Thursday, February 22, 2007

DJ, I was just talking about you

I got a call from my nephew today that went something like this:

Him: Uncle Tom - Janis Joplin died!
Me: I know.
Him: Oh, you saw it in the news?
Me: Yeah, like, 35 years ago.
Him: What?
Me: She died, like, 35 years ago.
Him: She?!
Me: Geez, fuckhead, you didn't know Janis Joplin was a woman?!
Him: Not Janis Joplin! You should have your hearing checked!
Me: What?
Him: Not Janis Joplin. You should have your hearing checked!
Me: What?
Him: NOT JANIS JOPLIN! YOU SHOULD . . . fuck off Uncle Tom.
Me: You're such a fucking dweeb, dude. That's, like, the 50th time you've fallen for that one.
Him: Fuck you Uncle Tom! Listen, DJ died!
Me: Dennis Johnson?!
Him: Yeah! Man, isn't that weird?

Then we both said 'we were just talking about him' at the same time, and chuckled about the coincidence of saying the same thing at the same time.

Him: A lot of great players said the same things you were saying.
Me: I'm telling you, man, he was, like, one of the greatest players ever.
Him: That's what they were saying! Hey, Uncle Tom, you should drop the 'like' when you talk. It's so 2004.
Me: What Ever . . .


I was dispensing my vast knowledge of everything to my nephew just last Tuesday. He asked me to name the all-time Sonics team. When it came to shooting guard, I offered up Downtown Freddie Brown as the all-time Sonics' 2. I guess he expected me to say Ray Allen, but Freddie is the guy who Gary Payton surpassed as the team's all-time leading scorer. The guy was simply deadly from 50 feet in.

Just to get my nephew again, I suggested that he let me put Freddie in as the all-time sixth man because he rarely started, especially late in his career. He agreed so he could hear me say his favorite player's name as the best ever Sonics' 2.

'Easily, Dennis Johnson,' I told him.

He pranced around the room emphasizing his 'no fucking way' with wildly flailing arms like a rooster readying a hen for screwing. I guess he was hoping those antics might change reality. When he finally shut up and calmed down enough to consider things like reasons, he understood why he needn't be wrong answering the question in the future.

I told him that DJ was just a young player out of Pepperdine when Bill Russell's brother-in-law needed a job, so the Sonics made Bob Hopkins its head coach in 1977. Lenny Wilkens took over a dismal team after about 20 games; that event was the start of the most special two years in Sonics' team history (not to take anything away from the team that handed the 87-13 Bulls three of its losses). Wilkens brought the team something Hopkins couldn't: a coach who knew what the hell he was doing.

The team went from the worst team in the league to making the playoffs. They were the Cinderella favorites for the Western Conference, and they didn't disappoint. The Sonics didn't have a 20 point guy on the roster but could deal with most anything because of a deep and solid rotation. They made it to the finals, and went up against the Bullets, led by HOFer's Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes. It was a great series that came to a head with game 7. The Bullets won a close game by focusing on DJ.

I recognized from that game that Dennis Johnson was the key to that team's success.

The next year, the Sonics posted the best record in the league, and beat the Bullets in 5! DJ was named the series MVP; he was clearly the best player on that team, and one of the best in the league. He was the kind of player who might contribute 10 or 15 points to the team's total, but he could neutralize the other team's best offensive player.

I told my nephew that a guy who is as great a shooter as Ray Allen is might be able to get 20 points off DJ, but usually not. It's also not that DJ couldn't rack up the points had he wanted to. He had a nice shot. He was bigger and stronger than most players opposing him, but he could still run with the smaller guys. Mostly, though, he just stole the ball or blocked a shot and gave it up to Gus for a lay-in or Freddie for a pull-up 38 footer. For two years after Wilkens took over, the team didn't lose a game in which it scored 100 points because other teams just couldn't score that many. DJ was the best defensive player on that team, and was named to five consecutive All-Defensive Teams beginning in that championship year.

Who knows how well the Sonics would have done without any one of its players in those years - except DJ. If the missing player were him, the team could not have accomplished what it did. I told my nephew that he probably remembers him mostly as a major cog on the monster Celtics teams in the '80s. 'Yeah, but I mostly remember Bird and McHale,' he told me. 'I don't recall DJ being such a big part of those teams.'

I suggested he never again admit that around a really smart person, and just say 'DJ was so underrated because he was, like, the X-factor teammate on a lot of great teams' so it sounds like he knows what he's talking about. And by adding the 'like,' a really smart person might think that he's known that since 2004.

That's my take.


My All-Time Sonics' Teams

First Team
1. Gary Payton
2. Dennis Johnson
3. Tom Chambers
4. Sean Kemp
5. Jack Sikma
6. Freddie Brown

Second Team
1. Nate McMillan
2. Ray Allen
3. Rashard Lewis
4. Xavier McDaniel
5. Bob Rule
6. Detlef Schrempf

Friday, February 02, 2007

Superbowl XLI

We've all been hearing that when good friends Lovie Smith and Tony Dungee bring their teams onto the field this Sunday, history will be made as they are the first two African-American coaches to get to the Superbowl. I feel a duty to make sure the public knows that these guys are neither Boers nor Egyptians; they are also the first black men to coach teams to the Superbowl! That means that one of them will become the first African-American coach who is also black to win it all! What's cooler than that is the game is in February, and February is Black History Month!

Most people agree that these men are great role models for black youth. If Dr. King's dream were reality, we'd agree that these men are great role models for us all. One day, maybe, we as a society will recognize that character is more important than the color of one's skin. At least this glass ceiling has been shattered so we can get past skin color in the future.

Here are my picks for this game:

The first player to score: Robbie Gould
The first player to score a touchdown: Marvin Harrison
Over or under 49 points: Over
Final score: Colts 28 - Bears 31
MVP: Devin Hester

Disclaimer: I take no responsibility for you using my predictions for gambling. In fact, I'd think you were an idiot if you did.

On second thought, I guess it really doesn't matter; I think you're an idiot anyway.

That's my take.

ed. note: Zero for five. If you count my guess that you're an idiot, though, I was one for six.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

McGwire will ruin my prediction - for a while, anyway.

For a generation, Dave Kingman held acclaim as the eligible baseball player with the most home runs in his career who wasn't in the hall of fame. I predicted that Jose Canseco would replace Kingman when he became eligible. It looks like Mark McGwire may hold that distinction for a few years.

McGwire, unlike Canseco, deserves to be in the HOF. He was one of the greatest home run hitters ever to play the game, if not the best. Ultimately, though, the HOF is a private organization, so they have the right to determine eligibility on whatever basis they choose. Still, to overlook a legitimately great career because of something that happened during 'an era of moral question' is, in my opinion, a rather shithead thing to do.

Of course, would you expect anything less from the place that excludes the all-time hits leader because of some moral bullshit he did after he was a player?

Here's what I think: baseball is concerned about the political ramifications of voting in an American who exercised his civil rights to Congress. I guess I don't blame them for worrying about the government, but it's too bad that the guys who vote for the HOF will likely kiss Congress's asses to demonstrate proper worry! The steroid thing is just a convenient controversy.

Oh well, I doubt any of them have ever been mistaken for Edwin R. Murrow.

What bothers me is that my prediction will now predictably be incorrect! What's worse is that it will be because a bunch of guys who've talked about this for hours while getting smashed on the job question McGwire's ethics!

It won't denigrate Ripken's and Gwynn's first ballot selections. This just happens to be a class year in which three eligible players deserve the recognition based on their careers. Canseco is also eligible for the first time. He shouldn't make it. He was a very good young player, but his career, in the end, was pretty disappointing. Not so for McGwire. He was a generational hero who, in retrospect, may not have been the best role model behind closed doors. The same could be said about Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, but those guys are already in.

It never was a secret that McGwire used performance enhancing products. He had some stuff that the Olympics and organized track prohibited, but baseball was silent at the time. It made some news, but it happened before the year he hit 25 home runs in both leagues, and fans' jaws dropped. All he could do was play his best, and that's what we, as fans, always got from McGwire. He hit 583 home runs in his career, and broke Maris's record! Compared to Canseco's 462, or Kingman's 442, he is a Hemilayan among Smokeys!

My kudos to the writers who have the balls to vote for McGwire instead of mistaking exercising one's rights with guilt, as the HOF would be Constitutionally required to recognize if it weren't a private organization.

Baseball loved McGwire when he was one of its biggest money-makers, but it appears those same people are likely to vote that subsequent controversy, and an obsequious gesture to Twain's nemisis, will leave McGwire on the outside looking in - undeservedly.

That's my take.