Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Rocky Mountain Answer

Everyone likes to shit on Allen I. It started when he got pegged with throwing a chair in a bowling alley fight as a young high school star of both football and basketball in Hampton, Virginia. Whatever you think really happened all those years ago, nothing about Iverson’s image would dissuade you from believing the worst. He’s tough. He’s street. He’s never distanced himself from the friends and family that supported him from his days as a young man, growing up under very tough circumstances.

Iverson’s been in trouble with the law as an NBA player as well. His car, his close associates, his pistol, his marital problems, and maybe his weed have all had the spotlight over the years. He’s got tattoos (that were airbrushed out on the cover of Hoop some years ago). He doesn’t wear a suit when he travels. He doesn’t practice much. He wears a cap tilted to the side, and cornrows. He shoots the ball A LOT. The corporate hypocrites will tell you that this is both great for business, as young kids on the street scrape together money, in whatever way they can, to buy his shoes, apparel, and all the rest. They also point their fingers at the blackness of the crimes that have the same kids killing each other for those products.

It’s more than a corporate hypocrisy though. It’s one of the great American hypocrisies that puts a black face in every living room via sports and entertainment, but refuses to get close enough to have a black face actually in the living room as a friend or family member. I pull know punches when I point my finger at the dysfunctional American landscape of race and culture. Iverson is who he is. He grew up where he grew up and faced the same issues that millions of others, Black, White, Latin, and Other face thanks to economic inequality and the failed American experiment. We gave on people like Iverson a long time ago. It’s our national shame.

The thing is, Iverson probably doesn’t give a shit about any of it. He’s happy with who he is, his genius and his personal failings all included. He makes no apologies, asks no forgiveness, and goes out on the court ready to die for a win every night. Iverson is a product of his environment, but he also possesses great genius that allows him to build a new environment for himself and all the people around him. It doesn’t make the mess that is the mean streets go away. There are some eggs broken when you make an omelet. The thing is, the NBA projects this squeaky clean image of sanitized multi-cultural harmony that incorporates country western, hip hop, and rock and roll in arenas all over America. They want to appeal to everyone.

Me, I like my reality raw and unfiltered. The world isn’t that Disney, jolly, Mayberry, American Idol nice-nice, and neither are the players. To be sure, there are guys from the same mean streets that produced Allen Iverson that take the money and the fast life and give a middle finger to the game. They don’t really care about basketball, and they only really play every night to collect their big fat checks. There are even some guys out there that hate basketball, but know where the bread is won. Shawn Bradley, one of the nice-nice Mormon choirboys that the NBA can only dream about, didn’t care about basketball. He was a 7’6” kid that had a little coordination and half a jump shot. He got paid big time, but he didn’t like basketball all that much. I believe that Derrick Coleman gave up on basketball early on in his career.

Allen Iverson has never given up. He has never let his status affect his play on the court. He got to the league by scoring millions of points, and he’ll go to his grave scoring a lot more. He plays hurt. He plays hard. He never says die, even with his team lost in the standings and down big in every ballgame. If anything, Iverson’s off court life has made him the greatest kind of warrior you can hope for on your team. He’s a guy you want to be with in a foxhole. In fact, there isn’t another professional athlete that I’d rather be in a foxhole with than Allen Iverson. He’s not clean cut. He doesn’t always make the best choices in his life, but he always does everything with his heart.

Many of the great figures of American society have come about their success by facing harsh circumstances but persevered to reach the pinnacles of their professions. This is particularly true of the greatest artists of the modern world. It’s the reason why American Idol will never produce any legitimate talent, and why the insane asylums, back street gutters, and dysfunctional homes of the world are the most fertile grounds for genius. Genius is born of both great natural gifts, and the struggle. The struggle is what the NBA and its sponsors want you to ignore. They want you to see the smoke and mirrors. I prefer to tear the band-aid off and see the whole unseemly picture.

Iverson now joins the Denver Nuggets. His days in Philly are finally over. He’ll be remembered by Sixers fans as one of the greatest figures in Philadelphia sports history when they’ve had a chance to step back and look at what he’s done. The warts will be there too, but his character on the court is unquestionable. There are plenty of people who will say that Denver made a mistake. They’ll point to all the big flaws that go along with Allen Iverson. They’ll tear off the band-aid and show the world the ugly parts of Allen I. To me those are reality. They help me understand that he’ll finish out his days in a Nuggets uniform and probably limp off the court for the last time proud of what he’s done. His teammates will salute him, and he’ll stand at his Hall of Fame ceremony with a cap tilted to the side, a wry smile, and an audience full of other street kids who know where he came from and how much he accomplished in lifting himself and a lot of other people without selling out.

I’m confident that he’ll shoot a lot in Denver, Carmelo Anthony or no. I’m sure he’ll get his 8 assists, and he’ll dominate the ball, and he’ll swipe 2 or 3 a game. He won’t change, except that he won’t be the only one out there every night that can put the ball in the hole. George Karl had a similar character on his Sonics teams. Gary Payton wasn’t all that different from Allen I when all is said and done. He’s a great coach for Iverson. Melo and Iverson will play off each other well, and the Nuggets will be in good shape. Whatever happens in the end they will compete every night, and make their fans proud. Watch.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Mother May I?

Sean May's getting burn now. Bickerstaff finally saw the light on this guy. He was hurt all last year in his rookie campaign. He got sporadic minutes for the whole 1st month of the season, but I've been paying attention. I saw last year, and in the preseason this year that the lottery pick from UNC posts fierce numbers when he gets over 25 minutes a game. Without fail, when he gets those minutes he scores, boards, dishes, steals, and blocks. His numbers at UNC back all that up. He averaged 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks over 3 years at Carolina. He can ball. I wrote in our season preview at EvW:

"Finally, Sean May will have a surprising impact this season. Watch."

He's busting out. If he continues to get 25+ minutes the rest of the way, he'll put up 16-18 points on around .500 shooting and .750 from the line, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and close to a steal and a block. To compare him to someone similar, I looked around for a close breakdown. Let's call May's numbers a 28 minute per game estimate.

May projections (28 mpg .500/.750 16.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 2.2 rpg, .8 steals, 1.2 bpg)
Mr. X statistic (37 mpg .524/.724 18.6 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.2 steals, 1.9 bpg)

Player X gets 9 minutes a game more. Let's see what they do per 48 minutes.

May per 48 (25.2 ppg, 13.4 rpg, 3.6 apg, .72 spg, 1.72 bpg)
MrX per 48 (23.9 ppg, 12.4 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.59 spg, 2.44 bpg)

So, May is not quite the stat sheet stuffer that Mr. X is on defense, but I suspect his steals would be higher if he played a bit more. Last year he averaged .7 steals in only 17 minutes. The blocks look to be a reasonable downgrade. He's at .9 this year in 24 minutes. Have you guessed who Mr. X is?

Elton Brand.

Watch my man break out. All it is in the NBA is minutes. May will be starting within a month and Brezec will be a thing of the past.