Marbury’s Second Chance

February 28, 2009

Just about all of us would like to get a second chance at something.  If life was fair do-overs would be a mandatory part of it.   But the reality is some of us get a another chance to fix a mistake, but most of us don’t, forcing us to live with the consequences.   Which brings me to a guy who is getting a second chance to redeem his reputation, re-connect with a long lost teammate and win a championship.  marburyjpg2

Stephon Marbury, last of the New York Knicks, was finally released the other day.  He quickly signed with the NBA champion Boston Celtics.  Marbury now gets another chance to play with the Big Ticket aka Kevin Garnett.   More than a decade ago, both players were young, almost certain to be superstars, in Minnesota.   But Marbury who seemingly never played for a team he didn’t try to tear down, apparently felt that two superstars in the Twin Cities was one two many.   Never mind that a guy as talented as he was then, paired up with a phenom like Garnett, could have played for an NBA title years ago, and may have won it.

Marbury got his wish and left the Timberwolves, taking with him lots of talent but a burdensome me-first attitude.  And his reputation for selfishness has stuck with him over the years.   Meanwhile, Kevin Garnett, who stayed in Minnesota for for what seemed like way too long, only once advanced past the first round of the playoffs.  Nonetheless Garnett became a hard luck NBA icon, who won an MVP award once, but nothing else.  Known for unselfish play, great defense, leadership and losing in the playoffs, Garnett was mercifully allowed to leave the Timberwolves, traded last season to the Boston Celtics.   He was a hit right away.  And the rest as they say – is a championship.  Kevin Garnett, the great lovable loser, at long last was finally rewarded.

Now, Garnett is paired again with Marbury, who was forced to sit out the entire season in New York in a nasty contract dispute.  Marbury refused to settle for a buyout of his $21 million contract, and the Knicks in turn refused to play him.  Three quarters of the way into the season the two sides finally reach a settlement and Marbury becomes a Celtic.  In his debut with the Celtics against the Pacers last night, literally hours after joining the team, Marbury scored 13 points in a Celtics victory.

Marbury’s reunion with Garnett for now is only symbolic.   Garnett is out for a few more games with an injury.  He’s expected back soon, which will formally reunite the once star-crossed tandem.   Second chances are precious and Boston players and fans can only hope that an older, wiser and perhaps more charitable, Marbury buys into the team-first chemistry which was inspired by Garnett.   But if Marbury continues to play like he did last night in his return, no worries, his second chance will be good for everyone.

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Barkley Going to Jail – I Still Like Him

February 24, 2009

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Its hard to dislike Charles Barkley.  He is refreshingly different from any other celebrity.  What makes him unique is that he never seems to be afraid to speak his mind.  He will say just about anything.  And say it usually without the typical PR/BS filter that most sports stars and entertainers employ.  Often what the man sometimes called Sir Charles says is powerfully insightful, with no worries about who he might offend or what endorsements he might lose.  Other times what he says can be foolish and stupid.  But I’ll take the occasional stupid stuff, because I’ve never gotten the impression that he was maliciously trying to hurt the targets of his barbs.  Most times Charles is funny and charming while speaking his truth.  Which is also unlike most celebrities. 

But not so funny is the fact that Charles will soon be serving time.  News outlets are reporting that Charles has now pleaded guilty to drunk-driving charges in Scottsdale, Arizona and will spend five days in jail, sometime next month.  Charles was driving drunk last December and had a blood alcohol level nearly double the legal limit.   Look, a DUI is no laughing matter.  The consequences of getting behind the wheel intoxicated can be deadly.  And while there was no accident and no one was injured, a man of Charles Barkley’s stature had to be taken down a peg, if only for the message that it sends.  The thing about Barkley is, he understands that.  When he was arrested and charged he immediately took responsibility for his mistake and agreed to a six week leave of absence from his TV job at TNT.   

Upon his return to the air the other day Barkley apologized by saying, “I think that a DUI is unacceptable.  That can’t happen and I’ve got to challenge other people, not just celebrities or jocks. You have to really think before getting behind the wheel after you’ve been drinking.”  That is the straight, no chaser, Charles Barkley.  Right now you can believe, that he believes, he is telling the truth. 

So yes, even with a DUI now on his record, along with all the other ”mistakes“ he’s admitted to, like multi-million dollar gambling losses, I am going to cut Chuck yet another break.  I will not judge Charles Barkley because I like him and I feel like I know him.  No, I’ve never met him.  But he’s nonetheless been part of my life for a long time.  Which in fact he has for more than 20 years.  He was the one-time fat-boy who overcame his weight to become one of the greatest basketball players in history.  I root for a guy like that.  A guy once known as the Round Mound of Rebound. I feel that way because Charles has never employed a filter, which allows us to see Him – even if we are uncomfortable with what we see.

I know some of you may call Charles Barkley a fool.  A fool who doesn’t deserve second, third and fourth chances.  And you may be right.  And yes, I know he is 45 years old and should know better.  But the way I see it Charles is like a lot of folks we actually know and care about in our own lives who’ve slipped up. Slipped up big time.  People who have disappointed us terribly.  People we know who are trying but could slip up again any minute.  Still you root for them anyway and pray for them to finally get it together.  Because when they are okay, when they are on their game, as Charles Barkley often is, they are capable of saying and doing some really remarkable things.  That’s why I will continue to root for Charles Barkley, pinstripes and all.


Let’s Not Forget It’s Just a Game

February 15, 2009


After a couple of weeks of debating the athletic value of steroids and marijuana, I was reminded last night that in the end, sports are just games. And games are supposed to be fun.

What did it for me was another edition of the NBA Slam Dunk contest. Actually it was another edition of the irrepressible Dwight Howard. The defending slam dunk champion, is all youthful exuberance, winning personality, and from every appearance an absolutely decent young man. Each time I see him speak and watch him play, he is eloquent about his respect for the game and his enjoyment of it.

Howard is one superstar who seems to really understand his role as both athlete and entertainer. He also appears to understand sportsmanship and that he is truly blessed to be so well-compensated for playing a game. Sure he is human and may have some missteps along the way that will disappoint some of us. But so far so good.

My appreciation of Howard’s sportsmanship was cemented when near the end of the slam dunk contest he graciously agreed to help his final round opponent – Nate Robinson – all 5’9″ tall execute a creative over the top dunk. The 6’11” Howard stood near the basket and allowed Robinson to jump completely over the top of him and dunk the basketball into the hoop. Robinson’s sensational dunk won over the audience of voting judges at home allowing the little man to take home the trophy.

To me the real winner was the happy sportsman Dwight Howard who seemed just as pleased for Nate Robinson as he would have been for himself. He joyfully helped remind us that he was playing a game and was having fun doing it.


Hate Has No Place

February 16, 2007

ESPN.com – NBA – Tim Hardaway says ‘I hate gay people’: “‘You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known,’ Hardaway said. ‘I don’t like gay people and I don’t like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.'”

With those hateful words during a radio interview the other day, retired former NBA All Star, Tim Hardaway may have ended his post-basketball career. Hardaway was responding to questions about former NBA player John Amaechi’s recent declaration that he is gay. Last week Amaechi became the first former NBA player to admit that he is homosexual. Homophobia may well be the last barrier to overcome in team sports. This may be why no former NBA player until Amaechi and no current player has ever “come out of the closet”.

Tim Hardaway was slated to take part in several NBA All Star events this weekend in Las Vegas and has been making public appearances on behalf of the league this season. But those appearances for now will come to an end as NBA Commissioner David Stern said yesterday that Hardaway’s “views are not consistent with ours” and has barred Hardaway from making future appearances for the league. “It is inappropriate for him to be representing us given the disparity between his views and ours,” Stern added.

It should be noted that after the commissioner took action against him, Hardaway apologized for his words of hate against gays.

“As an African-American, I know all too well the negative thoughts and feelings hatred and bigotry cause. I regret and apologize for the statements that I made that have certainly caused the same kinds of feelings and reactions. I especially apologize to my fans, friends and family in Miami and Chicago. I am committed to examining my feelings and will recognize, appreciate and respect the differences among people in our society. I regret any embarrassment I have caused the league on the eve of one of their greatest annual events.”

But clearly it was too little too late. There is simply no room for that kind of intolerance in sports or society in general. As such a public relations inspired apology from Hardaway will not do at this time.

While John Amaechi has written a book about his life and experiences as a gay player and has finally come out, it is extremely unlikely that Amaechi is the NBA’s only gay player past or present. And it is quite possible that Tim Hardaway played with and showered with gay teammates whether he knew it or not. Which makes Hardaway’s statements about his hatred of gays all the more intolerant and ignorant.

Is Tim Hardaway the only person or athlete who feels this way about gays? Certainly he is not. Thousands if not millions of people stupidly hate for personal and sometimes religious reasons. For years gay men and women have paid a terrible price for that hatred and continue to. Ironically it is probably good that Hardaway was “honest” about his feelings. Out in the open this kind of prejudice and stupidity can be dealt with, discussed and perhaps eventually overcome.

I agree with the censure of Hardaway – for now. I hope that in time he will understand just how harmful his anti-gay words were and just how hollow his so-called apology was. I also hope that eventually he will see gay players and gay people as full-fledged human beings. When he does perhaps he can come back to the NBA in some capacity to help teach others that hatred and intolerence have no place in our society and that he learned – albeit the hard way – that hateful words and hateful hearts are indeed harmful and do have consequences.


Another Brawl – And Hypocrisy Reigns

December 18, 2006

How the NBA honchos hand down penalties and punishment for the brawl between the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets at Madison Square Garden the other night will go a long way toward determining what they learned if anything from the infamous Pistons-Pacers brawl of two years ago. Let’s start from the beginning. The Knicks Mardy Collins fouls the Nuggets J.R. Smith hard as he goes in for a layup/dunk. The ensuing confrontation led to a brawl that quickly got out of hand. But the brawl may have actually begun before the first blows were thrown, when Knicks coach Isiah Thomas allegedly “warned” Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony not to drive the paint. At that point the Knicks were being blown out and embarrased yet again at home with time running out in the fourth quarter while Denver’s starters were still in the game.

Athlete fights are always interesting in slow motion review. The replay allows us to opine from on high what really happened and how those angry players should have responded. The replay doesn’t take us into the huddle where perhaps the call for retribution for the embarrassment was demanded. What price should Isiah Thomas pay for allowing his players to mete out punishment? And why should Carmelo Anthony get singled out for increased punishment for sucker-punching Mardy Collins, when clearly, tackling and wrestling were going between several other players on both teams at the same time?

If this were ice hockey or major league baseball our view of this brawl might be totally different. In baseball when one player is hit by a pitch, invariably the “code” demands retribution by the opposing pitcher to hit the offending team’s first batter. This “code” is understood and accepted as being “part of the game.” The code is also sanctioned by the manager. Still bench clearing brawls usually follow despite the code. In hockey an unskilled “goon” is often called upon by his coach to put a “hit” on the opposing star who is scoring too much. Fights and occasional muggings are an accepted part of the NHL culture. Still, when the goon attacks the star usually a melee erupts and benches also clear. In both baseball and hockey though the fights and retribution come to an end and the next day the sun rises and fans return for more.

So what was different at Madison Square Garden? What is the “code” in the NBA? And why do so many people react with apparent shock and horror when basketball players “lose it”? NBA Commissioner David Stern has been tough on the behavior and etiquette of the league’s players. Obviously, Stern is keenly aware of the double standard applied to the players in his league. What makes the violence of basketball players so much worse? Its a retorical question. We really know why. Its still hard to take any sort of misbehavior from this still mostly black league. Black men out of control. Its an outrage. Let hypocrisy reign.