Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Deepest Cut

There was a sickening knot developing in his stomach. Jeff De Guzman had a feeling he was going to get cut from the final line-up of the varsity team. Not that he was playing bad. Unlike pro basketball where line-ups are more or less determined by skill, contracts, or even trades, in college basketball… there are many deciding factors to consider.

In the summer of 2003, Jeff De Guzman followed his teammates from San Beda high school to try and gain a slot with the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles who just won the coveted Men’s Basketball championship the year before. His Red Cubs team was no slouch themselves having won the NCAA juniors title against Letran. And now his teammates juniors MVP Claiford Arao, guards Yuri Escueta and Arvin Braganza, and forwards Mike Baldos and Jay Agbayani presented themselves to then-Ateneo coach Joel Banal. It was the last large defection of players from the Benedictine school’s famed juniors hoops program to another school. In the succeeding years, they would be able to keep players like Ogie Menor and Jay-R Taganas in red and white.

The only player promised a slot on the team was Arao. Agbayani moved on to UP while the rest of the team went to Ateneo and its Team B basketball team. Jeff on the other hand was not recruited. He passed the Ateneo entrance exam, tried out for the team, and landed a slot on coach Gabby Severino’s Team B.

A bright and sensitive kid, Jeff De Guzman was a late bloomer in basketball having taken up the sport only in his second year in high school. Oblivious to the world of big time basketball, he was surprised to find out that San Beda had a rich basketball tradition. He took to the sport like a fish in water yet was always cut from the NCAA jayvee team. He would play well on the Passerelle level but never gained a favorable nod from the school’s famed high school coach Ato Badolato.

By his fourth year, after a clamor over his being passed over in the previous years, Jeff finally made the NCAA team. But instead of getting an opportunity to show his wares, he burned a hole in his pants from sitting on the bench all season long never getting off even for one minute.

Watching his teammates celebrate the juniors title, Jeff felt somewhat out of it. After all, he never contributed to his team’s cause except to clap and cheer them on. But when Ford Arao and the others moved westward to the Ateneo campus, Jeff De Guzman followed (his older brother also went to Loyola Heights) hoping he’d get a chance to try out for the team. But the Blue Eagles were stacked deep in the guard position what with LA Tenorio, Magnum Membrere, Larry Fonacier, and rookie Chris Tiu eating up the minutes. So it was off to Team B.

Team B. Home of the varsity team’s discards and recruits serving out their residency. To get to games, they take the LRT lugging their gym bags crammed with shoes, socks, towels, and textbooks. They play in gyms that make the antiquated Blue Eagle Gym look like a state-of-the-art arena. Too often before games, the players change into their uniforms in locker rooms that double as maintenance rooms where the comfort rooms reek of piss and uncleaned tiles. They’re given no Gatorade energy drinks and instead they have to bring their own Colemans that are regular fixtures underneath their bench. They play in a soupcon of leagues that barely make the news wires and its where the head coach is the one who lugs a net full of basketballs to the game.

After toiling year in and out hoping to earn a slot to Team A and their shot at UAAP glory, Jeff began to despair of making the team. With a year of eligibility left, he dedicated himself to getting into the best possible shape and training daily so that when the tryouts for the seniors team was called, he’d be ready. And Jeff played well even unto the just-concluded pre-season where he was eventually short-listed for the last slot on the Blue Eagles’ 15-man roster.

Just this past summer, when he wasn’t named to the team that was going to train at the Joe Abunassar Impact Basketball Camp in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, Jeff had that sickening feeling that he’d be cut once more. The assistant coaches steeled him for the eventuality that he didn’t make it once more and to keep his chin up and continue training. You’ll never know, they said. A few days prior to the official announcement of the line-up, Jeff found out that the coaching staff would instead give the slot to his former high school teammate Mike Baldos.

The weights room for the Ateneo athletes is just across the luxurious Maplewood court of the Moro Lorenzo Sports Center at the far end of the sprawling campus. On this Thursday night, the Blue Eagles were engaged in a physical practice game with the visiting University of Guam. Jeff De Guzman is inside doing weights facing the opposite direction. He can’t bring himself to watch the match going on not even 20 feet away. He’s grateful for the sweat pouring down his face for it helps mask the tears in his eyes.

He goes up to the strength and conditioning coach to inform him he’s done for the day. They don’t keep him any longer than need be for they know the pain he’s going through.

He doesn’t notice he’s driving around the campus lost in thought. There have been many nights like this twisting and turning wondering about the what ifs and what nots. But he’ll go on. He’ll finish his studies and try out for a PBL team. And if he’s worried about getting cut once more… the worst of it has happened already. All Jeff De Guzman wanted was just to play for the Blue Eagles.

Author’s dedication: This is for my Team B boys who I helped manage for one memorable season: Eman Nazareno, Zion Laterre, Mike Baldos, Mark Badua, Gino Villame, Arvi Malixi, Jurgen Estanislao, Zach Estoesta, Migs Escueta, Harry Hipolito, Chester Chavez, Miggy Solitaria, Leon Hizon, Gio Pasion, Jay Gonzalez, Nico Frez, and Jeff De Guzman.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A Sports Conundrum

“I hope that the RP Men’s team loses.”

“Don’t get me the wrong way,” the Cigarette Smoking Man said as he took one last and long puff on his cancer stick then stubbed it out in the ashtray in front of him. “I’m nationalistic as they come. But all this continued emphasis on basketball means that there will be less corporate sponsorship of other sports.”

The man has been a part of (non-basketball) national teams as a player, a coach, and now managing it from the sidelines. He acknowledges the stifling and paralyzing politics that has robbed our national sports scene of its vibrancy as well as the corporate world’s predisposition towards basketball, boxing, and billiards (let’s call them the “B” sports henceforth) for sponsorship.

Just the other day, I sat down with a local football official who asked me why the Spanish La Liga and German Bundesliga were being dropped from Solar Sports’ roster of shows. I had to explain that not only weren’t the ratings there, but it was difficult getting advertisers for the telecasts. Save for the die-hards, the games are said to be too early in the morning to watch and outside of Barcelona and Real Madrid no one knows the other teams and players. Clearly the numbers weren’t there after jump-in-the-bandwagon event of the 2006 FIFA World Cup spectacle and it didn’t justify the costs of paying for expensive properties.

We were asked what was being done to help the growth of football to which I replied that as much as I believe in that, it is not my job neither my company’s to propagate the sport. That is the job of its national sports agency. What we can do is show footage of local leagues aside from news and scores. If it’s something similar to the ASEAN Football Qualifiers where the national team – the Azkals -- are competing in then a few companies might be willing to shell out the big bucks to televise their matches. But was it the presence of Fil-foreigners that sparked the interest? While their controversial inclusion doesn’t help team chemistry or inspire our local players it does generate interest. So there are complicated chicken and egg questions to be asked where you factor in business, politics, and the spirit of the game.

In an effort to bring football news to our programming, I’ve diverted our news crews to cover UAAP football and Ang Liga tournaments. I even motored all the way to the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport to interview a stranded Ghanaian who was trying to play football in Singapore (he’s now with UP and will be suiting up for them in Season 71) but ended up living in the airport for several months in a real life version of Tom Hanks’ movie The Terminal. When I try to insert football into our news telecasts, it’s yanked off in favor of other more compelling sports or other newsmakers. It’s what the people want I’m told. All you have to do is look at the UAAP where it’s mandatory for all schools to field basketball and volleyball teams the others be damned.

One of our recent climbers of Mt. Everest said that when they were seeking sponsors to fund their expedition to the famed mountain’s summit, many turned them away. Of course it was understandable, the climber acknowledged. What’s mountain climbing anyway to the corporate world and the masses? But after their accomplishment, there were numerable photo ops and promises by various politicians (now if you believe in them then you surely believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny).

When we asked one media buyer why mixed martial arts doesn’t get sponsors locally she said that it’s too violent unlike boxing. Hmm. I don’t know of MMA deaths but boxing… So what does she know about boxing? “Manny Pacquiao.” What weight division does he compete in? “Ah… I’m not sure.”

Outside the B-sports, most have no professional league for athletes to move up. I asked Atty. Ogie Narvasa a few months ago why he didn’t pursue a pro hoops career after a sterling stint with Ateneo and the nationals in the late 1970’s. “To be very honest,” said Narvasa. “Back then, the sport wasn’t a lucrative profession. Very few made any serious money unlike now when a draft pick can mean you’re set for life. Maybe if I were coming out of college now I’d consider it, but only maybe.”

The late football official and Ateneo coach Chris Monfort once said that the one-year salary of a pro basketball player is enough to run a pro football league and pay allowances for all its players. The late coach’s long-time friend PBA Red Bull Barako coach Yeng Guiao concurred, “Chris is right. Definitely right. As much as basketball is popular, we should also give other sports a chance to fly. There are many more sports where we can be the best or among the best.”

The Cigarette Smoking Man lit up his fifth cancer stick during our meeting the other week. “It’s hard to explain. I want the men’s national basketball team to win but you know what I mean…”

You mean it’s like I’m a Roger Federer fan yet I didn’t root for him in the last US Open and the just concluded French Open,” I offered suddenly wondering if I had made an apt analogy and if the Cigarette Smoking Man might think that I’m an idiot.

“What do you mean by that,” he harrumphed eyeing me peculiarly.

You see as much as I am a Federer fan, I am a bigger Pete Sampras fan and I don’t want him to break the Pistol’s modern era record of 14 tennis Grand Slams.

He laughed out loud and patted me on the back. “We understand each other quite well. I, too, am a fan of Pete Sampras.”

The author has a non-sports blog at:

Monday, June 11, 2007

Meet the LeBrons

(From the Dinner with the LeBrons commercial)
Wise Man LeBron: Let me tell you this story. You run around here thinking you’re good… I grew up in the State Championship. I had 35 points, 15 rebounds, 12 assists…
Business Man LeBron: You telling them bald headed lies again, Pops?
Wise Man LeBron: And 12 blocks!
Business Man LeBron: Please!
Wise Man LeBron: Now them numbers -- that’s a quadruple double there, bro.
Business Man LeBron: Kind of makes no sense to me.
Wise Man LeBron: Don’t be jealous boy! You ain’t got like I got.
Business Man LeBron: I don’t know if I can put up with this no more.

In his latest Nike campaign, LeBron James does an Eddie Murphy (see his hilarious performance in Coming To America) where he plays four different aspects of himself. In the commercials, James portrays four dimensions of his personality on and off the court: youth, wisdom, business and athleticism. The dialogue is funny, some of the commercials memorable, and James’ acting is way better than Michael Jordan’s in Space Jam.

But the problem is, the LeBron James on the NBA hardcourt features different personas as well.

Big Game James (with all apologies to James Worthy). There’s LeBron scoring 29 of the Cavs’ final 30 points including the last 25 to beat Detroit in a double-overtime classic in Game 5 of the Eastern Finals. That he led Cleveland to the Finals in only his fourth year is already a fulfillment of a promise when he drafted number one overall in 2003. He also showed that he could be the star among the stars when he bagged the 2006 All-Star Game MVP honors.

James Namath. When was the last time James played American Football – in his early high school years? Oh that wasn’t too long ago, right? This version of James at times inexplicably opts to pass to teammates like Damon Jones, Donyell Marshall, and Sasha Pavlovic rather than scramble out of the pocket to run for the first down or the end zone. You’re no Joe Namath or Magic Johnson, LeBron. You were First Team All-State Wide Receiver in your sophomore year in high school. If you want to be a QB, be like Michael Vick, who scores touchdowns (just don’t be the dog-fighting version)!

James the Invisible Man. Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer is upon us (at least Galactus isn’t) and James, in his first NBA Finals appearance plays like Daniel “Boobie” Gibson during the first few months of the regular season while the unflappable rookie plays like James in one of the biggest games ever in franchise history. First game jitters? If you wish to receive the accolades accorded to His Airness, D-Wade or Kobe Bryant, then accept the responsibility and flack that comes along with it. Fall down seven times, get up eight times. Who cares if it’s D-Wade’s commercial! Nike owns Converse anyway.

Cut to moments after the Cleveland Cavaliers dispatched the Detroit Pistons in Game 6 of the Eastern Finals, James was handed the conference trophy by Hall of Famer Bill Russell, who had advice for the 22-year-old. "You are representing the Eastern Conference," the Boston Celtics great said of the coming Finals battle with prohibitive favorite the San Antonio Spurs. "Make me proud."

I’m an unabashed Eastern Conference guy. As a kid too young to have pimples, I rooted for the Philadelphia 76ers of Julius Erving, George McGinnis, Doug Collins, Caldwell Jones, and Darryl Dawkins and sulked after the Los Angeles Lakers upset them on two NBA Finals match-ups. I rooted for Boston too, when the Birdman ruled the roost and painted the NBA landscape green. I switched once and for all to the Chicago Bulls as they featured a young Michael Jordan and Doug Collins as coach. I may have not liked the New York Knicks but I would have wanted Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, and another fave player of mine, John Starks to win one against the Houston Rockets. I’ve not been much of a James fan but have acknowledged his prodigious talents. I’ve been hard on him because of his propensity to play below the radar after tantalizing you with some really incredible games. I thought that it was the lowest of the low to see him benched by Larry Brown in the 2004 Olympics where he averaged 5.8 points. Seeing James suit up for the Cavs reminded me of a young Michael Jordan when he led the woeful Bulls with Rory Sparrow, Quintin Dailey, Dave Corzine, Orlando Woolridge, and aging Chicago playground legend Granville Waiters. And to see another high-flyer move past Detroit was like déjà vu.

Last season, LeBron and the Cavs pushed Detroit to the brink and this year, they got over the hump. But until James leads his hometown Cavaliers to the NBA throne and the Big Game James persona shows up, snazzy advertising campaign and all, there’ll be only one King and he is Michael Jordan. And he… has left the building.

(From the Dunk Contest with the LeBrons commercial)
Wise Man LeBron: After I dunk this contest will be over.
Business Man LeBron: I want a writer, director, producer…
Young LeBron: C’mon, Pops. I ain’t got all day.
Wise Man LeBron: It’s almost over. I’ve been waiting for this a long time. (dunks but hits only the rim). Ohhh. My back!
Young LeBron: That was awful! 4.6 (referring to his score).
Wise Man LeBron: 4.6! I didn’t ask how tall you were!
(to Business Man LeBron) Top that pretty boy. Show me what you got.
Young LeBron: Stop showboating all the time and show us something.


Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The White Stripes

Where have you gone, Larry Bird? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Wo-oh-oh.
- transcribed from the ancient texts of Paulus Simonus

While there is no shortage of “the next Michael Jordans” in the National Basketball Association, Bird watching has become almost extinct. At least for American Caucasians who are suddenly lost in transition.

While Dirk Nowitski, Andrew Bogut, Andrea Baragnani, Andrei Kirilenko, and Peja Stojakovic among many others have made a case for the Great White Hope; they are however European or Asian (the land from down under belongs to the Asian continent).

So does that mean that the American Caucasian is ever more an endangered specie?

A year ago, the Charlotte Bobcats’ Adam Morrison who was then with Gonzaga and the Orlando Magic’s JJ Redick who was with Duke were their respective program’s main men as America was riveted to their personal duel en route to an NCAA finals berth. Morrison towed his Bulldogs’ leash past Redick towards a showdown with Florida where his team crash and burned in the final minutes. Between the Morrison and Redick, it was the Gonzaga alum who looked like a refugee from the Jefferson Starship who was unfortunately tagged as the next Larry Bird; the next in a long-line of models rolled out of the halcyon days of Hoosier hysteria when the NBA’s landscape was snow white and the only black was the Chuck Taylor high-tops that was de rigueur.

Unfortunately, the typical NBA player is not spared from a world obsessed with profiling and pigeonholing.

The African-American player was said to be all razzle-dazzle slamma jamma dunk-o-rama players. Physical specimens whose worth was measured by their ability to jump over seven-foot centers in a single bound.

Europeans were chain-smoking bearded guys whose actions on the court were so robotic and clumsy. They were considered to be soft players who eschewed the alligator-wrestling pond (as former Chicago Bulls assistant coach Johnny Bach described the shaded lane) and preferred to bomb from the relative safety of the three-point arc.

Woody Harrelson personified the white American baller in that moronic movie “White Men Can’t Jump.” Although they described to be slow and could jump no higher than a phone book, they were tagged as smart since they could make their free throws, issue some dope passes, and basically were the original big fundamentals before Tim Duncan co-opted the nickname.

Turns out they were as wrong as Dick Cheney on a bird-shoot.

There were players like Michael Jordan and Earvin “Magic” Johnson who were such complete players, second generation Oscar Robertsons whose names were in every stat column.

As for the Euros? Well, there is a reason why it has a bigger value than the dollar.

Georgi Glouchkov where have you gone?

Dirk Nowitski is not only the hands down favorite to win the 2006-07 Most Valuable Player Award (sorry, Kobe, your late season surge notwithstanding, Dirk has been consistent the past two years but he has made his team every bit better as well). The Memphis Grizzlies’ Pau Gasol despite being on the trading block is still one heck of a player on a sucky team. Andrei Kirilenko on the other hand is no doubt the face of the Utah Jazz franchise post-John Stockton, the poster boy for small white dudes who was a throwback in more ways than one (check out those short shorts circa pre-David Stern).

As for the white American player?

For the last three years, there have been no white American white hoopsters in the All-Star Game. In the last 10 years, only five have made the All Star teams: Tom Gugliotta, John Stockton, Christian Laettner, Brad Miller, and Wally Szczerbiak. Of those five, the first three have retired.

Let’s break it down:
• Of the 450 players in the NBA, there are over 80 who carry non-American passports.
• The remaining 350 are Americans with only around 39 who are Caucasians born in the continental U.S.A.
• And of 39, only 19 of them have played at least 7 years of pro ball.
• Of those 39 players, only two are averaging more than 14 points per game: the Chicago Bulls’ Kirk Hinrich currently with 15 points per game and the Memphis Grizzlies’ Mike Miller averages 14.1.
• The Portland Trailblazers have four American Caucasians in their roster while the Grizzlies, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Phoenix Suns, and Los Angeles Lakers all have three apiece.
• Two teams, the Toronto Raptors and the Detroit Pistons don’t have any American Caucasians in their line-ups.
• But curiously, nearly two-thirds of the team coaches are white.
• For NCAA-philes, the Kansas Jayhawks and the Florida Gators have the most number of alums in the League with four each. Kansas has the Bulls’ Hinrich, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Scott Pollard, the Trailblazers’ Raef LaFrentz, and the Seattle Supersonics’ Nick Collison while Florida has the Heat’s Jason Williams, the New York Knicks’ David Lee, the Grizzlies’ Miller, and the San Antonio Spurs’ Matt Bonner.

ESPN analyst and former NBA player Tim Legler laments the apparent demise of the American white player. “It’s sad that the perception of the American white basketball player has become a reality,” frowns Legler who was a former three-point shooting champion with the Washington Bullets. The tags of “too slow” and “can’t jump” seem to have been the kiss of death of the white American. Their white European counterparts are not only just as schooled, but also in many ways more mobile and taller.”

Former NBA All-Star and original Dream Team member Chris Mullin grew up in Brooklyn where he went up against many of the borough’s top black players and held his own. Now the General Manager of the Golden State Warriors where he starred, Mullin realizes it was that grim determination to succeed and be accepted that caused him to take the subway everyday to Bronx and Harlem to do battle with the black stars that were beginning to populate and dominate the playground.

Legler agrees, “Now you don’t have that anymore. Kids are steered towards other sports like baseball and football. "I see it at summer camps. The makeup and attitude of the white kids has changed so much. No question it's the parents and their peer groups talking them off of it. A black kid of average talent in elementary or middle school is much more likely to be encouraged. A white kid of equal talent is going to move to baseball or something non-sports. They totally get discouraged to travel that athletic path, and it's been happening for years.
"My father begged me to not play basketball. I was a really good baseball player, and he thought I had a better chance at playing in the major leagues. But I loved basketball. For a white player to succeed in basketball, he's got to have a backbone. He's got to have that competitive mentality and play with a chip on his shoulder."

Conversely, African-Americans are experiencing the same in Major League Baseball where the game has become the domain of American white boys and Hispanics.

Some basketball analysts point to the Dream Team’s European exploits as a pivotal moment in the expansion and popularity of basketball all over the world. Even South Americans like Argentine Manu Ginobili admits the heavy influence of Michael Jordan in his game.

Who would have thought that Spain, the land of two of the world’s premier football clubs FC Barcelona and Real Madrid would also have the world’s basketball team as Pau Gasol and Juan Calderon led their country to the Gold Medal in the last FIBA World Basketball Championship?

And in the former states that once comprised the Republic of Yugoslavia are still known as the European version of Hoosier-ville having brought over players like Toni Kukoc, Vlade Divac, Drazen Petrovic, Dino Radja, and Peja Stojakovic to name a few.

The world has caught up to America in basketball and not only are Americans feeling the blues after getting their behinds handed back to them over the last few years, but so have the white Americans.

For Mullin, the time that he played seems like the last hurrah for whites. Aside from himself, there was the immortal Larry Bird and his teammates Kevin McHale and Danny Ainge, there was Seattle and Phoenix’s Tom Chambers, Cleveland’s Mark Price, Utah’s Stockton, Denver’s Kiki Vandeweghe, Charlotte’s Rex Chapman, and Miami’s Dan Majerle among others. “These guys made a huge impact on the game,” glowed Mullin who also starred for the Indiana Pacers under Bird.

In a 1997 article in Sports Illustrated, it was postulated that the lack of white stars in the NBA has caused a "white inferiority complex." As a consequence, the next white player with a hint of promise would always be tagged as “the Great White Hope” in the vein of Larry Bird who with each passing season seems to resemble one thing – the Only White American Hope.

In the Sports Illustrated article, then New Jersey Nets swingman Keith Van Horn admitted that since being “outted” in high school, he felt the burden of being compared to Bird when in fact, he was comparing his game to a black player, later-Seattle Supersonics player Derrick McKey. “It was hard,” revealed van Horn. “Eventually, it sets you up for failure when you do well but not as well as Larry Bird.”

After a sterling collegiate career and a stint with the Dream Team, Christian Laettner had a couple of good years with the Minnesota Timberwolves before he became a journeyman checking in with teams like the Atlanta Hawks and the Washington Wizards among others. The ever-loquacious Charles Barkley’s verdict on Duke’s one-time Golden Boy, “The only thing Christian Laettner and Larry Bird have in common is they both pee standing up.”

Judge, jury, and executioner.

With the Bobcats’ Morrison and the Magic’s Redick respectively scoring a paltry 12.3 and 6 points per game in their rookie season, it looks like the “next Great White Hope” has already been hung on the University of North Carolina’s freshman sensation Tyler Hansbrough.

And the cycle continues.

Tower Sports All-time White American NBA Team:
We have decided to divide the NBA into two eras with the demarcation line during the rookie year of Larry Bird in 1979-80.

So on one hand, it’s from the George Mikan years all the way to Dave Cowens and on the other, it’s from Larry Bird up to Mike Miller. Each line-up is divvied by positions with a 16-man roster. The line-ups aren’t purely based on stats but team chemistry and what they bring to the game.

1979-80 season up today:
Centers: Brad Miller, Bill Laimbeer, Mark Eaton, and Bill Walton
Forwards: Kevin McHale, Larry Bird, Tom Chambers, Chris Mullin, and Mike Miller, Jack Sikma
Guards: Mark Price, John Stockton, Dan Majerle, Danny Ainge, Jeff Hornacek, and Brent Barry
Coach: Phil Jackson

Honorable Mention: Christian Laettner, Steve Kerr, Jason Williams, Scott
Skiles and Rex Chapman

Scouting report: This team has size, can shoot from the stands if need be, and can play hard-nosed defense. And please… no jokes about these white boys not being able to jump. Tom Chambers, Mike Miller, Thunder Dan, and Brent Barry will tomahawk you into youtube immortality if you’re a step to slow.

Offense: Now if there was any team to run Big Chief Triangle’s offense then this team is it. They’ve got the players to run the post-offense with Brad Miller and Bill Walton and the myriad of cutters and spot up shooters to make the opposition pay.

They can hurt foes too by drawing them out to the three-point line where its harder to defend a player then zip a pass to a cutter through the lane or beat the player off the dribble with some nifty footwork or feints.

Playmaking: Now perhaps save for the Black Hole of Boston and Utah’s Mark Eaton, if you’re not paying attention, the game might suddenly resemble dodgeball as the rock bounces off your head or your chest with some of the game’s best ever passers in this line-up. Players like Chris Mullin, Dan Majerle, Brent Barry, and Danny Ainge can take it to the basket on a series of cuts or drop passes.

Defense: You’ve got some terrific rebounders, shot blockers, and position defenders in this line-up. And if all goes wrong, then there’s that human roadblock in Mark Eaton to teach finger-wags like Dikembe Mutombo a thing or two about rejection.

To say that these boys play like Europeans would be total disrespect to them. The Euros play like these boys can.

Sidebar: Larry Bird
Some people have that defining moment that changes lives. But all-time great ones like Larry Joe Bird seem to have a scrapbook full of them.

Was it leading the Indiana State Sycamores to the NCAA Finals?
Was it winning the Rookie of the Year Award en route to leading Boston in what was then the single largest one year turn around in history (before David Robinson eclipsed the mark with the San Antonio Spurs)?
Was it beating Los Angeles after that call to arms that turned the 1984 Finals around?
Was it his scintillating run of three straight Three-Point Shooting Championships during the All-Star Weekend?
Was it winning three straight MVP Awards?
Was it the Willis Reed moment against Indiana in 1991?
Or was it his stint with the Dream Team in Barcelona arguably his last hurrah as a player?
Or was it coaching the Indiana Pacers to the NBA Finals in 2000 against the Los Angeles Lakers before ultimately falling short?

Perhaps the best testament to Larry Bird is even black players like Kevin Garnett are compared to his all-around game. But still none come close. The Great White Hope is still the Only Hope.

1946-1979 seasons:
Center: Dolph Schayes, Dave Cowens, George Mikan, Tom Boerwinkle,
Forwards: Rick Barry, John Havlicek, Bobby Jones, Jerry Lucas, Gail
Goodrich, Jerry Sloan, Dave DeBusschere, Bob Petit,
Guards: Bob Cousy, Pete Maravich, Jerry West, Bill Sharman
Coach: Arnold “Red” Auerbach

Honorable Mention: Harry Gallatin, Joe Fulks, Dan Issel, Paul Arizin, Paul
Westphal, Tom Heinsohn, Ed McCauley, and Bill Cunningham

Scouting Report: The years from 1946-79 really covers a lot of ground and players particularly the time when the NBA was young and lily-white. Many of the names you’ll find on the team are from the latter part of the coverage when the game was closer to what it is today as opposed to the more grounded played when the Minneapolis Lakers ruled the roost. That doesn’t mean that the players were softer then. Not necessarily. In fact, they had to endure long bus or car rides to games, played in bad shoes, bad weather, and to ugly crowds. The physical training and style of coaching was at its best simple yet highly effective up to this day. There were times when courtside was separated from the stands by chicken fence wire to prevent the fans from hurting the players. It was tough leaving out favorites like the Kangaroo Kid, Billy Cunningham and Paul Westphal who had far superior stats to Jerry Sloan and Bobby Jones. But you need guys who can stop foes from scoring. It certainly isn’t enough to trade baskets to wins games; you need stops.

Offense: Four names. Rick Barry, Gail Goodrich, Jerry West, and Pistol Pete. Four people to shoot the daylights out of the gym. And we haven’t even talked about Hondo or Jerry Lucas.

Playmaking: The game’s original showmen in Bob Cousy and Pete Maravich aren’t here for the halftime tricks show. They are here because they can play. And more importantly, pass the rock. The Cooz has a lifetime average of 18.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 7.5 assists per game. And the Pistol has 24.2 4.2, and 5.4 respectively. And their numbers got better during play-off time. What makes them deadlier is that they aren’t one-dimensional; they can drive to the basket and make a living off drop passes and other dimes. And up front, with Dave DeBusschere, Hondo, and Dave Cowens and Dolph Schayes they have passing-minded players as well.

Defense: But perhaps the best word to describe this line-up is: tough. Plenty tough. Maybe even dirty tough. Not dirty players out to hurt others but those who’re willing to hustle for the plays and do the dirty work that doesn’t make the stat sheet. And these guys have the floor burns and the broken noses to prove it. They were competitors with an ironclad will who would standout in today’s NBA. Now while they may not have any shot blockers supreme, what this team does is challenge every shot. The great thing about All-Star teams is they play the game they way it should be.

Now these boys can also rebound with the best of them. Tom Boerwinkle might not have a Hall of Fame career, but in his years with the Chicago Bulls, he was the certified man in the middle. Along with Dave Cowens, George Mikan, Hondo, Jerry Lucas, and DeBusschere, they can guard the shaded area as well as anyone in any time.

Sidebar: John Havlicek
You’re definitely in good hands with Hondo. Selected by the Cleveland Browns in the 1962 NFL Draft as a wide receiver, the former Ohio State Buckeye chose to go to the Boston Celtics where he served as the chief caretaker of the dynasty when Bill Russell rode off to the sunset. He led then Celts to the 1974 & 76 championships before calling it quits two years later.

Even when Russell was still the main man for the Celts, Hondo was a primetime player on both ends of the floor (see the steal against Philadelphia and the shot against Phoenix in 1976).

His lifetime stats of 20.8 points, 6.3 caroms, and 4.8 assists are healthy by any era.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Just do Consider it

Nike’s Swoosh is one of the most ubiquitous symbols in the history of mankind. It’s right there with the Golden Arches, the peace sign, and the Heroes’ helix if Tim Kring’s blockbuster television series continues to sweep the world off its feet with its psychological thriller take on the superhero genre.

The Swoosh initially begat the day-glo perfection of the Jumpman, Li’l Penny, Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood, and the LeBrons all the way to the latter day shocking images of sneaker murders (where punks murder people to get steal their Jordan kicks), sweat shops in Asia, environment unfriendly shoes where the carcinogenic and toxic content in its manufacture will hasten the death of the planet ala Dean Devlin’s The Day After Tomorrow.

Before you think we’re inciting the burning of shoes or a boycott – I’m clinging on to my Huarache’s and they’ll have to pry them from my cold dead fingers – salvation is at hand for the company that changed advertising, sports marketing, and they way we look at athletes forever.

Nike Considered, the line of these eco-friendly shoes, may be one blatant sales pitch but it’s certainly interesting to check out. This shoe line sprung from the experiments in the Innovative Kitchen where Tinker Hatfield (the genius behind the Air Jordans), Steve McDonald and company used recycled materials, snap-together tools, and water-based adhesives to create some nifty designs.

If you’re the type who needs to be satisfied with a product’s adherence to environmental precautions then know that these shoes use vegetable-tanned leather that eliminates toxic chromium when it turns into waste. They are designed for easy component disassembly when it comes to recycling and have no use for adhesives that are harmful to human workers.

Now lest you think I’ve cribbed notes from the product manual, let’s slip our feet into one of the products out of the Considered assembly line… The Soaker. The bad name aside, it’s a modern-day cross-trainer. The Soaker (check out the pic below) strikes a balance between street and outdoor wear making it perfect for water-sports such as rafting, yachting, kayaking, or even walking. It has portholes to drain water and waffles on the sole to provide traction. And it’s comfortable and stylish.

A word on the traction… the sole is composed of 0.44 rubber compound or “sticky rubber” that works well on a variety of surfaces.

On another front, Nike has plunged into the digital music arena with a partnership with Apple Computer, Inc. to come up with the Nike+iPod sports kit. This isn’t Nike’s first foray into digital music. A few years ago, they were working in concert with Philips to produce the MP3Run (or the “hockey puck” as people affectionately called it), a flash-based player that played music and told you how far you’ve run. It was recalled after a number of glitches.

The second time’s the charm for Nike with its current tie-up with Apple’s revolutionary iPod -- arguably the second-most influential proponent of digital music after Napster – for what is projected to be a better digital workout.

The Nike+ is compatible only with a select line of running shoes (Air Zoom Plus, Nike Shox Turbo V+, Nike Air Zoom Vomero+, Air Span+, Air Max Moto+, and Air Max 180+) outfitted with a sensor in the midsole that communicates information to an iPod nano. The runner gets instant audio feedback including time, distance, speed, calories burned; info that is instantly calculated on the run and can later be stored on your computer! If this is where sneakers are heading then I won’t be surprised if one day they’ll be outfitted with GPS that will point you towards the nearest pizza joint (so much for burning all those calories).

I don’t know if you remember that mid-1990’s Nike ad where the copy reads something to this effect: Until the car. Until that lamppost. Until the next corner. And so on. It was a creative way of interpreting the shoe’s timeless tagline of Just Do It. The Nike+ pushes you harder as you listen to your favorite music while your performance is monitored and measured.

And musically, the iPod tie-up sounds (pun intended) better since the MP3Run contained only 125 songs a serious concern for the audiophile.

No doubt Nike’s latest push will have an impact on consumer thinking with its younger and irreverent mindset. And who knows how this will affect product design? Digital music is making inroads everywhere from personal computers to mobile phones and portable players. Nike Considered in the meantime is consolidating its beachhead with its straightforward mission: Design products that deliver more with less while paying equal attention to performance and sustainability. For Nike Considered, the footwear is lighter as it retains its shelf life durability.

Now if it only costs less.