The NBA all-star break is this weekend. How can this be? It seems like the season began maybe a week or so ago. But when a greed-infested labor dispute results in a condensed schedule, this is what you get — the All-Star Game this Sunday, the playoffs start the following weekend and Jeremy Lin, I believe, will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame early next month.
Boy, time flies when you’re having to make up a lot of lost revenue in a short period.
Anyway, midway through a compressed but compelling season, these are my favorite stories:
●Once again, LeBron James will not win an NBA title. I don’t say this because LeBron isn’t the best player in the league, which he is. I don’t say this because LeBron doesn’t make his teammates better, which he does. I don’t say this because LeBron can’t make big shots in clutch time — actually, he seldom can. I say this because the best-laid plans of mice and Miami Heat often go awry; this Dream Team is a star-crossed lot.
The Heat got close last season and likely will get close again, but the Three Tenors — LeBron, D-Wade and the other guy — won’t be warbling a title tune. Something — injuries, lack of a center, lousy luck — will fell them.
●As a front-office guy, Michael Jordan probably should be given a smaller office. He might’ve been the greatest athlete of the 20th century — I still have him behind Babe Ruth, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Jim Thorpe and Secretariat — but he appears to be the worst director of basketball operations of the 21st century. Boy, he’s stunk up the joint in two locales — first with the Washington Wizards, as a part owner, and now with the Charlotte Bobcats, as a majority owner.
Frankly, I don’t know what’s more stunning about his Wizards tenure: That, at age 38, MJ took Kwame Brown with the first overall pick of the NBA draft or that, at age 40, he averaged 20 points a game. As for the 4-27 Bobcats, they’re so bad, they make the Wizards look like the 1995-96 Bulls.
(Column Intermission: Regrettably, I have been informed that enterprising ESPN.com columnist Rick Reilly now is paying $7.93 to readers for their tweets. Do I feel ripped off? Maybe. Do I feel chintzy? Absolutely not. Yes, Ask The Slouch has been forever compensating readers only $1.25. But Reilly’s column salary is at least 20 times greater than mine, so, in truth, Mr. Big Shot is really Mr. Cheapskate.)
●Mark Cuban won’t shut up and Shaquille O’Neal won’t speak up. The Mavericks’ owner famously zipped his lip during his team’s championship run last season. Now, The Man Who Is Never Wrong is chirping ’round the clock — unhappy the league-owned Hornets traded Chris Paul, mad at the NBA for not scheduling a Mavs game in Washington so his team could easily visit the White House, and, of course, whining about officials again. In a more just world, Cuban would marry Nancy Grace and the sound of each voice would drive the other batty.
Meanwhile, Shaq — who I thought would be terrific on TNT — looks as if he spends more time preparing his wardrobe than his comments. He’s off to a slow start: low voice, low energy, low output. If he mumbled any more, I’d swear he were a character on HBO’s “Luck.”
●I’m tired of hearing how tired players are. Sure, they’re playing seemingly every other night; heck, there is so little time to practice, I’m surprised Allen Iverson’s not making a comeback. But they can absorb it: I get jet-lagged when I fly from L.A. to Las Vegas, but I’m over 50 and two-thirds dead; these guys are young athletes in first class with personal trainers and PlayStations.
My goodness, residents in hospitals — physicians in training — often work 24-hour shifts. And Broadway shows run six nights a week, with matinees on Wednesdays and Sundays — I don’t recall Ethel Merman or Bernadette Peters ever complaining about back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back performances. MAN UP!
●All right, let’s briefly look at this Jeremy Lin thing. He’s a fabulous story — one part Tim Tebow, one part Roy Hobbs, two parts UFO. But trust me, if he were doing his deeds in, say, Portland or Milwaukee rather than New York, he’d be a much smaller sensation. When it’s in the Big Apple, it’s always a big deal; imagine if Murray State were Manhattan State.
And here’s a dark footnote on the phenomenon: They could watch Lin in China but not in Chinatown, because of a cable dispute in New York between MSG Network, which televises Knicks games, and Time Warner, resulting in a 48-day blackout, just resolved. Which brings us back to the NBA’s truncated season: A little greed goes a long way to fouling up a good thing.
Q. Do you think Jay Bilas could analyze any of your marriages in a manner any human being might possibly understand? (Ben Sherman; New Berlin, Wis.)
Q. We outside of Hollywood often hear about a “dark comedy.” Has anyone ever attempted a “light tragedy”? (Greg Hanrahan; Arlington)
A. I think this is where Charlie Sheen usually comes in.
Q. Ricky Williams is retiring. Should I be investing in marijuana futures? (Jim O’Brien; Racine, Wis.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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