Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Nuts Doesn't Work in the NBA



Continuing his descent into farce, madness and irrelevance, Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke throws the chessboard into the air and comes down on the side of praising the signing of Ron Artest with the Lakers.

Normally, phony outrage would be the order of the day. Or some lengthy screed about chemistry, and focus, and a misplaced metaphor featuring a concentrating Michael Jordan as a space wizard who finds his missing space paladin when Dennis Rodman falls from the sky in a magical jumping uniform with lots of feathers and bright colors. I didn't expect praise:
So did you hear the latest from my new best friend, Ron Artest?

Here I was, worried he would upset the Lakers' delicate championship chemistry, cause all sorts of ugly distractions, then he shows up for a promotional appearance in San Diego on Monday and the opposite happens.

Artest was so certifiably loony, he made me momentarily forget about the current Lakers crisis.

That being, of course, what sort of wedding gift does one buy Lamar Odom and Khloe Kardashian?

How about two sets of strong hands to shake them both while you shout, "What are you doing?"

Is there enough room under the Lakers' baskets for all the paparazzi? Does Vanessa Bryant really need the competition?

But back to Artest. My new best friend showed up in San Diego and made me scratch my head so hard I forgot all about Lamar and Whatshername.

We know Artest is crazy. But, it turns out, maybe it's a good crazy.

No, there's no good crazy in the NBA. Dennis Rodman wasn't crazy; Dennis Rodman acted crazy, looked crazy, but showed up every night knowing how to play the game of basketball. Ron Artest barely knows how to put on shoes.

In team sports, the bigger the team, the easier it is to absorb weirdos and freaks. Baseball and hockey teams are just the right size--they can absorb them for a while, but your various freaky-deaky players can't hide from management or the fans on those clubs, and so they're exposed and gotten rid of, as well they should. Football teams are big enough to absorb things like wide receievers and kickers. You can have those players on your team for years and never have to deal with them.

The NBA, being the only small team major sport that matters, features only a handful of roles. There is the man--and there can only be one, perhaps two if you're San Antonio or Boston. There are the players who start every night, and don't have to worry about not starting because they have guaranteed minutes, and those are the 2, 3, 4, and 5 slots on the team. Then there's the 6, 7, and 8 slots, and those are the players who live on the bubble, fighting for minutes. The 9, 10, and sometimes the 11 slots on the roster that are filled by players who are either coming up or leaving the league, usually by the end of the season. The 12th man on the roster is the charity case or the lone weirdo, or perhaps some foreign player no one can figure out how to deport. You can't hide a fraud on an NBA roster, even if you're playing in Memphis or Atlanta. There are too many good players out there who are scrambling to get into the league.

Los Angeles doesn't need Ron Artest. Ron Artest just hasn't figured out how to get himself kicked out of the NBA yet.

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