Wednesday, February 14, 2001
Updated: September 13, 6:31 PM ET
The 10 things you definitely missed in D.C.
By Ralph Wiley
ESPN Page 2 columnist
Who am I? Don't worry about who I am. Who are you? That's what you should be thinking about. Who are you, and why do you feel the way you do about the NBA? Is it 'cause you don't pay attention to The Game?
Me? I'm all about The Game. I don't watch hoop for no etiquette lesson. Me? Call me The Dog. R-Dub? He's tied up. Don't worry, I didn't make the knots too tight. You laughing? Why you laughing? I didn't.
R-Dub, he my boy and everything, but he wanted to write something about The Frauds In The NBA Who Were Stealing Money or something crazy like that. He said it would be perfect for you.
Aw, I'll let him go soon, and he'll be able to do that for you next week, if he still got a job by then.
But for now, this ain't about R-Dub, or me, or you neither. It's about The Game. The Game don't need nobody policing for it. OK? The Game polices itself.
Think you know hoop? You don't know jack. Think you watched the NBA All-Star Game last Sunday? You probably didn't. You think it's cool, that you didn't watch. Because somebody told you it'd be cool not to watch. But even if you did watch, you didn't know what you was looking at, did you? Want me to tell you? I'll tell you. I'll tell you 10 Things You Didn't Notice About The NBA All-Star Game.
1. The Adult Continuing Education of Tracy McGrady
T-Mac. So many abilities, so little time in. First thing the Magic Swing Man did was straight up grab Kobe Bryant's jump shot on the right baseline. Ko-bay went away unaffected by it. His look said, "Got a lot more where that one came from, jim." So then T-Mac floated in for what he knew was a sure dunk of his own, so sure he wanted to profile on it, do him a cock-eyed dunk -- you know, take the ball back behind his head, then throw it down triphammer style.
Can get you on SportsCenter. Can do it at will in college, maybe in traffic in a regular season game and get away with it. Not in the playoffs. Not in an All-Star Game. Tim Duncan swatted T-Mac's dunk try off the glass with a contemptuous look that said this: "Don't be bringing no Kool-Aid up in here." Which is like what McGrady had taken to telling his vics this year, while filling in as No. 1 option and defensive stopper, with Grant Hill laid up. The Game, policing itself, speaks to T-Mac: "You ain't so good there ain't somebody better. Better ax somebody. Next time, quick-dunk it."
2. The Juice of Larry Brown
With all the blah-yah about how Allen Iverson rapped his way into trouble, how A-I said a horrible thing, hollered a terrible epithet, the real story is of the master teacher, a Miagi, a Yoda, an Obi-wan, best coach in the NBA, and his frustrations with getting older while trying to pass on the wisdom of The Game to a young ball genius. A story old as dirt.
Reggie Miller wasn't crazy about Brown when he coached at Indiana, but Brown knows The Game. Can help you get better; knows how to run stuff that puts you in a position to best exploit your abilities. It hit A-I when he saw the respect the Jordans and All-Stars paid Brown. A-I also saw that it was Brown's putting Steph Marbury in the game with A-I at the end that led to the East winning a run it had no business winning. No wonder A-I asked, "Where's my coach, where's coach Brown?" as he took home the MVP.
3. The Re-Designation of Mount Mutombo
The Game was about to take the mountain designation away from Dikembe Mutombo, call him just a hill. Maybe even an over-the-hill. Brown put him out there, and gave him credit after a 22-rebound game by saying Mutombo was "out there guarding everybody."
Mutombo can't stay in Atlanta. His All-Star performance makes him viable. He'd give three Eastern Conference contenders a chance against the redwoods of the Western Conference -- just as he did in the All-Star Game. Nobody made more bones -- or cheese -- in the All-Star Game than Dikembe Mutombo..
4. The Absence of Peja, Dirk & Jason
Peja Stojakovich of Sacramento or Dirk Nowitzki of Dallas. Both have got a serious gun, pow-pow-pow, death-wish range. Killer good, if Dirk stops listening to the smack. Talk him out of it, that's about all you can do with him now. They are foreign players. They'll get there, if they don't start mailing it in once they make their money, a la Kukoc in Philly. White boys who can really play come from tougher circumstances overseas now. Like brothers who can really play come from tough circumstances here.
One big reason A-I is so good is because he spent so much time on the court. He spent so much time on the court because there wasn't much to go home to. American white boys are busy inventing Napster or listening to Limp Bizkit or moving into their parents' three-car garages to cook up some Ecstasy. There is the exception that proves the rule -- and me, I don't care what nobody says, I love to see Jason Williams play The Game. They say "can't play no D," or "later for that Globetrotter crap." Whoever says it is ig'nant or jealous.
If the ball's advancing toward the basket, that's all the nobility The Game needs, baby. Don't tell me about Jason Williams being too counter-culture. The Game involves proto-creativity, and that boy has it. He needs to be playing with the Wizards. That's what he is with the rock. I want to see him in the Run. He gives me real inside stuff . Winning? Yeah, I wanna see winning. But only one NBA team is going to win every year. There's gotta be another reason to keep me coming back for more. I wanna see what I haven't seen before.
5. The Ball & Chain Anne Iverson Has Become
It's sad, watching A-I's mom parade around the MCI Center with a sign proclaiming herself "Allen Iverson No. 3's Mother," an arrow pointing down to her -- as if you could miss her. Never seen an All-Star MVP accept the award with moms all up on his neck. Then there she was again, on the podium with A-I during the postgame press conference, batting her eyes so fast it seemed a fire might start.
Here's the deal: It's a hard deal, but it's a square deal -- A-I's her son, not her man. She can't relive the past through him. He can take care of her, love her, resepct and provide for her -- but he can't carry her through life on his hip along with all these other expectations people have of him. Or, if he can do that, then we aren't giving him nearly enough credit.
6. The Mad Boing of the G Force
More than a few of the hoop-inclined have told me that the best player in the league is not Kobe or A-I. They say it's Kevin Garnett, although it's hard to tell, because nobody gets to see enough of him, except for people in Minnesota, and who's gonna believe them about some hoop?
For the second straight All-Star run, KG was the crazy hard match-up. A mobile 7-footer with mad boing (good hops), at the 3. Even if he ain't the best in The Game, he's definitely a crazy hard match-up in an All-Star Game. Expect him to cop NBA All-Star MVP next year. Even money every year.
7. The Game's Answer to All the Whining About "No Team Play"
This one was killing me, and I couldn't figure out why. Team Play is admirable, the keeper of the flame. Been brainwashed into thinking Team Play was a series of bounce passes around the perimeter, then some big un running up to the high post, cutters X-ing across the lane behind him, a series of weaves, then a backdoor cut and another bounce pass for a light lay-up off the square for two. Team Play, in the classic sense ("Classic -- a book people praise but don't read." -- "Money" Mark Twain).
This dawned on me while taking in the All-Star Game: Setting the high pick-and-roll, passing opposite to the wing when the double-team comes, say to Vince Carter, isolated one-on-one, wing man breaks down defender off the dribble, fakes base, goes middle, met by a huge shot-blocker, then fires a no-look pass to the huge shot-blocker's uncovered man, uncovered because the rotation couldn't get there, because of the initial double-team out high, the uncovered man throws down tomahawk jam, that's Team Play, too. New skills imply different sort of teamwork.
The lob KG threw to Kobe -- thing of beauty. The defensive help-&-recover by Marbury, Mutombo, Carter against Kobe and Duncan and C-Webb at the end -- that's The Game. That's part of the beauty of it.
8. The Beauty Of It
9. Shaquille's Sense of Snow Job
Such a big rubbery mug. Such a big rubbery dude. Hilarious, watching him on the bench reacting to plays. When Vinsanity broke Kobe down and went for that baseline 360 whirlybird jam, did you see Shaq on the bench in street clothes pulling on Gary Payton as if GP was an oar and Shaq was rowing with him? That lip-dropped face: "Did you see that nasty ----?" Hilarious -- along with the artistry of a Carter dunk itself, highlights of The Game.
Shaq later said, according to the good folks down in Orlando, that he could definitely play in Orlando again, even though he once called Orlando a dried-up pond on his way to L.A. Even if he did say that, Orlando was his dried-up pond, and his mom still lives there, and if things worked out that way, he wouldn't have any problem playing in Orlando again. Essentially saying without saying that if Kobe didn't straighten up and fly right, and accept Shaq's eternal mastery of all he surveyed, then he, Shaq, had admiration for the ball skills and butt-kissing potential of other players he could play with in other places, like Orlando's Tracy McGrady, over there getting his cockeyed dunk attempt wiped away by Tim Duncan ...
10. The Adult Continuing Education of Tracy McGrady
Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."