Tuesday, April 18, 2006

My longest post ever...

... and it's all about BASKETBALL!!! So, now that probably half of you have stopped reading, I'll continue on...

I could go on for a while discussing the accolades earned by SLAM, the premier basketball magazine in the world, but they have an oft-updated website that should solidify their reputation and stand as a fresh alternative to the Sports Illustrated's and ESPN's of the sports media world. More casual chatter, more attention to fanmail, more willing to admit their mistakes, more subtle hip hop references, and you can appreciate the contributors' positions as fans over journalists. Anyways, they've been doin' it since '94 and are coming up on their 100th issue, for which they put together a survey of 30 open-response questions for their readers to answer. The last day to do so is April 21st -- sorry, but I'm a chronic procrastinator (that rhymes with something else, I know). Case in point, I waited until the 2nd pass time to reserve my place in a graduation ceremony in June, and wasn't able to get a spot in the 9:00 a.m. ceremony that was for my major, but had to settle for the 1:00 p.m. ceremony which is actually better because, well, it's not at 9 in the morning. Also, it's 2 weeks into this quarter and I haven't opened books for 2 of my 3 classes, though I've done quite a bit of reading for the 1 other class I'm taking. Oh, and I totally lost my train of thought with the original point I was making, which was...

Oh yea, SLAM's 100th issue. Anyways, they ask readers to provide only answers to the questions -- no explanations, commentary, runners-up, etc. Well, that just doesn't do it for me, so I figured I'll play by their rules for the e-mail I send them with my answers, and go off on many a tangents here. Enjoy:

1. What's the best all-time SLAM cover?

Ahhh, the memories. Back when Shaq and Kobe got along, or at least could fake it well enough to keep it from being an issue. I'm guessing it'll be quite a while before a 2-man combination can win 3 straight, considering that all of this year's contenders have either a rock-solid 5 man starting lineup or 2 former All-Stars coming off the bench. Other notables are the 3-part cover for #50, and AI rocking the 'fro on #32 (complete with a Ras Kass via Eldrigde Cleaver reference in the title).

2. What's the worst all-time SLAM cover?

Ugh, the memories. I dislike very few players more than Karl Malone, and I spent all of the '03-'04 season trying to deal with the fact that he would spend what would be his worse statistical year with my favorite team. And as for that unfinished business... it'll be forever unfinished. SLAM's worst covers typically deal with them making outlandish attention-getting predictions that fail to come to fruition, so it's worth mentioning their claim that the Nets would be "Champs by 2001" [although they did make 2 Finals appearances, only 1 of the 5 in that picture was there for both, and Keith Van Horn was unceremoniously kicked out after the 1st loss... oh, and Jayson Williams killed his limo driver], as well as their predictions for T-Mac and Stevie Franchise for their new teams in '04 [Francis has since been traded and the Magic are doing better without him, while T-Mac's back is the equivalent of Bob Barker's].

3. Who's the most-deserving player of the SLAM era never to appear on a cover (retired)?

David Robinson. John Stockton deserves mentioning too, but he was always a bit too much of a square bear for SLAM's flavor. [And soon, Greg Ostertag.]

4. Who's the most-deserving player of the SLAM era never to appear on a cover (still active)?

Pau Gasol. A former Rookie Of The Year, he's played his whole career with one team, led them to the playoffs for the soon-to-be 3rd straight time, improved noticeably every year (he leads Memphis in points, rebounds, AND assists this season), and has even grown out a trademark hair-and-beard combo. What more does one need? SLAM wouldn't even need to do a photo shoot; just use this one right here.

Handsome fella. Also worth mentioning, Gilbert Arenas, Michael Redd and Chris Paul (who's bound to get a few covers in the not-so-distant future).

5. Who's the least-deserving player ever to appear on a SLAM cover?

Darius Miles. He managed to slip on #57 with Lamar Odom and Elton Brand, back when the Clippers previously had potential. Since then, while Odom and Brand have played sizeable roles on playoff teams (soon to be the case for Brand), Miles is the scapegoat for most of Portland's problems, falling out with any coach they bring in (that is, when he's not making bad movies). Also worth mentioning are current Knicks' teammates Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis, who probably deserved covers at some points in their current careers, but a combined SEVEN between them! I'll pass on that.

6. Who's the best NBA player of the SLAM era?

Michael Jordan.

7. Who's your favorite NBA player of the SLAM era?

Kobe Bryant.

8. Who's your least-favorite NBA player of the SLAM era?

Alonzo Mourning. I can appreciate his ability to return from his kidney problems, but that's all I can appreciate about him. He signed a 4-year/$20 million contract with New Jersey, played less than half of his 1st year, and had the nerve to criticize their front-office's decision-making; I'd say everybody BUT 'Zo could criticize 'em. He got traded to Toronto and refused to show up, sparking a much-needed rule change in the NBA regarding disgruntled players being traded. He now plays for Miami, coming off the bench behind Shaq, where he has the best opportunity of his career to win a title, an opportunity which he got by bitching, whining, and making money. Think your job sucks? Well, 'Zo would agree.

9. What's the best NBA team of the SLAM era (specific year)?

The '95-'96 Bulls, who went 72-10 en route to a championship, the 1st of a 3-peat. Honorable mention to the '99-'00 Lakers, who went 67-15 en route to a championship, also the 1st of a 3-peat.

10. What's the worst NBA team of the SLAM era (specific year)?

The '01-'02 Bulls, who went 15-67 and, instead of trying to build on the foundation they had (which included Elton Brand, Ron Artest and Brad Miller), imploded and set back their progress by more years than necessary. Fortunately, ex-Bull and current GM John Paxson stepped in and was able to fix the mess rather quickly. Dishonorable mention to the '94-'95 Clippers, who went 17-65 despite the treacherous trio of Loy Vaught, Pooh Richardson, and the original overweight NBA player/closet coke fiend Stanley Roberts (where you at, Shawn Kemp?).

11. Who's the best NBA coach of the SLAM era?

Phil Jackson.

12. What's the most memorable shot of the SLAM era?

Michael Jordan's game-winning shot vs. Utah in '97-'98, to win Game 6 and a 3rd straight championship. It's pretty much accepted that he pushed off Bryon Russell to get that shot off, but you know what... he's Michael fuckin' Jordan. Deal with it.

13. What's the best fight of the SLAM era?

Ron Artest vs. Ben Wallace and the entire city of Detroit in '04. All other NBA fights ceased to exist after that, though I have faint memories of PJ Brown bodyslamming Chris Childs into cameras, Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning going face-to-face while Jeff Van Gundy grabbed on to 'Zo's legs and got dragged around like a mop, Dennis Rodman going after various dude's nuts, and Rick Fox and Doug Christie's girlfight.

14. Who's the most gangsta player of the SLAM era?

Rasheed Wallace. Honorable mention to Iverson.

15. Who's the least gangsta player of the SLAM era?

Tim Duncan. Honorable mention to Karl Malone (gangsters don't wear cowboy hats... except on Halloween).

16. Who's the best dunker of the SLAM era?

Vince Carter. I'm still kind of unsure as to when the SLAM era starts in conjunction with my hazy memory of mid-'90s basketball, so Shawn Kemp might deserve this as well, but Carter's performance in the '00 Dunk Contest was the most amazing singular display of dunking ability. Jason Richardson also gets a mentioning for the off-the-glass-between-the-legs dunk.

17. What's the best Slamadamonth we've ever run?

Amare Stoudemire over Michael Olowokandi sometime in '02 (it's towards the end of that link, it gets replayed like 4 times). I have to admit to not being the most religious of SLAM readers over these years so I can't quite call out which dunks were in which issue, but this one was nasty. Also worth mentioning, Chris Webber over Charles Barkley (the very 1st SLAMadamonth, and the motivation behind Webber's TWO Nike commercials back in the day), Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen's dunks over Patrick Ewing (which may or may not have been pre-'94), and Shawn Kemp's "Lister Blister" over Alton Lister after which he pointed at him mockingly (which probably was pre-'94). Oh, and insert-person-who-can-dunk-here over Shawn Bradley -- that was a good 22.

18. Who's the best shooter of the SLAM era?

Ray Allen. When I hear the word "shooter" I automatically think of 3-pointers; otherwise I would've picked either Jordan or Kobe. Honorable mention to Dana Barros, who went 89 straight games with at least one 3-pointer (an NBA record) between '94 and '96.

19. Who's the best college player of the SLAM era?

Carmelo Anthony. Led Syracuse to the NCAA title as freshman, 'nuff said. In my eyes, he's the best college player to become a great NBA player, but there are plenty who have succeeded in the former but not the latter -- for that, I give honorable mention to Duke's Trajan Langdon (a.k.a. J.J. Redick, Sr.).

20. Who's the best women's player of the SLAM era?

Chamique Holdsclaw (1st name I could think of).

21. Who's the best high school player of the SLAM era?

Lebron James. Honorable mention to Sebastian Telfair.

22. Who's the best streetball player of the SLAM era?

Rafer Alston. I never really followed streetball, to me it was always the WWE equivalent of the pro game -- sure, it requires athleticism and talent, but there's pretty much no rules to it, and though it's not staged like wrestling, it might as well be since it's all about individual skill rather than wins and losses. So I guess I'll take Rafer since he's the only one to start out having a big black dude following him around with a microphone and/or bullhorn to graduate to the pro level.

23. Who's the biggest flop of the SLAM era?

Ron Mercer. Plenty of choices I could go with -- Michael Olowokandi and Joe Smith were both equally terrible #1 picks, but 'Kandi will stay in the league as long as he's 7 feet and can commit 6 fouls in a game, and Smith has made himself into a valuable role player at least. Kwame Brown and Darko Milicic both failed miserably with the teams that drafted them, but since being traded to new teams they've both showed signs of mediocrity and occasional impressiveness. But if I'm looking for a flop to represent an era, I want someone who isn't in the league anymore. I thought about Ed O'Bannon, but besides the inner-disappointment I'd have talking shit about an L.A. legend, he also was plagued with bum knees. Ron Mercer, on the other hand, was plagued with bum talent. Selected 6th in '97 by Boston and newly-hired coach Rick Pitino (also Mercer's college coach at Kentucky), he never regained the 3-point shooting touch that he showcased in his incredible performance in the '96 title game. One of the few athletes to be represented by Master P's ill-fated No Limit Management, Mercer was hyped up to be the "next Michael Jordan"... by No Limit, only.

24. What's your favorite shoe of the SLAM era (first release)?

Lebron's Air Zoom Generation. At least, the all-khaki, Timberland-looking ones he wore in the Rookie Game in '04.

25. What's your favorite shoe of the SLAM era (reissue)?

Air Jordan I. Not sure when exactly they were re-issued, but the ones with the patent leather were nice. I hold the Jordan I's extra close to my heart ever since my pair of blue-and-black originals were stolen. There are some terrible people out there, my friends... and not just those of us with blogs.

26. What's the best NBA uniform of the SLAM era (specific team and year)?

Lakers, pre-'97

Since the Lakers are my favorite team, the question might as well have been, "What's the best Laker uniform of the SLAM era?" I'm still not too big on the V-neck jerseys and the color stripe along the sides; I'm all about the round neck and the big white shadow around the numbers. Basically, the key to a good jersey is keeping it simple -- the name of either the city OR the team on the front (never both) and 2 main colors with a 3rd color as needed for the lining, and a logo on the shorts if possible. The Jordan-era Bulls and Ewing-era Knicks had it right (I'm not down with having the logo on the upper back of the jersey, either), and the Celtics, Spurs and Nets have always been good about it.

27. What's the worst NBA uniform of the SLAM era (specific team and year)?

Hawks, '95-'99

The formula for a bad jersey is two-fold -- having too many colors, and, if the team is named after an animal, having an image of that animal on the jersey. The design of these Hawks uniforms would look more fitting on a spandex unitard for a pro wrestler (with a "hawk" gimmick, obviously), maybe with some matching facepaint or a lucha libre mask, and no basketball within his talons either (that is, unless it were a "basketball-playing hawk" gimmick... hmmm, has that been done yet?). Other jerseys that fall under this category but don't pull it off quite as godawfully as the Hawks are: the Vancouver Grizzlies during their expansion year of '95, who wore teal road jerseys that were, to be politically correct, mad homo; the fellow-expansion Toronto Raptors of the same year, whose jerseys offered a purple dinosaur that might as well have been spewing songs about love and sharing; and the Detroit Seahorses, er, I mean, Pistons of '96-'01. Honorable mention to the Charlotte Bobcats -- jeez, can an expansion team get a decent jersey for once?

28. Who's got the worst hair of the SLAM era?

Peja Stojakovic. Chris Kaman would be the easy pick, and granted his hair is disgusting, but I can recall a Kings/Clippers game a few years back where Bill Walton would not stop talking about how bad Peja's haircut was. Granted, it's Bill Walton I'm talking about here, who has the tendency to overexaggerate many things, but most of the time it's things related to the actual game. Peja's wasn't blessed with bad hair like Kaman; instead, he was blessed with the luck of always having his cut by the person at SuperCuts who had just started working there. Or maybe he does that by choice. Also worth mentioning is Steve Nash's current Tom-Cruise-with-down-syndrome look.

29. By position, name the ultimate starting five from the SLAM era.

PG Jason Kidd, SG Michael Jordan, SF Scottie Pippen, PF Tim Duncan, C Shaquille O'Neal

30. Who should be on the cover of SLAM 100?

Michael Jordan. Even though it'd be his 9th cover, who else deserves it?