Where Damon Stoudamire gets his pot.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

White Boy

In the late 90s the Sacramento Kings became one of the league's great teams - and ultimately one of its underaccomplished - due partly to Jason Williams arrival. Catching the Kings on national television now became easy. Here was a team both charismatic and reckless, balanced and flawed. For the start of the 1998-99 season, Jason Williams and Paul Pierce were the early favourites for Rookie of the Year before Vince Carter usurped their spots at the top of the rookie class. Regardless, Williams netted a spot on the NBA All-Rookie First Team with his flash and style. Whether by side-arming no-look passes or crossing over opposing point guards, the Kings became must-watch NBA basketball. None of us wanted to miss his next highlight.
Which is why Jason Williams' (affectionately known as White Chocolate) retirement from the NBA, just yesterday, is as underwhelming as the eventual plight of those cherished Kings teams. There's that old Neil Young line (it's a bit overused I realize, but I digress), "It's better to burn out than to fade away." And Williams did fade away. He managed to sign on with the Clippers this summer, during, what was for him, a quiet off-season of free agency. The news of his retirement will barely register with most sportscasts, though at one time his jersey was the highest-selling of any NBA player.
What I remember about Williams is that he made the pass cool. For ninth-grade basketball players, most of whom could barely touch the rim, we took unprecedented levels of influence from his game. Granted, we were taking influence of that infamous, reckless style, but scoring was no longer the most important aspect to the game. If we could fire a no-look pass with flair, that was just as good.
During English class in Grade ten, my teacher requested the class write a report on someone who greatly influenced our lives. Not wanting to go with the requisite choices of Pierre Trudeau or Martin Luther King Jr., I chose Jason Williams. A guy who was suspended from the University of Florida towards the end of his collegiate career for smoking pot. A guy who was the Eminem of basketball. He was a little misunderstood, a little trailer park trash, but his game was undeniably fun to watch. A logical choice for an impressionable NBA junkie. At one point his Kings team was the only in the league to average over 100 points per game. Offense was going down the tubes and Williams did his best to keep it alive. Shockingly I received an outstanding grade for the report.
When Williams ended up on the Memphis Grizzlies, his individual play flourished. Hubie Brown did his best to tame J-Will's wild tendencies. The reckless point guard was now among the league leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio. He posted his best statistical season as a Grizzly. But we all tuned out. The half-court bounce passes were few and far between. I have no idea how to sum up the career of a guy like Williams. He faded away, my support diminished. Though I always felt a twinge of excitement when Williams came in for the Heat and occasionally launched up some ill-advised three-pointers. There was a joy to his game that wasn't really conducive to the pro game. Here I'll leave you with a video of some moments in a difficult, and awe-inspiring, career:

Thursday, September 25, 2008


The NBA dunk contest continually ranks as one of the top moments in any NBA season and the hallmark event of All-Star Weekend. (As much as I enjoy Bill Laimbeer and Michael Cooper tanking half-court shots with WNBA players whose team names elude me at the moment...) My first memories of the dunk contest are as follows: the older guys at school putting the ball through their legs and sorta-dunking on the monkey bars a la Isaiah Rider (no word on whether they emulated anything from Rider's personal life); and watching my first televised dunk contest, the year in which Brent Barry defied the racial odds and beat out such NBA luminaries as Jerry Stackhouse & Michael Finley. (Rick got the scoring prowess, Brent the hops, Jon the, uh, broadcasting skills?)

For any basketball fan who is beginning, in childhood, to take awe of the game and its freakish levels of athleticism, the dunk contest becomes an annual event of pure indulgence: for a moment we take away all the notions of 'proper' basketball - as preached by coaches at any level - and eschew its constrictions in favour of basketball's equivalent of candy. The game frequently dazzles on any given night, but there's also the final three minutes of a game (which take a good twenty to thirty minutes to complete), the lackadaisical beginnings of the third quarter, and the overall gamesmanship (READ: defense) which requires teams to put away any notions of the spectacular.

Vince Carter, in an interview with the Toronto media several years ago, said he was going to stop dunking. That two points were two points. That, basically, dunking was a frivolous skill. (At this point, Vince was already wildly unpopular with the Toronto media and, days later, was dunking during games.) And sure, he's right - a dunk and a lay-in are worth the same on the score sheet. But a lay-in doesn't inspire, nor does it make the highlight reels or ensure any level of endorsement. The foundation of basketball is built on the spectacular.

My cynical eleven-year-old self noted that Barry, in his winning foul-line dunk, had technically taken off from inside the line, if one were going by the location of his toes. Yet it was still the stuff that sent kids to their six or seven-foot rims.

Over the years the dunk contest has gone through some great highs and the occasional lull, but the same enthusiastic sentiment remains. However, if I could find one fault in the current system, it's that the NBA is doing everything to discourage its superstars from participating. Sure, we occasionally get players like Dwight Howard and Amare Stoudamire, but we've had some underwhelming winners, players like Gerald Green who don't see any significant NBA minutes. The Dunk Contest, I believe, should be about the best dunkers in the league. So yes, Green deserves a spot. But there are players like Lebron James who possess otherworldly athletic abilities and vertical leap, yet would never go near the dunk contest, and frankly, are afraid to do so.

In the dunk contest years post-Carter (there's room for another jab at VC), the superstar player has shown apprehension with taking part. Let's take a look at Carter's dunk contest year: Vince Carter, Steve Francis, Tracy McGrady, Jerry Stackhouse, Ricky Davis, and Larry Hughes all participated. Regardless of how we all feel about their respective talents, the fact remains that four all-stars competed in that competition and two elite-level players. The contestants from 2008 featured Dwight Howard (a superstar), Rudy Gay (nice sophomore player), Gerald Green (one year from a career in Italy), and Jamario Moon (energy player, ultimately nothing special).

Another point: Jordan participated in the dunk contest on three occasions, Dominique Wilkens an astonishing five times. Dr. J participated in two during the twilight of his career and on neither occasion did he win. The dunk competition has become an exhibition for capable athletes who are largely one-dimensional, with maybe the room for one I-don't-give-a-fuck type superstar. And it's got more to do with the system.

What I loved about the Barry-era dunk contest was that you had 90 seconds to put together three dunks in the first round of competition, then 60 seconds for two dunks in the final round. Players would rattle off whatever they could in that amount of time. The pressure of nailing dunks on one opportunity didn't exist. You did what you could in the allotted time and saw how it panned out. Some things didn't work, others did. When some failed you had time to think up something on the spot and try it out. This was a free-wheeling era in dunk competitions.

But ultimately, the prospect of competing wasn't nearly as scary. The whole thing is hyped up so much these days, and rightly so, but with so few competitors and so little room for error, why would a superstar, someone of Lebron's caliber, risk embarrassment as a global audience tunes in? In Carter's day, there was at least some modicum of honour in winning the title. Now we're all too scared to step out and take some risks. The honour is still present, but the journey to that desired end result is difficult and not-at-all conducive to NBA stars. Let me repeat: Jordan competed in three of these things. The chances of Lebron competing in one is suspect. It's much more comfortable videotaping it, next to Damon Jones in a leopard suit, on the sidelines.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Baron Davis, a Bit Chunky

That's some lame shit right there.

Over the summer Elton Brand left the once again-hapless Clippers in favour of the surging (and young!) Philadelphia Sixers. One of the key stories to come out of the transaction, aside from the Sixers' predicted rise in the Eastern Conference, was that of Baron Davis, who had signed with the Clippers after receiving confirmation from Brand that he'd stick around in LA. A number of journalists came out and tried to rank/assess the level of backstabbery on Brand's part. Needless to say it was often not a favourable response to Brand's character (though Brand has been a pretty classy, workman-type player in his basketball career).

So what about Baron Davis' reaction to the whole thing? Davis didn't care too much. Brand made his decision. Davis respected it. And thus the story deflated. At this point the Sixers look like a so-so contender in the Eastern Conference and the Clippers look to fall even further in the West, thus assuming their former perennial mediocrity.

Few journalists, however, commented on Davis' post-basketball career. Baron has made no attempts to disguise his leanings toward a film career once his career ends. He runs a movie blog. He's gotten into documentary producing. This move to LA only cements his ability to further schmooze with the Hollywood elite as his career winds down (which it will, very soon). Did you see the guy sitting courtside with Adam Sandler during the Lakers playoff games? Dude was already hanging out in LA with actors. He's been linked to Teri Hatcher (yikes). And now TrueHoop links to some photos of Jessica Alba, Baron, and some other shirtless dude hanging out on the beach. In what universe are we living in when Baron Davis, Jessica Alba, and some other guy (probably her husband) are frolicking on the beach? Baron Davis: richest third-wheel in date history.

I see this move for Davis as purely post-basketball finances. He wants to hang around LA, make some connections, and further his career in film production (AKA chill out with attractive celebrities and lay some of the Desperate Housewives). I also see Davis' career taking a nose-dive in the immediate future. To start, look at his body. The man looks like Oliver Miller in point guard form (well, not quite). But he doesn't look to be in the greatest shape in the weeks preceding training camp. (Thornton's gonna dunk on his face. Kid is nice.) Baron was a great story last season. He faded down the stretch, and the Warriors faltered in their playoff pursuit, but he still put together a solid season, especially for a point guard with that amount of mileage. I just don't see Davis holding up over the course of 82 games. Playing with the Clippers only makes matters worse. It's one thing to try and hold onto your health with a contender, but another thing with a bottom-dweller.

I caught the news of Shareef Abdur-Rahim retiring after 11 seasons in the league. Shareef easily had one the most understated and underwhelming careers in recent memory. He notched some impressive statistics in his career, though never played in a big market or for any particularly formidable teams. The one thing his retirement brings to mind is a dinky little home page I started ages ago in middle school. I provided a ranking of the top-ten NBA players. Rahim placed third (!), finishing behind Shaq, and either Tim Duncan or Jason Kidd. My rankings were clearly flawed, but Rahim was a player in those Grizzlies days. His placement was largely influenced by averaging 24.5 ppg in the preceding season. The Grizzlies were terrible mind you (Royal Ivey could've notched 17 on that team), but Rahim was an interesting SF/PF hybrid, maybe even a trailblazer for tweeners like Beasley who fall somewhere in between the post and perimeter.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Meditations on Bargnani

Excuse the lack of updates. We'll get back to it.

Andrea Bargnani has become a sore subject for Raptors fans in the past year. And things turned quickly. After his rookie season - one in which Bargnani regularly drew comparisons to Nowitzki and Europe's finest exports - the Raptors faithful thought we had a one-two punch between AB and Chris Bosh that was sure to compete, and potentially dominate, the Eastern Conference for a good decade. (Foolishly I thought Bargnani had a chance to usurp Bosh as the team's number one offensive option, or at least become the go-to guy in the game's final moments. His first couple games of his sophomore season featured offensive performances that outshone Bosh's - this didn't help my radical and idealistic viewpoint w/r/t Bargnani's future worth.)

But then all of that talk dissipated in a season of inconsistency which came to exemplify all the reasons why "sophomore slump" is an appropriate and cliched term to throw out there in reference to out-of-the-gates blazing talent in sports, music, whatever. Most sports columnists and commentators chalked it up as a lack of confidence. This is an understatement of sorts. Bargnani looked like a corpse for large portions of 07-08 campaign. The vacant eyes, the gaping mouth - he had the look of a village idiot. Only he was 7-feet tall and could ball at a reasonable level. Perhaps Bargnani is just a sensitive guy. More recently we've seen Vince Young's fragile interiority reach a sort of breaking point in a promising young career. I don't expect suicide concerns or dispatching the Police to look for AB in Sarnia, but he could be another one in a series of athletes who - though physically blessed and holding the required physicality to excel in their respective sports - is missing something in the head to push him into consistent productivity.

So what's going to happen with Bargnani? Some fans want him canned. This is a bit rash. His stock couldn't be that good right now. There's no chance the Raptors could grab David Lee from the Knicks for him (purely as an example, disregarding fiscal terms of said deal), though, in reality, Bargnani's ceiling is much higher than a guy like Lee. The difference is that you know what you're getting from Lee: hustle, about 10/10 per night in minimal minutes, and he gets his numbers without having to run any plays his way. He's a garbage man. And I reliable one at that.

But let's put away any thoughts of a trade. He still averaged double figures (barely) in 07-08. And when he played well, much like his first season, he can elicit excitement like few players in Raptors history. When Bargnani knocks down a series of three-pointers and shows some genuine passion for the game, there's no way you don't go berserk. He possesses a game-changing ability no other player on the Raptors does. Sure, we've got Bosh, and this talk may seem blasphemous in some Raptors circles, but Bosh is a whole different thing. He plays hard every night, he gets his stats by using his brain (something mentioned by Lebron on CBC's The Hour), not his physicality, and he's a great first option. But he's not a game-changer. Do I feel comfortable with Bosh having the ball in his hands as the clock runs out? His mid-range game is probably a little under-rated, but he's not a shooter (even a scorer) by any means. His offensive repertoire is equal parts hard work and intellect. He picks his spots, stays aggressive, takes the ball to the hole with intensity, and has great shot selection from 15 feet out. But Bargnani is the type of player who could throw up a twenty-five footer to win a game. I've seen enough passion in the kid to know that the vacant look in his eyes is a symptom of his disillusionment with his respective game. You can't blame him too much. Or at least I hope that's what it is. General complacency would be a whole thing altogether.

Colangelo should be lauded for keeping him around. He could've swung a deal before Bargnani's trade worth plummeted. But as it stands he still has that huge ceiling we caught glimpses of in a largely positive rookie season. Season three, however, is the last opportunity for him to take the next leap in his career. If not, I expect to see him back in Europe and end up an even greater disappointment that Darko. At least that dude is still kicking around.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Gist I Say!

One of my favourite individuals in the NBA game is the 'role' player one would define as an undersized power forward. Second-round draft picks like Houston's Carl Landry and Utah's Paul Milsap are the prototypical new-age power forward: a couple inches under the preferred height, loads of NCAA experience, the ability to pick up points without a play ever being called for them, and a preternatural ability to find boards, often on the offensive glass. These guys are almost always steals in the draft. I fail to see how three or four-year collegiate players from major conferences who put up big numbers and have a knack for finding the basketball are often over-looked in lieu of 'projects' or European dudes who play in suspect leagues. Simply put, you can't teach aggression and tenacity, and Landry and Milsap have it. Last year Landry was a huge steal, and looking at this year's draftees, I believe the same could happen to James Gist out of Maryland. I'd call him a SF/PF hybrid - certainly his ability to run the floor and finish around the hoop is reminiscent of wing players or only the most athletic of PF's. It'll be tough to get burn in San Antonio, but Gist injects some much needed athleticism into a locker room starting to resemble a geriatric unit.

Here's an article from Sam Smith on Hoopshype in which he talks about basketball players being a little more politically-charged and opinionated during this election campaign, in comparison with other years. For the most part, NBA athletes have pledged their support support for Barack Obama - fair enough, my politics seem to coincide with theirs. But I hardly agree with Smith that athletes have become any more politically opinionated with this election. Earlier in the article he references Bill Walton's attempt to deliver a letter to Nixon asking for his resignation and, in addition, Walton's on-campus protesting at UCLA. We're all familiar with Muhammed Ali, the pinnacle of sports and politics intersecting in a manner of discourse. There's a big difference between an athlete taking a stand for issues than Greg Oden posting his preference for Obama on his blog. The athletes mentioned in Smith's article have done nothing more than say they support Obama. We don't even know whether they're in favour of his politics, simply that they support him.

The race card is a difficult thing to get into. Look, I'm all for Barack Obama and feel he's the superior candidate. But let's go over some statistics: the NBA is around 80% black; the Democratic NBA supporters mentioned in the article were black; the only Republican mentioned was Spencer Hawes, a big white dude who most likely hunts bucks with his pa. There's nothing revelatory about several black athletes showing their support for a black presidential candidate, yet somehow Smith has misinterpreted the degree to which athletes are getting involved (apparently Baron Davis has hosted events, so he's off the hook). Offhandedly mentioning you're a Barack supporter during an interview does not qualify you as a politically-charged individual when the candidate is of the same race as you. I am glad athletes are lending their support, yet somewhat feel there's an inherent moral obligation to support a leading member of your racial community. Once again, I'm treading in difficult water here, but a truly maverick guy would be the black athlete who openly expressed his preference for McCain/Palin. And I think most African-American athletes share more in common than you'd think with McCain and Palin's policies, especially those individuals who hold the same religious beliefs.

It's nice that Sam Smith could point out some instances of athletes eschewing their standard sense of political apathy, but the comparisons to truly passionate individuals who were willing to risk and/or sacrifice their reputation and image for the greater good are out of place. It's sad that we're willing to pat an athlete's back for having an opinion. Very little is at stake for African-American athletes showering praise and support upon Obama, so there's no need to congratulate them when other athletes have used their public platform to not only announce their opinions, but strive for social change.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

McLuhan and Team Dynamics

After Friday's move away from basketball and into the finer points of club security and interior design, this post resumes with hoops content, albeit somewhat academic. Please excuse the academic nature, I'll try to lace my finer points with the requisite sarcasm and criticism you'd expect.

This morning, while lying in bed half-asleep, I was thinking of team dynamics in basketball. (Morning sleep-ins usually consist of surrealist imagery and boners, so I'm not sure what Marshall McLuhan was doing in there.) Specifically I was thinking of the Boston Celtics, hailed by the media as a great 'team' and the embodiment of twelve players buying into a system where personal statistics were secondary and winning came before everything. This is about when it occurred to me that the Celtics, despite being the best 'team' in the NBA last year, really weren't a team in the least. Same goes for the Lakers, Spurs, and any other respectable team. Basketball is a sport about one or two superstars and a host of other guys filling specialized roles. Fortunately for the Celtics both Garnett and Pierce were the thoroughbreds you could mount a team's expectations upon. Any notion of 'team' seems a bit ridiculous when dudes like Scalabrine couldn't even get any burn. I'm sure having a tall, Irish-looking goofy white guy on the team is good for morale, but I'd hardly call that a specialized role within a team. Look at some of those great Suns teams from the previous few post-seasons when they were working with an eight-man rotation. One-third of team only saw the court when the outcome of the game was a foregone conclusion (ie. Pat Burke!). Their hopes depended upon Nash, Stoudemire, and one or two guys on each night stepping up and contributing beyond their usual means, whether it was Barbosa, Diaw, or Bell.

In a podcast earlier this year between Bill Simmons and Bill Walton, Walton bemoaned how basketball players these days are only able to do one or two things on the court. (Walton was also unhinged for the duration of the hour-length interview. Simmons probably had a nap mid-way through as Waltron drove that thing from one tangent to the next. I'm thinking ABC gives Walton a shock in order to reign him in on their telecasts.) And you can't really argue with Walton on that. In another example, Paul Shirley speaks about the differences between European and American basketball in his book Can I Keep My Jersey?, mostly the American brand of specialization is non-existent in Europe, where a "Why not?" attitude is adopted by most coaches. (As in, "Why not let our big man learn how to shoot threes?") Shirley chalks it up to laziness on the part of coaches who want to peg guys and teach them a limited skill set. Let's take a guy like Raja Bell. In terms of his team role, his most important assignment is this: defending the other team's best perimeter player (ie. Kobe, Manu, etc.). The Suns brass wouldn't readily admit that's his one function on the team, but knocking down threes is a distant second. Anything other than defense is a bonus. When Bell gets hot and cans 20 points, it's a relief for other players who carry the offensive load. But that's not his job. His job, on a defensively weak team, is to be the guy who is a defensive stalwart and make up for the deficiencies of Nash and Stoudemire. Without defense Bell would be without a job.

So the whole notion of team dynamics becomes an interesting one when players are limited in the breadth of their abilities. (Here's where I get academic, so bear with me.) The 'team' model we see today is a reflection of the fragmentation seen in the mechanized era following the invention of the printing press. McLuhan coined the terms 'hot' and 'cool' mediums; 'hot' being a medium without audience participation and high-definition, 'cool' being a participatory medium and low-definition. In the sense of relations between different systems within the larger whole, the mechanical era ushered in specialization whereby certain parts existed for the sake of completing one set purpose or goal. In tribal or electrical societies, participatory models have been the norm, yet in our electrical society, basketball hasn't taken the lead of participatory media, which I think is the antithesis of the 'team' labels being hammered into us by the print/web/broadcast media concerning teams like the Celtics, Suns, etc. If we're comparing basketball to free jazz, then the electrical model holds up. Jazz and its interplay amongst players conjures up participatory, 'cool' models, something that can certainly be applied to basketball. But on the whole, especially when we're seeing players pigeon-holed into certain roles, the game becomes a reflection of a mechanized society where people exist to fulfill one role. Football is perhaps a better example. Teams draft for need (this occurs in basketball, though not to the hyper-extent of a sport like football, where the need for an offensive guard with a specific skill set becomes such a draft-day priority). Each year there are holes within an NFL team's roster and the draft serves as an opportunity to fill those roles and peg draftees into specified roles. Look, my arguments here can be refuted on so many levels. There is always a certain amount of interplay between the individuals (ie. parts) within a team (ie. whole system), otherwise the game would be unwatchable. Further, to take the Raja Bell example, he isn't only there for defense, but that is his chief purpose. That's what earns him a role in the starting line-up and big minutes. His role almost has more to do with the offensive abilities of his opponents rather than his own. The whole concept of 'role' players best explains my argument. Certain players in the league are known for the 'role' they bring to their team. Robert Horry's role on various teams has been to take big shots in big moments. Similarly Michael Finley and Brent Barry have become largely three-point specialists for the Spurs. Often, teams like the Spurs, are lauded as a team for having such a formidable number of 'role' players. But that notion seems paradoxical. Role players seems to refute the notion of team in a tribal or electrical context. There are a lot of holes in my argument, but team dynamics, at least for me, comes down the ability of cogs to carry out their specialized functions.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Old Show

This post will diverge from basketball and recount the story of the worst concert I've ever been to: a Clipse show, in Victoria, British Columbia, from around 14-15 months ago.

Certain genres of music can elicit appreciation from different sects of the consuming public. Kinda goes without saying you'd think. For instance, those persons (myself included) who listen to indie music - which I realize is a loaded term and really means nothing since half the bands aren't truly independent in the first place - poach from other genres and bring artists/bands into the fold of our fandom. Occasionally electronic, techno bullshit or whatever can slip through the cracks, but more often some hip-hop will filter from its intended audience (either left-field hip-hop heads or mainstream top-40 types) and into the playlists of individuals who consider Stephen Malkmus a God or attend Polvo reunion shows.

Enter Clipse, twin-brother coke-rap duo from Virginia Beach, most notable on a grand scale for their affiliation with Pharrell of The Neptunes. These guys sorta talk about dealing coke all the time, but at the heart of their music lies a certain charisma and, most predominantly for me, chilling and sparse production. Their music appeals primarily to different groups of listeners: those who like the aggression and tenacity of so-called coke-rap (is that a term people even use?) and those, like myself, who wear too much plaid and are in the midst of receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts from an accredited institution. Not closely linked. At all.

So when I heard Clipse was coming to Victoria, only six months after releasing Hell Hath No Fury, I jumped at the opportunity and purchased tickets for my girlfriend and myself.

Quickly, a sociological make-up of Victoria, if you will: this city is comprised of senior citizens. Bus routes take an average of five to ten-minutes extra to reach your destination on account of the number of walkers and motorized vehicles which need assistance in order to both get on and escort the bus. After old people, there are many students, and even more hippies. The city of Victoria exists within a strange liberal bubble made of flax seed and granola. Part of this has to do with our isolation on the island, and, living here for the past half-decade, I really don't feel part of the rest of the country. People bike everywhere. They believe in naturopathic medicine. They ingest oregano and garlic as an alternative to cold medicine. Seriously. So naturally the idea of Clipse coming to Victoria was a strange one. Unless "Wamp Wamp (What It Do)" was remixed by Phish or Ani DiFranco, the likelihood of Clipse finding a local audience remained unlikely.

(Another side-note: the last time - and only other time - I had attended a hip-hop show in Victoria I was kicked out under false pretenses. This was at a De La Soul show, and they're basically hippies that rap. The crowd make-up consisted of douchebags who thought it was like any other night at the club (ie. they were trying to get laid) and white guys who made me embarrassed to be white on account of their giddiness of being at their first hip-hop show (ie. dancing around in their American Eagle polos). One girl behind me asked me if the show was over before De La Soul hit the stage.)

Around 10 PM my girlfriend and I arrived at V-Lounge, a Victoria venue I had never been to in my five years of regularly hitting up shows. For the first time in my concert-going adulthood I was patted down and walked through a metal detector upon entering the show. A male bouncer said to me, as he was essentially feeling me up, "How do you feel about your girlfriend getting touched?" At the time, my girlfriend was being frisked by a female bouncer. My reply: "As long as it's not you, bud."

Once the staff of brain surgeons at V-Lounge had assessed that I left my Tec-9 and machete at home, we were free to roam around the venue. I'd like to take this opportunity to tell the owner/interior designer of V-Lounge that, despite their best efforts, their establishment is not a classy place. In theory, the idea of fashioning the club after Caesar's Palace or, say, Athens, may have looked good on paper (certainly not to a polymath, or a successful entrepreneur), but it in facts looks really hokey to have Greek-style white pillars around the perimeter of your interior. Furthermore, the club itself was part of a complex of buildings that included a liquor store, seedy motel, strip club, and Chinese restaurant. All the components for one hell of a guy's weekend.

My initial inquiry, as per the make-up of the concert's audience, was quickly determined by the influx of white guys who thought they were thugs. I am not sure where they came from (Sooke? Esquimalt?), but there is clearly an unidentified habitat of 'wiggers' living amongst us who have taken a monopoly over the city's supply of XXXL white t-shirts. As mentioned earlier, Clipse draws a crowd of coke-rap fans and hipsters. Only coke-rap fans and small-time drug dealers showed up this night. Maybe it was due to the show's nearly non-existent promotion or maybe I was the only person in Victoria unaware of V-Lounge's reputation for white guys in FUBU and whores. Thank God there were metal detectors at the door.

Speaking of whores, there were plenty. The show didn't start for another hour and a half after our arrival so my girlfriend and I played a game of Spot The Hoochie, in which we spotted hoochies on the dance floor and assessed how long it would take for a Federline look-a-like to spit some game on them (or slip them a date rape pill). This is how the situation played out: two girls would head up to the dance floor, as a tandem, and seductively dance with their ass hanging out of their skirts until a couple of noble suitors would approach and ask for their hand in dance (READ: rub their denim-covered penis up in that chick's ass crack). It seldom took more than a minute for the girls to get picked up and never involved the guys buying these young ladies a drink (that's one for us, guys!). Our favourite skank-tandem was easily two girls who, despite upwards of thirty minutes on the dance floor, attracted few suitors on account of one of the girls being rather, well, large.

The show got off to a rousing start when (...struggling to find the guy's name...), uh, a local white guy took the stage and rapped, about, some things, poorly. Yes, there were local Victoria openers! Clipse didn't bother to bring anyone out on tour with them so the crowd was treated to not one, not two, but three local rappers. By far the greatest opener was a short black man in a leather jacket who was basically copying DMX's shtick from ten years ago. Needless to say he spent much of the set yelling, barking, and generally getting angry. He was able to get the crowd on his side early by making a disparaging remark about the cops outside (well played). Here's the thing: Victoria is consistently ranked as one of the ten-greatest cities in the world in which to live. We live by the Pacific Ocean, the crime rate is low, and we offer an astounding number of vegan bakeries. What is there to complain about DMX-man?

By the time 1 AM rolled around I was seriously thinking that Clipse didn't bother showing, or perhaps were never even slated to perform. I mean, c'mon, Clipse coming to Victoria? The whole thing sounded like a local promoter's sleazy way to steal $35 from a bunch of unsuspecting dunces (myself included). Luckily for the promoter's life, Clipse did hit the stage at about a quarter past one. This was about the time when we realized that the sound system was perhaps borrowed from Delta Bingo. This was also about the time when the fights started breaking out.

For the duration of Clipse' set, which I could barely hear because the speakers were barely fit for a banquet at the Canadian Legion, fights continually broke out, often spilling into my girlfriend and I. The entire night you could practically smell the testosterone wafting through the white t-shirts. I think even a couple of the ivy leaves on the ceiling wilted. Fights were brewing the entire night. Only these guys waited until Clipse finally arrived in order to show off.

(Let me take a minute to reiterate: the crowd actually waited until Clipse started performing before they began to pummel one another. The crowd, comprised of white guys in one of the nicest cities in the world, tried to to impress the rappers, a couple of ex-cocaine dealers. Clipse were not impressed. Appropriately, they asked the audience why they were fighting.)

Any attempts to impress Clipse were quickly thwarted by V-Lounge security, who were, without a doubt, the finest bouncers. Say what you want about the interior design, but the bouncers put every unsuspecting thug into a crippling choke hold within seconds of a fight erupting. Most impressive was a female bouncer in her mid-40s who manhandled a good half-dozen wiggers. Said woman also approached a man behind me, during the set, to have a word with him. I turned around to find the angry black rapper hiding behind me, puffing away at a cigarette. Bad-ass move DMX-man. You really showed the employees of V-Lounge by lighting a cigarette and getting busted for your indiscretion. The man is still keeping you down, I see.

There is perhaps no other way to end this story other than my girlfriend and I leaving with a couple songs remaining in the set. Clipse didn't play for long, and really, I have no idea whether they're good live performers or not on account of the aforementioned fights and shitty sound quality. On the outdoor lawn of V-Lounge, around 2 AM, a mess of handcuffed wiggers lay face-down in the grass. If that isn't a fitting end to a Wednesday night, I don't know what is.

One-half of Clipse with Cat Power.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Oliver Miller: sadly one of the better players in early Raptors history.

Strangely Shawn Kemp has made two sightings on this blog in its first week (which is about two more sightings than he's made to his children, but I digress...), so I thought I'd share an excerpt from Paul Shirley's Can I Keep My Jersey?:

"During one of our first four preseason games, I found myself on the court with Shawn Kemp. He was wearing an Orlando Magic uniform, which was odd - Shawn Kemp will always wear a Sonics uniform in my mind. But the strangest aspect of Kemp's appearance was not his uniform. It was what was under it. Shawn Kemp is huge. And not huge like tall and strong - huge like Oliver Miller. Huge like Chris Farley, post-Saturday Night Live and pre-overdose. Kemp is listed at 280 pounds in the media guide, but he looks a lot bigger than that. I think they weighed him on the moon."

Shawn Kemp will remain a subject of fascination for hoops fans for three reasons: (a) few players have possessed as much raw talent and power as Kemp; (b) few men outside of a polygamist ranch have fathered as many children by as many women; and (c) like Bo Jackson, Kemp is firmly entrenched within the pantheon of transcendent video game characters. Picking the Sonics in NBA Jam was like injecting Secretariat with steroids prior to the Kentucky Derby - any opponent wouldn't have the physical tools to keep up.

On a slightly dissimilar note, I've been thinking of ways to bring Kemp back into the media. Some may call them exploitive, but hey, he'd be paid for his services, and frankly, Kemp needs all the money he can get, hence the dozens of failed come-back attempts with a myriad of NBA and European teams. (His agent: "I swear to God, he's lost weight!") Most of my ideas involve VH1-style television series. The first is simple: a drinking competition between Kemp and Vin Baker. If Darius Miles can't find a team by November, then we'll bring him on board. Really all you need is a room, a couple (rented) cameras, a table, two chairs, and about three 26 oz. bottles of hard liquor. The budget could squeak in under $200.

There are more ideas in hand, but most of them involve A Night at the Roxbury-style clubbing with Kemp & Baker to Scott Baio-esque redemptive tales of monogamy.

Nostalgia, Pt. 2

The last entry really diverted from the intention of its initial aim: nostalgia for Tom Chambers based purely upon video footage (culled from YouTube) of a dunk in which he looks directly at the rim. Nostalgia is defined (and I’m paraphrasing here) as a longing for home or for the past, which is exactly why I’m dumbfounded by my undying love for this video and, to a slightly lesser extent, Tom Chambers. When I started seriously watching basketball (and I mean seriously in the loosest fan-boy, elementary school way) I was around nine years of age. My earliest memory was watching Michael Jordan return from his first retirement against the Indiana Pacers while I worked away on a bristol board presentation about Ancient Egypt. (I was gluing a photo of a decomposed King Tut as Jordan went up for his first post-baseball dunk, an awkward dunk of little elevation). Needless to say, when I first started watching, I knew nothing of Tom Chambers. As it stands I still know little about Chambers outside of his legendary dunk, his prolific scoring, height (6’10”!), and an All-Star game MVP.

But I do harbour intense nostalgia for Chambers and multiple other players of his generation. What’s getting me is whether one can have nostalgia for something they never saw the first time around? Basically the notion of home in the definition of nostalgia. I have no roots to basketball in the 1980s, so why would I like Chambers, Larry Bird, and Bernard King? How would my perception of Chambers change had I witnessed his career? There’s the possibility I wouldn’t have liked him at all. There are plenty of NBA players who, years from now, will look formidable on paper, yet, for whatever reasons, may not have possessed any likeability in the present. (Chances are that history will treat Gilbert Arenas splendidly, but from my own fan’s perspective I really don’t like his game. Call me a purist, but I have no interest in watching a point guard jack up unnecessary three-point attempts. That, and his personality.) But, to run with the parenthetical on Arenas, we have plenty of YouTube videos to show only a slice of his game – notably, his game-closing daggers from thirty-five feet out. You’d have to be a complete dick not to appreciate any athlete in a team sport with the nerve to make – or even attempt – such an exceedingly difficult play with victory in the balance, especially when deference (including the deference of blame) is an option. The only people who do this are overly-confident individuals and playground "chuckers." Likewise, with Chambers, we have the dunk footage where he launches himself off Mark Jackson’s sternum. But as formidable a highlight as that was, it’s only two points in a career of over 20,000. And I never witnessed any of those baskets.

Presumably YouTube will come to affect our perceptions of basketball history and its players, and most likely to a great extent. Without YouTube I wouldn’t have seen Chambers’ dunk on Jackson, Bernard King dropping 50 on consecutive nights, or Crispin Glover attempt to drop-kick David Letterman. YouTube has become a carrier for nostalgia. Your new favourite player could be older than your father or currently the assistant manager of a Wal-Mart in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The editing of an athlete’s career into four or five-minute video bytes (complete with backing music from the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Cam’Ron!) will largely dictate how future generations come to perceive their worth as athletes. One of the best examples of a basketball player who will always survive in the minds of fans based upon highlight-reel footage is Shawn Kemp. The guy didn’t have a long career, his numbers were merely good, and, with present perspective in mind, seems to be a poor man’s Amare Stoudemire. None of this really matters however, since, as in the case of Tom Chambers, his ability to invoke nostalgia is off the charts.