Tag Archives: KD

Kevin Durant and the evolution of his Alter-Egos

slim reaper kd

If you know me, you know that I used to be a huge fan the East Coast hip-hop scene in the 90’s to early 00’s. In fact, my favorite hip-hop group of all time is the Wu-Tang Clan. Two seasons ago, I wrote an article comparing the members of the Wu to the 9-man rotation the Thunder were using at the time. One of the things that I loved about the Wu was how they used all their aliases. For example, Rza, the musical genius and de facto leader of the group, went by a couple of aliases that related to his mood. If he felt like a partying B-boy, his alias was Bobby Digital. If he wanted to incite deep thought through his lyrics, he was known as the Rzarector through his side group, the Gravediggaz. And if he wanted to hit you with some street-inspired raps, he was known as Bobby Steels. It’s a trend that many rappers used. Eminem was probably the best known artist to use this technique. Eminem has three alter egos: Eminem (the rapper), Marshall Mathers (the tragic, real life figure from where the pain comes from), and Slim Shady (the YOLO, don’t give a (word) psycho that offends anyone and everyone while waving two middle fingers in the air).

In essence, though, we all have differing alter egos. No matter how much you try to deny it, you act differently when you are around different people. The “hanging out with friends” you is different than the “having dinner with the parents” you. The “going to church” you is different than the “just had a few drinks and now I’m loose” you. Alter egos are just ways to adjust to different situation. Artists have taken that concept and turned it into an art form. And, of course, as the saying goes, “musicians want to be athletes and athletes want to be musicians”. So, it was only natural, that athletes would start to participate in this act.

Rockets v Lakers

You could say that Daryl Dawkins started this trend when he decided to name his dunks. But the trend reached its zenith when Shaquille O’Neal decided to name himself every possible nickname available to man. The alias could be regional (The Big Shaqtus for when he played for Phoenix), heroic (Superman), or philosophical (The Big Aristotle). No matter how corny the names were, they worked for the big jovial lug. It became the norm to give yourself a nickname. Kobe Bryant, probably tired of being called just Kobe, and needing a marketing ploy, decided to coin himself Black Mamba. And though it felt forced, it actually became second nature to refer to Kobe as the Black Mamba.

I miss the days when nicknames were, not only original, but earned from outsiders. Gone are the times when a guy could come into the league with the moniker “Magic”, and become a magician on the court. Or when a guy was bestowed the name Air because of his ability to seemingly transcend gravity. It got to the point where originality was lost and most nicknames became shortened versions of the player’s name (VC, TMac, AI, DWade, etc).

But then, in comes this man. A man whose physical attributes warrant a nickname, but whose game warrants another nickname. A man whose style of play warrants even another nickname. Kevin Wayne Durant came into the league in 2007, and since then, people have been looking for that one name that sticks. But really, every nickname that been bestowed on Durant makes the man.

Durantula

The name given to Durant since the beginning of his career because of his physical attributes. A 6’11” frame (don’t give me that 6’9″ poppycock) with a 7’4″ wingspan. Tall, lean, and rangy, but also with the fluidity to move around like a guard. When those arms go out and frame gets down into a defensive crouch, that’s over 7300 cubic inches of real estate to get around, taking into account 83 inches for height and 88 inches for length. It can almost seem like Durant has got 8 arms with as much ground and air space that he can take up.

But that name never really took off. I mean, it was used on shirts and print, and was semi-popular, but Durant never really endorsed it. And then some guitarist with an inferiority complex named Mark Durante decided to sue Durant, claiming that he used the nickname Durantula first. So, that basically spelled the end of it for that nickname.

Velvet Hoop

A Nike ad campaign for House of Hoops in 2009 gave Durant the nickname Velvet Hoop. Nothing ever really came out of it, but I have always loved that moniker. It personifies Durant’s game so well. Smooth like velvet. But unfortunately, it also makes for a stupid nickname. Too long and an inability to become personified. It just doesn’t roll off the tongue. “At forward, 6’9″, from Texas, KEVIN ‘VELVET HOOP’ DURANT!!!” Yeah, on to the next one.

KD

kd nike

The brand. While originality lacks when it comes to this nickname, it still works great. It’s short and rolls off the tongue. It’s not shrouded in any emotional or negative imagery. It’s just two letters. A “K” and a “D”. It works well with adult and children alike. Durant is able to put his full support behind it without any fear of litigation. They are his initials and there are no copyright infringement laws when it comes to a person’s initials. This is the empire that Durant (and Nike) will continue to build off of.

The Junkyard Dog

Think of a junkyard dog. What descriptive images come to mind? Something that is snarling and over-salivating. Something that elicits fear. Something big and strong. When Durant starts to take charge of a game, he is all these descriptors wrapped in one. It is during these runs that he tries his hardest humiliate and emasculate the opponent. The Junkyard Dog doesn’t come out very often, but when he does, opponent are usually left trembling in fear in his wake.

The Slim Reaper

The Slim Reaper comes out very seldom. Always in the 4th quarter and always when the Thunder are down. But when he does show up, his antics are spoken of near and far. It usually starts when something gets Durant angry. The trigger could be as slight as a missed call, a harassing player, a technical foul, or just plain annoyance. But when the fuse is lit, the ride is just beginning. We’ve seen glimpses of the Reaper. Game 5 against the Denver Nuggets in the 2011 NBA playoffs. The Thunder found themselves down by 9 with four minutes left in the 4th quarter. Lose the game and you risk having a Game 6 in Denver. Then the Reaper showed up and outscored the Nuggets 14-6 in the final four minutes to win the game and clinch the Thunder’s first playoff series. Then the Reaper went dormant. He would show up occasionally, but it was sometimes difficult to discern between The Junkyard Dog and the Slim Reaper. 

durant thunder slim reaper

It’s usually something in a game that brings the Reaper out. But this time, I think it was a game itself that turned Durant into the Reaper. When the Thunder faced the Memphis Grizzlies on January 14th, the team reverted back to it’s playoff mode of depending on Durant to do everything. The team fell behind in the third quarter, and could never make up that deficit. But something happened in Durant that night. Maybe he looked at the schedule and saw that 4 of the team’s next 5 opponent were against the upper echelon of the Western Conference. Maybe he finally realized how to play in the absence of Russell Westbrook. Maybe he embraced that fact that, for this team to win, he would need to shoulder the load offensively and be more aggressive. Maybe he realized that the best option on the floor 90% of the time is the guy whose jersey number is 35. Or maybe he just got hot at the right time and realized the no one, no team, and no scheme in the NBA, can guard him.

The results have been terrifying for the league. Eleven straight games of 30 points or more. A triple double mixed in there. Averages of 38.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 6.4 assists in the last two weeks. In addition, Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson have greatly benefited from the added attention Durant has been receiving. The Reaper is a man on a mission. Durant said before last season’s playoffs started that he was tired of finishing second. Well, the Reaper is the devilish conscious that continuously reminds Durant that he has finished 2nd his entire career. And, to the chagrin of the NBA, I believe the Reaper is here to stay.

Oklahoma City Thunder: 2012-13 Midseason Review

This was supposed to be the year where the Oklahoma City Thunder’s young quartet of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden was supposed to put it all together and finally reach the mountain top. These four young men who had just competed (and medaled) in the Olympics were supposed to pick up where they had left off and continue on their improvement track. From 1st round losers to Western Conference Finals losers to NBA Finals losers, the eventual next step would have been NBA Finals winners. Everyone went into training camp with that mind set.

Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant

And then, 5 days before the season started, in the middle of a stirring football game between the Oklahoma Sooners and Notre Dame Fighting Irish, came the shocking news that one of the quartet had been traded. James Harden, whose contract extension talks had stalled with the team, was traded, along with Daequan Cook, Cole Aldrich, and Lazar Hayward, to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and 3 draft picks. It took several days before the jaws of Oklahomans throughout the state were picked up off the ground.

Once the shock wore off, and the trade was analyzed, it was one of those instances where it was a good trade for both teams. The Thunder got a comparable player in Martin, a good young guard in Lamb, assets in the form of draft picks, and salary cap flexibility. Championship contending teams usually never have assets and salary cap flexibility, but this trade gave that back to the Thunder before they had an opportunity to lose it. Houston, in return, got a franchise player in Harden. After clearing cap space and failing to land Dwight Howard in the offseason, the Rockets were chomping at the bit for a franchise-type guy. So far, it’s been a win-win for both teams.

kmart lamb

Whether we were ready for the season or not, it still had to be played. The schedule doesn’t care whether the Thunder made a big roster move five days before the start of the season. The schedule doesn’t care that the Thunder never got the opportunity to play any pre-season games with any of its new players. All the schedule decrees is that said team be at the location of the game with at least 8 dressed players. So with that, the Thunder embarked on the first half of the season.

November 1st, 2012 – November 4th, 2012 : The sky is falling!!!! Grab the women and children, and head to higher ground!!!!! (1-2)

After the core rattling trade five days prior, the Thunder had to open their season on the road against their Western Conference Finals opponent, the San Antonio Spurs. The game was back and forth most of the night with neither team controlling the game. In the final minute with the Spurs down by three, Tony Parker hit a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left to tie the game. On the Thunder’s next possession, with the opportunity to take the lead, Russell Westbrook turned the ball over to give the Spurs one final shot. Tony Parker calmly sank a 21-footer at the buzzer to give the Spurs the victory.

parker

Of course, panic set in after that. Would the Thunder ever win another game again? Is this the beginning of the Curse of the Beard? Would we have won that game had James Harden not been traded? The second game was against the Portland Trailblazers in Oklahoma City. The Thunder easily dispatched of the Trailblazers in expected fashion. But that did little to quell the panic of the fan base, especially when Harden was in Houston averaging 35.3 points per game after the first three games of the season.

harden

The Thunder entered the third game of the season with high hopes. But after 21 turnovers and an inability to make shots in the second half, the Thunder lost to the Atlanta Hawks to bring their record to 1-2. Needless to say, some in the fan base were ready to jump off of the Devon Energy Tower.

Novemeber 6th, 2012 – November 23rd, 2012: Getting to know you, getting to know all about you. (8-2)

This home heavy stretch against lesser opponents is just what the doctor ordered, not only for the team, but also for the fan base. After the Atlanta loss, the Thunder reeled off five straight win against 3 likely lottery teams (Cleveland, Detroit (x2), and Toronto), and one injury ravaged team (Chicago). It’s almost like the team had a mini training camp with these 5 games serving as preseason games. The players got a sense of what their roles were, and the coaching staff got a sense of how the rotation would work.

team

Then we played the Memphis Grizzlies, and got man-handled. The big boys (Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph) did work inside and Rudy Gay went all KD on the Thunder, hitting seemingly every big shot in the 4th quarter. The fear that engulfed the fan base at the beginning of the season changed from, “When will we win a game?” to “Will we be able to hang with the top teams in the West?”

Those fears were eased a little when the Thunder won their next 3 games, the final two being against Western Conference playoff hopefuls Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors. Against the Warriors, Kevin Durant notched his first career triple double with 25 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. The Thunder went on the road and lost against the Boston Celtics after that in a close game. Overall, the feeling at this point in the season is that the Thunder were starting to get it together, but still had some kinks to work out.

November 24th, 2012 – December 19th, 2012: We’re going streaking!!!!! (12-0)

This is where the team seemed to put it all together. During this stretch of games, the Thunder beat their opponents by an average of 13.8 points per game. The team averaged 108.6 points per game. That is an astonishing run. The winning percentage of the teams that the Thunder beat during this streak was .477, not necessarily power house numbers, but not necessarily the Sisters of the Poor, either.

There were some very important things that happened during the streak:

1)      We completely emasculated a team. In the second game of the streak, the Thunder beat the Charlotte Bobcats 114-69. The Bobcats were riding high coming into the game at 7-5, the same amount of victories as the previous season. The young Bobcats were looking to show what they could do against one of the big boys in the league. And the Thunder just beat them with their own stick. To a team that was still feeling itself out, this victory is just what they needed to prove to themselves that they could still run somebody out of the gym if necessary. The beating was so bad for the Bobcats that they did not win another game for the next month (17 games total after that).

2)      In the next game, the Thunder exorcised any demons from the trade and beat James Harden and the Houston Rockets handily, 120-98. While the game started off as a walk down memory lane, it quickly turned into an “us versus them” mentality when Harden had a spat that momentarily had Hasheem Thabeet ejected from the game. After that, Harden became another opponent that received boos. And the cherry on the top was that Harden completely struggled against the Thunder shooting 3-16 for 17 points, well below his average.

harden thabeet

3)      We dominated the Los Angeles Lakers at home 114-108. I know these aren’t the Lakers from a couple years ago. But this was the superteam that was constructed in the offseason to battle the Thunder for Western Conference supremacy. When Dwight Howard and Steve Nash were added to the core of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace, it sent shockwaves through the league that this would be the new team to beat. Though chemistry issues have kept the Lakers from achieving this, it was still good to beat them and let them know that we still run the West.

4)      We beat the Spurs handily at home 107-93. With the Lakers struggling, this team is probably our biggest rival. With the Western Conference Finals last season, and the close game the Spurs won to start the season, this was a pivotal matchup for the Thunder, not only record-wise, but mentally also.

December 20th, 2012 – January 7th, 2013 – Holiday sputter (5-4)

It’s a funny thing about perspective. If I were to tell you that we’ve won 17 of our last 21 games, you’d probably think that’s a pretty good run. But, if I told you that we’ve lost 4 of our last 9 games, you’d probably think that we are struggling a bit. This is where the Thunder found themselves at this point in the season. After winning 12 in a row, they lost on the road to an upstart Minnesota team that was just beginning to put it all together, before injuries once again derailed their season. Then, the Thunder lost on Christmas day to the Miami Heat. The one monkey that still hangs on the team’s back is the ability to consistently beat Miami.

russ miami

After the Miami loss, the Thunder went on to win 5 of their next 7. One of the losses was against the Davids of the NBA, or as I like to call them, the Washington Wizards. This Wizards team, with the worst record in the NBA, always seems to play its best against the Goliath’s of the league. They’ve already beaten the Heat once this season, and they beat the Thunder last season also. It’s just something about that slingshot.

January 9th, 2013 – January 20th, 2013 – Wonder Twins activate! (6-1)

This is what Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have done in the past 7 games:

  • KD – 35.9 points / 6.1 rebounds / 4.1 assists /1.7 steals / 1.3 blocks per game
  • RW – 29.0 points /6.7 rebounds /7.1 assists /1.0 steal per game

What these two guys have been doing the past two weeks has been nothing short of dominant. Durant had a career high 52 points in a win over the Dallas Mavericks during this stretch. And Westbrook has notched 4 straight games of 30 points or more. It’s become a tradition that when the Thunder trade away a major player, someone steps up in his place. When Jeff Green was traded two seasons ago, Serge Ibaka and James Harden stepped up their games and the Thunder continued improving. This time around, when Harden was traded, Ibaka has elevated his game to another level, and the two superstars have gotten even better.

durant-westbrook

The Thunder ended the first half of the season with a 32-9 record, good for best in the league. They are the last team with single digit losses and have the best scoring differential in the league, at +9.0. Looking forward, the second half of the season will be a little bit tougher, though. The Thunder will have 3 more road games and the teams they’ll be facing have a combined .511 winning percentage. In the end, I see the Thunder ending up with the number 1 seed, not only in the Western Conference, but in the entire NBA with a 63-19 record.

Philadelphia 76ers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Preview (Game 32 of 82)

76ers thunder

  • When: Friday, 04 January 2013 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Regardless of what you think of Nike’s “KD is not nice” campaign, imagine the fear in the Philadelphia 76ers’ locker room when A) they have to face the Thunder after a loss and B) they have to face Kevin Durant after the first ejection of his career. The Thunder come into the game having lost to the Brooklyn Nets in one of the more frustrating games of the season. After being down by 20+ in the first half, the Thunder battled back to tie the game in the 4th, only to completely squander the game through bad defense and questionable officiating.

The Thunder come into the game 24-7, tied for 1st in the Western Conference. They lead the season series 1-0, after beating the Sixers in Philadelphia in overtime 116-109.  Durant scored 37 and Russell Westbrook had 30 points in a game that the Thunder could never put the Sixers away. Every time the Thunder got a sizeable lead, Philly went on a run. The difference came in overtime in the form of four consecutive 3-pointers from 4 different Thunder players.

The Opponent

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers come into the game with a 15-18 record, clinging on to the 8th spot in the East over Boston by percentage points. The Sixers are 3-9 in their last 12 games and have been plagued by lack of consistency on the offensive end, as evidenced by their 93.3 points per game average (good for 26th in the league). They are led by 4th year point guard Jrue Holiday who is blossoming this season, averaging 18.8 points, 9 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game. He is joined in the backcourt by veteran Jason Richardson and 3rd year wingman Evan Turner, who is also starting to come into his own after struggling his first two seasons in the league. The front court is undersized, manned by versatile PF Thaddeus Young and Lavoy Allen. Their bench can be explosive led by Nick Young and Dorell Wright and center Spencer Hawes. Each of the bench players is capable of catching fire from 3-point land and putting up big numbers.

Probable Starters

Philadelphia 76ers

PG – Jrue Holiday

SG – Jason Richardson

SF – Evan Turner

PF – Thaddeus Young

C – Lavoy Allen

Oklahoma City Thunder

PG – Russell Westbrook

SG – Thabo Sefolosha

SF – Kevin Durant

PF – Serge Ibaka

C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to Victory

jrue

1) Russell Westbrook vs. another UCLA point guard – Russell Westbrook has had a go of it lately versus his fellow Bruins point guards. He got torched by Darren Collison of the Dallas Mavericks for 32 points and 4 assists a week ago. Utah Jazz reserve guard Earl Watson had one of his higher assist games against the Thunder with 8 assists. The good news is that Westbrook held Holiday to 6 points on 3-11 shooting the last time they played.

Another note – Russell Westbrook shot over 50% in his last game. He has not shot over 50% in consecutive games this season. I think he’s due.

2) Serge Ibaka vs. Thaddeus Young – Young is one of those versatile, undersized power forwards that give Ibaka fits. He does most of his work in the midrange area, thus negating Ibaka’s biggest strength as a defender. This was on full display the last time the Sixers played the Thunder, as Young had 29 points and 15 rebounds. All the while, Ibaka had 0 blocks and 9 boards.

Ibaka9

3) Rebound advantage – The Thunder should take full advantage of the Sixers being undersized in the post. Young and Allen don’t go over 6’9, and while Hawes is a legit 7 footer, he spends a lot of his time on the perimeter, thus negating his offensive rebounding potential. Durant should take full advantage of this opportunity and drop down to the post to help out on the boards.

Thunderstruck:The Review

There’s a saying that goes musicians and actors want to be athletes, and athletes want to be musicians and actors. Call it what you may; a mutual respect for each others’ crafts or the need to test one’s self. But when that person ventures into the other crafts, the results are usually forgettable and regrettable. We see how entertainers perform in celebrity basketball games. The basketball players in those games, almost always retired players, have to play at 50% just to make the game even a little bit enjoyable. Basketball players are born to play basketball. While some try other ventures, they rarely achieve the success known to them on the basketball court. When it comes to music, many ball players have tried, but only two have had any form of success: Wayman Tisdale, who went on to become a world renowned bass player, and Shaquille O’Neal, who, regardless of what you think of his skills as a rapper, released 4 studio albums, with one going gold, and another going platinum.

When it comes to basketball players and acting, the list of successes is even smaller. The greatest role for an athlete is as an athlete, especially if they are playing themselves. If you take them outside of that element, the results are extremely varied with a very high “hit or miss” potential. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did a great job as co-pilot Roger Murdock on Airplane. John Salley did a good job in his small role as Fletcher, the computer hacker, on the two Bad Boys films. Outside of those two roles, I can’t really think of a successful acting venture for a basketball player that does not involve dribbling a basketball.

Now, if the role involves playing a little basketball, then the athlete can go ahead and ease into his comfort zone. Shaq’s best acting role was as Neon Boudeaux, the “out-of-nowhere” star recruit in the movie ‘Blue Chips’. Honestly, though, that’s not really saying much when compared to such classics as ‘Kazaam’ and ‘Steel’, but you get the picture. When an athlete is able to do the thing that comes naturally to them, it makes the unnatural thing (acting) come that much easier. So when I heard that Kevin Durant was starring in his own movie, I was a little worried to say the least. He wasn’t a big personality like Shaq was in his heyday, and his advertisement portfolio, while growing, wasn’t necessarily anything that would indicate we had a burgeoning thespian on our hands. Also, when I heard the synopsis of the film, basically ‘Like Mike, part 8,’ I was a bit concerned that the cheesiness factor would be too much.

With all that said, I thought this would be a good RedBox rental in a couple of months. Then, out of the (Thunder) blue, my ticket rep called me asking if I wanted to attend the red carpet premiere of KD’s movie. Like any good Hollywood socialite, I told him I would have to check my schedule. Two seconds later, I told him I would go, and I would be bringing 5 guests with me (my entourage).

So, when the day came, we all got suited up and made our way to the premiere. We got there about an hour and a half early and watched as they vacuumed the red carpet. I vacuum my carpet all the time, but this was a RED carpet. Awesome, to say the least. We finally got our tickets and walked into the theatre, on the newly vacuumed red carpet. After getting our popcorn and drinks, we waited for the VIP’s to arrive.

First through the red carpet was the always lovable Rumble, in a tux only a bison could wear. He, of course, had two Thunder girls draped on his arms. When I die, I want to come back as a hooved mascot. They get all the perks. Next up, it was the always exquisite Wanda Pratt, who rocked her aquamarine dress to a tee. “You go girl!” was all I could think in my mind. Mama Durant basically became part of the family as she bear hugged my sister twice on her walk down the red carpet. At that very moment, I turned around and legendary Oklahoma Sooners coach Barry Switzer was behind me about to walk into the theatre.

Co-star Taylor Gray was the next one through the red carpet. I didn’t really know who he was, but all the pre-teen girls knew who he was. So, I figured he was somebody in the film. Then, the love child of Marty McFly and Breckin Meyer walked through the red carpet. Its always good to see Coach Scott Brooks in his offseason’s best, hair and beard both grown out. Finally, the star of the film came through. Kevin Durant looked dashing as ever in his brownish checkered vest and black undershirt, completely owning the red carpet. After a small introduction by the director of the film, it was finally time to see some movie magic.

Without giving too much away in this review, I initially went into the film wondering how many cringe-worthy, cheesy moments there would be in the film. Brian (Taylor Gray) is a high school student who has aspirations of playing basketball, but is only good enough to be the water boy on the team. A huge fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Brian gets a chance to shoot a half court shot at halftime of a game. His shot falls way short, hitting Rumble on the head, and he ends up in the tunnel with Kevin Durant, who sympathizes with the kid and signs a ball for him. As he is handing the ball to Brian, his basketball skills are transferred to Brian in a weird cosmic mix up. The teenager ends up joining the basketball team and becoming its star, while Durant struggles with having the skills of a water boy.

Through his struggles, Durant’s agent, Alan (Brandon T. Jackson), keeps looking for reasons and solutions to Durant’s dismal slump. He finally sees a mirror of Durant’s talent in this scrawny little high school kid and realizes that Durant’s talent must have been stolen. Alan approaches Brian and levels with him about his new found talent. Brian soon realizes that Alan is right and must decide whether he wants to continue with his new found fame or do the right thing and find a way to return Durant’s talents back.

Are there some corny moments in his film? Of course. But, to my surprise, there weren’t any cringe-worthy, “I’m too old for this crap” moments. The surprising comedic performances of Jim Belushi, as the coach of the high school team, and Doc Shaw, as Brian’s best friend, provide enough comedy to keep you laughing out loud from time to time. Taylor Gray actually carries the movie pretty well as the lead actor, and Kevin Durant does a good job as Kevin Durant. John  Whitesell, the director, does a good job of showing off Durant’s strength (basketball ability), while not trying to overdo his still burgeoning acting ability.

For what I was expecting, this movie turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It had a good flow to it and didn’t lull you in the middle of the movie. My kids, 7 and 5 years old, loved it, and it held their interest throughout the entire movie. A solid ‘B’ in my book and a highly recommendable family movie.

Wu-Tang vs. OKC Thunder

 

vs.

If you are like me, you are growing tired of the weekly late night sessions by the players’ union and owners. The meetings always seem to start off with a hint of hope, only to be crushed when we finally see the sides emerge into their separate press conferences after the meeting. Its almost like getting set up on a blind date. The anticipation builds, you’ve heard all the good reviews from your friends, and then when you see her, she looks like a close up shot from one of the Ren and Stimpy cartoons.

When I started this blog, I intended it to be solely an OKC Thunder blog. But as is the case with many of my ventures, my AOADD (adult onset attention deficit disorder) won’t allow me to concentrate on just one aspect of something. I have to try to encompass everything about that subject. Since the Thunder are a part of the NBA, and the NBA, as a whole, is the story of the moment, I’ve kind of shifted my writings from strictly Thunder subjects to more NBA (read:lockout) subjects. But I’ve decided, enough with all this lockout madness (for now). While there isn’t much to write about since there is a lockout, there is no better time than the present to start using the creative side of my brain. I mean, I am a lefty, so we are supposed to be more in tune with the creative, artistic part of our brain. Key word being “supposed to be”.

When there was an NBA season with some Thunder games, we constantly heard about the sacred 9-man rotation. That rotation sometimes got bumped up to a 10-man rotation when everyone was healthy, but usually stayed at the comfortable number of 9. Now, I bring this up, because my favorite rap group, the Wu-Tang Clan, consists of 9 core members (generals) but also, usually, includes an extra 1-2 associated rappers that round things out (you know, in case someone dies or gets arrested, which is the sports equivalent of someone being injured (arrested) or out for the season (dead)). I’ve always associated the Thunder’s 9-man rotation with the Wu’s 9 generals and thought it would be fun to do a comparative piece about the 2 groups.

Before I get started, let me introduce you to the Wu-Tang Clan if you are not a fan of rap or were born before 1975. The Wu is a 9-man rap group from Staten Island NY consisting of the RZA, the GZA/Genius, Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, U-God, and Masta Killa. In addition, Cappadonna and Streetlife usually appear on the group’s albums and are considered unofficial members of the group. The unique thing about this group is that even though each rapper has his own style, they usually mesh seamlessly on their group albums to produce good music.

The RZA is……….Russell Westbrook. The RZA is usually the main and only producer on the group albums. He’s the one that makes the beats and arranges the album. He would be akin to a table-setter where the rest of the rappers just put their platters (rhymes) on said table. He’s the creator, just like Russell is the creator on the floor. While not as wildly popular as other members of the group, the RZA is very well known and respected in the entainment industry. Which almost sounds a lot like Russell Westbrook. While not the most popular on the team nationally, he is well respected by most and shows the potential to be an alpha dog on most teams.

Method Man is………Kevin Durant. Method Man is, by far, the most popular member of the Wu. His witty, humerous lines and strong cadence make him an easy rapper to follow and like. He’s also the first of the group to try other ventures such as acting (How High, anyone?) and directing. His charismatic personality and sense of humor makes it very easy for him to gain mass appeal. This relates very well to Kevin Durant. Without a question, the most popular player on the Thunder, KD is the unquestioned offensive leader of this team. At the same time, his affable personality and yeoman-like work ethic make it very easy for people to relate to him and admire him. In terms of production, everyone wants to see KD perform, just like everybody at a Wu concert wants to see Meth perform.

GZA/Genius is ………. Nick Collison. The veteran of the group, he’s the one that is always consistent with his flow. He never gets too high or too low. You know with the Genius what you are going to get every time out. Same thing with Collison. The veteran leader of this young crew, he keeps an even keel and you usually know what he’s going to provide night in and night out. And just like Collison is our no-stats MVP, if you ask any Wu fan who there no-stats MVP is, they would say it’s the GZA.

Ghostface Killah is……… James Harden. A mystery when the group first came on the scene, Ghost has come along as probably the 2nd most productive emcee of the group. Constantly working, he has carved out his own niche and has a huge following in the rap industry. With his witty word-play and rapid fire delivery, Ghost has made himself into a heavy-weight in the rap game. As our first lottery pick, Harden’s arrival on our team provided a bit of mystery. Would he supplant Thabo Sefolosha as the starting SG? Or would he be our main offensive weapon off the bench? Honestly, those questions are still a mystery 3 years in. But, Harden has acclimated himself very well in the league and is well on his way to becoming one of the top SG’s in the game.

Raekwon is……….Serge Ibaka. Raekwon is a lunch pail rapper. He puts in his work and goes home. When it comes to a rap group of 9, not everybody can rap on every song. But the guy that puts in the most work and has appeared on the most songs is definitely Rae. His ability to tell stories in rhyme form are what set him apart. Serge is one of the harder workers on the team, especially on the defensive end of the floor. His ability to guard the paint have made him a menace to opposing teams. Plus, his journey to the NBA is a great story that should be told.

Inspectah Deck is……….. Eric Maynor. Deck is the ultimate glue guy on the Wu-Tang roster. His verses can sometimes blow you away, but they can also, at times, leave you underwhelmed. This describes Eric Maynor at this point in his career. There are times where Maynor’s play leaves you awestruck and salivating for more (Game 2 of the WCF’s), but then there are games where you wonder if Maynor will ever shed the “back-up” tag.

U-God is……….Thabo Sefolosha. Don’t get me wrong. I love me some Uey. He brings some rough and rugged raps that hype you up. But his cadence and word play sometimes leave you wanting more. Which brings up to Thabo Sefolosha. Sef is primarily a great defensive player, but leaves you wanting a lot on the offensive end. He sometimes has a gem of a game, but he usually stays in the background and doesn’t add much other than defense.

Masta Killa is……..Kendrick Perkins. Were you really expecting anyone else to be compared with a guy who goes by the name of Masta Killa? Mostly a witty battle rapper, MK is usually good to drop a verse that will get the crowd hyped, but loses himself when he tries to venture into autobiographical or story-telling lyrics. If you want someone on the team to go to battle with, who else would you choose other than Perk? He’s our intimidator and presence on the interior. When he tries to do anything else other than be an intimidator, he usually ends up getting himself and the team in trouble.

Ol’ Dirty Bastard is ………..Nate Robinson and Reggie Jackson. The only guy in the group crazy enough to have two players compared to him. Before his death, ODB was the resident idiot savant of the group. Someone who rapped in outlandish ways, but somehow, it made sense in an ODB kind of way. In a room full of hyped rappers, he’s the one that brought the energy. To that respect, he’s very much like Nate Robinson. Watching Nate cheer the team on from the bench is a joy to watch as a spectator. The energy derived from him has to account for at least an extra 0.2 points per game. But ODB was also a mystery. As much information as he put out to his public, there was always an air of mystery surrounding Dirt McGirt. Which brings us to our 2011 draft pick, Reggie Jackson. What can this guy bring to the table for us? Based on his tools and style of play, he seems like a poor man’s Russell Westbrook. But will he play that way once the season starts?

Cappadonna is ………..Daequan Cook. Cappadonna is the Wu-Tang Clan’s unofficial 10th member. He usually on every album, but also fills in to form the core 9 whenever one of the members is missing (see: ODB’s incarceration and ODB’s death). Like Cappa, Daequan is our official 9th or 10th member off the bench. He does his job, and tries his hardest not to get in the way.

Streetlife is ………Nazr Mohammed. Streetlife is a protégés of Method Man who has found a niche as the Wu’s unofficial 11th member. He’s appeared on most Wu-related albums and comes up with very energetic verses. While not very energetic, Nazr does provide some scoring up in the post off the bench that sometimes comes in very handy.

The Wu-Tang Clan have been going strong in the rap business for almost 20 years now. They’ve had their ups and downs. They’ve faced triumphs and tragedies. But through it all, they’ve remained together. I know that sports teams will never remain together for that long, but if there is a suitable sports equivalent (> 7 years?), I would hope that the Thunder can achieve that and be successful in the process.

The Future Economics of the Lockout

When the owners first started complaining, we were in the beginning of a recession. You started to hear the whispers from the owners that big changes were needed about 3 seasons ago. And the players actually played along with that and actually stated that, “Yes, in this economy, some concessions would need to be made on their parts.” But, I’m pretty sure, their thinking was that by the time the players and the owners actually had to start negotiating (basically 3 years later) that the economy would have been fixed (or at least recovering) by then.

Fast forward to where we are now, and there are actually rumblings that we are entering an even worser recession. So instead of things improving, economically, they will probably begin to get worse for us fans in terms of disposable income. As an owner, if I see that the same system is being kept in place, and I want to stay competitive and get into or stay in the black, I may have to increase ticket prices. And that’s where this starts to affect me, as a John Q. Public fanatic.

You can talk about smart spending (in terms of a team) all you want. But, if you are completely honest with your self, you’ll know that we (the Thunder) got extremely lucky. Portland and OKC basically had the same formula. Tank for a couple seasons. Trade away horrible contracts for draft picks. Try to get lucky in the draft. We picked KD and Russ. They picked Oden and Roy. A couple knee surgeries later, and we are on the brink of becoming dynastic and Portland is on the brink of becoming one of those middle of the road teams (good enough to lose in the first round, but not bad enough to get a significant draft pick).

My question is, should Portland fans have to pay for the bad luck that has been bestowed on their team. Fans eventually tire of middle of the road teams. Once that happens, then those season ticket numbers start to decrease. Once that happens, an owner may be forced to increase ticket prices to meet his/her bottom line. Remember, this could have been OKC’s fate in some alternate universe.

Are you willing to continue paying (paying more) for a system that is broken? Do you know how much quicker Portland could bounce back, if they could’ve either cut Roy/Oden or restructured their deals? And remember, I’m not asking this because I necessarily want to see Portland become elite. I’m asking this because it could easily happen to OKC. As a small market team, you need to ride the highs for as long as possible and stay out of the middle to the lows for as long as possible. In this current system, a tweak of a knee here or a tweak of a back there, and we may be in the same boat.

Oh, and here’s one more thing about this recession talk. Its affecting the whole world, especially Europe. And that’s where it becomes bad for the players. There’s no other league in the world that can offer what the NBA offers. There are rumors that Kobe is looking to sign in Italy for $6.5 million. Do you know how much Kobe made last season? $25 million. And if you sign in China, you have to stay there for the entire season. So, while the “we can play and get paid overseas” thing sounded like a game-changer for the players, its actually enhancing the owners’ position.

So while I may love the NBA and may miss the game if some of the season is missed, I want a deal that keeps ticket prices as low as possible. I haven’t gotten a raise in 3 years at my job. If, for any reason, the owners were forced to hike up ticket prices in the near future, I’m screwed. If the owners and players were really progressive thinkers, they would sign a deal that tilts in the owners’ favor for the first half of the deal, and then tilts back in favor of the players towards the back end of the deal, with the option to revisit the results in the middle of the deal.