Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson reportedly dead ...

Good. About a month back I said to a few people that if Michael Jackson would just die, I could listen to his music again ...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rustlers Rhapsody

One of the great movies you never heard of.

Sidekick: Why don’t you stay in the hotel?
Rex: I never stay in town.
Sidekick: Oh, What’s your name anyhow?
Rex: I’m Rex O'Herlihan, the Singing Cowboy.
Sidekick: The what?

Sidekick: I just want to say one thing. I hope you shoot Mr. Barber in both hands.
Rex: Who?
Sidekick: Barber, Bob Barber.
Rex: Bob Barber?
Sidekick: Yeah that’s what the Colonel’s daughter called him.
Rex: Not Bad Bob Barber … Bothersome Bob Barber … Bob the Butcher Barber?
Sidekick: No ... no, just Bob.

Rex: Ever faced another good guy before?
Bob Barber: Nope.
Rex: Me neither.
Bob Barber: Kinda makes you wonder what'll happen.
Rex: I figure the good guy'll win, just like always.
Bob Barber: Yeah, except we're both good guys.
Rex: Then I figure the most good good guy will win.
Bob Barber: That's how I figure, too.
Rex: Yep.

Just a joy from end to end.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Quote, and Belated Happy Fathers Day to you all ...

It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitative as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know this look -- I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring -- caring deeply and passionately, really caring -- which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naivete -- the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball -- seems a small price to pay for such a gift.
Roger Angell, New Yorker baseball writer, 1975


One of the best father's days ever. First time since Christmas all my kids sat down together at the same table -- that's been rare since my oldest went off to Berkeley. We spent half the day at the beach, Paradise Cove in Malibu; ran around and read books and dug holes and ate the greatest clam chowder on the west coast, plus Kobe beef ribs which are as sinful as they sound; and then the 7 of us ate 5 pounds of Alaskan King Crab for dinner, and then watched a Captain America cartoon that was pretty good before bedtime. ("Ultimate Avengers 2" -- cartoons are better than they used to be, when I was a boy.)

Hope you all had as good a day as I did.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Last Lakers post for a bit

I'm sure many of you are relieved. :-)

Seven years since the last championship ... these are photos, taken 7 years apart, of me and the two younger boys, at the 2002 and 2009 parades. Time flies.

Enjoy it while it lasts. They grow up.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

An Editorial Letter for Bill Simmons, ESPN

Bill Simmons, ESPN Columnist and Celtics fan, was clearly in shock when he wrote this ....

... so I've decided to help him fix it -- the task an editor would have performed, if ESPN had any.

Paragrah 1: I had trouble stomaching the 2008-09 Lakers for the same reason I've never bought Tom and Katie or Hillary and Bill. It always felt like something of an arrangement to me. Let's try to pull this off. It will put us in a better place. We can do this. I can tell the difference between "These guys love each other" and "These guys put up with each other for a few months because of the carrot dangling at the end." At least I'd like to think I can.

This becomes: "I Hate the Lakers." Fair enough, he's a Boston guy, but if you can say the same thing with a short sentence rather than a long sentence, you will usually improve your text. As we already know that Simmons is a Celtics fan, this is arguably superfluous; however, we will include it in anyway, to set tone for the remainder of the essay.

The second paragraph, beginning with Ultimately, does it matter? It doesn't matter, as Simmons clearly suspected.

In the third and fourth paragraphs, through "so we can say we were there to witness it," Simmons asks if Kobe has changed, and swears on the souls of his children.

Here Simmons violates the principle of authority. This is an important principle in writing: examine the sentences "He stood perfectly still" and "He stood still." They mean the same thing. "It was utterly dark" and "It was dark" -- again, they mean the same thing. A writer who is confident of his work will make the simpler statement: a writer who is not will reach for unecessary emphasis.

A man who swears on the souls of his children, in a trivial matter like sports, doesn't merely suspect he's lying: he knows it, and hopes you don't.

Next Simmons asserts that we are all in this together, which is untrue. Some of us, for example, are Lakers fans; and some of us are Celtics fans. The Celtics recent 20 year stretch of mediocrity was a matter of great joy to me; I believe Simmons does not share this emotion. I believe, in fact, that Lakers success pains him, and Celtics success pleases him. Understanding this ESPN essay as the work of a man dealing with substantial pain brought about by a Lakers championship, we can perhaps extend some generosity to the unfortunate Simmons ...

Midway through the fourth paragraph, Simmons shares with us that he envies those who saw the great players of the 60s and 70s in their primes. If not eloquent, this is at least clearly stated and imparts new information: it stays. Likewise his brave admission that Kobe Bryant's fourth championship has propelled him into the ranks of the 10 best players in NBA history.

In the fifth, sixth, and seventh paragraphs, Simmons shares with us that he is not yet 40, and that the comparisons of Kobe to Michael Jordan strike him as unreasonable; and that constant praise of Kobe makes him uncomfortable. We will accept the first two as reasonable statements; the latter is clearly a Hemingwayesque use of repetition, since he returns to it repeatedly. We will therefore include it, as a stylistic matter not wildly detrimental to the smooth flow of the text.

In the 8th paragraph Simmons asserts that he is smarter than the average audience of a basketball game. This is possibly true once we factor in data that Simmons does not share within this particular column -- namely, that Simmons is a Clippers season tickets holder. I will concede that Simmons is most likely brighter than the crowds at and audiences for the basketball games he most frequently attends, but perhaps Simmons makes too much of this? I, for example, am taller and stronger than the friends of my 10 year old son....

As a two year season ticket holder, he writes in the column linked above ... without any evident shame or embarrassment.

Much as the first paragraph of this piece can be accurately condensed to "I Hate the Lakers," the 8th paragraph might becomes "I am a Clippers Season Ticket holder," or even, "I am smarter than most Clippers fans."

In the ninth paragraph, Simmons asserts that the Lakers were a good team, and that other teams had problems that prevented them from being as good. While a true statement, it's trivial in context: this is true of every championship team, every year. (One must, again, make allowance for Simmons' Celtics neurosis; he notes Kevin Garnett had a knee injury that damaged his team's playoff chances; but fails to note that the Celtics lost to the Lakers both times this year while Garnett was healthy; in the first game, snapping a 19 game Celtics winning streak; and in the second game, on the Celtics home court, snapping a Celtics 12 game winning streak.) Nonetheless it should probably be included in the edited essay as it is one of the few arguments Simmons actually presents.

Toward the end of the ninth paragraph, Simmons asserts that the Lakers seem to him merely a very good team, and not a great one. This is nearly a meaningful statemtent.

In the 10th through 12th paragraphs, Simmons observes that Kobe's performance in the playoffs this year was almost identical to his playoffs performance last year. This is an accurate and legitimate observation. However, Simmons fails to note that Kobe's performance in the Finals round was one of the great performances in NBA History; the last player to average more than 32.4 points and 7.4 assists in a Finals was Jerry West, in 1969. This was a once in 30 years performance, and Simmons' inability or unwillingness to take note of it is striking.

In the 13th through 16th paragraphs, Simmons asserts that Kobe's once in 30 years performance was not really much better than his performance in the 2008 finals, since the improvement year to year was a mere 6.7 points, .9 rebounds, and 2.4 assists.

In the 17th through 19th paragraphs, Simmons explains that in addition to Kobe's improved play, his teammates also played better. He also asserts that the 2008 Boston Celtics were a better team than the 2009 Orlando Magic. One is tempted to give him credit for his final assertion in the 19th paragraph, that the Lakers "deserved to win" ... but unless the NBA is indeed fixed, this is yet another trivial statement that is true of all NBA champions since the league's inception.

In the 20th paragraph, Simmons selects various elements, while ignoring others, of Kobe's Finals performance, to support his argument that Kobe's once-in-30-years performance ... wasn't.

In the 21st paragraph, Simmons answers the question he opened with: "Ultimtely, does it matter?" He's still a Celtics fan, and it still doesn't. His conclusion is sound: he finds that Kobe has not changed. This is a point I would agree with; except that Simmons means it as an insult, when it is the highest of compliments for a player that has played at the highest levels since his entry into the league 13 years ago.

In the 22nd and 23rd paragraph, Simmons asserts that in previous years, Kobe's teammates were threatened by his individual brilliance; as opposed to the 2009 Lakers, who embrace it.

In the 24th paragraph, Simmons reiterates his distate for praise directed toward Kobe Bryant.

In the 25th paragraph, Simmons asks if the Lakers actually like one another.

In the 26th paragraph, he concedes that he does not know; and then appears to reverse field and conclude that yes, he does: the interaction between Kobe, his teammates, and Phil Jackson, seems inauthentic. (In this, Simmons, though he may not know it, is part of a tradition revered among Easterners for some generations now, to the effect that the citizens of Los Angeles are inauthentic, false, and shallow. It is only a minor amusement that Simmons appears to think this an original observation applicable principally to Kobe Bryant.)

In the 27th paragraph, Simmons reiterates his belief that the Lakers do not like one another and that any appearance to the contrary is, yes, inauthentic.

In the 28th pagraph, Simmons asserts that Kobe is an unusual player in NBA history, but that this is not due to his talent or accomplishments, but rather to his privileged upbringing (which, one assumes, is unheard of in NBA history) and to the circumstances of his career.

In paragraphs 29 and 30, Simmons asserts that Kobe is unlikeable, and adds that he does not like him. Also, the appearance of Kobe's wife and children after the end of Game 5 made him want to throw up.

In paragraphs 31 and 32, Simmons argues that Kobe should not have played in the Olympics, and repeats J.A. Adande's argument that Kobe should have because it gave him a chance to bond with his peers. Simmons now realizes that Adande was right, and adds that Kobe's bonding was inauthentic, a part Kobe had learned to play.

In paragraph 33, Simmons finds a certain detachment in viewing the Lakers championship, and finds, yet again, in a nearly charming return to form, that Kobe and the Lakers are inauthentic. (He also contradicts his statement in Paragraph 26, when asking himself whether the Lakers like one another: "I don't know. I couldn't tell." During the long journey of seven paragraphs, he's figured it out: they don't. "We can tell when a team connects as a whole. We can." One might call this inconsistency, dishonesty, or even growth: to be sure, seven paragraphs can be a long time for people with carpal tunnel.)

In paragraph 34, Simmons finds that young championship teams, such as the 2009 Lakers, are inferior to elderly championship teams, such as the 2008 Boston Celtics. Also, the Lakers are inauthentic.

Let's speed along some; there's duplication in much of the following.

35: The media talked about Kobe too much. Positively.

36. Stories about things other than Kobe's brilliance were more interesting.

37. Several of the Lakers had something to prove in the Finals.

38-39. Unlike other extraordinarily wealthy families, the Buss family is odd, and he would appreciate it if the least competent Buss family member could be put in charge of the Lakers. ("I Hate the Lakers," redux.)

40-41. The Lakers were lucky to win a championship.

42-43. Phil doesn't really like Kobe. In fact, they are inauthentic, and Phil liked Jordan better than he liked Kobe, because Simmons doesn't recall Phil making a particular face between 1989 and 1998. Nonetheless, Phil and Kobe will probably put up with each other in order to win more championships.

44. Phil Jackson is the greatest basketball coach ever and Kobe is the most difficult player the NBA has ever seen, after Wilt Chamberlain.

45. He repeats paragraphs 42-43.

46-47. Simmons makes the not overdone argument that the last two years of Kobe's basketball career have been one of the most remarkable events in basketball history ... and then cheapens it with 11 other examples.

48. Simmons liked Jordan better than he likes Kobe.

49. Kobe is inauthentic but plays hard.

50. This championship is a remarkable individual achievement for Kobe.

51. Simmons dislikes Kobe, but does not really know him.

52. Kobe Bryant is one of the gods of the NBA, but Simmons wishes it were otherwise.

In its initial draft, Simmons' essay is 5,804 words long. Let's see if we can improve upon that with rigorous, or even severe, editing.


I hate the Lakers.

The Lakers are inauthentic.

Did Kobe change between 2008 and 2009? I swear upon the souls of my children I would admit it if he had. I am lying about this.

We are all in this together, though I am a Celtics fan and hate the Lakers.

I am jealous of everyone who watched Russell and Wilt and Cousy in their primes (that is, before Wilt became a Laker.) I wish I could have seen a young Doc flying around in half-filled ABA arenas. I wish I could have watched the 1969-70 Knicks in person. In Kobe's case, we already knew we were following one of the better basketball careers of all time. That fourth title propelled him into the top 10 and yanked the "Can't win without Shaq" monkey off his back; ultimately, the exact ranking doesn't matter. He's one of the best players ever. He has to be mentioned now, if only to dismiss him.

I am not yet 40. Kobe should not be compared to Jordan, or Dwayne Wade. Praise of Kobe makes me uncomfortable.

I am smarter than other people who attend Clippers basketball games.

The Lakers are a very good basketball team, but not a great one. Other teams this year had problems that prevented them from beating the Lakers.

Kobe's performance in the Playoffs in 2008 and 2009 were similar. [Ed. And his performance in the 2009 Finals was a 30-year wonder. We won't put this editorial comment toward your final word count.] Kobe's performance in the Finals included improvements of only 6.7 points, .9 rebounds, and 2.4 assists over his 2008 performance.

Kobe's teammates were better in 2009 than in 2008. The 2008 Boston Celtics were better than the 2009 Orlando Magic.

The Lakers deserved to win the championship. [Ed. Absent fraud, isn't this true of all sports contests?]

Kobe didn't play well during the 2009 Finals and had only one clutch moment during it.

Kobe has not changed. Phil Jackson criticized him in 2004.

Kobe's 2009 teammates were better and more complimentary to Kobe than his 2004 teammates. Kobe did not sacrifice; his 2009 teammates sacrificed.

I can't tell if the Lakers like one another. Never mind, yes I can. They don't. They are inauthentic.

The Lakers are pretending to like one another in order to win championships. They are inauthentic.

Kobe is unusual because he came from a privileged background. We will never see anyone like him again, who came from a privileged background.

Kobe is unlikeable and has no friends. Also, I do not like him.

Watching Kobe's wife and daughters appear with him after the Lakers won the 2009 Championship made me want to throw up. A married man with children is atypical and inauthentic for an NBA player.

Kobe should not have played in the Olympics. Never mind, he should have. Bonding with his peers was good for him, though an act on his end, and inauthentic.

Kobe is inauthentic and unlikeable. In the last seven paragraphs I have realized that I can tell when people like one another. The Lakers do not like one another and are inauthentic.

Young champions like the 2009 Lakers are much worse than old champions like the 2008 Celtics. [Ed. - Please God don't let the Lakers win again next year, eh?]

I don't like it when the media says good things about Kobe, and I don't understand it. It's more interesting to me that various Lakers had something to prove in the 2009 Championships. It's more interesting to me that the Buss family is unusual. I wish the Buss family would put control of the Lakers in the hands of their least competent family member. [Ed. - Please God don't let the Lakers win again next year, eh?]

The Lakers were very, very, very, very, very, very, very lucky to win the 2009 Championship. Yes, seven verys.

Kobe and Phil are inauthentic and don't like each other. Phil liked Jordan better than he likes Kobe and I know this because I don't recall Phil making a face between 1989 and 1998. Phil and Kobe will tolerate one another to win more championships, because Phil is the greatest coach ever, even though Kobe is the biggest jerk since Wilt Chamberlain.

I really wish people would talk more about how Phil and Kobe are inauthentic and don't like each other.

The last two years of Kobe's basketball career have been amazing. It's only happened eleven other times that I can think of off the top of my head. Jordan did it twice.

I really liked Michael Jordan.

Kobe is inauthentic and I don't like him. However, he tries hard and has tried hard for 20 months, which is off the charts; it's only happened eleven other times that I can think of off the top of my head, and Jordan did it twice.

At this specific point in his career, Kobe Bryant shouldn't have been able to play as consistently well as he did. He shouldn't have been able to survive overtime periods in Game 2 (his 205th straight game in 20 months) and Game 4 (No. 207) and thrived in Game 5 like he was playing Memphis in mid-January. Basketball might be a team sport, but in this specific case, an individual's will stood out and made the accomplishment of the group seem ancillary.

I know that Kobe is inauthentic but don't know how inauthentic and probably never will.

But I do know this: What Kobe Bryant accomplished over the past 20 months ranks up there with anything that ever happened in the National Basketball Association. He walks among the NBA gods now. Like it or not. [Ed. - Please God don't let the Lakers win again next year, eh?]


890 words, not counting editorial comment. If not for Simmons' Hemingway-inspired use of repetition, it could have been less.

Bill Simmons, feel free to request feedback any time.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Greatest players in NBA History

For the last few years years (since Duncan's last championship) I've been posting the following list various places. The top 10 players in NBA history are:


This now changes to ...


I admit, I suspect I'm being a homer at #1; it should probably be Bill Russell. But I can't bring myself to do it. If any Celtics fans out there want to rearrange the list to put Russell at the top, I'll close my eyes and look elsewhere.

The two items I get the most static for (aside from Kobe, which is going to elicit howls of outrage for the rest of time) are Jordan and Bird. Jordan's fans can't believe anyone could think he's not at the top; but I do. I was a basketball fan before he showed up, and unlike most of the younger crowd, I remember guys doing what he did before he did it. Doctor J is not just old tape to me (though I admit, Baylor is.)

Magic won 5 championships in 9 Finals trips during the most competitive era in the history of the NBA, in a career cut short by HIV. Jordan won 6 during a down era following expansion.

When Bird and Kobe both had 3 rings I had Kobe better than him; now he has four, and the only person ahead of Bird on that list with fewer championships (2, to Bird's 3) is Wilt Chamberlain, who gets in by dint of his astonishing production.

Mostly I don't bother with lists, because it's all just some schmuck's opinion. But genuinely important subjects like this one require occasional revisiting .... :-)

Friday, June 12, 2009

One more

Steve Perry says there is no way the Lakers lose this series. Better him than me: if he's brought the jinx, now we know who to blame.

Magic are down 1-3. No team in NBA Finals history has come back from that, and only 8 teams in any round of the playoffs. Either we're having a parade, or history's getting made.

Me and a million of my closest friends are planning on a parade, however, so the Lakers need to close out on Sunday.


Court went well. The therapist recommended Alan have no further contact with Bram, which was already the position taken by Bram's court-appointed attorney. More later.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Defining Moments

This is the last championship of this decade. This is Kobe Bryant's last chance to mark himself as the dominant player of this decade, and probably his last real chance to stake any sort of claim toward the greatest player ever.

For the most part, the NBA has had clearly defined eras, and for the most part they've conveniently fit into decades. The dominant player of the 1950s was George Mikan, the first great NBA center. He won five championships (but no Most Valuable Player awards; the NBA didn't begin handing out MVPs until 55-56 season.)

The dominant player of the 1960s was Bill Russell, the center for the Boston Celtics. He won 8 championships in the 60s, plus 3 in the 50s; he won 4 MVPs.

In the 70s it was Kareem Abdul Jabbar. He won only one championship in that decade. (This depends on how you define decades, since the NBA season covers two years, and Kareem won his next championship in 1979-1980. For the purposes of this post, I'm treating each season as a part of the decade in which it ends.) But despite his single championship, no one else did much better in the 70s, and Kareem won 6 MVP awards during that period.

In the 80s it was Magic Johnson. He won 3 MVPs and 5 championships. In a situation that mirrors Kobe's, he had a competitor: Larry Bird. Bird won 3 championships and 3 (consecutive) MVP Awards. But Magic went to the Finals 8 times in the decade (a 9th in the 90s), and Bird only managed it 5 times.

The 90s was Jordan. 4 MVPs (plus 2 in the 80s); and 6 championships.

The 00s has been more fragmented, at least in terms of great players. At the MVP level this is due to the media (which votes on MVPs), and not to the actual caliber of the players. The media's voting in this decade can only be described as irresponsible; they in turn screwed Shaq, Duncan, and Kobe, over the course of the last decade and a bit. Tim's Duncan's only won twice; Kobe and Shaquille O'Neal have only won once apiece. During that same period the NBA has awarded MVPs to Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash (twice!), Kevin Garnett and Allen Iverson. Shaq's been cheated out of at least two MVPs, in 98-99; it went to Karl Malone in a year when Shaq was turning in one of the most stastistically dominant peformances in NBA history. In 00-01 the media handed it to Iverson, when Kobe was clearly a better guard and Shaq was still statistically tearing the cover off the ball.

I don't begrudge Garnett his MVP, though Kobe probably deserved it that year, he was on trial in Colorado and hell would have frozen over before he'd have won it. But the two years following -- Steve Nash? Twice? I like Nash, he's a great player and a joy to watch, but he's also the least deserving MVP in my adult life. And to follow him with Nowitzki was adding insult to injury -- that was three years of anybody-but-Kobe. (Or Duncan, for that matter, who deserved it more than any of the guys who won those years.)

But let the petty annoyances fade ... in this decade, Kobe's won 3 championships, and 1 MVP. Duncan's won 3 in 3 tries, and 2 MVPs. If Kobe wins this year, he'll have won his first championship without Shaq, fourth overall, in his sixth appearance in the NBA Finals, and will have cemented his claim as best player of the decade.

But it'll do more than that. It'll nail down his claim to third greatest guard of all time behind Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, and will catapult him into the discussion for GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) ... though he'll have more work to do to in coming years to live up to that.

Most people would concede Kobe is the greatest offensive force the game's ever seen. But the game is offense, defense, and leadership, and under defense Kobe is merely one of the better players the game has ever seen, and under leadership ... well, this is his second shot at leading a team to the championship. I didn't think they were going to win it last year -- there's an actual blog post where I laid out my feelings that the Celtics would win it last year, much as I disliked the idea -- and they didn't.

I do think they're going to win this year. They have home court, they have more talent than the Orlando Magic, and God knows they've been carrying the burden of their epic flameout in the last game of last year's Finals for the entire year since. When the Orlando Magic won the Eastern Conference Championship, they smiled and laughed and gave every indication of being pleased with themselves. The Lakers, at their trophy ceremony, looked like they'd just barely avoided being shot.

(It's not just the players. A few months back I asked a friend, a fellow Lakers fan, if he thought the Lakers were going to win it all this year. His grim answer: "They'd better.")

This is it for Kobe. I think he's one of the greatest ever to play the game, I think he's the greatest player the game's seen in the last decade, and I think he still has a legitimate shot at GOAT ... and all of that rests on this next series. Jerry West was one of the greatest the game's ever seen too ... but no one has ever really argued for him as GOAT. Because, when he got to the Finals, he lost. And lost. And lost and lost and lost and lost and lost and lost -- eight times, in all.

It's not often a single series means so much to a single player. But this one does.


I'm really sorry the Lakers didn't get to go head to head with the Celtics again this post-season. That would have been fitting. (I don't really care that they're not going to face LeBron -- in the grand Scheme of Schemes, it's a matchup that didn't interest me particularly.) As is, I'm probably going to change the quote on the graphic for this blog. If Garnett comes back healthy next year I'll put it back up again for the playoffs, but the top guys on the Celtics are elderly, and reaching the point where the productivity of basketball players typically drops off a cliff. Rondo's a stud, but he's not going to carry that team by himself with the big 3 aging.


We're back in the U.S., and back in Los Angeles. Court date next week to determine what happens with our 13 year old boy, Bram -- he's just undergone 8 hours of "reunification therapy," with his biological father, with another hour and a half scheduled for Friday. (According to Bram, quite a lot of it consists of Alan bitching about me. Shocker, that.) Quite a bit more coming on this subject, to be sure. The last year has been a fascinating one, and I will be writing about it at length ....

And yes, yes, yesssssssss ... there's more AI war coming. As soon as we have time to breathe, I'll publish the first half as an e-book. That at least ends at a nice stopping point after Trent surfs on a house. The rest will have to wait for things to settle down again, which is sort of the living definition of what the last year hasn't been. Though my sons have all learned to ride horses.

Interesting Times.