Wade-ing into foul waters
Every summer of high school, me and a group of 5-7 friends (depending on who’d finished their chores) would spend Saturday and Sunday on neighborhood basketball courts around town running games with other locals.
Anyone who’s every played pick-up ball knows that it’s up to the victim (primarily) to cry foul, and they do so at the risk of ridicule from not only their opponents, but their very own teammates. Each person trusts everyone else to adhere to this tradition, to hold themselves accountable for their actions, and to respect the game enough not to punk out by way of a weak call. It’s an unspoken agreement born of time (there are always 5 kids on the sidelines ready to call “next”), money (no one’s paying a ref to attend, nor is anyone volunteering to ref, and there’s only so much Gatorade and Snickers that grass cuttin’ income can afford), and light (yes, the sun even sets in the summer). Finally, it’s born of will, endurance, and toughness.
Now wait: before you get twisted and spew accusations of machismo and misdirected masculine archetypes and tread too deeply into theoretical waters (where I am Poseidon, and as such, will end you), two of the best players on the court were women—Red was a beast in the post and Jody was Jesus Shuttlesworth years before He Got Game. They were two of the best smack talkers ever to wear knee wraps and would verbally dismantle anyone who broke the foul code. If either of you wonderful ladies ever happens across this blog, I love you both.
Whenever someone drove the lane they expected to draw contact. It’s just part of the game. You’re tired. It’s hot. The shots aren’t falling and the game is running long. Whatever the reason, odds were that in all the congestion of people who were good enough to achieve weekend baller status, but never sniff an organized court past high school, someone was getting hacked. You just knew. The key was to try and predict where it was coming from, absorb it, and hit the shot. If it was egregious, then the violators would often out themselves, give you the ball out front. But you always, ALWAYS, tried to make the shot.
This part wasn't born so much of toughness as it was of our idols, of the style of hoops we watched every Sunday to the soundtrack of Bill Walton on NBC and the world’s largest half-digested gobstopper that had been lodged in his throat and left there to rot by John Wooden (the Wizhard of Westshwood! gargle, gargle, gargle, gargle). Jordan, Magic, Bird, Nique, Barkley, Reggie. Shit, hoss, John Starks was as tall as Prince and he yoked on a guy.
|"They were whining and crying in transition."|
I bring all of this up after watching the Celtics-Heat Eastern Conference Finals Game 4 postgame report on ESPN* while IM-ing with my Celtics buddy who’s in China right now searching for Yao Ming (surely he’ll find him, the Rockets never could). If you watched it you know D-Wade missed a 3-pointer that could’ve won the game. The first comments by five, FIVE, different commentators were a variation on the same theme—“Wade should’ve driven to the basket and put it in the ref’s hands to call the foul, and get to the free throw line.”
Are they serious? Put a playoff game in the hands of an official? That’s the plan? Win it on the free throw line? Is this a play call? Can you imagine Tom Brady leading a last-minute drive, crowd’s going wild, he’s on his opponent’s 15-yard line, there’s time for one play, Pats down 5, a touchdown wins it, and Joe Buck says, “Best thing for Brady to do is try to draw the defense offsides. Do THAT over and over until you get to the half yard line, then sneak it.”
That’s because it’s not a legit ideology. It wasn’t always something the NBA talked about with regularity. And this is the problem I’ve had with the league for a few years, but especially with this Heat team, and more particularly, with Wade and LeBron James. It’s the Heat’s style of play I take issue with. And maybe it’s the word “absorb” that so many current players don’t understand.
Here’s a typical Heat possession—LeBron or Wade dribble around. I walk to the kitchen to stir my dinner, check the bread in the oven, eat a couple Cheez-its. When I return Lebron or Wade dribble around some more. LeBron or Wade pass to LeBron or Wade, who will then pump fake on the perimeter (good move, btw. Wade’s shot fakes are legendary, one of the best of all time), and get their defender airborne.
|First ever sighting of Ebolawolf|
The moment of truth—the first defender is out of the play (again, a great move), but beneath the basket there are 2 seven-footers, a werewolf with a baseball bat covered in used syringes, and the Ebola virus. I'm saying a cloud of Ebola has filled the restricted zone and covered the werewolf. In keeping with the fluidity of the game, a phenomenon that separates basketball from so many other sports (I’m looking at you, Peter Gammons), and in taking the highest percentage shot, a player should (ideally) take two dribbles, elevate in the space between the discarded defender and Ebolawolf, and get wet.** OR, one might take one more dribble, two more steps, leap well before seven-footers and syringes and hit a runner.***
THERE ARE 15 FUCKING FEET BETWEEN WHERE YOU LEFT YOUR DEFENDER AND CERTAIN DEATH!
And inevitably, without fail, without any desire to actually MAKE THE SHOT, these two will barrel in to teeth and disease, completely out of control, blindly hurling the ball toward a space we can only assume they believe to be the current location of the constellation Draco. 35 out of 36 times the officials will bail them out with a call (they shoot more free throws than Jimmy Chitwood). The one time they don’t do this (thankfully), the talking heads complain that they should have.
This begs the question—what kind of product does the NBA desire? The Heat offense is a bad product. Have you watched the OKC—San Antonio series? (Lil’ Wayne didn’t.) Have you seen the rhythm of athleticism, the speed, the passing, the yams, the obnoxiously beautiful rafter rain that is Kevin Durant’s jumper? That’s hoops. That’s an attractive product.
I believe this is a pivotal time for the NBA. I’ll always watch. I love the game. But you’re losing viewers by the season, Sterny. Conspiracy theories abound (See: Lakers/Kings Western Conference Finals 2002 or the Heat/Mavericks championship series of 2006) and for good reason. Something has to be done about flopping to change the style of play. A collected effort must be made to stop the bail- out calls. Quit rewarding world-class players for half-wit decisions. Otherwise, you’re looking at a potential for the largest Ebolawolf breakout in modern history.
* Has there ever been a larger collection of mindless chode-nozzles ever assembled than the ones this network pays to cover professional basketball? The level of blind allegiance to certain “it” players and their teams is staggering. The cliché’s are endless. “Like my status if you like this sweet jumper!” Like my bumper while I run you over. Like my license plate when I hit reverse. Lie still. Shhhh….
** Jordan understood this—a habit forced upon him after multiple trips to the lane that resulted in Charles Oakley taking years off his life, and apparently making him colorblind? Kobe understood this as well. That guy will forever be one of my favorites. I hate the Lakers. I don’t even think I’d enjoy having a beer with Kobe, but he’s an ice-cold assassin and I love his game. There, I said it.
***See: Allen Iverson, Hollywood Robinson (RTR), Rajon Rondo, me in 10th grade, the WNBA.