subsequently won, or go back even further to their first All Star matchup when Kobe could be seen backing down Lebron in the post and draining Jordanesque rainbow fade-aways in his face.

Evidently fueled by Michael Jordan’s controversial revelation, during a one-on-one with Amad Rashad, that he would take Kobe over Lebron in the hypothetical superstar fantasy draft by which we now apparently measure greatness, Kobe committed to playing 94-feet of suffocating defense on Lebron in the closing quarter of the game, blocking his shot twice to ensure a win for the West.

The All-Star game is all in good fun, and announcers like Reggie Miller praised Kobe for his unrelenting competitiveness, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that his incessant badgering of Lebron carried with it the unmistakable stench of desperation, and what’s perhaps worse, it was clear that Lebron could hardly be bothered to care.

But besides locking down Lebron, Kobe accomplished his other mission, which was to distract us, however briefly, from the fact that the Heat have taken their season series against a Lakers team that is on the brink of imploding, that Lebron has consistently outplayed him in games that actually matter, and that Lebron is en route to win his second consecutive MVP award and fifth overall. For those of you still counting, five is better than one.

* * *

Maybe Michael is turning soft in his old age and is finally prepared to loosen his Kung-fu-like grip for the proverbial passing of the torch. The only problem with Michael’s choice is that his credibility in the talent evaluation department remains suspect thanks to an abysmal tenure as Team President of the Washington Wizards, when he famously chose perpetual whipping boy and draft-bust-extraordinaire Kwame Brown with the first overall pick in the 2001 NBA draft, not to mention the fact that his Charlotte Bobcats continue to flounder around in the cesspool that is the bottom half of the Eastern Conference standings.

Nonetheless, it’s a familiar tale. Kobe has made a career of emulating his idol, and all young Kobe ever wanted was the approval of his hero, while Michael, cast in the role of the stern and distant patriarch, has consistently withheld his affection.

So when Michael threw him a bone this past weekend, Kobe couldn’t resist the opportunity to reiterate what he has so brazenly said so many times before, that given a one-off, mano-a-mano, winner-take-all matchup between himself and Lebron, he would win, no question.

Setting aside the fact that it would never happen, the harsher truth for Kobe is that it would hardly matter at this point.

So he had to seize the moment at the All Star game to prove that he can still shut down Lebron anytime he wants. Because Kobe recognizes that, in all likelihood, he won’t get a chance to do so when it really matters: in the NBA finals. While, the Miami Heat are poised to steamroll their way through the Eastern Conference Playoffs to a third straight Finals appearance, Kobe and his Lakers saw their championship train derailed before it even got out of the station.

And despite a staggering amount of evidence to the contrary, Kobe will never (not now, not ever) concede that Lebron has overtaken him as the current best player in basketball.

Lebron’s greatness is a personal affront to a man who, since high school, has suffered endless comparisons to the Greatest of All Time, and who now as his own star fades and Lebron’s burns brighter than ever, continues to have his illustrious career called into question.

But if Kobe’s 94 feet of defense during the All Star Game means anything, it’s that he’s more like his idol than Lebron is in terms of his borderline sociopathic tenacity when it comes to competition.

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All-Star Weekend Roundup

Kevin Hart

Another All-Star Game has come and gone, so for those of you who had better things to do than sit through an over-commercialized, celebrity-centric, weekend-long media extravaganza that culminates in the world’s most glorified pickup game, here is a roundup of the best moments from the NBA’s annual star-studded event…

Friday’s And1 Mixtape Tour flashback moment came courtesy of Kyrie Irving, who put on a dribbling exhibition against Pistons point guard Brandon Knight in the BBVA Rising Stars game like he was channeling a young Phillip Champion.

In a game otherwise dominated by eventual MVP Kenneth Faried, the friendly back-and-forth between Knight and Irving provided the biggest highlight of the night. As Uncle Drew would say, “don’t reach, young blood.”

The annual celebrity game has apparently become a showcase for funnyman Kevin Hart, who not only took home his second consecutive MVP award, but also managed to avoid getting himself ejected from the game this year.

Fastest Man on Earth Usain Bolt proved that he has hops as well as speed, although perhaps not quite enough speed to outrun a hysterical false-start by Kevin Hart in an impromptu footrace.

The grown little man also dropped in on the TNT crew to exact revenge for all the short jokes made at his expense.

What would All Star Weekend on TNT be without the drama, which came in the form of the unceremonious dismissal of NBPLA President Billy Hunter, who was ousted Saturday in a unanimous vote by the player’s association for multifarious grievances. Maybe now he can go back to his life as the fictional villain Samson from Half Baked.

The weekend turned into something of a coming out party for Kyrie Irving, as he won the Three-Point Shootout, while current favorite for Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard took home the trophy for the living sedative that is the Taco Bell Skills Challenge.

Always the most hyped event of the weekend, the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest never fails to disappoint, and significant ink was spilled by sports scribes today re: what needs to be done to “fix” the contest moving forward. Suffice it to say that the event was marred the usual succession of botched attempts, lengthy intervals between contestants, and, despite a few admittedly impressive dunks, overall inferiority to the types of performances that are commonplace in the “amateur” contests that continue to thrive outside of the NBA. But you already knew that.

The biggest disappointment to me personally was watching James White come up short in his first, and perhaps only, chance at immortality in an event that he was seemingly born to dominate. It’s hard to tell if it was simply too much psychological pressure or if, at 30 years of age, he just doesn’t have the springs to pull off some of the more astonishing dunks that we’ve seen from him in the past. Regardless, I’ll always be a fan, and I hope it’s at least some consolation that many inferior dunkers have laid claim to the universally-coveted slam dunk title.

The All Star Game itself followed the usual script of half-hearted play and non-existent defense during the first half, followed by an increased level of urgency and competitiveness in the second half. Kevin Durant scored 30 points or more for the third straight time, Kobe guarded Lebron for 94 feet like his life depended on it (more on that later), and Chris Paul took home the MVP award with 20 points and 15 assists.

Michael Jordan managed to steal some of the spotlight by turning 50, and as if that wasn’t enough, he added more fuel to the fire by picking Kobe over Lebron seemingly by virtue of his grasp of basic math skills.

To which Lebron responded…fuck all y’all.

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The NBA: Where Swearing Happens

“He’s really talking up a storm out there.” – some white announcer

I came across this golden nugget today as I was hate-listening to Jim Rome on the way to the gym, and it would appear to reignite the debate as to precisely what types of behaviors constitute a technical foul under the so-called zero tolerance rules implemented by league brass a few years back.

The no-call on this particular play left “the Manimal” Faried visibly flummoxed and furthermore seems to suggest that a player is free to spew general obscenities into the ether as long as they are not directed toward any of the officials, although this seems wildly inconsistent with the “taunting” technicals that the referees so eagerly dispense for even the slightest post-dunk stare-down.

Viewed through a more cynical lens, some may see it as further evidence of the double-standard that’s in place for superstar players. For instance, John Wall and Jeff Teague will both earn technical fouls for a nano-second’s worth of mean-mugging after posterizing an opponent, while the profanity-laced tirades of players like KG and Lebron typically go unchecked.

But, thanks to omni-directional microphone technology, there’s nothing quite like the occasional, fleeting glimpse behind the wizard’s curtain to remind us that the otherwise muted and inaudible world transpiring on-court consists of testosterone-fueled adult male athletes cursing and swearing at one another as men sometimes do, rather than the G-rated, family-friendly affair that David Stern so desperately wants us to believe in.

I’ve always assumed that trash talking was ubiquitous in the NBA, and via candid testimonials from a chorus line of former players, we now know that Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, among other greats, were as legendary in this regard as they were in their dominate play.

Through NBA TV’s fantastic series Open Court, we’ve also come to understand that there are unspoken rules when it comes to trash talking, a certain level of decorum and/or code of ethics by which opponents are unofficially expected to abide (i.e. mothers, wives, and children are generally off limits). Of course, Garnett is a habitual line-stepper, as evidenced by the “Honey Nut Cheerio-gate” and the infamous Charlie V. “cancer patient” scandal of old, among countless other incidences What’s hilarious to me personally is the fact that Garnett’s real-world vulgarities are not far removed from the way he’s satirized in the hysterical itsreal85 segments.

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