Tag Archives: lockout

5 for 5: The Longest Shortest Season

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5 for 5: Tragedies, Courtrooms, and Beginnings | 5 for 5: The Rivalries  |  5 for 5: The Run  |  5 for 5: The Thunder’s Godfather

This past season, the Oklahoma City Thunder completed their 5th season in the state of Oklahoma. In a world dominated by round numbers, getting to the midway point is always a cause for celebration. In any relationship, you look back at key moments that made it possible to arrive at certain anniversary marks. In the next few weeks heading into training camp, I’ll be looking at 5 defining moments that made it possible for the Thunder to not only roar into the Plains, but also to do it in winning fashion.

The first part of this series focused on the beginnings of the Thunder organization in Oklahoma  City. For the second part of the series, I want to focus on what was the apex for these first five years of Thunder basketball, the 2012 NBA Finals. For a little comparative perspective, there are 9 NBA teams (in their current city/team format) that have never reached the NBA Finals. The Toronto Raptors, Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings, Memphis Grizzlies, Charlotte Bobcats, Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, and New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans have never tasted the fine champagne of a conference championship. I’m excluding the Brooklyn Nets from the list because they’ve only been in Brooklyn for one season and went to the Finals as the New Jersey Nets twice. The proximity of Brooklyn, NY to Newark, NJ (about 15 miles apart) negates a huge change of fan base because of distance. I’m also excluding the Washington Wizards because they made it to the Finals as the Bullets, but decided to change the team’s name in 1997 due to the negative connotation between actual bullets and WashingtonDC being mentioned in the 90’s as the murder capital of the US.

The road to the Finals that season was like the Grateful Dead’s greatest hits album; that is to say a long, strange trip. To begin with, it was a season that almost never was. Although this lockout never reached the DEFCON 4 levels the ’98-‘99 lockout did, it was still nerve-wracking to watch every labor meeting end with the two sides having separate press conferences to disparage the other side. It was like watching your parents, after a nasty divorce, arguing over your custody.

nba lockout

When you are a fan of a team that is drastically improving and just entering the prime of its championship window, the last thing you want is a work stoppage. Anything that cuts into a year of your team’s development when you are close to becoming a perennial contender is the ultimate of detriments. The chemistry built from the previous seasons basically gets thrown out the window if players are allowed to sit for 15-18 months with no access to team coaches or trainers. Not to mention, the veteran players would be a year older and there would be a ton of questions regarding roster moves.

But alas, on November 26th, 2011, after months of hearing about BRI, luxury tax, hard caps, and mid-level exceptions, cooler heads prevailed and an agreement was reached between the NBA and the players’ union. Instead of playing an entire 82 game schedule, the regular season would be trimmed to 66 games with the first day of the season beginning on Christmas. If seeing your team in the NBA Finals is Christmas in June, then seeing the NBA come back from a lockout was, literally, Christmas on Christmas. Continue reading 5 for 5: The Longest Shortest Season

Occupy NBA: How Twitter helped the fans have a voice in this lockout.

In watching some of the pointless Occupy ____(insert city)____ protests that have gone on for the past month and a half, I have sometimes wondered what it would look like if NBA fans staged their own Occupy NBA protest during the lockout. Would we march at the hotel that the players’ union and owners were meeting at in New York? Or at NBA HQ in New York? Or at the court house in Minnesota where the anti-trust lawsuits would be taking place at? Instead of hippies and out of work yuppies, I could see a whole bunch of middle-aged men with their basketball jerseys on, dribbling basketballs throughout the parking lot. I could see young men trucking in portable goals and holding 3 on 3 tournaments in protest of the lockout. I could see someone bringing out a boombox and jamming to John Tesh’s Roundball Rock. But alas, that takes too much time and money to protest like that, and NBA fans have to do something to pay for the season tickets and NBA League Pass that they have. Instead, NBA fans protested in a new manner. They took their protesting to Twitter. And you know what, it actually had an impact. 

Twitter and the NBA is a match made in heaven. In all of the sport leagues, NBA players are the most accessible. They don’t wear helmets so it’s easy to see and recognize the players. They don’t have heavy armor on, so it’s easy for fans to try and dissect the meaning of their tattoos and get deeper into the psyche of that player. Because of this, NBA fans develop more of a connection, whether real or fantasized, with players than do the fans of other sports leagues. I love the Oklahoma Sooners football team, but I couldn’t pick their center, Ben Habern, out of a lineup if I tried. But I could recognize Minnesota’s back up center (Nikola Pekovic) in a crowded mall if I saw him. 

Another thing that is instantly recognizable about the NBA and its players through Twitter, is that they are all friends. The basketball culture is completely different than the football culture and the baseball culture. Because these players have been playing together in AAU and cross country camps for the better part of their high school careers, there develops a strong common bond that unites these players together as they move on in their respective basketball journeys. And it becomes very apparent on Twitter, as players from different teams communicate with each other more often then they they probably do with their own mothers. 

When you add the fact that fans can now actually communicate with your favorite players, that brings NBA fandom to another level. So, it was only a matter of time before NBA fans would take to Twitter to a) express their displeasure with the lockout or b) express their support to the players. Most players dismissed anything the fans said, but some players, Thunder center Nazr Mohammed, in particular, took to the Twitter-waves to quell any misunderstandings and explain to fans exactly what the players had given up and why they were fighting so hard. For a while, this actually worked in the players’ favor, as they were getting most of the public sentiment. But as the lockout dragged on, fans, and even some players, grew more and more frustrated, and took to the Twitter-waves to express that angst. 

But not only were fans and players able to use Twitter to express their feelings, basketball sportswriters also became primetime commodities during the lockout, especially when there was a meeting between the two sides happening. What used to be interesting tidbits that would appear in books written 10 years after an event, became instant news once it happens (i.e. Dwayne Wade’s blow-up against David Stern, Stern going home with the flu, Michael Jordan going all Scarface on the players that adored him and playing “the bad guy”, the players’ “STAND” shirts, etc.). Howard Beck, David Aldridge, Marc Stein, Larry Coon, and Chris Sheridan all became my new best friends every time the two sides had one of their meetings. These sportswriters provided a riveting play by play of legal negotiations as they were happening. They gave the back drops to what was going on, like who stepped out and why they stepped out. I, for one, took it all in. I was entranced by these negotiations and found myself almost wanting the lockout to continue so that I could “hear” the play by play of the negotiations by the sportswriters. Plus it was fun to hear FalseHoop and his followers come up with #ReasonsForLongLockoutMeeting. 

This all led to instant fan reaction. There was no need for sportswriters to put up surveys or take polls. The pulse of the fans was on full display, live and direct, with their tweets of displeasure and support. After each meeting that ended in disappointment, the pulse of the fans became more and more frustrated. Even worse for the NBA, some of the fans were becoming more and more apathetic. Don’t discount for a second the impact this had on Stern and the owners. With all the talk of a nuclear winter, the NBA did not want to turn into the NHL and have to play games on ION or SiTV when they came back a year or two later. Instead, they went back to the table, made a couple concessions, made the players feel better, and came to an agreement. And guess where I heard it first…….on Twitter.

Alternate endings

So what were you doing at 2:20 in the morning on Saturday, November 26th, 2011? As an avid NBA fan, I was torturing myself keeping up with the on-going Twitter feeds from my favorite NBA writers. I had seen this movie at least a dozen times in the past 2 months and I knew how it was going to end. Two separate news conferences held one after the other to advise that either a) they had made some progress and would continue the talks the next day or b) they had made no progress and were not planning any more meetings at that time. It’s like watching that one movie that always comes on during the weekends on TBS, USA, or TNT that always catches your attention to the point where you stop what you are doing and waste 2 hours of your life watching something that you’ve already seen 30 times before. 

I got home after work and started watching one of the movies I had saved on the DVR when we got HBO free for one week about 6 months ago. Mind you, I got home at midnight and knew the talks would probably be over soon there afterwards. So I started watching a movie called Knight and Day. Okay movies. Has more lows than highs, but was able to spy on the phone every 15 minutes to check my Twitter feed. After about an hour of this crap-tastic movie, I deleted it and started watching Bird highlights on NBATV, hoping that they would have updates. To my surprise, apparently the anchors there stop working at about 10 PM. I was hoping to see Kamla, Smitty, and D.Scott’s lockout beard. Instead I got Bird highlights, which isn’t a bad thing, but not what I was hoping for. 

Finally, at about 2:15 AM, I got the tweets I had been waiting for since October 1st. “Lockout is tentatively over.” “Tentative agreement; Lockout over” so on and so forth. I just stood up and put my arms up like Perk did against some team late last season while Russ was throwing down a transition dunk to seal the game. I’m so glad my wife didn’t wake up and go to the living at that time. It would have been a bit awkward to have to explain to her that I was celebrating the end of a labor fight. 

So the movie I was really watching last night (the negotiations) had an alternate ending. Honestly, as a newly minted movie critic, I think this ending should have been the regular ending. It is what it is, though. We’ve lost “16” games and we’ll get back 66 hopefully starting on Christmas Day.  Thankfully, there’s one less thing I have to ask Santa Claus for this year.

Wu-Tang vs. OKC Thunder

 

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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.