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GO TOWEL OFF: After this disgusting dunk on his star MVP, the Suns’ Owner Gets His House in Order
DATELINE – April 27, 2006, 8:30 AM MST
U.S. Airways Center – Phoenix, Arizona
Jake and Zack were in the locker room, gleefully folding up the towels and cleaning up the lockers after last night’s Lakers-Suns playoff contest. All night and up to this morning, it was hard for the two brothers and college interns to contain their enthusiasm after their favorite player, Kobe Bryant, took off like a bullet train and left likely MVP Steve Nash hanging onto his jockstrap for the ride. They stopped what they were doing everytime the slam re-played on Sportscenter, which was often. As Kobe swung from the rim, as if to ask the capacity crowd “any questions??” the brothers instinctively winced, with a “ooooooh!” hushed just enough to keep anyone from catching their excitement.

Zack whispered, “Nash knows he should’ve stepped out the way! He looked stupid enough acting like he was trying to box out Kwame Brown.” “He thought he was out of the circle, and could flop for the charge,” responded his brother. “Dumb move. I guess he thought all MVPs get that call. But you don’t mouth off at Kobe and then minutes later expect him to just lay it up off the glass over you.” A remote control abruptly shuts off the laundry room TVs.“Jake! Zack!” Startled, they looked up quickly to see Kip, the game operations director. “The Boss wants you. Upstairs.”

THE Boss wants to see the towel boys? “What for?” inquired Jake. “Go ask him… You might wanna hurry.”As the scene shifted from concrete pillars to oak walls and marble the boys grew anxious. They’d never been up into Robert Sarver’s office before. Perhaps a promotion is in the works, they thought. In his conference room were the Directors of Basketball Operations (head coach Mike D’Antoni) and Human Resources, and in the center chair Bob was clearly not in a good mood, as he berated the Broadcasting Director on the conference phone.

“…and that’s the LAST time we use Ricky Davis for color commentary, do you understand me! Jumping up and down and screaming ‘Oh Sh*t! Oh Sh*t!’ after that Bryant dunk is NOT what I call good radio!”

“Yes sir, Mr. Sarver, it was an error in judgement. I’m deeply sorry.”“The next FCC fine is coming out of your pocket, Al,” warned Sarver as he pressed the hangup button.Jake extended a hand to introduce himself to the directors when Sarver cut him off. “They know who you are, ‘towel boys,’ close the door and sit down.”“Now, I trust that you along with the rest of this proud Phoenix Suns organization are completely disgusted with our team’s performance last night.” The boys glanced at each other, then nodded in a mutual display of false agreement.Ruth, the administrative assistant, interrupted the closed-door meeting. “Mr. Sarver, the Gorilla mascot is on line three. He said he saw some highlight last night and was so disgusted he wants to quit.”

“Tell Gorilla he’s already fired, Ruth, we have Robert Traylor all lined up to replace him in that outfit… Now, ‘towel boys,’ I witnessed something during the game last night that left an awful taste in my mouth, almost as bad as the taste Steve had last night when that offensive foul wasn’t called.” Zack began to chuckle when Sarver hollered, “Did I tell you to snicker, boy?” and quickly returned the room to glum silence. Sarver presses a button to bring down a screen showing the Kobe smash-on-Nash movie on auto-play, courtesy of Don’t Blink Mixtape (dot com).

“I was personally disappointed to witness some of our so-called ‘fans’ up there cheering in the stands as our poor little Steve was unkindly knocked to the hardwood. I’ve already rescinded the remaining playoff tickets for those turncoats. I also have the referee under review in the commissioner’s office for that lousy non-call.”“But here’s why you’re here… freeze the play right there, Mike.”

As Kobe does his 270-degree swing on the rim, “I want you to tell me who are these two knuckleheads right here, sitting cross-legged right in front of our Suns’ home bench?”“That’s us… sir,” admitted a red-faced Jake.“Hit play… stop… And what are you two doing as the referee blows that whistle?”“Pumping our fists, sir.” said the towel-boy tandem, now sinking into their chairs.“And you, what are the exact words you’re mouthing as Kobe dunks the ball all over our poor star player?”

“I think it was, ‘And one, muthaf&*#!’” Zack received a sharp elbow from big brother. “Or something like that. Excuse my language, sir.”

“Now you know that kind of response is totally inexcusable. Gentlemen… you leave me no choice…”

Sarver pulled out a form and began signing it, in several places. The brothers tensed up, awaiting their punishment and fate.

“You’ve… been… traded.”

“What?” blurted a stunned Jake.

“Don’t question me, boy, you heard me. That’s right, traded… for one cute, dedicated Laker Girl cheerleader and future cash considerations. Now you can go cheer on your man Kobe all you want, and dry his punk ass off, too.”

“But you can’t send us to L.A., we’re still enrolled in spring semester!”

“Don’t give me that college crap, it’s the University of Phoenix. It’s not like they don’t have a campus in every stinking city! Go to L.A. and see if a real college will take you punks in. See if Jerry Buss will pay your room and board too! Now get out of my office and get to packing!”

As the whimpering towel boys exited with the Personnel Director to finalize the paperwork and ponder their futures, D’Antoni offered a final plea for some compassion. “Now Bob, c’mon, trading the towel boys? Don’t you think you’re being a little hard on these kids? After all… they are your children.”

“Don’t tell me how to raise my sons, Mike. But hey, thanks for the tip about that Don’t Blink thing, I’ve been looking for that Matrix dunk over Al Harrington for years! Whooo that was so nasty!” The men had a chuckle as Sarver led D’Antoni to the door. “Get outta here or you’ll be late for your flight. Let’s get ‘em back in Game 3.” Ruth peeked her head in again as D’Antoni leaves.

“Mr. Sarver, I’m sorry. Stephon Marbury is on line two from New York. He sounds like he’s crying ‘Whyyyyyy?’ over and over and I don’t understand…”

“Tell Steph to get some counseling and mind his own damn business, he wishes he could take playoff facials like that. Oh, and, Ruth… get the private videoconference ready and put all my calls on hold while I, uh, ‘interview’ the Laker Girl!”

Victim: Jaren Jackson

(September 2005) With Spalding tattoos courtesy of KobeSpree, and countless other high-flying guards (Ron Mercer at 1:44 on this video), dude made NBA fans repeatedly scream the age-old question, “Why Jump?” Now the former New Orleans high school standout and Georgetown wing has jumped into the coaching ranks, following the footsteps of fellow Victim Alston Lister.
Jaren has landed in Indiana with the Gary Steelheads (a team apparently named after the residents who still choose to live there — just kidding!) This follows a stint with the now-defunct Philly Fusion (ABA).
(2008 Update) Jaren’s got an affinity for Hoosier State semi-pro squads with crazy names. The 2006 CBA Coach of the Year with the Steelheads, this time he’s moved over to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the D-League, returning to the town where he played in the CBA before joining the Spurs.
(2011 Update) Keeping the bizarre  team name thing alive, he’s gone north (and east) of the border the last couple years, coaching up the Mill Rats of St. John in Canada’s NBL. My favorite story of Jaren was hearing about him getting T’d up as the head coach during a 2007 CBA game with the slightly-less-whacky-named Pittsburgh Xplosion. Making Woody Hayes proud, he once ran off the bench to grab an Albany Patroons player, keeping him from yet another breakaway dunk to take the lead late in the game. The CBA player’s name? Jamario Moon.

Facializer: Robert Pack

(September 2005) Quick, who was Eurobasket’s Lithuanian League Guard of the Year, leading perennial power Zalgiris to the national League title and the Baltic League Championship? Why, none other than the Pack-Man! Robert used to pack it on NBA frontcourt players (Shawn Kemp (1:21 on this video)Shawn Bradley, Thurl Bailey, Eric Leckner) with no fear back in his heyday.

(2008 Update) Robert has since hung up his shoelaces. He made a short-lived attempt at returning to the League with the Raps in the ’05 preseason, but didn’t make the roster. In Dallas, he ran into mortgage troubles and a legal dispute over a house with the oft-injured and oft-whining Cowboy receiver Terry Glenn, who I’d better refer to as a “He” or else I might get sued too! He also is parlaying his worldly travels into on online travel agent gig, along with a bunch of ex-athletes the likes of James “Bonecrusher” Smith, Mike Alstott, and Lou Brock – I dunno if I trust a guy most famous for ‘steals’ with my money, but hey…
His comment to a fan on the 1994 Slam Dunk Contest, where he was runner-up:
“I was more of a game dunker, hoping a big guy would challenge me at the rim. The 1994 dunk contest was hard for me without the 7-footers to go after.”
YouTube: It’s Robert Pack, by a nose! Watch him stone an Estonian by throwing dem ‘bows in Baltic League ball.
(2011 Update) He’s moving up on the bench as quickly as he used to get to the rim. When it comes to player development, Pack-Man’s proving to be among the best in the business. He worked wonders with rookies Marcus Thornton and Darren Collison as an assistant with hometown New Orleans, and now the ex-USC star is doing the same with Eric Bledsoe in Clipperland. Watch out, Vinnie!

Victim: Alton Lister(2005 Update) After getting ceremoniously crammed on by Shawn “The Original Daddy” Kemp in the playoffs, Alton took his knowledge to Mesa College in ‘Zona, where he’s been coaching since 2000. His top lesson? Don’t stand under the basket, or you will get blistered!

(2008 Update) The seven-foot tall Lister snuck back in the pros to coach, currently “blistering” the likes of Josh Smith and Al Horford with his sage guidance as an assistant with the Atlanta Hawks. Here’s a shot of him with fellow perennial dunk-victim Patrick Ewing at the 2008 NBA Predraft Camp. When it comes to getting posterized, do ya think they’ve got a few stories to share?)
(2011 Update) Lister decided to take his skills to the Philippines, where his brother played back in the 1980s. He was chugging along as the skills coach for the San Miguel Beermen — now the Petron Blaze Boosters, but can you imagine the perks? — and has transferred recently to the Bolts of Meralco, being replaced at Petron by Alex English… Courtesy of LamarMatic: A couple games preceding the poster-ific classic, The Reign Man had a one-piece rained atop his forehead courtesy of you-know-who. Hey, maybe that’s the original meaning behind the blister… did Kemp grow a knot up top?
Facializer: Xavier McDaniel
(2005 Update) Like Kemp, I think the rim must’ve said somethin’ mean about Xavier’s mama when he was a kid, ’cause by the time he grew up he knew damn well how to punish the rim and anything (like Sir Charles and Johnny Newman?) that got in his way.
Although X reportedly got smashed on while at Wichita State when Spud Webb (who was in the League by then) came for a visit… now that had to be a Shocker!… like Lister, X did a lil coaching, too — who better to be a SlamBall coach than the X-Man, leading the Riders to the championship! (SlamBall turned out a’ight, but everybody could tell the concept needed some work.) Anyways, post-SlamBall he’s just been going around Carolina and NBA summer camps providing tutelage on the proper way to stare down your opponent on the inbounds right after tomahawking on his head.
(2008 Update) Let it not be said that the X-Man isn’t afraid to dabble. Over a decade removed from an underwhelming Korean sneaker contract, (wow?) X has gotten a little cameo-acting bug (see YouTube below), took up house-flipping (highlight to see the text), and carried his “Grand Slam”-ming ways onto the tennis court (here he is in Wichita playing doubles with veteran Natasha Zvereva for charity).
“NBA Superstars Out of Their League, Take Two. Lights, Camera, ACTION!”
(2011 Update) Sounding recently like a man who remembers his best dunk fondly…
… he’s back in the Gamecock State, having added a janitorial service to supplement his real estate ventures. Hopefully his daughter, AAU star Xylina, isn’t out there mean-mugging kids after crossovers and layups…

April 25, 2005

Dropping 34 on the host Dallas Mavericks in the opening game of their first-round playoff series, the Rockets’ newest star, Tracy McGrady, announced his intention to cement himself as a bonafide NBA superstar. With the recent expectation of a second child and a 1-0 playoff lead on the road, certainly his spirits were as high as ever. But as Game 2 approached, one could envision McGrady searching for something a little extra special to bring home to Houston.

What might his future kid see when he (if it’s a ‘he’) opens his eyes to the world every morning? How might Tracy show Junior how Daddy takes care of business? Certainly, the 6-foot-8 superstar has basketball accolades galore in his award room but let’s face it, toddlers love pictures. They gawk at posters, not trophies. After Game 1, you can imagine McGrady exploring Dallas’ Academy Sporting Goods for posters of his current stardom, only to find glossies of Kobe dunking and Dirk Nowitzki launching jumpers. If they had any Rocket posters, they’d be of Yao Ming, or, worse, Steve “The Former Franchise” Francis.

Tracy knew that if he was going to find a worthy poster of his likeness in a Rockets’ jersey, he’d just have to make one himself. He couldn’t throw down on Yao, now that he’s a teammate. But maybe he could get a little help from him.

Game 2, first quarter. While Dirk is riding T-Mac’s back in the left corner trying to strip the ball, Yao Ming is strategically backing the straw-legged Shawn Bradley into the paint. Trying to deny the toss-in to Yao, Dirk swipes at the ball on the left, leaving the baseline to the right exposed. In a burst, McGrady is gone, leaving Dirk in the vapors, and Shawn Bradley is out of position.

Bradley tries to swim around Yao’s shoulders to meet McGrady at the baseline. But Yao continued to back into Bradley, until the 7-foot-6’er was stuck at ground zero, directly in front of the hoop. The Mavs’ center leaped feebly in an attempt to meet McGrady at his apex. But with McGrady’s outstretched right arm elevating the ball high above the white rectangle, Shawn had never been this high. Not without a ladder and an oxygen mask.

T-Mac shook the Texas boomtown with a boom of his own, arguably the biggest of his career, screaming as he crushed the rim, ricocheting the ball off a cowering Bradley’s shoulder. The echo from this boom could be heard as far as the Salt Lake City office of the AARP. A stunned Rick Kamla explained, “This is what they call ‘dunkin’ on your whole family.’ And he’s from Utah, he’s got a lot of them!”

Climbing down from Mount Bradley, oblivious to teammates rolling on the floor and tossing towels, McGrady turned his attention to photographers behind the basket, as if to ask, “Did you get that? Did you get THAT?”

Meanwhile, you could look at Shawn and sense the exasperation, probably what Roberto Duran looked like when he begged, “¡No más! ¡No más!” Flash back to a career of getting punked by everyone from Shaq to Robert Pack, from Mo Taylor to Keon Clark, from Chris Webber to Ed O’Bannon, from Earl Watson to Mark Davis. An 11-year career with over 2,000 blocks, brought to an unfortunate end with one devastating “punk-tuation.” Mr. Bradley, you have AARP on line two.

McGrady’s best Game 2 highlight actually came when he brought the ball down the court with just nine seconds left in a tie game. Seven seconds and one jumper off a Yao screen later, he had his 2-0 Rockets lead to bring back to Houston. But at T-Mac’s triumphant postgame press conference, he revealed his ulterior motive, to send something better than a postcard back to Clutch City.

“That’s a poster for my kids,” McGrady said. “I was hoping he was going to jump.” Now with one glance, Tracy’s kid will wake up every morning without any doubt that he’s got quite a legacy to uphold. Keep drinking your milk, son.

Dallas would come back to bring down the Rockets in the series, solving Yao and Tracy’s two-man game and shutting down the whole team in a convincing Game 7. But for most people outside the Metroplex, the series will be remembered for the moment Tracy McGrady rode Shawn Bradley into the sunset.


December 20, 2006

Chris Paul just wants a little space. Despite his Rookie of the Year accolades, every time he drives in the lane, opposing teams treat him like Earl Boykins, cutting off passing lanes, daring him to lay it up. Opponents know the guard will drive the lane since he can’t hit threes. They also know with Peja and David West out, he’s got no passing options, unless you consider Desmond Mason or Tyson Chandler from 10 feet out an “option.” So “crowd the paint and dare Chris to lay it up around the post men” is the one-dimensional defensive game plan, and so far it has worked. Going into the matchup with the Magic, the Hornets have won only two of its past 12 games. But opponents didn’t plan on another dimension to this six-foot guard’s game.

Dwight Howard recognized Chris Paul’s man was lost on the pick – from the very same spot on the floor that Kobe beat his man before making a shorts ornament out of Dwight two years ago.

But at least Kobe could dunk, Dwight thought to himself. As CP3 flew past him to the hoop, the 6-foot-11 center waited patiently for the layup attempt so he could go for the swat, maybe intimidate the little guy enough that he could add to his league-leading rebounds total. This time, though, there would be no layup.

Dwight was curious about the message on Chris’ yellow wristband. And Chris was more than happy to share it with Dwight as he neared the rim, offering him a point-blank view. Much to the Manchild’s dismay it didn’t read, “WWJD?” or “LIVESTRONG.” Instead, in very small font the wristband displayed the message Chris Paul offers to all future big men who dare to challenge him at the rim.



One young player makes the spectacular slam that heralds his entry into stardom, while another witnesses the event up-close-and… way too personal.
January 11, 2001

Four-on-one fast break… and to your dismay, you’re the “one.” Every one of your teammates has left you hung out to dry, at the mercy of your opponents. Defenders wake up in cold sweats at night after nightmares like this. The guy with the ball might dribble it right at you and challenge you to make a play, or he and his teammates play keep-away and leave you awkwardly out of position as the ball approaches the rim.

When a player gets stuck backpedaling like this, there’s only two legitimate choices. Fight or Flee? It can be a tough dilemma. Experienced NBA veterans know how to get out of Dodge gracefully if the prospects for disrupting the play are low. But every once in awhile you get somebody who strives to be a hero, willing to risk taking one for the team as the foil on some opponent’s highlight reel, hoping he’ll produce his own. Often it’s someone who’s young, impressionable, not nuanced enough to know how to slide out of the paint without looking like some frightened rabbit and getting chewed out by his coach for lacking courage. Rather than a hare, envision a squirrel that sauntered into the street and is suddenly beset by an oncoming Winnebago trailer. Lacking the instincts to know exactly what to do or which way to run, instead it’ll often choose to simply freeze up and hope for the best.
Fight or Flee? On this warm Arizona night a young, impressionable Indiana Pacer named Al Harrington is caught in just such a predicament. After two years of riding the pine since coming fresh out of out of high school, he’s displayed enough tenacity and athleticism that the coach (at the time, a still highly respected Isiah Thomas) has just begun awarding him starter’s minutes. As the Suns retrieved the ball, he stuck with his assigned man, the supremely underwhelming Chris Dudley. But his lethargic Pacer teammates seemed to be stuck in tar while their respective opponents zipped across halfcourt without them.
From Harrington’s position, approaching at twelve o’clock was Jason Kidd, the Suns’ star point guard who was fully capable of finishing a fast break with a well-timed pass or a crafty lay-in. To Kidd’s left was a coming-of-age forward named Shawn Marion, only in his second year and quietly filling up stat sheets, but a player like Harrington still striving to make a name for himself in The League. To the far right with the ball was Penny Hardaway, a past-his-prime wing player who, when healthy, was still able to produce highlight plays in clutch situations. The slowest man to get to the defensive end, suddenly it’s Dudley in prime position to be rewarded as the player ahead of the entire pack once the Suns got the ball back. Abandoned by his teammates, only Harrington can thwart an easy field goal by Dudley.

Penny lasers a bounce pass across the court just beyond Harrington’s fingertips into the waiting upper limbs of Dudley, reaching down nearly seven feet to gather the ball at his ankles. In the middle of the game and holding a comfortable lead, a savvy veteran who did his homework would have immediately dived in to hack Dudley, then the NBA’s reigning poster-child for missing free throws. Even Shaq cringed every time this cat got to the line. Dude spent the previous twelve seasons never shooting above 56 percent (his rookie season), and the season before broke an NBA record with thirteen consecutive bricks-slash-airballs. Now the seven-foot Yale graduate possessed the ball just feet away from the basket and was intelligent enough to know immediately what to do… get rid of it before he screws it up.

Harrington scrambled behind Dudley and, rather than draw the foul, reached around him in a vain attempt to dislodge the ball, thinking Dudley would instinctively spin and try to lay it in. He was then caught dumbfounded as Dudley shoveled the ball from his ankles toward a charging Shawn Marion. Here comes the trailer…

Fight or Flee? The question seemed pretty simple for Harrington to answer when it was the plodding Dudley he was dealing with. But now it’s the lightning round and as he turns to face Marion, who’s about to take flight, he has a split second to decide what to do. Jump into attack mode and go for the swat? Slide to the side in hope for a missed lay-up and rebound? Or jump right under the basket, toes just beyond the restricted area, and hope for a sympathetic charge call? Played out of position, he hops into the squirrel approach. Sorry, Al, wrong answer. VRROOOM.

Back at the TNT studios, the NBA crew scrambled to find words to describe this breakout player with the breakout play of the season. Kenny Smith already had the words. Enter “The Matrix,” the name he dubbed Marion during a preseason game in his rookie season. Scouts knew and, eventually, fantasy players would know the man with the classic “tweener” build could do literally anything with his multifaceted game. Pass, shoot (awkwardly, yeah, but the ball still seems to go in), board, block. But few who failed to watch him at UNLV knew he could do what he just did, until now. The New York Times would even pull out the anatomy book to explain Marion’s exploits, asserting he was blessed with “fast-twitch” fibers in his legs that were superior to most athletes… the “American Jumping Bean,” a nickname that thankfully never caught on.

Anatomic explanations were certainly no salve for the unfortunate Al Harrington, destined for SportsCenter, YouTube, and poster-making infamy. Harrington would go on for years without a popular nickname, unless you count, “the poor fool whose forehead got tied up in Matrix’s drawstrings.” Trying futilely to draw the charge, he managed to go from Hero-to-Zero in less than two seconds. The lessons were there in plain view for all ballers to see… four-on-one fastbreaks rarely end pretty when you’re the one. So if you value your teammates at all, don’t leave them hanging, and stick with your man when the ball’s in transition.

Fight or Flee? Years later, Harrington’s recovered from this split-second embarrassment to become a starting forward and make a decent free agent pay-day for himself. And if you ask him that question, he’ll be glad to let you know he’ll still fight. Only this time, opponents flying into the lane had better protect themselves, because now Al’s armed with a stiff right jab. Now a crafty veteran, he’s smart enough not to be caught defenseless under the rim any more. No matter what teams they’re playing for, anytime The Matrix unleashes another aerial assault, Harrington ought to be giving his teammates a heads-up. “C’mon Mickael, don’t you watch YouTube?”