So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. You'll find takes on moments you might've missed from the previous night, along with ones you will remember forever.
RIP, King LeBron James, 1984-2013
As the minutes trickled away during last night's game, a relative non-fan of the NBA asked me the ages of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
"I think Kobe is 34."
"Oh, I thought he was 40!"
"And LeBron is 28, pretty sure."
"What? I thought he was much younger than that."
On cue, age evaporated. With three minutes remaining, Kobe recovered a missed James Harden layup, crossed Drunk Chris Bosh over, and scored an easy, slicing-away basket. Then he pressed LeBron in the backcourt, hounded him across half court, looked for a steal, and then recovered and blocked a 19-footer. The deflection poked ahead to a streaking Kevin Durant, who dunked. He jutted his chin in that way, and then grinned. "Forty-year-old Kobe" — at his 15th consecutive All-Star game, tied with Shaq for the second-most to Kareem's 18 — checked the Boy King and embarrassed him. Two minutes later, he did it again, stealing the ball with less than a minute to play and the game on the line. (One play later, he did it again, cleanly blocking a LeBron drive, though a foul was called erroneously. LeBron, thunderstruck, missed one of his two free throws.)
In case you were back out at the karaoke bar trying to redeem last night's off-key performance with a heartfelt rendition of "Ruby Tuesday," here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
The Indiana Pacers continued their hot play at home, downing the Miami Heat, 87-77. Paul George, who led the Pacers with 29 points, matched up with reigning NBA MVP LeBron James and said after the game, "It's a chance to for me to see where I'm at, going against one of the best, if not, the best in the league." When asked to rate George's performance, James said, "The dude from The Beatles? Nah, I don't like them very much." When told that he wasn't being asked about either Paul McCartney or George Harrison, James responded, "Oh, Canadian Prime Minister Paul George? Yeah, dude has some cool thoughts on tariffs and immigration. Bet you didn't think I knew that!" It was then explained to James that Stephen Harper is the Prime Minister of Canada, and that Paul George was his opponent in the basketball game he had played less than an hour earlier. "Oh, George Paul? James responded. "That dude kicked my butt tonight."
Kendrick Lamar is on a roll. After being anointed the new king of the West Coast by the AARP Cali rapper collective of Dr. Dre disciples, he went on to appear on Drake's Take Care, release perhaps the rap album of the year in good kid, m.A.A.d city (the rare "actually met unfairly high expectations" example), show out in the BET Cyphers, and most recently, hop on the "Who's Who of 2012" posse track "Fucken Problem" with Drake, A$AP Rocky, and Archbishop 2 Chainz.
We'll come back to these accolades in a moment, but for just a second let's talk about basketball. There's an expression in the sport: "heat check." It's used to describe a player taking a questionable shot, just to see how hot he really is. Proven players who tend to already have the "green light" aren't really the ones to worry about with regard to the heat check. It's more the ones who are surprising even themselves and are new to feeling so untouchable.
I bring all this up because this weekend was a perfect example of a rapper heat check, disguised by something seemingly very cool.
England abolished beheading as a method of execution for traitors in 1973. As a method of execution for Chelsea managers? Not so much. Running a soccer team for Roman Abramovich is like being a high-profile death-row inmate convicted on a shaky case. Right down to the final moment, your supporters are hoping, protesting, staging vigils, reviewing evidence. Injustice is decried; websites are thrown up. Doesn't matter. Sooner or later your moment arrives, a finger lifts in a shadowy stateroom, and the ax comes down.
Current Chelsea manager Roberto di Matteo, unlike previous Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas, is only a caretaker, but then all Chelsea managers are only caretakers; some of them are just aren't told. (Noted Chelsea fan Drake tried to warn them!)
The NBA All-Star Weekend took me back to my freshman year in high school. When you arrive on campus, you think you're the man. You dominated junior high, you had a killer summer at camp, and you've officially come into your own. The braces are off, you've just started doing pushups at night, you held a girl's hand at the movies once, mom started letting you shop for yourself at Marshalls, and all signs point toward a growth spurt.
But much like the experience of being a freshman in high school, the reality of my serf-like position at the bottom of the All-Star Weekend feudal system became quite clear within minutes of settling in at my hotel in Orlando. By the end of my first week of high school, I understood that the rest of the year would entail athletes and older guys looking over me without acknowledging my presence, girls my age acting completely disinterested, and older girls sitting around, hating on the younger girls.
At first, I was bummed out, mainly because I'm an only child and used to getting at least some form of attention. But as the weekend progressed, I realized my insignificance could actually be a blessing in disguise. In this sea of NBA players, NBA insiders, wannabe NBA insiders, celebrities, and wannabe celebrities, here I was, almost invisible.
My various badges and passes got me close to most of the action but not too close. I could always see what was going on, but my invisibility cloak had its limits. Too close, and my cover is blown and next thing I know, Gym Class Heroes and Jesse Jackson are giving me swirlies in the bathroom between second and third period. There was always a buffer zone of lameness that separated me from the beautiful people, but at the same time, if they had the ability to actually notice me, they would have been thoroughly creeped out by me, staring at them, jotting down notes, always dying of laughter.
My beat for the weekend was to always be around, keeping my head on a swivel, noticing when hilarity ensued, watching as celebrities interacted, and most importantly, guessing what they were talking about, based on who they were and their mannerisms. This sounds like an easy task, but at an event like the NBA All-Star Weekend, it can cause a serious case of carpal tunnel. The observations are seemingly endless.
1. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Nobody is going to call the Colts stiff competition (or competition, really), but Julio Jones played Sunday like a robot sent from the future to destroy us all. His falling catch in triple coverage is not something humans should be able to do.
2. Andre3000, rapper
Just so we're all clear if you make the album Stankonia and then show up on the new Drake album with the line, "Now that both of us are colorblind, ’cause the other side looks greener/Which leaves your turf in a Boise State, can’t see a play or the team," chances are you will find yourself very, very high in a power rankings list called Rankonia. Just FYI. Take care.
3. Drunk Falcons Fans
To finish off the ATL's grip on the top three, Rembert Browne, an Atlanta native and the Doris Kearns Goodwin of celebrity softball, brings this to our attention. Sayeth Rem: "Blue Laws Repealed! Sunday Alcohol Sales in Atlanta! Church Parking Lot Tailgates Galore! MATTY NATTY ICES FOR ALLLLLLLL."
4. Lenny Dykstra, investment consultant As suggested by our human frailty editor, David Jacoby. Dykstra is the "face" of one of the craziest sports-related stories you're going to come across all year. Dykstra was supposed to fight Jose Canseco in Hollywood this past weekend in an event that was organized by a Broomall, PA. man who is "no longer allowed to legally promote fights in Pennsylvania after pleading to charges of promoting without a license and fight-fixing" AND a Nigerian-born Internet mogul. This fight didn't happen and now Dykstra is saying he never even agreed to get into the squared circle with the one-time Bash Brother.
I'm personally shocked at all this. A fight promoter accused of fight-fixing? A Nigerian internet mogul? Stock market guru Lenny Dykstra? Jose Canseco? The table was set! All they had to do was eat the meal. Can't believe this didn't go off without a hitch.
5. Marcelo Bielsa, manager, Athletic Bilbao
For those who don't actively follow South American or Spanish football, a) what's wrong with you? and b) meet this genius. Bielsa, a one-time Argentina national coach who led Chile on a breathtaking World Cup run last summer, is now guiding the Basque team Athletic Bilbao.
After a rocky La Liga start, the eccentric tactical genius, who employs little-used formations like 3-3-1-3 and drills his players to play aesthetically beautiful and athletically demanding football, has righted Bilbao's ship and over the weekend he offered up a managerial masterclass against Barcelona, drawing with the La Liga and Champions League winners in what might have been the best football match of the European season, to date. Pep Guardiola, the Barcelona boss called the match, "un canto al futbol," an ode to the game, and said of Bielsa, "I would have liked to have played under him: he is different to everyone else."
7. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles might be slumping, but at least they have someone who can do this.
8. Pius Heinz, 2011 WSOP champion You gotta love a sport where the trophy presentation is actually a dude putting on a bracelet in what looks like a Birdman video. Nice work if you can bluff it.
9. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Got to love the visor. Got to love him because he's a man and he's 40. Got to love him because he teaches you how to Gundy.
But you mostly have to love him because after beating Kansas State this past weekend, in the shadow of the Game of the Century, Gundy had the stones to say, "I'm not so sure they shouldn't have been watching our game."
10. Yao Ming, college student
The average student height at Shanghai's Jiao Tong University just got a little taller. Sometimes it's important to remember that this guy was the absolute best. Yo! Yao!
Welcome to the first edition of Rankonia, The Triangle's power rankings. Usually these kinds of things celebrate team or individual excellence. We're going another route here — we're celebrating athletes, teams, and coaches whose performances, on or off the field, speak to us in a deep, profound way that we can only articulate through the format of ranking. If you have any nominations for next week, by all means, take it to that start-up site, Facebook, or shoot us an e-mail. To the rankings!