Skinny Kevin Love and Other NBA Sights I Am Not Used to
We are one month into the NBA season, and my eyes have not caught up with my brain.
Between trades, coaching hires and the draft, flux is the norm every offseason. But typically I have time to prepare myself.
The summer of 2011 was different.
All the talk was about percentages of the NBA pie and what each side should, and eventually did, concede. The offseason was compressed to the length of a blink, and before I could catch my breath, Christmas Day dawned and the first ball was tossed in the air for tip-off.
Here I am, with the first calendar month of the NBA season behind me, and there are still a few sights I have not adjusted to.
Udonis Haslem's Half-Fro
Avoiding a Miami Heat game in 2011 was more difficult than avoiding an Adele song. LeBron’s ignominious departure from Cleveland was the story in the league and it seemed nearly every Heat contest was televised. Consequently, I got to know Udonis Haslem and his hair.
Udi used to rock corn rows. It was a very street look and I could not look at him without being reminded of Latrell Sprewell. When I first clicked on Miami’s season opener against the Dallas Mavericks, Haslem was at the charity stripe and I did not recognize the man or his sophisticated head of lettuce. I even checked my phone to see if, in some great nostalgic coup, the Heat signed Scottie Pippen. Don’t laugh; Juwan Howard is still on the roster.
I’ve watched several Heat games since Christmas Day, so Haslem’s half-fro is no longer such a surprise, but I was not ready for its regular season debut.
The Metta World Peace Jersey
Given his bizarre history, a name change only registers a 6.3 on the Ron Artest Weirdness Scale. I saw the name change on ESPN’s bottom line. I heard him interviewed as Metta World Peace on the radio, but nothing prepared me for the purple and gold World Peace jersey.
The jersey is a visual oddity for several reasons.
World Peace is a long last name, and I wonder if the Lakers equipment team had to special order smaller letters just to fit them all on.
It is seldom I see an abstract noun like “World Peace” where a name is supposed to be. I find it very unnerving.
World Peace added to the confusion by changing his number. What happened to the Michael Jackson tribute? Did I miss something? Is MJ no longer the King of Pop?
Finally, Ron Artest is like a crazy cousin; I grew up with him as a constant presence, but I don’t want to know him too well. He’s been a part of my sports life since his days with St. John’s in the late 1990s, and while his professional career has been tumultuous, I have been a spectator every step of the way.
The Artest jersey was home; the World Peace jersey is a new couch. I’ll get used to it, but it will take some time.
The Philadelphia 76ers on Top on the Atlantic Division
After missing the Eastern Conference Finals last season, the Boston Celtics were expected to run away with the Atlantic. But with injuries to Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo and with Father Time laughing sarcastically at the team, the Celts just look tired. For the time being they have been usurped by the 76ers.
Philly is on top because the short season has put a premium on youth, and their roster is loaded with talent under 25. Evan Turner has stepped up this game season, Spencer Hawes is playing like a true inside threat and Jrue Holiday and Andre Iguodala can flat out ball.
The youth movement is on, and it's upsetting the apple cart in the Eastern Conference.
Khloe Kardashian at Dallas Mavericks Games
Just like I try to avoid the stomach flu and long lines at the grocery store, I try to avoid exposure to any member of the Kardashian family at all costs. I don’t use QuickTrim. I don’t read gossip rags. I don’t even bother turning on the E! Network. I was doing a great job living a Kardashian-free life and Lamar Odom ruined it.
Now I can’t watch a Dallas game without the obligatory Khloe cameo. Of all areas of my life to invade, the Kardashians are hitting me where it hurts the most by crashing my sports time. Aren’t the Kardashians ubiquitous enough? Haven’t they conquered every other aspect of pop culture without sitting courtside at NBA games?
I wish Khloe and Lamar all of the best in their marriage and professional endeavors, and I admire that Khloe is supporting her husband, but I wasn’t ready for her to occupy a space in my life. I’m still not.
Seriously. I could use a Kardashian break.
Mike Brown on the Lakers Sideline
Mike Brown became an NBA fixture in his tenure with the Cleveland Cavaliers. After a year as an analyst, Brown is baking in the league as the head coach of the Lakers.
This was a shock not because of Brown’s presence, but because of Phil Jackson’s absence. Phil Jackson is to the NBA what Joe Torre is to MLB or what Bill Belichick is to the NFL—a symbol of coaching godliness. Since Michael Jordan piqued my interest in the sport, Jackson has been seated in the head chair on the bench, whistling at players and running the triangle offense.
Whether he was sporting a bad moustache and a worse jacket while he rang up titles in Chicago or wearing a tailored suit while collecting rings in Los Angeles, Phil’s pedigree and excellence could not be denied.
Mike Brown is a good coach, but as I watch Kobe’s supporting cast struggle to find their way in a new offense, I miss Phil Jackson.
Skinny Kevin Love
Kevin Love has always been a solid outside shooter, a tenacious competitor and a tremendous rebounder, but he used to be, well, chubby. Not Eddy Curry chubby, but lovable "guy who gets the girl at the end of a PG-13 movie" chubby.
After dropping 25 pounds in the offseason, Love looks less like Kevin Love and more like Jonathan Rhys Meyers from The Tudors. This is not to say that weight loss doesn’t look good on Love, he just looks different.
Perhaps Love dropped all that weight to make room for the fat contract extension he signed today. He signed a four-year deal with the Wolves worth between $60 million and $62 million.
Love will need the cash. He probably has a lot of new clothes to buy.
Shaq in the Studio
Shaq is a natural fit as an NBA analyst as the moon is a natural fit in the night sky, and when he retired, the world anticipated his move to the studio. For Shaq’s part, he has not disappointed. He is candid, funny and insightful. I just didn’t realize how much I would miss him on the court.
When I was a kid, Shaq exploded on the sports scene and became a pop culture force. He tore down backboards. He starred in bad movies. He swatted shots. He released bad rap albums. He made the Orlando Magic a perennial playoff team. He made the Orlando Magic Starter jacket fashionable.
From championships to endorsement deals, the Big Aristotle was our Big Superstar. I’ve watched his predecessors on ESPN Classic and NBATV, but I didn’t live through Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain, so I cannot appreciate their cultural impact.
Even in the twilight of his career when he was bouncing around and his game had lost a step, Shaq was a welcome sight in the paint. He’s great behind the desk as well, but the NBA without Shaq is like cookies without milk—a wonderful treat, but not quite the same.