Friday, February 11, 2011

Rockets' arch-nemesis Sloan resigns

Type "arch nemesis" with "Houston Rockets" into Google images and that photo below is the first relevant shot you get. Certainly, there were years when the Utah Jazz were a lowly stepping stone to Rockets championships. But John Stockton's celebration after what Jazz fans call "The Shot" became only the beginning of the Rockets comeuppance, exposing our superstar-crazed hubris at the time and unmasking our replacement stars' faults down the line.

I would like to say that since that moment, the Utah Jazz have been our Lex Luthor, our Joker, our Vader, Hans Gruber and Bill Laimbeer all rolled into one. Laimbeer aside, I'd be wrong. Heroes win, villains lose. After "the shot," the Rockets could no longer beat the Jazz. They were more like our kryptonite.

Or better yet--and I know its hard to re-cast oneself (or the home team as it were)--maybe the Rockets were the villains. Blessed in the T-Mac & Yao era with supernatural talent but hindered by faults so quintessentially human--the very essence of being the villain--it was the Jazz who prevailed over and over again. They were led by a plucky young hero with tough-as-nails sidekicks and, of course, their mighty leader, Jerry Sloan. He was a nemesis so diabolical that he effectively turned our poor, huddled Rockets into villains. Or, maybe he was just a damn good coach.

Perhaps more than any other team in the NBA, the Utah Jazz were an extension of their coach. Sloan represented everything it meant to play Jazz basketball both as a player (for the Chicago Bulls) and as a coach. Toughness, toughness and more toughness. You cannot be a die-hard Rockets fan without hating the Utah Jazz but you were forced to respect them. They exposed Houston's weaknesses like no other team in the last 10 years inasmuch as they simply displayed the resolve the Rockets did not possess.

While the face of the Houston Rockets has changed dramatically over the years from Hakeem to Barkley to Stevie Franchise to T-Mac and Yao, from Rudy T to Jeff Van Gundy to Rick Adelman, the Jazz have remained ever stalwart. While Houston even now tries to reinvent itself, the Jazz were the Jazz, all due to Coach Sloan.

That is until yesterday's announcement that Sloan and assistant coach Phil Johnson were resigning immediately. It was a shock to everyone, even Deron Williams, with which Sloan reportedly had a rocky relationship. Speculation has run wild since the duo's very publicized and heated exchange during halftime of the game played just before Sloan's announcement.

Despite the controversy, however, it doesn't matter what led to this seemingly premature departure. Sloan is riding off into the sunset, without fanfare, without a hero's farewell and yet still, it seems apropos. Because it was on his terms. He never did it for the glory. So, unlike some coaches who retire only to return, I actually believe that Sloan will never come back to the NBA. His is a bygone era, sad as that might be. As much as anyone could have hated his team, you could love what he stood for and how he coached. We need more coaches and teachers like him. In fact, I would love to see him pop up somewhere coaching high school ball.

Until then, happy trails, Coach Sloan. We won't miss you, but basketball will.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Top 10 Asian Americans Sports Figures of 2010

I actually started this list a couple of weeks ago but couldn't decide whether or not to finish it. Maybe this isn't really the place for this kind of thing but at this point, I'm just gonna post whatever.

Northwest Asian Weekly did their own Top 10 list of Asian American Sports Figures released on December 22 and that is essentially what forced me to revisit this list--that and I told my buddy Keith Chow I would do one. He did a Top 10 list for Asian Americans in Pop Culture at the PopCultureShock blog. It's a solid list but I don't know how Slim Chin doesn't break Top 3. Olivia Munn was my little contribution. You're welcome.

The NWAW list was decent but given the relatively small pool of athletes to choose from, I didn't think ours would be this different. And, no, you can't make Manny an honorary Asian American. I know he's the best Asian athlete in the world--arguably the best athlete hands down--but no, that's cheating.

List after the jump >>>.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Beijing Shougang Ducks release former Rockets guard Steve Francis reports that just 13 days after Steve Francis joined the Beijing Shougang Ducks, they have decided to part ways.

The nine-year NBA veteran and former All-Star logged 14 total minutes in just 4 games with the Ducks. Francis reportedly arrived with poor conditioning and unable to shoulder major minutes. He was also reprimanded by the league after making an inappropriate gesture towards a referee.

According to Sina Sports, the buyout and terms of Francis’ release have already been negotiated and the move will be made shortly pending an official release by the team. Wording is everything as my boy Jared Zwerling on the Knicks blog at ESPN makes it sound like Francis broke up with the Ducks first:

So, Marbury is looking pretty good right now. A.I., what have you?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Basketball will miss Yao Ming

I was working on something to sum up my thoughts about Yao Ming's career to this unfortunate point but ESPN's Michael Wilbon put it perfectly. Yao Ming was under-appreciated in this league and sadly, will probably always will be.

If this is indeed the end of Yao's career--bearing in mind he has admitted to no such thing--it's not the disappointment people seem to make it out to be. The disappointment is that it could have been legendary. He could have been one of the great ones. But, if it is over, this passage from Wilbon sums it up fittingly:
But know that the Houston Rockets are worse off for Yao's absence, as is the NBA, as is basketball in China, as is the general product that is professional basketball. Anybody who never won a championship, never even reached a conference finals but who can nonetheless be missed that much is truly a giant figure and in his case is hugely underappreciated.

Monday, December 20, 2010

'Stevie Franchise' 17 seconds of heaven

You're just going to have to read this story for yourself. Former Rockets star Steve Francis makes an inauspicious debut, playing with an ice-pack strapped to his ankle with 17 seconds left in the game. Why that was gets even better.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Yao goes down again

It's official. Yao is out for the season yet again. This time its a stress fracture in his left ankle. The big man we've all been pulling for just can't get a break. You can't help but feel bad for him. Obviously, some big decisions lie ahead for Yao and his career. 

More on this to come...

The Bleacher Report has a tribute of sorts: "Yao Ming and 20 Athletes We Wish Had Healthier Careers."

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Francis deal is done in China

Former Rockets All-Star guard Steve Francis has signed a one-year deal with the Beijing Ducks in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA).

He will indeed be following in the footsteps of Stephon Marbury, who joined the Shanxi Zhongyu Brave Dragons last season and hopefully, Allen Iverson isn't too far behind.

Former NBA players, Javaris Crittenton, Ricky Davis, Quincy Douby and Mike James, among others, are all newly-inked members of the upcoming CBA season.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

'Franchise' close to deal to play in China

Well, it looks like it's about to go down. Steve Francis is reportedly close to signing a deal to play in China, yes, in the same league as Stephon Marbury. Now, all they need is Iverson (who is also reportedly interested in making the move) to sign. Then this off-season, they can do some kind of freakish, Bizarro-world Big 3 deal with the Shanghai Sharks. Francis, Marbury and Iverson as the Chinese Lebron, Wade and Bosh. I can see Marbury's press conference now.

My brother and I were once huge fans of Francis, Marbury and Iverson. In their respective primes, we debated endlessly which was the best player individually, which was more likely to win a championship, which was the best team player. We rarely included Francis as his position as the Houston Rockets' "Franchise" would clearly taint any realistic debate.

For awhile, Stevie was untouchable. But, we grew older, wiser and this trio of uber-talented guards didn't seem to reciprocate for the sake of our arguments. Iverson will go down as one of the all-time greats but even he couldn't bow out gracefully. If by some blessed miracle they all end up in China, as this post from Ball Don't Lie suggests is a possibility, my brother and I can renew this once-great dispute.

For the record, I always had Iverson.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Weapon Yao: He's Back

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Rockets Round II: The Empire Strikes Back

AP Photo/Chris Carlson

Kobe Bryant is Darth Vader. Phil Jackson is Emperor Palpatine. Sasha Vujacic is Jar Jar Binks if Jar Jar were a Jedi gone to the Dark Side. Because he sure pulled the Jedi mind trick on Von Wafer. They were former teammates, the have history. It's obvious. And Jar Jar already knows how to get under any player's skin--but particularly Wafer because of how much Wafer wants to show up the Lakers. But Von needs to be careful. He built an NBA career with this season. He can't go and ruin it now because he can't let Jar Jar's antics go.

Back to the Lakers as Empire analogy... it doesn't even have to be science fiction. The Lakers, like any empire in history with their grandiosity and prestige, merely expected to get their way. Game 1 was a rude awakening and, of course, in Game 2, Vader and the Lakers had to regulate with a heavy hand. Which means shoulders, elbows and knees, oh my.

The Houston Rockets, you see, play in as the unassuming working class. They work hard. Yes, they are physical, they play rough but they are not dirty. They don't do what Vader, Jar Jar and Derek Fisher... let's say, Boba Fett (yes, I know he's technically just a bounty hunter but isn't his head shaped a lot like Fett's helmet?) are willing to do assert their dominance. That's what makes the Lakers the Lakers. They do these things because a.) for some misguided reason, they think they need to and b.) they can get away with it. Such are the spoils for fame and prestige. Kobe can get away with anything--and Artest can't even have a "friendly" conversation without getting ejected--but then again, so can Rajon Rondo, so who the heck knows?

The point is, the Lakers showed they will play dirty to win or NEED to play dirty to win. They ARE cheap shot artists. That's what they do. The Houston Rockets are not and they shouldn't start just because L.A. sets the precedent. Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley summed it up perfectly in what may be the first time the TNT after-party has said everything there needs to be said about this game. If the Lakers think Houston is going to be intimidated, they're in for another rude awakening. The Rockets are "pit-bulls." They've surrounded Yao with pit-bulls (Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes, Shane Battier, Ron Artest, Carl Landry, Kyle Lowry) who can take whatever you dish and keep coming back. They're Mickey Ward and Arturo Gatti all rolled up into one. Yes, both bouts of epic carnage in one. That may be overstating it, but you get the idea.

And, then there's what Chuck and Kenny said about Kobe. He better have three more of these kind of games if the Lakers want to win. Because even this one wasn't easy--they gave it all they had and won ONE game with the likelihood they'll lose Derek Fisher for at least the next and possibly Kobe Bryant. "That was a hard 40 points," spoke the Chuck Wagon and he's right but to be sure, if anyone's up for it, it's Kobe.

Houston, for their part, won't retaliate, shouldn't retaliate. They'll just keep playing their game, hard and physical. It's understood, consider what Artest had to say about the physical play, "we're naturally tough, we're naturally like that." As if to say he (and Battier) know the Lakers are just pretending, merely acting tough because they're manhood has been questioned in the media. And, like most instances when someone is trying this hard to draw a reaction from someone else, they reveal more about themselves. The Lakers have resorted to this; their confidence is waning. So, go for the jugular. Push them ever closer to the brink. Push them over.

This is the series to watch now.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Yao Returns in his Greatest Game

The buzzer sang with the sweet timbre heard only by fans of the winning team and shortly after it ended, the sound dimmed. Everything was quiet, not just the TV or TNT's post-game show, because it never is, but everything including that was quiet. And, I could hear only a continuous, low hum. Shock. And I've been in shock all day.

Trying to clear my head enough to write anything substantive about last night's upset win over the Lakers had been a fruitless exercise until now. It was quite simply a joy to watch. The kind that Rockets fans haven't really had a chance to get used to. But after a first round series win and an upset win away from home, we should start.

In Yao Ming's 7 seasons, this was the greatest single game of his NBA career (thus far). Whatever the Rockets needed him to do, he did, but it was more than just that. L.A. couldn't put him down. After what was at the time a heart-stopping collision with Kobe late in the 4th, he came back and finished the game. I have to admit I thought it was over--that once again it was too good to be true. But Yao rose, like a phoenix with a clipped wing, but he rose and he came back and he helped Houston win this game.

And, in that moment, Yao was reborn. Houston fans were baptized. Yao did what the great sports heroes of Houston's past have done. More than his fair share, more than just what was expected of him. He overcame adversity and what had to be deep and subconscious fears about that knee and he willed Houston to a win. If he can get to Game 2 without any complications and finish this series, win or lose, the demons, the little mogwais embedded in Yao's structural integrity may finally be banished. And Houston fans may look brightly to the future.

Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Yao Line 02.17.09: Refs Still Terrible

20 pts | 9-15 FGs | 12 rebs | 3 asts | 2 blks

Get used to that line-up, that's the one that will get Houston into the playoffs and, perhaps ironically, out of the first round of the playoffs. With McGrady's announcement of an impending season-ending microfracture surgery on the faulty knee that has bugged him all season, the drama is finally over. Will he or won't he play has finally been decided once and for all and everyone will be better for it.

Which isn't to say the Rockets are a better team without him. McGrady gave the Rockets the potential to go deep into the playoffs with his talent alone combined with this personnel. But without him, the Rockets may actually be better off in the traditional concept of team. The ceiling might be lower but this Rockets team should still not only make the playoffs but get out of the first round. Especially if they keep playing as they did with the Nets in town beating NJ 114-88.

For the most part, the Rockets have looked more cohesive on offense without T-Mac in the lineup this season. When Rafer Alston is the sole primary ball-handler, and because he is not a scorer near McGrady's class even with a bum knee, Houston is more likely to let the offense set up and run its course. And when Alston plays with the kind of energy and verve he did last night, the Rockets are as solid at the point as any team. Von Wafer was again impressive, playing like a man possessed, trying to solidify his place in the rotation. The Rockets have needed someone as singularly committed to scoring efficiently for a long time. And Artest was again very solid, proving you can't guard him one-on-one and never without an ice bath after the game. Still, I wish he wasn't so quick to pull the 3-pt trigger--it would work wonders for his shooting percentage.

But all of this, of course, comes down to Yao and how he handles the pressure of the team now being on his shoulders going into the stretch run. There's nothing that would suggest he won't handle it well. And maybe he won't have to handle it alone. Rafer Alston has already stepped up with no qualms about his desire to lead the team. A move that is indicative of what a team is with Yao at the helm. A team in the truest sense of the word. Yao is a star in stature but not in personality. The Rockets are a team that can only thrive with the support of every key player.

Think of Adelman's offense--and now with a team that looks more determined to run it--Yao is the featured option but not necessarily the center-piece. That's what can be great about this offense when its run correctly. Yao is the featured but not everything has to run through him but when it does it is as much for him to be a playmaker as a scorer. There are several options available and none bigger than Artest. Everyone has to make plays and at least with the Nets in town, pretty much everyone did.

Oh and the refs still have no clue how to officiate Yao. And here, I used to think Shaq was being a crybaby. It even seems to be contagious to the rest of the Rockets. Lucky the Nets were so bad it didn't matter.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Yao Line 01.13.09: Kobe Good, Refs Bad

19 pts | 9-18 FGs | 1-1 FTs | 17 rebs | 5 asts | 3 blks

I'm just going to say it... NBA referees are terrible this year. It's not just for the Houston Rockets though Rockets fans acutely feel the pain, NBA "officials" been terrible everywhere. Dirk Nowitzki hollers 'cause hears me.

Sure, I'm biased.. I think they're always terrible. I'm convinced only terrible people want to become NBA officials. But they're worse this year than I can ever remember. It's as if every official convened in some clandestine double-door garage in the off-season and game-planned on just how unreasonable they would be this season, how grossly pompous and arrogant, how drunk with power and worse, how they would proceed in stifling any possibility of enjoyment for the fan by flubbing the most obvious of calls. And that symposium on the flop? A joke, a terrible joke by terrible people. Refs are no more perceptive of the flop than ever before. Thanks again, Vlade.

In Houston's 105-100 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, Luis Scola was again rendered useless; his an inexhaustible will to power eschewed for the lazy flopping of the Lakers. Yao and Landry both penalized for standing around, which this season, is also a foul. To "officials": the Los Angeles Lakers do not need your help.

Nevertheless, through the incomprehensible sabatoge, the Rockets played a hell of a game through 47:30 min. Yao was dominant as facilitator of the Adelman offense and everyone else just made shots. No scoring drought for this one, Von Wafer had a point to elucidate for Los Angeles, something about guaranteed contracts. But then Kobe did what Kobe does. He's good.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Tao of the Underdog

There's a trend among elite teams today (the Patriots and Celtics being perfect examples). They are able to cast themselves as underdogs no matter what their situation. Through transference, method acting or sheer delusion, they have a collective chip on their lengthy shoulders. They form an insular fraternity with a concentrated dedication to a singular goal. To win and prove everyone else wrong. They convince themselves it is them against the world. And no matter what happens beyond them, they remain focused.

Their thing, their power animal, whether it be their offense or their defense, is their own. It's blessed and sacred and no one is above it. Bigger egos than McGrady and Artest have bought into this competitive tao. Now is as good a time as any for the Rockets to start. The media is unconvinced and so are the fans. The Rockets can unite and follow this path of underdog. And they won't even need the use of devices or delusion. They are underdogs.

The "good loss" shouldn't be thrown around loosely and last night's 103-100 loss to the Hawks, contrary to popular opinion, was a game that should have been won. So not really a "good loss" but if nothing else can be gleaned from it, at least Yao and the other role players look like they have bought in, if even just for one game. That's underdog effort. Close to Rockets against the world but not quite. Every player has to get their chips in. Rockets are a lunch-pail team with no attitude. Now they have a reason to get one.

• • •

On a lighter note... Welcome back John and Raymond to the digital world. As of January 1st, Yao Ming Mania is back online. Congrats! You guys have definitely earned it. See you at YMM real soon.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

R3: Rise of the Ron

I'm now convinced Ron Artest is Cyberdyne Systems Model 102. I haven't seen any active player today take contact like quite Ron Artest. The man repels opponents, like heroes in martial arts flicks. The enemy moves at him, hits him and yet, his chi somehow delivers the punishment. Lebron James is the best finisher in the game, no doubt. Artest doesn't quite have the balance or athleticism to do what Lebron does around the rim when fouled. But Artest is the hardest case around. He responds the same to contact as no contact. No grimace, no yell, no body crumple... all things Rockets fans have gotten used to. In Ron-Ron, Houston has an indomitable and single-minded machine.

Artest's command performance in last night's 2nd OT was the stuff of saviors, the stuff of folklore. On the tail end of a back-to-back, the Rockets, who'd let the Jazz off the hook in the 4th, were shooting blanks late in the game. Yao Ming, who had found success against Utah's reserve bigs throughout the game, struggled as the "officials" let defenders get away with just about anything when bodying up Yao, a growing trend.

Still, in the final minutes and 1st OT, Adelman kept calling Yao's number, trying to exploit the mismatch but Yao, exhausted, could not finish. He otherwise played a strong game, indicative of his vastly improving stamina and timing, defending the cup with authority and looking quicker to the boards than he was earlier in the season. Yao was certainly more decisive offensively in this game; and despite his misses, he made the right moves down the stretch--given his skill set. Finesse moves to free himself up for open looks but other than a gorgeous left hand sky hook late, he just couldn't finish.

So, Adelman adjusted and went to Artest in the 2nd OT. The difference was distinct. Artest moved powerfully and with more control in the low-post. And as the Rocket's had deferred to Yao for the duration of crunch time, Artest had surprisingly fresh legs and the Jazz had no answer, he was just quicker than his defenders. Utah put Ron-Ron on the line 8 times and he hit all 8 FTs. Rockets win. Yes, the Rockets should have never let the Jazz back into the game, they'll have to continue to work on closing opponents out (particularly the bench for whom it is much their responsibility) but its nice to know that the Rockets have more than one option, and more than just two.

They have Ron.

Fans, however, are gonna have to come up with a better cheer than the less than imaginative "Ron-Ar-test! Ron-Ar-test!"