Talking About Practice, Episode 13

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I did an NBA podcast. Life got busier, this became seldom updated and I gave up trying to keep it going, however. Fast forward about 18 months and it is now back.

David West was signed to a two-year, $20 million deal by the Pacers yesterday. Me and Tim Donahue of our site 8 Points, 9 Seconds got on the horn to discuss the acquisition, among other Pacer-centric things.

You can listen below, subscribe to Talking About Practice on iTunes or click here to listen.

Enjoy.

If We Lined Up Every NBA Player, Who Would You Take 1st?

A few weeks before Green Bay defeated Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV, Fox analyst Troy Aikman made a declaration that somehow stands as both shocking and obvious: If every single professional football player were available and he had the first pick in a real-life draft, he would roll with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Aikman’s rationale was made based on three factors about Rodgers: (1) a proven ability to compete and thrive on the professional level, (2) space for improvement with a limitless ceiling, (3) and age.

It was met with a mixed reaction of sacrilege and revelation.

For nearly a decade, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were the most widely accepted number-one picks in such a theoretical draft. To most NFL followers, a conservative sport that overwhelmingly values tradition, including anybody else in the discussion was blasphemy.

Yet what Aikman said made sense.

He noticed a young, bright star about to catapult himself into another stratosphere and ventured ever so slightly against the grain to make a logical answer. His hypothetical choice was a bold one.

After the 2011 NBA Finals, and the unprecedented collapse of a player who was recently accepted by everyone in the universe to be the sport’s greatest player, how would Aikman’s proclamation translate to the NBA?

Let’s say a new CBA is agreed upon and calls for a complete overhaul. On September 1, each player is thrown into a league-wide draft with the order conducted at random. In this fictional future, Curt Flood never existed and free agency has yet to form. You pick a player and he is yours until death or retirement — whichever comes first.

In what order would the players go?

Is LeBron James still the first pick? Are Kobe and Amar’e selected in the first round? Does John Wall come off the board before Dirk Nowitzki? Would Chris Wallace drop down on his knees and take Zach Randolph without blinking?

In the aftermath of LeBron’s mental defrost, this vague, otherwise pointless question has become rather interesting. Being 26-years-old and undoubtedly the most athletic, talented and complete player in the game — and still improving — LeBron was the obvious answer. To many he still is. But if the ultimate objective each June is to become that lucky one team out of 30 to win the hardware, handpicking a player who will lead you through a sunny meadow with unparalleled dominance only to cower when the grass thickens turns this once-easy selection into quite the predicament.

Below are my top five.

None of the players on this list are better overall basketball players than LeBron James. For that matter, Derrick Rose isn’t any more adept at running a team than Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin may never rival Pau Gasol’s touch around the basket. But their value, mostly thanks to youth and lofty ceilings, make selecting them over The King less far-fetched as it once was.

5. Russell Westbrook

When he needs to make a quick decision, say, in transition with numbers, Russell Westbrook morphs into a stallion with blinders. In half-court sets he tends to search for seams that simply don’t exist, stubbornly forcing his square body through a round hole.

But what if we look at Westbrook through a different lens? What if we decrease the comparisons to Steve Nash and replace them with Dwyane Wade’s ability to attack the rim, score at will, and get to the free-throw line enough to keep conspiracy theorists up at night?

Comparing Westbrook’s third season (age 22) with Wade’s second (age 23) is telling.

Westbrook: 21.9, 8.2, 4.6 with 1.9 steals per game.
Wade: 24.1, 6.8, 5.2 with 1.6 steals per game.

Their PER and Usage Rate are within two percentage points, and Wade attempted 9.9 free-throws per game to Westbrook’s 8. Wade took 17.1 shots per night. Westbrook? 17. If a changed environment were to alter Westbrook’s role on his basketball team, the results could be more conducive to the style he was born to play.

4. Dwight Howard

Maybe he’s unfairly being compared to the league’s seven-foot ghosts. Maybe it’s that he has no rival. Or maybe the game’s drifted too far away from the big man as a noteworthy puzzle piece. Whatever the reason, Howard might be the most difficult of the five to build a championship-caliber team around.

He has carved out a niche as basketball’s most imposing defender. He’s the best in the league at altering shots and a top three rebounder, but there’s so many things on the other end he still needs to improve — and time’s running out. The 2009 Finals appearance wasn’t a signal of Howard staking a claim so much as it was Kevin Garnett’s faulty knee rewarding him with a free pass. All that being said, he’s twice as talented as the next best at his position. He’s also 25.

3. Blake Griffin

It’s tempting to put Griffin at the top spot. He’s the youngest player on the list, a more athletic Karl Malone, and for the next eight to 10 years should finish top five in scoring, free throw attempts, and rebounds. Off the court, Griffin seems to be a charismatic person; the most relatable 6’10” gravity defying freak of nature who’s ever lived. On the court he mutates into a monstrous brute. (Multiple reports from a slew of anonymous sources say a handful of players are refusing to see Super 8 this summer, due to its summoning of disturbing Blake Griffin related flashbacks.)

Random Fact: In less than 15 minutes of action, he recorded five assists in his first All-Star game. It took Charles Barkley five All-Star weekends to get five assists total.

2. Derrick Rose

He’s a 22-year-old MVP. Cut it, dry it, place it in the freezer.

And just wait until he starts making 40% of his threes.

1. Kevin Durant

Durant already has two playoff series (2010 vs. the Lakers and 2011 vs. the Mavericks) under his belt that, when we look back in a few years, could be the character-shaping events that transformed him from a talented, once-in-a-decade scorer to a grizzled, 25-year-old assassin. The curtain was turned back a few inches after the Dallas series, and what was revealed should scare everyone in the league. Durant’s mental fortitude aligns well with his atypical body, and the result is destined to be historical dominance.

10 Excellent Rap Lyrics Referencing the NBA

In the midst of a stellar NBA Playoffs, something great happened. No, not the triple overtime Thunder/Grizzlies game or Dirk making Chris Bosh cry. I’m talking about a 2010-11 Bulls theme song recorded by Chicago rapper Twista, some guy named Mario Winans and … power forward Carlos Boozer.

Obviously, when Booz raps, we need to listen.

Here is what he rhymes says:

Mike check one, two, one two
Mike check one, two, one two
Dream it, believe it, do it, let’s go
Already know I cross ‘em over, take ‘em to the hole
Look back, thank God — look forward, trust God
That’s why when I’m in the paint, ya know I go hard
Might go baseline one time and abuse ya
Run back down the court like ya know it was Boozer
I used to be another lil fella with some hoop dreams
Now I’ve got the game laced up, shoestrings

As far as NBA rappers goes, his flow is actually not horrendous. By comparison anyway. Luckily, there are actual professional MCs who rhyme about the Association as well.

Those of you who have been reading this site for a while are aware of the ongoing NBA Lyric Project. We’re trying to compile as many references to the league and its players as we can. So far we have a bunch. But I’ve been slacking off on this for awhile, slowing accumulating some in a Word file as I hear them but not really adding much to the online list. There are a ton more from the comments on that page as well, but below is a big list of the ones I just now added.

And since the actual basketball is over for the year and LeBron being the Antichrist is boring to talk about … here is a list of the my 10 favorite lines of this recent lyric dump. Joe Budden gets the MVP with Tash being Sixth Man of the Year. As for Redman? I still haven’t figured out how a guy who put out Muddy Waters could give us that “Mrs. International” verse.

I’m not mad, Reggie. Just a little disappointed.

10. Royce Da 5’9″ – “Second Place”

“You about to see how far that Paul Rosenberg’ll go
The height of my game is like a Demar ‘Rozen vertical”

Thoughts: Royce has been increasingly spitting NBA lines since combining with hoops-heavy lyric generator Joe Budden in Slaugherhouse — a group you can tell I’ve been listening to a ton lately. (See also,  #7, #4 and #1.). This “Second Place” track is the much-anticipated Premo-laced leak from Nickel Nine’s upcoming solo album Success Is Certain.

9. Tash – “Hip Hop Drunkies”

“I’m death-da-fyin, you rappin like my client
Tryin to scrape me for the style that slam harder than Kobe Bryant
BE QUIET. This is Likwidation from the West
Muthafuck ya bougie show, I got my own special guest”

Thoughts: I have no idea how this wasn’t already on the list. Perhaps it just goes to show that even I underrate Tha Liks — and especially Tash as a lyricist — as much as I criticize others for doing. This (as well as “Awww Shit,” which has an NBA lyric of its own listed below) appears on their stellar LP Likwidation.

8. Ludacris – “Trill Represent Trill”

“I’m shiny star spanglin, ding-a-ling danglin
Luda the sheet swisha, broke the record of Wilt Chamberlain”

Thoughts: Luda is usually at his best when acting like a third-grader, as he does here by rhyming “ding-a-ling danglin’” with the Stilt’s surname. It’s on Bun B’s first (and weakest) solo effort, Trill. The second offering of Bun’s “Trillogy” is my favorite although most seem to prefer the third.

7. Royce Da 5’9″ – “Not Tonight”

“The mixture of Magic and MJ passion
Get in the way it’s gonna be tragic as MJ passin’”

Thoughts: I personally didn’t find it all that tragic — not as much as the man’s late life — but Royce has a good line here delivered with his signature good flow on a great album.

6. J-Live – “The Zone”

“It aint no doubting that my life is charmed
My passport got more ink than NBA arms”

Thoughts: Not the greatest or most original line, but you should be reminded to listen to J-Live more often so I included it anyway. Then What Happened features this track and is fantastic, but The Hear After is probably an even better release.

5. Sean P – “Fuckin Wit A Gangster”

“Listen, everything I spit is real and I mean it
Jigga paying Dwyane, I’m paying Gilbert Arenas”

Thoughts: For the full background on the genesis of hip hop’s ongoing jersey number/price of cocaine meme, check out this post. But the short version is that Atlanta trapper Young Jeezy once said he could buy a kilo of coke for $23,000 (LeBron’s jersey number at the time) while BK entrepreneur Jay-Z countered by saying that he is such a big-timer in the dope game that the same weight only costs him $3,000 (Dwyane’s number). Both guys were lying. And Brownville’s “Broken Rapper You Know” Sean P ups the fib ante here, saying that he doesn’t even pay for his blow — it costs him $0 (Gilbert’s number at the time) because he just robs other drug dealers. (This track is from the overlooked but rather decent Ruste Juxx/Marco Polo collabo The Exxecution.)

4. Joe Budden – “Something to Ride To”

“In New York, they say I’m crazy, like Rodman was
In New Jersey, I’m what Petrovic, Drazan, was”

Thoughts: When starting out this project, I said we were only going to include stuff from studio albums. Mostly that was just because I didn’t want to be responsible for going through Lil Wayne’s 5,000-mixtape catalog and transcribing all of his estimated 748 NBA references. And there was no way I was going back to listen to all that Dipset nonsense. But Joey’s Mood Muzik “mixtapes” are basically albums anyway and this line, along with some others from his most recent edition, deserve to be cataloged. RIP Drazen.

3. Vinnie Paz “Children of God”

“I heard children sing Allahu Akbar in Turkey
One had a Russian AK, dirty Iverson jersey
I don’t know if it made me proud or if it disturbed me
I guess it’s not as bad as kids being fucked by the clergy”

Thoughts: Jedi Mind Tricks front man Vinnie Paz has a couple of my favorite NBA lines: “I point, god, like Brevin Knight” and “call me Mike Fratello baby, ’cause I call the shots” among them. This one, appearing on Vinnie’s Heavy Metal Kings album with Ill Bill, is only slightly related to hoops, but it is now one of the deeper/more uncomfortable rhymes on a list that is mostly just braggadocio.

2. Tash – “Hip Hop Drunkies”

“See this the type of shit niggas don’t try at home
I come funkin’ up the spot like Micheal Jordan’s cologne”

Thoughts: We all know one kid who actually bought this foul-stankin’ garbage back at a time when anything with MJ’s name on it moved units. Imagine if LeBron tried this? Or Lamar Odom. Oh wait …

1. Joe Budden – “Black Cloud”

“Motivation the game was supplying me, it’s no longer providing me
Jayson Williams, something killed whatever was driving me”

Thoughts: This line on Mood Muzik 4 floored me when I first heard it. Damn.

——

(And here are all the other new additions. I still have a bunch more to add, but feel free to drop favorites/omissions in the comments.)

—–

Go ahead jump
No matter how high you get you gonna come up short like Spud Webb

Royce Da 5’9″
“Above the Law”
Hell: The Sequel (Bad Meets Evil)

My daddy got a bad back so it’s only right that I write
’til he can march right into that post office and tell em to hang it up
Now his career is LeBron’s jersey in 20 years

Royce Da 5’9″
“Lighters”
Hell: The Sequel (Bad Meets Evil)

Each region breeds some MCs that wanna be, though it means that they wanna breathe our air
With these ideas, anybody thinking’ the game don’t need
the Bad and Evil regime
that’s like saying the Bad Boy Piston team didn’t need Isiah

Royce Da 5’9″
“Welcome 2 Hell”
Hell: The Sequel (Bad Meets Evil)

Yo, I need dollars
So I beasted niggas up in the game with a tech like Rasheed Wallace

Sean P
“Mad Mann”
Monkey Barz

When the god squeeze the tool
Set it off on a midget, the Kareem Abdul
Jabbar, pa
Sean the star — without the necklace
Catch a rapper slippin’, his ass is breakfast

Sean P
“M.A.S.T.E.R. P”
Master P

Maybe now I see why Marvin just needed to holler
And if you know me, treat a hurdle like I’m Igoudala

Joe Budden
“Something to Ride To”
Mood Muzik 4

Remain focused, that’s what I tell myself now and then
Don’t wanna go back to that block like where Varejao defend

Joell Ortiz
“Sound Off”
Slaughterhouse (
Slaughterhouse)

The real crack music, approach the fiends,
they approaching me I approach a beef around there
Nigga your career will go down hill like Kobe’s team

Black Milk
“Lookatusnow”
Popular Demand

So here’s the deal like Shaquille O’Neal
If you don’t know whatcha doin, how the hell can you be real?

Guru
“Alongwaytogo”
Hard to Earn (Gang Starr)

They love me cause my swag is so jockish
Freshman year saw a ring like I’m boxing
You voted most likely to never ever top this
I’m Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman … in my hometown

Big K.R.I.T.
“Hometown Hero”
K.R.I.T. Wuz Here

This is the concrete jungle
The game don’t fumble
Stand tall like Mutumbo
Reportin’ like Bryant Gumble

Jim Jones
“Go”
24 Hour Karate School (Ski Beatz)

Went on the grind, I’m ducked out from my bucket
Glean the post, I’m smart so they call me Tim Duncan

Sick Pulla
“A-Town Stomp”

Of course my metaphors are tight
Awesome, right?
I got em in awe — my aura’s Jordan-like

Nino Bless
“Slaughterhouse”
Halfway House (Joe Budden)

I ain’t being distracted by nothing
Midget-size to Dikembe, I ain’t back up from nothing

Young Chris
“I Can’t Go on This Way”
The B. Coming (Beanie Sigel)

Who Riders get it poplin’ like Bugaloo shrimp
We got a permanent job in rapping, you just a temp
And I pimp the flow like Imp the Dimp
And I run around with 40s like my nigga Shawn Kemp

J-Ro
“Likwit Ridas”
Likwidation (
Alkaholiks)

But still I got to pull my brew out the chiller
Tonight it’s goin’ down like the house of Reggie Miller

J-Ro
“Awww Shit”
Likwidation (Alkaholiks)

Parking lot pimps
9 out of 10 more parking lot simps
Ladies want lobster but settle for shrimps
Dikembe Mutombo, blockin all attempts
Niggaz ain’t pimps

Phonte
“After the Party”
The Get Back (Little Brother)

I aint playin’, I can look Yao Ming straight face up
I’m back like Kobe Bryant after rape case, boy

MJG
“Used to Be”
UGK 4 Life (UGK)

Spark the game like CP3 from Tennessee to New Orleans

Illa J
“R U Listening”
Yancey Boys

Girl, ya so fast, but now you out of breath
I got ya ass, I got a fast first step like Monta Ellis — with the rock

Illa J
“Illasoul”
Yancey Boys

Hey Miss Thang, hey Miss Thang
How ya gonna miss me, I got tickets lets roll to the Knicks game
You Tina Marie and, baby, I’m Rick Jaaaames

Redman
“Mrs. International”
Blackout 2 (Method Man and Redman)

The LeBron James/Magic Johnson Parallel

Despite the triple double LeBron James notched last night in Miami’s Game 5 loss in the NBA Finals, many people are (justifiably) crucifying him for his play throughout the series. In my eyes, he played well, if not amazingly (for him) through the first three games before looking absolutely awful (for him) throughout Game 4. He just failed to assert his physical dominance and force the Mavs to stop him off the dribble in a game during which he scored only 8 points and too-willingly swung the ball around the perimeter.

Even he knows he played like trash.

“Eight points is definitely inexcusable to me. I hold myself to a higher standard than that,” James told reporters at a team press conference, according to the Palm Beach Post. “I didn’t play well. I know that. I was hard on myself all last night.”

Game 5 was somewhat of a different story.

He played better, putting up the aforementioned triple double and generally being more aggressive with the ball while playing excellent defense at times. This was by no means LeBron at his best, or perhaps even his typical (and he got inexcusably SMOKED by Jason Terry on perhaps the biggest play of the game … which came one possession after LeBron missed a long three). But it wasn’t the “no show” that so many people were calling his Game 4 display. He shot poorly but played fine overall. Not great, but fine. And you can’t validly tell me a player was “passive” throughout crunch time when he committed a powerful offensive foul at the rim with 150 seconds to play and took three other shots in the games’ final three minutes.

Although more active, he remained atypically unproductive late again, however — which continues his trend throughout this NBA Finals. And now, if Miami can’t win two in a row at home to come back and win the title, LeBron will be undoubtedly be hit with a tsunami of criticism larger than I can remember any athlete ever facing for his on-court failings.

That’s what I was thinking last night anyway.

Then, this morning, @bandwagonknick posted something that made me, not change that opinion, but reconsider it slightly. Apparently, back when I was in kindergarten, Magic Johnson was similarly ripped apart by the press for coming up short when the sport was supposed to matter the most.

Whatever hurt Johnson felt [when LA lost to Boston in the 1984 NBA Finals] was only to intensify as the summer went on. He was stunned at the way he was carved up by the press that had once doted on him. He was particularly wounded by the suggestions that, with the championship at stake, he had choked. “I sat back when it was over,” Johnson says, “and I thought, ‘Man, did we just lose one of the great playoff series of all time, or didn’t we?’ This was one of the greatest in history. Yet all you read was how bad I was.”

It’s funny how history and time (and, ya know, winning three of the next four NBA titles) changes things. Magic is now the beloved, happy-go-lucky, HIV-surviving, bafflingly uninsightful guy on my TV who most everyone believes could do no wrong on the basketball court. He and Larry Bird “saved the NBA” that Michael Jordan would soon own. He was Showtime. He is a fantastic citizen.

He couldn’t have ever been the guy the media would “carve up.”

But he was.

And we are about to see something similar — on hyperdrive given today’s media landscape — for the next (at least) 12 months if the Heat don’t win two more games this year. It will be an annoying thing to see play out, but unlike the scorn thrown at him last Summer for The Decision, this time, there will be a lot more legitimacy to it.

He is earning this.

LeBron hasn’t played well in the Finals.

For him.

Post-script … Oddly, I was listening to a mixtape by the hip hop super-group Slaugherhouse this morning and, right as I was reading the Magic story that @bandwagonknick tweeted, the Joe Budden diss track “Pain in His Life” came on. (It’s hard to keep track of Budden’s rap feuds but this joint is about Saigon. The two MCs later made up and recorded a track together that features Sai spitting one of the illest verses I’ve heard in years.)

The opening lyrics of that song are eerily descriptive of stuff you could say about LeBron right now:

“It’s like a lose/lose, already my rep ruined
How I beat dude we know will accept losing?
Under Achiever was a underachiever
Almost thought you would come with the Ether

Rep ruined? Check.

Dude we know will accept losing? Check.

Underachiever? Check.

Almost thought he would come with the Ether (in Game 5)? All the checks.