NBA Talking Points: Where Basketball's 2Pac Is Back From The Dead

NBA Talking Points is a weekly series that runs down some of the top stories in basketball, and some that aren't being talked about enough. Click any of the links below to jump to this week's talking points, and click here for last week's edition.

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1. Have You Met The Sacramento Kings?

It’s been another week in the NBA, and we really, really need to talk about the Sacramento Kings. Why? Because no one else will, and did you know the Kings are above .500? It’s true. With Wednesday night’s win over the Pacers, the Kings moved to 9-8, and officially became the quietest kinda-decent team in the whole league.

Will they make the playoffs? Of course not. They’re not an actual “good” team, but hey, they’re kind of decent. Snicker if you want, but the Kings have beaten the teams they’re supposed to beat. Wins against Memphis, Golden State, New Jersey, New Orleans, Indiana, and most impressively, Oklahoma City and at Utah. Sure, beating the Jazz was Sacramento’s only road win, but that’s okay.

For now, it’s just heartening to see a team full of young players get the most out of their talent. Because that’s what’s happening here. Paul Westphal, in his first year at head coach, has a team that’ll compete every night. even though they have every excuse to mail it in. The Kings weren’t expected to make the playoffs, they’ve got a roster full of young players, they’re lone superstar (Kevin Martin) is injured, and they play in a fiercely competitive conference. Like I said, every excuse.

And yet, here they are at 9-8, winning the games in which they’re competitive, and quietly putting together a highly respectable resume. In the NBA, with teams like the Warriors and Knicks loafing around on the way to sixty losses, the Sacramento Kings are pretty damn refreshing.

On that bright note, let’s get into the rest of this week’s talking points… Some of this is re-printed from earlier week—with updates!— and other stuff is shiny and new.

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2. Basketball's 2Pac Is Back From The Dead (Err.. Memphis)

You may have loved him in spite of his shortcomings, or because of them. You might have hated him for his attitude and ethos, but simply couldn’t deny his talent. Or you may have dismissed him—too stubborn for his own good. And having the chance to consider things over the past few weeks, maybe everyone was right.

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Allen Iverson’s career can be viewed a number of ways, as it all depends on what moments you view as definitive. If you choose to remember that 2001 season, and his 48 points in game one of the NBA Finals, beating the herculean Lakers, then that puts Iverson in a category with the best of them. On the other hand, if you remember Iverson bickering with coaches, or feuding with management, you may remember him differently; impossibly talented, but fatally flawed.

But just about everyone remembers him as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers. 

Had he gone out with someone else—say, the Knicks or Bobcats—we’d have gotten over it. Plenty of iconic stars finish out their careers in strange jerseys. It’s a shame, but also a reality of the era we live in, and the egos involved in these type of things. Michael Jordan with the Wizards, Emmitt Smith with Arizona, Joe Montana with Kansas City, Shaq with the Suns, and now the Cavs, and whatever team he latches onto next season. At this point, we’re used to it.

But Allen Iverson’s was such a revolutionary figure… Seeing him reduced to 20 minutes-a-game off the bench for some also-ran team would have been so incongruous to everything that came before. He was basketball’s 2Pac—rough around the edges, unapologetic to his critics, and authentic in every sense of the word. Without a doubt, had Iverson somehow died anywhere between 1999 and 2004, at his apex, we would have lionized him in exactly the same way.

Not for his game, but for the values he embodied. His game was always very good, but the persona—the corn rows, the tattoos, the crossovers, the fearlessness, playing-with-four-different injuries attitude—was what made him transcendent. Like nothing we’d ever seen before. A force of nature.

And watching him finish his career on a 20-win Knicks or Grizzlies squad would have been like seeing 2Pac record with autotune. We’d get over it, but some things are just impossible to forget. It’d change our memories forever.

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Now, instead of trying to forget, the Sixers have given the entire league a chance to remember. To get all mushy over those Larry Brown teams, and pretend like the last three years never really happened. Like this has been the plan all along. Iverson’s not perfect, and he meant a lot of different things to different people, but he was always a 76er.

When he went elsewhere, for whatever reason, the whole Iverson myth became marginialized. It was inevitable, really; people evolve and devolve, and as AI got older, it became harder and harder to exist exclusively on his own terms. Suddenly, Carmelo was more talented, Detroit played better with Rodney Stuckey, and even Memphis—Memphis!—decided they’d be better off without him. The indomitable, pint-sized icon had been dominated, and cast off into the NBA’s junkyard.

But now, NBA fans are going to get one last glimpse at the glory days. A comeback tour. Back from the dead. He’s relevant again. No more autotune 2Pac records, or playing second-fiddle to Richard Hamilton. Instead, Iverson’s The Man in Philly, and he’s going to put them on his back and take them as far as he can. Iverson was never the best player on earth, and Tupac wasn’t the greatest lyricist of all time. But in each case, their otherworldly will made them impossibly captivating. Not the best or most refined, but with a persona that always made him the center of attention.

Now, provided this is his last year in the NBA, Allen Iverson’s going out the way he came in. On his own terms, killing himself to win, and carrying the 76ers and the city of Philadelphia with him. It was never his game that made him special, but that once-in-a-lifetime will is something we’ll always remember. Now, we get to see it once more, and remember AI for what made him great in the first place. That’s the way it should be.

UPDATE: And look at the video of his press conference. One more reason Allen Iverson is basketball’s 2Pac, and probably the biggest thing I missed when I wrote this on Wednesday. Emotion is what sets him apart from the rest. When he wants to win, we see it. When he loses, he cries. When he’s mad… Well, he’s mad a lot. And that distracts some people.

Like Tupac before him, Iverson puts forth this militant veneer, and it’s present 90% of the time. He’s either complaining or arguing or yelling or shaking his head in disgust. This is the Allen Iverson that most of the public knows.

But for people that follow basketball, what makes him so compelling isn’t the miltance, but that he’ll occasionally offset that persona with a moment like yesterday’s press conference, when he spontaneously broke down in tears. This is why people love Allen Iverson; because if he look closely, he’s not the heartless thug that you hear described. 

In an era of vanilla athletes like Kobe Bryant, or someone like Brett Favre, who’ll stand up there and coldly discard legions of fans that cared about him for years, it’s refreshing to see someone that so obviously cares, himself. As Iverson said yesterday, fighting back tears, “They love me … And I love them.” And like everything with Iverson, it feels authentic.

Though, just like Tupac, it feels out of character when considered alongside some of his tirades. A person that’s liable to lash out at his inner circle one day, and then bear his soul to the world the next. How do you make sense of someone like that? Is it possible for someone to be ruthless and vulnerable at the same time?

It’s a tough question; but when you talk about Iverson in Philly, and the Sixers fans celebrating his return, make no mistake: they love him because of moments like yesterday. The moments when he lets us in; when he shows you that despite everything you’ve heard, he cares more than you could possibly imagine.

“Thug,” maybe; but “heartless” just doesn’t apply.

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3. Tim Duncan, Dunking Again

Over at SB Nation’s Spurs blog, Pounding the Rock, they have a really excellent look at Tim Duncan. Specifically, his dunking—why he’s doing it more this year, and what that means. It’s yet another example of why blogs are so awesome. Would this happen ten years ago? Or even five?

Seriously: Would someone look at Tim Duncan’s career dunking numbers, juxtapose them season-by-season, and compose a statistical analysis that proves he’s healthier than ever before? To wit:

According to my admittedly questionable calculations, Duncan’s currently dunking at a rate that nearly matches his 2005-2006 performance, 4 years ago, and is on pace to match his dunks total of the 2006-07 season despite playing 2,2 fewer minutes per game. So, accepting our previous theory (Duncan’s age and knee problems meant less dunks), what can we glean from the sudden dunks deluge?

Duncan’s healthy, guys, and he’s feeling better than he has for a very long time. Whether we can credit his weight loss, the extended rest because of our early playoffs exit or that new knee brace he’s using, I think we can all agree that he’s confident and comfortable enough to display some showmanship. The dunks aren’t important by themselves (although they can energize a team and swing a game’s momentum like no other play in basketball – but I digress) but they’re a sure sign of health and youth. Duncan’s willingness to jump that extra inch fills me with hope for this season’s outcome, regardless of our early record.

And it’s 100% true. Duncan is healthy, and he’s got the Spurs quietly playing great basketball, and on track for another deep playoff run. They noticed a subtle detail like “Hmm, Tim Duncan looks like he’s dunking more” and then take the time to look it up, and made sense of it for the rest of us. It’s the type of thing that would never, ever come from a print journalist; not because of any oversight, but because there’s just not much broad interest.

But for people that love basketball, there’s absolutely that sort of interest. And it’s pretty cool to see something like that emerge. Who cares about Alfajores? This is why blogs are great.

(Another reason to love the internet? Tiger Woods’ Slow Jam Voicemail, courtesy of edsbs.)

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4. The Situation In New Jersey: AMAZING

Wait, the New Jersey Nets set a record for NBA futility? Why, that sounds like a perfect excuse to discuss MTV’s newest reality show “Jersey Shore.” For actual basketball discussion, please see here and here, but some things just need to be discussed. 

I haven’t watched an MTV reality show since I was 13 years old, but… good lord this was so amazing. The premise: 8 people living in a house on the Jersey Shore for a month. Sounds simple enough, no? A little bit like The Real World? Well think again, BECAUSE THESE AREN’T JUST PEOPLE, BRO.

How about eight LEGENDS: super tan chicks, RIPPED bros, gallons of hair gel, booze and beaches. And guess what? Everyone’s looking to PUMP THEIR FIST AND PARTY.

That’s not the official description of the show, but this is the official cast:

Pauly D — Blowout hair, but "Don’t like the spiked hair fool you. I’m not a b—-."

Nicole aka “Snooki” — “My ideal man would be Italian, dark, muscles, juice head, guido. If I found that guy, I’d snatch him like that!”

Sammi aka “Sweetheart” — "Your number one mission is to go out and find the hottest, best-looking guido, and take him home.

Vinny — “I fist pump like the best of ’em.”

Ronnie — “Gotta my gel, cologne, more cologne, protein shakes… Three words: beers, b-----, and beaches.”

Jenni aka “Jwoww” — “When you date me, it’s cool in the beginning, and we have fun for the first month, and then I send them on a roller coaster ride to hell” … later in first episode: “I guess I technically just cheated on my boyfriend.”

Angelina —“I am the Kim Kardashian of Staten Island.”

And of course, quite possibly the greatest televison character in history:

Mike aka “The Situation” — Pretty much, everything he says on camera will make you laugh out loud. Or cringe in horror, but that’s good too. As he put it: “The Situation is going to be indescribable. You can’t even describe The Situation.”

I would watch this show if it were ONLY Mike, just going about his daily life. The Situation, in different situations, talking about The Situation. THAT is must-see TV.

Reality shows, for me, stopped being interesting almost as soon as they started. We get it, okay? People are weird, desperate, depraved, and generally depressing. The spectacle of watching a bunch of people degrade themselves just isn’t that appealing, and rubbernecking to see the next step in the cultural apocalypse is likewise not my thing. But this is just… unbelievable. You can’t even describe The Situation.

If you watch only one show this year, make it “Jersey Shore,” Thursday nights on MTV.

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5. Artest Drank Hennessey At Halftime? Of Course He Did

Of all the players in the NBA who should be obligated to give a feature-length interview at least once-a-month, Ron Artest probably tops the list. Either that, or he should forbidden from ever giving feature interviews. Depends on your perspective, I guess.

His latest revelation, to Sporting News:

“I used to drink Hennessy … at halftime. I (kept it) in my locker. I’d just walk to the liquor store (near the stadium) and get it.”

Would you expect anything else? This is the same man who once said, “I’m growing up … but at the same time I’m hood forever.” And of course, his timeless advice for the kids, “Stay focused and stay away from unknown females.” Ron Artest, ladies and gentlemen!

Now, quickly: go change the name of your fantasy team… “Hennessey At Halftime.”

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And one more thing: probably the greatest part about all this Artest stuff is that not one person heard the news and expressed surprise. Like, “Yeah, well, he’s Ron Artest. What’d you expect?” Good luck with that, Kobe!

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6. The Raptors Defense: In A Word, 'Shameful'

You could read this excellent overview of the Toronto Raptors to understand where the team is right now. Really, it’s a nice snapshot, and a comprehensive look at their struggles to play even average defense:

The Raptors defense is beyond awful … it is shameful.

Something is wrong. … here are the issues that occur to me:

1. Athleticism. There are some serious athletes on the Raptors roster; the problem is they’re not very good basketball players.

2. Chemistry. Some serious issues emerging here

3. Turkoglu. He’s been close to terrible as far as I’ve seen. [Re: defense]

4. Coaching. …whatever message Triano has been emphasizing hasn’t been getting through, and now some of his players are calling him on it. That’s a problem.

5. Management: But now [the Raptors are] locked into some long contracts with some average to above-average players, but not his best player, with a group that is less than the sum of its parts.

Well, then. That about it covers it then, huh? Every facet of the team is flawed. And Turkoglu, in particular: it’s always nice to add a $52 million free agent, only to have him three months later get his own special category on a “What’s wrong with the Raptors” list. But hey, did you know that he also turns 31 this year? (Maybe we should consolidate the management and Turkoglu categories…)

In any case, Michael Grange does a nice job expounding on each facet of defensive failure, and why it’s contributing to Toronto’s demise. A good, honest appraisal.

Of course, if you’re not a Raptors fan and don’t have time to read it, you could just watch highlights from last night: 

They gave up 146 points? To the Hawks? That really is shameful. Good grief.

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