Centers' Little Helper

Dennis Hans, unrenowned former adjunct professor of mass comm and American foreign policy, relentlessly exposed the Bush administration’s “techniques of deceit” BEFORE the Iraq war, when it could have made a difference (see links). For decades he has fought baseball’s discrimination against lefthanded infielders and promoted his ingenious clockwise solution. A lifelong advocate for a flowing, non-brutal, flop-free NBA, he now champions the cause of its second-class citizens: the centers.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Same old Yao
Yao has fouled out of the last two World Championship games. China was blown out by USA and lost an overtime squeaker to Puerto Rico. While Yao displayed his sweet stroke and fine offensive arsenal, at the defensive end he continues to foul at an alarming rate, for reasons I explained way back in 2004 here. His foul trouble and early exit midway through the 4th quarter cost China the Puerto Rico game. Someone must get through to him and his exceedingly dumb coaches in China and Houston that, for Yao, playing smart defense is not about creating countless collisions with offensive players. It’s about using his decent mobility and agility to, as a general rule, avoid body-to-body contact as a help defender while using his exceptional length and active hands to block or bother shots.

So, Yao, here is your goal for 2006-07: get your fouling rate down to one per 13 minutes. Do that and you’ll average 38 minutes, 28 points and 10.5 rebounds, and you'll make everybody in Houston very, very happy. It all starts with tuning out your coaches.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Recommended Reading
Hot off the presses is Jeff Cohen’s book Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media. Cohen, for my money, is the most effective progressive to appear on talking-heads TV. Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, his only regular gig was a several-year stint on the Fox cable show News Watch. But that was a once-a-week, 30-minute show that he shared with a host and his three co-panelists. What he needs is his own hour-long show five nights a week. He left the Fox show to take a job at MSNBC as one of the producers of Phil Donahue’s show. The year or so there is the depressing heart of Cohen’s book, as corporate suits refused to let Phil be Phil. The show became a sick joke, with Donahue reduced to the pathetic role of legitimizing one right-wing nut after another, as I explained in the Jan. 8, 2003 essay Defensive Donahue Needs to Go On the Offensive or Get Off the Air. My one big problem with Cohen’s generally excellent book (which is chock full sharp observations) is that he’s far too kind to Phil. Unlike Jeff, Phil was an incompetent advocate for his causes — such as preventing the looming, wholly unnecessary U.S. invasion of Iraq — as I show in that essay. During his stint at MSNBC, Donahue wouldn’t have recognized an effective talking point if it smacked him upside the head.

My second recommended read was published back in 1979; I picked it up at the library a few weeks ago. Second Wind is Bill Russell’s fascinating life story and wide-ranging insights on race, politics, relationships, foreign policy and basketball. The Celtic legend’s literary collaborator on the volume is Taylor Branch, who later came to fame for a series of books on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement. Russell revolutionized basketball when he invented — and made a science of — shot-blocking at the U. of San Francisco in the mid-1950s and turned it into an art form in Boston, where he led the Celts to 11 NBA titles in his 13 seasons. Today’s long and limber centers should heed his defensive wisdom and ignore the directives of coaches who want them to turn every opposition drive into an ugly block/charge collision. Such directives explain why the modern center is constantly plagued with foul trouble.

Look for USA victory at hoop World Championships
In an increasing number of quarters it has become conventional wisdom that the rest of the world has caught up with the United States in basketball. In my view that’s nonsense, but given the dismal 6th place showing at the 2002 World Championships and the debacle at the 2004 Olympics in Greece, one can understand why folks would consider the international playing court to now be level. I attribute those poor showings to a combination of weak and/or poorly constructed squads, mediocre coaching and insufficient preparation time. None of those factors will be present in 2006 and 2008.

I’d predict a landslide, but the rules of FIBA — particularly the chipshot trey — tend to minimize the difference between teams rather than reveal it.