- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2002

The man on the grassy knoll is Yao Ming, who is easy to spot because of his snow-covered shoulders.

Ming is the last of the pituitary basketball wonders from China to be granted permission to play in the NBA, and just in time to help either the Knicks or Wizards next season.

Conspiracy theorists already smell a fix in the NBA lottery next month. In their television-ratings-driven world, Ming winds up in either Manhattan or in Tony Cheng's neighborhood.

That is assuming the first round of the NBA playoffs is completed in time for there to be a next season.

Go ahead, break a leg. At this pace, no one would miss a playoff game. A lot of marriages don't last as long as the first round of the NBA playoffs. If Pat Riley and the Heat were in the playoffs, he would be able to hold training camp in Hawaii between games.

Either Ming or Jason Williams is expected to be the No.1 pick in the NBA Draft in June, depending on your cup of rice. Fortunately, there is plenty of rice around the DMZ Center, if it matters to Ming and the all-knowing old men of China.

Ming is a 7-foot-6 center who is said to be a better player than Wang ZhiZhi and Mengke Bateer, which is not saying much. ZhiZhi and Bateer are the first two basketball imports from China, and the two are considerably less popular than the two rent-a-pandas at the National Zoo.

Bruce Lee still packs more punch than all of them, and you have the word of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on it. Who would be the master today, Lee in his prime or Shaq? Shaq has a 1-2 record in this regard. He slapped Greg Ostertag silly before being taken to the floor by Charles Barkley and missing Brad Miller by several city blocks.

You can't teach height. You might be able to teach Williams to make a higher percentage of his free throw attempts.

Indiana coach Mike Davis became the genius of the moment last month after the Blue Devils missed nine of 19 free throw attempts, including one by Williams that would have tied the game with 4.2 seconds left. That merely was one of the many inconvenient elements ignored in the herd-approved storyline. Moo. The genius label is a rapidly depreciating superlative anyway, not unlike senior superlatives, the dominant foodstuff of the sports culture.

Nolan Richardson, a recovering genius of the moment, told HBO's Bryant Gumbel, another recovering genius of the moment, that the principal reason he was handed a zillion dollars to take a hike from Arkansas is that he became bigger than Frank Broyles.

Get over yourself, coach. You're just a basketball coach, for crying out loud. Go to another university. Win another national title. Win 10 more. OK. Now what? You're a bad man? Great. You're a bad man. Next.

The Wizards certainly could use a bad man, considering Michael Jordan is not the bad man he used to be. A point guard or center would be extremely helpful to the team, and David Stern would have all the more reason to beam on draft night.

Conspiracy theorists still question the closed-door process that resulted in Patrick Ewing ending up with the Knicks in 1985. Dave DeBusschere, who won three games with the White Sox in 1963, nearly broke out the champagne in celebration of the lottery. DeBusschere looked genuinely elated, just as Third World dictators often do following their so-called elections.

The odds are against the Wizards. They have the third-best record of the 13 lottery teams, the Knicks the eighth-best record. These are insignificant details to conspiracy buffs. The buffs prefer to connect all the dots: the New York market, the Jordan market, the long reach of television, an ever-smiling Stern, Ewing in 1985 and Kwame Brown in 2001.

Washington is not apt to complain if Williams or Ming lands on Fun Street. No team can live on 37 victories, however preferable it was to 19 victories and however misleading.

When the going got tough after the All-Star break, Jordan came up lame and the Wizards staggered to an 11-24 finish.

The Wizards could use a fix, if there is one in the lottery, plus a healthy Jordan.

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