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.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

LA Times’ yellowcake “scoop” comes more than two years after I proved the same thing; also, mice are no match for con men Bush and Blair
In the previous post I noted how the NBA has finally figured out something that I figured out and wrote about years earlier. Well, on a somewhat more serious matter — tricking the American public into supporting an unnecessary war — last Friday (Feb 17) the Los Angeles Times revealed something that I proved in this Oct 2003 essay. To wit, that public, pre-war statements by the U.S. and British governments that Iraq was pursuing uranium from Africa or, more specifically, from Niger, were all based on forged documents or summaries of those forgeries. Other bits of equally worthless “evidence” being passed around by various intel agencies prior to the war simply didn’t support the 2002 claim by the Brits that Iraq was pursuing “significant quantities” of African uranium. And that claim — which the Brits sometimes presented as a claim, sometimes as a fact, and sometimes as an entirely different fact (an early draft of the Brits’ Iraq WMD “dossier” stated that they knew for a fact that uranium ore had not merely been sought, but bought!) — was the basis for Bush’s false statement in the 2003 State of the Union address about what the Brits’ had “learned.”

Incidentally, while much attention was belatedly paid to that now-infamous 16-word sentence, to fully appreciate the deceitful nature of the Bush team, you need to examine the entire paragraph that included those 16 words. I did so in my pre-war writings, and then in greater depth in the summer of 2003, after the yellowcake poop hit the fan, in this essay.

My politics aren’t that different from Tony Blair’s, but it’s hard to like someone so unscrupulous. As with Bush over here, in the run-up to war he repeatedly claimed to know for a fact things about Iraq and WMD he couldn’t possibly KNOW. Even when his intel chief told him that certain juicy info came from new Iraqi informants of unknown reliability — info that contradicted what the Brits were hearing from longer-term informants with a pretty good track record — Blair pretended publicly that the juicy but unconfirmed stuff was rock solid.

The LAT’s Drogin and Hamburger show how the will to believe — or, more likely, the willingness to pretend you believe — made this The Story That Would Not Die. No matter how many times honest intelligence officials in France and elsewhere sought to reassure various U.S. officials that uranium had not been diverted from the Nigerien mines France operated, and that there was no worthwhile evidence even of Iraqi interest in Nigerien uranium, the tale kept being revived. And not just by the bogeymen of so many of my liberal bretheren, Cheney and Rumsfeld. Powell peddled it in a major speech BEFORE Bush’s State of the Union address, and his State Dept put it in a so-called “Fact Sheet” in Dec. 2002.

The reason The Story That Would Not Die lived on is that the various truth-tellers were speaking up only in private. If any number of US and foreign officials who knew early on just how flimsy or even worthless the evidence was had said so publicly — had put their name, face, title and expertise on the line and said what they knew about the uranium tale — Bush, Blair and Powell would have had to sheepishly abandon that very scary propaganda theme. But on this and quite a few other pre-war issues, those in the know would not step forward. I addressed this phenomenon in 2003 in an essay called Of Mice and (Con) Men.

Respected figures from State, such as Richard Haass, and the CIA, such as Paul Pillar, stepped forward at some point after the Iraq war was launched to say that long before the Fall 2002 congressional debate, it had been made clear to them that Bush had already made up his mind to invade. (Haass got that word from Condi Rice around July 2002.) Yet they kept quiet as Bush assured the nation again and again that he had not made up his mind, that war should only be a last resort, and that he was quite willing to give diplomacy and inspections a fair chance. Haass, Pillar and others thus believed that Bush was misrepresenting his state of mind on a question of war and peace. If they had spoken up, if Congress had known Bush had made up his mind and was going to the U.N. for inspections partly as a ruse and partly to give cover to Tony Blair, we would have had an entirely different debate. Congress and the public would have known not simply that Bush was intent on war, but that he had been deceiving us on that critical matter. Could he have gotten a congressional authorization for the use of force under THOSE circumstances? I doubt it. So why are Haass, Pillar and their ilk continued to be thought of as respectable?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Better late than never: NBA may finally get clear-path rule right
Why, you may ask, do I so often refer to the people who run the NBA as “morons”? A recent bit of good news illustrates the point. If I see a steady stream of similar reports, I just might rescind the label.

The good news is that the NBA's competition committee approved a rule change that will take effect in the 2006-07 season, if approved by the league's Board of Governors. At present, when a player commits a “clear path” foul — that is, intentionally grabs a player who has a clear path to the basket, the “penalty” calls for the fouled player to be awarded one free throw attempt, after which his team retains possession of the ball.

I wrote about this and other rules that reward intentional fouling back in December 2002, first for in an article titled “The NBA Needs a New Cliché: ‘Make him earn a defensive stop,’” and later for under a different title. Here’s an excerpt:

Foggy thinking along a "clear path"
NBA bigwigs are so clueless that even when they created a special rule for the express purpose of penalizing one particular act that requires no skill AND deprives fans of a thrill, they devised a "penalty" that constitutes a reward! I speak of the "clear path" foul. When a player in the open court has a clear path to the basket and thus a near-certain two points, and a trailing defender reaches out and grabs him, the defender is "penalized" thusly: The fouled player is awarded a single free throw and his team retains possession of the ball.
As noted above, a sideline possession is worth, on average, one point, and a free-throw attempt .75 points. Thus, on average, the player committing a clear-path foul is SAVING his team .25 points! Announcers should call this preposterous rule by its rightful name: "The Clear-Path Intentional-Grab Reward."
To penalize a player for committing a clear-path foul that prevents two points and a thrill for the fans, award the fouled player and team three points. Make the penalty an actual penalty and refs will never have to invoke this idiotic rule again.
It's all pretty simple. If the league truly wants to penalize the rich variety of intentional fouls described above - none of which require skill or make the game fun to watch and play - it must impose penalties that penalize rather than reward.

Back to 2006,’s Chris Sheridan reports, “The ‘clear path’ rule would be tweaked because statistics showed teams are averaging less than 2 points when clear path fouls are called. ‘The original idea behind the clear path foul was we didn't want them to occur. But now, when they do occur, the offended team is not getting the yield point-wise that they should be,’ NBA vice president Stu Jackson told”

There you see it: Jackson and the league did indeed have good intentions. They, like me, wanted to put an end to clear-path fouls. But Jackson and the rest of the NBA “braintrust” were so darn stupid that they couldn’t figure out that a penalty is only a penalty if it penalizes. If they had applied the basic principles of third-grade arithmetic back when they first created the clear-path rule, they could have gotten it right. Well, better late than never. They’ve finally passed third grade.

Now Jackson needs to apply the same logic to all intentional fouls. He should also send me a big check for my valiant efforts long ago to point him and his fellow NBA bigwigs in the right direction.

Free-Throw Observations on Shaq, Tim, LeBron
• Shaq had three entirely different free-throw strokes on display Sunday, from three periods of his career. Early in the day, ESPN Classic aired four vintage All-Star games. The 1993 contest featured Shaq as a rookie displaying a normal-looking delivery that produced an accurate shot with a nice arc and perfect backspin. His arm motion was a bit constricted, but he had a smooth, rhythmic leg action and delivery. Nothing herky-jerky or freaky looking. That could have been the foundation for a 70-75 percent stroke. He shot 59 percent that year, which ranks as his second best mark. In the following seasons his form went through a variety of changes, his percentage dropped steadily, and he hit rock bottom in the 2000 Finals. The 2003 contest featured Shaq with a freaky but compact and effective delivery molded by Shaq’s then-shooting coach, Ed Palubinskas. This featured a one-handed release with a bizarre grip, as the ball was perched on the tips of Shaq’s finger tips. Shaq shot a career high 62 percent that season. The 2006 game featured Shaq’s current release, which is his own creation (perhaps with input from Heat assistant Bob McAdoo), and has been in use the past two seasons. His official percentage was 46 last year and is 49 this year, but the actual numbers are probably around 40, as Shaq is the beneficiary of countless do-overs because of lane violations. Compared to 2003, Shaq’s release point has migrated about two feet in a southeasterly direction. A unique feature of his current stroke is that the ball slides in his shooting hand as his knees bend a split second before he releases the ball. As any fool could imagine, this introduces an additional element that can go wrong and which increases the degree of difficulty (as do other features of his stroke). For more on Shaq's fixable flaws, see this piece I penned last April.

There are many ways to be a decent FT shooter. Shaq doesn’t necessarily have to go back to the method taught to him by Ed P (with whom Shaq and/or Lakers management seems to have had a falling out by early 2004), with or without the fingertip-perch grip. That’s just one of the options to choose from. He can go back to a refined version of his rookie form. He can make technical adjustments to his present form (which in some respects resembles a bad imitation of Elton Brand’s unorthodox but highly effective delivery). Or Shaq can try one of several other methods. I’d be happy to help him select an option and help him master it. What I strongly advise against is sticking with an unfixed version of his current stroke. Yes, some days the ball comes out of his hand pretty good, and he has had a couple decent stretches in 2006. But it’s hard to be consistent when the ball is sliding in your shooting hand.

I also urge the morons who run the NBA to come up with a practical solution to lane violations. In back-to-back games vs. Orlando last week, Shaq got 4 do-overs and cashed 2. Counting the misses that were wiped off the books, Shaq was 8 for 23. The Heat outscore opponents by 3.8 points per game; I wouldn’t be surprised if his do-overs contribute the .8. The league’s silly obsession with strictly enforcing this rule has, for two years now, been a bonanza for the Heat. It’s the type of call that a ref would make if he was really keen on getting a good grade from his supervisor, because you always get the call right, and that boosts your percentage.

Here’s one possible fix: For Shaq and other shooters with a delayed release, rebounders can’t enter the lane until the ball hits the rim. The ref would remind rebounders of the new rule every time a delayed-release shooter goes to the line.

• Lebron James has technical flaws that he has to iron out if he’s ever to be better than a mediocre free-throw shooter. His basic form works fine when he’s firing treys or 20-foot fadeaways, because these shots require him to strongly accelerate and follow through. But those factors don’t come into play when you’re a powerful dude shooting a 15-foot set shot. From the stripe, his long stroke, minimal acceleration bordering on deceleration, poor follow-through posture and an awkward elbow position (the latter is either part of the problem or a benign idiosyncracy) combine to make this a more difficult shot for him than it needs to be, particularly in the clutch. He’s shooting a decent 74 percent for the season, but that’s what it has fallen to after a strong start.

• Tim Duncan looks better. I don’t know if he’s finally working with Chip Engelland, who the Spurs hired to help Tony Parker with his shooting form from mid-range and at the stripe (which has proved to be a very wise investment), or if Chip is sharing with Tim some of the advice I sent Chip in a recent letter or my analysis laid out in an Inside Hoops column last summer. In the letter I pointed out that Tim is “rhythmically clueless” — at least at the stripe. That is, he has no idea how to infuse rhythm into a routine that is devoid of it. If you have a tendency to leave the shot way short, as Tim does, having a routine where you hold the ball for five seconds while staring at the rim is likely to exascerbate the problem. The more you bear down, the more likely you are to introduce tension into some element of the stroke — tension that makes it more likely you’ll come up short again. Well, it appears that Tim is now making an effort to “get on with it.” He twiddles the ball a couple seconds and then goes into his shot. No five-second stare-down. I don’t want to get carried away based on three attempts in the All-Star game, but it looks like he’s taken a step in the right direction.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

NBA’s 60 Greatest

This weekend, as the NBA holds its All-Star game and celebrates its 60th anniversary, TNT will mark the occasion by adding to the league's roster of all-time greats. The NBA produced its list of the 50 greatest in 1996, when the league turned 50. TNT's "experts" — Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley, the flopper twins Doug and Reggie, and a few others will put their heads together and come up with 10 current and former players who deserve to be added to the 50 greatest.
I've beat TNT to the punch with my list, just posted at HoopsHype. Mo Cheeks, DJ, Gus Johnson, Adrian Dantley and Artis Gilmore may be shafted by the strange, inscrutable Basketball Hall of Fame, but they all get credit from the expert who, in a just world, would matter most: me. I only wish I had room for such stylish and distinctive scorers as Alex English, Bernard King and Bob McAdoo, who are among the many near misses and honorable mentions I cite in the piece. It was particularly hard to choose among Dantley, English and King, three small-forward scoring machines. I probably should have put King at least a group higher in my hierarchy of near misses. In his prime, he was phenomenal and unstoppable with his quick-release J, as one emailer has already reminded me.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Why Ben Wallace could leave Pistons
If free agent Ben Wallace signs with another team this summer, his recent stretch of 9 games through Feb. 7 might be the reason. He’s averaged about 38 minutes a night, but only four field goal attempts (FGA). It seems his only shots come off of offensive rebounds and alley-oops. Departed coach Larry Brown, for all his faults, took a real interest in helping Ben become a complete player. Under Brown’s predecessor, Rick Carlisle, Ben averaged a paltrey 6 FGA; he averaged 9 in each of his two seasons under Brown. (Click here for Ben’s year-by-year stats.)

Brown gave him touches, encouraged him to shoot when open and within his range, and gave him opportunities in the low post, particularly early in games. Ben was reasonably effective, but more importantly, he was getting better. Brown viewed him as a work in progress and thus didn’t have a cow if he shot an airball from 15 or lost the handle on a drive. What was important is that he was DRIVING. He was using his quickness and some new moves to get around his defender, and while he still had lots of work to do in finishing those drives successfully, he was on the right track. Ben was part of the offense in a variety of ways, and though he wasn't a consistent shooter, occasional hot streaks from mid-range helped the Pistons win some crucial playoff games.

It’s hard to fault Flip Saunders for anything, particularly at the offensive end. The Pistons have improved dramatically in scoring, FG percentage and trey percentage. They’re also more watchable than under Brown. They run more, and in the halfcourt the offense is more free-flowing and guys are free to take good shots that materialize early in the possession. Ben remains somewhat in the mix as a picker, cutter and occasional passer, but his FGAs are back where they were in the (depressing for Ben) Carlisle years, when the Pistons played mostly 4 against 5 on offense.

Ben is one of the smartest guys in the league, and by now he’s surely figured out that he has little chance to, as the Army Reserves commercial says, “Be all that you can be” under Flip. Will Ben be content with a max contract and a minimal offensive role? Or will he listen to offers from teams that will give him a chance to reach his full potential?

The reason I said “little” rather than “no” chance of fulfilling his potential under Flip is that there’s still a chance. Flip certainly appreciates Ben’s myriad contributions to the Pistons’ cause, and he’d be delighted if Ben could average 13-14 points and 10 FGA — if it’s within the flow of Flip’s tried-and-true offensive schemes and philosophy. The problem, which I’ll develop in a future post or essay, is that Ben is uniquely ill-suited to score in the flow. He shoots adequately from certain spots on the floor under certain ideal conditions. But making instant shooting decisions or instinctive catch-and-shoot or catch-dribble-and-shoot plays are not, at present, part of his game. As far as offense goes, I regard Ben as one of the worst-coached players in NBA history. It seems no one has worked with him on the types of drills that would help him develop an IN-THE-FLOW mid-range game of catch-and-shoot, stop-and-pop, dribble-and-shoot, fake-and-drive and other moves and shots that would take advantage of his quickness, explosion and judgment. Instead, he practices with a worthless oversized ball, as if his problem was a weak shooting wrist (and why practice with a ball that's considerably different from the one used in games?), and shoots countless repetitions from the same spot. (At least that's what I saw when dim-witted Bill Walton hailed Ben's pre-game drills as footage of same rolled on ESPN one night last season.) That is how NOT to develop touch, feel and instincts. That’s how you guarantee that you don’t.

Democrat Feingold combines strong spine with sharp mind
Here is one reason why I hope the Democrats nominate Russ Feingold for president in 2008. It’s his statement on Bush’s wiretapping program and the shoddy and shifty explanations Bush and Attorney General Gonzales have made to justify keeping Congress in the dark and out of the loop. No one in Congress has a problem with using electronic means to discover and track Al Qaeda communications, but our system of checks and balances becomes a joke if the executive branch provides the judiciary and legislature incomplete and occasionally false info.
Feingold, unlike too many of his sad-sack colleagues, makes clear that it simply isn’t acceptable for the president and his pet AG to wilfully mislead the Congress and public.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Welcome. I'll be writing a lot about NBA basketball, including how to make the game less brutal and fake, and more free-flowing, fast-paced and aesthically pleasing. I'm an expert on free-throw rhythm and technique, and on the nearly infinite variety of shooting styles that can succeed at the stripe and from the floor, so I'll be writing about that as well. I can be of great help to Shaq, Ben and Gerald Wallace, Dwight Howard, Reggie Evans and quite a few others, so if any of these guys (or their coaches or GMs) are friends of yours, have him or them give me a cyber-shout at
I'll also be writing about politics, foreign policy, the news media, my troubled political party (the Democrats, who could use more Feingolds and Stephanie Tubbs-Joneses and fewer Bayhs and Clintons), and alcohol and illicit-drugs policy.
Feel free to nominate me for a MacArthur "genius" award, if you are one of the select few who are permitted to nominate. I'm also available for short-term academic gigs, under the right circumstances.
Here are some gems from my archives:

The Disinformation Age: How George W. Bush and Saint Colin of Powell are lying America into an unnecessary war — and what honest journalists can do about it (March 4, 2003)

Drugs and Terror and Teens and Death and Booze: Contradictions Dominate Super Bowl’s Commercial Breaks (2-9-02)

Lying Us Into War: Exposing Bush and His “Techniques of Deceit” (Feb 10, 2003)

How to drink “white”: Deconstructing the “Whassup” ads

Recent Dossier-Related Revelations Blow Up in Faces of Blair and Bush (Oct. 20, 2003)

How to Widen the U.S. Role in Colombia While Narrowing the Debate

I’m Calling You Out: Marching Orders for Journalists, Officials and Celebrities Who Believe in “Informed Consent of the Governed” (Feb 19, 2003)

An Open Letter to the U.N. About Colin Powell (Feb 4, 2003 — pre-U.N. presentation)

With “Liberals” Like These, Who Needs Conservatives: How Powell wowed Mary McGrory and Richard Cohen, the crème of the Washington Post’s credulous crop (Feb 23, 2003)

It’s a White, White, White, White Media World (Jan 30, 2003)

Grifter-in-Chief Bush Aided by Media’s Wusses of Mass Credulity (Oct 19, 2002)

How to Deter Bush’s Fibbing and Hoopsters’ Flopping (March 14, 2003)

Shaq’s free-throw odyssey (May 10, 2004)

Compute to Achieve (March 15, 2004)

Increase Scoring by Restoring Freedom of Movement (Dec. 9, 2003)

Block/charge interpretation is ruining the NBA (April 21, 2003)

The NBA Needs a New Cliché: “Make him earn a defensive stop.” (Dec. 24, 2002)
(also known as) The Hard Foul is at Fault (Jan. 14, 2003)

Ben Wallace for MVP (April 25, 2005)

Phoenix following formula of champion ’71 Bucks (Jan. 6, 2005)

Yao floundering under Van Gundy (Nov. 10, 2004)

ciao for now.