Thursday, June 25, 2009

NBA Draft 2009

I am painting the back deck of a good friend's house at the moment. Coincidentally this friend grew up with Jamaal Crawford. And Crawford may have even lived at this house for a time in his grade school days. Jamal Crawford texted his high school coach: Coach we are in Atlanta now. I think he will be perfect in ATL with Joe Johnson. Crawford was on KJR with Gas for the Andrew Moritz benefit, which was an amazing hour of radio with all the Seattle basketball royalty and overall community support. My girlfriend's best friend does the site for her brother Andrew. It is: year of the comeback dot blogspot dot com. Moritz won a state championship with Jason The Jet Terry and then came back and won another one without Terry. And actually I am painting another good friends' house who coached Moritz when he was playing Green Lake hoops. The circle continues.

Anyhow, back to Crawford. He mentioned on the radio how excited he was to go to Atlanta. He hasn't felt this good about a team since he got to the lig. Jamal is well spoken, I don't have a clue why he got on Nelly's (Don Nelson) bad side. Nelly is a weird dude. He has been doing that run up the score type of offense for 800 years and it has never born fruit. Some call him an offensive genius. I don't know about that. If it ain't working. Try something else. But you know he may just be a bit wacked like George Karl. Karl decided he didn't like Kendel Gil back in the day. Karl has a history of playing mind games with players for no reason. That is what he did to Gil. Gary and Kendel with Nate was a great group of guards. That was a Supe's team to root for. Ricky Pierce, Eddie Johnson, Derrick McKey, a young Shawn Kemp and don't forget Dana Barros and Benoit Benjamin.

Back to Crawford. He mentioned that he grew up playing with Doug Wrenn and Grant Leep before this became the breeding ground/hotbed of NBA talent. I played against/with Wrenn in my middle school days. He was a nice guy and a hell of a player. My friend Chad was real good friends with Wrenn and they had a killer AAU team. Wrenn was just in some kind of altercation -- a road rage thing in Bellingham where he supposedly flashed a gun at a car. I don't know the details, but it made me a little sad. Wrenn was one of the great talents from the Central District here in Seattle and he played with an even better talent back in the day. A player by the name of Ronald and I remember Doug was kinda like Ronald's sidekick. Its weird Ronald was way better than Doug back in the day, but got into trouble and didn't even play much High School ball. And then the same sorta thing happened with Doug. You would probably bet on Wrenn going to the lig over Brandon Roy back in the day, but Roy is the one that made it to the lig and then some.

The seventh pick. Stephen Curry will be perfect for Oakland/Sanfran.

The third pick. I am pissed that Harden went to the Thunder because he was my favorite player in the draft, but went to my arch nemesis. Now I am worried that things will start to really come together for this young team. Kevin Durant is about to be in the Kobe/Lebron conversation, Westbrook is half Chris Paul half Drunken Master (John Krolik coined that) and then Kyle Weaver is from Washington State and that sucks. So what I am trying to say is that they could be a nice little high flying team next year. James Harden is the guy I have been asking people about leading up to the draft. Some people seem to be uneasy about him, but can never articulate why. They say there is just something about him that won't fit into the NBA game. I completely disagree. He gamed the Huskies twice this year. He is the type of guy who can take over a game. He is tough and long. Not soft and short. Which is I think important to be a guard in the lig. Elise Woodward said he tried, but never really took over any games against the Huskies. Francis Williams said he may actually be way better in the lig because he will be supported by 3 or 4 peers instead being the only guy with maybe help from 1 and a half dudes. I seem to remember the second game toward the end of the season before the PAC 10 tourney where Harden balled the Dawgs -- playing a sort of one on one a la LeBron/Nail Offense from the last two games against the Magic this year's Eastern Conference Finals. The Cavs called it the Nail: LeBron at the top of the key and everyone else spread around the perimeter. Shaq went to Cleveland today. Like a modern day Magic and Kareem or Stockton and Malone. I wonder if LeBron will wear Stockton shorts.

The fifth and the sixth. Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn should be a dynamic duo in the Twin Cities.

I see everything through Sonics colored glasses. Obviously I am going to hate that my favorite player besides John Brockman (Harden) went to the team that used to be my team.

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Best SuperSonics of all time

Pearl Jam made a crowd wait as they watched the end of a Sonics game in the 1996 Finals backstage before a show. And as I look back at the Sonics I think about the history of and people around the Sonics. Once I sat next to Eddie Vedder at a Howard Zinn talk, Zinn said he is not one of those historians that gets lost in the library. He meant that history is not all academic and statistics and that is what this piece is about: a people's history of the Sonics embeded in a top ten list. The first year they were gone, the 08'-09' season, I named my fantasy team Sonicsless in Seattle. Obviously what's done is done, but for die hard Sonics fans, we are grappling with being out of the mix. If you are like me and grew up dribbling a basketball everywhere you went -- well I am talking to you. Even if you are not a Sonics fan, you hate to see the tradition cut off. We support classic uniforms and logo preservation. We are sucker's for nostalgia and fans of tradition. We got the love. The love is shooting hoops until the sun goes down. The love is playing after dark by the light of a street lamp. The love is for the game. That is how a franchise can become something more than corporate. More than a product. More than pro. Here are some quick graphs about the team I remember as if they are still here. This is not a list of Sonics in an academic or statistical sense, just my memories and a few I ripped off from other crazed Sonics fanatics. Here are my top ten Sonics.

Last winter, I was at The Duchess (a Seattle institution) with a couple friends, I looked up from my beer and there he was -- "The Reign Man." It was a quiet night, he was with a few friends. He looked good, like he could still get up and throw it down. As I sat there, a voice flashed through my head. Nobody can do the voodoo like you do. It was former voice of the Sonics, Kevin Calabro's, trademark description of Kemp acrobatics. Kemp was the most powerful game-time dunker I have ever seen. The fact that he couldn't replicate his greatness in the dunk competition added to his legend. He had to be in the he heat of battle to communicate with the basketball Gods. The last time I saw Kemp in a Sonics uni, I was at a Beastie Boys concert in 2004 at Key Arena. Mike D, MCA and Ad-rock wore green and gold Adidas track suits. A gigantic flat screen repeated Kemp dunks in slow motion. Shawn was known for playing pick up ball at the Belltown and Greenlake outdoor court's. Last summer, Kemp talked about the Sonics move on KJR-AM and said, "back in the day no one expected a new arena if they were losing."

In 1999, Charles Barkley called him, "the best player on the planet." In 1996, Payton and the Sonics lost the Finals to Jordan and the Bulls. The Supe's never had a chance due to the goofy new logo and awful brick colored uniforms they wore. Ten years later, in 2006, "The Glove" got his ring -- with the Heat. Although, geographically Miami is about as far from Seattle as one can get within the mainland borders of the country, a picture of Gary Payton hugging the trophy was above the fold in Seattle's oldest newspaper. The biggest GP fan I know, Pistol Peach Cobbler, framed the front page of the Seattle Post - Intelligencer the morning after. Even though, Gary didn't win a championship with us, he will always be a Sonic. At last year's Save Our Sonics rally in front of the Federal Court House, Payton said he would retire his number in Seattle -- no matter what.

I grew up with a kid whose family rented a mother in law apartment to Schrempf when he was at the University of Washington. He led the Husky team that won a co - Pac-10 title in 1985. "Det" played at the Montlake community center courts. Once in 7th grade, after school I walked out with a basketball ready to play on my home court to find a bunch of my class mates crowding around Detlef. He was there to do an Adidas commercial. I remember how impressively maintained his mullet was. It was shorter than most mullets. It was sort of an elegant mullet. I never really paid attention to him when he was an Indiana Pacer, but once he came to the Sonics, it was obvious how valuable he was. Many times he carried the bulk of the load on an off night for Kemp or Payton. He was consistent. It was painful to cut Nate McMillan officially off this list, so I must give him a piece of Det's real estate. I am sure Det won't mind. McMillan never scored a lot and didn't play a ton of minutes. But Magic Johnson said Nate McMillan was the toughest one-on-one defender he ever faced. Nate was Mr. Sonic and in a weird way -- still is. I don't know how that is possible since he coaches the Portland Trailblazers, but that is the feeling. The Sonics started to disintegrate when "Mac-10" left.

My friend Cod grew up going to the Pro Club on the Eastside. He saw "X-Man" there a few times. Once someone threw X a can of soda and when he caught it -- the can looked the size of a golf ball. It's ironic, I had the brew she had the chronic. The Lakers beat the Supersonics. -- lyrics from Ice Cube's song "Good Day." The Lakers beat the Sonics a lot in the 80's. But we had good teams too, just not as good. My dad and I went to game three of the Western Conference Finals in 1987 (May 23: Sat, Lakers 122 @ Seattle 121). We had good seats that night, a few rows back at half court. I clearly saw McDaniel shoot and make a three in the last moments of the game, but the refs did not count it -- it was ruled after the buzzer. Instead of losing by one, we would have won by two. My dad and I walked out of the Coliseum and talked about the last shot, we were certain X-Man got it off in time. Even though we lost, there was a confident certainty we settled into -- that X had prevailed no matter what the official outcome was. I had a six foot X-Man poster in my bedroom when I was a kid.

He won the All - Star game MVP in 1987, was in the dunk competition that year, and a dunk comp. judge this year. Chambers always looked like he had two black eyes. Maybe he was a vampire. All those late nights, big black circles around his eyes. I don't know, he coulda just always had a bit of a broken nose. Banging around catching elbows from Mark Eaton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Chambers was a great scorer with no defense. A big part of me wanted to give this part of the list to Dale Ellis, but Ellis wasn't here long enough to be considered a classic Sonic. Ellis scored a ton from behind the the arc. We called him "D3." He averaged 27.5 points a game in the 88'-89' season. Ellis got a DUI getting off the 520 Lake Washington Blvd. exit and I guess due to that -- ended up leaving the team on bad terms.

Growing up, I heard many stories about "Downtown" Freddie Brown and how many deep bombs he made. Nobody knows the number he drained. He played without the benefit of the three-point line. He led The League in three-point shooting percentage in the 79'-80' season -- the first season the line was adopted. Brown retired in 1984, so he only had a few years at the end of his career to be counted in the books. Of course guys didn't loft them up at the same rate as today. Brown was on the forefront to save the Sonics. His group was trying to build an arena in Renton. Renton is a little south of Seattle and the community would have supported the team there. That is my belief. The geography between Tacoma and Seattle is where the bulk of NBA talent has come from in the area. Doug Christie, Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson all went to Rainier Beach High School which is at the southern tip of Seattle. Jason Terry went to Franklin, Brandon Roy is a Garfield High guy and those are central to south end schools. It is important to know where the community support lies. Our best talent grew up watching the Sonics -- no doubt.

A poster of Gus Williams and DJ still hangs in a friend's basement 30 years after the championship they quarterbacked. said that most late-seventies Sonics games came down to, seven seconds left, Gus Williams with the ball -- he would sink the winning shot in traffic or at the free-throw line. Willams' nickname was "The Wizard" and Johnson's was "DJ." DJ was the Finals MVP in 79'. My knowledge wanes with the players from the championship team. I was born in 1980, so I can't rely on my own memories for this stuff, so I consulted with some tribal elders for further info. DJ was only here a few years and became a prima donna after the 79' season. When DJ hit a game winning shot, one local newspaper writer said, "Its too bad and A-Hole had to take it." I know in later years DJ was a beloved Celtic and Larry Bird said, "he was the best he ever played with." DJ was from the same place as N.W.A., Compton, CA.

Sikma was the guy with a tight white guy jerry curl. He had great numbers and a turn around fadeaway soft touch in the paint jumper a la Patrick Ewing (who later became a Sonic, which is kinda weird to think about -- he was a shell of his former self). On a side note I wanted to name myself Patrick after Patrick Ewing, but my dad said that would be too many ck's and years later I was grateful for his advice because I don't think Paddy Wacker would have worked out too well. Sikma was that second tier center that is so crucial for a team like the 79' Supe's that had the great guard play of Downtown, DJ and The Wizard. I think of Sikma as a Zyrdrunas Ilgauskus type for Cleveland -- and he is quite valuable to the Cavs. I think Lebron would confirm that if asked.

In 1971, Haywood v. N.B.A. broke down the barrier that said, you have to have four years of college to join The League. Early entry is not even given a second thought these days. When Kevin Garnett won the MVP in 2004 he said, "I would like to thank Spencer Haywood." In an interview with The Starting Five blog, Haywood said he almost fell out of his chair when KG gave him props. If you google Haywood, most articles are about his problems and persecution. He is one of those guys that became more known for controversy surrounding him off the court that what he did on it. What he did on it was nothing short of remarkable. He probably had the best statistical individual season in the history of the SuperSonics. Haywood averaged 29 points and 13 rebounds a game in the 72' - 73' season.

He has been here for the highest high's and the lowest low's. From championship to jumping ship, it has been a long strange trip for Wilkins. He was a player, then a player-coach and then went on to coach the team that won Seattle's only professional championship. It must have been weird when he became Vice President of the franchise under new owner Clayton Bennett. It just dawned on me, as I am flushing out the the Sonic memory banks, I wonder if Bennett named the new team in Oklahoma City after "Thunder" Dan Majerle? In the 90's Majerle was a Sonic killer, with his ridiculously frequent half-court bombs. He was a long range weapon in the Sonics' Suns' wars of the 90's. If "Thunder" Dan is who the Thunder are named after, I have to give Bennett credit. That would take some sinister smarts and conniving creativity to come up with that. A rumor has been surging that Clay Bennett will get our championship banners rehung in OKC. I heard a group of fans are ready to go in, to Key Arena, pose as painters and take them down, so they don't go to OKC. They couldn't bear giving our history away. Those banners are all we have left.

Here is some cultural heritage for you. The morning the Sonics left, I ran into Sonic historian, Rod Guevara, at the Sonics team shop. We were both milling around licking our wounds. I was looking at some Supe's socks, but was not going to buy them because the line was too long. Rod balked at getting anything, said he was thinking about it. He ended up bringing home armloads of stuff. Rod sent me six pairs of socks. Men in Rod's family have called each other every year on the anniversary of the 79' championship. They play pieces of the broadcast to each other over the phone. That was their tradition. I was recently at Rod's birthday party and he was wearing Sonics shirt that had big black letters over the logo that said, M.I.A. I drove by Key Arena after the party. The comedy club closed across the street, it was boarded up and covered in amateur graffiti art. It looked like a ghost town. Of course the economy is bad, but the businesses around the Key depended on the Sonics. A lot of fans that have sworn off the NBA are just a little more hurt than me. I still watch because I like the dynamics of different teams, their players' style, coaching philosophy, and geographical attitude. I watch from the outside looking in.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I hate Oklahoma

Nobody can do the voodoo like you do. - Kevin Calabro (former voice of the Sonics) talking about Shawn Kemp

In January a women was doing a Houdini-like underwater trick and nearly drowned during an Oklahoma Thunder halftime show. Luckily she lived. But it is further evidence that the curse of the Sonics is real. A long-time Sonics' season ticket holder actually did the research and claims to have put a curse on the new franchise, he traveled to Oklahoma City to sprinkle green and gold dust in the foyer of the Ford Center -- home of the Thunder. I believe in the curse, because it makes me feel better. I hate Oklahoma for taking my favorite team. From the moment Howard Schultz did the dirty deal with Clayton Bennett they were a doomed franchise. It has been a weird season in Oklahoma City and a sad one in Seattle.

First Clay Bennett and the rest of his group, Professional Basketball Club, lied about trying to keep the team in Seattle. Then when Bennett brought the team to OKC, he went against his own instincts about what makes a good team name. Originally he said plural was important, like, the Suns, Spurs, and Sonics, but he pulled a 180, and named the franchise Thunder. Thunder sounds like a defunct arena football team. He coulda given it a little historical value with a name like Thunderbirds, but he is an aggressively ignorant meat head.

The next step was predictable. Pick the trendiest most overused color in pro sports - teal. Then approve a boring ass logo - a basketball with a couple swoosh marks. They are devoid of character - white washed. Who are they? Recently OKC's mayor complained about the city's lack of identity. But that is not true. OKC is known for being hell on earth. compiled a list of the top ten hells on earth , Oklahoma City was #5 (Baghdad was #10). It's the worst city in America for tornadoes. Its in the middle of Tornado Alley.

OKC is hell for Seattle. When Hearst announced the Seattle Post-Intelligencer would no longer be in hardcopy form, I texted friends, "the P-I is moving to OKC." My friend Anthony wrote back, "Damn!! They're a boom town. What next?" Good question. Maybe the space needle, Pearl Jam, sheesh send Bill Gates too. Might as well box up the pike place market and ship it out with an OKC sticker on it. Seattle in my rearview mirror. Oklahoma is where Seattle goes to die.

Bennett was officially honored for killing the Sonics. He was named person of the year in Oklahoma. Thunder watchblog Bend It Like Bennett had this to say about that. "Yes, bringing the 2-24 shell of a basketball team to OKC at the expense of another region's fan-base, civic heritage and cultural identity is quite possibly the most important achievement in our city's history . . . they (Seattle) weren't "Real America" anyway."

Here is some cultural heritage for you. The morning the Sonics left, I ran into Rod Guevara, at the Sonics team shop. Rod is the biggest Sonics fan I know and its in his blood, his whole family is Sonic crazed. I was looking at some Supe's socks, but was not going to buy them because the line was too long. Rod balked at getting anything, said he was thinking about it. He ended up bringing home armloads of stuff. Rod sent me six pairs of socks.

Men in Rod's family have called each other every year on the anniversary of the day the Supersonics won the whole damn thing. They play pieces of the broadcast to each other over the phone. That was their tradition. A rumor has been surging that Clay Bennett will get our championship banners rehung in OKC. Rod's family plan is to go in (to Key Arena) posing as painters and take them down, so they don't go to OKC. They couldn't bear giving our history away. Those banners are all we have left.

"This would never happen in Europe," says my friend Cod referring to the death of the Sonics. Cod was hurt so badly that he swore off the NBA. If he detaches himself, he risks nothing. He has a safe place as a European soccer and U Dub football fanatic. Fans literally buy into the futbol club and vote on the coach and management's future. Stadiums are not built with public taxes. Its kind of a crazy concept, to not be held hostage by a franchise - thats the American way. College football will not betray him either. The Huskies may have lost every game last year, but they will be back for this season. There is community tradition in that.

A lot of Americans help define themselves by scoffing at the Superbowl, by not giving a rats ass about the value of sports and what teams mean to a community. But for many, sport is part of the fiber, especially a franchise that is 41 years old. Now, I know that little bit by little bit when you lose a piece of your culture it does not repair itself and you lose a bit of your identity and that turns into anger and bitterness towards the enemy - whoever took it from you.

Looks like Kevin Durant is the nail in the pine box. He was the second pick in the draft for the Seattle SuperSonics a couple years ago. Last year he was rookie of the year as a Sonic - their last year. Now he is unconscious with the Thunder, he had 46 points the other night, pushing his season avg. up to 25 points a game. It hurts to hear about how good your ex is doing and dream about what could have been. Reality burns. All we can do is look from the outside in.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Bad Captain America

During the George W. Bush years, we leaned heavily on the Captain America brand. In the late 1980's there were two Captain America's: one good, one bad. The newer bad Cap was supposed to be righteous like the old good Cap, a similar botched comparison took place when the War on Terror was sold as a World War II like struggle. The confusion concealed reality and contributed to accepting otherwise unacceptable policies.

In 1941, before the US entered WW II, comic book writer Joe Simon, and illustrator Jack Kirby created Captain America. His alter ego was, Steve Rogers, a skinny sickly GI. Rogers was rejected by the Army, but because of his big heart was chosen to be a guinea pig and was injected with a super soldier serum. Simon and Kirby, faced with an evil nemesis, depicted a hero whose violence always proved reassuringly right. Cap was good not bogged down by the truth. There was no nod to the Japanese American internment or US equivocation toward the Holocaust, that would have complicated the image of the American freedom fighter. Rogers was devoid of the messy facts, he simply fought the fascists.

In 1988, Rogers quit the job of Cap and became a vigilante. His growing disenchantment with US governmental corruption, mirroring the mood of the country, was a decisive factor in his resignation. A new blood thirsty cavalier character named John Walker was his replacement, the bad Cap. Mark Gruenwald, the psycho Cap saga writer, made a hero that was patriotic, but not admirable. Walker was part of a wave of psychologically troubled antiheroes introduced in the late 80's. He was the type for teens that grew up watching Apocalypse Now, Platoon and Full Metal Jacket. They knew about the Iran-Contra affair and watched Oliver North testify on TV. Generation X had come of age, they were cynical and proud of it.

The Good Comics blog described a Walker scene as, a crazy blood frenzy, and freakish. “Walker used a bad guy’s body as a human shield to protect him from gunfire."  At nine years old, that image irked me. I became unnerved by the convergence of zeal and homicide. At stake was this great state gone wrong and its one time fascist nemesis. The black and white comic world turned grey and the classic patriotic symbol suffered an identity crisis. Rogers used his shield to deflect gunfire and threw it like a boomerang, whacking the gun out of a Nazi soldier's grasp, and Walker used his shield as a guillotine; slicing and stabbing his way through the world. This neophyte transformed the shield from protector to slayer.

For the first six years of the Bush era, it seemed as if the original icon was hovering above. Almost everyone was going along with the War on Terror and anti-Arab crusade. Engaging a standing army with slate wool uniforms was no longer in the cards. Skipped was the fact that our military would fight a guerrilla, and civilian insurgency.

Let's look at this scenario as if it was a comic. Once an Iraq War veteran was asked to appear as the good Cap. On paper, he was to operate on the moral high ground, but was put in a position of duality. He didn’t want to, as he put it, “hand out candy to kids when he had just blown up the house across the street.” The soldier arrived in Falluja soon after Blackwater contractors were burned and hung from a bridge.  During the day he gave candy to kids and talked with locals, but at night he called in bombs. He stopped talking with locals. He was the enemy, not the candy man. The fairy tale of walking through the desert helping the Iraqi's didn't square with the reality of blowing them to bits.

By the early 90's Steve Rogers was back as Captain America and Walker exited the series. Rogers was killed in 2007, and his WWII sidekick, Bucky, took up the mantle of Captain America. Ed Brubaker, the death of Cap series writer, said that the left-wing fans wanted Cap to stand up and be out front against the Bush administration and right wing fans wanted Cap fighting in Baghdad, punching out Saddam. Our actions pinball back and forth between, freeing the oppressed and working as the world's bully.

The good Cap and bad Cap compete in the popular mind. The weird dualism in this icon reveals something, generalizations don't get at, a trippy unrealized attempt to integrate right and might -- the great democracy morphed into a hyperpower, leaving the relationship between might and right unsettled and glossed over by pieties about flag and country.

The "human shield" image is from issue number 335 of Captain America.

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