Monday, August 25, 2008

Kobe’s Clutch Play Clinches Redemption

With 8:13 left in the Gold Medal Game, Rudy Fernandez had just lobbed a perfect alley-oop to Pau Gasol and then hit a 3-pointer to bring Spain within 2 points of the United States. After repeated blowouts, including a 37-point drubbing of this very Spain team, the outcome of the game was uncertain for the first time in this Olympics. How would the U.S. respond? A three-time NBA champion gave an emphatic answer. Like Michael Jordan 24 years ago (coincidentally also against Spain in the 1984 Gold Medal Game), Kobe Bryant stepped up and delivered when it mattered most. For three years, Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski had been preaching the importance of playing as a team. But even the best and most balanced of teams need a leader. With basketball redemption in the balance, the U.S. needed a leader now more than ever.

After a time-out, a careful look at Kobe’s demeanor told you all you needed to know. His eyes glowed with determination and confidence. He licked his lips and smiled with eagerness. Under such pressure, lesser players may wither and choke; clutch performers like Kobe are actually buoyed up. They don’t just believe, they know they are about to lead their team to victory.

After the timeout, Kobe “let Mamba loose” as he was involved in 14 of the next 17 points for team USA. A tough leaning jumper in the lane. A drive and kick-out to Deron Williams for a wide-open three. A hand-off down low to Dwight Howard for a power slam. And after a Lebron James layup, a three-pointer of his own. The U.S. was up 11, but Spain kept fighting back. Fernandez had an impressive dunk on Dwight Howard after Kobe gambled and went for a steal. Then after 2 free-throws and a jumper by Pau Gasol, Spain was back within five. Next time down the court, Kobe is calling for the ball once again. He gets it on the left wing with Fernandez right in his face. He fakes right and then hits a three as Fernandez fouls him, his fifth. As Rudy walked to the bench, Kobe put his finger in front of his lips to let the Spanish fans know they could stop cheering now. Hush. Completing the four-point play gave the U.S. a 9-point lead. Kobe said, “it meant so much; felt so good, felt so good.” Five straight Spain points dropped the U.S. lead back to four. Another NBA champion, Dwyane Wade, answered with another clutch three. Then after a Spain free-throw, Kobe hit a runner in the lane to push the lead back to eight with 1:11 left in the game. The uncertainty had passed as Spain was forced to foul. The U.S. had claimed redemption by winning what coach Krzyzewski called “one of the great games in international basketball history.” And in the climactic fourth-quarter, no player was greater than Kobe Bryant.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Jazz Conversion?

To the Fans of the Utah Jazz:

I live in Salt Lake City, but I am not a Jazz fan. I love watching basketball, but I am currently considering a complete boycott of the NBA. In March of 2007, just like in every March, I run to the oasis of big TVs and legal sports betting to celebrate the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.

But this trip wasn’t just about college basketball. I was working for the Sonics on this trip. I have always been a Seattle sports fan, but my relationship with the Sonics has been more convenience-based, as compared to the passionate love affair I share with the Seahawks. To the Sonics, I was a fair-weather fan and I used them. If they weren’t winning, I wasn’t watching. Yeah, I payed attention when Dale Ellis was setting 3-point records and yeah, I cheered on Payton and Kemp and agonized over the lost opportunity of 1993-1994. But this trip was the end of that. This trip was where it would all change.

And it did. It started with the reverse-jinx brought on by my wearing of a white University of Texas “Hook ‘em Horns” hat. Not only was I supporting super freshman Kevin Durant during the Longhorns’ NCAA run, but I was also sending good vibes to those little ping-pong balls that theoretically couldn’t be pre-bent for the knowing hand of Commissioner Scumbag (see 1985 NBA draft lottery). When the Sonics ended up with the #2 pick in the draft, my NBA renaissance had officially started. Little did I know, however, that conspiracies to defraud had already begun. I may not have known how the tragedy started, but I am here to witness its cold-blooded finish.

Unless Howard Schultz’s full-court prayer of a lawsuit is somehow answered, I will find myself at another NBA cross-road. Will it be a true renaissance or a bitter exile? I am considering the following options:

(1) Boycott, as mentioned, the NBA completely, based on my disgust over the way Commissioner Stern made sure the road from Seattle to Oklahoma City was nicely paved for his good buddy Bennett.
(2) Follow my man-crush Kevin (and the rest of the Sonics) to OK City. Even though I despise the ownership, I’m excited for the young team and the moves made by the young GM.
(3) Switch my alliances to the “rival” Portland Trailblazers. I put rival in quotations, because it doesn’t really approach a true rivalry. Compare Yankees-Red Sox or BYU-Utah to Seattle-Portland. Even if people in Seattle and Portland cared, does anyone else? Also, based on my aforementioned love affair with the Seahawks, why can’t I share some of that love with the Seahawk owner’s basketball team? (Paul Allen owns both the Seahawks and the Blazers.)
(4) Finally, common sense tells me to just start rooting for the home team. They’re only a few blocks away after all and the team certainly has its virtues. But can they convert me?

Can the Jazz show this downtrodden basketball soul the way to true fandom? Or will despair fully drive me from the sport? Can the Jazz pull me from the misery of NBA orphanage? Or will I take up residence with my cousins in Portland? Can an adopted fan achieve the same status as a fan-since-birth? Or will I always have that place in my heart for Seattle basketball?

Join me as I present my unbiased views of the team’s arguments. Watch the drama unfold both on the court and off, as you root not only for the Jazz to win games but also to win the approval of this non-believer.