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|A popular Philippine sports columnist and broadcaster for more than 30 years, Joaquin Henson has covered five NBA Finals on site for Philippine TV. NIcknamed "The Dean" for his scholarly approach to the game, Henson has also received several awards, including the first-ever Olympism Award from the Philippine Olympic Committee for excellence in journalism.|
Why Lakers lost
The Dean's analysis of the Finals
Covering my sixth NBA Finals on site was an unforgettable experience particuarly as I was probably the only sportswriter to predict Detroit to win the championship BEFORE the playoffs started. In my next few blogs, I'll be reviewing the highlights of my Finals experience which incidentally was the subject of the daily columns and stories I emailed to the newspaper Philippine Star during the five-game war. Now that I'm back in Manila and far away from where the NBA action is, I hope to still be able to keep you interested in my views on the game and the league we all love. Posted by Joaquin Henson - Jun 28 2004 3:07AM
Here's the first of my post-Finals series.
It seemed like the Los Angeles Lakers were destined to win the NBA title this year.
The signs were ominous. The Lakers took the Pacific Division title in a crowded race that was settled only on the last day of the regular season after an overtime win over Portland. Then, they beat Houston in extension in Game 4 of their first round playoff series on the road and ousted the Rockets in five. In the second round, Derek Fisher's improbable jumper with 0.4 of a second left lifted the Lakers to a one-point squeaker over San Antonio in Game 5 on the Spurs' homecourt and paved the way for the clincher at the Staples Center. And in the third round, the Lakers got the jump on Minnesota in Game 1 on the road and cruised to seal in six as the Timberwolves couldn't fill the vacuum of Sam Cassell's absence.
San Antonio and Minnesota enjoyed the homecourt advantage over Los Angeles but couldn't survive the Lakers.
The arrival of Karl Malone and Gary Payton to combine forces with Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant was the intriguing twist in the Lakers' quest for the crown. Malone and Payton had never played on a title squad and in the twilight of their long careers, agreed to severe paycuts for the chance to wear a ring. Then there was coach Phil Jackson's own pursuit of glory. He was a championship short of breaking out of a tie with Red Auerbach to become the NBA's winningest coach ever in terms of Finals triumphs.
So when the Lakers advanced to the Finals against the Detroit Pistons, oddsmakers installed Los Angeles as the bettors' choice to go all the way. Surely, fate had something to do with the way the pieces fell into place---Cassell's injury, Fisher's miracle shot, the overtime win over Houston and the late surge that brought another Pacific Division trophy to Jerry Buss' collection. But the Pistons refused to be swayed by all that talk of fate and destiny.
Jackson called it a Cinderella story. "We overcame a lot of adversity during the course of the year," said the Zen Master, "but Detroit proved to be a little better than we were in the Finals."
The theme we, at Solar Sports TV, used in relating the Finals story was "Destiny versus Desire" because fate took the Lakers to the Last Dance and Detroit made it out of sheer desire.
Defense was the primary key to the Pistons' 4-1 victory. The Lakers were held to an average of only 77.5 points in their four losses. In the regular season, L.A. ranked third in offense with a 98.2 clip behind only Dallas and Sacramento.
Coach Larry Brown's strategy of covering O'Neal one-on-one using a rotating army of defenders eventually wore out the Diesel and also disrupted the flow of the Lakers offense. Tayshaun Prince's length left Bryant bleeding for his points. In the first four games, no Laker---other than O'Neal and Bryant---scored in double figures, a testament to the Pistons' unforgiving defense.
Another key was Detroit's overwhelming domination of the boards. The Pistons outrebounded the Lakers by 12 in Game 3, seven in Game 4 and 14 in Game 5. That allowed Detroit to dictate the tempo, run the Lakers to the ground in transition (the Pistons had more fastbreak points, 21-15, in Game 4 and 23-15 in Game 5) and score second chance points (16-3 in Game 3).
More than the stats, here are 10 reasons why the Lakers lost.
-- Distractions. Jackson and O'Neal attempted to renegotiate their contracts during the season. They were both unsuccessful, leaving a lot of questions unanswered as the Finals unfolded. A cloud of uncertainty ominously hung over the Lakers bench.
-- Internal dissension. Finger-pointing became a habit among the Lakers when things went wrong. O'Neal slammed Bryant for his selfishness. Bryant criticized O'Neal for his ballooning weight. Payton pouted because of Jackson's lack of confidence in his fourth quarter play.
-- Injuries. Malone sat out Game 5. Fisher and George played hurt. O'Neal wasn't 100 percent. Even Jackson, who underwent an angioplasty last year, was in pain because of battered hips that are aching to be replaced.
-- Mismatch problems. Detroit had the advantage in most mismatches, if not in size then in speed. No Laker could keep pace with Rip Hamilton. Rasheed Wallace ate up Luke Walton's defense when Malone couldn't play. Payton couldn't hold his own against any guard in the Pistons roster.
-- Exhaustion. The Lakers looked like a tired team starting Game 3. They went the extra mile to pull off the win in Game 2. The torturous route to the Finals took a heavy toll on the Lakers, five of whom are over 30---Malone, 40, Payton, 35, Rick Fox, 34, Bryon Russell, 33 and O'Neal, 32.
-- Inconsistent bench. Lack of support was evident as the Pistons made it obvious the Lakers couldn't win with only O'Neal and Bryant scoring big numbers. Walton erupted in Game 2 which the Lakers won but was quiet in the other outings. Kareem Rush never exploded like he did in Game 6 of the Minnesota series.
-- Lack of desire. The Lakers gave up fighting early. They were blown out by 20 in Game 3 and by 13 in Game 5. L. A. had a winnable situation in Game 4 as the score was tied starting the fourth period but ran out of gas down the stretch. It was like the Lakers couldn't muster the extra ounce of energy for the big push with the game on the line.
-- Attitude. The Lakers were overconfident and too cocky before the start of the Finals. They didn't think the Pistons had it in them to pull an upset.
-- Too many egos. The clash of egos was inevitable because there are just too many stars in the Lakers cast. Chemistry suffered as a result. Players had their own individual agendas and teamwork deteriorated.
-- Not meant to be. It was Detroit's time to ascend the throne. The Lakers must learn from the bitter lesson of defeat and bounce back with a vengeance. Advancing to the Finals was a feat for the Lakers who weren't supposed to beat San Antonio and Minnesota in the first place. Despite the loss in the Finals, the Lakers must be commended for rising above adversity to almost make it to the top.
Jordan in Tokyo
Talking to Michael at the end of Asian tour
Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) commissioner Noli Eala has invited Michael Jordan to attend the opening of the league's 30th season in Manila on Oct. 2 in a grand ceremony as guest of honor.Posted by Joaquin Henson - May 27 2004 11:54PM
I handcarried Eala's letter of invitation and personally delivered it to Jordan during a 45-minute interview arranged by Nike in a 50th floor suite at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo last Monday (May 24).
Jordan, 41, was in Tokyo for two days on the final leg of a week-long Asian tour that started in Beijing, proceeded to Hong Kong and stopped in Taiwan.
Jordan said it was his first trip to Asia in eight years and welcomed the opportunity to meet fans, the press, and retailers of his personal footwear and sports apparel brand.
"I've gotten older and bigger," said Jordan. "I hope to keep coming back to Asia, see old friends and say thanks to the fans for their support. The main purpose of the trip was to kick things off in terms of marketing our brand. In the future, we hope to bring athletes over and introduce more products. I'm doing a lot of brand work now that I'm retired. The Asian fans are great and I'm grateful that they appreciate my expertise."
In his letter, Eala told Jordan "how rabid basketball fans the Filipinos are and how much Michael Jordan is loved in the country." He said Filipinos are known to be among the most passionate Jordan and basketball fans in the whole world.
"While we may have missed out on being part of your Asian tour this time, the PBA would like you to be part of a forthcoming milestone in the rich history of Asia's first professional basketball league," said Eala.
"It is with great pride and honor that we formally invite you to be our guest of honor when the PBA opens its 30th season with a grand ceremony on Oct. 2, 2004. Your presence will not only add prestige to the occasion, it will most certainly make our opening rites the most important date in the Philippines' basketball calendar. It is our hope that you will act favorably to this invitation. Our basketball fans are just aching to let your experience the Filipino hospitality that's known the world over and shower their basketball idol with the love and adulation like no other."
With the letter, Eala sent the PBA's hard-cover, coffee-table book "The First 25 Years" and a league pin to Jordan.
Jordan was in Yokohama on the Nike Hoop Heroes tour in 1996 and said he hardly did sightseeing or shopped during the visit.
"Japan still looks the same," he said. "I was able to do some shopping this time. I bought watches for my kids, purses for my wife and I even got myself a watch."
Jordan's first public appearance in Tokyo was at the Mitake Park in the Shibuya district last Sunday afternoon (May 23). He was surrounded by about 100 fans, mostly kids, to dedicate the first outdoor basketball court in Japan.
"I hope someday one of the kids gets to play in the NBA," said Jordan. "The court is made of recycled shoes. It's a good start. It's a court for kids to play on. It's all about communities evolving."
Later that afternoon, Jordan appeared on stage with Jordan brand president Larry Miller for about 30 minutes in a media presentation at the Park Tower building beside the Park Hyatt Hotel. Jordan and Miller spoke to the press and answered questions from a Japanese announcer.
Miller said the Jordan brand, a division of Nike, reflects excellence, sophistication and confidence. "We cultivate a combination of style and sport," he said. "We are the leading edge in product design Our vision is to build a premium brand that reflects excellence on and off the court."
Jordan said he participates in the design of the products. The Air Jordan shoe series, now up to the 19th version, is the heart and soul of the product line. The 20th version is due next year and is now being worked on.
The Jordan line endorsers were personally handpicked. They include NBA stars Gary Payton, Jason Kidd, Mike Bibby, Ray Allen, Eddie Jones, Mike Finley, Derek Anderson, Quintin Richardson and Carmelo Anthony.
Before they came on stage, 15 male models paraded in a dazzling light-and-sound fashion show that unveiled the extensive Jordan line of footwear, apparel and accessories. The models walked to the beat of hip-hop music, wearing jerseys, caps, armbands, wristbands, different kinds of shoes and an assortment of lifestyle apparel for all seasons.
The next morning, Jordan met with selected members of Asian media for 45 minutes in a private suite. Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines were represented in the exclusive interview.
In the interview, Jordan said he knew some of the imports playing in the PBA and nodded his head when the names of Art Long, Jerald Honeycutt and Torraye Braggs were mentioned.
Jordan said "it's great for the Philippines" that NBA players find their way to the PBA. "It's all about the evolution of the game on a global basis, about raising the level of competition all over the world," he added.
Told that a PBA team tried to bring in Dennis Rodman, Jordan smiled and simply shook his head without saying a word. It was obvious what he meant.
On the possibility of a Filipino someday playing in the NBA, Jordan said it won't be easy but it can be done.
"Small players are making an impact on the game," said Jordan. "Guys who are 5-3, 5-7 and look at (Allen) Iverson, he's barely six feet tall. It's like David against Goliath There are no shortcuts to making it. You gotta believe you can do it, that you can make it happen. It'll take a lot of hard work but if you set your mind to it, you can do it."
As for more Asian players breaking into the majors, Jordan said the level of competition in the region is not like in the US. He explained that there is much so talent in the US where playing the game is more prevalent. But he pointed out that international players, especially in Europe, are improving.
Jordan said he has played with Chinese center Yao Ming and described him as "a great shooter and passer." He added that with more experience, Yao will get better and better. "I've seen him play," said Jordan. "He has improved tremendously and he's building up his knowledge. You can expect a better performance from Yao in the future."
Jordan said his parents taught him to be positive in life. He recalled being cut from his high school basketball team and bouncing back from the disappointment. "My parents taught me to turn it around," he continued. "Sure, I was disappointed but I turned the negative into a positive. It's what I tell the kids. It's okay to not succeed. But it's not okay not to try. Don't be afraid to try something. But if you don't succeed, you work harder until you do. And if that still doesn't work, maybe it's not meant to be and you try something else. The thing is you don't give up trying."
Jordan said he doesn't play the game anymore and just shoots around with his kids. "No more double-clutch and fadeaway jumpshots," he went on. "Just shooting around with my kids who love sports. Like them, I grew up with sports. Why basketball? I grew tall. I was six when I began playing baseball. As I got older, my skills were more tuned to basketball than baseball. Now, I play golf about three or four times a week. My favorite course is Augusta where they play the Masters. Will I ever be a pro golfer? No. I'm not that good."
Jordan said it's hard to imagine he's been involved in the game over 20 years.
"I can't believe it's been 20 years," he said. "It's difficult to live up to the fans expectations. It's like I'm on a pedestal. The respect I've gained was generated by the way I played. I'm thankful that I was able to play at a high level. It's given me a lot of respect and made my job now easier to promote my brand. Whatever I did on the court is how I'm respected when I stepped off. It's great to be admired, to be able to be of influence and inspire people. The advantage is I'm able to talk to kids, to people. The disadvantage is it's tough to move around, to go to movies with my family and just hang out."
Appointment with destiny
Sizing up the Lakers chances and the NBA's competitive balance
Without the Admiral to steer the ship, the San Antonio Spurs were swamped by the Los Angeles Lakers and sank in stormy waters. The end of San Antonio's brief reign as NBA champion came in Game 6 of the Western Conference semis as the Lakers, bouncing back from a 0-2 series deficit, won four in a row to stamp their class as the team of destiny in the playoffs.Posted by Joaquin Henson - May 19 2004 4:06AM
The Lakers' late surge to clinch the Pacific Division title in the regular season was a strong message to doubters that if they're up to it, they're tough to crack. Phil Jackson, whose attempt to extend his contract was thwarted before the All-Star break, is out to become the first NBA coach to pick up 10 titles. He's now tied with Red Auerbach for most championships. If Jackson bags another ring, will he make it a little more difficult for the Lakers to sign him to a renewal? You wonder what Jeanne Buss has to say about that.
Assembling the Fab Four for an appointment with destiny was a feat for Jackson. Bringing in the Mailman and the Glove for peanuts drove home a point to the league's spoiled multimillionaires. It's not just about dollars and cents. It's also about getting the ring. It's all about pride.
Beating the Spurs in four straight to clinch the series was an improbability. But the Lakers are an improbable team. During the regular season, talk of internal dissension leaked out of the Lakers' locker room. An implosion seemed imminent. Would Shaq and Kobe ever bury their differences of opinion about each other? How much of Kobe would be left on the floor after being emotionally and physically drained from flying in and out of the court room? Gary Payton grumbled because of Jackson's lack of confidence in his leadership with the game on the line. Karl Malone started to feel the aches and pains in his bones and joints from a long career. There appeared to be too many stumbling blocks in the Lakers' mission to bring the crown back to Lala Land.
Booting out Houston in the first round was expected. But doing it in five wasn't. Then came the Spurs, rudderless without Mr. Robinson.
Tony Parker was spectacular in the first two games, showing the quickness that San Antonio needed to make the Lakers look their age. But Jackson is too smart to be outsmarted. The Lakers buckled down to business starting Game 3 and took the Spurs out of their rhythm by playing it slow. Suddenly, Rasho Nesterovic's shortcomings became evident. Suddenly, the Spurs looked for someone to kick out to but couldn't find either Steve Kerr or Stephen Jackson. Suddenly, San Antonio called out for the Admiral but he wasn't there.
Parker and Manu Ginobili tried to penetrate the road blocks but the Lakers' interior defense hung tough. It was obvious that Tim Duncan couldn't do it all and needed a Robinson to ease the pressure off his shoulders.
In the first 10 series that were settled in the playoffs, only one team without the homecourt advantage survived. It was no surprise that the team was the Lakers.
Incidentally, did you notice the great divide between the haves and the have-nots in the first round of the playoffs? The competitive imbalance was so obvious that seven of the eight series finished in five games or less. Three were three 4-0 shutouts.
But things got hot in the second round where two of the four series went the full route.
The indication is the competition is tight among the top eight teams but down the ladder, the also-rans are easy pickings for the elite. That situation could be addressed by the coming draft where the lottery teams get a chance to beef up by choosing ahead of the playoff performers. Curiously, the battle for the eighth playoff slot in both conferences went down to the wire. Cleveland lost out to Boston by a win and Utah to Denver also by a win. So the competition is tight down below as well as up on top. Bridging the gap is the challenge in the coming season. Charlotte's arrival and the expansion draft should contribute to narrow the gap.
The disparity is a reason why coaches don't stay long on the job. Team owners are getting increasingly impatient. They want results. They demand a good fight. They owe the fans no less.
"Chocolate Thunder" on the line
A long distance phone conversation with Darryl Dawkins
It was "Chocolate Thunder" on the line and I asked him about his take on the NBA playoffs.Posted by Joaquin Henson - May 4 2004 6:05AM
Darryl Dawkins, 47, coaches the Pennsylvania Valley Dawgs in the USBL. There are two Filipino players in the Valley Dawgs roster. And the team's general manager is a Filipino, Sam Unera.
One of the two Filipino players Vince Hizon (who saw action briefly for Boise State) arranged the overseas phone call yesterday. I was in Manila and Dawkins, in Allentown.
I bumped into Dawkins during the NBA All-Star Weekend in L.A. last February and remember asking when he'd be back in the Philippines. Dawkins, accompanied by Unera, visited a few years ago and conducted basketball clinics. "I'd love to go back," he said, "possibly, after the USBL season in July."
On the phone, I asked Dawkins which team he thought had the best chance of capturing the NBA title this year. "If the Lakers get it together, nobody can beat them," he replied. "I like Sacramento's chances, too. But I'm not counting out any East team. Indiana's tough and so is Detroit. You can't count Detroit out. They've got a good coach, a teacher in Larry Brown, and they've got all the tools."
Dawkins, who led the Valley Dawgs to the USBL title in 2001, said he's looking forward to someday coaching in the NBA. If he had a choice, Dawkins said he'd like to join the coaching staffs of either the Philadelphia 76ers or the New Jersey Nets. "I guess the way in is to become an assistant coach for a few years," said Dawkins. "That's cool. The problem is when you want it, it's not there and when they want you, you gotta go right away."
Reacting to the high turnover rate in NBA coaching jobs, Dawkins said: "Coaches don't lose jobs. They just transfer from one team to another. A head coach gets fired and winds up an assistant coach somewhere else."
If in a hypothetical case, he plays again, which team would he like to play for? "Philadelphia," he said. "I love the people and I love the city." What about matching up against Shaq or Yao? "I'd body them," he went on. "Yao's getting better and he'll be really good. He's so long I'll have to figure out how to do my monster dunks on him. As for Shaq, I'd play physical. I'd hold my own. I wouldn't back down. That would be some kind of rivalry---Shaq and me. I think I'd do alright."
Asked to choose a dream point guard he'd like to partner with, Dawkins singled out Stephon Marbury. "He's got the ability to hold the ball until the defense commits itself then he gives it to you," explained Dawkins. "He'd be able to get me the ball for my dunks."
On the subject of Dawkins' thundering slams, he said he broke at least six backboards in his career. Two in the NBA, two in Italy and about two or three in some gyms, said Dawkins.
What was his greatest moment in the NBA? "Getting into the league out of high school," he said. "Moses (Malone) did it, too, but he went to the ABA first. The other greatest moment? Getting my paychecks."
What's it like working with Filipinos? "You know me, I get along with everybody," he said. "Filipinos are the hardest-working people I know. I met Sam (Unera) five years ago and I notice he's always working. We're like brothers. We hang out in each other's house. We're on the same page. My Filipino players, Vince and Bong, work really hard. Vince is a smart player, plays good position defense and a heckuva shooter. Coming off the screen, he'll nail that jumper. We run so much and Vince fits in well. Bong has a hamstring injury and won't be able to play 'til one or two more weeks. He's rehabbing and eager to play."
Dawkins is off to his best start ever as a Valley Dawgs coach. Pennsylvania is 6-2 to open the 2004 season. Among his players are Joe Crispin, Brian Taylor, Lou White, Carlos Wheeler, Quincy Wadley, Willie Chandler and the two Filipinos---Hizon and Alvarez who's known in Philippine hoopdom as Mr. Excitement.
The Dean poses 10 questions
A discussion of 10 intriguing issues this season
My 10 questions on the NBA.Posted by Joaquin Henson - Apr 22 2004 5:43AM
1 What will it take for Flip Saunders to win the Coach of the Year award? Sure, Hubie Brown did a masterful job in resurrecting Memphis. But look at what Saunders has done in Minnesota. The Timberwolves finished on top of the Western Conference this year. That's right--over the likes of San Antonio, the L.A. Lakers and Sacramento. Memphis wound up sixth in the ladder, remember? The Wolves posted 58 wins in the regular season--their third straight 50-plus record.
2. Has success gone to Shaquille O'Neal's head? He's been acting like a spoiled brat lately. Making profane comments on live TV isn't in keeping with his star status--unless Shaq adheres to the Barkley philosophy that pro athletes shouldn't be propped up as role models for the youth. Taking digs at NBA executive Stu Jackson for fining him is way out of line. Honestly, Shaq's antics are getting to be quite a bore.
3. Why not co-Rookies of the Year? LeBron James is a class act, no doubt. But Carmelo Anthony deserves some recognition, too. They were both spectacular in their debut seasons. Dave Cowens and Geoff Petrie were co-Rookies of the Year in 1970-71 as were Grant Hill and Jason Kidd in 1994-95 and Elton Brand and Steve Francis in 1999-2000. James and Anthony should've been declared co-Rookies of the Year. Nobody would've questioned the wisdom of naming the fourth co-Rookies of the Year pair in NBA history. But the selection does go through a vote and that's the bottom line.
4. Is Phil Jackson regretting letting go of Robert Horry? If the Lakers and Spurs make it to the second round of the playoffs, look for Horry to throw up those treys from downtown against L.A. Horry's been hot for the Spurs against Memphis and you can be sure he can't wait to pay back Jackson for his loss of confidence.
5. Why was Charles Oakley left off the Houston playoff roster? His experience is immeasurable. After the Rockets signed him to the first of two 10-day contracts late in the season, Oakley said: "All Yao needs to know is he's got a good man beside him. He doesn't have to worry about Shaq no more." Too bad Jeff Van Gundy didn't listen.
6. Will the Van Gundys ever get to face each other in the playoffs? For Jeff and Stan to personify the drama of sibling rivalry, Houston and Miami must make it to the Finals. That possibility is as remote as Michael Jordan coming back to play for the Charlotte Bobcats. Forget the notion of a brotherly war.
7. Is Larry Brown consciously reviving the Bad Boys image in Detroit? The Pistons flourished in the Bad Boys era of Bill Laimbeer, Dennis Rodman, Isiah Thomas, Vinnie Johnson and Joe Dumars. Last February, Brown was ejected in the first period of a game against the L.A. Clippers and didn't take it calmly. He was fined $7,500 for failing to leave the court without a fuss. Dumars is back in the Pistons organization--as president of basketball operations. Rahseed Wallace and Corliss Williamson (he was fined $5,000 for a flagrant foul 2 committed on Brad Miller last February) could be the New Generation version of Laimbeer and Rodman. The Bad Boys won NBA titles in 1989 and 1990. Will the 2003-04 edition relive Detroit's glory era?
8. Is Reggie Miller's announcement that he will likely retire if Indiana wins the title a threat or a dare? Miller is itching to wear a ring. The Pacers went to the Finals in 2000 but haven't gone past the first round of the playoffs the last three years. Miller is looking more and more like the senior statesman that he is. The Pacers might just win it for Miller so he can finally retire.
9. How badly do the Nets miss Alonzo Mourning? Apparently not much. Coach Lawrence Frank is returning 10 of the 12 players in last year's playoff roster. The additions are 6-5 Brandon Armstrong and 6-7 Zoran Planinic--neither of whom is a center. Stricken out from last season's playoff cast were Deke Mutombo and Anthony Johnson. Does this mean Brian Scalabrine will get meaningful minutes in the playoffs? Don't count on it. Jason Collins, Kenyon Martin, Aaron Williams and yes, Scalabrine, will take turns patrolling the interior. A healthy Mourning would've been the clinching ingredient for a title team. Jayson Williams? Nobody's talking about him anymore except lawyers in a different court.
10. Are too many cooks spoiling Dallas' broth? The Mavs are so top-heavy that they make Pamela Lee Anderson look undersized. Mike Finley, Dirk Nowitzki, Antawn Jamison, Antoine Walker and Steve Nash are all potential 20-point scorers. The problem is the game is played with only one basketball. Jamison comes off the bench and he'd start for any other team. With the emergence of Josh Howard and Marquis Daniels as legitimate ballers, expect some of Dallas' highly-paid superstars to graze in other pastures next season. In the Mavs' playoff roster, coach Don Nelson has brought in seven new faces. He's brought new meaning to the word "facelift." But if cosmetic surgery doesn't make title contenders out of Dallas, owner Mark Cuban might rethink his philosophy of building the best team that money can buy.
As for the playoffs, only one team has lost at home so far. And the sole victim Detroit--gulp--is my choice to win it all this year.
Forecast--Bad Boys to win it all
Predicting what's to come in the NBA playoffs
The NBA playoffs are underway and the race to the Finals appears to be wide open.Posted by Joaquin Henson - Apr 16 2004 1:06PM
In the East, Indiana (61-21) is the bettors' choice to make it to the Last Dance. After all, the Pacers will enjoy the homecourt advantage in every series they'll figure in. Jermaine O'Neal leads the Indiana charge but Ron Artest provides the backbone to coach Rick Carlisle's aggressive attack. Reggie Miller has injected a sentimental footnote to the Pacers' playoff run, hinting he'll probably retire if they clinch the title.
History is on Indiana's side as six of the last eight teams that finished on top of the regular season standings went to the Finals and five hit paydirt. But Indiana hasn't survived the first round of the last three playoffs even as the Pacers reached the Finals only to lose to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games four years ago.
The Pacers shouldn't find it difficult to boot out Boston (35-47) in the opening round and won't likely encounter rough sailing against either Miami (42-40) or New Orleans (41-41) in the next. But Indiana will be pushed to the limit in the Eastern Finals and may not be able to oust either Detroit (54-28) or New Jersey (47-35).
In the West, some oddsmakers are prematurely conceding the Lakers (56-26) to sweep. L.A. has compiled a 20-4 record since the All-Star break and that counts for something. Besides, Kobe Bryant is on a mission to prove his Colorado misadventure is irrelevant on the court.
Bryant was phenomenal in the Lakers' 109-104 decision over Golden State last Tuesday. He hit a season-high 45 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out eight assists. Then in a rousing encore the next day, Bryant played hero once more as he led the Lakers to a 105-104 double overtime triumph over Portland. He buried an impossible triple to force the first overtime and drained another tough trey to ice it in the second extension.
Bryant' back-to-back efforts came after the Lakers lost to Sacramento by 17 in a game where he netted only eight points, supposedly to spite critics scornful of his selfish offensive tendencies.
The Lakers face Houston (45-37) in the first round. Unless Shaquille O'Neal breaks a limb and Bryant's wife Vanesse decides to file for divorce, there's no way the Rockets will advance.
L.A., however, will be hard pressed to beat San Antonio (57-25) in the second round. That's assuming the Spurs will dismiss Memphis (50-32) in their first round series.
San Antonio wound up the regular season with an 11-game winning streak. The defending champion Spurs are determined to keep their crown but without David Robinson in the middle, it doesn't look like Tim Duncan can do it alone. Rasho Nesterovic just isn't in the Admiral's class. San Antonio should be able to polish off the Lakers but not Minnesota (58-24) or Sacramento (55-27).
Here are our fearful forecasts in each best-of-7 first round series.
Indiana over Boston. Paul Pierce led the Celtics in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and free throw percentage in the regular season. It's no secret that for the Pacers to eliminate Boston, all they've got to do is to put the cuffs on the Truth. The Celtics will be lucky to win two in this faceoff.
Miami over New Orleans. Jamal Mashburn is out of the Hornets playoff roster and Baron Davis isn't complaining. The Heat beat the Hornets in three of four meetings in the regular season. This will likely go down to the wire--perhaps to a seventh game. Eddie Jones, Lamar Odom, Rafer Alston, Brian Grant and Caron Butler should be able to pull it off for the Heat because they're gutsier under pressure.
Detroit over Milwaukee. The Wallace Boys--Ben and Rasheed--aren't just rugged, they're mean to the core. The Bad Boys are kicking butt, reminiscent of the Bill Laimbeer era. Not even Michael Redd's outside touch can bail out the Bucks who lost thrice to the Pistons in the regular season.
New Jersey over New York. The Nets are finally rid of Byron Scott and with rookie Lawrence Frank at the helm, they're shooting for a third straight Finals appearance. Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson are back with a vengeance but the lack of a dominant center remains a big handicap. The Knicks are dangerous and coach Lenny Wikens' souped-up cast is extremely motivated. Deke Mutombo is eager to pay back the Nets for their loss of confidence in his services. The Nets should still win in six.
Minnesota over Denver. The Nuggets are an exciting team with Carmelo Anthony, Earl Boykins, Marcus Camby and Andre Miller in the forefront. But there's no denying the T-Wolves from advancing past the first round after failing the last seven playoffs. Consensus MVP pick Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell, Latrell Sprewell and Wally Szczerbiak are ready to rumble. This could be over in five.
Lakers over Houston. Perhaps, L.A. will allow the Rockets two wins before clinching. That's coach Phil Jackson's way of showing courtesy. Shaq, Kobe, Karl Malone and Gary Payton are too experienced to be led out the door in the first round.
Sacramento over Dallas. The Kings are struggling with Chris Webber back but the Mavericks' inability to play consistent defense will be a major drawback. Dallas eliminated Sacramento in seven last year so the Kings are out for revenge. Too many stars in Dallas' constellation will lead to confusion and jealousy. Sacramento will no doubt capitalize.
San Antonio over Memphis. It'll be a short-lived playoff debut for Memphis. Coach Hubie Brown must be congratulated for piloting the Grizzlies to their first-ever playoffs. Unfortunately, Memphis will offer little opposition to the Spurs who should wrap up the series in five.
In the end, I foresee Detroit and Minnesota squaring off in the Finals. Joe Dumars played a key role in powering the Pistons to back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990. He's back orchestrating things as President of basketball operations. His influence in reviving the Bad Boys aura is evident and Pistons fans are conjuring visions of reliving the championship years.
No East team has won the NBA title since Chicago in 1998. Detroit will end the streak this year.
NBA cagers in Philippine league
Tracking NBA players as imports in the Philippines
It's not often that a player jumps directly from the NBA to the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) in the same season. But Torraye Braggs of Xavier (Ohio) did the improbable.Posted by Joaquin Henson - Apr 12 2004 10:55AM
After playing 11 games for Houston and four for Washington this year, Braggs flew to Manila to replace George Reese (Ohio State) in the Barangay Ginebra lineup a few weeks ago. He's the third import to play for Ginebra since the PBA campaign started last February. Rosell Ellis (McNeese State) was the first and Reese, the second.
In the PBA, each team is allowed to recruit a single import who can be no taller than 6-8. The league's medical staff measures each import to make sure he does not exceed the height limit.
The only other NBA veterans playing in the 10-team PBA this season are Art Long (Cincinnati) and Jerald Honeycutt (Tulane). Long suited up for four NBA teams in three seasons and is playing for league-leading San Miguel Beer. Honeycutt is seeing action for Talk 'N' Text, a club that's sponsored by a telecommunications company. Honeycutt planed in to replace the team's original import Randy Holcomb (San Diego State), the San Antonio Spurs second round pick in the 2002 draft.
Also playing in the PBA are imports Galen Young (North Carolina at Charlotte), Marek Ondera (California at Irvine), Derrick Brown (Providence), Eddie Elisma (Georgia Tech), Mike Maddox (Georgia Tech), Mark Sanford (Washington) and DeAngelo Collins (Inglewood High).
Young was the Milwaukee Bucks second round choice in the 1999 draft. In 1997, Elisma and Sanford were both second round picks. "Electric" Eddie was tapped by Seattle and Sanford by Miami. Young, Elisma and Sanford never made it to the NBA regular season.
An import's job isn't easy. He takes the heat when his team is on the skids-never mind how poorly his teammates are playing. Contracts are usually guaranteed but teams are willing to pay off than stick with an import who's not delivering.
What makes the PBA an attractive destination for "imports" is its reputation of making good on contracts. There has never been a case of an import not getting paid since the PBA started in 1975. Besides, the Philippines is a tropical paradise. Imports are treated like movie stars by basketball-crazy Filipino fans. They're celebrities away from home. The pay isn't bad. The accommodations are excellent. The people are friendly, hospitable and English-speaking. The food is fantastic. The malls are a shopper's dream. The beaches are fabulous. And most importantly, the competition is top-class.
Surely, highly-touted players like Braggs and Honeycutt (who nearly made the Portland Trail Blazers lineup this season) wouldn't bother playing in the PBA if the league wasn't a first-class organization.
So far, 21 imports have played in the PBA this year. Those who've come and gone were Ellis, Reese, Brian Wethers (California), Lenny Cooke (Mott Adult High), Reggie Butler (Xavier), Holcomb, Carlos Wheeler (Campbellsville), Bingo Merriex (Texas Christian), Doug Wrenn (Washington), Lamayn Wilson (Troy State) and Alvin Jefferson (Auburn).
Long, Young, Sanford and Ondera are the only imports who started the season and are still in town. Ondera, however, seems to be in danger of losing his job. A possible replacement Jameel Watkins (Georgetown) has flown in and is ready to take over his spot in the Shell roster. Another import on the brink of receiving a pink slip is Collins. Former NBA player Julius Nwosu is playing out his contract in Lebanon and will likely return to the PBA as Collins' replacement in two weeks. Nwosu had previously played two seasons in the PBA.
The PBA is now in its double-round elimination phase. Two foreign teams-one from Lebanon and the other from Argentina-will join six survivors in the quarterfinals. Four teams will square off in a pair of best-of-3 semifinal series and the winners advance to play in the best-of-5 finals.
Former PBA imports now playing in the NBA are Portland's Desmond Ferguson, Detroit's Tremaine Fowlkes and Seattle's Ansu Sesay and Richie Frahm. Cut during the season were Chicago's Rick Brunson and Golden State's Sean Lampley.
NBA referee Leon Wood once played in the PBA, too, as did NBA assistant coaches Chip Engelland (Denver) and Keith Smart (Golden State) and scouts Walker Russell (Toronto) and Harold Ellis (Atlanta). Chicago assistant coach Bob Thornton was a consultant for a PBA club a few years ago.
Basketball is the Philippines' No. 1 sport. That's why the NBA is wildly popular among Filipino fans who appreciate the finer points of the game.
This August, the NBA is staging a "Jam Session" in the heart of Manila. Six NBA players-including three marquee stars-are reportedly coming to launch the "Jam Session." They'll be accompanied by six Laker Girls who're expected to steal the thunder from the players. There are three Filipinas in the Lakers Girls roster this season and fans are hoping they'll be among the six booked to visit Manila. Last year, six Golden State Warrior Girls-one of whom was a Filipina-came to Manila on a goodwill visit and stole the hearts of Filipino fans.
No security in coaching
Commenting on coaching changes in pro hoops
A coach is good only until his last game. That's a truism in professional basketball. And this season offers a slew of examples of midstream coaching switches in the NBA and Asia's first play-for-pay league, the 29-year-old Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).Posted by Joaquin Henson - Apr 5 2004 1:10PM
No matter the length of his contract, a coach isn't spared the axe if he's not winning consistently. The bottom line's the thing and with so many coaches waiting in the wings for jobs, security is no longer a sacred word in the business. The operating principle today is if you can't win, you've got to go.
In the NBA, changing coaches has become the vogue. Entering this season, there were 11 new coaches in place--Miami's Stan Van Gundy (taking over from Pat Riley), Indiana's Rick Carlisle (from Isiah Thomas), Philadelphia's Randy Ayers (from Larry Brown), Detroit's Brown (from Carlisle), New Orleans' Tim Floyd (from Paul Silas), Cleveland's Silas (from Keith Smart), Toronto's Kevin O'Neill (from Lenny Wilkens), Milwaukee's Terry Porter (from George Karl), Houston's Jeff Van Gundy (from Rudy Tomjanovich), Los Angeles Clippers' Mike Dunleavy (from Dennis Johnson) and Washington's Eddie Jordan (from Doug Collins).
During the campaign, there were more comings and goings. Midstream recruits were Boston's John Carroll (from Jim O'Brien), New Jersey's Lawrence Frank (from Byron Scott), Philadelphia's Chris Ford (from Ayers), Chicago's Scott Skiles (from Bill Cartwright), New York's Wilkens (from Don Chaney), Orlando's Johnny Davis (from Glenn Rivers) and Phoenix' Mike D'Antoni (from Frank Johnson).
Of those who were dumped, Ayers was the victim of the unkindest hatchet job. He was fired only 243 days into a three-year contract after piloting the Sixers to a 21-31 record. Ayers was lynched before he could even warm his seat on the Philly bench. He's the lone casualty of the 11 new coaches who broke into the league this season.
Since the end of last season, there have been 18 coaches changes in the NBA. The East had 15 switches compared to the West's three.
"It's been an unbelievable year for coaches to say the least," said Ayers quoted by Joe Juliano of Knight-Ridder. "I think we need to sit down as coaches at the end of the year and look at the dynamics of what's going on in the league. It's really concerning to me." Ayers, Scott and O'Brien were kicked out within days of each other.
Sixers guard Eric Snow commented, also quoted by Juliano: "It was no unfortunate for coach (Ayers). I didn't want to see him fired. I've known him since I was 14 or 15 so it took a lot out of me to even see that and know that I was a part of it. He loses his job and it was not just him. It was us. We were all in this together. Guys have got to realize we have to shoulder that blame."
The reality is it's easier to sack coaches than players who are much more highly-paid. Buying out a coach's contract isn't as taxing on the pocketbook as buying out a player's.
In the PBA, three coaches have been shuttled out so far this season. Allan Caidic was elevated to Barangay Ginebra team manager to make room for Bethune (Siot) Tanquingcen as head coach. John Moran, a Brooklyn native who once caddied for Bobby Knight at Indiana, was fired as Shell coach and replaced by first, Jigs Mendoza on an interim basis and later, by Leo Austria on a permanent basis. The third casualty was Boni Garcia who lost his FedEx coaching job to former national mentor Joe Lipa. Since there are only 10 PBA franchises, the coaching switches translated into a 30 percent turnover.
The longest-staying PBA coach today is Alaska's Tim Cone who has been calling the shots for the Aces franchise since replacing William Adornado in 1989. Cone, an American who lives in Manila, attended Menlo Park College--also Jeff Van Gundy's alma mater--and George Washington University. In the NBA, Utah's Jerry Sloan has the longest coaching tenure. Sloan joined the Jazz early in the 1988-89 season after Frank Layden's 11-6 start.
Former Detroit Piston Norman Black of St. joseph's University coached close to 20 years in the PBA. He now conducts clinics and does TV color commentary in the Philippines. Black lives in Manila with his Filipina wife, Benji, and their three children. He was recently appointed a stringer scout for the Toronto Raptors.
Two other Americans who coached in the PBA were Bill Bayno and Paul Woolpert. Bayno once coached the UNLV varsity and Woolpert is the son of Hall of Famer Phil. Both were CBA coaches.
The most successful American coach in Philippine basketball history is Ron Jacobs, the 1980 WCAC coach of the year from Loyola Marymount. He coached the Philippines to a 108-100 overtime win over the US for the 1985 Jones Cup title in Taiwan. The US team was coached by Purdue's Gene Keady and starred future NBA players Kenny Gattison, Joe Wolf, harold Pressley and Kevin Henderson. Tommy Amaker and Jay Bilas were also on the squad. The Philippines was powered by Duke's Chip Engelland (now a Denver Nuggets assistant coach), Samboy Lim, Caidic, Hector Calma, Dennis Still (brother of former football star Ken and WNBA legend Valerie), and Jeff Moore (now living in Mexico). Jacobs has lived in Manila the last 20 years. He suffered a stroke in 2001, no longer coaches, and undergoes daily therapy. Jacobs is well-loved by Filipino basketball fans and is the last coach to lead the Philippines to an Asian championship in 1986.
Kobe for Iverson---Dream or nightmare trade?
Commentary on possible Kobe-for-Iverson trade
In the August 2002 issue of Philadelphia magazine, Kobe Bryant appears on the cover wearing a retro Sixers uniform. The number on the jersey is 23 which, of course, was what Jellybean Joe--Kobe's father--wore on his shirt during his Philly career. Curiously, 23 was Michael Jordan's number, too, and we all know Kobe's dream has always been to be like Mike. Posted by Joaquin Henson - Mar 22 2004 3:54AM
"Kobe's game is all Philly," said Philadelphia magazine, "because he works his ass off."
Kobe is from Philadelphia. And boy, does he need some brotherly love these days. In the 2002 NBA All-Star Game which Philadelphia hosted, Kobe was booed by the local fans because of something he said about Allen Iverson. Something about swearing he'd cut the Answer's heart out in a faceoff. But that's all forgotten. Time heals all wounds and I'm sure at this point of the regular season, Philly fans revere Kobe more than A. I. despite the Colorado incident.
Kobe in a Philly uniform isn't unimaginable. In that cover picture, Kobe didn't look bad in red-white-and-blue. Maybe better than in purple and gold. I thought to myself--What about the Answer in purple and gold? Hey, that would be some switch.
With rumors flying of an impending Iverson trade, you couldn't think of a more even swap. Kobe for Iverson. A deal made in heaven--or in hell?
The Sixers live and die with Iverson and it's a situation that's unnerving. A. I.'s the team's go-to guy but at six-foot flat or shorter, he just isn't as potent when he's doubled by players much taller and much bigger. Philly's lack of a post threat to invite the double makes it easier for defenders to clamp down on the scrawny Iverson. For A. I. to play to his full potential, he's got to be paired with a dominant big man like a Shaq. Imagine a two-man strong side game anchored on Shaq and the Answer.
Kobe would be a perfect fit in the Sixers system. Philly could use a two-guard who can slash, shoot, score, and do what Kobe does. Moving to Philly will finally free Kobe from Shaq's daunting shadow. At Philly, Kobe will be the star, the only star. No more jealousy. No more backbiting. Kobe will be among hometowners and he'll be the king of the city.
They're both natural point guards although Kobe has the ability to play the three-spot and the Answer could slide to the point. Together, they entered the league in 1996. Bryant is 25 and Iverson, 28.
Imagine another Finals matchup between the Lakers and the Sixers who squared off for the title in 2001. If the teams arrange the swap, the drama would be gripping. Iverson in L.A. purple and gold versus Bryant in Philly colors will light up the NBA like sparks from a rocket. The human angle in the confrontation would build emotions to a high. The Finals would recall the storied rivalry of Magic and Bird.
Iverson should be comfortable in L.A., more than Kobe ever was. The tattoos all over the Answer's body are a welcome sight for Los Angeles' glitzy hip-hop fans. Besides, Iverson has grown to dislike Philly. Remember when he felt maligned by the Philly press during his gun-toting, wife-searching adventure two years ago. With his wild ways, Iverson would be more acceptable by the tolerant L.A. crowd. Iverson seems to have worn out his welcome in Philly. Just ask Larry Brown or Randy Ayers or Chris Ford.
Iverson needs a Shaq to survive. Without a dominant big man, Iverson is an easy target for double and triple teams. He doesn't have the height to see beyond outstretched arms and that's why he has difficulty passing against the pressure. With Shaq drawing the double, the Big Aristotle will look for Iverson to kick out to. And there's no quicker player to escape the defense without the ball.
At L.A., Kobe will never emerge to be the Lakers top dog unless Shaq leaves, retires or decides to play with an arm tied behind his back. When the Lakers won three straight titles, Shaq won three straight Finals MVPs even as it's widely accepted L.A. couldn't have clinched without Kobe. If Kobe ever hopes to become a Finals MVP, he's got to move to another home--Philadelphia is waiting. One other thing, Kobe's too laid-back for L.A. He'll feel right at home in Philly.
The Sixers are crying out for a big guard. Their backcourt is woefully undersized. Eric Snow and Iverson are no match for the bigger guards in the league.
If Iverson lands in L.A., there's no doubt the Tinseltown fans will roll out the red carpet for the Answer and his cornrows. Just like the Philly crowd will welcome Kobe with open arms.
Kobe says he's considering other options next year. Iverson isn't happy in Philly. A switch might just work.
Back from the All-Star Weekend
Personal notes from my experience during the All-Star Weekend
It's been a few weeks since my last contribution to the Blog box. My apologies for the absence. But I hope to be back on the ball a lot more in the run-up to the playoffs and the Finals.Posted by Joaquin Henson - Mar 11 2004 10:48PM
I was at the All-Star Game in Los Angeles recently and it was great to see fellow Bloggers George Eddy and Yaron Talpaz again. The last time we were all together was during the 2003 Finals. I flew in from Manila primarily as a print journalist for the Philippine Star although I joined TV broadcasters Andy Jao and Chino Trinidad in the on-camera introduction of the All-Star game for Philippine satellite transmission.
Soaking in the All-Star atmosphere is always an exhilarating experience. I will never forget my first All-Star coverage -- in Cleveland in 1997 for the NBA's 50th anniversary celebrations. Only three of the 50 greatest players weren't there -- Shaquille O'Neal and Jerry West who were in L.A. and the late Pete Maravich.
Tickets to the All-Star Game this year were outrageously expensive. Only 4,000 of 19,000 seats were made available to fans and about 1,100 went to lucky lottery winners among Lakers and Clippers season-ticket holders. Nike Philippines' sports communications manager Rely San Agustin, who also flew in from Manila, was allocated a $200 ticket that took him close to the roof in the nosebleed section.
For those who couldn't crash the party at the Staples Center, the consolation was they could spend hours at the "Jam Session" which was open from Thursday to Monday at the nearby Los Angeles Convention Center. At least 125,000 fans trooped to the 350,000 square foot facility to enjoy the theme park-like hoops carnival. Tickets went for $20 each. But on its final day?Monday, "Jam Session" was open free to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
There were 42 booths or arcades, including a full-sized Center Court with bleachers that accommodated 4,000 fans, in this year's "Jam Session." The rookies and sophomores practiced on Center Court. So did the All-Stars.
In the rookies shootaround, LeBron james electrified the crowd by putting on a high-flying dunking exhibition with a little help from feeder Carmelo Anthony. The Center Court was also where Richard Jefferson and Mark Jackson saw action in an exhibition with celebrities like Frankie Muniz, Nick Carter, Rodger Lodge and Mark McGrath. Los Angeles Sparks center Lisa Leslie called the shots for the Minneapolis Lakers with Ashton Kutcher -- wearing a cap and suit -- her assistant. Demi Moore was at courtside and her daughter constantly gave a stressed-out Kutcher a back rub. Jefferson scored 16 points for the Lakers but the Buffalo Braves, featuring Jackson, won, 60-52.
A popular exhibit was the lifesize Lego replicas of Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd, among others. A Hall of Fame section displayed Bob Lanier's size 22 shoes, original jerseys from the early NBA years and memorabilia from the Olympics. Encased in glass were the Lakers last three championship trophies and rings of their title years.
Here are some interesting sidelights of the glitzy weekend.
-- NBA Comish David Stern congratulated the Blog Squad for taking time to interact with the global basketball community. I briefly spoke with the Commish during the lunch hosted by NBA Asia for over 200 Asian journalists and broadcasters who planed in for the All-Star festivities. Comish also commended the Philippines' NBA TV rights holder Solar Sports for its comprehensive seven-days-a-week coverage of league games as a model for Asia.
-- Former dunking monster Darryl Dawkins, a Manila visitor two years ago, showed up with a whistle to work the pick-game for visiting broadcasters at the Los Angeles Southwest College gym. There were 30 broadcasters split into six teams that played simultaneously on three adjoining courts at the gym.
Dawkins tried to teach the broadcasters a thing or two about the game. Once, he stopped the action in a scrimmage to point out the importance of moving the ball around to find the open shooter. On another occasion, he called a technical on a player who protested a call. The broadcasters couldn't get enough of Dawkins' antics.
-- At the All-Star Game, Tracy McGrady and Ron Artest made a strange fashion statement by wearing a different shoe on each foot.
-- East coach Rick Carlisle said he voted for LeBron James to play in the All-Star Game as a reserve. James, however, didn't make it. Conference coaches voted for the seven reserves on each team. Perhaps, in the future, the conference coaches could vote for five of the seven reserves with the All-Star coach picking the last two. After all, the All-Star coach has the responsibility of making his team win.
-- During a break in the All-Star Game, Shaq's former agent Leonard Armato and his girlfriend, beach volleyball star Holly McPeak, were caught on the "Kiss Cam" and obliged the fans with a kiss. Armato and McPeak accompanied O'Neal during a Manila tour in 1997.
-- Graphic journalist Celestino Gulapa of the Singapore tabloid The New Paper took the trip to L.A., hoping to present a sketch he made of LeBron to the Cleveland rookie. The colored illustration, showing James with arms spread out and his right hand holding a ball, took eight hours and two sittings to finish. Gulapa's column in The New Paper is called "Planet Cel." He often uses basketball themes to express his opinion on issues through illustrations.
A Filipino native, Gulapa moved to Singapore in 1988 and has lived there since. Gulapa never got to meet LeBron and brought his drawing back with him to Singapore.
-- FIBA president Carl Ching Men Ky of Hong Kong flew in for a three-day visit during the All-Star Weekend. He was accompanied by FIBA secretary-general Patrick Baumann. They were special guests in the press conference where Comish Stern announced the staging of NBA preseason games in China this October.
-- Nike introduced six models of shoes during the All-Star Weekend. Two of the shoes were of the Jordan kind?Air Jordan XIX and Air Jordan Retro XII. There was speculation Jordan -- who turned 41 the Tuesday after the All-Star Weekend -- would show up for the shoe launches but he never came.
Nike must be pleased with the way LeBron's star has risen in the NBA. A recent report said 700,000 LeBron jerseys have been sold and the figure could reach 1.3 million before the playoffs start. The word is the NBA is enjoying a 20 percent increase in merchandise sales this season.
Nike basketball communications manager Rodney Knox said: "What's incredible is LeBron's maturity despite his age. He's not fazed by the pressure. He doesn't run and hide. He knows how to handle himself. We consult LeBron and use his ideas to design his personal shoe line. An example is his new wheat gold shoe. Because he once told us he'll play in hiking boots if necessary, we designed a wheat gold shoe that is the traditional color of a hiking boot."
-- I spotted three charming Filipina dancers among the Laker Girls. They were Alexie Agdeppa, Shelby Rabara and Cheryl Aure. Alexie and Shelby are both enrolled as Dance, World Arts and Cultures majors at UCLA.
More next time.
Is James for real?
LeBron looks and plays like he's more than 19
For the record, Cleveland Cavaliers rookie LeBron James is 19 years old. He shares the same birthday as Tiger Woods--Dec. 30. Posted by Joaquin Henson - Feb 3 2004 5:32AM
But there's an interesting--if not incredible--theory going around in some basketball circles that King James isn't 19. The storyline is someone took off a few years from James' age to create the hype of a man-child superstar. If aging ladies can lie about their age, why not James with a little prodding from a friendly adviser? Sounds like a script only a con artist could conjure or a fantasy that fans like to weave to embellish a star's image.
If you look at James, you wouldn't think he's a teenager. He seems to be every inch a grown man. Even his game is mature. He doesn't play like a kid fresh from high school. Kobe Bryant was 18 when he made his pro debut and averaged only 7.6 points as a Lakers rookie in 1996-97. James is doing a lot more than Kobe did in his freshman season.
Tom Friend, writing in ESPN The Magazine, hit the nail on the head when he said James dishes like Magic, creates like Michael, slashes like T-Mac and is as ornery as A. I. This kid--whatever his age--is special. And King James is just scratching the surface of his potentials.
James was born when his mother Gloria Marie was only 16. His biological father Anthony McClelland was described by Gloria Marie as a "casual sex partner" in Friend's article. McClelland probably didn't even know Gloria Marie gave birth to James when she did. Of course, now that James' star is rising, McClelland has reportedly resurfaced to claim his share of the glitter. James, however, refuses to see him. Shades of Dennis Rodman--in his NBA heydey--ignoring biological father Philander (can you believe the name?) who abandoned him when he was three and now lives in the Philippines with an army of children.
Friend said McClelland has been convicted of theft and arson. That reads like bad news in any language.
Gloria Marie brought up James--whom she fondly calls "Bron Bron"--almost by herself. Her mother died two years after James was born so she had no kin to lean on. Gloria Marie and her baby son drifted from apartment to apartment around Akron, Ohio. One of the apartment buildings where they stayed was condemned and bulldozed. Gloria Marie wasn't exactly the ideal mom. Friend said Akron court records will show that she's been cited for various offenses, including criminal trespassing, contempt, disorderly conduct and playing music too loudly. Still, Gloria Marie somehow managed to put food on the table and clothes on James' back.
In the fourth grade, James missed 82 out of 160 days of school because of personal problems. Sports was James' ticket to self-esteem. He was a football standout as a kid, once scoring 19 touchdowns in six Pee Wee games as a wide receiver and his coach Frankie Walker offered to take him into his home. That was after Walker found out about James skipping classes. So late in the fourth grade, James moved in with Walker's family. Since Walker was a youth basketball coach, it was inevitable that King James gravitated more to hoops than the gridiron.
A few years later, Gloria Marie met Eddie Jackson and they've since been an item.
Gloria Marie, 35, is as giddy as Allen Iverson's mom Ann at courtside when her son plays. Aside from promoting concerts and his stepson, Jackson is involved in drug-and-alcohol prevention counseling.
James--who eats and writes lefthanded but shoots righthanded--has blossomed into a legitimate NBA star with a reported $6 Million five-year trading card deal and a $90 Million seven-year shoe contract spiked by a $10 Million signing bonus. Last Sunday, he poured in a career-high 38 points--19 in the third period--to fuel Cleveland's 104-100 road win over Washington. James showed some immaturity in the fourth period as, eager to jack up his points, he took poor shots (shooting only 1-of-6 from the floor), was slapped three offensive fouls, picked up a technical and threw a bad pass with 18 ticks to go in the crest of a furious Wizards rally.
Whether he's 19 or older, James is proving he's not called the King for nothing. Now, if only the Cavaliers could make the playoffs, his Cinderella story would be complete.
Frahm's lesson in perseverance
Former Philippine league import's inspiring story in NBA
In the NBA this season, the cinderella story that's fascinating Filipino fans is about Seattle SuperSonics rookie guard Richie Frahm. Posted by Joaquin Henson - Jan 26 2004 12:52AM
Nobody imagined the 6-4 white kid from Gonzaga University-the school that produced John Stockton and Bing Crosby-would beat the odds and claim a roster spot despite being ignored in the draft after leaving school over three years ago.
Frahm, 26, isn't a gifted natural athlete like LeBron James. But he perseveres. Frahm works hard and probably prays harder.
"When I was about 12 years old, I decided I wanted to play NBA basketball," said Frahm, quoted in the Sonics website. "I knew that I was somehow going to make it but I didn't know how I was going to do it. I just put my faith in God."
Frahm gained a reputation as an unconscionable gunner in four years at Gonzaga. He wound up his varsity career as Gonzaga's fourth all-time leading scorer with 1,621 points and the leader in three-point conversions at 280.
As a pure shooter, Frahm found no takers in the NBA draft where scouts put a premium on high-leaping, athletic operators. Frahm, however, refused to turn his NBA dream into a nightmare and figured with a little experience playing overseas, he could hone his skills then try his luck in the majors.
Frahm took his sneakers to Italy, Turkey and the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). Former UNLV coach Bill Bayno brought him to the Talk 'N' Text club for the 2002 PBA First Conference and Frahm didn't disappoint, averaging 18.4 points as ex-NBA cager Jerald Honeycutt's partner. In the PBA that season, teams were allowed to recruit two imports each. While the PBA experience was something he'll cherish, Frahm would probably rather forget his stop in Turkey. He hightailed it out of Istanbul after the US invaded Iraq. You wonder if he was paid for his efforts.
Before the 2002-03 season, Frahm showed up at the Portland Trail Blazers training camp. He worked his butt off and showed flashes of brilliance, particularly in stroking those long jumpers. But the Blazers wouldn't give him a chance.
Last summer, the Sonics invited Frahm to camp. Was it more like a friendly gesture than an honest-to-goodness call to duty? Frahm, after all, was a sort of hometown hero?he wasn't just born in the state but also went to school in Spokane.
Injuries to Seattle draft picks Nick Collison and Paccelis Morlende opened the door for Frahm to squeeze into the Sonics lineup. There were 13 players with guaranteed contracts but it was difficult to ignore Frahm's performance in the preseason exhibitions. He scored in double figures in three of seven exhibition games, making coach Nate McMillan sit up and take notice.
Frahm is now a fixture in the Sonics cast. He's averaging 4.0 points and 9.7 minutes in 35 games, shooting .516 from the floor, .842 from the line and .422 from three-point distance. Frahm ranks No. 11 in the league in three-point percentage--higher than No. 16 Reggie Miller (.405), No. 21 Steve Nash (.400), No. 36 Mike Finley (.391) and No. 38 Bobby Jackson (.369). He is No. 3 in three-point shots converted per 48 minutes with a 3.83 clip.
There are only five ex-PBA imports on NBA rosters at the moment. Aside from Frahm, they're Asnu Sesay of Seattle, Torraye Braggs of Washington, Rick Brunson of Chicago and Tremaine Fowlkes of Detroit.
Of the former PBA players, Frahm is the long-shot whom fans are talking about.
Last Dec. 20, Frahm erupted for a career-high 31 points--10 in the fourth period--on 10-of-11 field goals, including 6-of-7 triples, and 5-of-5 free throws in 32 minutes off the bench as Seattle downed Denver, 115-106. He missed his first attempt then hit 10 field goals in a row. Frahm also compiled five rebounds and three assists without a single turnover.
PBA fans remember Frahm for his no-nonsense attitude on the floor and liken him to Chip Engelland, the former Duke University sharpshooter who's now a Denver Nuggets assistant coach. Engelland played several years in the Philippines and was a popular star among Filipino fans.
In the PBA, Frahm was a picture of concentration--playing tough, never backing down and always holding his head up. You knew he was special and that someday, he would make his mark in the NBA because good guys deserve a break.
Breaking into the NBA couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Frahm's story should inspire other pro hopefuls to persevere and follow in his footsteps.
Filipinos love this game
Tracking Philippine league veterans in NBA
In Asia, only China has sent players to the NBA. Yao Ming, Mengke Batere and Wang Zhizhi are in the record books as the Asian pioneers in the majors. The Philippines, a hoops hotbed in the Far East, has yet to send a player to the NBA although a US-born half-Filipino, half-American guard Raymond Townsend saw action for the Golden State Warriors in 1978-79 and 1979-80 and the Indiana Pacers in 1981-82.Posted by Joaquin Henson - Jan 19 2004 2:15AM
Townsend polished his skills at UCLA under coaches John Wooden, Gene Bartow and Gary Cunningham, struggling as a freshman benchwarmer in 1975 and winding up a starter four years later. He was the Warriors? first round pick in the 1978 draft. Among his UCLA teammates were Marques Johnson, Jamaal Wilkes, Richard Washington, Roy Hamilton, Dave Greenwood, Kiki Vandeweghe and Darrel Allums, all of whom played in the NBA.
In July 1980, Townsend flew to Manila in a sentimental homecoming accompanied by his family. He came with his mother Virginia Marella from Balayan, Batangas?a Philippine province in southern Luzon?father Ray, Sr., brother Kurtis (former University of Michigan assistant coach), three sisters and several NBA players including Wilkes, Cliff Ray, Derrick Dickey and Greg Lee. Townsend and his companion cagers played a series of exhibitions in Manila, Olongapo and Cebu.
In 1993, Townsend returned to Manila, looking for basketball opportunities. He tried to play in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), Asia?s first professional hoop league (established in 1975), but at 37, found no takers.
Another half-Filipino, half-American player Ricardo Brown of Pepperdine University was picked by the Houston Rockets on the third round of the 1979 draft but never got to play in the NBA.
Through the years, the PBA has been a haven for American players looking to hone their skills and enjoy the hospitality of basketball-crazy Filipinos. Former Detroit Piston Norman Black of St. Joseph?s University played 10 years in the PBA and has settled down in Manila with his Filipina wife Benjie and their three children. Playground legend Billy Ray Bates is widely considered the greatest American import ever to see action in the PBA. Other imports who had outstanding PBA careers were NBA veterans Tony Harris, Chris King, Henry James and Larry McNeill.
For the record, 38 NBA first round picks have played in the PBA. The list includes Glenn McDonald, the late George Trapp, Otto Moore, the late Anthony Roberts, Larry Demic, Howard Carter, Rob Williams, Don Collins, Michael Young, Freeman Williams, Ennis Whatley, Wes Matthews, Mike McGee, Mitchell Wiggins, Dennis Hopson, Byron Houston, Johnny Taylor, Chris Morris, Leon Wood (now an NBA referee) and Scott Burrell.
Most imports who play in the PBA are American. Exceptions include Julius Nwosu of Nigeria, Leon Trimmingham of the Virgin Islands, Andy Thompson of the Bahamas (who now works for the NBA) and Stewart Granger of Canada.
Not too many fans know that former Washington guard Kevin Porter ended his playing career in the PBA in 1983.
Since 1997, several NBA stars have visited the Philippines on goodwill tours. Among them were Grant Hill, Shaquille O?Neal, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Paul Pierce, Tracy McGrady and Tim Thomas. This past year, the Golden State Warriors dance team took Manila by storm in a whirlwind trip to promote the NBA and former star Detlef Schrempf conducted highly-successful clinics for kids.
This NBA season, five PBA veterans are on rosters?Torraye Braggs of Washington, Rick Brunson of Chicago, Tremaine Fowlkes of Detroit and Richie Frahm and Ansu Sesay of Seattle.
The Philippines? Solar Sports Network is airing a package of over 1,000 NBA games on free and cable TV this year. The batch includes 60 games a month via the NBA League Pass, 30 games a month on Solar cable, Monday and Thursday primetime games every week on free TV and 30 classic ?greatest? games a month on Solar cable. Adding those doubleheaders during Premier Week and the playoffs, Filipino fans are treated to a package of over 1,000 games up to the end of the Finals.
Solar Sports will send a Filipino broadcast team to cover the All-Star Game and the NBA Finals on site live via satellite to the Philippines.
Vintage interview with Wilkens
My first interview with an NBA star in 1972
The announcement of Lenny Wilkens making a comeback to coaching at the New York Knicks helm reminded me of my first interview with an NBA star when I was still in college in 1972.Posted by Joaquin Henson - Jan 15 2004 11:06PM
I was the only Filipino student chosen by the US Department of State to join some 10 other Asian students on a two-month educational tour of the US. The tour was a feature of a program called Experiment In International Living and took us to several US schools all over the country.
I was already a huge NBA fan then. In the Philippines, it was difficult at the time to find US basketball magazines on sale locally but somehow, I managed to get copies from friends abroad. Occasionally, some magazines made their way to local newsstands where I was usually the first in line. I made scrapbooks of NBA stars, cutting out pictures and news items from newspapers, and produced my own basketball ?publication??for my eyes only.
While on tour in the US, our guide Bob Homans asked if any of us would be interested to meet an NBA star. I immediately raised my hand. We were in Seattle and Bob arranged for a meeting with the Seattle SuperSonics playing coach.
I?ll never forget the date. March 24, 1972. I was 21 years old with no professional writing experience. The NBA season was ending and Seattle had just conceded a playoff spot to Golden State after Sonic starters Spencer Haywood, Dick Snyder and Don Smith were sidelined, in succession, by injuries. It seemed a bad time to exchange pleasantries with Wilkens but I didn?t pass up the chance of a lifetime.
I?d hoped to watch the Sonics in action but my arrival in Seattle came a few days before the team played its final home game. It was arranged that Wilkens would be available to meet me at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport 30 minutes before the team was booked to leave for its penultimate regular season game at Phoenix.
At the waiting area near the departure gate, I spotted 6-9 relief center Pete Cross conversing with Don Kojis. I walked up to Cross and instantly saw my 5-11 1/ 2 frame dwarfed. Wilkens was by the ticket counter, Cross said, pointing to the playing coach busily collecting luggage tickets for the team. How times have changed?today, teams fly from city to city in chartered flights or their own planes.
Wilkens wore a tangerine, long-sleeved shirt with long-pointing collar tips, topped by a knee-length brown African-influenced vest. Imagine someone wearing an outfit like that today?he?d be real hip.
The fuzzy-haired Wilkens (he had a lot more hair then) spoke with leadership and precision and was most accommodating when I almost rudely took him aside for what turned out to be a 20-minute conversation.
I asked Wilkens if he?d been to the Philippines at all. To my surprise, he said he?d gone twice as a member of the volunteer NBA team on goodwill visits to Pacific-rim US military bases. He sighed as he looked forward to a Jamaican holiday with his family after the 82-game season.
At the time, Wilkens lived in Bellevue, a posh Seattle suburb, with his wife and three children?an 8-year-old daughter, a 7-year-old boy and a five-month old daughter.
I asked about the upcoming Phoenix game. Wilkens winced as he anticipated a tough matchup against Phoenix guard Clem (The Gem) Haskins. Wilkens mentioned that his most memorable NBA game ever was the 1971 All-Star Game where he shot 21 points in capturing MVP honors and an Atlanta outing in 1971 when he hit a career-high 41.
One of Wilkens? bitter disappointments came during his last season with the St. Louis (now Atlanta) Hawks. He recalled that in one game, he had scored 35 points by the third quarter but was benched the entire fourth period. Wilkens shook his head, obviously realizing he could?ve set a personal scoring high that night. Wilkens played eight seasons for the Hawks then was traded to Seattle for Walt Hazzard in 1968.
Wilkens decried the poor playing standards in the ABA. He remarked that in the NBA, most big men are competitive and legitimate pros?unlike in the ?other? league. Wilkens added that in the ABA, defense was nearly non-existent with the accent being on pure offense.
Before the Phoenix game, Wilkens trailed Laker guard Jerry West in the league?s assist race, 9.6 to 9.7 a game. Wilkens said he?d like to win the assist title but didn?t think he could do it with Haywood and Snyder unable to play against the Suns. Wilkens said Snyder would be a beneficiary of at least six assists a game and Haywood, up to eight.
As it turned out, Wilkens played 32 minutes against Phoenix, scoring 13 points and dishing off seven assists. The Sonics went on to play their final game against the Lakers but Wilkens sat out the contest. West picked up 11 assists against Seattle and won the assists crown by a hair.
Wilkens said 6-6 forward Gar Heard had been starting in place of Kojis lately because of his outstanding defense and boardwork. Heard had been averaging five blocked shots and about 10 rebounds plus 10 points since Haywood and company were benched with injuries. Wilkens noted that Kojis was essentially an offensive player.
Wilkens said the next season, he may not be back as playing coach since club owner Sam Schulman, disappointed over Seattle?s repeated failures to make the playoffs, would probably make changes. But in a statement published by a Seattle newspaper, Haywood said 90 percent of the Sonics players voted to retain Wilkens as playing coach.
Before the 1972-73 season, Schulman bit the bullet. He lured ABA 1972 coach-of-the-year Tom Nissalke out of the Dallas Chapparalls to take over from Wilkens on the Sonics bench. Heard was traded to Chicago where he was united with stars Bob Love and Chet Walker. Kojis went to Kansas City and Smith, to Houston. The biggest deal of them all was sending Wilkens with Barry Clemens to Cleveland for Butch Beard. The Sonics facelift was massive.
Nissalke didn?t last long with the Sonics and was replaced by Bucky Buckwalter during the season.
Wilkens, now 66, would reprise his role as playing coach at Portland in 1974-75. He returned to coach Seattle in 1977 and in the 1978-79 season, won the NBA title for the Sonics. He also returned to Cleveland as coach in 1986. In 1993, he moved to Atlanta where he coached for seven seasons then in 2000, took the coaching job at Toronto. Wilkens continues his storybook NBA career as the Knicks new head coach this season.
If there was anyone who inspired me to build a journalistic career around basketball, it was Wilkens?-thanks to that meeting he undoubtedly won?t even remember at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport in 1972. When I returned to the Philippines from that US trip, I wrote a story about the meeting and it was published in a local sports magazine. I was paid the equivalent of about $5 for the piece and it officially launched my career as a professional sportswriter and broadcaster.
I never spoke to Wilkens again since that meeting. I?ve covered five NBA Finals--since 1997--and three All-Star Weekends on site but unfortunately, Wilkens was not around for any of those events. I?ve remained a big Wilkens fan. I picked up a copy of his book ?Unguarded? at the NBA Store in New York two years ago and last December during a visit to the US, I got a copy of an out-of-print book ?The Lenny Wilkens Story? from a Seattle bookstore.
I?ll be at the All-Star Game in Los Angeles next month. I wonder if Wilkens will be there, too.
Ugliest tattoo ever
Commentary on NBA tattoos
In the NBA, players flaunt their tattoos like the Emperors' new clothes. It's like a fashion statement although more and more fans are getting turned off by the lurid display of a warped sense of good taste.Posted by Joaquin Henson - Jan 8 2004 1:54AM
Tattoos are such a popular thing that Andrew Gottlieb authored a recently-published book entitled "In the Paint-Tattoos of the NBA and the Stories Behind Them." Gottlieb, a sitcom writer, dedicated the book to his father. It's not known if Gottlieb also wears tattoos or wrote the book as some kind of comic relief.
"Ten years ago, the only player with tattoos worth mentioning was Dennis Rodman and he was considered a freak," wrote Gottlieb. "Today, way over half the league is tatted out. But they move too fast to ever figure out what their tattoos are."
What's not in the book is Kobe Bryant's gaudy masterpiece on his right arm. The book was published before Bryant endured two three-hour sessions to needle the imprint at the Sunset Strip Tattoo shop on 7524 Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Pro Basketball Today, Australia's top hoops publication, described it as the "ugliest tattoo ever." Worse, Bryant paid $840 for the job accomplished by tattoo designer Nathan Rainwater. Money's no object for Bryant, of course, but throwing good cash out the window for a tacky tattoo is ridiculous.
For the record, Bryant bankrolled $12.5 Million on his six-year $71 Million contract last season and took in an additional $13 Million in endorsements.
The tattoo, if in case you haven't seen it closely on TV, shows a crown with butterflies on top over his wife's name Vanessa under which is a halo and wings over a reference to a popular biblical verse, Psalm XXIII.
The verse is as follows: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely, goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
Rainwater said Bryant shrugged off the pain of his arm getting needled. "He was like a rock when he sat in the chair," recalled Rainwater in a Star tabloid story. "He didn't flinch at all."
The tattoo wasn't the only expression of love that Bryant offered to his Hispanic wife Vanessa, a former hip-hop video model whom he met on the set of a Snoop Dogg shoot when she was 16 four years ago.
Bryant, 25, also bought Vanessa an eight-carat $4 Million purple diamond ring and a diamond-encrusted "I Love Kobe" bracelet. It was strange that Bryant gave his wife a bracelet declaring her love for him. It was even stranger that Bryant coughed up an amount for a ring--almost equivalent to what he paid for his 6,376-square foot Mediterranean-style mansion in the exclusive Ocean Ridge area in Newport Coast, California.
Was Bryant trying to buy Vanessa's devotion to make up for that much-publicized incident in Colorado last June?
In Gottlieb's book, Philadelphia 76ers star Allen Iverson is the featured attraction. "Getting tattooed is an act of freedom and a form of self-expression," said Iverson. Asked what he'd like fans to know about him, Iverson replied, "Tell them not to believe what they read or hear. Tell them to read my body. I wear my story every day, man."
Iverson's body is heavily tattooed. The words "Only the Strong Survive" accentuate a cross of daggers knitted together on his left shoulder. "The Answer" is his nickname and it was his first imprint. "Dynasty Raider" is written on his left forearm under which is "Cru Thik" - what he calls his crew. Iverson puts special meaning to "Cru Thik" as it is also inscribed on his right biceps and vertically down his leg. The initials "CT" are inked into his neck.
There's a sketch of a bulldog under "The Answer" and Iverson explains he identifies with its spirit. "Bad News" is written on his right forearm above the wrist. On the back part of his left forearm are the letters NBN for "Newport Bad News" in reference to his Virginia hometown. A panther covers an old "grim reaper" holding a basketball tattoo on his right forearm. The Chinese symbol for "belief in God, belief in my crew and belief in myself" is on his right forearm. The names of Iverson's children are tattooed on his right chest and his wife's name Tawanna is on his stomach. His rap name Jewelz is on the back of his right forearm. There's a tattoo of praying hands, with the initials of his mother and grandmother above, on his chest, near his heart. "VA's Finest" is also on his body.
"I Miss My Homies" is written on his leg, honoring his deceased friends. The Chinese symbol for loyalty is inscribed on his neck and "Hold My Own" is on his right bicep. "Fear No One" is accompanied by a screaming, camouflaged skull with a red line through it under "Hold My Own."
Despite Iverson's atrocious tattoos, Bryant's display of devotion to his wife takes the cake as the gaudiest of them all.