Wednesday, March 16, 2005

NCAA Q & A, with U and I

In an effort to be more interactive, I have opened the floor to all of you regarding the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Like my teachers always said, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question,” however, if your particular question did not make the cut, it’s probably because it was stupid. Or maybe you spelled everything wrong. Or maybe you questioned my general expertise of the NCAA Tournament, and wondered why you would be asking ME for advice rather than someone who has a real job on TV, like Dr. Phil, or someone actually involved in college basketball. If you really need to know, I’m not an expert, but neither are you. So let’s interact.

On to your questions…

No. 1: My friend says I should always pick at least one big upset in my tournament grid, but it never seems to work out for me. What should I do? — John, Howell

A lot of people fall into the trap of picking a crazy upset (like a No. 15 seed over a No. 2) just so they can say things like, “Hey — did you see that Western Boise Tech / Boston College game? I HAD Western Boise Tech! I just had a feeling.” I hate people like that — people like your friend for example — who pretend that they made an educated guess regarding a completely unpredictable and unforeseeable upset. Anyway, of course there’s bound to be an upset or two in the first couple of rounds, but there’s no reason to strain yourself looking for one just for the sake of picking one. If you don’t think Central Florida can beat Connecticut, then don’t pick them. Randomly predicting a big upset is dangerous because if it WOULD be a “big” upset, then the team you picked to lose obviously has a shot to go far. So if you’re wrong, you could end up out of the tournament faster than John Chaney with a grudge.

No. 2: What is a feasible price to enter an NCAA pool, and is it smart to enter more than one? — Devin, Atlantic Highlands

Again, playing it safe is key. The NCAA pool is an annual gambling ritual for all non-gamblers, and it’s like Christmas for real gamblers, except that instead of going to church, they end up on a payphone somewhere behind a dingy bar asking their second cousin if they can borrow the sailboat for a few days. So know what side you’re on. That said, five to 10 dollars is a good price to enter an office pool. As far as entering more than one pool, I’m not a big fan of picking two different grids for the sake of hedging bets. It clouds your rooting interests, and if you’re not a big gambler anyway, why bother?

No.3: Who should I stay away from in this year’s tournament? — James, Holmdel

As always, stay away from picking any school that ends in “Commonwealth.” Also, steer clear of the following: a) any team whose star player is a “great story” because he’s only 4’11”, and has one ear, b) any school whose initials read like a license plate (i.e., UTEP5MSTU — The University of Texas El Paso at 5 Main Street in Texas…University), c) any team from the NY/NJ metropolitan area, d) any team coached by a guy who looks like he sleeps in his suit, e) any team whose big man is 34 years old because he spent 17 years in the Peace Corp., and f) Stanford.

No. 4: What’s the deal with Gonzaga? — Amy, Middletown

Great question. The term “Gonzaga” is actually French for “screwed over my NCAA grid again.” (It’s amazing how the French cram all those words into one…they’re so lazy.) Five years ago, they were the darlings of the tournament, and now they’re just a team that nobody knows what to do with. All I know is that, eventually, their coach Mark Few ends up commentating next to Jim Nantz by the end of the tournament, which is never a good sign. I wouldn’t have them going past the second round this year, even though they’re a three seed. Of course, if you do that, they’re bound to reach the Final Four. I hate Gonzaga. Do with them what you must.

No. 5: What’s a “sleeper?” — Diane, Old Bridge

Okay — a “sleeper” is a team that everybody “sleeps on,” which is hip-hop slang for “doesn’t pay much attention to.” (It can also be used in real life, as in, “Don’t ‘sleep on’ that mattress. My dog peed on it.” And “dog” is hip-hop slang for “friend.”) For example, in this year’s tournament, maybe Michigan State is a good “sleeper” because in general, they haven’t garnered as much national attention as other teams, and you like their tournament schedule, their coach, etc. etc. And to stay on the topic…

No. 6: If everybody is picking the same team as a “sleeper,” does that team cease to become a “sleeper?” — Vince, Leonardo

Ahhh, the classic “If a tree falls in a forest” scenario. Your question is rhetorical, so it doesn’t have a real answer, however, the answer is “yes.” A “sleeper” is no longer a “sleeper” when everyone this side of Dick Vitale is calling them a “sleeper.” So wake up and find another sleeper.

No. 7: I hate Duke. Do you think they can win it all? I hope not. — William, Lincroft

Every year Duke has the same problem — not enough depth. This year, that issue is more blatant than ever, however, Duke still plays great defense, they always have the coaching edge, and they possess a phenomenal shooter in J.J. Redick. But the opposition in this tourney is going to key on Redick, and Duke, obviously, doesn’t have Cameron Indoor to fall back on. Sheldon Williams is a force, but he doesn’t seem to have the ability to take over a game. As tough as it is to doubt Coach K, I don’t see them winning it all. And as far as your opinion on Duke, I don’t understand the national obsession with hating the Duke Blue Devils. All they do is play great basketball, they pride themselves on graduating their players, the program is NEVER immersed in any kind of controversy, the players are model citizens on and off the court, and they’re coached by a highly respected and very likeable guy. Aren’t we SUPPOSED to root for teams like this? Am I the crazy one here?

No. 8: What’s your opinion on picking matchups between teams that you’re not very familiar with, and that are close seeds? For example, eighth-seeded Texas versus ninth-seeded Nevada? — Travis, Aberdeen

My rule of thumb in this situation is to go with the stronger conference. For example, if it’s a Pac-10 team going against a Big 10 team, and I’m not sure what to do, I almost always go with the Big 10 team. If that doesn’t work for you, just write something down on the line that is so illegible that it could pass for either team.

No. 9: Why is it that some random girl, who has no clue about college basketball, always ends up winning the pool? It never fails, and this is really starting to bother me. — Hector, Keyport

I think self-proclaimed “college basketball aficionados” often fall victim into overanalyzing the NCAA Tournament. If you really think about it, every team is seeded, so anybody who’s literate can take a stab at it. What I have a problem with are the people who turn in their brackets with no intentions of actually watching the games, leading to questions like, “Who won?” and “Did I pick them?” and “Why don’t they have brackets like this for the contestants on ‘Project Runway?’” When people like THAT take my money, I become very upset. But ignorance is bliss, and I can’t be mad at someone just because I think I know more about the sport than they do, yet they’re killing my pool. As long as they enjoy it, that’s fine with me. Also, I’m lying.

No. 10: As a man, is it okay to cry when CBS plays that “One Shining Moment Song” after the National Championship Game with all the highlights from the tournament? My friend wants to know. — Pete, South River

There’s no crying in college basketball! But it seems like every year, during that montage, I get something in my eye. That’s probably what’s happening to your friend as well. Tell him not to worry about it. That song really pulls at the heart strings. I mean — that song really forces debris to fly into peoples’ eyes.

No. 11: Who’s going to win it all? — Christina, Highlands

I’m going with Illinois. I like North Carolina, but the “Roy Williams” factor bothers me, and Rashad McCants, their best player, is too erratic. Illinois is big and tough, they play well together, and they always control the tempo of the game. Oh, and they’ve lost only one game all season, which was a loss that most people agreed was a good thing. Yep, Illinois is my sleeper.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Friday morning quarterback

From now on, for all intents and purposes, Thursday nights will now be referred to as “the Mark Burnett marathon.” And no one is happier about this than me. Except for maybe my wife, who during a commercial break last night, broke into a two-minute dance sequence when she found out that Kohl’s is having a 50% off sale tomorrow. Three consecutive hours of great reality TV AND a sale? I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say it was the greatest night of her life. Coincidentally, it had nothing to do with me. On to the recap…

We were all informed that on THIS season’s “Survivor,” there would be “no help of any kind.” Well, I guess that’s pretty much gone by the wayside considering on last night’s episode they were building bathrooms, showers, and then having guys from Home Depot build whole shelters. Isn’t Home Depot’s motto, “If you can do it, we can HELP?” What is Jeff Probst supposed to say each week — “Listen guys, THIS time around you’re not getting any help. But here’s some fire, food, and water. And if that’s not enough, I’ll be dramatically arriving on my Home Depot boat sometime this afternoon to drop off some tools. I hope that helps. I mean — I hope that’s nice.” Anyway, what I think Mark Burnett MEANT to say was, “KIM will not be providing help of any kind.” Seriously, I’m glad she got booted. How can you go on “Survivor” and then not do any work? That’s the only thing you can do that’s actually under your control that can help you stay in the game. But she decided to lie out on the beach, and then occasionally drop some knowledge on the guys such as, “Why don’t you put that bamboo stick over there?” But the immunity challenge was phenomenal last night. The last matchup on the floating device in the water ended with both guys on the edge of the platform, trying to knock each other off. It reminded me of “Air Force One” — “Get off my PLATFORM!” And then there was James, who my wife said looks like he “got pulled out of the womb by his nose.” When he’s not roaming the island dressed like one the 12 disciples, he’s getting his ass kicked by a hairdresser. Of course, this all prompted him to say things like, “I can’t believe I lost to a homosexual. I didn’t know they were so strong.” Really, James? Me either. I can’t believe homosexuals have “muscles.” I’m with you — I thought they just had webbed feet and a lisp. But then James went on to acknowledge the fact that homosexuals are “always working out at the gym,” which apparently, makes me quite the homosexual. Anywho, thanks for clearing up the perceived stereotypes of the gay community, James. And Angie, PLEASE put some clothes on. Maybe you can borrow James’ shepherd jacket for a few days. But DON’T lend it to Coby. He has cooties.

“The Apprentice” gets better every week. And by “better,” I mean worse. Nevertheless, it’s always entertaining. I don’t know how John went from “solid leader,” to “chauvinistic dirt bag,” but it happened pretty fast. If you blinked, you missed it. Last night he was at his misogynistic best — an overall performance highlighted by his snap decision to break out his chain wallet for his meetings with various popular artists. He thought this would make him seem more “down to earth,” but it actually made him look like a douche bag who was caught in a time warp, circa 1997. Luckily, he had the great idea to invite “Simple Plan,” “Bare Naked Ladies,” and others to someone’s house for a “jam session.” And luckily, if any of their drummers were to get killed on the way there, the rest of the band could just call John, because he used to play the drums. Although, he may be a little rusty, but give him time. He’s really down to earth like that. And I’m not sure how Erin and Stephanie refrained from slapping John in the face at various points throughout the task. Erin does NOT like to be treated like that, although she doesn’t mind it that much when Gene Simmons is giving her a “wet willy” on national television, and then awkwardly caressing her hair. As a side note, my wife — who is an avid proponent of all things that empower the female community — said that she wouldn’t quite mind if Gene Simmons stuck his finger in her ear, because “well…it’s Gene Simmons.” I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel about that. Anyway, I also learned that Tana speaks jive. Very, very poorly. And Chris seems like a great leader, when he’s not sporadically flipping out at someone. Caroline felt the wrath of Chris, until George put him in his place by saying, “Who do you think you’re talking to? You’re not speaking to Fat Joe anymore, bitch! You’re speaking to G-to-the-mutha-f’in-EORGE! You better recognize!” Or something like that. Then Trump fired John, which prompted Chris and John to embrace in the hallway. I think I heard an “I love you” in there somewhere, but I’m not sure. They must go to the gym, too.

I think I speak for all of America when I say that “The Contender” is the greatest show of all time. Last night was no different. So far, my favorite parts of the show are the random Sugar Ray Leonard voice-overs during the tasks. “Now the contestants are trying to put together a puzzle. It appears that the West is winning.” Thanks, Sugar Ray. Now you can go back to doing what you do best on this show, which is, apparently, nothing. My second most favoritist part of the show are Ahmed’s witty rebuttals to Ishe’s taunts, such as, “Oh, you’re from the U.S. Well, you suck!” and “I’m not stupid. You’re the stupid one!” It got so out of hand last night that Sly Stallone had to bring Ahmed into his office to calm him down. However, Ahmed didn’t seem to get the gist of the meeting, when he thanked Sly for intervening, because he would have hit Ishe right then and there. Now somebody get him his sunglasses — there’s massages to be had! Anyway, the highlight of the show involved the fight between John and Jesse. Of course, what would a boxing match be without the national public being emotionally attached to the fighters’ families? Nothing, that’s what! John seemed like a really good family man, and I was sad when he lost. And was I the only person surprised to see Jesse’s significant other? I thought the bottom of the screen was going to say “Jesse’s mom,” but instead “Jesse’s girlfriend,” came across. And are the kids both of theirs? I have no idea. Luckily, Jesse’s girlfriend brought the kids to the fight, dressed in what my wife described as “Communion outfits.” Also, I stopped rooting for John when his 12-months pregnant wife wouldn’t stop her inane screeching from ringside. I also always enjoy when Sly grabs on to Sugar Ray Leonard on the sidelines, and they waver backwards ever so slightly, as if Sly is saying, “Hold on to your seats Sugar! This fight is gonna be one heck of a ride!” And do we need Sylvester Stallone yelping out boxing clichés from the sidelines, like “Go toe to toe!” and “Fair fight!” and “Box!” I don’t think we do. The show ended with a goat, and it wasn’t even John, who lost the fight. It was Ishe, who completely wussed out by backing out of a fight with Ahmed. From now on, when somebody says they’re going to do something, and they don’t, I’m calling it “pulling an Ishe.” I think this will catch on. We could even use it on other reality shows, like, “Yeah — Kim said she was gonna help us build a hut, but she pulled an Ishe. What a bitch.”

That’s all for now. But don’t miss the next episode of “The Contender,” which is happening RIGHT now! And there’s gonna be a new episode every night for the next three years. So hold on to Sugar Ray Leonard, cause this is gonna be one heck of a ride!

Ready…BOX!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

What a long, strange trip — Part deux

Last week I commented on some of the crazy things that have occurred in the NBA this year, but to stay on the topic, this HAS to have been the strangest offseason in Major League Baseball history. I mean, in what OTHER year did a former MVP winner call a press conference that went like this:

Player: I’m sorry.

Press: For what?

Player: I can’t tell you.

Press: Why?

Player: I’m not allowed. Are there any other questions?

Press: Does it begin with an “s” and end in “teroids?”

Player: No further questions.

Of course, almost all of the weirdness — including the aforementioned press conference — has been centered in New York. For example, the Yankees acquired Randy Johnson, who celebrated by attacking a local cameraman. The Mets’ locked up Pedro Martinez, who immediately defused his “prima donna” image by telling the media to treat him with “respect,” and to not write anything bad about him or his family (also, he wants PLENTY of rest in between starts). Then the Mets also added Carlos Beltran, although it later became known that he would have gone to the Yankees for less money, except that the Yankees ran out of money covering Jason Giambi’s medical expenses, and press conference bagels. To boot, Mike Piazza got married to a former Playboy model, which doesn’t seem that strange until you consider the fact that Piazza once had to call a press conference of his own to announce he was not gay (okay, we believe you now. Kind of). And speaking of player-wife relationships, Anna Benson, the wife of Mets’ pitcher Kris Benson, announced on “The Howard Stern Show” that she would sleep with the entire Mets organization if Kris ever cheated on her, to which new Met manager Willie Randolph replied, “Since we don’t have a bullpen, could I go twice?”

Not to be left out of the mix, Boston got involved in the fray when Red Sox outfielder Trot Nixon questioned whether or not Alex Rodriguez was a “true Yankee.” This basically opened the floodgates on A-Rod criticism, culminating with Sox pitcher Matt Mantei — Matt Mantei? — questioning the motives of one of this generation’s greatest players. (Mantei would later admit that he was just attempting to lure the media into using the names “Matt Mantei” and “Alex Rodriguez” in the same sentence, something that is actually illegal in 48 states.)

Other cities refused to be denied access to “Weirdville” this baseball offseason. Take Arizona, which is not actually a city, but experienced its share of absurdity nonetheless. The Diamondbacks hired former Mets’ player Wally Backman as their manager, only to fire him two days later amidst reports of Backman’s past indiscretions, which included spousal abuse, and connections to the ’86 Mets. In addition, the D-Backs were willing to part ways with Randy Johnson, citing their desire to rebuild, but then went out and spent gazillions of dollars on the injury-prone Troy Glaus, the slightly above average Russ Ortiz, and the underachieving Shawn Green. It was money certainly well spent, if you don’t like money.

The Seattle Mariners tried to improve on last year’s team, which shouldn’t have been hard, considering the 2004 Mariners lost over 100 games. So, like Arizona, Seattle went on a spending spree, obtaining free agents Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson. Unfortunately, just weeks later, Sexson was pulled over on suspicion of DUI. Matt Mantei would later say that Sexson is obviously not a “true Mariner.” When asked what a “true Mariner” is, Mantei replied, “Technically, it’s like, a fisherman. Right?”
It was obvious that the Baltimore Orioles didn’t need help on offense this offseason. After all, they had one of the most potent lineups in baseball last year. They needed pitching. So Baltimore went out and traded second baseman Jerry Hairston, Jr. for Cubs’ pitcher Sammy Sosa. The only problem was that Sammy Sosa is NOT a pitcher. But at least he seems to be a good guy to have in the clubhouse. Except when he leaves said clubhouse early, and then lies about it, only to have been caught on camera doing so. Other than that, it seems to be a great trade for both teams. Except for the Orioles.

And let’s not forget the fact that the Montreal Expos officially moved to Washington DC, a city that has previously failed to maintain a baseball franchise. Twice.

Roger Clemens retired, filed for a record $22 million in arbitration, un-retired (again), and is now the highest paid pitcher in league history at 42 years of age.

The Marlins’ Jeff Conine needed shoulder surgery after running into a wall while playing paddleball.

Detroit Tigers’ closer Ugeth Urbina was finally reunited with his kidnapped mother after Venezuelan bodyguards had to raid the camp in which she was being held hostage.

Oh — and Jose Canseco sold his 2000 World Series ring on his website for a reported $40,000, and then nixed the deal, and is now being sued by the man who bought it.

And speaking of Jose, I think he wrote a book, too.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

True Hollywood Bore Me

There has been a long-standing rumor throughout the Hollywood community of the existence of a secret “Formula for Comedic Success.” Legend always had it that the secret formula was locked up in Sinbad’s attic for almost two decades, right next to Sinbad. Well, in case you haven’t heard, or noticed, the formula has been discovered. Yep — the secret has leaked out quicker than a Hollywood sex tape starring a D-list celebrity with something to promote. The formula is out, and now EVERYBODY knows the secret to how Hollywood churns out comedic masterpiece after comedic masterpiece. Amazingly, what was thought to be an extensive pamphlet chock full of comedic wisdom was nothing than more than a simple “formula” scribbled on a sticky note. It read:

“Black person meets white person. Comedy ensues.”

There it is. THAT’S how Hollywood has been having us collectively rolling in the aisles over the past twenty years, trying to get out of the theatre. In fact, every single “comedy” released in the last five years, according to my research, has followed this formula to a tee. And if you don’t believe me, then you obviously haven’t seen “Taxi,” starring Jimmy Fallon (white) and Queen Latifa (black), which was TOTALLY different than “Bringing Down the House,” featuring Steve Martin (white) and Queen Latifa (still black). You see, one movie was about a taxi, and the other movie was about a house, and how that house got “brought down,” or as Steve Martin would say, “brung down.” Or is that what Queen Latifa would say? Either way, it’s still hilarious!

But the biggest beneficiary of the comedic formula has been Will Smith, who commands upwards of $45 billion just to stand NEXT to a bumbling white guy. And he charges even more to do so in a movie, which is why it was so good for the movie industry that “Hitch” made $13 trillion in its opening weekend. In case you don’t know, in “Hitch,” Will Smith (black) teaches Kevin James (white AND fat — double comedy points!) to dance so he (the fat white guy) can get girls. The end. Of course, this was somewhat of a stretch for Smith, who was used to playing “charismatic black guy” to Tommy Lee Jones’ “uptight, anal-retentive white guy who battles aliens with Will Smith character” in the “Men in Black” movies, which hopefully stop at II. And speaking of Tommy Lee Jones, he is currently starring in a movie in which he plays an anal-retentive white guy who has to work alongside a charismatic black man played by Cedric the Entertainer, with some cheerleaders thrown in for good measure. Plus, I think Cedric the Entertainer falls down at some point, which wasn’t even IN the formula (it’s called “improvising,” morons). I’m actually laughing out loud now just thinking about it! About seeing it, I mean.

And if you liked “Meet the Parents,” then you’ll love “Guess Who.” It’s just like “Meet the Parents,” except with a twist! Do you want to know what the twist is? Really? Okay, the twist is that the “parents” are black (gasp!) and the “meeter of them” is white (double gasp)! This movie hasn’t even come out yet, but the comedy is already ensuing in my head right now! And it hurts.

Anyway, it’s comforting to know that we have Hollywood here to reinforce perceived stereotypes, and then have national audiences laugh at those stereotypes, over, and over, and over, and over, and over again. Luckily, the major theme of all of these “comedies,” is that black people and white people really aren’t that different after all, which is something we NEVER would have figured out on our own. So thanks, Hollywood. We owe you one. But you owe US for “The Pacifier,” which is really “Kindergarten Cop,” minus the funny parts, so I’ve heard. So let’s call it even.

And as far as the “comedic formula,” the secret IS out. So Sinbad, you can come downstairs now. And get dressed, cause you’re starring in a new movie with Patrick Swayze called, “Business as Usual…in da’ Hood.” And don’t forget your sex tape.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

What a long, strange trip it’s been

We’re officially in March, and from a sports standpoint, quite frankly, there’s really nothing to talk about. Fortunately, this is why God invented pointless lists — to save wannabe columnists from having to write flowing, coherent thoughts when there’s nothing going on. So, this list goes out to God.

Hmmm, let me think. Okay — we’ll call this list the “Top Five Strangest NBA Stories of the Year, So Far.”

No. 5: Don Nelson allows Avery Johnson to coach a game. Nelson, the head coach of the Dallas Mavericks, allowed his assistant, Avery Johnson, to coach a game earlier this year. Why? Because Johnson wants to be a head coach one day. Well good for him. But maybe Nellie could have given Johnson some coaching experience in a preseason scrimmage instead of a regular season game. Joe Torre often allows one of his players to manage a game, but it’s usually the last game of the season, when the Yankees are already in the playoffs, and their starting lineup includes Bubba Trammel and Homer Bush. I just don’t understand in what other aspect of life something like this happens. What if a doctor didn’t feel like doing surgery, so he let his med student do it instead, because the med student wanted to be a doctor one day? And aren’t basketball coaches JUST as important as doctors? Exactly. By the way, Dallas lost the one game Johnson coached, thus officially making Avery Johnson one of the few people who can make Don Nelson look like a good coach.

No. 4: Greg Ostertag dances in cheerleader shorts during a pre-game show. Perennial All-Star snub Greg Ostertag apparently lost a bet to several of his Sacramento Kings teammates, forcing him to dance on the court, in front of cheerleaders, while wearing a t-shirt tucked into tiny cheerleader-type shorts. I think this was actually the longest time Ostertag spent on the court all season. (Two side notes here: First, I had no idea Greg Ostertag was on the Kings until I wrote this. I thought he was still on the Jazz. I don’t know if that says less about my knowledge of sports, or more about the prowess of Greg Ostertag. Also, this is the second consecutive column in which I’ve mentioned Greg Ostertag, and I think it’s safe to say that has never happened before in the history of journalism. Where do I pick up my award?)

No. 3: Rudy Tomjanovich calls it quits. “It’s great to be here. I have to go now.” That is kind of what the Rudy Tomjanovich era was like in Los Angeles. The replacement for Phil Jackson lasted only 25 games as coach of the Lakers, sparking rumors of the return of Phil Jackson, which in itself, may be THE most bizarre storyline of the year. Isn’t asking Phil Jackson to return to L.A. kind of like asking Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston to get back together? Didn’t this breakup JUST happen? Doesn’t there need to be a grace period? Shouldn’t Phil Jackson at least have the time to start saying things to himself like, “Maybe Kobe wasn’t so bad,” and “Maybe we WOULD be better off without the most dominant center in the league?” By the way, Rudy Tomjanovich beat cancer and couldn’t last two months with Kobe Bryant. I think that warrants mentioning.

No. 2: Richard Hamilton wears cornrows shaped like tire treads during a game to promote “GoodYear.” I have so many questions about this one. Don’t ALL cornrows kind of look like tire treads? Did the person who braided Hamilton’s hair do so while looking back and forth at a sample tire, kind of like an artist painting a scenic setting? Would anybody — I mean ANYBODY — have even noticed that Hamilton’s hair looked like tire treads if he didn’t say anything? Did “GoodYear” tire sales skyrocket, or simply show marked improvement? Anyway, you can’t see me now, but I have the symbol for Cingular Wireless shaved into the back of my head. If anyone cares.

No. 1: The resurgence of Vince Carter. Has anyone ever made himself look SO bad by playing SO good? Carter, who verbally expressed the fact that he basically stopped trying with the Toronto Raptors, has been virtually unstoppable as a member of the New Jersey Nets. Carter, who had developed a reputation for being soft and injury-prone, has been playing through injuries, attacking the basket, and getting involved in every play for the Nets since he forced his way out of Toronto. The better Carter plays with New Jersey, the more apparent it becomes exactly HOW much he mailed it in with Toronto. And when you think about it, isn’t that worse than steroids? In theory, isn’t cheating to become better a more positive thing than blatantly not caring, while cashing million-dollar checks? Wouldn’t this be similar to me mailing in a column for The Courier by doing a stupid list, and then getting traded to the Nets, where I proceed to pen my molecular thesis?

Yep — some pretty strange stuff has happened in the NBA this year, and I didn’t even mention the brawl in Detroit, which, for some reason, seems like ages ago. Anyway, stay tuned next week, for special guest columnist Avery Johnson. I’ll be at the bar.