Thursday, March 24, 2011

Uncle Tom, Rebecca Black, Elizabeth Taylor (with a dash of NBA MVP talk)

I wasn’t planning to pen a blog post until the NBA playoffs started…but then when an epic two-night stretch of basketball collided with two weeks of some of the more memorable pop culture news in recent memory….well I just couldn’t resist writing about everything going on. Starting off with the NBA as the top teams start looking towards gaining an edge for what could be the greatest spring in years…

The MVP Race

Let me start by saying this has been one of the most entertaining seasons in recent memory. Between Los Angeles defending the title with a vengeance, Boston furiously chasing the championship belt that they were minutes away from grabbing, the Heatles teaming up to take the league by storm, Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, and Russell Westbrook ascending to superstardom, the Spurs turning back the time machine for one last hurrah, Stat and Melo making revitalizing the Mecca of Basketball, Seattle planting the seeds for years of future contention, and Portland fighting on despite Brandon Roy’s sudden downfall, I can’t think of another season with this many juicy story lines and subplots. We’ve never had this many rivalries and elite teams; people complain about players forming superteams, but what’s wrong with having stars going to battle every single night? You’ll see once the playoffs arrive and every night is a thriller. And that was BEFORE Tuesday night’s epic night of basketball, which saw Derrick Rose singlehandedly destroy the Hawks, put his stamp on the MVP race and reignite MVP discussion throughout the blogosphere, followed by the Suns and Lakers staging the most epic clash of the season. Once the Blake Griffin and John Wall followed that up with another two overtimes, I couldn’t help but weigh in on the MVP race at the ¾ mark of the season. Without further ado…

Meriting Consideration:

· Lamarcus Aldridge – The Blazers could’ve curled up and died once Brandon Roy and Greg Oden’s knees gave out; instead Aldridge put the team on his back, started playing up to his potential, galvanized the entire city around his heroics, and pushed what should’ve been a 38-40 win team into the thick of the playoff race. This is the guy that all of us Portland fans always knew LA could be; he’s finally sprouted wings and taken off right when Portland needed him most. I’m not saying he’s the MVP, but that he does deserve a small part of the discussion.

· Amar’e Stoudemire - Still a somewhat spotty rebounder and defender, but kudos to him for making sure he lived up to the contract he signed; he accepted the responsibility of being their franchise guy and delivered. Amar’e will get more votes than he deserves from the New York media for making the Knicks relevant (I prefer to vote based on how rather than where he plays, but that’s just me), but still he’s had a wonderful season.

· Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo - The key cogs to what I consider to be the favorite in the east. Rondo runs the offense, KG runs the defense. I wouldn’t say either one of them has been dominant enough to be the MVP by himself, but there’s no denying their value for a top contender.

· Manu Ginobili - Tim Duncan’s still an elite rebounder and shot blocker, but to me Manu has been the key guy for the team with the best record in basketball. Obviously I wouldn’t put him in the Lebron/Howard group of stars, but when it comes to the MVP race there is something to be said for being the best player on the best team.

· Kobe Bryant - Blasphemy, I know. Listen, if the award was based on the final 25 games then Kobe would run away with it. The Lakers are picking up steam as the re-assert themselves as the clear title favorite; Kobe’s been the man behind their post-all star break surge. Unfortunately the MVP is based on the whole season, and how can we give Kobe the MVP when the Lakers were on cruise control from December through February? Kobe may well be the MVP from May through June; he’s not the MVP from November through April.

· Kevin Love – Just kidding Tony was the guy who put Love in his top five. I would never give an MVP vote to the best player on a 30-win team (even a guy from Oregon).

My MVP Ballot

5. Kevin Durant – Turned in another phenomenal season as he stepped his game up to carry the Thunder into the upper echelon of the Western Conference. This guy absolutely has a title or two in his future if he keeps growing like this. But for this year? I just think there have been four better guys…

4. Dwight Howard – Maintained his transcendent level of defense while improving his offensive game and adding to his repertoire of post moves. That said, his team has taken a step backwards, so even if Dwight is better on paper I feel like he should lose some points in that regard. Overall Dwight turned in his usual fantastic season, and maybe we’ve become so jaded to his greatness that we’re under appreciating him; I just can’t say he’s more valuable to his team than the next three guys.

3. Derrick Rose – The likely winner, as the media seems determined to crown Rose at the expense of Lebron. It definitely is true that Rose carries a humongous amount of weight with this offense, and deserves mad props for pushing them to the top of the East standings when they looked like a 50 win team at the start of the year. Now that he’s honed his midrange game and 3 point stroke he’s damn near unguardable because nobody can stop him from getting to the rim. When I watch him play it honestly feels like watching a young Lebron as he learned how to dominate the league; he even has the same defensive issues that Lebron had in his first four years, only Rose seems to have even more competitive drive. Rose is a great player and he’ll win plenty of awards eventually, especially if he can become a passable defender; I just don’t see him as the MVP for this season. Whether you vote based on who’s the most outstanding player or who’s the most valuable to his team, there are two guys who have better resumes…

2. LeBron James – Forget about your feelings about The Decision; LeBron is still far and away the best player in the game. His stats are still otherworldly; his game is exactly the same as it was during his past two MVP campaigns, his teammates are the only difference. I have no problem with people touting LeBron as the deserving candidate because frankly there’s nothing wrong with defaulting the league’s alpha dog.

1. Dirk Nowitzki – I know I’m in the tiny, tiny minority when I say this; but Dirk is my guy in the MVP race because of how much he means to his team’s title chances. When I look at the MVP race I look at all the best players on the best teams, and I look at who shoulder’s the most weight for a title contender. Every other MVP candidate plays with at least another borderline all-star. Dirk’s best running mates are Jason Terry (a poor man’s Sleepy Floyd) and Tyson Chandler (elite rebounder/shot blocker with absolutely no offensive game) – Dallas has by far the biggest drop off from their best guy to the second and third guys, yet they’re still a title contender because of Dirk’s brilliance this season. A lot of his stats are down, even PER and usage rate, but at the same time his shooting percentages are off the charts (even by Dirk’s own lofty standards) and his offensive and defensive ratings are as good as ever. But this is definitely a case where I think you really have to watch the games to see how efficient and consistent he’s been this season and just how much of a load he carries. Dallas wins despite playing three on five offensively because of Dirk’s amazing ability to create looks despite facing more offensive pressure and attention than ever. Even his much maligned defense has been decent this year – he’s become better and guarding guys on the block, and his length and mobility are part of the reason why Dallas’s zone works so much more effectively than those of the rest of the league. Take him off this team and they would struggle to score 80 on a consistent basis. More importantly without him they wouldn’t even sniff 35 wins – he’s basically the difference between picking in the top ten and gunning for the finals. Obviously every other team would suffer without its best player; I just think Dallas has the biggest drop off from its best player to the rest of its team and would suffer the most of all the title contenders. Obviously Dirk will never win it because the media is still mad at him for 2007; but for this regular season he is my most valuable player.

Other Pop Culture News

· By now you’ve probably heard Jalen Rose’s Uncle Tom comments dissected from every angle. Here’s my take: first of all, it seems clear to me that few of the pundits giving opinions on the issue have actually read Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel. I know that Uncle Tom is taken to mean someone who sells out on and denies his own race; but if people bothered to read the book they would see that Uncle Tom was anything but a sellout. He gave up his life to help a pair of slaves reach freedom. He refused to allow Simon Legree to force him to compromise the principles that he believed in as both a Black man and a devout Christian. Second, I think the cultural impact of the Fab Five is actually somewhat overstated. The Georgetown teams of the 1980’s were among the first to recruit primarily inner-city kids and kick ass against all the preppy elite schools. And as far as the baggy shorts and trash talking? Give me a break!!! The Fab Five did not introduce that to college ball!!! How can anybody forget Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV Runnin’ Rebel teams? Not only were those teams better than the Fab Five, they were the first ones to play with such a degree of swagger and display so much raw emotion. Stacey Augmon, Larry Johnson and crew showed how you could win with style and brashness, not Michigan. Now as far as today’s situation, obviously it’s ridiculous to call Grant Hill and any other African-American athlete a sellout for choosing to attend Duke; choosing to pursue both athletic AND academic excellence does not make one any less African American (people who believe that being well-educated and well-spoken detract from your “blackness” are the real sellouts). Jalen knows this and what he said in the documentary represents his 18-year old mind. I completely understand the resentment felt by the Rose at the time for all the opportunities that kids like Hill grew up with, and we shouldn’t be too hard on him for mistakenly judging Hill as a sellout while he was still a poor 18-year old kid who was still developing and maturing.

· Rebecca Black’s music video “Friday” has over 42 million views…so chances are you’ve seen what is by far the worst music video ever created. The song has no saving grace: the lyrics are inane and pointless, the video itself is poorly shot, and the auto-tune is so obvious and severe that there are points where it sounds like a robot is singing, not a human. When I rip on someone like Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga, I’m saying they suck relative to other professional musical artists, but at the same time I still implicitly acknowledge their basic competence at music. Friday has none of that – every single parody is better than the original because Friday is just such a complete failure in every single respect. But guess what? I don’t blame Rebecca at all. I blame Ark Music factory for their incompetence at songwriting and for picking someone without talent and putting her in over head. All the nasty comments directed personally at Rebecca Black are way over the top – she’s thirteen for Christ’s sake, and besides as much as the video sucks how does that hurt anyone personally? Is a bad music video really a reason to spew death threats and wish physical harm on someone? I hope all of those people stop being such mean-spirited assholes, and I hope Ark Music will just go away forever and stop ruining the music industry. If someone doesn’t destroy Ark Music (like right now, as you’re reading this) then we are headed for the downfall of music sooner rather than later.

· On a final bittersweet note. My condolences go out to the family and friends of Elizabeth Taylor. Liz Taylor was one of the great icons of Classical Hollywood; together with Ingrid Bergman, Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, and Vivian Leigh she helped shape modern Hollywood, define our celebrity culture, and pave the way for Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Halle Berry, Angelina Jolie, and every other significant modern actress. Liz is definitely one of the greatest actresses of all time (if you haven’t seen Father of the Bride then you have more important things to do than reading this blog) and one of the most beautiful women to grace the screens of America. More importantly, her humanitarian work helped set her apart as an amazing and well-rounded human being. Most of the focus goes on her work for AIDS research, and rightfully so, but she was also extremely proactive in fighting homophobia both in and out of Hollywood. Beautiful on the inside and outside, you were truly one of a kind you will be missed dearly. Rest in Peace Elizabeth Taylor.

1 comment:

Vivienne Vecci said...

I can't comment on the sport as I'm no aficionado - but the pop culture points are more in my 'league' :) and really enjoyed reading them! Yes Elizabeth Taylor really did pave the way forward in her humanitarian work, a true beauty - with the sass and class that endeared her to the hearts of many...when she was asked to comment on Julia Robert's pay check (20 mill), she simply smiled and said "I started it." She left a mark, she lived. RIP Elizabeth Taylor.