Friday, December 23, 2005


Devoted reader, former roommate, and all around smart dude Ben sent us an interesting article about Gonzaga basketball phenom Adam Morrison. For those out of the loop, Morrison is a 6-8 white guy who idolizes Larry Bird. The thrust of this article, found in Slate, is that almost every promising white player is compared to Larry Bird at some point, which is both unfair to them and to Bird. A great quote:

"Want proof that getting compared to Bird is a one-way ticket to the Caucasian basketball graveyard? A list of players who've been identified as Bird-like reads like the roster of a CBA team sponsored by the KKK."

When we started Setshot, Old School and I talked a lot about taking on the issue of race -- particularly as it pertained to pickup hoops. But we could never figure out a way to address it concisely and originally. The issue is just too big, too complicated, too scary -- and many writers have already produced intelligent, cogent commentaries (for example, Frey, Shields, Wideman; see "Best Hoops Reading").

I think that our only hope here is to address race in little tiny stabs. I'll devote a future post to my experiences as an Asian pickup player, but for now, let's talk about Morrison, Bird, and the World of Whites. I think that the Slate article is provocative, but the argument's not water-tight. Yes, white guys have traditionally been compared to Bird, but this is changing fast as new and different forms of whiteness have emerged in basketball (Nash, Ginobili, D.I.R.K.) Also, because Morrison himself claims to idolize Bird, saying that it's unfair to compare the two is itself a bit unfair. That said, race is race, and there will probably always be an "apples to apples" temptation among sports commentators and pundits. When the NBA is full of Asians, will they all be compared to Yao? "You know Bill, that Chang reminds me a lot of Yao Ming. And only eleven inches shorter! The resemblence . . . is . . . remarkable."

The Slate article talks about the Gonzaga-Oklahoma State game in which Morrison hit a bank three at the buzzer to win it, focusing on the announcers' incessant Morrison-Bird comparisons, but it fails to mention another interesting exchange that I caught between CBS commentators Bill Raftery and Gus Johnson. Early in the game, they were discussing the Bird-Morrison thing, and Raftery said something to the effect of: "Morrison actually reminds me of another player: Kiki Vandeweghe." Johnson, clearly aware (at least to me) that they had only compared Morrison to white players, hastily added "Or Reggie Miller! Or Rip Hamilton!"

So I don't even know what the point of all this is. I guess only that the issue of race in sports is sensitive, but also complicated. Setshotters: Help me understand white people.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Careers: When to retire? Part II

For the last month or so, I haven’t been in the mood to post on Setshot. I’ve been too worried about my knee. In mid-October, I played in the most intense game since my return from ACL surgery three years ago. Not only was the game tough, but I was overmatched, and to make matters worse, my wife happened along--compelling me to exert myself well beyond my capacities. It turns out she wasn’t even watching. It seems they never are (see Girls Ain't Nothin' But Trouble).

After the game, my knee hurt differently than it ever had before and was a little numb. The pain didn’t go away for weeks. I made an appointment with the doctor and joined the injured list. Retirement seemed imminent.

Every other night, I sat down at the computer to write a new post, but I couldn’t do it. Jeff wrote posts about trash talking and scoring on an NBA player and old man moves, but I just couldn’t match him. I wrote a few posts about stuff I found on the web, but I couldn’t bring myself to write anything personal. Jeff suggested I write about being injured, but I just couldn’t face it. Part of it was that I wasn’t having many hoops experiences in my street clothes. But most of it was that it just made me too damn depressed. Could it really be over?

Earlier, I had hoped that Setshot might be a place that both current players and retirees could enjoy, but if I was typical, retirees would avoid the site like the plague.

This week, I finally got to the doctor. He told me it wasn’t my ACL, but probably just a meniscus problem. He advised against surgery because the meniscus is serving a purpose. Instead, I should just play with the pain (which really is quite minor) and keep building up my quads.

I could have kissed him. He saw how happy I was and said “Keep on playing. Keep on playing. It’s good for you. We’ll work through this.”

"I play too,” he said with a grin. I immediately told him all about Setshot.

“I’m 58”, he said. “I’m always the old man of the court. But I can shoot a hook with either hand and nobody can stop me.”

If you’re reading, Dr. Old Man of the Court, thank you very much. Jeff just e-mailed about a regular run at Strawberry Creek Park. The guys are at our skill level (me, moderate-to-bad; Jeff, awesome) and “more importantly, they seem like polite and considerate young men.” I’m so ready.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Psychology: What's the worst that can happen?

In addition to increasing physical discomfort, we aging ballers must deal with another type of pain: shame. We are ashamed that we're not as good as we used to be. We are ashamed that our shorts are too short. We are ashamed of our 1987-model Reebok Pumps. We are ashamed to leave the court and go back to our "jobs." Most of all, we are ashamed that youngsters break our ankles, dunk on us and block our shots and then cheer wildly about it. Don't they know that if they played us when we were in our prime, we'd be the ones breaking ankles, dunking (ok, slapping the backboard) and blocking (ok, contesting)?

I read somewhere (Reader's Digest?) that the best way to deal with shame is to bring it out into the open. So let's share our most shameful moments. It'll be fun -- promise!

The worst one for me was missing a two-foot layup at the buzzer to lose a league game in New York. We were down one with a few seconds to go. The final play was not called for me, but our guy missed the shot, and by pure dumb luck, the rebound fell right into my hands directly under the basket. I didn't know how much time we had, panicked, and BRICKED it from point blank range. We actually won the league championship that season, but the game I choked was the only one we lost. I don't remember too many details from the season, but that moment is forever burned into my memory. Oh, did I mention that my girlfriend was at the game?

Another shameful moment was getting alley-oop dunked on to lose a pickup game. I think that it was game point both ways (i.e., next basket wins). I was guarding someone much bigger than me. All I remember is losing my man for literally a second, turning around and seeing him way up in the air, and then hearing the awful sound of a game-winning dunk. I was basically under the basket, which meant that I had gotten posterized in the final, climactic moment.

Alright, that was less fun than I thought. But since I wrote it, I''ll post it. What are you ashamed of?