Archive for May, 2009

Scottie Pippen Hue Hollins Hubert Davis Foul

With all of the issues with NBA officiating these days, J.A. Adande and ESPN.com just had to rip off a longtime scab with this 15th anniversary retrospective of the worst officiating call I have ever witnessed in any sport (notwithstanding the claims of Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville) and it happened to come against one of my teams: the phantom foul call by Hue Hollins on Scottie Pippen, who as you can see from the picture above was about 80 feet away on the other side of the court from Hubert Davis.   I will go to my grave believing that the 1994 Bulls without Michael Jordan would have at least made it to the NBA Finals if not for that inexcusable call.  The fact that this loss was to the archrival Knicks made it all the more infuriating.  Psychologists believe that our brains essentially lock in the traumatic moments in our lives where we can recall every single vivid detail around them many years later, which would explain why I start immediately ranting about how far away Pippen was from Davis on that play every time that this story gets brought up (such as today).  Just don’t get me started on the 2000 Illinois-Michigan game.

(Image from NBA.com)

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It’s been a very long time since a Land-o-Links post, so here you go:

1.  What If I Don’t Want a Big Mac? (Blog-a-Bull) - An entertaining comparison of all of the current Bulls with various McDonald’s menu items.  Truer words have never been spoken about the McRib.  On a related note, there have been some suggestions out there that the Bulls ought to go after Carlos Boozer.  Now, is Boozer a better low post player than anyone else in Chicago at this time?  Yes.  However, is it worth crushing the Bulls’ salary cap space for Boozer and give up the chance to go after either Amare Stoudemire or Chris Bosh? NO, NO, NO, NO, NOOOOOOOO!!!  (If you ask politely, I’ll tell you how I really feel.)

2.  It’s Not You, It’s Jazz and the NBA (ESPN.com) - Paul Shirley examines why some of his friends haven’t been paying attention to the NBA (as judged by a survey of his poker buddies where only 3 of 8 knew all of the teams that had made the playoffs) by presenting an interesting corrollary between pro basketball and jazz, where the improvisation involved in both the game and style of music, making them relatively abstract, might make it difficult to be appreciated by those that haven’t played either.  As someone that did spend most of the first part of my life playing both organized basketball and trombone in jazz bands, I completely understand where he’s coming from, where both forms deal with a base structure but require a lot of improv within them.  There are two problems that I have with Shirley’s argument, though.  First, Shirley implies that part of the issue is that people need to have played basketball and jazz to be fully appreciative of each, but the thing is that a whole lot more people have played basketball in America compared to football and baseball.  Case in point, when was the last time that you’ve seen a pick-up baseball game in the park?  That never happens, yet you’ll find basketball hoops on urban playgrounds, suburban driveways, and rural farmhouses – if anything, it’s the most widely played sport across socioeconomic lines by a significant margin.  Second, I think that the fact that Shirley lives in Kansas City, which doesn’t have an NBA team, has much to do with his friends’ supposed ignorance of the NBA.  If you went to Portland or Salt Lake City, the average sports fan in those places would likely be more hardpressed to name the teams that make the baseball playoffs in any given year simply because they aren’t following baseball all season without having a hometown team to follow.  Frankly, the NFL is probably the only sport where you can use a standard where you can assume that the average sports fan knows where every team might be in the standings.

If I were to apply the “abstract jazz” issue to any sport, it would definitely be hockey.  In basketball, even if a casual sports fan or someone that never watches sports at all doesn’t understand how to run a pick-and-roll or properly box out an opposing player, that person can ultimately watch LeBron James and realize that he’s able to get the ball into a basket at a higher level than the other players on the court.  However, if you watch a hockey game that involves Sidney Crosby, he will make amazing moves that no one else in the world can do yet he’ll fail to score on such moves 9 out of 10 times.  So, it’s very difficult for someone that hasn’t played hockey (please note that everything that I know about hockey moves and formations is based on the 3000 hours that I spent playing EA Sports NHL ’98 back in college) to understand why a certain move or play is impressive or not – the relative lack of scoring in hockey almost de facto makes it abstract.

3. NHL’s Story a Regional One (Sports Media Watch) – Digging a little deeper into hockey, Sports Media Watch notes what most people know already, which is that the NHL has shown an ability to draw fans within its local markets but continues to struggle on the national level.  What drives me insane about Gary Bettman and the NHL’s leadership is that they know that they face a stacked deck compared to the other sports leagues yet make decisions that compound the league’s problems.  Case in point was last Thursday night, where the NHL had two game 7s (Detroit-Anaheim and Boston-Carolina), with each of them featuring a large market Original Six team.  This should have been one of those magical nights of hockey (particularly when the Bruins-Hurricanes game went into overtime) that would have drawn in a plethora of casual fans.  However, in the infinite wisdom of the NHL, the nation would only see the Red Wings-Ducks game in its entirety on Versus and if you wanted to see all of the Bruins-Hurricanes game, you had to shell out $79 for a pay-per-view feed.  If the part of the purpose of the NHL moving to Versus was that the network had a commitment to show more hockey, WTF is the league doing scheduling two game 7s at the same time?!  Meanwhile, the NBA had two game 6s going on that same evening and those games had staggered start times so that they could be a featured doubleheader on ESPN.  Say what you will about David Stern and the NBA, but that entity knows what it’s supposed to be doing on the television front in order to maximize its audience better than anyone else in sports.  It would be great if the NHL could get someone that would take into account the lessons of the NBA… wait a second… Bettman was David Stern’s right-hand man for over a decade prior to being named NHL commissioner?  Jeez – it’s not a good sign if a league would consider Bug Selig to be an upgrade.

4.  Lost, “The Incident”: The Men Behind the Curtain (What’s Alan Watching) – I’ll be putting up a Lost season finale post eventually (since the premiere of its final season won’t be coming until January 2010, meaning there’s time to mull everything over and with all the various storylines, we may need every moment to process it all), but in the meantime, please go over to Alan Sepinwell’s Lost analysis.  It’s a shame that I only stumbled onto Sepinwall’s blog this year since it’s now the first place that I turn to after each Lost episode – he puts up extremely well-written posts even with a short time constraint while the numerous commenters are generally pretty good (which is tough to find with respect to Lost blogs, where one segment of people get way too technical on one end and the other group on the opposite end consists of complete dolts).

And finally…

5.  Annals of Innovation: How David Beats Goliath (The New Yorker) –  While Paul Shirley compares basketball to jazz, Malcolm Gladwell draws a line between how lesser talented basketball teams’ use of the press provides insight into how underdogs are able to win wars.  Fascinating reading as always from Gladwell, who might be unparalleled at this time in terms of non-fiction writing, although I’ll quibble at a technical level with the long-term effectiveness of the press through an entire 48 minute game.  I understand the argument that it’s a disruptive tool that can shake the opposing team.  However, the press is by far the most tiring type of play that you can employ in the game, meaning that a team would need incredibly in-shape athletes to execute it over an entire contest.  Of course, if you had such in-shape athletes, that would mean that you’re a “Goliath” instead of a “David”, which eliminates the efficacy of using that strategy in the first place.  At the same time, once you get to the higher levels of organized basketball, any decent coach can draw up a press break that can often result in a wide-open layup on the other end of the court (since the press, which uses double-teams, will always end up leaving at least one player open).  Still, Gladwell sets forth a great game plan for how an underdog in any walk of life can beat the favorite: disrupt the opponent and take it out of its comfort zone.  The reason why not everyone does this?  Well, that disruption almost always takes a whole lot more hard work than just going through “conventional warfare”.  So, it really does come down to effort.

On tonight’s agenda: Game 2 of Hawks-Wings, Game 1 of Lakers-Nuggets, and, one of my favorite not-on-the-field sports events of the year, the NBA Draft Lottery.  Frank the Tank’s couch is definitely where amazing happens.

(Image from Cavalcade of Awesome)

Chicago Blackhawks 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs Western Conference Finals

If you haven’t spent much time in Chicago, it’s almost impossible to understand how shocking it is to witness how quickly the Blackhawks franchise has been resurrected.  Apologies for another Bill Simmons reference, but I recall how he stated that the Patriots were the “Fredo” of the Boston sports scene almost all of his life, which in turn made their rise as a dynastic power in the NFL this past decade more flabbergasting than the fact that Red Sox have won two World Series in a four-year period.  Well, the Blackhawks weren’t even at the Fredo level for the last three decades in Chicago sports – they were more like the horse’s head in the bed.  From before the time I was born, the Blackhawks organization did everything possible to beat down its fans and thereby preventing the team to draw new followers.  The late franchise owner Bill Wirtz spurred the third most letters from ESPN viewers voting for the worst owner in all of sports (along with providing ammunition to The Worldwide Wide Leader to name the Hawks as its hockey representative to challenge the Clippers as the worst franchise in sports) and it was well deserved – even in a town that has rarely had sports owners that have befitted its major media market size, he stood out in terms of ineptitude and penny-pinching.  Most famously, Wirtz blacked out all the team’s home games on television in Chicago area with the stubborn belief that it was for the protection of its season ticketholders.  Of course, he ignored the Cubs and Bulls in the very same city leverage television exposure to build up wide-ranging fan bases, thereby allowing those teams to play to capacity crowds even when they’re playing horribly.  At the same time, in the early-90s, when the Blackhawks had a stable of young stars like Jeremy Roenick and Ed Belfour, Wirtz decided not to pay up to keep the core of a club together that made it to the 1992 Stanley Cup Finals.  This sent the franchise into a funk where it had only one playoff appearance between 1998 and 2008 in a sport where the majority of teams make it to the postseason.  Only two years ago, the Blackhawks ranked next-to-last in the NHL in attendance and played to around 50% capacity at the United Center.

Then, Bill Wirtz passed away in fall 2007, which meant that control of the team was left to his son Rocky.  I will never wish physical ill will upon anyone, yet Wirtz’s death and Rocky’s takeover has saved a franchise that I didn’t really believe could be saved.  Rocky immediately got deals into place to not only lift the television blackouts on home games, but even get a package onto over-the-air WGN.  The younger Wirtz hired Cubs marketing guru John McDonough (widely credited as the person that turned Wrigley Field into a recession-and-bad-team-proof destination – it’s easy to forget that up until the mid-1980s, Wrigley was more than half empty every game) to become team president and the franchise that was in the witness protection program all of the sudden became the most aggressive team in terms of marketing in Chicago sports.  McDonough used those Cubs connections to nab this past year’s NHL Winter Classic for Wrigley Field, which was a massive success for both ticketing and casual fan exposure purposes.  The team drafted two budding young superstars in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews while shelling out money for top tier veterans such as Martin Havlat.  Those horrendous attendance figures from two years ago have been turned around in meteoric fashion, where the Blackhawks vaulted up to first place in all of the NHL for average home attendance this season (and that doesn’t include the game at Wrigley Field) with every date being a sellout.  They’ve induced people like me to watch more NHL games, write more blog posts about hockey, and scroll through the DirecTV guide to figure out where the hell Versus is located over the past three weeks than the past three years combined.  After years of Hawks fans looking for any reason to keep interest in the team, the Original Six franchise is providing so many reasons to watch that the bandwagon is in full effect.  (By the way, a follow-up on my recent bandwagon post is forthcoming.)

All of this has culminated in a scenario so perfect that it is as if it were written by a suddenly clairvoyant Gary Bettman.  (Note that this is about as incongruent of a notion as a suddenly clairvoyant Bud Selig.)  The Blackhawks have made it to the Western Conference Finals after taking down the Vancouver Canucks and will battle for the right to play in the Stanley Cup Finals.  They’re in a great position for their potential opponent, where they’ll get either home ice against the Anaheim Ducks (the better situation purely from the perspective of giving the Hawks the best chance to advance) or a match-up versus the hated Detroit Red Wings (the better situation from the perspective of both long-time hockey fans that appreciate the rivalry and drawing in new fans with two marquee franchises).  (Personally, it’s hard not to get giddy at the thought of a Hawks-Wings series even though that’s a much tougher series.  When I ranked the various Chicago-Detroit rivalries a few years ago, I noted that the hockey rivalry used to be as intense on the city’s sports scene as Bears-Packers but the play of the Blackhawks had depressed it to the point where no one seemed to care about it anymore.  This has obviously turned around 180 degrees since that time, where our favorite phrase has some teeth to it again.  Frankly, in terms of historic rivalries, the Hawks playing the Red Wings for the conference championship would only be eclipsed by the following hypothetical postseason scenarios (in reverse order of insanity): (3) Cubs vs. Cardinals in the NLCS, (2) Bears vs. Packers in the NFC Championship Game, and of course, (1) White Sox vs. Cubs in the World Series that would be promptly be followed by Armageddon.)  With the Bulls’ playoff run over and the Cubs and White Sox playing a lot of mediocre baseball, the Hawks look to finally be at the forefront of the Chicago sports stage for the first time since the 1960s (even when they last made the Stanley Cup Finals in 1992, it coincided with the Bulls going for their second NBA championship).  Combined with the recent success of the Boston Bruins, which with the Blackhawks made up the two teams that I identified three years ago that needed new ownership in my “Modest Proposal to Save the NHL” (while it hasn’t happened for the Bs, the team actually winning games again is the next best thing) and a showdown between the two best players in hockey, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, the NHL actually looks like it has some life again.  That doesn’t mean that it can continue to ignore my suggestions in my “Modest Proposal” post (if I were commissioner, the Campbell and Wales Conferences would be back effective immediately), but there at least looks like there are some building blocks in place.

Regardless of the rest of the NHL, Chicago finally has the hockey team that it has deserved for being such a passionate Original Six city.  For years upon years, the Blackhawks were the one sports team in town that couldn’t do a single thing right for the fans, but under the Rocky/McDonough leadership, they are now the team that can do no wrong.

(Image from Chicago Tribune)

facebook_twitter

Normally, I’m the type of person that makes fun of people that can’t seem to handle technological changes.  My knee-jerk response to a complainer is to say, “Get over it.  Change is inevitable.  You’ll get used to it.”  Last summer, when Facebook went through the first major overhaul of its website, I not only ignored all of the group invites to the “1,000,000 STRONG TO BRING BACK THE OLD FACEBOOK”-type groups, but thoroughly praised the changes as a check on the preponderance of applications in order to ensure the site didn’t become bombarded with trashy graphics like MySpace.  It made for a cleaner website that focused upon what I believed to be Facebook’s true drawing power: it’s a place to easily connect with people that you actually know in real life (as opposed to trying to meet people online a la MySpace or other forums).  Eventually, the Facebook users stopped complaining and actually embraced the new functionality in general, while the addition of new users vaulted the site past MySpace in terms of number of members.

As the World Wide Web turned, though, Facebook underwent another significant overhaul in March, with the changes geared toward providing a stream of information on each user’s home page.  However, while Mark Zuckerberg tried to sell me and hundreds of millions of other users that the “New Facebook” would be an improved experience, it has been a complete boondoggle on numerous fronts.  I could understand why Facebook had previously wanted to differentiate itself from its main competitor of MySpace, but I was at a complete loss as to why it believed that it would be good idea to copy (at face value) its new competitor on the block of Twitter.  Pretty soon, I would feel my blood pressure boil whenever I saw a comment from that tiny fraction of users that for some reason liked the new changes with the same retort that I used to throw out myself to others: “Get over it.  Change is inevitable.  You’ll get used to it.”

After over a month of using the New Facebook, I’m still not over it or used to it.  The entire crux of the problem is NOT about how the site looks (which is what most of the “get over it” contingent seems to believe people are complaining about).  While the home page appeared to be designed by someone that got smoke some potent peyote, opened up his Twitter account, blew chunks on his computer screen, and then figured that it would be a nice new user interface for Facebook, I can get over the fact that I personally don’t find the site as aesthetically pleasing anymore.  However, it’s the taking away of extremely useful functionality that has been abhorrent to a large portion of the site’s users (including me).  I’ll refer to some other well-written and coherent posts (not from the “1,000,000 STRONG TO SAY THE NEW FACEBOOK SUCKS DONKEY DUNG” crowd) here, here, and here that explain fully just how many useful tools were stripped away.  These writers are far from people that can’t handle change.  Instead, these are Facebook users that are in the tech and marketing industries that know full well constant change is vital to survive on the Internet, but don’t understand why particular changes were made that were completely unnecessary and removed options from users.  (Note that Facebook engaged in a half-assed attempt to “respond to feedback” from users, but pretty much missed the point on all fronts.)

While Facebook’s changes and the removal of useful functional tools have been well-documented from a technological user standpoint, what I’m trying to get to the bottom of is how exactly Zuckerberg and Co. thought such changes would improve the site’s chances for profitability.  Obviously, the powers that be thought that these changes would result in a better advertising model for the company – that’s the real reason why any website makes a change to its format.  As a person that is about as far from a commie pinko rabble rouser as you can get (I majored in finance in college and have spent most of my legal career representing high tech companies), I’m perfectly fine with Facebook examining ways to maximize its revenue since I know Microsoft didn’t pay $240 million for a piece of a charitable institution that it valued at $15 billiong.

At this time, there appears to be a monolithic group think forming among a lot of business and technical people that online streaming a la Twitter is the going to be the advertising model of the future on the web.   The theory is that in an increasingly mobile world, streaming will allow marketers to instantly connect with potential customers via cell phone or regular computer Internet use in a highly targeted fashion.  Of course, Twitter itself acknowledges that it essentially doesn’t really know how it’s going to make money yet.  At the same time, the problem I have with the supposed efficacy of online streaming as a business model is that virtually every supposed category killer in terms of web advertising has failed to come anywhere close to expectations (if not downright failed) since Internet usage became ubiquitous in the late 1990s.  In the beginning, click-on ads on websites were supposed to be a treasure trove for marketers, yet the click-through rates have turned out to be so abysmal that newspapers, for example, are dying en masse due to the loss of ad revenue online compared to physical papers despite the fact that their articles are actually being read by literally millions of more people than in the pre-Internet age.

For an almost identical comparison to the current tulip bulb craze over online streaming, look to your own email account.  Substantively, receiving alerts on Twitter is no different than receiving email alerts, where choosing to “follow” a person on Twitter is just like signing up for an email alert (whether it pertains to news links, coupons, products, etc.).  For most people, and certainly in my own personal case, there was a tipping point where my email inbox became filled up with more email alerts than emails from actual people and I simply started ignoring around 99.9% of such email alerts.  I’m not even talking about spam in its true form: these are email alerts that I pro-actively signed up for at one point but the sheer volume of them over time made it all into white noise that I don’t look at anymore.  When anyone has an email account that gets to that point, an email alert becomes an almost completely ineffective marketing tool.

As of now, Twitter is in its relative infancy, so the media has been regaled with anecdotal stories of businesses that have expanded rapidly because of a presence on the service.  Of course, the simple fact that Twitter allows for accounts to be created that are not for real life people mean that it will be sooner rather than later that the average Twitter user is going to be inundated with more follower requests from businesses and products than friends and family.  This was the fate of MySpace, where I had to delete my page on that site because my inbox was completely filled with friend requests from random musicians and porn stars.  As a result, MySpace, which was widely proclaimed to be the future of the Internet as the social networking giant back in the ancient days of 2005 (spurring Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. to shell out a whole lot of coin on the company), is now losing members and just pushed out its founders a couple of weeks ago.  (Tom, I hardly knew you!)  Any business success on Twitter is going to be short-lived once marketers populate the website en masse.  For the average person that isn’t constantly looking at his or her Twitter account, there are only so many Tweets that one can read through before it all becomes white noise just like email alerts and MySpace before it.

Please note that this is not meant to be a bashing of Twitter.  I have a Twitter account and find many Tweets very useful, such as updates on Metra delays so that I can plan for my commute or following the intense ramblings of Ron Zook.  Frankly, the only way that I can figure out where my sister is traveling at any point in time is to follow her daily litany of Twitter messages.  However, following lots of people and/or entities can quickly become a blur even if someone that has a fairly high tolerance to changes on the web.  Imagine how it is for people over, say, 50 years old that have a lot less web exposure.

I think the lesson of the web is that people really don’t like being overtly marketed to for random products.  When web advertising has been successful and profitable, it’s been tied to environments where people are searching for a particular product, with Google’s paid ads coming up in searches as the prime example – that is, the consumer is driving the process as opposed to the marketer.

At the same time, like almost any business whether it’s on the web or in the bricks-and-mortar world, Facebook needs to remember what it’s actually good at.  As I noted before, its hook is that it’s the simplest and most efficient way to find and reconnect with people that you know in the real world.  For some reason, there are business people and techies out there that believe that this is a liability for Facebook, where they look at the ineffectiveness of Facebook to meet and search for people that you don’t actually know in the real world as a constraint on its growth.  Of course, I consider this to be about as solid business thinking as (a) granting large shares of ownership in GM and Chrysler to the UAW members that did everything in its power to disallow those companies to make the necessary changes to make them competitive in a new global economy or (b) Kanye West foregoing being one of the best rappers on the planet in order to sing ballads with a vocoder.  (Why, Kanye?  Why?)  Almost every single website, blog, forum, and chat room on the Internet is designed for people to meet virtually – that market is completely loaded with millions upon millions of Internet sites.  The last thing that most people need is a place where they can meet virtual friends.  The difference with Facebook is that it’s one of the few mass market places on the web where people can actually feel safe and secure enough to use their real names, post real pictures, and submit real information.  (Whether this is a completely false sense of security is another topic for another day.)  That is the Facebook’s unique advantage and it made me believe that it would become one of the few social networking websites that could legitimately have some long-term viability.

I understand that Facebook needs to make money somehow in order to stay in business.  In my opinion, the best way for Facebook to become profitable is in small and relatively non-intrusive micro-targeted ads based on each user’s individual interests, where the aim is more informative on its face (in the same manner as, say, a magazine or newspaper ad) rather than interactive or click-through in nature (i.e. if someone notes on his profile that he’s a basketball fan, then a small ad on his Facebook home page appears with the match-up and time of the NBA playoff game that evening on TNT) .  This may not be a grandiose game changer that turns Facebook into the new marketing power of this generation, but it’s a reasonable aim to make money without making the same misguided mistakes of so many other websites, where they incorrectly believed that their user bases were so loyal that they could blatantly turn them into ad farms.  The greatest asset that Facebook has is the treasure trove of personal information of its users, but it must strike a delicate balance in using that information for marketing purposes.  Unfortunately, history says that any website can’t help itself when it has such information and ends up killing its long-term prospects for short-term ad gains.  If Facebook crosses that imaginary fine line where it becomes more of a marketing site as opposed to a social networking site, then it will end up not even having a market for those simple ads since people will either leave or stop using the site in droves.  With the new Facebook emphasis on trying to connect its users with marketers in a less-than-subtle manner (for instance, products and celebrity fan pages are now showing up in the “People You May Know” box), the website is putting itself at great risk of being another one of those white hot Internet brands (i.e. AOL, Friendster, LiveJournal, MySpace, etc.) that flames out after a few years.  I don’t want to see that happen since Facebook has reconnected me with multitudes of long lost friends, but I’m not nearly as bullish on the website’s long-term viability as I was a year ago.

(Image from Laurel Papworth)

ben_gordon_ray_allen-bulls-celtics

The classic Bulls-Celtics series, arguably the greatest first round series in the history of the NBA and up there with any series in any round in terms of pure entertainment value, ended on Saturday in a somewhat anticlimactic fashion.  By normal NBA standards, it was a better than average basketball game, but with a playoff record 4 overtime games (covering 7 overtime periods) and another game that ended on a last-second Ray Allen shot in regulation (I recall thinking in Game 1 that Jesus Shuttleworth didn’t look too intimidating, and he of course then went on to hit roughly 978 fadeaway three point shots in a row while being double-teamed for the rest of the series), it was almost impossible to expect anything more even though this series had exceeded expectations up until the end.

When one of your teams gets eliminated from the postseason, there’s a sudden shutdown that’s quite different than, say, the end of a regular season where that same team doesn’t make the playoffs at all.  If your team had a bad regular season, you almost welcome the offseason and have plenty of time to plan for it.  In contrast, a team in the playoffs (especially in basketball and baseball where the sheer length of each playoff series increases the time commitment) dominates your life for days on end – you seem to plan all of your evenings around these games, so when it’s over, there’s a sense of emptiness after being constantly in an amped up mode.  Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, yet I would have been perfectly happy to have had the Bulls roughed up by the Magic on Monday (if Boston had a 28-point deficit at home in the first half, the Bulls probably would have had a 40-point deficit on the road).  At least the Bulls season ended on a relative uptick, which has already spurred me to spend hours scouring websites on what the team plans to do with Ben Gordon, NBA trade rumors (I’m hitting up the trade machine with any and all combinations for the Bulls to nab Chris Bosh), and potential draft picks (as much as I watch college basketball, I’m at a loss right now because there probably won’t be anyone of use at the Bulls’ 16th spot in an already weak draft).   If anything else, I want to spend as much time avoiding having to watch Octavio Dotel give up leads in the 7th inning at all costs.

(Image from Slam Online)

rajon-rondo-brad-miller-2009-nba-playoffs-chicago-bulls-boston-celtics

It happens in every single great basketball matchup – one team’s fan base ordains one player on the opposing team as the villain.  For Boston Celtics fans, they immediately latched onto the haterade for Joakim Noah at the beginning of what has turned out to be an epic series with the Bulls.  It took a few games for Bulls fans to coalesce around a single Celtics villain, though.  Last week, my money would have been on Eddie House, who just grates on me on a personal level if only because he kicks out his legs like a buffoon when he takes a jumpshot.  However, the events that transpired in games 5 and 6 of this first round series has catapulted Rajon Rondo into an illustrious club of Villains of the Bulls, which includes John Starks, Reggie Miller, James Posey, and, of course, my least favorite athlete of all-time by a landslide margin, Bill Laimbeer.  As I mentioned in my post the other day, my respect for Rondo had grown exponentially over the first four games of the series as he led a Celtics team depleted by injuries with the most consistent play of any player on either team.  In game 5, though, Rondo was involved in two plays that caused Bulls players to get stitched up, including the controversial hard foul at the end of the game on Brad Miller that many people thought was a flagrant foul.  (It wasn’t just Bulls fans – even Charles Barkley, who was the master of hard fouls, immediately thought that it was a flagrant.)  Personally, I thought that it was a flagrant foul as it’s defined by the NBA rule book, but there were a whole lot more reasons as to why the Bulls lost that game (i.e. failure to close out the game in regulation with an 11-point lead late in the 4th quarter, letting Paul Pierce prance to the exact same spot on the left side of the free throw line where he apparently can swish jumpshots blindfolded, etc.) and I didn’t think that Rondo had any malicious intent.  So, while most Bulls fans seemed comfortable in making Rondo as Chicago’s new Public Enemy Number One after game 5 (and the United Center crowd admirably let him know it by booing him mercilessly every time that he touched the ball in game 6), I still reserved some judgment on the young Boston point guard since I have been so impressed with his overall leadership skills in the series and he appeared to be the quiet and humble type like his opposing counterpart of Derrick Rose.

However, when Rondo tossed Kirk Hinrich into the scorer’s table in game 6, I finally came to the conclusion with the rest of Bulls fans that he’s a straight-out thug.  He might be a thug with actual basketball skills like Reggie Miller (and unlike Bill Laimbeer), but he’s still a thug.  It was amazing to me that Rondo would do such an idiotic move when ESPN and every sports media outlet in the country had already put him under such intense scrutiny.  (It was almost equally amazing by how quick Captain Kirk was ready to throw down.)  Congratulations, Rajon Rondo – you’ve guaranteed yourself a lifetime of catcalls every time that you step in the City of Chicago.

As for the series overall, it’s a bit premature to put this in the “greatest series of all-time” category in the annals of NBA history.  In just Bulls history alone, is this really a better series than the Bulls-Knicks and Bulls-Pistons battles of the early-90s, or the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals against the Pacers that also went to 7 games?  Those were games featuring numerous Hall of Famers on the floor such as Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing, Isiah Thomas, and Reggie Miller all at full strength.  The Celtics’ battles with the Lakers and Pistons in the late-80’s were also all classics with guys like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, and Larry Bird on the floor in crunch time.  So, I’m not going to be so quick to grant this “greatest ever” status since arguably the best player on either team, Kevin Garnett, has been reduced to scowling like Tony Montana on the bench.  However, for pure entertainment value, this series is definitely off the charts.  I’d compare this to watching five buzzer beater first round NCAA Tournament games(with one blowout mixed in) all in a row – the quality of basketball might not be at a peak level compared to what we might see in, say, a potential Cavs-Lakers NBA Finals, but the back-and-forth nature of the games keeps you fixated at the edge of your seat.  So, if you’re a casual sports fan that wants to see intense games that go down to the wire, this series has been a boon.  At this point, I have no clue what’s going to happen in game 7.  I seriously didn’t believe that there could possibly be another overtime game after game 5, yet game 6 ended up giving basketball fans three overtime periods. (Joakim Noah’s steal and dunk (in the process posterizing and fouling out Paul Pierce) and Derrick Rose’s block on Rondo in the third overtime of game 6 are easily the most memorable Bulls moments in the post-MJ era.)  Chances are that game 7 is going to be just entertaining – I can’t imagine it being any other way after how everything has gone up to this point.  (One bit of advice to Vinny Del Negro: when the Bulls have the last possession in regulation or overtime to win or tie the game, GET THE BALL IN DERRICK ROSE’S HANDS FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY!!!  That is all.)  Enjoy the weekend and GO BULLS!!!

(Image from Chicago Tribune)