Now that’s power! My inaugural column for BootlegSports just happened to suggest that Dikembe Mutombo ought to dope slap Allen Iverson for his boorish behavior. Well, no sooner than the column hits the World Wide Web, and the 76ers send the 7-2 defensive stalwart packing to the New Jersey Nets for Keith “Knee Highs Are Soooo Cool” Van Horn and NBA imposter Todd MacCulloch! Wow! I’ll have to be more careful next time around. But in the meantime, I really like this trade for the Nets, who look they’re a lot closer to getting back to the NBA Finals than their Eastern conference predecessor, the Sixers. Mutombo, a four-time Defensive Player of the Year, still has some gas in the tank (compared to MacCulloch, who typically looks like he’s running on fumes, even on his good days). Now, put Mutombo side-by-side with that nasty boy, Kenyon Martin, and I’ll wager you’re going to see a lot of ball reversal next year against the Nets. Losing Van Horn’s offense might sting a bit, but if impressive rookie Richard Jefferson avoids the sophomore jinx, people in Jersey will quickly forget about the next Great White Hope (and those good awful socks).
Don’t get me wrong about Van Horn. As an unabashed Boston Celtics fan, I quietly wept when we lost the chance to draft either Tim Duncan or Van Horn (damned ping-pong balls!) back in 1997. Anyone remember whom we got? Even former Celtic tyrant Rick Pitino might have trouble remembering Chauncey Billups and Ron Mercer – ah, the foundations of a new dynasty! Van Horn’s got game, but he needs to get NBA tough (fact is, the guy is a modern-day reincarnation of Nuggets GM Kiki Vandeweghe , who was famous for his allergic reaction to the paint despite great offensive skills). It was no secret last spring, as Martin ripped his teammates for failing to show some backbone against the Lakers (not the best way to build team unity, I might add), that he was taking dead aim at Van Horn. Now Van Horn will have to take back seat to another All-Star guard in Iverson (one who, by the way, won’t be nearly as inclined to give up the rock as Jason Kidd was) while patrolling the wing for Larry Brown. And who’s pulling down rebounds for this squad? If Derrick “The Human Dirigible” Coleman pulls another disappearing act, Sixer fans can all sit back and watch Brown age before their eyes like some terrifying Stanley Kubrick movie.
This week’s rant. Now that the NBA’s Grand Poo-Bahs have acknowledged that a little instant replay might help get make sure that last-second calls are the right calls, perhaps they’ll use that same technology to study the abuse of the crossover dribble. In 90 percent of the cases (according to my strictly unscientific study), it’s palming. Plain and simple. And don’t give me that “hand is quicker than the eye” crap – NBA refs call enough phantom fouls to convince me they believe they’ve got some sixth sense regarding the rules of the game. The problem is this – the crossover evolved so slowly, insidiously you might say, that by the time it became a flat-out rules violation, refs didn’t know where to draw the line. But try to imagine, say, a Clyde Lovellette heading off into the wilderness for a few decades after his stellar college and pro career (1948-64), and then dropping in for game circa 2002. Believe me, the man’s not going to recognize the speed and quickness of this Dr. James Naismith’s game. But he’ll know a palm when he sees it, and he’s gonna see it plenty in today’s NBA. Same goes for the college game – it’s one of those subtle erosions of the rules, much like last week’s rant (backing in). And while he’s sharing his thoughts about today’s game, ol’ Clyde might have something to say about those shorts that look like dresses (not that I’m advocating a return of those tighty-whitey numbers, mind you). Next week, traveling …
Note to the owners - please, please, stop the insanity. If you’ve got the chutzpah to move your team, try to find a nickname that fits your new locale. After all, you spent hundreds of thousands of dead presidents to find an appropriate nickname to begin with (don’t get me started about the Washington Wizards – that’s a sordid tale for another day). Look, I understand brand marketing and name recognition and all, but how ridiculous does the Utah Jazz sound? Or Memphis Grizzlies? Or, for that matter, the Los Angeles Lakers? Say what you will about LA being so ultra-hip and “in the know,” but their team’s nickname, when you really stop to think about it, is one of the great geographical absurdities of the NBA globe. It’s a shame that when the Hornets buzzed out of Charlotte for New Orleans, the nickname “Jazz” wasn’t available for the taking. (Meanwhile, most folks out in Salt Lake City are still trying to figure out exactly what “jazz” is – give up the ghost, people!)
Rest in peace, Chick Hearns. If there’s a heaven, you can bet that the former Lakers announcer, one of the best ever, is having an animated conversation right now with the legendary Johnny Most, who called the Celtics games for about a hundred years. Wouldn’t that be beautiful? The slick play-by-play man who gave us “slam dunk” and air ball,” swapping tales with the rough-edged Most, who gave us “fiddles and diddles,” and the best nickname ever hung on the Piston’s obnoxious Isiah Thomas, “Little Lord Fauntleroy.” There will never be two finer ad-lib guys in the business (if one comes along, as ex-Bruins great Milt Schmidt once said about the next Bobby Orr, “I hope the good Lord lets me stick around long enough to see him, because he’s going to be something special.”).