Old Balls And Sharp Elbows: Making A Case For The Boston Celtics

All the arthritis and soft tissue damage in the world couldn’t help the Celtics overcome a virtuoso performance from LeBron James and company as the spry, agile legs of the Heat outlasted the decrepit Celtics 93-79 in game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals Monday night. And while the geriatric wing of the NBA playoffs attempts to recover in time for game 2 Wednesday night, it’s important to note that in the hyper competitive world of pickup basketball, sometimes advanced age is a positive attribute. Of course, the NBA playoffs are a decididly different animal than your average game of shirts v skins but there is still an important case to be made for the veteran Boston Celtics in their series against the Miami Heat.

To begin with, old guys are much more efficient and effective stretchers. They usually manage to hit all the major muscles groups including the elusive yet essential latissimus dorsal. Anyone who has ever pulled a lat will tell you that the pain is absolutely excruciating. It’s as if someone jammed a dull butter knife in the center of your lower back. Old guys know this and will do whatever it takes to avoid such a debilitating injury, even if their warmup routine begins to resemble something out of The Cable Guy.

When it comes to a younger players approach to stretching perhaps Austin Milbarge said it best when he stated, “We mock what we don’t understand“. When you think about it, young hoopsters are like virgins. They simply do not understand that basketball, like sex, is much more of a marathon than a sprint. The only way to learn this is to first disappoint enough partners until you get to the point where you can’t find anyone else to play with and end up dribbling by yourself for hours. But back to basketball for a second, pull a lat muscle a few times and you’ll realize that proper planning and preparation prevents piss poor performance. The ancient Celtics realize this which is why guys like Ray Allen begin their warmup 4-5 hours before tipoff.

Speaking of Ray Allen, old guys know how to manage their injuries. Boston’s veteran sharpshooter has more spurs in his ankle than the entire San Antonio roster and can get zero lift on his jump shots, even free throws. Yet Ray is still out there playing through the pain, giving his team every opportunity to advance to the NBA FInals. Knee braces, rec specs, fish oil. Old guys will do whatever it takes to keep playing. That’s because time is of the essence and as players get closer to that dreaded expiration date they try to squeeze every last opportunity out of their weathered, atrophied bodies. Conversely, younger players think protective gear is a sign of weakness. You don’t see Chris Bosh out there with a kevlar vest do you?

Also, old guys understand their limitations and have a general disdain for unnecessary hustle.  Dive out of bounds for loose balls? No thanks. Chest bump a teammates after every made free throw? What a waste of energy. (Actually, this last one is not 100% true because if you watch the Boston Celtics during their starting lineup introductions they look like the cast from a Twyla Tharp musical.) In general, old guys like Paul Pierce know how to conserve energy for when it matters most like when taking a fade away 18 footer with a defender in his face or when trying to prevent LeBron from averaging 35 points/12 rebounds/7 assists this series. Weekend warriors are very similar to Pierce with the only exception being that it can be next to impossible to get old guys to play any kind of defense during these pickup games.

Old guys are direct with their feelings and not overtly passive aggressive. Take Kevin Garnett. He’s demanding of his teammates but in a fatherly sort of way where he’ll berate players in a productive almost clandestine fashion so as not to expose them to the ire and scrutiny of the camera. On the exact opposite end of the spectrum is the the Lebron James Mario Chalmers relationship. It’s hard not to feel bad for the young Miami point guard when LeBron is visibly up his you know what just about every time Chalmers makes a mistake. If you were a lip reader what you’d see Chalmers saying to LeBron is, “look I’m so sorry but I promise never to do it again so will you please stop making me feel bad in front of the national television audience“.

Old guys are not afraid to tell you what they want and could give a rats ass what you think about them. From passing them the ball on the outlet to calling for a high screen, weekend warriors have been around the block long enough where they simply no longer fear confrontation. Younger players are by nature too passive agressive. They won’t tell you what they want so much as bitch about you behind your back to your teammates.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, old guys are unaware of their surroundings and rarely unnerved by the spotlight. Veteran basketball players are like champion race horses. You wont see I’ll Have Another staring off into the infield paddock during the Belmont Stakes looking for a nice unattached Long Island bred filly to cozy up to after the race. Vets like Pierce, Garnett, and Allen have seen it all before and will not be bashful in light of intense media scrutiny and pressure.

With LeBron and the Heat we just don’t know. One of the knocks against the best basketball player in the world is that he is just too sensitive and cares too much about what other people think. It’s probably an unfair criticism but take a look at LeBron next time something goes wrong. He always seems to be staring off into the first few rows of the stands, like he’s constantly seeking approval from Pat Riley, Mav Carter, or maybe even Jimmy Buffett. Again, older guys don’t look around cause time if of the essence and they don’t care about what anyone else thinks. During pickup games, do you really think your CPA Frank is distracted by the fact that the health club hasn’t restocked the men’s locker room with fresh towels? Of course not. That’s because Frank is old and old guys don’t care if they have fresh towels because they would just assume drip dry even if it means they’ll have to expose themselves in front of unassuming fellow club members on their way to the racquetball courts.

Old guys don’t care which is why the Boston Celtics have a chance against the Miami Heat.

view from Spurs/Thunder game 2 courtesy of @lilmiggs47

Matt Bonner Is The Most Interesting Man In The NBA Playoffs

With the Western Conference Finals between the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder set to begin this Sunday night now seems like the perfect time to remind NBA fans about the one player that could possibly make the largest impact in this series. Kevin Durant you say? Try again. Tim Duncan? That old coot is still in the league? Russell Westbrook? Tony Parker? No thanks and no chance. Actually, the correct answer to this question was born and raised in the capital of New Hampshire, Concord’s own Matt Bonner. And before you runoff and dismiss this conclusion as a simple case of Granite State “homerism”, please take 5-10 minutes to consider the following analysis.

For starters, if you didn’t already know who Matt Bonner was, something surely no self respecting NBA fan would claim, he was in the news recently when a fellow redhead was suspended from a local San Antonio middle school after showing up for his first period French class with Bonner’s beautiful visage carved into the back of his head like he was some sort of Halloween pumpkin. It’s not just any ordinary NBA player that has the ability to inspire such peaceful civil disobedience. Whatever barber was responsible for such artistry deserves an incredible amount of credit and perhaps a full ride to RISD. This is the sort of follicle craftsmanship unmatched since the “U Can’t Touch This” heyday of MC Hammer.

And speaking of carrot-tops, with all due respect to Brian Scalabrine, Matt Bonner is the best player in the NBA with red hair. In fact, he may be the best basketball player of all time with red hair. (And no, Dennis Rodman does not count.) It’s actually quite difficult to think about another current athlete who has had as successful a professional career as Bonner. Not Andy Dalton and certainly not Greg McElroy.

With Bonner it’s also about the brains beneath the hair. He graduated from the University of Florida with a 3.98 GPA and was a 3 time Academic All-American and twice voted Academic All-American of the Year. Bonner is such a respected intellect/inspirational leader that he was elected by his peers to serve as one of the main reps for the NBA players union during the latest labor dispute. Check the video, Bonner was usually one of the first players seen lurking loyally behind Derek Fisher and Billy Hunter, he of the worst case of nepotism since Bill Belichick hired his son as an assistant coach for the Patriots.

This debate can all but be settled on the basketball court where Matt Bonner is the master craftsman of the 3 pointer, even though his shooting mechanics put him somewhere between the finger flicks of Shawn Marion and the slider spin of Joakim Noah. And so what if it looks like he learned how to shoot a basketball by practicing on one of those Fisher Price $24.99 specials suitable for kids 5 and under. Knock the style all you want but with Bonner the proof is in the porridge and over the last 5 or so years he has been one of the best 3 point shooters in the NBA. He led the league in 2010-11 making roughly 46% of his bombs from behind the arc and during this truncated regular season Bonner finished 15th in the league shooting a measly 42%. Just to give you some perspective, that’s better than both James Harden and Kevin Durant. Not too shabby for a guy from New Hampshire who looks like he learned how to shoot by watching Rade Butcher in Hoosiers.

And while it may be true that Bonner has become somewhat of a defensive liability due to his lack of lateral quickness you can’t really fault the guy. He is after all wearing New Balance basketball sneakers. As we all know New Balance has become the official shoe of antique furniture refurbishers from Brooklyn, Canadians, and fathers over the age of 55. When dads reach the appropriate age they are each sent a pair of white 622’s which they are then required to sport whenever walking through airports or amusement parks. And while Bonner’s NB’s are a bit more stylish than your dads, has there ever been a more perfect pitchman for the New England based shoe behometh than a 6’10” guy with red hair from New Hampshire?

The fact that Matt Bonner is occasionally lost in the San Antonio shuffle of a incredibly deep Spurs rotation is more a testament to the front office’s foresight in scouting out hidden global gems than it is his ability to contribute to the team. Bonner is such a classy team player that he doesn’t mind sharing the stage with valuable role players like Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal, DeJuan Blair, and Captain Jack. He doesn’t need to play more than 15 solid minutes a game to make a difference. For the Spurs, it’s all about running their offensive sets. Bonner is the master of the high pick and pop where Tony Parker rubs his defender off a screen and either takes the ball all the way to the basket or kicks it out to Bonner for a wide open 3 pt attempt. Bonner is also an excellent rebounder who has a nose for the long distance offensive putback. When it comes to understanding angles and geometry he might not be Kevin Love but he’s certainly gives the glass more effort than the always mercurial and mystifyingly talented Andrew Bynum.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have a very important decision to make other than what monochromatic color pattern they’re going to arm their rabid fans with. Head coach Scotty Brooks needs to figure out how they are going to guard Matt Bonner. Do the Thunder go big or small against the oversized three point assassin? Each strategy has its flaws. If you match up with a bigger more physical post player like a Kendrick Perkins or Serge Ibaka then you provide the “quicker” Bonner with much more room to operate around the 3pt line. You also keep the NBA’s best shot blocker Ibaka away from the front of the rim thus allowing slashers like Parker and Manu Ginobili to glide to the the basket unfettered and unmolested.

So the Thunder could decide to go small on Bonner putting a hybrid like Thabo Sefolosha, James Harden or Durant on him. Again, by matching up a guard on Bonner you have effectively created mismatches across the court. Who then is going to guard Ginobili? Or what about the uber athletic Kawhi Leonard who is becoming a devastating 3 point shooter in his own right?

Matt Bonner’s greatest asset to San Antonio is his ability to create mismatches on the offensive end of the court. Gregg Popovich and the Spurs have had to live with Bonner’s defensive liabilities before and they will not allow themselves to be cut to pieces when he guards the offensively limited Perkins or Nick Collison. With Bonner, the upside far outweighs any inadequacies. What else would you expect from a 6’10” redhead from New Hampshire?

view from the Wells Fargo Center courtesy of @drewtheBARBER

Fire Extinguishers Make For Bad Sparring Partners

Amar’e Stoudemire may or mor not have ended his participation in the 2012 playoffs after punching the glass encasing around a fire extinguisher in the Knicks locker room following a demoralizing defeat to the Miami Heat in game 2 of their first round playoff series. At this point in his decorated/profitable career, the savvy veteran Stoudemire has got to know better. As a team leader with several years of playoff experience already under his belt he should have known that the dirty clothes hamper in the middle of the visitors locker room was the best outlet to physically vent your frustration while at the same time avoid season ending butterfly sutures. Fire extinguishers are not fit to be punching bags. Great for putting out fires but not an ideal sparring partner. Same goes for metal lockers and tiled shower stalls. Amar’e should have chosen something with a little more give which is why the linen cart makes so much more sense. Adding to its utility, the dirty uniform receptacle is low to the ground meaning Stoudemire could have resorted to an English Premier League style drop kick because he was better off using his feet anyway, especially if he was still wearing his size 15 Air Force Ones.

Bottom line Amar’e is that we all get “Heated” and want to take our exasperation out on inanimate metallic objects. At this point it’s important that you are able to learn from your mistakes. Forget for a second that your childish behavior was simply a case of misplaced anger directed at that ball hog Carmelo Anthony and focus all your energy on keeping your hand elevated and wrapped in a plastic baggy during bathing.

view from the Knicks locker room courtesy of @WindhorstESPN

Carmelo Anthony is One Big Piece of Interpretive Art

They’re not tattoos, they’re skin illustrations! Don’t you EVER call them tattoos! – Rod Steiger, The Illustrated Man

For any of you who watch the New York Knicks with the same level of voracity as I do—or if you’re planning on watching their opening round series against the Celtics— you are bound to be fascinated by what Carmelo Anthony has peeking out from behind his #7 jersey.  From lurid flames, to rubbery basketballs, to macabre spiderwebs, his skin illustrations seem to be everywhere.  I have done some digging, and, as far as I can tell, what follows is the world’s first critical analysis of the mercurial Knicks’ swingman’s body art.  Just don’t call them tattoos.

“I Shall Fear No Man” (Back)

The largest of Melo’s illustrations– one he shares with former teammate Kenyon Martin– this phrase is embedded on a large gothic cross, which covers the majority of his back.  The origin of this mantra can be traced to the late Tupac Shakur’s “So Many Tears”, an ode to his fallen colleagues.  Some say that Shakur himself was inspired by a biblical verse from Hebrews, Chapter 13.  Wherever he got it from, Anthony seems to derive strength from it, especially when deriding an opposing bench or not playing defense.

“No Struggle No Progress” (Neck)

This one is worn like a collar and is visible, from certain angles, on the court.  A theme that will continue to crop up in this analysis is Anthony’s insistence on not using punctuation.  Personally, I think this one would be a lot more powerful with a comma in the middle.  And maybe a period at the end would lend an air of finality to it?  As it reads, though, we can all commiserate with the “Struggle” here.  Whether it’s his Struggle to lose those last 15 pounds, the Struggle to finish a baseline drive in traffic, or simply the Struggle of dealing with all the Haters, I feel you, Melo.  I do.

“WB” (left shoulder)

Ah, yes, the most famous of all the illustrations.  Most readers might find it, at the very least, amusing that a superstar athlete has the Warner Brothers logo drawn just inside of his left shoulder.  Melo maintains (he does!) that the “WB” in question represents his roots in West Baltimore.  But wait, I thought he was was New York City? How can you call two cities “home”? Melo, you’ve got some explaining to do.

“Who Can I Trust” (right biceps)

This one is just downright confusing.  Is he asking a question or making a statement here?  It can’t be a question, again, because of the lack of proper punctuation.  So he must be announcing who he can trust.  Possibly, this is an unfinished work, and he will soon add a list of the people who he can trust.  Like: former Denver teammate Chris Anderson, new wife LaLa Vazquez, president Barack Obama, and, possibly, media conglomerate Oprah Winfrey.

“Live Now Die Later” (right elbow)

This is either an aphorism by which Anthony lives each day like it might be his last, or a nod to Dr. Patterson Stark, a cancer survivor whose book, “Live Now, Die Later”, (StarkHealth Publishing) recounts a life-threatening battle with cancer and how the fight changed his outlook on living.  My guess is the former.  The latter, after all, has a comma.

A Large, Flaming Basketball with the initials “CA” protruding (right shoulder)

The most prominent of the game-visible illustrations, this one seems to announce that Carmelo Anthony’s mere initial have the strange ability to cause normally stable basketballs to combust.  Variations of this theme are echoed in some common sports vernacular, like “He’s on fire!” Can I also just mention here how tired I am with athletes and their body flames?  It’s time for someone to man up and try something new, like some mean-looking snow or a menacing gust of wind.

A bulldog backed by playing cards (Left arm)

Your guess is as good as mine!  I know—hilarious!  Is he claiming to be a bulldog, the traditional western embodiment of persistence, perseverance, fortitude?  Is he?!  Where would these traits would show themselves on the court for Melo?  On defense, where he’s always willing to body up the opposition’s leading scorer?  Uh, no.  So maybe he’s a bulldog in the tirelessness manner with which he hoists shots at the goal?  That’s sounds about right.  Now the cards; those are definitely for cross-country flights and Booray!, the fickle game responsible for many a young cager’s demise.

So there it is.  Now, when you watch the Knicks and Celtics wage war, you’ll have more of an idea of the thoughtfulness, depth, and, yes, even pain with which New York’s gladiator approaches his battlefield.

view from the TD Banknorth Garden courtesy of @AaronGallagher