It has been quite a year for [clears throat] LARRY SANDERS!. He broke out last season, blowing away his previous minutes totals, cutting his once astronomical foul rate, cleaning the defensive glass, and scaring the hell out of any opponent who dared enter the lane. Milwaukee’s defense collapsed whenever SANDERS! hit the bench, and his rare combination of elite rim protection and deft footwork against the pick-and-roll earned him a monster extension that kicks in next season. He is now the face of the Milwaukee Bucks, as strange as that sounds.
The debut of the funky-as-ever Bucks did not go well Wednesday night against the Knicks. Brandon Knight tweaked his hamstring less than two minutes into the game, SANDERS! barely played because of foul trouble (that old bugaboo), and a feisty group of reserves couldn’t complete a comeback down the stretch.
After the game, SANDERS! sat down for an extended one-on-one with Grantland. What follows is an edited transcript of our chat.
Jeremy Lin is pushing the ball up the floor at a hellacious pace. Confronted with one defender near the free throw line, then another to his left, and later a third to his right, Lin picks up the ball, spins around and between all three bodies, and softly lofts a layup that touches off the glass and falls straight through the hoop. If that image conjures memories of the winding, spinning banker Lin dropped over Derek Fisher, Troy Murphy, and Matt Barnes in his 38-point, seven-assist masterpiece against the Los Angeles Lakers, you’re not alone. But this footage wasn’t taken from Lin’s sensational February 2012 run of play in Madison Square Garden and other arenas around the NBA; it was from his preteen YMCA days in northern California.
Linsanity, the Evan Jackson Leong–directed documentary about Lin’s life and career, was originally conceived as an idea for a six-episode web series but eventually morphed into so much more. The 88-minute feature film charts Lin’s rise from under-recruited high school stud to worldwide phenomenon, making sure to cover his stints as an Ivy League superstar, NBA benchwarmer, frustrated D-Leaguer, and everything else in between.
Interspersed with footage from his youth, high school, college, D-League, and NBA games are revealing interviews with Lin’s mother and father; his two brothers; various coaches and front-office personnel from high school, college, and the NBA; media members who covered Lin at Harvard or in his NBA career; and Lin himself. While the film studiously chronicles Lin’s rise as a basketball player, it also takes time to let viewers glimpse a bit of his personality.
Lin’s proud Christianity is an indelible part of his image and obviously permeates the film’s themes of faith and perseverance, but his love of The Lion King (as recently as his rookie season, Lin still had a blanket from his childhood with images of Simba, Nala, Timon, and Pumba on it), aversion to doing laundry (“If I don’t do laundry now, I definitely won’t do it when I’m married”), hilariously bad singing voice (the footage of Lin and his mother butchering karaoke on a family trip to Taiwan is far and away the film’s funniest moment), and talent for the piano are some of his lesser-known qualities that the film brings to light.
Grantland had the opportunity to discuss the film, the process, and the parallel rises of subject and project in one-on-one sit-downs with producer Brian Yang and director Evan Jackson Leong a few weeks ago. What follows is an edited transcript of our chats.
The Washington State Cougars followed up Mike Leach's 3-9 inaugural campaign with a season-opening loss to Auburn, only to turn around the next week and upset then–no. 25 USC in the Coliseum. After a walkover victory against Southern Utah and a sloppy but significant rivalry win against Idaho, Wazzu will play no. 5 Stanford this Saturday night in Pullman Seattle.
Below, excerpts from a recent evening in Washington State's war room, where Leach's staff is preparing for the Cardinal.
As somebody who's familiar with having your own words used against you, what do you make of Bo Pelini's situation?
That's unbelievable. Whoever did it's gonna have a pretty tough time getting another job, you'd think.
The National Football League is big business, which is a stunningly obvious, relatively unhelpful thing to write, unless you're talking about the NFL in the United Kingdom, where Roger Goodell and the owners are making a conscious effort to expand the game. There are the matches at Wembley Stadium, the talk of a team based in London, and other initiatives. Across the pond, the game is growing.
On August 28, the sport gets its own publication there. Matthew Sherry, a journalist for the Press Association (the British AP), is launching Gridiron, a digital magazine focused on the NFL and targeted to the U.K. audience. The debut issue, which costs £3 (roughly $4.70), features interviews with Adrian Peterson, Andrew Luck, and John Harbaugh, and columns from Sky Sports' Neil Reynolds and freelancer Paolo Bandini. Although only one issue of Gridiron is currently planned, Sherry hopes to make the publication a full-time job if it gains enough traction.
We e-mailed with the editor — who coincidentally shares a name with a Cincinnati Bengals tight end — about the state of the game abroad, the decision to launch a magazine, and why football in the U.K. is like soccer in America.
Joe Dumars has been Detroit’s top decision-maker for 13 years, and, holy cow, what a 13 years it has been for the franchise. Over this stretch, Dumars has experienced the end of the Grant Hill era; the related and visionary Ben Wallace theft; the surprisingly effective Rip Hamilton–Jerry Stackhouse swap; the magical 2004 title run; the Malice at the Palace; a heartbreaking seven-game loss in the 2005 Finals (Robert Horry was involved); six straight conference finals appearances (think about that); the highly controversial Chauncey Billups–Allen Iverson trade; the 2009 free-agency splurge the entire city of Detroit has agreed never to mention again; and a slow, painful rebuild during which attendance dropped to league-worst levels and Detroit became the consensus “league’s most boring team” — even as they quietly drafted very well outside the top five.
Suddenly, bam: The Pistons are the NBA’s new League Pass darling. Everyone wants to see the Andre Drummond dunk fest, and how three guys who need the ball — Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, and Greg Monroe — will coexist in lineups that will struggle for spacing. The Pistons have somehow become the most captivating non-contender while acquiring two big-money players most fans seem to find frustrating more than anything else.
After a weekend watching prospects at Adidas Nations in Los Angeles, Dumars took a break and chatted at length one-on-one with Grantland. What follows is an edited transcript of our chat.
You may have heard about Steve Nash “trying out” for Inter Milan, the Italian soccer powerhouse competing, along with seven other teams, in the Guinness International Champions Cup starting next week. The tryout, which isn’t a real tryout, is among many promotional events scheduled in the lead-up to the tournament. Nash sat down for an extended one-on-one with Grantland a few hours before the tryout to discuss his basketball philosophy, the Lakers’ future, the Spurs’ near championship, Dwight Howard, and lots more. What follows is an edited transcript of our chat.
It was not surprising to walk in the gym here in Las Vegas, nearly 90 minutes before tipoff of Thursday’s first Summer League game, and find Tom Thibodeau already sitting courtside, the first NBA higher-up in the building. Thibodeau is a legendary basketball junkie, fresh off one of the most successful three-season spans of any first-time NBA head coach. The principles of the defense he helped pioneer in Boston during the Celtics’ 2008 championship run have spread around the league, and Thibodeau’s ability to coax his players into almost maniacally consistent adherence to those rules is a major reason Chicago kept winning games last season amid an unending flood of injuries. With Derrick Rose set to return next season at full health, the Bulls look primed to resume their fierce pursuit of Miami’s perch atop the Eastern Conference.
Thibodeau sat down with Grantland for an extensive one-on-one about all things Bulls — but not all things Thibodeau.
The Suns, by any measure besides championship banners, are one of the most successful franchises in NBA history. They missed the playoffs just seven times from 1975-76 through 2009-10, with 19 50-win seasons in that span. But they’ve missed the playoffs three straight years now. Last season, the first of the post–Steve Nash era, might rank as the most depressing in the modern history of the team. Phoenix has since acquired Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler in a three-team sign-and-trade that Phoenix hatched with Milwaukee and the Clippers, but they still figure to be among the dregs of the league as a new regime enters an earnest rebuild.
The Suns, like several others in this crazy summer of coaching hires, settled on a first-time head coach to helm that rebuild — Jeff Hornacek, the sweet-shooting combo guard who played a crucial role on the 1980s Suns and 1990s Jazz. Hornacek got the head job in Phoenix after a half-decade as an assistant in Utah, where he began as Andrei Kirilenko’s shooting coach. He spoke one-on-one with Grantland in Las Vegas this week about the challenges ahead.
Ryan McDonough, the team’s new GM, says you blew him away in the interview process with your preparation — your knowledge of the team’s roster, and your plans for how the team should play, especially on offense. So: What’s that offense going to look like after a year of struggling to find an identity without Nash?
George Gervin is a true NBA and ABA legend, a four-time scoring champion, 14th all-time in total points scored between the two leagues, and the most famous practitioner of the finger roll. He played nearly his whole career in San Antonio after the Virginia Squires, his original ABA team, dealt him to the Spurs in a controversial deal some owners tried to block. The deal created one of the league’s forgotten great teams, but it also robbed the world of a prolonged look at a Julius Erving–Gervin pairing with the Squires.
Gervin still lives in San Antonio, and he’s a fixture here at charity events, Spurs games, and all over the place. He has popped up on NBA TV during the Finals for some on-camera analysis, and he stopped to chat one-on-one with Grantland before Game 4. Here’s a transcript of our chat.
It has been a weird six weeks for the Pacers. They’re a middling 11-9 in their last 20 games, and their vaunted defense, the stingiest in the league, has slipped a bit in the last three weeks, partly because George Hill is battling hip and groin issues. They swept a four-game road trip that included strong wins in Dallas, Houston, and in L.A. against the Clippers, but they’ve also had some concerning losses — at home to the Lakers and Thunder, the latter in convincing fashion; a tough roadie in Chicago, and then puzzling road losses in Philadelphia and Washington. Toss in a close home loss to the scorching Nets and a miracle home comeback against the pathetic Cavs, and it has been hard to read Indiana of late.
It was a good moment, in other words, to chat at length with Frank Vogel about the state of his team. Vogel spent time with Grantland after Indiana’s loss in New York on Sunday, and it’s clear he is very confident about the Pacers. What follows is an edited transcript of our chat.
You guys ranked 29th in points per possession in mid-January, which is not all that long ago. But you’ve been something like 10th or 11th since the All-Star break. What happened? Is it as simple as Roy Hibbert finding his game again?
Part of it is that Roy has gotten right. But Paul George has fallen off now in the last few weeks, so we’ve gotta make sure everyone is clicking at the same time. But we’ve got a lot of offensive weapons. Lance growing into his role, Paul growing into his role, and just getting more familiar with our bench — that has all factored us into being pretty good offensively.
The last time I had seen Roy Hibbert at Madison Square Garden, in mid-November, he was as dejected as any player I’d ever seen. Hibbert is a candid, funny guy — he was on Parks and Recreation, after all — and he admitted to enjoying Grantland’s long profile of him last season. But he just wasn’t up for talking that day. He was in the middle of a horrendous slump that had him shooting below 38 percent well into December, unacceptable for any big man, let alone one who had just signed a post-rookie maximum contract. He had no explanation for what was going on back in mid-November. He just stared at the floor, barely making eye contact, shrugged, and said he was missing the same shots he was making last season. He had no clue why.
He figured out what was going on in mid-December, and he’s been shooting about 48 percent since — not great, but plenty good enough, considering what Hibbert brings on the other end. A much happier Hibbert sat down with Grantland before the Pacers’ loss Sunday in New York. Here’s an edited transcript of our chat.
You were so dejected the last time we talked at length. You had no clue why you couldn’t make shots. But you’re basically fine now. What changed?
On Sunday, Bradley Beal played in only his fourth game since March 3, and his first since March 20, after being sidelined with ankle issues. His return and continued chemistry with John Wall — playing like he really, really wants that max contract — were basically the only reasons to watch one of those sad late-season games between lottery teams when Toronto visited Washington on Sunday. Beal did not disappoint, racking up 24 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including a blistering 6-of-9 from 3-point range, with a good chunk of those 3’s coming when Wall ran a high pick-and-roll and kicked to Beal on the weak-side corner.
That's basically what Washington envisioned when they snagged Beal with the no. 3 pick in last year’s draft. But Wall began the season injured, and Beal had to carry too much, too soon as a key cog of what was then the league’s worst offense by a considerable margin. When the calendar flipped to 2013, Beal was shooting under 40 percent overall and a hair below 30 percent from 3-point range; critics were ready to dub him the latest Washington draft bust.
But he's been on fire since Wall’s return. He’s shooting 48 percent overall, and 50.8 percent percent from 3, when he’s on the floor with Washington’s franchise point guard, and a much higher share of his attempts in those Wall minutes come from the tastiest spots — the corners and the restricted area, per NBA.com.
After his rousing return, Beal sat down (or stood up, actually) for an extended one-on-one with Grantland.
It's been an eventful two months for Lionel Hollins. Michael Heisley, the Grizzlies’ longtime owner, sold the team to Robert Pera and Jason Levien (among others), and the new group almost immediately overhauled the team’s front office. The new regime shifted Chris Wallace, the team’s GM, into more of a background role, and empowered newcomers such as Stu Lash (a former agent) and ex-ESPN.com analytics guru John Hollinger. The changes prompted Hollins to question the prominence of analytics in coaching decisions. Hollins told reporters in January he wanted Rudy Gay to stay, but the new front office dealt Gay anyway in a deal that brought back Ed Davis and Tayshaun Prince. The Grizz lost three of their first four games after the trade, prompting another clever Hollins quip about small-market realities and general panic among the pro-Rudy portion of Memphis’s fan base.
But then things calmed down. Memphis is now in the thick of the most exciting postseason race — not the “who can lose the least number of games?” limp-fest for the no. 8 spot, but rather the ultra-competitive race for the coveted no. 3 slot between Denver, Memphis, and the Clippers. Hollins visited with Grantland this week to talk about life in a post-Rudy world, Tony Allen’s defense, my man-crush on Marc Gasol, and everything else Grizz.
The unthinkable has happened: Jason Giambi has become a grand old man of baseball. There was a time when Cleveland's designated hitter seemed like he’d remain frozen in the early 2000s, the relic of a goofier, more exuberant time. Giambi was an OBP warrior (praised in Moneyball), a confessed steroids user (unmasked in Juiced), and the recipient of a $120 million free-agent deal back when the Yankees were still passing them out.
But here is Giambi standing at his locker at age 42. He is graying. He uses “tutelage” as a verb to describe his role as a mentor. After a close call in Colorado last season, he's intent on becoming a manager. Herewith, Giambi talks about becoming old and respectable.
"He’s a guy who likes to communicate,” Nolan Ryan once said of C.J. Wilson. That's reason no. 1 why Wilson, the Angels lefty, is my favorite working baseball player. Reason no. 2 is even more important. C.J. Wilson is a guy who likes to think.
Wilson and I met two years ago at spring training. I told him I'd like to talk to him about writing (Wilson had a well-known writing interest) and a day later we spent an hour and a half at a Starbucks, talking about novels and screenplays and magazine articles and how they came together. I felt inspired. I really did. It was like attending Robert McKee’s Story Seminar with Jim Bouton.
I got ahold of Wilson after he'd made his first exhibition start. We said our hellos. And then, with the utmost sincerity, he asked, “So, what do you want to talk about?”