If there was a Year 1 winner when the Nets moved to Brooklyn, it was the Modell's on Flatbush Avenue that sits across the street from the Barclays Center. What was formerly a rundown sporting goods store with little on the shelves transformed itself into a bright beacon of fluorescent light featuring row upon row of apparel sporting the logo of the borough's newest franchise.
Ninety minutes before Brooklyn opened its 2013-14 home schedule against the Miami Heat, a few dozen people milled about Modell's. I asked a casher if Nets stuff was selling fast. "Of course. It's the first day of the season. They are going to buy it all," she told me in an optimistic tone that sounded like the party line. I looked around. They were not buying it all. One guy inquired about two Nets hats; almost everyone else seemed more interested in purchasing soccer balls or asking about the length of the crew socks. An employee stocking the shelves said it wasn't nearly as busy as the season opener last year. His take: The jerseys were too expensive and no one had any money. If the Nets won, however, the fans would come back after the game to buy something.
Imagine you're at a party. It's a pretty midsize affair; there are enough people — say 20 — that you can legit call it a party, but it's not like it's raging. You know these people and you like them, but you're ultimately a little bored with them.
Then some guy wearing streetwear that hasn't been cool since 2009 comes storming in, carrying a case of Grey Goose and a bag of mixers, and announces that everyone is eating pizza for free. He screams, "WE IN THIS BITCH." This guy is an idiot, but you are charmed and intrigued because at least he's new.
In case you were busy getting way too excited about preseason football, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
The reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens sent a message to the league with a 44-16 preseason win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their preseason opener. That message: "Dearest League, has it really been seven months since we last corresponded? That fateful evening in the Newest Orleans feels like no more than a fortnight ago. Brother was set upon brother, darkness came down upon us all, and yet at the end of the evening, 'twas our manicured fingers gripping the statue of Lombardi aloft. Now time hath passed like sands through the fingers of an hourglass. So much hath transpired! Friends, once dear, have ambled off into the arms of others, or, in the case of King Lewis LII, have ambled out of arms altogether. Our dearest Skinny Joe has been handsomely rewarded with a chest of doubloons. But tonight we wanted to speak softly in your ear and remind you, the league, that we remain always your Ravens. With charms aplenty, Baltimore."
In Part 1 of 2, Bill dials up ESPN's Matthew Berry to talk about Dwight Howard leaving the Lakers. Then Bill's dad comes on to talk about rebuilding the Celtics and the Boston sports scene. In Part 2, Bill talks to Grantland's Zach Lowe about the moves in NBA free agency before the two recap the NBA Finals.
To listen to these podcasts, download them on iTunes here, or to listen at the ESPN.com Podcenter, click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.
I can’t even imagine how you’re feeling this morning. The fact that Ainge went ahead and did it last night — blew up the Boston Celtics — is hard enough for a fan like me to stomach. Like any other C's partisan with two eyes and a heart, I long ago fell in love with you both. Paul: Our relationship was epic, stormy, spotty, often bittersweet. But it revealed itself, in the end, to be triumphant and true. Kevin: I’ve known you for only six years. Six years! Can you believe it? It feels like forever. And that’s because, in that time, you taught me it doesn’t actually have to take decades for an unbreakable bond to take root; sometimes, it only takes the span of a few emphatic forehead blows to a thinly padded stanchion. And so the fact that you won’t be retiring as Celtics is something I’ll have to process for a bit.
But for you, this is real life. I presume the two of you, at some point last night, huddled together and conjointly decided whether Kevin would waive his no-trade clause and allow this to happen. Surely, you wanted to stay in Boston; surely, you knew doing so might have been detrimental to both yourselves and the team. You didn’t want it to end this way. But you knew it had to. And now here come the particulars: calling the movers, figuring out new school districts for the kids, saying good-bye to friends who’d become as close as family.
Amid all that hullabaloo, as you make your move to Brooklyn, I’d like to try simplify one thing for you: Would you like to come and live with me?
"You can add it up. I don't want to do your job, but for me it's most important to have a championship.”
Those are the words of Mikhail Prokhorov from last September, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for his new billion-dollar arena, in regard to his Nets paying the luxury tax. Last offseason, Brooklyn made a series of headline-stealing, big-money moves to assemble a core of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez, all of which came with a hefty price tag (the Nets' payroll was $87.65 million last season), but one that also clearly stated the boss’s intentions. And if Prokhorov’s win-now approach was already on display then, it’s really on display now.
In case you were out tasting wine with other beautiful people in France, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
In a surprising turn of events, the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Anthony Bennett with the first pick of the NBA draft. Victor Oladipo went second to the Magic, and Otto Porter Jr., Cody Zeller, and Alex Len rounded out the top five. Nerlens Noel, who many thought would go first, dropped all the way to sixth, and the Kentucky big man vowed to "make them pay" for the snub. He was as good as his word; just hours later, he filed a lawsuit seeking $20 million in emotional damages from all five teams.
Sources reported that the Celtics and Nets have worked out a blockbuster deal that will send Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn in exchange for future draft picks and a smattering of players that includes Gerald Wallace. "I didn't want to be the oldest guy on the team," explained new Nets coach Jason Kidd. "It makes me feel insecure and gross."
Derek Holland hurled a two-hit shutout, and the Rangers beat the Yankees, 2-0, to win the three-game series. Good news, readers: This is a "choose-your-own-reference" joke! It's totally up to you whether the pun-based punch line involves a reference to "Mr. Holland's Opus," the Holland Tunnel, or famed English musician Jools Holland. Once you've decided, more good news: It's also a "write-your-own-joke" joke! So take that reference, use it to construct your own joke, and then send it in to win a prize. (I'm just kidding, there's no prize. Once you're done writing the joke, just sit around feeling the oppressive emptiness of life.)
Let the record show that we always made fun of Ubuntu. The gradual disintegration of the Celtics’ Big Three era — which hit another milestone this weekend with Doc Rivers bouncing on Boston to try to make sure the denizens of Lob City play nice — might lead you to believe it’s only in hindsight that the rallying cry of the 2008 champions seems dopey as hell. Trust me: It always seemed dopey as hell.
Let’s travel back in time. The year is 2007, the city is Rome, and Ubuntu has just been born. From ESPN The Magazine’s cover story on the newly minted power trio: “‘Ubuntu!’ the Celtics shout as they break their huddle after practice. Coach Doc Rivers says he chose the chant over the typical ‘1, 2, 3, Celtics!’ after reading about Bishop Desmond Tutu over the summer. ‘Ubuntu,’ from the African Bantu language, stresses collective success over individual achievement. And maybe it's already having an effect. Boston's starting five all sported shaved heads in Rome, and Garnett bought each rookie three custom-made suits. The players hung out together nearly every night, cracking on one another for hours one evening on the Spanish Steps.”
Then, on opening night, when the new Big Three romped all over the Wizards, the heretofore unproven ameliorative effects of the work of Archbishop Tutu on basketball psychology appeared to have been confirmed, with much Úlan. As the team rattled off wins (8-0, 20-2, 29-3), these were, for Celts fans — grounded, after years of Vin Bakerisms, into sunken-eyed indifference — heady times. A manufactured all-star patchwork wasn’t expected to jell this quickly; this was almost an embarrassment of goodwill. But two things helped them avoid the post-Decision vibes that hurt the Heat. One was that KG, Paul, and Ray were just past their primes, which meant their team-up felt noble and selfless rather than craven and calculating. The other was that the big-grinning Doc, the ultimate players’ coach, had been handed his appropriate mound of clay and appeared to be molding it into elite, defense-first, team-basketball perfection. So yeah, sure, why not: Ubuntu, motherfuckers.
There are two fairly recent precedents for what happened with the Clippers and Celtics and Doc Rivers over the past 10 days. The first began on June 5, 1995, when Pat Riley, while still under contract with the Knicks, sent a secret 14-point memo to the Miami Heat outlining his contract demands, which included a 20 percent ownership stake, plus "$300 per diem expenses, credit cards, limousine service to and from games and a $15 million salary over five years."
Apparently that worked for Micky Arison and the Heat, because 10 days later Riley faxed a letter of resignation to the Knicks. Three months later, after the Knicks accused Miami of tampering and all this evidence — of, uh, blatant tampering — became public, the Heat agreed to send $4 million and a first-round pick to the Knicks as compensation. That's trade no. 1, and there are two lessons to be learned.
1. Never, ever trust Pat Riley.
2. In 1995, it was good to be negotiating contracts as Pat Riley.
Do you guys remember the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs? They’re still in the playoffs, I swear! That Heat-Bucks series was actually this season. I know — it seems like it might have been Miami’s first-round series last season, but it really was just a week ago the Heat wrapped up the most predictable sweep of this season’s first round.
The biggest story out of Miami since then has been Shane Battier’s decision to grow something like a Fu Manchu mustache. They may have also scheduled some exhibitions against the Generals, just to stay fresh. The Spurs have presumably been on a wine-tasting tour with Gregg Popovich, and rumor has it franchise higher-ups forced Pop to undergo a media-training refresher after he was strangely polite to sideline reporters during the Spurs’ first-round whitewashing of the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
Minutes after Boston held on for a 92-86 win against the Knicks — nudging the series to 3-2 and squeezing out at least one more home game this season — the Celtics were back in the visitor’s locker room at MSG, breaking down a little dustup. At the end of the game, Jordan Crawford, who hadn’t played a minute, got into it with Carmelo Anthony; fellow DNP’er D.J. White held him back, more or less, while Raymond Felton popped up to slang some words as well. The Internet has already come to a conclusion as to what Crawford said, and, well, it’s not pretty. Let’s just say the comments are in line with, but lack the subtlety of, Kevin Garnett’s famed Honey Nut Cheerios monologue.
“My homeys already texted me like, ‘You ’bout to scrap!’” White said, pulling up his pants while checking his phone. Then, to Crawford in the locker over, good-naturedly: “You started it, and you dipped!” Terrence Williams, who played a surprisingly solid 17 minutes at point guard, piped up: “Q[uentin Richardson] always comin’ in. Where he come from?” And White, by way of cosigning Williams’s disapproval of Richardson’s behavior: “Yeah, with his E.T.-lookin’ ass.” Meanwhile, Rajon Rondo was off to the side eating Chinese takeout, and Avery Bradley just tried to stay moisturized: “Yo, J.C., let me fuck with that lotion.” Crawford didn’t notice, busy getting dressed. (His ensemble included, I swear to God, a different pair of weed socks than the ones he had on the other day. In his defense, Hot Topic does tend to sell novelty socks in pairs.) Williams tried to offer him some alternate lotion, but Bradley stayed firm. “Nah, I'ma fuck with that lotion right there.”
Tonight is a night for both rejoicing and sadness: Depending on the results of three crucial games, including two elimination games, this could be the last night featuring more than two games until next season opens. This is a bad thing for fans seeking a variety of entertainment options, especially on nights with one or two blowouts, but a good thing for the spouses and loved ones of us poor saps watching every single one of these first-round bad boys.
A lot is at stake in tonight’s tripleheader, obviously. A game-by-game look at some key questions on this busy Wednesday, in order of Most Intriguing to Least Intriguing:
That’s right — I’m giving Most Intriguing status to this season’s NBA TV/Illegal Streaming/Ratings Basement special. (It’s a league rule, by the way, that the NBA TV Special first-round series must include either Indiana or Atlanta every season. Seriously — I think it’s in the new collective bargaining agreement. Plenty of good seats still available on the cheap for tonight in Indy, by the way. Catch the fever!) After three boring blowouts, these two finally gave us a competitive contest in Game 4, albeit one in which the Hawks were in control after a blistering second-quarter run. Some key questions:
• Can Indiana figure out the Hawks' “big” lineups?
A couple of weeks ago I was listening to Grantland’s own Jonah Keri talk about some Reds pitcher who had “lost velocity” on his fastball. As he spoke, I wondered what the NBA equivalent of this would be. Baseball has radar guns that reliably identify a downturn in pitching ability; we don’t have that instrument in the NBA. It’s not as easy to detect performance declines in basketball.
If there’s one theme that’s dominated the last few weeks in the NBA, perhaps it’s the immemorial relationship between age and decay. The NBA season is long, basketball is grueling, and old guys break down. The league is full of aging superstars who are always a tweak or aggravation away from street clothes.
The Boston Celtics were met with boos as they jogged onto the court for pregame warm-ups Saturday, which seemed about right. It didn’t matter that the Celtics were wearing commemorative shirts that would be auctioned off for The One Fund Boston or that they had scrawled messages of support on their sneakers. “Get outta here!” a Knicks fan in the not-exactly-cheap seats playfully hollered, over and over, and why hold back? The rivalry between New York's and Boston’s teams is constant and occasionally vicious. It’s not like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were medics or detectives or firemen, they just happened to work there. Pray for Boston, etc. — but down with the afternoon’s invaders.
I can’t imagine anyone impartial rooted for the Knicks on Saturday, not with the game happening in such close proximity to last week’s events in Boston. It feels good to witness magic and harmony and spontaneous proclamations of civic pride, even if these moments of coming together can’t turn anything back. But someone had to lose, and it’s not like Doc Rivers wanted New York’s pity anyway. Shut off from the sentiments prevailing elsewhere, the atmosphere in and around the Garden was lively enough, though nowhere near as raucous as one would expect in this post–Honey Nut Cheerios world. After members of the New York and Boston fire departments presented the flag, Carmelo Anthony and Pierce strode to the center circle to offer statements on behalf of each team. Some fans started booing as soon as Pierce spoke, but everyone else aggressively hissed them quiet. You could resume hating him in a few minutes.