Posts Tagged ‘NBA’

NBA teams have fun with casino nights – fans meet players, teams give back to community

November 7, 2014
dwight howard casino night

Dwight Howard at Lakers Casino Night in 2013.

Be it for money or some crazy prop bet involving a cowboy hat and a can of whipped cream, gambling has always been a part of sports.

Famous athletes like Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan have even made names for themselves as casino high rollers, with the former once telling ESPN that he has won over $700,000 during a single weekend of playing blackjack.

Beyond the stars who take the occasional – and sometimes not-so-occasional – visit to the blackjack and poker tables, casinos have also grown to become a large part of the NBA. Although the league has stayed away from casinos for a large part of its existence, restrictions have loosened in recent years. In fact, NBA spokesman Michael Bass has told NJ.com that 28 of the league’s 30 teams have inked sponsorship deals with casinos.

The recent entry of online gaming to New Jersey has even led to the Philadelphia 76ers signing a deal with an online gaming entity. What’s next, the Orlando Magic partnering up with Alchemy Bet – a gaming company that operates the online casino site Pocket Fruity? Or would the Washington “Wizards” make for a better thematic fit?

The NBA and its teams have also embraced the concept of casino night. Before you get into a tizzy, casino nights aren’t all about playing craps and pouring money into slot machines. They’re more like fan parties and charity fundraising events wrapped in the allure and excitement of a casino atmosphere. A casino night is a chance for teams to give back to the community and let fans meet their hardcourt heroes at the same time.

The Los Angeles Lakers used their 2013 casino night event to raise money for the Lakers Youth Foundation. By all accounts the star-studded event was a success, raising a grand total of $200,000. The 2013 edition of the Atlanta Hawks’ annual casino night was also held to raise money for the Atlanta Hawks Foundation’s community programming and grant-giving initiatives. The Hawks have already started selling tickets for this year’s casino night. A pretty noble gesture, and a heck of a lot of fun, too.

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Another reason to hate Michael Wilbon – he advocates tanking – losing on purpose.

November 1, 2013

Another reason to hate Michael Wilbon – he advocates tanking – losing on purpose. He says you basically have to lose to get a great player in the NBA Draft. That about says it all about him. Wilbon is a loser.

At least we have the self-righteous Mike Wise here in D.C. It’s one thing for him to have his opinions on the Redskins name, but he tries to pompously shove it down everyone’s throat.

ESPN’s feature of NBA players at Great Wall of China forgot Washington Bullets’ trip in 1979

October 17, 2013

I had to mention that ESPN’s piece on NBA players visiting the Great Wall of China failed to mention that the Washington Bullets were the first team to do so back in 1979, which was very significant at the time. If any other NBA team had been there, ESPN would have mentioned it. It’s a shame that they have forgotten the Washington Bullets.

Never been busier in my life but I felt I had to post this.

Has Michael Wilbon jumped the shark?

June 9, 2011

Is Michael Wilbon going the way of Keith Olbermann?  With his fame he has become progressively more arrogant on the air.  Today on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, he told Tony Kornheiser, “How pathetic.  A New Yorker slurping a five-year old Washington D.C. franchise? Pathetic.”  Wait, what? Both Wilbon and Kornheiser have spent more than 30 years in D.C. and are constantly disassociating themselves from the city and talking about how they love their hometowns, Chicago and New York.  But at what point do you become a Washingtonian? Kornheiser has spent more than half his sports fan life in D.C., because you don’t really become a fan until you’re at least around 7. Wilbon has spent about 30 of his 45 years as a sports fan in D.C.   Wilbon, you have it wrong.  Anyone can like the Yankees (i.e. fair weather fans). You get more respect when you root for a perennial loser rather than jumping on bandwagons.  And all Kornheiser did was mention that it was the anniversary of Stephen Strasburg’s major league debut.  It’s weird seeing Wilbon up there on NBA panels with experts like Jon Barry and Magic Johnson.  Why isn’t Jalen Rose up there instead of Wilbon?  He thinks the more you yell, the more accurate your opinions are.  It’s a shame, because Wilbon and Kornheiser both used to be good writers.  June 9, 2011 – Wilbon jumps the shark.

Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Chris Webber: the Three Blind Mice

May 6, 2009

I’ve been watching the NBA on TNT for many years now and the crew of Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Ernie Johnson are usually entertaining, and sometimes even correct about what they say.  Last night, Barkley, Smith, and Chris Webber made fools of themselves.  They took what Dirk Nowitzki said totally out of context and criticized him mercilessly for no reason.  

In Game 1 of the Denver Nuggets-Dallas Mavericks series, Kenyon Martin shoved Dirk Nowitzki to the ground hard and got a flagrant foul.  Then Barkley, Smith, and Webber – the Three Blind Mice – criticized Nowitzki for not doing anything.  However, if Dirk had punched Martin he would have been thrown out of the game and they would have criticized him for that. 

Less skilled players have always tried to provoke stars in hockey to get them to retaliate but thankfully the NHL has cracked down on that.  It doesn’t happen as much in the NBA but there is still a big danger that retaliating will get you thrown out.  During Game 4 of a playoff series in 2007, Robert Horry of the Spurs made a flagrant foul on Steve Nash of the Suns, which got Horry ejected from games 5 and 6, but the Suns’ Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw got ejected for Game 5 for leaving the bench, and the Spurs won the final two games of the series.  So it would have been stupid for Dirk to react to the incident.  Just last week the Magic’s Dwight Howard got ejected for a game for throwing an elbow.

Then they showed a clip of Nowitzki talking about three of the Nuggets defenders.  “I think Birdman does a good job because he’s so long.  He contests my shot.  Martin and Nene are stronger and they try to body me more and Birdman’s just long and when I shoot he can still jump up there and contest the shot.  So, yeah, they’ve got three very good defenders.” 

The Three Blind Mice went off about how terrible it was for Nowitzki to say that, misquoting him and implying that the quote meant that they could stop him, and criticizing him for not trash talking.  

First of all, what Dirk said was no different than what any player on any team in any sport says all the time.  He is complementing the other team because to do the opposite would result in bulletin board material that could potentially fire up the opponents.  If he had done what the Three Blind Mice wanted him to do, he would have been criticized for saying something stupid. 

Second, Nene, Kenyon Martin, and Chris Andersen are a very good trio of big men.  The Three Blind Mice are right that they can’t guard Dirk but Nowitzki was just factually describing that they are good players.  Take a look at Dirk’s quote again and now look at how the three former players interpreted it.  

Chris Webber:  “Dirk is scared of a defender.  I’ll tell you why I could stop him.  I can stop him because he got that push.”  Really?  Because someone pushed Nowitzki and got a flagrant foul that means that you could stop him, Chris?  CWebb, there is no way you could stop Dirk.  If he reacted then he would have risked being kicked out of the game.  “I’ve never heard a scorer, I’ve never heard a true warrior, a dog, say ‘this guy can check me.’  First of all, Nowitzki didn’t say, ‘this guy can check me.’  He said they were good defenders.  This quote is no different than any other quote ever.  “I’m saying that he doesn’t want to get pushed anymore so he’s conceding and being very nice and saying they are the best ever.  I’m just shocked.”  The best ever?  Look at Nowitzki’s quote again.  What you say is a crock.  Get rid of your alligator shoes and practice your commentary.

Chris, you say some intelligent things, but this time you sounded idiotic.  Dirk’s quote was probably a reply to a question like this: “Can you talk about the big men that are defending you – Birdman, Nene, and Martin?  What makes them hard to play against?” 

Kenny Smith:  “It feeds the stereotype that this guy is playing a little soft.”  On what Dirk said:  “I’ve never heard that before.  So then Charles chimed in and he’s never heard that from a great MVP.  I’ve never heard a great scorer say that guys can guard me.  This is the most I’ve ever heard.  I’ve heard a guy go, ‘they do a great job of trying to guard me but I can hit the shot that I want every time.’  Look at the quote again, Kenny.  

Charles Barkley:  “That pisses me off every time I hear that.  If a guy even thought he could guard me I’d tell him, ‘I’m going to kick your ass tonight.’  Grandma Barkley would say, ‘You can’t let people tell you they can stop you.’  Then he started to bring up “Grandma Nowitzki” before E.J. stopped him.  First of all, the Nuggets defenders never said they could stop Dirk and Dirk never said they could stop him.  Barkley went on:  “One of the keys to being a great player is having so much confidence in yourself…for Dirk to say that guys can stop him, that’s just not cool…There might be one guy who can stop you or slow you down, but three can’t.”  Nowitzki never said guys could stop him.  Look at the quote again.    

Webber went on, “You can’t guard me!”  Smith replied, “And that’s what you’re supposed to say.”  Webber said he’s played with a lot of great players and “never heard one of them say you can check me.”  Wrong, Webber.  This quote is no different than millions that have been said throughout the years.  Dirk did NOT say, “you can check me.”  He said Birdman’s length poses a problem while the other two are more power players.  They are good defenders.  That’s it.  Nothing more, nothing less.  

Shame on Ernie Johnson for not offering up a different opinion until much later in the show.  

Part of the problem with sports as entertainment is that productivity, or winning doesn’t matter.  It just matters how you do something – what kind of style you have.  It’s why Shaquille O’Neil is considered a better player than Hakeem Olajuwon, when Hakeem was much better.  Shaq never won a title without all-time greats alongside him.  Does Shaq have ANY offensive moves?  He loves to talk, though.  It’s why Dwight Howard is considered a better player than Yao Ming when Ming is a much better center.  Howard is more gregarious and Yao is more humble.  Respect other cultures and understand that players from Europe and Asia can still be great players without shouting it from the mountaintop.  

David Robinson was called “soft” because he didn’t trash talk and didn’t have tons of tattoos. How could one of the best rebounders and shot blockers in NBA history be soft?  All Robinson did was win the Rookie of the Year, win a gold medal as part of the Dream Team, win two NBA titles, win the NBA MVP, was named Defensive Player of the Year and in 1994 scored 71 points in the final game to win the scoring title.  Robinson was named one of the top 50 players in NBA history. 

It’s why Art Monk, one of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history, took 8 years to make it to the NFL Hall of Fame (see http://www.coachmike.net/artmonk.php and www.myredskinsblog.com).  He was modest and didn’t trash talk, and for that reason, many didn’t like him.  

Webber:  You helped dismantle the Washington Bullets franchise and your antics were part of the reason they changed their name to the Wizards.  Abe traded you away, young for old, big for small, just to get rid of you to have solid citizens.  Who are you to criticize Dirk?  At least he made it to the finals.  You were known as a talented player who was afraid to take big shots during crunch time and when you did take those shots they were jumpers.  You pretend that you are tough but you grew up privileged, going to a cushy private school in a nice area. 

Smith:  You were an NBA bust until you got on the Rockets, and then it was Hakeem’s team.  You were a 3-point shooter, not a point guard.  Rookie Sam Cassell was brought in during crunch time during the NBA finals in ’94 and then again in ’95 while you were on the bench.  You’re a good commentator now but for many years you were painful to listen to on TNT and the way you talk doesn’t seem 100% real or authentic. 

Barkley:  You recently said that your DWI last year was the best thing that could have happened to you because you did it countless times and would have kept doing it until you got caught.  Really?  You’re almost 50 and you didn’t realize you should be drinking and driving? You admit that you would have continued to do it if you hadn’t gotten caught?  Maybe if you had played more defense you would have won an NBA title.  Late in your career you relied on the 3-point shot too much.  Yes, you’re entertaining but half the stuff you say is wrong.  But you say it with authority and that’s enough for most people.  

For the record, Dirk had 28 points and 10 rebounds against Denver in Game 1 and 35 points in Game 2.   The Mavs will probably lose the series to the Nuggets after being down 2-0 but not because of Dirk.  The Nuggets have the better team.  

***

Now that I’ve had a day to think about it, I stand by everything I wrote. What Barkley, Smith, and Webber said was much worse than ridiculous and inaccurate.  

However, overall these guys are usually good commentators and entertaining.  Also, I feel sorry for anyone under 25 because they didn’t get to see Barkley in his prime and he was unbelievable the way he ran the floor, coast to coast, dribbling the ball for dunks. Smith was a good player and a great three-point shooter.  Webber was a great player though he could have been better.  He should have had an NBA title but didn’t get one through no fault of his own.  The refs robbed the Kings of that series vs. the Lakers in 2002 and the Kings would have beaten the Nets in the finals.

As for Dirk, he has won 9 playoff series.  Compare the number of playoff series Nowitzki has won compared with other superstars:

Nowitzki  – 9

Yao Ming – 1

Carmelo Anthony – 1

Tracy McGrady – 0

Michael, Magic, Larry…and Dr. J

December 4, 2008

It always bothers me when people talk about Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan as the three players who revitalized the NBA in the 1980s, and Dr. J doesn’t get as much respect.  Of course, Julius Erving played some of his best years in the ABA in the mid 70s and then in the NBA in the late 70s.  Erving had already peaked by the early 80s but was still a great player.  I believe that Dr. J was just as great a player as Bird overall. 

 

Both were great scorers – Dr. J created his own shot while Bird was more of a jump shooter.  Both were good rebounders.  Bird was a better passer, but Dr. J was a better defender.  But this idea that Magic, Bird and Jordan should be mentioned as a triumvirate without including Dr. J is not right.  Dr. J changed the way the game was played.  Bird did too, as a great passing forward, but Dr. J was Michael Jordan before MJ. 

 

Jordan was clearly the best of the four, Magic was second, also changing the way the game was played as a tall point guard who could make great no-look passes and run the floor.  While Bird won three NBA championships to Erving’s one, Erving’s teams made three other appearances in the NBA finals and won two ABA championships.  I maintain that Dr. J should be considered on the same level as Bird, and was even more influential than Bird in the acrobatic way he played the game above the rim. 

Lakers-Celtics Rivalry

December 4, 2008

The L.A. Lakers-Boston Celtics matchup in the 2008 NBA Finals reminded us of the great Lakers-Celtics rivalry of the 1980s.  The games in the 1980s were spectacular and those teams made the NBA more popular than ever.  But the media seem to forget that the Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers also had a great rivalry in the 1980s.  In fact, the Lakers and Sixers played each other in the NBA finals the same number of times (three) that the Lakers and Celtics played each other in the finals.  It just seems like the Lakers and Celtics played each other more often, because the Lakers won five championships in the 80s, the Celtics won three, and the Sixers had one. 

 

Speaking of the Celtics, hearing about Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen being called the “Big Three” and being compared with the “Big Three” of the Celtics in the 1980s also gets tiresome.  Not because the current Celtics stars don’t stack up – they do, talent-wise (whether they could beat the 80s Celtics is debatable).  But the Celtics of the 1980s were more than just the Big Three of Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish.  As much as I rooted against them (and I hated them like I hated the Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees, UNC basketball and Duke basketball), I have to admit that they had other players who were equally as important as Parish.  Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge were just as important as Parish, especially since the Celtics already had great front court players in Bird and McHale.  (Slam Magazine agrees that Parish wasn’t so much better than Dennis Johnson – on its top 75 NBA players of all time as of 2003, Johnson comes in at 63 whereas Parish was 56th).

 

Back to the Lakers.  The teams of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neil, who won three consecutive championships from 2000 to 2002, were nowhere near as good as the Lakers of the 1980s.  In 2002, the Sacramento Kings were a better team than the Kobe-Shaq Lakers, but the referees called the infamous Game 6 of the Western Conference finals overwhelmingly in favor of L.A., awarding the Lakers 27 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter to the Kings nine.  Most fans know that something wasn’t right in that game. 

 

But less memorable was the fact that two years earlier, the Lakers beat the Portland Trail Blazers in game 7 of the Western Conference Finals after being down by 15.  Of course, the Lakers played great and the Blazers choked.  However, at the same time there were a whole lot of bad calls made against the Blazers, probably because the NBA wanted the more glamorous, big market Lakers to advance.  The Lakers were granted 37 free throws in that game while the Blazers got 16.  You can only argue so much that the team that penetrates more gets more favorable calls because the 37-16 disparity was too great. 

 

Back to the point, though, that not only were two of Shaq and Kobe’s championships possibly tainted, but they simply wouldn’t have stacked up against Magic, Kareem, James Worthy, Michael Cooper, Byron Scott and A.C. Green.  Finally, the teams the Kobe-Shaq Lakers beat – the New Jersey Nets, 76ers, and Indiana Pacers were not teams for the ages, and in 2004 they lost to the good but not great Detroit Pistons.  Meanwhile, in the 80s, the Lakers beat Dr. J’s Sixers twice, Bird’s Celtics twice, and Isaiah Thomas’ Pistons once.

Hire Jeff Van Gundy to Coach the Washington Wizards

December 3, 2008

On November 24, I was sitting at my laptop putting some of the final touches on the first set of entries for my blog.  I decided that I needed to write that the Washington Wizards should fire coach Eddie Jordan and hire Jeff Van Gundy.  Then, on Sportscenter, I saw that the Wizards had just fired Jordan after his team’s 1-10 start and replaced him with interim head coach Ed Tapscott, who last was a head coach in 1990 for American University.

 

Jordan did a good job overall, leading the Wizards to the playoffs in each of the last four seasons although the Wizards only advanced past the first round of the playoffs once, and that was in his second year.  However, in his 6th season with the team, the Wizards apparently tuned Jordan out, and needed to get rid of a losing attitude.  Injured all-star Gilbert Arenas said it wouldn’t be so bad if the Wizards reached the lottery.  “If this is one of those years we don’t make the playoffs, we’re one of those teams that’s in last place the whole year — you know that’s what happened to San Antonio and that’s how they got Tim Duncan. If that happens with us, it’s for the better.”

 

This attitude of sacrificing the present for the future is a loser mindset.  The Bullets already tried that around 1990 after most of the 80s being, you guessed it, just like the last 5 years – right around .500 with a bunch of playoff appearances.  It took the franchise a decade and a half to recover.  Those mediocre teams in the 80s were viewed as failures because the Bullets had won the NBA championship in 1978 and appeared in the finals three other times in the 70s.  In the 1980s, the Wizards were remarkably consistent, winning between 39 and 43 games each year except once, making the playoffs 7 out of 10 years. 

 

So the Bullets tried to rebuild and went for the lottery.  The idea is to have a bad record, then get lucky and draft a Patrick Ewing, Tim Duncan, or Shaquille O’Neal.  Sometimes it works.  In the Bullets’ case, it didn’t.  What resulted was missing the playoffs 15 of the next 16 seasons.  Thanks, Gilbert, but trying to win is a better option. 

 

After the awful 90s, making the playoffs each of the past four seasons didn’t seem so bad, but the results were not much better than they were in the mid 80s.  Mediocrity has become acceptable in Washington because it seemed good when compared with the long playoff drought that preceded it.  There hasn’t been one column about Jordan’s status as coach in the past month in the Washington Post.  In most other cities, they would’ve been calling for the coach to be fired by now.  At 1-10, though, Jordan had to go.

 

The Wizards have three all-stars – Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antawn Jamison.  Sure, Gilbert is injured and so is starting center Brendan Haywood, but every NBA team has injuries.  The fact is that Eton Thomas is not a huge dropoff from Haywood.  They also have good veteran role players – Antonio Daniels, DeShawn Stephenson and Darius Songaila, plus young talent in Nick Young, Andray Blatche, Oleksiy Pecherov, and Javale McGee.  Defense has been a problem with this team for a while – meaning several years. 

 

Former Knicks and Rockets coach Van Gundy has a .575 winning percentage and led his teams to the playoffs in 9 out of 10 full seasons.  True, he had Patrick Ewing with the Knicks and Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady with the Rockets, but 9 of 10 is good – 15 of 16 is even better if you count his years as an assistant with the Knicks, so he’s been around a lot of winning basketball for a lot of years, including appearances in the finals and conference finals.    

 

JVG would add defense and accountability to the Wizards.  I never thought I’d be calling for this brand of basketball, which in the 90s for the Knicks was awful, boring, slow down, fouling, no rhythm, constant free throws basketball.  But I’d rather win ugly than lose pretty.  If JVG and Gilbert can get along, it can work.  It’s a big if because McGrady didn’t like JVG at the end.  But who do you want running your team, the players, or the coach?  Defense is an attitude.  Former Wizard Richard Hamilton was awful on defense in DC.  Then when Hamilton he went to Detroit, he became decent, even above average on D to go with his great jump shooting ability.   

 

Other possibilities could be Flip Saunders or Avery Johnson. 

 

Saunders knows the Eastern Conference, having coached the Detroit Pistons each of the last three years.  He has a lifetime winning percentage of .597.  His teams made the playoffs 11 times in 13 seasons, although with Minnesota they only made it out of the first round once (getting to the conference finals), and with Detroit they never made it to the finals (though they did get to the conference finals three years in a row).   

 

Avery Johnson had a ridiculous winning percentage of .735 as the coach of the Dallas Mavericks from 2004 to 2008.  He led the Mavs to the NBA finals in 2006 when they should have beaten the Miami Heat after a 2-0 lead, then led Dallas to a record of 67-15 the following year though they were upset by the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs.  Johnson also emphasizes defense. 

 

If Tapscott does well, I say keep him for a while, but JVG has the experience and the emphasis on defense and rebounding.  I’m just not sure that Tapscott, having only coached at a small Division I university, and 18 years ago at that, will be able to sustain getting the best out of the Wiz after an initial emotional lift that may last a month or two, or even until the end of the season.  We did see Bernie Bickerstaff, though, take over for Jim Lynam in 1997 and lead the Bullets to the playoffs that season, though the Wiz tuned Bickerstaff out a couple of seasons later.  Players usually respect coaches who either played in the NBA (Johnson has the edge there), have won (Johnson, JVG and Saunders have all been deep into the playoffs), or have high profiles (JVG has been an ESPN commentator for two seasons now).  Tapscott doesn’t fall into any of these categories, though he has been around the NBA a long time as a scout, executive, and assistant coach.  I’m just worried the millionaire players won’t respect him as much as they should.  I believe that Grunfeld plans to hire a coach sometime during the season unless the Wizards really respond to Tapscott.

 

Ironically, Wizards General Manager Ernie Grunfeld was fired as GM of the Knicks in 1999 after he lost a power struggle with JVG.  I may be unrealistic in thinking that they could work together, but sometimes rivals years later respect each other and will both do anything it takes to win. 

 

One final comment.  I heard superagent David Falk rip Abe Pollin for firing Eddie Jordan.  Falk is Michael Jordan’s agent and was obviously critical of the way Pollin let MJ go as President of the Wizards in 2003.  It looks like Falk is holding a grudge.  Today on WTEM, the DC sports radio station, Falk said Pollin made the move to fire Eddie Jordan because of his age and the fact that he wants to win now.  First of all, I’m not sure of that.  Grunfeld was hired two weeks after Eddie Jordan was, so Eddie Jordan wasn’t Grunfeld’s choice.  I think it was largely Grunfeld’s decision to fire Eddie Jordan.

 

Falk said Abe is the only constant in the last 30 years since the Bullets’ last championship, implying that he is the only reason that the Wizards haven’t won a title since then.  The fact is that there are a lot of teams who haven’t won a championship since then.  Only 9 franchises have won the title since the Bullets did.  Do you think the Bulls won 6 titles in the 1990s because of owner Jerry Reinsdorf?  Pollin doesn’t have too many years left, but Falk still has to criticize him and hold a grudge for the contentious negotiations that ultimately resulted in Falk’s client Juwan Howard, the definition of a mediocre player, getting a 100 million dollar contract from the Wizards, which set the franchise back for more than 5 years.    

 

Ernie, forget your pride and give JVG a call.