Tag Archives: Shaq

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.

5 for 5: Tragedies, Courtrooms, and Beginnings

kd russ

5 for 5: The Longest Shortest Season  |  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.

For the first defining moment, you have to, of course, start at the beginning. But, it’s not the beginning that you think. While the Thunder were established in 2008, the road to having them in OKC began in December 1994. It was during that time that Timothy McVeigh visited and decided that the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building would be the site of his mayhem.

After meticulously planning and gathering the necessary materials, McVeigh, and his accomplice Terry Nichols, put their plan into action for April of 1995. They rented a Ryder moving truck on April 15th in Kansas and packed it with its deadly payload on the 17th and 18th. The next day, they drove down to Oklahoma City where, at 9:02 AM, they detonated the 4,800 pound monster that resided inside of the Ryder truck. The blast completely dismantled the north side of the building leaving countless people injured and 168 dead in its wake. It was the deadliest terroristic attack on US soil that the nation had seen up to that point.

okc bomb

Once the smoke cleared though, the choice was clear. We would not stand to be known by the evil of the tragedy, but by the fortitude with which we recovered. We chose to be known by the way we rose together, instead of by the way we momentarily got knocked down. That mindset, which comes naturally to Oklahomans, galvanized us to remember those lost, while also promising them that we would rise stronger than before. The possibilities were there, but the question was how would be we get there?

While the Metropolitan Area Projects Plan (MAPS) had already been approved for by the beginning of 1994, the bombing acted as a catalyst to make MAPS a rousing success. One of the things that MAPS brought with it was a state of the art arena called the Ford Center that could host concerts and sporting events, especially hockey and basketball. Opening in 2002, the Ford Center served its purpose hosting top notch concerts, preseason basketball games, and minor league hockey. Continue reading 5 for 5: Tragedies, Courtrooms, and Beginnings

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.

Possibility of NBA players hooping overseas

The NBA players and owners currently find themselves in a labor dispute, in which the owners locked the players out on July 1st. This is your basic negotiating ploy by the owners to bleed the players until they finally succumb to “poverty” and come back to the negotiating table with less of a leg to stand on. It happens in every labor dispute where players are locked out. The players, especially mid-tier players and below (aka the majority), eventually run out of revenue streams and plead with the union head to try and strike a deal, regardless of how bad it is. But what happens if the revenue stream doesn’t stop for some of those players? What happens if a small contingent of those players happen to find an alternate source of income that can supplement them through the “tough” times? This is the owners’ worst nightmare and something that no ownership group in any of the 4 major US sports has ever faced.

One of the major differences in this lockout and the ’99 lockout is the availability of leagues that offers comparable salaries and unique fringe benefits. The only drawback to those perks is the fact that the leagues are located throughout Europe and Asia. In an effort to keep up with the popularity of the NBA, basketball leagues throughout Eurasia have flourished with an organized govererning body (FIBA) and leagues and owners that are awashed with money. David Stern’s masterplan as NBA commissioner (globalization of his product), may now become one of his biggest nightmares in this labor dispute.

Globalization of Basketball

Blame it on one of the owners at the negotiating table. Michael Jordan’s meteoric rise in popularity coincided with many world events that brought American culture to the forefront on many foreign lands. The end of the Cold War, the advent of the internet and affordable satellite TV, and global capitalism all came together at the right time to foster an environment where the star of someone could shine brightest. Michael Jordan became the right guy at the right time and the NBA piggy-backed off of that. Then the Dream Team happened.

David Stern made sure to capitalize on the popularity of the Dream Team, and capitalize he has. While baseball remains a popular sport around the world, it is still mainly focused in the US, Latin American, and Japan. Hockey doesn’t really appeal to anyone who lives below the 50º N line on the map. And football, while extremely popular here, has never really taken off anywhere outside of the US. With its visible players, cheap equipment (trash can and paper, if necessary), ability to be a team sport or an individual activity, and uptempo pace, Stern has taken advantage of a product that can, and has, appealed to many. On top of that, most teams now have at least one foreign born player, with some of those players being bonafied superstars. And, add to that the fact that the NBA has taken advantage of technology and social media, in a way that no other sport has, and you have the makings of a global sport.

The globalization of the sport has a trickle down effect on other industries as well. With more and more foreigners wanting to buy their favorite player’s products, it was only a matter of time before companies
starting sending their product pushers over for promotional tours. We’ve seen Kevin Durant start making annual pilgrimages to China to promote his products. We’ve seen Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and Dwayne Wade all make trips abroad to promote their products. We’ve seen the NBA send players over as goodwill ambassadors to impoverished areas (Basketball Without Borders). We’ve seen preseason contests between NBA teams and Euroleague teams, and we’ve seen preseason and regular season games played abroad. While this has been good for the brand, it has also taken away the isolationist advantage that owners once held on American players.

The Boogeyman isn’t that scary anymore

While there have been some great American players that have played overseas (Bill Bradley, Mike D’Antoni), most American players are overseas for one of two reasons; either they weren’t good enough to play in the NBA, but good enough to play overseas, or the money overseas was too good to pass up. In the past, American players did not go overseas because they wanted to play overseas. They went because it was the best option.

Brandon Jennings completely changed the game with his decision to forgo his freshman year in college, and instead, play in the Euroleague with Italian club Lottomatica Roma. After that one season, he was
drafted in the top 10 and has gone on to have a successful NBA career. During his time in Italy, he was not taken to a back alley and beaten by punks who were speaking a language he did not understand. He was not taken advantage of by foreign swindlers looking to make a quick buck. Instead, he was treated like any other rookie player and had to earn his playing time. He earned $1.65 million (tax-free!!) in salary AND was given $2 million by UnderArmour to promote their product overseas. And he was all of 19 years old.

With the advent of social media, 24/7 news, the Travel Channel, and easier accessibility, the world that used to seem so big 10 years ago, has now gotten exponentially smaller. The veil of secrecy that covered some places has now been lifted by this basketball globalization. This generation of players was raised in a smaller world, technologically speaking. Those encyclopedia pictures of some obscure land from the past, are now live satellite feeds on YahooMaps. They haven’t been influenced by the Cold War to fear anything across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Instead, they have been influenced by the Dream Team and their foreign teammates to explore the possibilities.

And look at what some of these teams are offering. Millions of dollars tax free. Free living quarters. Chauffeurs. Access to top chefs. Partial ownership in the team while there. It’s a plethora of abundance. Of course, players like Sonny Weems and Jannero Pargo aren’t being offered this entire deal, but players like Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, etc, would definitely be offered this deal. And those players would take it. Players with little, to no, baggage (i.e. wife, kids, etc) would love this opportunity. Players with families would treat it as a regular season, but a little further away. Its already known that some players don’t live where they play, especially if they are year to year veterans.

You don’t think Deron Williams spoke to ex-teammate Mehmet Okur or to ex-NBA great Allen Iverson about Turkey before making his decision to sign with Turkish club Beşiktaş? You don’t think that Kevin Durant and his people have developed contacts in China with his annual trips down there? Can you imagine how big KD would be in China if he played a couple games there with one of their clubs? While he plays in the one of the NBA’s smaller markets, in OKC, that wouldn’t really matter if he had a billion supporters in China. He’d be guaranteed the starting small forward in the All Star Game for the next 15 years. There’s already been chatter about Dwight Howard playing overseas if the lockout starts taking games away. He would conquer a market that Shaq never did, and you know he’d enjoying rubbing that into the Diesel’s face. The possibilities are all there. The fear that used to permeate their view of the world is no longer there. Deron Williams was the first domino to fall. Who will be next?