NBA Power Poll: The contenders – Bill Simmons – ESPN

Few things refresh like good sportswriting.

Orlando leads the league in “Guys Even Spectators Feel Like They Could Take Off The Dribble Or Post Up” (seven by my count).

And also:

A few years ago, I gave Steve Nash my 2007 MVP vote because that Suns roster was specifically tailored to him: it was an exquisite, ridiculously powerful race car that only one driver could have handled. This Spurs team was more like a beautiful, slightly broken-down sailboat sailing across the Atlantic — it needed a skipper who had done the trip a few times, understood his boat completely, could make a few on-the-fly fixes if anything happened, clicked with his crew completely, and wouldn’t panic if water ever started spurting from the deck.

NBA Power Poll: The contenders – Bill Simmons – ESPN

Bill Simmons: The non-contenders rule Part 1 of the NBA Power Poll – ESPN

On Grant Hill:

You realize Grant Hill quietly just had one of the most incredible seasons in the history of the league, right? He played 135 games total from 2000 to 2006; in the past three seasons, he’s played every game but three and averaged 30 minutes a night. This season, he tossed up 48-84-39 percentages for FG/FT/3FG, scored 13 a game, played the best perimeter defense of anyone other than Andre Iguodala and even wrote a takedown essay of Jalen Rose for The New York Times. He’s 38 years old! This shouldn’t be happening.

Bill Simmons: The non-contenders rule Part 1 of the NBA Power Poll – ESPN

There’s Blake flying up for an offensive rebound, soaring higher, and higher, and then a little bit higher … and we’re sitting there in awe, and we’re gasping for air … and right at the moment of truth, we realize one of the following four things:

A. Blake is about to make the single greatest highlight in the history of professional basketball.
B. Blake is about to give us the highlight of the night.
C. Blake can’t pull this off because the degree of difficulty is too high, but he’s trying anyway.
D. Blake is going to break his neck or land in a such a way that his leg flies off his body and lands in the fifth row.

Those are the four options EVERY time he goes in the air. Watching it unfold reminds me of watching my 3-year-old son, who’s equally fearless (and dangerous).

There’s Blake flying up for an offensive rebound, soaring higher, and higher, and then a little bit higher … and we’re sitting there in awe, and we’re gasping for air … and right at the moment of truth, we realize one of the following four things:

A. Blake is about to make the single greatest highlight in the history of professional basketball.
B. Blake is about to give us the highlight of the night.
C. Blake can’t pull this off because the degree of difficulty is too high, but he’s trying anyway.
D. Blake is going to break his neck or land in a such a way that his leg flies off his body and lands in the fifth row.

Those are the four options EVERY time he goes in the air. Watching it unfold reminds me of watching my 3-year-old son, who’s equally fearless (and dangerous).

The Book of Basketball (review: 5/5)

The Book of Basketball
It’s a great book, let’s get that out of the way before we proceed. Just know that Bill Simmons is a carefree, garrulous writer and it is obsessively focused on basketball. It might not be your thing. One of the best practices when I was reading this one was to keep the iPad nearby so I could do a little backgrounder on legendary players I’d never heard of, and, more importantly, keeping YouTube handy to look up amazing dunks, passes, etc. If you haven’t followed basketball, there is a learning curve. On the upside, like I told Justin, reading this book after the recent playoffs, finals, The Decision, etc. has me more interested in basketball than I’ve ever been.

The biggest parts of the book cover Larry Bird, Russell vs. Wilt, The Secret (e.g. TEAMWORK), ranking the best players ever, and ranking the best teams ever. All in obsessive detail. You can open a page anywhere in the book, and in short order stumble on a really good argument about something. In a 3-page section on Elvin Hayes, Simmons lists 5 reasons that Hayes stands out. In item #5, there’s a little mini-essay on the fall-away/turnaround shot:

My theory on the fall-away: it’s a passive-aggressive shot that says more about a player than you think. For instance, Jordan, McHale and Hakeem all had tremendous fall-aways—in fact, MJ developed the shot to save his body from undue punishment driving to the basket—but it was one piece of their offensive arsenal, a weapon used to complement the other weapons already in place. Well, five basketball stars in the past sixty years have been famous for either failing miserably in the clutch or lacking the ability to rise to the occasion: Wilt, Hayes, Malone, Ewing and Garnett. All five were famous for their fall-away/turnaround jumpers and took heat because their fall-aways pulled them out of rebounding position. If it missed, almost always it was a one-shot possession. On top of that, it never leads to free throws—either the shot falls or the other team gets it. Could you make the case that the fall-away, fundamentally, is a loser’s shot? For a big man, it’s the dumbest shot you can take—only one good thing can happen and that’s it—as well as a symbol of a larger problem, namely, that a team’s best big man would rather move away from the basket than toward it. […] So here’s my take: the fall-away says, “I’d rather stay out here.” It says, “I’m afraid to fail.” It says, “I want to win this game, but only on my terms.”

Woah, right? Coming up organically in a discussion about a specific player we get a really interesting observation on the game itself, couched in a super-fan/nerd’s historical mastery, with some speculative psychology delivered in the kind of friendly/authoritative tone you’d hear at a bar. A later section on Kobe Bryant looks at his career through the lens of Teen Wolf, vacillating between the team-player (Michael J. Fox) and the devastating ball hog/alpha dog (Wolf). Maybe the better movie analogy is thinking of Tim Duncan like Harrison Ford:

If you keep banging out first-class seasons with none standing out more than any other, who’s going to notice after a while? There’s a precedent: once upon a time, Harrison Ford pumped out monster hits for fifteen solid years before everyone suddenly noticed, “Wait a second—Harrison Ford is unquestionably the biggest movie star of his generation!” From 1977 to 1992, Ford starred in three Star Wars movies, three Indiana Jones movies, Blade Runner, Working Girl, Witness, Presumed Innocent and Patriot Games, but it wasn’t until he carried The Fugitive that everyone realized he was consistently more bankable than Stallone, Reynolds, Eastwood, Cruise, Costner, Schwarzenegger and every other peer. As with Duncan, we knew little about Ford outside of his work. As with Duncan, there wasn’t anything inherently compelling about him. Ford only worried about delivering the goods, and we eventually appreciated him for it. Will the same happen for Duncan one day?

If there is a weakness, it’s that the occasional jokey celeb-bashing comes up really lame and unnecessary. But that’s a small price to pay for 700+ quality pages and a comparable number of entertaining footnotes. Worth a read!

Bill Simmons: World Cup’s 20 questions – ESPN

I love the Cup because it stripped away all the things about professional sports that I’ve come to despise. No sideline reporters. No JumboTron. No TV timeouts. No onslaught of replays after every half-decent play. No gimmicky team names like the “Heat” or the “Thunder.” (You know what the announcers call Germany? The Germans. I love this.) No announcers breathlessly overhyping everything or saying crazy things to get noticed. We don’t have to watch 82 mostly half-assed games to get to the playoffs. We don’t have 10 graphics on the screen at all times. We don’t have to sit there for four hours waiting for a winner because pitchers are taking 25 seconds to deliver a baseball.

Bill Simmons: World Cup’s 20 questions – ESPN

Simmons + Gladwell

Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell talk about sports and such. My favorite bit:

We had lunch a few weeks ago and discussed the parallels between music and basketball. The structure is fundamentally the same: You have a lead singer (the NBA alpha dog, like LeBron or Kobe), the lead guitarist (the sidekick, like Pippen or McHale), the drummer (an unsung third wheel, like Parish or Worthy), the bassist (a solid, reliable and ultimately disposable role player: like Byron Scott or Anderson Varejao); and then everyone else (the other rotation guys). Bands can go different ways just like successful basketball teams. McCartney and Lennon were two geniuses who ultimately needed one another (like Young Magic and Older Kareem, or Shaq and Young Kobe), whereas MJ and LeBron were more like Sting or Springsteen (someone who could carry the band by themselves). And if you want to drag hip-hop or rap into it, the best parallel would obviously be Jordan’s post-baseball Bulls: MJ was Chuck D, Pippen was Terminator X, and there is no effing doubt that Rodman was Flavor Flav.