Friday, February 29, 2008

The Yao Ming Lament

If you're feeling masochistic and if you haven't heard it already, laments and you can listen.

In the last post, commenter "MayaJones" made a good point about Yao's status in the NBA:
Yao is on loan to the NBA from China and its time the Rockets' organization cut its losses now because Yao's frame cannot take 12 months of basketball. The NBA's schedule is long and demanding, which is why the end in early June and start back up in late October. The body needs rest and China will never allow Yao to rest. Either the Rockets set up provisions to allow Yao to play only 2/3rds of the season, preferably the last part since it leads to the playoffs or let Yao go back to China where his loyalty lies.
While I don't necessarily agree with her resolution, the fact remains that Yao's first loyalty is China and very few players can handle playing as much as he does, and none of them are 7-6, 300+ lbs.

Even though its been suggested that Yao may be ready to play in the Beijing Olympics this summer after surgery, Stephanie Stradley at AOL Sports suggests with support from what I'll take her word to be medical experts that he should not. It's not a question that he will. Even if it leads him down the same path as Spain's Jorge Garbajosa, he will play. He's spent almost his entire life preparing for this. It's like being the first in your entire family to go to college, earning valedictorian and missing the graduation ceremony. Except substitute family with nation.

Originally posted at Yao Central on February 29, 2008 09:46 AM

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Oh, Cruel fate! Why do you mock us?

Fate is a bitch. No one is feeling that more than Yao Ming and the Rockets right now. Not me, not the fans, not even China. Fate builds you up to cut you down. Fate laughs at your notion of "hopes" and "dreams." Fate is a sadistic thing and she laughs.

In the four seasons since T-Mac was paired with Yao Ming, this stretch in February was quite simply the best the Rockets had played. Not because the pair themselves were anything spectacular--they were playing perhaps below their average--but because they had all come together as a team. And they looked like they believed. There was a twinkle in their eyes. T-Mac and Yao believed in each other, trusted the team as a unit in a way they hadn't previously known how. They were playing like winners.

Yao is out. And it's heart-wrenching to Rockets fans. Not just because he's facing an injury, but because he's facing another injury. The 3rd major injury in as many years. Hope suddenly turns to doubt. As much as we love Yao, it is possible now, if not likely, in our minds, that this wasn't meant to be. And the same thing is bound to have occurred to him. It is exasperating. It's taken until now to write this as yesterday was spent in a murky daze, with intermittent head-shaking and sighing.

Then the Rockets kept their composure; and like the professionals they are, welcomed the Wizards into town with a
94-69 thrashing, pushing their win streak to 13. A display of resolve that should have had us fans snapping collectively out of it. This season is not over yet. And playing as they are, the Rockets can still make the playoffs and still get out of the first round, which was ultimately this season's goal. They have enough talent to it. So there is still much to give our hope, despite the understandable wariness that comes with that lingering sting of fate, now is when the Rockets need it most.

Originally posted at Yao Central on February 27, 2008 06:25 AM

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Yao Line 02.22.08: Yep, They're for Real

35:01 min | 28 pts| 12-21 FGs | 4-5 FTs | 14 rebs | 2 asts | recap

Now that's what you call a statement game. The outcome of this one could have meant any number of things. A bad loss would have meant that despite all the recent success, the Rockets were not ready for prime time. A close loss, could have meant big things on the horizon but would still leave a lingering air of doubt (much like the last one). A close, but lucky win would mean little more than that. The thrashing that Houston gave Chris Paul and the Hornets last night? Real legitimacy. The Hornets (now 37-16, still 1st in West) were one of the hottest teams in the league. The Rockets are the hottest team in the league.

It was total domination on both sides of the ball. The Rockets defense was stifling, boiling over with playoff intensity and appropriately so, for in the West, lets' face it, it's already started. The Rockets defense made New Orleans look flat out terrible. Landry just gets better with every game, this guy has no off button, he does not crash. He's like mosquitoes on a case of Red Bull... everywhere.

And what the heck got into T-Mac last night? No one's complaining, that's for sure, but just what the heck was that? I haven't seen Mac that flat-out aggressive since '03. He just force-fed the Hornets ass-whupping from the tip. It was nasty... I almost started feeling bad for Mo Peterson and whoever else they tried to put on him. They were completely lost. It was ugly. And because of T-Mac's straight bully-move, Yao's 28-14 was actually kind of quiet. Still, I didn't think he was gonna miss a shot, that's how easy he made it look. It's the singular reason I can never fully buy Marcus Camby or Tyson Chandler winning Defensive MVP. They can't stop Yao one-on-one.

This was easily the best game the Rockets have played all season and it wasn't some freak of nature--they just played hard-nosed ball. Winning basketball. A franchise record 11 straight road wins, 20-4 in 2008, dominating the no. 1 team in the West in their own home... brace yourself Houston. It's should be no surprise anymore to anyone in the league. The Rockets are for real.

Originally posted at Yao Central on February 23, 2008 12:26 AM

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Interpreting Webber's Dream

Sometimes a player can say something to make you like him again...

Steve Kroner of the San Francisco Chronicle: "On Nov. 9, 1993, Webber played in his first NBA game when the Warriors took on Olajuwon and the eventual champion Rockets in Oakland. Webber had missed the first two games of that season because of an ankle injury. After Wednesday's practice, Webber said he remembered his first pro game 'like it was yesterday,' even though it took place more than 14 years ago. 'I remember everything Hakeem Olajuwon had on and how he looked,' Webber said. 'The first play of the game, I told Latrell (Sprewell), 'I'm not going to play. I'm just going to look and take this moment in.' ... I'm glad they didn't pass to Hakeem. I just remember looking at his legs and his arms, how tall he was. He was somebody I admired my whole life.'"

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Eli, the Giants and Tracy McGrady

In 1986, when I was eight years old, my godfather asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I told him to get me anything that had to do with football. The kids on my block and I had just started picking it up, having games outside, alternating on the lawns of every house until we got kicked off. We were always the Oilers and the trees were always Ed "Too Tall" Jones.

That Christmas, I unfurled a long cardboard tube to find... a Phil Simms poster. I had never heard of him, but I knew the Giants were a football team. I loved it, I hung it up immediately, spending an hour trying hang it straight. There he was, Simms standing in the pocket, legs planted, hands calmly gripping the ball, surveying the field. His face was relaxed, his eyes focused, it was almost serene. Phil Simms became my hero by default and every Sunday I'd watch the TV for any mention of him or the Giants (and the Oilers of course). And just one month later, Phil Simms carried the Giants to Superbowl XXI and won. I've been a Giants fan ever since. Not on my t-shirts, not on the street where we eventually moved our pickup football games and certainly not in front of my Oiler blue friends, but in my room.

So it should be obvious there was no small pleasure in seeing the Giants have the chance to play spoiler to the great history that could have been the New England Patriots season. Just as Daniel "Milkshake" Plainview in the brilliant and agonizing There Will Be Blood furtively admits to his misanthropic tendencies, I feel inclined to likewise admit to such a tendency. I really wanted the Patriots to lose and I don't think I was the only one. With each win the Patriots tallied, 16, 17, 18, the more I knew it would hurt this... lets face it, prideful team. They were arrogant to be sure and deservedly so perhaps, but nobody likes an arrogant winner. It had to be the Giants to knock 'em down a peg. Struggling for most of the season, they were as humble as professional football players can be--no doubt the influence of Strahan and Coughlin. They quietly, unassumingly came in and rewrote New England's history... as the greatest team not to win the Super Bowl.

All of us haters can thank Eli Manning. In the most critical sports city in the country, Eli was a bum. For 16 games in the regular season, New Yorkers wanted him on the next bus outta town. He was too unemotional, he wasn't a leader and he wasn't a winner. Until he was. No, he didn't suddenly raise his ire, didn't even change his game. He stayed just as poised as ever, just as calm. And it came around. His team came around.

From the first snap on the Giants last drive, I found myself repeating that this is what the legendary stuff is made of, this is what makes a life-long Giants fan. My brother was telling me to shut up and not jinx him. But Eli was transcendent and damn near as good in the 4th quarter as Phil Simms was in '87. I felt like that 8-year-old, chanting to myself, "I believe in you Eli, I believe in you Eli..." over and over. Somehow, he did it. And he'll be thanking David Tyree for as long as Simms has thanked Phil McConkey.

Which finally leads to the point. Perfection isn't all that interesting. We watch the game as underdogs, rooting for them to see if the embattled can overcome their history, their media-adorned image or their shortcomings... their human condition. Because in them, we see ourselves overcoming the odds. I found myself thinking after watching Giants cornerback Sam Madison say Eli Manning was his quarterback (without all the tears and showmanship of TO's proclamation to Tony Romo), that when the Houston Rockets make the playoffs this season, I'll still be channeling that 8-year-old boy and repeating to myself, "I believe in you T-Mac, I believe in you Yao," for as long as it takes.

Originally posted at Yao Central on February 4, 2008 07:08 AM

Friday, February 01, 2008

Yao's Top 5 Posters of '07-'08 (so far)

To further commemorate Yao's franchise-high 6th consecutive selection to the NBA All-Star starting five, and his sustained and newfound aggression, a list is presented below along with links to video footage, exhaustively searched, enumerated and ranked, of Yao's 5 most vigorous dunk-shots resulting in no doubt the subsequent humiliation of his opponent in this the nearer half of the National Basketball Association's 61st season. Or rather...

Yao's Top 5 Posters of '07-'08 (so far):

5.) That dunk on the Dallas Mavericks: Why? Because it's the Dallas Mavericks. And because Juwan was the first on his hit list of former teammates. And-1, Juwan... and-1.

4.) Ooh, the one on Tim Duncan (1:14 in): Because it's Tim Duncan. And because its the San Antonio Spurs. It wasn't all that clean, but it was in Tim Duncan's face, plus the foul on Tim Duncan... and it was the last bucket in a Rockets win. And because it was Tim Duncan.

3.) No, no the Bokie dunk: Bokie got yammed. Second on Yao's hit list of former teammates. The best part is Yao practically skipping back downcourt, laughing to Steve Francis that he, "just dunked on Bokie." That, unfortunately, is not in the clip.

2.) No, no, it's gotta be the mush on KG's mouth: Right on the head, no dodging this one. And in a crucial moment of a highly contested game. You gotta give KG credit, like Alonzo Mourning (and unlike Shaq), he will challenge the dunk and he will get occasionally get posterized. But he always comes back for more. This one is my personal benchmark for Yao's season so far, his banner or crest so to speak, this one signifies a newer, meaner "franchise" Yao. It would have been numero uno, if it wasn't for...

1.) Malik Rose: Arguably the most humiliating dunk so far this season by any player this season. Further description is unnecessary. If you haven't seen it, make haste, click the link.

Honorable Mentions: What about when Yao dunked on Pau Gasol and Rudy Gay, no man, both of them (1:03 in) | Oh yeah, Yao's putback against Orlando... Dwight Howard was in the vicinity, it counts

Of course, if your nostalgic for dunks of old, m_cable has cut together a nice highlight reel called Yao Ming Liftoff that has some great dunks I can't believe I haven't seen. My favorites, however, are the one-handed rebound grabs and put-backs in one quick re-jump. I don't think I've seen anyone else in the league ever do that, but please correct me if I'm wrong. Also, feel free to list any dunks this season that may have been egregiously left off the list.