Monday, June 29, 2009


Forgive me. The death of Michael Jackson has been played out for a minute, but it remains a developing story. I'm tired of hearing about it and that's probably because I haven't talked about it. So if you've heard about it and talked about it and had enough, good for you. I hope that tomorrow's breaking news gives you chills the way Michael's life and death did so many people.

I'm not interested in where Mike's kids are going. They have a big family. Those kids will be fine under the circumstances. They will be Jackson's for it's worth. His money and his things aren't really my business. I've never seen any of it. My reason for still thinking about him are same reasons I obsessed over the icon as a child. Not like a Never Never Land child. More like a nappy headed funk loving child. I was into Michael Jackson for the music. For the simple thriller of human nature.

I just want him to rest in peace, which is impossible with everybody still talking about it. So once again, forgive me. But I don't have to discuss the controversy. I want you to understand why I'm still talking about Michael Jackson because it is time to move on.

I've accepted his death. I never met him so I won't miss him like everyone in the world is claiming to do. The part I loved the most about MJ still lives one.

When I heard the news I immediately started jammin' some of his greatest hits. I started with my favorite, Rock With You, from the Off the Wall record. I was no where near ready for what would come next.

First MTV started their Michael Jackson Marathon. Then BET, taking note as usual, began "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough". The songs, the videos, the reactions and stories from the people who knew him brought back some Michael Jackson excitement that most of us hadn't experienced since he was selling out stadiums in the early 90s. My older friends and relatives were done with Michael after Bad, some even after Thriller.

No one hipped me to Michael until 95. I'mma just be straight up. I was born in 1989 which would mean I can't even identify with the release of the aforementioned classics. But I remember Invincible. I bought it with some money I'm sure my mom gave me. I jammed it pretty hard. Mike was just catchy like that. Laugh out loud and keep reading.

I may have been 7 or 8. For whatever reason I still had coloring books with characters who rocked the Afro. I used the brown crayola for most of the books because I was reinventing the Jackson 5 with a purpose. I actually listened to a few of those songs. And for a long time, I was consumed by Michael Jackson. Not the man, the artist. Imagine how relieving it was for a 7 year old kid to hear that ABC was simple as 1 2 3. It even had me thinking love was easy.

I grew up and grew out of my Jackson phase. R&B and Soul was really hot at the time. The Fugees, who also left us too soon, were sort of brilliant. Boyz 2 Men held it down. They paved the way for the Jagged Edges, Dru Hills and 112s of the world. Maybe I was too old to color and cut out characters for them. Perhaps none of the acts that have succeeded the Jackson eras (NOTE: ERAS = 70s, 80s, 90s) measure up to the artistic genius that lived in Michael Jackson.

This past weekend's BET Awards could argue that though. How could I forget about Maxwell? It's only a little lame if you didn't see it since they will re air it at least 20 times. The moment that eclipsed all Michael Jackson moments for me came when Jamie Foxx and Ne-Yo performed the Jackson 5's, I'll Be There. What a perfect way to cap off the perfect opportunity to tribute the King. They did an exceptional job, perhaps among the hugest moments in their careers. Foxx obviously has done this before for Ray Charles. Ne-Yo, with his Michael Jackson like hat in his hand, red jacket and all, was the image of the week hands down. RIP Michael Jackson

Since he's gone now, there isn't really a lot to talk about in regard to the man himself. Fortunate for me, there's music to be played for the ages.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Don't Phil it up...

Bethpage "Black" was a name fit perfect for the scene of the U.S. Open that wrapped up on Monday. The first round teed off on Thursday before being prolonged by the rain. This Open will be remembered as one of the darkest, ugliest Majors in recent history. But it gets uglier.

The course had experienced rain in 16 of the past 19 days, which made it really tough to putt the ball well. Or maybe not. It was hard to call after seeing so many unbelievable shots, some a little wide without a decent break, some just short and not hit well enough. Their was still a clear effect from the rain on what is known to be such a difficult course.

Unfamiliar names like Lucas Glover and Ricky Barnes are the ones to remember after the tournament. They were the last men standing before Glover made par to take a two stroke victory in the Open. Barnes shot a second place 2-under along with 882nd ranked David Duval, who some people vaguely remember from an 8 year radar hiatus. Of course there was a another who tied for runner-up, a guy who has proved to be great at holding that position, Phil Mickelson. As the sentimental favorite for what I would assume every sports fan who's a sucker for a tear jerker, Mickelson just could not lose this tournament. The color of the mood in golf has been pink since Phil announced that his wife Amy was diagnosed with breast cancer. He wore the cancer ribbon on hit hats and rode the momentum of the crowd until it just wasn't enough. Only on a black course.

Tiger Woods' even par performance won't be thought of as a wonderfully played 63 on 72 wholes, with a failed putter on wet grass. This is the consensus favorite in every tournament whether you like him or not, but we won't even discuss how dark it was for him at Bethpage.

Woods won the tournament a year ago in what went down as one of the Top 5 Tiger Moments in history. It probably would be cool to have Top 5 Moments that people actually refer to as history. My favorite Tiger Moment took place in the 2001 Masters when he hit an opening round eagle shot on 13 that found its way into a creek (he bogeyed). Then he ended the final round with one of the all-time most amazing birdie shots on the 16th whole. The ball went up the slope and down into the whole after halting for at least 2 seconds, just to suspend the inevitable.

As unpopular as this will sound, that shot by Woods reminds me of Mickelson's image as a golfer in essence. He goes up, and as he falls, he gives the people the notion he won't go down. Then he does. There is no denying that he has had a wonderful career, with huge success on and off the course. He's a model for how the game should be approached and a gentleman among gentlemen... A champion among champions. But just as well, he's the 2nd best golfer in the world and more times than anyone else who has ever played.

Shall we discuss five distinguishing moments in Mickelson's career?

We can start with Monday when he made history of his own. He set the record for most 2nd place finishes in Majors (5), all of which coming at the U.S. Open. On Monday, he hit an eagle on the par-5 13th whole. I had given him the victory like I did in 2006, at this same tournament, in this same state. Remember that collapse? Too bad the final round is not shortened to 13 wholes, but even still, Phil doesn't seem to be able to handle that particular moment. He bogeyed 15, which was by far the hardest whole on the course. Then he bogeyed a gimme on 17. That kind of summed it all. As great as he plays and as great as he is, he's bogey when it matters most. He's been 2nd in more Majors that he's won. And even though he finished two strokes above Tiger on Monday, he remains in a seat not next to him, but behind him... At #2.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Great Debate

In the beginning of Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Dwight Howard was a man on a mission. He dominated the Lakers' big men, not offensively, but in the ways that it mattered most. The hustle plays. He wracked up a statistic that is often over looked by points. Howard finished the game with 21 rebounds, while his 16 points hardly complimented that.

The game, unfortunate for the Magic, turned south when that same man could not complete his mission. Orlando lost not only on the free throw line, in which they missed 15. But it was a complete gag order sent straight from the Master of Panic himself, Stan Van Gundy.

"I'll have to look at the play but it will haunt me for a long time," said Stan Van.

The play was simple and everyone watching could have anticipated what Van Gundy would presumably do. Up three following two critical missed Dwight Howard free throws, with 11 seconds remaining in regulation, the Magic would have to prevent the Lakers from tying the game. I assume at whatever cost. But they didn't.

Instead of electing to foul and put the Lakers on the free throw line, the Magic fell victim to a simple full court press break and were eventually broken by Derek Fisher.

Meanwhile, I was on facebook debating sports the way I usually do. My cousin, who I simply refer to as Jay objected when I referred to Dwight Howard as great. A statement that I would retrieve by the end of Game 4, but it certainly fueled a very interesting discussion.

Jay is at least 10 years my elder so it goes without saying that I respect him and his opinions. But at this moment in particular, we disagreed wholeheartedly. The debate in a nut shell consisted of what makes a great player. I won't speak for Jay, cause as I mentioned he's older than I am and can speak for himself. But I will lend my opinion.

Greatness consists of qualities untaught, unlearned, and apparently sometimes unappreciated. There has to be an ability to separate talent from greatness. You can be great with little talent, just as you can be talented and not so great. I could not imagine myself giving the nod to a player who leads his team in scoring and receives all the accolades that come with the honor, but does not do a single thing to better those around him and lift the team to the "great" standards that are held to the individual.

However, I can recognize, and greatly appreciate the players who are uplifting in every since of the word. Who is the old reliable? Who is the teammate you can count on? Is it your star player? Is it anybody?

Jay used Shane Battier as an example for a player who most teams would love to have, but is not considered great. I totally understand why he would say that. But he is wrong and so is anyone who doesn't quite understand how broad the definition of great is. Shane will never appear in an all star game. Nor will he ever be recognized by the voters of the Hall of Fame. But great doesn't need any of that.

I looked up the word that my cousin and I have been throwing around so aimlessly. And I discovered a reason why neither of our positions on great are incorrect but simply defined in two different ways.

Great: 1. distinguished; famous
2. of noble or lofty character
3. unusual merit; very admirable
4.important; highly significant or consequential

Jay and I debated the greatness of Dirk Nowitzki and compared it to the lack there of for Shane Battier. But that is unfair after reading the definitions. We could easily make the argument that Battier is not distinguished or famous the way Dirk is. But his noble and lofty character is unquestionable. His unusual merit and admirability cannot be debated. His importance and significance are undeniable if you have ever paid attention to him play.

I said Dirk was not great but mainly because of the greater standard that he his held to, which may be unfair to him. I watched the Dallas Mavericks take a convincing and commanding 2-0 lead in the 2006 NBA Finals before they coughed it up to what was evidently a far greater team. I have watched Dirk ridicule his teammates for their bad decisions on the court while the truth was he was unable to take advantage of the biggest opportunity of his career.

I have also watched Shane Battier quietly go about his business with the kind of character that spells out a true winner, while at the same time never distinguishing him or making him famous. True enough neither player has ever won anything to brag about, which leads me to wonder how you could think one is greater than the other simply off of talent alone.

Derek Fisher came up in the discussion a few times. Initially before his heroics in Game 4 and eventually shortly there after. Jay referred to him as replaceable and likened him with names such as Howard Eisley and Matt Maloney. I know who those guys are. But do you? Seriously, this is a great debate even if we never reach a consensus as to what great really means. Just be careful as to how narrowly measure it and be sure to think outside the box. That would be, in a word... great.

Friday, June 5, 2009


For someone who did not see Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night, it may be rather easy for them to judge the game by the statistics. Why not? The stats reveal the most important facts of the game, including the final score. But there is more to it than that.

If you read the box score you will notice how horrible the perimeter shooters were for the Orlando Magic. Hedo Turkgolu, Rashard Lewis, Mikael Pietrus and Rafer Alston (the same shooters that many gushed about at the end of the Eastern Conference Finals) combined for a pitiful 12-43 shooting from the field. Funny enough, not many people are wowed by that statistic.

We have all acknowledged Kobe Bryant's Finals career-high of 40 points, with eight rebounds and eight assists to go with it. There was more attention given to this statistically staggering performance, as if we just discovered Kobe and didn't expect him to play this way.

If you did see the game, tell your friends who didn't that the rebounding dissimilarity that favored the Lakers 55-41 appeared to be an even bigger advantage than the recap can tell.

Since the Lakers committed more fouls than the Magic and matched them in turnovers, some may wonder how the Magic will respond in a game in which they got spanked, that for once cannot be blamed on a single bit of officiating.

Magic fans will spend the next couple of days worrying about why Dwight Howard only attempted 6 shots particularly in a game that consisted of such poor, such desperate shooting by his supporting cast. But they should catch the highlights.

Howard was swarmed in the paint by the Lakers full line-up of big men, while those perimeter guys missed wide open shots. You want those statistics for real? I'll spare you.

No secret the Lakers more than doubled the Magic's production in the paint (56-22). That in no way is the most mind-boggling statistic. Take a look at the final score. Just realize that there is more to it than that.

100-75. It sounds pretty lopsided but it's worse than that. Not because the Magic played so poorly or because the Lakers played so great. Orlando is not in trouble because they are facing enough big men to offset their best player in Dwight Howard, or because the LA bench is deeper than the blue sea.

It goes without saying that the Lakers are a far better team than the Cavs who recorded the best record in the regular season and post season prior to their defeat. The Magic should not worry that Thursday night's outing was the wake-up call of the season. They might want to even ignore the aforementioned stats that some may consider a fluke, giving account to their superb shooting throughout the season.

There is no doubting the Magic will respond to the whooping with possibly some whooping of there own. Don't be surprised if the Magic win a couple games, maybe even three.

But one statistic that never concerned the Magic, now involves them directly:

43-0. That is Phil Jackson's record when winning the first game of a playoff series, even though I'm not buying anybody's logic as to the reasons why he has been able to do this.

The problem for the Magic is that he has. And not only that, he has won the first game of this series (and in fashion at that). Consider Orlando buried not because they are geographically at the bottom of the U.S. map, but because they are now apart of the 0 in the soon-to-be 44-0 Phil Jackson statistic.

Coach Stan Van Gundy won't hear of any voodoo curse placed on his team because of the past victims of the Zen Master. Though he will admit his resume hardly measures up to his counterpart's.

"The guy has won more playoff series than I have coached in playoff games. We'll just see what happens." Van Gundy said this prior to Game 1, then we saw what happened.

I anticipate Stan Van coaching up his team the way he always does and them responding in a way that will be engaging enough to maintain our interests. But don't feel bad if you turn your attention elsewhere.

Battling fate is tough for anyone. The Magic loss the first game but there is more to it than that. They will just have to learn the hard way, like the previous 43.