- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2002

The NBA has reached the midway point of the regular season in good stead, and with lots of spirit, starting in Dallas.
Mark Cuban is attempting to lead the NBA in adolescent-like antics again, which is no small achievement with Rasheed Wallace still around.
Cuban is coming off a $500,000 fine, a self-imposed stint behind the counter of a Dairy Queen in Coppell, Texas, and a league-wide rolling of the eyes.
Cuban charts fouls and conspiracies and then evokes the "good-of-the-game" clause.
The latter is David Stern's job, and the concept is hardly novel.
Blaming the referees, after all, is the principal pastime in the NBA.
The referees certainly don't know how to monitor the action around Shaquille O'Neal, who is tired of being everyone's punching bag and a 50 percent shooter from the free throw line. One problem leads to the other.
O'Neal has completed a three-game suspension after throwing a punch that missed Brad Miller by a city block or two. O'Neal is 1-for-3 lifetime in this regard, counting his two prior stints as a pugilist. He once scored a slap-induced TKO against Greg Ostertag before being taken to the floor by Charles Barkley, who now wears a quadruple-X suit with Turner Sports.
Barkley takes it one quip at a time, along with Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson, the best studio team in the NBA. Bill Walton and Steve Jones, NBC's real-life odd couple at courtside, are fairly appealing as well.
The NBA's brass in Manhattan is dousing itself in champagne after announcing its latest television deal, a six-year, $4.6-billion bonanza with ABC/ESPN and Turner Sports.
The package does not include Ahmad Rashad, NBC's one-trick pony who carries Michael Jordan's bags. Jordan's bags are heavier in a sense at the moment, stuffed as they are with legal papers and an implicit threat to spill the dirt. It seems Juanita plays as rough as Karl Malone and Kenyon Martin.
Incidentally, the Nets are up, the Jazz down. Jason Kidd is the MVP, Byron Scott the Coach of the Year at the halfway point.
Scott and Malone traded insults after one of the meetings between the teams earlier in the season, mostly because Scott has three championship rings to Malone's none. Fate is not intended to be fair.
Malone has not squelched the season-long trade rumors that involve him, assuming a move could put him in the championship hunt again. When last there, in 1998, Jordan stripped him of the ball before Jordan pushed off on Bryon Russell.
Jeff Van Ankle Weight bailed out on the Knicks, who have bailed out on Don Chaney, who, in three previous stops as a head coach, is accustomed to it.
Van Ankle Weight's mentor, Pat Riley, appears to have lost his way in Miami, despite the Heat's recent signs of life. Riley has won more than 1,000 games in his coaching career, and his teams have never missed the playoffs, but now it has come down to Rod Strickland at point guard. In Rod, Washington does not trust, especially late at night on the roadways.
Tim Floyd finally surrendered in Chicago, as if Jerry Krause's rebuilding project matters. Other than Ron Mercer, no significant free agent has been in the mood to join the Bulls since Jordan put the word out on Krause.
Dan Issel cried on his way out in Denver after the nation cried in honor of a heckler.
"Go drink another beer, you Mexican [expletive]," Issel said.
The acutely sensitive reached for their smelling salts after banishing Issel to a lifetime of sensitivity training sessions.
It just goes to show you that name-calling is a tricky activity, although most Americans, even the acutely sensitive, practice it in one form or another.
John Rocker is a redneck, the Mexican bleep a victim. The distinction between the two is slight but essential.
The Hornets want to move from Charlotte, N.C., to New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, Utah's as well as Louis Armstrong's. A change of scenery did not hurt the Grizzlies. They are losing as frequently in Memphis, Tenn., as they did in Vancouver.
Dirk Nowitzki, the best of the imports, has shaved his head and expanded his game. That makes him one out of two. One blond baldie is hard enough to stomach, if the one is Jason Williams.
Nowitzki and the Mavericks are almost an afterthought in the Western Conference, which is as strong as the Eastern Conference is weak. The five best teams in the NBA reside in the West, unofficially in the following order: the Lakers, Kings, Spurs, Timberwolves and Mavericks.
O'Neal and Kobe Bryant have decided to get along following two consecutive championships, while the Kings are threatening not to lose another game this season. The Spurs rolled over in the playoffs against the Lakers last season. The Timberwolves roll over in the playoffs against anyone.
The Mavericks, meanwhile, are in a tough spot, wedged between the referees and Cuban.
Charting fouls is not likely to help the team's cause, no more than Shawn Bradley, the team's accidental center.

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