But first, the cosmic significance of the Clippers.
We Are All Clippers Fans
The Clippers are a weird team, to say the least. By general consensus, it's the worst organization in basketball, and likely the worst in all of pro sports. There must be real Clippers fans, though I suspect some of them are motivated just by dislike of the Lakers, or of tickets at the Staples Center when Kobe Bryant is playing. For the rest of this, though, this team is a laughingstock, with a consummate scumbag writing the checks, that every once in a while -- almost by accident -- spits out a squad that really captures our collective fancy.
There was the hectic, flashy, and ultimately doomed Clippers of Lamar Odom, Elton Brand, Darius Miles, and Quentin Richardson; nor are they the Brand, Sam Cassell, Chris Kaman, Corey Maggette assemblage the found its way into the 2005-06 playoffs and, supposedly, vindicated the long-suffering fan-base, that great underclass of Southern California basketball. Now, we are in the middle of the third Clippers awakening, another moment when a franchise that, almost since its inception, had been a punchline. Or maybe it was born under a bad sign, stolen from Buffalo when two owners traded rosters and the Braves franchise was easiest to pry free.
The Clipper curse has been about individuals: Bill Walton, walking wounded during his time in San Diego; Danny Manning, blowing out his knee and destroying such sweet promise. In fact, it's been a general malaise. It could be the fall stars, it could be Sterling. Whatever the cause, this franchise has long been death in a handbag. And then, in the 21st century, it started to squirm, to periodically show life. Sometimes, the Clippers matter, and we all perk up. This is one of those moments.
You all know about Blake Griffin. In a matter of months, the red-headed Clippers rookie has gone from a rookie sensation to the game's most exciting player; from a sleeper hit, the NBA's best-kept secret, to the reason why this year League Pass has become all but essential for anyone who considers themselves anything more than a casual fan. Watch his play, and you may find yourself oddly numb, wondering why such a fantastic athlete could also leave you jaded. At this point, it's almost like Griffin has to outdo himself every night. He's that consistent, and we've grown that used to him. The scary thing is, Griffin's proving he can.
But Griffin isn't the only Clipper of merit on this squad, which can compete like the Second Coming and scare the hairs straight up off of your arms like that earlier hellcat crew. Eric Gordon, who was already on his way up before Griffin arrived, is one of the league's elite scorers. DeAndre Jordan is as forcefully functional a center as you'll find, providing a target for alley-oops and an intimidating shot-blocking presence. Ryan Gomes is serviceable, and rookie Al-Farouq Aminu has gotten a feel for the pro game by coming off the bench -- and is now paying sizable dividends. Same goes for Eric Bledsoe, who might go down as yet another Coach Cal point guard product of night. And holding it all together, Baron Davis, skimming off the top, or laughing at the way it all turned out. He can throw up darn near anything, as soon as he crosses the half-court line, and there's a good chance he'll end up with an assist. Then, every few possessions, he unleash a quick step straight out of 2007 and skip his way to an easy bucket. No wonder he never stops smiling.
And, as trade bait, there's Chris Kaman -- once considered a borderline All-Star. The future looks bright, indeed. Baron's days are numbered, but Bledsoe shall succeed him. Gordon could man the two-guard for the next decade. Aminu at the three, Blake holding it down, and Jordan in the middle. That's about as complete, and potent, a core of young player as any team in the league. It even compares favorably to the Thunder, since it has all the explosiveness of the Thunder, while having the size that OKC so dearly wants for. Except none of us can say it, or believe there's a long-term project here, before it's the Clippers. They will fine some way to screw it up. Our only reference point for them is as a freak occurrence that crosses the sky every few years, like a comet. Not as a perennial playoff team.
Will it last? That depends on whether or not you have any faith in the man at the top, Sterling. If you do, or will admit it public you do, you're as horrible as he is. That's the paradox: we can never fully trust the Clippers because it means trusting Sterling; we can't invest ourselves in them because, on some level, it means giving credit to Sterling. This isn't even about the anti-discrimination suits filed against him -- he's a cheapskate whose idea of being a businessman is to pinch pennies and rain on people's parades. He doesn't know the beginning of the meaning of the word "customer satisfaction."
So maybe it doesn't matter the Clippers only matter every few years now. It's better for the league, and for us as fans, if they show us something occasionally; having a permanently lousy team because it keeps us from feeling morally compromised, or more guilty than we already do in today's crazy, mixed-up world, isn't worth it. No true basketball fans would wish that upon themselves. This set-up we've gotten used to gives us the best of both worlds. This time, though, things are different. Forget about whether or not the Clippers can keep Griffin. Don't we want to see him and Gordon together? Who can now imagine life on Earth without Jordan and Griffin competing for lobs?
Sad it as may be to say so, I think we all want to see this last. Maybe that makes us bad people. I'm pretty sure, though, that a lot of us might find ourselves pulling for the Clippers for a long time to come. A long, long time. (BS)
The Michelin Guide To NBA Restaurants
Earlier this week, Nate Robinson lived out the dream of many NBA players and got to go behind the scenes of one of his favorite restaurants. I speak not of upscale Boston eateries like Grill 23 or O Ya, but instead of his friendly neighborhood Chipotle establishment. The video evidence, which for some reason lasts five minutes, is above. When you watch Nate in the clip, please notice how much love goes into his work at the counter and in the kitchen. This man clearly loves his perfectly adequate burritos.
It might seem odd that a wealthy athlete would frequent a restaurant usually visited by college kids looking to get the most bang for their buck, but Chipotle has nevertheless become one of the most popular places for hungry NBA athletes. With its large portions and fast service, it fits everything an athlete needs out of his food.
But Chipotle does not sit at the top of every player's list of restaurants. Below, please check out this list of the NBA's four favorite places, including Chipotle, and which types of players are most likely to visit.
Chipotle: Chipotle excels at two things: making large amounts of food and doing it rapidly. It's filling, but it also doesn't feel terribly big because everything is encased in the same tortilla, i.e. you are only eating one thing, not many brownies, cookies, etc. Plus, depending on your preferences, you can include virtually every food group in the burrito if you try enough. It's not quite healthy, but it's not a pizza, either.
The service suggests that it would appeal most to sparkplug guards like Robinson and Chipotle superfan Ty Lawson. However, the reality of a burrito is a little less exciting -- it focuses more on fulfilling various needs than blowing the eater out of the water with one kind of overpowering taste. Then again, it's also capable of providing a sizable kick with a hot salsa or pepper.
Verdict: Chipotle is the food of a solid player who also dabbles in the role of the x-factor, occasionally providing a giant lift that pushes his team over the top to an exciting victory.
The Cheesecake Factory: As chronicled by Henry Abbott of TrueHoop, The Cheesecake Factory is perhaps the most popular of all restaurants among NBA professionals. The practical reasons should be clear: there's at least one in every major city and they offer every single genre of food on the menu. It's exceedingly dependable, which is perhaps the most important trait for people who travel on a regular basis. Sometimes, when you're hungry and home is far away, you just want something that feels familiar.
That's why, even though NBA stars certainly appreciate the versatility of chefs who are seemingly familiar with the cooking traditions of every major type of cuisine, The Cheesecake Factory is really for hardened veterans who bring a consistent effort and solid production to the floor every single game. Nothing at this restaurant will impress you very much, but you also won't be offended by anything they serve. It's just like watching Grant Hill.
Benihana: If you've never been to Benihana, here's a quick rundown of Louis Williams's favorite restaurant: it's pretty good Japanese steakhouse fare with the added oomph of being prepared by showy chefs who throw food up in the air and twirl knives a lot. To put it another way, they're showboats who often seem more concerned with the art form than the food they're serving, as if they care more about the customers' eyeballs than their stomachs.
That's the superficial impression, at least. In fact, the food at Benihana is actually pretty damn good -- the steak isn't fantastic, but it's pretty tasty, and the rest goes down just fine. But while the food is merely quality, the experience of eating there is wonderful because of the show itself. The food is therefore inextricable from the artistry of the chefs -- the substance is at least partially in the style.
It's the perfect restaurant for the league's second-tier stars like Monta Ellis. These players have holes in their games, but they're as memorable as many of the best players in the league because they play with such joy and vitality. In other life, it's not difficult to picture Monta dressed in a silly chef's hat flinging shrimp into people's rice bowls.
P.F. Chang's: For the most part, P.F. Chang's is considered a delicious meal, the kind of Chinese food you just can't get at your local takeout place. Unfortunately, this is false, and P.F. Chang's is perhaps the biggest scam in America today. Strip away the inoffensively classy furnishings and the food at P.F. Chang's is really no better than the place that gives me free delivery as long as I order $20 (not $10, that place is terrible) worth of food.
It's not the worst restaurant in the world -- the lettuce wrap appetizers are pretty great, actually -- but it's nothing special. Regardless, it dresses itself up with fine upholstery and exorbitant prices to seem like the best Chinese food a moderately well-off family of four could possibly buy. In that way, it's a perfect fit for a faded, overpaid star like the Vince Carter of three years ago. Vince wasn't a terrible player -- he scored reasonably well, just like the lettuce wraps -- but he was also nowhere near the perennial All-Star starter his reputation made him. Sometimes, you have to look beyond the facade and see what's really there. Luckily, casual basketball fans finally saw the truth of Vince Carter. Hopefully American diners will face the reality of P.F. Chang's soon. (EF)
The Day The Clown Died
With the Suns in Washington DC to face the Wizards tonight, the team decided to do a little sightseeing. But instead of touring the treasures of the Smithsonian or getting behind-the-scenes access to the White House, Phoenix organized a trip to perhaps the most sobering landmark in the city: the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. As Jews, we thought it our duty to promote the team's continued Holocaust education and recommend a film to several of their players.
Steve Nash: Shoah
Shoah is a nine-hour documentary made up in large part of interviews and point-of-view shots of the camps today. It's considered a major achievement, and a fitting cinematic monument to the enormity of the Holocaust. Basically, if you're serious about watching a Holocaust movie, contemplating the significance of this man-made tragedy, or understanding what it says about human nature, Shoah's the movie for you. Steve Nash is a Shoah kind of guy. After all, he skipped out on watching a very important soccer match to make this museum trip. This movie is also nine hours long ... making it something of a punchline for those who dare laugh at a Holocaust-related culture object. Sort of like Nash's one-hundred percent recycled shoes.
Vince Carter: Sophie's Choice
An Oscar-winning Meryl Streep stars as Sophie Zawistowska, a Polish immigrant in Brooklyn who finds herself torn between two lovers, one an unstable Kevin Kline and the other a sensitive Peter MacNicol. Streep acts as if constantly tormented, though, and it eventually comes out that [SPOILER ALERT] upon her arrival in Auschwitz, she was forced to choose which of her two children would die immediately and which would go on to live, for however short or long a period, in the camp. Eventually Streep and Kline kill themselves with cyanide tablets. The end.
Robin Lopez: Life Is Beautiful
When Roberto Benigni jumped over seats to claim a statue at the Oscars in 1999, shockingly few observers mentioned that it was an odd reaction to winning a film about the Holocaust. However, Benigni's actions were also indicative of this film, a maudlin dramedy in which a father pretends the Holocaust is all one big game to protect the innocence of his dear son. Lopez plays hard on the basketball court, but he's not the most serious person around. He likes comics, and fantasy novels, and all sorts of art that doesn't exactly trade in the most adult emotions around. Let him maintain his youth and laugh at Benigni, even if for just a few minutes.
Grant Hill: Schindler's List
"Schindler's List" was Steven Spielberg's statement of artistic seriousness, a moving and at times horribly bleak portrayal of Jewish life under Nazi rule. It's also something approaching a crowd pleaser, though, arguing that people can in fact do good in the face of unspeakable evil. With his veteran notion of determination, Hill also enjoys a happy story. Plus, when this became the most acclaimed movie of 1993 -- which President Clinton officially proclaimed "The Year of the Holocaust" -- Hill was also a culturally significant figure while finishing up his career at Duke. If that's not a correspondence, I don't know what is.
Josh Childress: Europa Europa
"Europa Europa" is the tale of a German Jew -- a Bar Mitzvah the day after Kristallnacht, oddly enough -- who must pose as a Hitler Youth member to avoid death. The film is mostly concerned with identity, both as defined by the culture and the self. That makes it a good fit for Childress, who spent two years playing overseas after receiving substandard offers from NBA teams in free agency. He's now back in America, but he may find himself caught between two basketball worlds.
Channing Frye: The Counterfeiters
The Counterfeiters is based on the true story of Adolf Burger, a Jewish forger plucked out of population in a concentration camp to work on a top secret project. The Nazis are trying to fake the Allies' currency so they can devalue the pound, or have dollars to spend because those are awesome. For his troubles, Burger and his fellow recruits were given real food and a ping-pong table. But he also knew he was helping the enemy. This might as well be the story of Frye's three-point renaissance in Phoenix, which has jump-started his career while keeping them locked in the prison of small-ball. He has found comfort, and maybe even been part of the most important ball of his life. But at what price?
Marcin Gortat: Esther's Diary
This Polish film tells the courageous story of Poles who hid Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust. It hammers home that message that many in Poland rose to the occasion and saved lives. Also, while Jews were the target of the Final Solution, they weren't the only ones murdered in concentration camps. Tens of thousands of Christian Poles died, too.
Mickael Pietrus: Night and Fog
Made just ten years after the liberation of the camps, this 32-minute documentary from Alain Resnais mixes images of abandoned Auschwitz and Majdanek with narration explaining the lives of the prisoners and officers. It's tough to watch, even without graphic depictions of the events in question, but it's one of the more serious attempts to grapple with the terrible atrocities committed during the war, investigating the intersection of history and brutality. And it's French!
Hakim Warrick: Black Book
Unlike most Holocaust movies, Paul Verhoeven's Black Book is tonally all over the place with moments of comedy, drama, romance, and horror. Nazis are often more sympathetic than resistance fighters, and the main character occasionally finds it thrilling to pose as a gentile. It's a film of conflicting emotions, one in which thrills must always be balanced against the idea that our best hopes rarely pan out as expected.
The Works is written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Eric Freeman (@freemaneric), who also contributes regularly to Ball Don't Lie. Their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History is now available.