Lebron James (Courtesy of Getty Images)
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On Wednesday, while scanning through the LeBron James Free Agency Storystream, I caught myself getting cynical about the NBA for a few minutes. For those unfamiliar with the term, a "Storystream" is a concept that SB Nation developed that allows you to track the way a story evolves over time. It's comprised of an initial story, and then we add updates as more news or analysis emerges. Cool stuff.
And that LeBron Storystream could probably be populated with three or four news items, every day, for the next four months. Even though none of it means anything. Is that depressing to anyone else?
As basketball fans, there are only a handful of certainties in life:
1. Kobe's taking the last shot.
2. Don't trade with Daryl Morey.
3. Always trade with the Knicks.
4. Don't mess with David Stern.
5. Ron Artest is sometimes crazy funny, sometimes crazy productive, and sometimes crazy scary. But always remember—always always always—that at the end of the day, Ron Artest is crazy.
6. Finally, LeBron James' free agency is The Biggest Story in Basketball.
Whether we like it or not, basketball fans are going to be listening to a solid four months of analysts pontificating about LeBron's free agency plans this summer. Because what's more important: This year's chamipionship, or a decision that could change the landscape for the next six? From that perspective, the coverage makes sense.
The problem is, nobody knows a damn thing about what he will or won't do, and we're left overthinking things for the next 16 weeks, asking the same questions over and over, driving ourselves crazy. Still, because it's news, someone has to ask... What Could LeBron's Number Change Mean for this Summer? Good question.
And I would answer it, but if you don't mind, I'd rather pour this pot of hot coffee on my face.
I don't care about LeBron. Enough. In June, after the finals, we can discuss Lebron's free agency plans. It's not that the story's not important, but there's no news. LeBron has all the leverage here, and he's not saying a word until July. The only speculation is coming from people that are impossibly desperate (Knicks fans) or painfully defensive (Cavs fans). What's interesting about that? Whats fun about that? [Rant over]
[Wipes hot coffee from face ... Takes deep breath] So, since yesterday had me feeling all cynical and grumpy we'll begin this week by talking about someone that could make anyone smile.
1. WHO IS ZACH GALIFIANAKIS? Glad you asked.
To my amazement, Galifianakis (pronounced Gal-if-fin-ahk-iss) isn't really a household name at this point in his career. People may recognize him from The Hangover or the HBO show Bored to Death, but other than that, he's played mostly supporting roles, popping in for a few cameos that make you say, "Heyyyy, wait a second... That's the guy from The Hangover!" But he's bigger than a bit player. If he's not officially the funniest person on earth, he's one of a handful of people that deserve consideration. This weekend he's hosting Saturday Night Live, when his strange brand of comedy will hit the National TV and, in the process, might just resuscitate the most worn out brand in television. But how do we describe him?
Part of his what makes him so great is just a sight gag. His ridiculous beard makes him the funniest looking person in any room he enters. Beards either make someone look terrifying, homeless, or hilarious, and in Zach's case, it's definitely the third one. His beard is like Seth Rogen's jewfro; it's impossible not to laugh at someone that looks like that. So that's advantage number one.
Then there's his jokes which, while often wildly inappropriate, are somehow acceptable since they're coming from this round, bearded, cartoon character of a man. He looks so cuddly. So when, out of the blue, he tells someone to the shut the f— up, or asks Natalie Portman about her vagina, it's somehow not abrasive, and just awesome. Advantage number two.
And in addition to scathing sarcasm, he's also relentlessly self-deprecating. And in a world of unfunny, pretentious Hollywood celebrities, it's refreshing to have someone out there who's willing to make himself look ridiculous for the sake of good comedy. And it doesn't hurt if you can make fun of those pretentious celebrities in the process.
"My dream is to just do arthouse pictures. I really wanna be... I would love to be in the most independent movie ever made."
But his greatest asset of all is the awkward pause. With prolonged stares into the camera, in between delivering ridiculously blunt statements, he's made awkwardness into an artform. Please consult his "Between Two Ferns" series with Funny or Die for a definitive look at his mastery of awkwardness, or just check the awesome promos for this week's Saturday Night Live. ("Excuse me, I got a little Amy Adams stuck in my throat.")
As comedians go, Galifianakis is his own animal—strange, successful, and most of all, refreshing.
2. WHO IS THE NBA'S ZACH GALIFIANAKIS? So, if Galifianakis were an NBA player... Who would he be? There are a number of factors to consider here. First off, we have to remember that Galifianakis had to wait a while for his true "breakthrough" performance in The Hangover. He's been hilarious for years, but not until that movie did average fans of comedy begin to appreciate his brilliance. So ideally, we'd be talking about a late-bloomer.
There's also his ridiculous appearance, which might be tougher to find in the League. Big Baby from the Celtics comes close, but he's nowhere near talented enough to deserve the comparison. It's sad, but true: the NBA just doesn't have many people that have a giant potbelly and a mountainman beard. The closest fit, appearance wise, would be Baron Davis, with his legendary beard and baby fat that's remained on his frame for his entire career.
Could Baron be our answer? Let's break this down. He's one of the most likable players in the league. Despite being one of the best athletes in the league—especially in his first few seasons—he's always had that extra baby fat on his frame. And then there's that awesome beard. This week, he offered to sell it for $5,000, or for a limited time as part of a recession special, $29.99.
Like his tubby counterpart Galifianakis, he doesn't take himself too seriously, and he's one of the strangest characters in the league. But there's still something missing. On paper, "Boom Dizzle" seems like a perfect comparison, but he's just not quite goofy enough. Although to be fair to Boom, that's mainly because I have one specific person in mind. Steve Nash.
Earlier this year I mentioned that if Steve Nash has one celebrity comparison, it would be Jennifer Aniston (do yourself a favor and click on this photo). But that's only in basketball terms. The way he's aged is inexplicable. Like Aniston, he's gotten immeasurably better at an age where he's supposed be declining dramatically. He's the NBA's resident hot older woman.
But as a character, he's just as goofy as Galifianakis, and easily the funniest guy in the entire NBA. Think about all the strange, hilarious videos he's produced over the years.
Remember that singalong with Dirk Nowitzki? Remember his intrepid reporting for David Letterman at the NBA Finals? Or that spoof of Step Brothers he did with Baron Davis? Nash has done so many ridiculous things over the years that we forget about some of the funniest moments. And frankly, we forget just how ridiculous he is. It's not normal for a 36 year-old NBA All-Star to act like this.
His Vitamin Water sponsorship has produced some of his funniest moments—talking about his relationship with the company, he deadpans: "I just like to take a big brand, put it on my back, and give them a little piggy back ride for a while. See how good they can be." And arguably his greatest moment came in this Vitamin Water informerical:
Like Galifianakis, it took a while for the rest of us to really catch on to his brilliance. And maybe as a result, Nash has never taken himself too seriously—like when he spliced together a bunch of his worst plays and told fans to vote him into the All-Star Game—and most importantly, he's a breath of fresh air for fans. It's not the rest of the NBA is pretentious or even boring, but Nash just brings a whole new element and makes things more fun.
Jennifer Aniston explains Nash, the player, but Zach Galifianakis explains Nash, the person. Or at least, why we love him so much.
And if you think this analogy is strained, or we're overthinking things, look at this way: Isn't that more fun than a psychoanalysis of Lebron James and whether he'll go to the Knicks?
If nothing else, this has been an open solicitation for Steve Nash to grow a ridiculously thick beard.
3. FREE DANNY GRANGER. Wednesday night in Portland, Danny Granger turned in a pretty impressive showing, hitting for 30 points on 12-22 shooting. Nevertheless, his team lost by 23 points in a game that was never really close. So, you ask: If their best player was playing that well, how could an NBA team get so badly outclassed? Well, the rest of the starters shot 9-29 from the field, with T.J. Ford the second-leading scorer on the night. With 9 points.
Now, using a COMPLEX STATISTICAL FORMULA™, we can see that Mr. Granger is approximately 24% better than everyone else on the Pacers. You see, 12-22 rounds out to about 55% percent, while 9-29 checks in at 31%. And if my formula is to be trusted, then 55-31=24. Care to argue? NUMBERS DON'T LIE.*
Does that oversimplify things? Maybe, but here's what I wrote about the Pacers in October:
Where does this leave Granger? Well, frustrated. ... Because [his teammates] kind of suck. Granger’s improved every year he’s been in the league, and quietly, he’s one of the steadier stars the NBA has to offer. He does everything well, and on a good team as a second option, he’d be damn near unstoppable. Instead, he’s stuck in Indiana, leading a mediocre supporting cast to the 11th spot in the East every year.
Maybe "unstoppable second option" is exaggerating Granger's potential, but there's no question that on a good team, he could make a big difference. A great third option, at worst. On the Pacers, he toils in obscurity on a nightly basis, getting blown out by a relatively average team like the Blazers, just because that's what happens to crappy teams. Despite Granger's best efforts, they are the slump busters of the NBA universe.
Maybe there's nothing wrong with it now, but in 12 months, when we're having the same conversation, don't be surprised if Danny Granger just snaps one day. Could you blame him?
*(Excuse me, I was just imitating every stats-obsessed NBA writer I've ever met.)
4. THE PROKHOROV WAY: LOSE A HOUSE, GAIN A STADIUM Propsective Nets' owner Mikhail Prokhorov made headlines this week when he lost $53 million in a housing contract gone bad. The villa is below, via this ABC News Photo Gallery of Villa La Leopolda:
First thing's first: You're not ballin until you got helicopters takin' pictures of your house.
And even though Prokhorov wound up backing out of an agreement to purchase the house—or the villa, or compound, or whatever insanely rich people call their homes—the story's message resonates regardless. He's rich enough to consider buying that property, and what's more, he's rich enough to risk losing $53 million by walking away from the deal.
And while wealth itself isn't inherently cool or worth of our attention, having that kind of wealth come to the NBA is, unquestionably, inherently cool. Next week, the New Jersey Nets break ground on a new arena. It'll be like a lush French villa, but in the heart of Brooklyn, and shaped like a spaceship. With Prokhorov at the helm, you can be sure it'll be interesting.
5. ALLEN IVERSON'S BIZARRE JOURNEY TAKES ANOTHER TURN. Earlier this week, we put together a collection of excerpts from stories on Allen Iverson's crazy, crazy year. Let's try to fit it all in one sentence: He signed with Memphis, got hurt and missed the preseason, came back in November and complained about minutes, got released after sitting out a bunch of games, almost went to the Knicks, retired from basketball, returned to basketball to play for the 76ers, got voted into the All-Star Game, was conspicuously absent from said event, and a few weeks later, he was released again, under circumstances that are still shrouded in mystery.
It fit into one sentence, but jeez. That's a long-ass sentence. And now he's getting divorced:
A week after the Philadelphia 76ers' Allen Iverson announced he was leaving basketball for the rest of the season to be with his sick 4-year-old daughter, the star’s wife filed for divorce in Fulton County Superior Court.
In the divorce petition filed on Tuesday, Tawanna Iverson said her 8 ½-year-long marriage to the guard was "irretrievably broken." In the petition, Tawanna Iverson asked for temporary and permanent custody of their five children as well as child support and alimony.
It's never wise to speculate, but something is going on with AI, right? Whatever the problems, let's hope Bubba Chuck gets things worked out before too long. (If nothing else, then for Scoop Jackson's sake.)
6. MAGIC AND BIRD: THE DOCUMENTARY
Saturday night, HBO will debut Bird and Magic: A Courtship Of Rivals, a look at the rivalry between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. I'll have a full review up next week, but if you're a basketball fan, how can you miss that?
7. Shaq Goes Down For The Cavs. What Does It Mean? Earlier this week, after it was announced that Shaq had surgery to repair his thumb and would be out for eight weeks, it sparked a bit of debate in the SB Nation offices. On the one hand, you had me arguing that the Cavs will ultimately be a more dangerous team without Shaq:
Until then, this move forces Mike Brown to get out of his own way. For a few years now, the Cavs have been better when they play small. More fun, more explosive, and just better. The problem this whole time is that Mike Brown, for all his defensive wizardry, almost never goes to small ball unless foul trouble or injuries forces his hand. This doesn't necessarily make the Cavaliers a bad team, but let's say that it transforms their offense from what should be a sports car, into a plain-but-perfectly-reliable sedan. They can still hum along at a decent pace with Shaq and Anderson Varejao up front, but they won't be leaving anyone in the dust.
Playing small, the matchups get a lot more impossible for Cleveland opponents. They can spread the floor with shooters, put Lebron and JJ Hickson (or Leon Powe, who just returned from injury) in the high or low posts, and from there, just eviscerate defenses.
On the other hand, there was my SB Nation running mate, Mike Prada:
Cleveland’s had stretches where they’ve dominated with their small lineup, such as in a December game against Phoenix and a recent game against Boston. But ask yourself this question: would Cleveland’s small lineup work as well if it wasn’t contrasted with their big lineup? In other words, how much of Cleveland’s success with the small lineup is due to it being completely different than it’s big lineup? I’m pretty sure it has a lot to do with it. Not only in terms of scouting, but also because the ability to change the game with a simple lineup switch is something no team can really contend with.
Now that Shaq is out, Cleveland is forced to go small the entire game, which will allow teams to properly prepare for it. The novelty act of the small lineup will wear off. That’s a value Shaq brings that Sharp overlooks. [...]
This isn’t to say Cleveland’s in trouble with this injury. They have enough depth where they’ll survive. But that’s exactly it: they’ll survive. They won’t thrive as Sharp suggested.
Since Monday's argument Cleveland beat the Nets and Knicks by a combined 50 points. It came against two terrible teams, but even so. That's a pretty big number. Does it mean I'm right? No. Or not yet, at least. But... I had to mention it, right?
8. SONG OF THE WEEK. Kanye West, "Can't Tell Me Nothing" (Galifiankis Video Version)
From the description of this video:
On June 1, 2007 I got a one line email from Zach that said, "this sounds like a joke but it is true. Kayne West wants me to lip sync his new video. can you fly to nc to shoot it? " There was very little discussion in advance other than that. Hiring the cloggers was Zach's idea, and Inman was able to track them down. For all the ridiculousness you see here, I have to say we took the song very seriously. We asked ourselves, "What if two farmers from North Carolina set out to make their own Kanye West music video...and succeeded?"
"Hiring the cloggers was Zach's idea." But of course it was... Steve Nash is impressed.