Wednesday, November 29, 2006
I ignored Black Friday, just as I always do. And Cyber Monday? Please. Not that I don't like Christmas shopping. One of my favorite minitraditions is finishing my shopping and then going to the mall on Christmas Eve just to see if there's a small, inexpensive item that I might have missed and someone might really enjoy. I crank up the Christmas music in the car and blissfully sing along as last minute shoppers screech around the parking garage in search of a spot. I get a latte, smile at the stressed out cashiers and salespeople and take my time, letting the holiday storm swirl around me. Maybe it's a little sadistic, but holiday cheer is holiday cheer.
But that day is nearly a month away. Never mind that stores had Christmas decorations on the shelves when I was looking for my son's Captain Jack Sparrow costume at Halloween. Or that the local radio station launched its "All Christmas music, all the time" format before the World Series was over. Even seeing minivans and SUVs with trees tied on top over the weekend could not move me out of my thoughts of leaf-raking and cider-pressing (not that I did those things, but I thought about them).
I guess the basis for my resistance stems from my Catholic upbringing. This Sunday marks the beginning of Advent, and I would feel a bit off-kilter if I put up a tree before lighting an Advent wreath. Of course, I' m conveniently avoiding those years of my younger adulthood when I had neither tree nor wreath. So, I don't dread the holidays. I really enjoy them, especially with the kids, but I do get annoyed with the hype that seems to begin earlier every year.
But, there comes a time to say, "Okay, let's get on with it," or something a little more enthusiastic I suppose, and two events in the last 24 hours have prompted me to make that declaration.
The first was the Charlie Brown Christmas special, which aired last night on ABC. I'm sure it's mostly nostalgia, but something about this show endures. The Vince Guaraldi music always brings a smile, Snoopy remains funny after all these years, and the heaps of merciless abuse suffered by Charlie Brown allow Linus to quote scripture without turning the show into a sappy, preachy, hugs-for-all affair. Until the end of course, but even then the characters simply decorate the sad little tree and sing a carol. Good old Charlie Brown.
The second item that ignited my holiday spirit comes from another sage of the Midwest, Erin O'Brien, who wrote a wonderful piece in the Cleveland Free Times. Read it and weep tears of Christmas joy. If you'd like to read more of Erin's work, check out her blog, but be forewarned, she's not shy about profanity and is very comfortable with topics that are not for the kids and should be labeled "Not Safe For Work." Okay, no more disclaimers, here's the link.
How foggy was it?
It was so foggy that when we walked past a clump of trees, the condensation dripping off the branches sounded like an approaching thundershower. I like the fog. It gives the morning some character, adds a little mystery to the banal chore of picking up canine feces with a plastic bag-encased hand. I'm glad I don't have to drive in it, and it makes the school bus late, but I like the fog.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
On the other side of the ball, Steve McNair, Jamal Lewis and a suddenly impressive offensive line did exactly what is required of a unit that has to live in the defense's shadow while benefiting from its prowess. McNair picked apart the Pittsburgh secondary, going 18-24 with no interceptions and one touchdown. His longest completion was the 20-yard TD to Todd Heap, but he wasn't sacked or even forced to run, and he played a mistake free game. Lewis' longest gain from scrimmage was only 11 yards, but he scored a touchdown and, for the fourth straight game, did not fumble.
In 2000, after the Ravens edged the division-leading Tennessee Titans 14-13 to push their record to 7-4, Brian Billick threatened to fine anyone in the Baltimore organization who even uttered the word "playoffs." After starting the season 5-1, his team had suffered a three-game losing streak in which the offense had produced a paltry total of 15 points, and the head coach was understandably concerned about getting distracted and overconfident. Of course, the Ravens ripped through the rest of the season undefeated and went on to win Super Bowl XXXV. Now that Baltimore is 9-2, with the opportunity to clinch the division title this Thursday at Cincinnati, no such edict has been issued.
The last time the Ravens played the Bengals, Baltimore scored two quick touchdowns as Cincinnati fumbled away the opening kickoff and Carson Palmer's first pass was picked off and returned all the way. The Bengals fought to get back in the game, and injuries to Ed Reed and Ray Lewis weakened the Ravens on D, but not even some bewildering clock management by Billick in the fourth quarter could make up such a significant early deficit. Both teams will be on short rest this week, but a healthy Ravens' defense should scare Cincinnati.
ESPN's current power rankings place the Ravens third behind Indianapolis and San Diego (whom the Ravens beat). As usual, offensive pyrotechnics have captured the fancy of writers like Len Pasquarelli, who writes today about an increase in big plays and fails to mention that the Ravens' defense has scored five touchdowns this season and would have at least two more if a few defensive linemen hadn't run out of gas near the goal line on long fumble returns. This is exactly the sort of bulletin board material that will allow Billick to convince his team that they are not being given the respect they deserve. Opposing quarterbacks should double-check their insurance policies, and make sure their chiropractor and massage therapists have their calendars cleared.
Monday, November 27, 2006
The Colonials played to their normal breakneck pace and led 41-40 at the half on the strength of 9-12 shooting from three-point range, but Dokun Akingbade and Regis Koundjia each picked up two fouls battling a deep, bulky, Friar frontcourt. Carl Elliott opened the second period with a trey, but picked up his second and third foul in the first two minutes. Rob Diggs missed some minutes due to a hard PC foul and freshman Damian Hollis continued to struggle. Despite getting doubled up on the boards, GW led 57-51 with 12:27 to play, thanks to strong contributions by reserves Noel Wilmore and Travis King. But the Friars front line asserted itself over the next four minutes to take a 68-60 lead, and, after Elliott fouled out at the 7:47 mark, GW never got closer than six.
It's a rare occasion that Karl Hobbs' team gets run off the court, but the combination of foul trouble and the minor injury to Diggs - who would return - left few options. The Colonials cooled off in the second half but still shot 12-24 from three. They forced 19 turnovers but gave up 15 and got outrebounded 48-23. Wilmore and King were superb off the bench (24 points and only two turnovers), but 0-5 from Diggs and Elliott's absence due to second half foul trouble put this one out of reach. GW won't see another team with this kind of size again this year, but they failed to exploit their significant advantage in the backcourt.
The best news of the day, outside the performance of King and Wilmore, was that Cheyenne Moore is expected to return this week and should be ready for the Virginia Tech game. Moore won't solve the problem of frontcourt size, but when he joins King and Wilmore coming off the bench, GW will be able to keep running and scoring without a pause. Keep the faith!
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Exhibit A is the decision by News Corporation to cancel the OJ Simpson interview on FOX and the publication of OJ's book by Judith Regan, whose publishing imprint is a subsidiary of Harper Collins, a News Corp division. I wish I could applaud News Corp's moral fiber in making this call, but the move seems to have come more from business than ethical considerations. NPR's David Folkenflik reported this morning that FOX pulled out because of uncertainty that Tribune Co. and Sinclair Broadcasting, two of the largest FOX affiliate owners, would carry the controversial interview. Regan is no stranger to controversy, having brought us Howard Stern's stirring, lyrical epic, "Private Parts," but without the frenzied hype and the powerful crosspromotion from FOX, the OJ book sales were going nowhere. I don't think this is the last we will hear of this story.
Now, this wasn't a story about race per se, but anything involving OJ has to bring up the racial aspects of his murder trial. My own memory of the trial is always tinged with some humor when I recall a friend of mine heckling a minor league baseball player, daring him to steal second base. "You'll never make it pal!" he yelled, "You're slower than the OJ trial."
And, speaking of hecklers, we come to Exhibit B: Michael Richards' ugly, racist rant in response to a heckler during his standup routine the other night. I'm not going to post the link, but you can find video of his tirade and clips of his and Jerry Seinfeld's ensuing appearance on "Letterman" at TMZ.com. Warning: the clip is offensive. Frankly, I'm surprised a riot didn't break out at the comedy club where he performed.
I am as big a fan of "Seinfeld" as you are going to find, and the Kramer character is a huge part of that, but my view of Richards is greatly diminished now. In numerous episodes, "Seinfeld" managed to both acknowledge and confront racial stereotypes humorously without lecturing or resorting to treacly refrains of "Kumbaya," but Richards' outburst shows that he needs a script writer, an editor and a director. Hello, Judith Regan?
Exhibit C is a local story that has carried over from Halloween. It seems that a fraternity member at Johns Hopkins University posted a racially insensitive Halloween party invitation that drew the ire of several groups on campus and in the area. The invitation, plus the "Halloween in the Hood" theme, and a dreadlocked pirate skeleton hanging from a noose - a "Pirates of the Caribbean" reference understandably interpreted as a lynching image - resulted in the author of the invitation being expelled from the frat and the frat being placed on probation. Any more keg parties this year and it will be double secret probation I guess.
So what do these stories have to do with each other? What lessons can we learn? I don't know; I was just struck by the common theme, something that is present in so many stories in American society, either on or below the surface. We all make mistakes, we all have our own context in which we act and form our perceptions. I was raised to try to think and act in a way that is not influenced by race, but I don't think that's possible. My family has been in the U.S. for more than 100 years, and I grew up in a pretty solid, lily-white, middle class neighborhood. But my parents occasionally housed missionaries from African countries, and the nearby business district emerged from the economic recession of the 1970s thanks in large part to an influx of labor and capital from Vietnamese refugees. I attended a racially diverse high school and have worked in jobs where I was around people of all different spots and stripes. And still I can't escape my own preconceived notions. I guess the key is to remain open to new and different perspectives and experiences. Okay, everybody hold hands, I feel a little "Kumbaya" coming on.
Friday, November 17, 2006
Life After Football, Part I
Former Cowboy great and future Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith won Dancing with the Stars. Some might say this accomplishment pales in comparison to, say, winning three Super Bowls, but I would argue that Mario Lopez and Joey Lawrence put up a better fight than the Buffalo Bills. When contacted for comment, the NFL offices replied that Smith would be flagged for "excessive celebration" and penalized 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff.
Life After Football, Part II
In his neverending quest to find the real killers in the Nicole Brown Simpson-Ron Goldman murders, once and future prime suspect O.J. Simpson is coming out with a book entitled, "If I Did It." The following is a transcript FitzFacts obtained of the meeting between Simpson and his publisher, Judith Regan.
Judith Regan: OJ, thanks for meeting with me. I've read your manuscript, and I have to say, I am very impressed. This is real cutting-edge writing , very incisive, especially for a first draft.
OJ: Thanks, Judith. I just took a whack at it, but once I got into the guts of the thing, I just kept hacking away until it was dead, I mean, done.
JR: Interesting metaphor choice. Anyway, as I was saying, you really seemed to be able to place yourself at the scene of the crime. Every detail throughout the narrative rings true. I would like to recommend once small change, though.
OJ: Okay. What's that?
JR: It's just one word, really. In your proposed title, what if we changed the word "How" to "If"? I think that gives it a little more suspense, really draws the reader into the mysterious, whodunit aspect of the story.
OJ: I don't know Judith. I really like to make my own cuts.
JR: Indeed, well, just a suggestion. Otherwise, I think we're a go.
OJ: Fantastic, I'll take your suggestion under consideration. Meantime, I need to go sharpen up my interview skills.
Local Hoop I
GW plays Longwood tonight at Smith Center. The Colonials are 2-0 after stomping Dartmouth like a barrel of grapes Tuesday night. GW led 46-18 with less than a minute to play in the first half when Carl Elliott tossed in a three and then fed Noel Wilmore for another trey to beat the buzzer. Elliott outscored Dartmouth 19-18 in the first period and wound up with a career-high 29 points, besting his 25-point effort against BU in the Colonials' opener. GW needs a big year from Elliott to have a successful season, and so far he has delivered. If he keeps this up, expect to see his name surface in All-America and Wooden Award discussions as the season progresses. More important for the team is the continued development of the frontcourt, Regis Koundjia, Rob Diggs and Dokun Akingbade. Their performance has been strong, if a bit inconsistent, against weak competition; BU has little atheticism and less experience and Dartmouth, like all Ivy League basketball teams outside Princeton and Penn, really puts the scholar in scholar-athlete. If the GW big men keep showing improvement against the upcoming two opponents (Longwood and Kennesaw State), this team night not backslide as much as predicted by many. The schedule toughens up after Thanksgiving with games at Providence and against Virginia Tech.
Local Hoops II
I'll never be mistaken for a Maryland fan, but this year's Terrapins are taking shape as a classic Gary Williams success story. After two years of disappointment in the NIT, Williams has the chip on his shoulder and the talent on his roster to make a solid, yet familiar, run in the NCAA. Seniors DJ Strawberry, Mike Jones and Ekene Ibekwe have blended nicely with a pair of freshman guards, Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez, and juco bulkster Bambale Osby (6-8, 250), to rip off a 4-0 start with an average 29-point margin of victory. Vasquez and Hayes' emergence has allowed Strawberry to escape his one-year hell at point guard and the Terps are playing at Williams' preferred breakneck pace. They also seem to have shaken off the bad chemistry and poor leadership that fogged up the John Gilchrist-Chris McCray-Nik Caner Medley period. The Terps play tonight at Madison Square Garden against Michigan State in the 2K SPorts Hoop Classic championship game. Win or lose, expect Maryland to land in the Top 25 next week and Terp fans to come out in droves to hop back on the bandwagon. Warning to College Park residents: hide your couches, mattresses and other flammable furniture items.
Local Hoops III
I've only seen Georgetown for a few minutes, but they looked pretty good coming back to beat Vanderbilt the other night. Still can't get used to the Vandy court, with the benches on the baselines instead of the sideline. Like the Boise State blue Astroturf, it's just different for no good reason, but harmless. Must have been designed by a relative of Gilbert Arenas.
Local Hoops Final
Speaking of Gilbert, the Wizards took one of the NBA's highest scoring offenses into Madision Square Garden to face one of the NBA's worst defenses and promptly got drilled 102-82 by the Knicks, who hadn't won a home game this season. Washington played horrible defense, making New York reserves Nate Robinson and David Lee look like a negative image Stockton and Malone on the pick and roll. I can't be the only fan tired of watching opposing players drive from the wing, around the key, and into the lane for an easy bucket, assist or foul. And the offensive failure can't be laid entirely at Arenas' feet. All of the WIzards big three had awful shooting nights and nobody made a three-pointer on 15 attempts. Eddie Jordan needs to get his team focused, and quickly, because a tough stretch of road games looms, beginning tonight at Detroit.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
The football games really put a damper on the day. The weather was lousy outside, but I was well-positioned on the couch with the picture-in-picture going between FOX and CBS to catch all the Ravens and Redskins action. Usually, about 99% of the time, I hate the PIP feature, but this was that rare occasion where it came in handy. My only gripe is that you can't invert the two screens with one click. You have to hit channel return and then push a few more buttons to get the other game in the smaller picture. (At this point, I'd like any five year olds reading this to post a comment or email me on how to do this more quickly. Please enclose diagrams and a 1-800 help line) .
The Doc was at the hospital and the boys also wanted to watch, so everything looked good until the teams kicked off. The Redskins could not have been worse. Clinton Portis broke his hand, but the Eagles let Washington stay in the game until a highly questionable replay challenge was up held to give Philadelphia the ball on the goal line. The Redskins were so desperate for offense, they not only put TJ Duckett in the game, they actually let him carry the ball. By the start of the fourth quarter, even the notoriously sadistic Philly fans had to avert their eyes when Mark Brunell dropped back to pass.
The Ravens, on the other hand, spotted the Titans 26 first half points before putting the clamps on Tennessee's rookie QB Vince Young, and pitched a shutout in the second. Preacherman Ray Lewis sat out the game with an injury and the Titans exploited his absence in the middle of the Ravens' defense, running Travis Henry for 85 first-half yards. So my halftime dogwalk was pretty miserable. But the defensive soft spots were gone in the second half as Tennessee managed only three first downs and never crossed midfield until the final drive.
A few words about Vince Young . Maybe the Ravens' defense is just that good, but he doesn't scare me nearly as much as Michael Vick did when he came into the league. Don't ask me about Young's throwing motion or the positioning of his elbow relative to the release point, all I can tell you is that he really had to work for his 39 rushing yards and one TD, but he did have a nice improvisational lateral to Brent Scaife for a touchdown. Then again maybe he was tentative because he remembered that the Ravens broke Vick's leg a few years ago in a preseason game. Either way, I think the Titans would have been wise to keep Steve McNair at least one more year as a mentor to a guy who has a very similar talent package.
But the Titans loss is a huge gain for the Ravens. McNair had his best day in purple and black which really came in handy on the day of the worst defensive effort of the season. The Ravens now find themselves securely perched atop the AFC North division at 7-2, three games ahead of the 4-5 Bengals, and tied with San Deigo and Denver for the second-best record in the AFC. Once the undefeated Colts burn out under the heat of the national spotlight again, I can't see any reason to pick against Baltimore to get back to the Super Bowl.
The Redskins, on the other hand, have reached yet another crisis point in the ongoing saga of Daniel Snyder's tumultuous reign as owner. The Redskins trail the divison-leading Giants by only three games, but they have one win in the division. The triumphant return of Joe Gibbs has proven oxymoronic and rather expensive. In a division that is clearly there for the taking, Washington today announced that Jason Campbell will make his first NFL start on Sunday. Without Portis in the backfield, Brunell looked like a postgame smorgasbord to opposing defenses. Campbell's strong arm should open up parts of the field unavailable to Brunell, but he had better be mobile, or better yet, durable. Technically, Washington is still alive for a playoff berth, but, technically, I still have a year of NCAA eligibility.
If Campbell pans out - and he has to win at least a couple games, not just survive - then Washington will have found a major piece of the puzzle and will be able to focus on offensive and defensive linemen in the offseason. I don't see Gregg Williams being the hot commodity he was last year, and the offensive problems can't be blamed on Al Saunders, so the hype will be in its usual breathless state of overdrive from January to August in Redskinland. If Campbell is a bust, well, darkness will cover the land, seven plagues will be visited upon the populace for seven years, and, worst of all, we will have to listen to Joe Theismann expound on his theory of the fanchise's demise.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Elliott was everything he has to be this season. Solid from the field (7-11 FG), perfect from the line (11-11), and ferocious on defense. The voters who had him on the A-10 Second Team might want to reconsider. Rice shot well (4-7), if less frequently than expected, and Regis Koundjia made plays that were spectacular, solid, and confounding, sometimes in the space of seconds. The great unveiling was Diggs. Differing box scores credit him with either 16 or 12 points, but either way, this is a major development for GW. Forget about his points, if you had told me Diggs would take more shots than Rice, I would have said GW loses. Throw in a couple blocked shots and seven rebounds and you've got a pretty nice night in your first career start.
Dokun Akingbade fulfilled expectations with some nice cleanup action around the bucket and a smart feed from the high post. Wilmore looked quick and smooth on the release of his two treys. Damien Hollis looked good on his first one, then forced a couple, then passed up some open shots. Both he and fellow frosh Travis King will learn better shot selection. King was also a bit dribble-happy, but looked very comfortable for a freshman in his first college game.
Now, Boston University is not Duke. For a team that relies heavily on the three-point shot, the Terriers took an awfully long time to warm up. Then again, when Koundjia is at the point of a trap, with arms that seem to stretch like a Fantastic Four hero, and Diggs or Hollis is flying out to the wing, you could understand why BU was a little off the mark. And the Terriers have even less bulk down low than the Colonials, which will be a rarity this season.
Still, a win is a win, especially when there were so many questions going into this season. Winning is a feeling GW fans have gotten used to, and there is comfort in the familiar. As Homer Simpson might say, "Mmmmm, winning..."
Friday, November 10, 2006
GW lost Mike Hall, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Omar Williams and Alexander Kireev to graduation, and Danilo Pinnock left early. Let's see, that's two Atlantic 10 First Teamers (Pops and Pinnock), one Second Teamer (Hall) and a 6-9 forward who started 79 straight games (Williams). On top of the statistical losses, Coach Karl Hobbs has to replace leadership and rebuild team chemistry.
Fortunately, Hobbs still has one of the best backcourts in the country in Carl Elliott and Maureece Rice. Both of these guys are tremendously skilled and experienced and should be ready to step up as much as Hobbs needs them to. The frontcourt is a different story. Regis Koundjia became eligible midway through last season after transferring from LSU and is a superb athlete, but he needs to be much more composed and consistent this year as he moves from the team's seventh scoring option to third and the primary threat up front. Redshirt senior Dokun Akingbade returns after a one-year layoff and has to provide defense and rebounding and the occasional basket while avoiding foul trouble. Sophomore Rob Diggs will be the fifth starter as long as he can do the same. All three frontcourt starters are 6-8 or 6-9 with great quickness and hops but Koundjia is the heaviest at 218, so GW block some shots but will struggle against teams with strong post up players.
For now, the bench is thinner than the frontcourt, with only freshmen Travis King and Damien Hollis likely to get significant time. King looks and plays like Carl Elliott, Jr., so don't be surprised to see three guards on the floor frequently. Hollis won't have the luxury of time to adjust to the college game, but he has an excellent all-around game. Cheyenne Moore, a transfer from Clemson, is out indefinitely with a tibia stress fracture but will be the top contributor off the bench when he gets healthy.
In spite of the short bench, GW will still press and trap the entire game. Hobbs only recruits players who can run and and jump all day and his teams are rarely out of any game. Because I am a fan and an optimist, I think this team will get back to the NCAA Tournament. They'll need about 50 points from Elliott-Rice-Koundjia every night and they'll need Moore to get back by January at the latest. And they'll need Koundjia to settle down and Diggs and Hollis to grow up, and that's asking a lot, but what fan ever asked for a little?
As far as tonight, BU is a team with little experience that, according to Herve on the GWHoops site, relies on physical play and three-point shooting. Last season GW won 75-62. This game would be a double-digit win for GW at home, but since it's away, call it 79-72 Colonials. Rice gets 22, Elliott 18, and BU turns it over 20+ times.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Now, back to Gilbert. I like Arenas and I like to read, but there is almost no way to keep up with all the coverage he has been getting. And he provides so much material that each article contains a new nugget for the Arenas archive. In his NBA Week One review, Bill Simmons pointed out this blog entry by Washington Post writer Michael Lee. Be sure to scroll down to the comment from Thor about Gilbert and Kim Jong Il comparing DVD collections. I had to stop reading and laugh at that one. Also, Dan Steinberg rips yet another Arenas profile, this one by Fred Barnes in Washingtonian Magazine. Yes, Freddie "The Beetle" Barnes from "The McLaughlin Group." Maybe next week, he'll write about his forthcoming rap CD with Morton "Young MK" Kondracke. Finally, FreeDarko is selling a must-have item of Gilbertwear. Once I figure out whether I want the white or the blue, I'll be ordering three, one for each of the men in our house.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Honestly, does anyone really think that these phone calls work? I don't like the attack ads, the stupid oversized post cards that showed Ehrlich with a golf club or his arm around George Bush or the ones that attempted to make O'Malley look like the dark overlord of the hellish city of Baltimore, but I find the phone calls laughable. The only thing that would make them more enjoyable would be if the name of the person on the recording showed up on my caller ID screen. "Look, honey, it's the governor calling again."
And it's not just the recorded messages. Last week I got an automated call that claimed to be a poll. It started by asking who I was voting for and followed with a series of extremely slanted questions obviously designed to influence my opinion, not just assess it. The final question asked if what I had learned during the call had changed my vote. Interesting "poll."
My favorite call was not from a celebrity but from a candidate for a state office. I can't remember his name, but, in a very grave voice, he told me that he wanted to correct some misinformation that I might have received from his opponent that claimed he supported gay marriage. He then asked me if I had the notes from social studies class because he thought Mrs. Sauerson would be giving a pop quiz tomorrow. Okay, I made that last part up, and I apologize to all middle-school students for insulting their intelligence.
I guess all the advances in technology allow us to find more information than we could ever process as we make our decisions, but they also allow us to be approached, polled and solicited in ways we could never have imagined. Throughout the election season, I tried to listen to both sides and read divergent viewpoints although the extremists on both sides get tiresome pretty quickly. Most of them might as well be recorded voices for the all rational, informed discussion they fail to engender.
Just once, I wish a real person would call, so I could say, "How stupid do you think I am?"
Friday, November 03, 2006
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Anyway, my residence in Wizards' fandom appears to be a lifelong assignment, so I watched pretty much the whole game last night on ESPN. I was surprised by several LeBron James-related items during the broadcast. First, James is obviously an awesome talent, but ESPN did not constantly bow before his greatness and generally showed a much more balanced picture than I had expected. Second, I like his Nike commercials more than I thought I would, even though they are shown constantly. And third, he may be the Jordan heir apparent, but the officials have not been informed, as he was whistled for traveling (!) and got a jump ball call when driving to the basket against Brendan Haywood (Brendan Haywood!). He can still become MJ, but he's going to have to get meaner so that he is feared by both opponents and teammates. James seems to smile because he wants you to smile with him; Jordan smiled because he was killing you and there was nothing you could do about it.
Now, the Wizards. Very little has changed in terms of personnel. Washington basically traded Jared Jeffries for DeShawn Stevenson, giving away some defense and speed for strength and midrange game, but changing very little of the overall team makeup or chemistry . The Wiz will still go as the Big Three (Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, and Caron Butler) go, and Arenas clanked shot after shot last night until finally scoring his first points near the end of the third quarter. Difficult for the Wizards to beat anyone in that circumstance and nearly impossiible on the road against a playoff team. To his credit, Arenas racked up 11 assists, but he has to be the go-to-guy in a game like this one. Butler was his usual tough self, scoring 23 points on high percentage shots, and Jamison popped in a quiet 20 with his inside-outside game.
Etan Thomas was the major surprise for the Wiz, converting 7-7 from the field. Admittedly, the Cavs big men Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden, and Donyell Marshall aren't exactly NBA All-Defense candidates, but the Wizards have lacked interior scoring, so any improvement there is a major upgrade. Thomas' effort also seemed to motivate Haywood, who gave Washington some fourth-quarter punch. Antonio Daniels was solid off the bench as always, perfect from the free throw line (6-6), and on the court in the crunch. And a healthy Jarvis Hayes is a great sight; he looked good even though he missed some pretty good looks in the final minutes.
The only guy who performed below expectations was Arenas; if he'd been half his normal self, the Wizards would have won their fourth straight season opener. Washington will be a tough out for a lot of teams this season. If Hayes stays healthy (a big if), and Thomas is more than just a one-game wonder, the Wizards could be better than last year, much to the surprise of many who underrated them again in their preseason predictions.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Last night, as I put the finishing touches on two jack-o-lanterns, both with angry slashes of eyebrows and ferociously sharp teeth (the boys are 9 and 7, would you expect anything different?), my younger son asked if he could put the candy bowl out on the front porch. Our house is a bit of a hike from the street, so the dish we set out when we leave on our trick-or-treating trip is usually still nearly full when we return.
"Sure," I replied, happy to keep him busy and take one more thing off the checklist as dusk approached. The Doc would be home shortly, we could all have a quick dinner and then get into costumes and the haunted night. The camera was on the table, I needed to find flashlights, and where were those glowsticks we bought in bulk last spring ...
"Dad!" my older son (seen above as Anakin Skywalker) interrupted my checklist reverie, "Patrick (the pirate) wrote something on the bowl!"
I don't think a seven-year old knows what a shit-eating grin is, but that didn't stop the guilty party from proudly smiling when confronted with this accusation.
"What did you write?"
"A song we learned at school." Could be worse. Could be a song he learned on the bus.
"What did you write it with?"
"A marker." Struggling to contain his smile from spilling into gleeful laughter.
"A permanent marker?"
"I don't know..." Still confident and somewhat defiant.
"The thick black one." Not a trace of regret.
And there it was, and there it shall remain, a slight variation on a familiar Halloween ode, inscribed for all eternity.
If you are not an expert in deciphering the scrawl of a seven-year old, let me offer the following translation:
I plan to get the last laugh, though I might have to wait a while. This family artifact should make a lovely wedding gift to my son and his someday bride, particularly when presented at their rehearsal dinner.