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.