Thursday, December 21, 2006

'Tis the Season for Holiday Wish Lists

As you might have noticed, it's the holiday season here at The Serious Tip. We've done some redecorating, decked the halls, etc. But before we go over the hills and through the woods for a few days, I've decided to list a few sports-related movies, books, and wishes I wouldn't mind getting from family, friends, loyal readers, local prostitutes, incarcerated pen pals, cyberstalkers, or any other concerned parties.


Cobb - One of my favorite baseball movies. Very underrated and underappreciated Tommy Lee Jones performance. Defines greatness. Taped it off of a movie channel years ago and it's time to get the DVD.

Soul of the Game - A solid baseball movie made by HBO some years back. Describes the struggles and conflicts of Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Jackie Robinson. Stars Blair Underwood, Mykelti Williamson, Delroy Lindo, and R. Lee Ermey.

Ali - Even though Muhammad Ali did not invent rap, he had a pretty decent boxing career. By the way, is it just me or does Will Smith look a lot like a young Jesse Jackson in his new movie? If they ever make The Jesse Jackson Story I wouldn't be surprised if The Fresh Prince gets the lead role.

The New York Mets 1986 World Series Collectors Edition Box Set - Thanks to Yadier Molina, this is the closest I am going to get to watching a Mets championship until October 2007.


John Starks: My Life - Starks was my favorite Knick back in the days when Ewing was in his prime, Oakley elbows were legal, and Anthony Mason's hair designs had more slogans than Times Square.

Paddy on the Hardwood - I am real eclectic when it comes to what I read. One week I'll read a book on hunger in America in the 1960s, the next week I might read about Buddhism, and the third week I might be into a book on Southern Rock. So I really enjoy when a book is able to combine more than one interest. Phil Jackson's Sacred Hoops did that to an extent, merging Western philosophy with basketball. From the reviews I have read, Rus Bradburd's Paddy on the Hardwood does the same, combining Bradburd's distinguished abilities as a coach with his growing interest in Irish fiddle playing. I'd like to thank HoopsAddict for alerting me to this book. They have a real good write up about it and a Podcast here.

The Worst Team Money Can Buy - Ah, the glory days of New York Mets futilty. A pure, blissful time of overpaid homecomings, bleach-loaded supersoakers, and flying M-80s. This book tells the tale of a Mets organization convinced it could buy a championship long before it was in vogue in the Bronx.

The Best of Baseball Digest - I can't say enough about Baseball Digest. I've subscribed to the magazine for over 20 years. I think I missed maybe one issue. The only magazine I put down everything else I am reading to read cover to cover. This is its "best of" since it started back in the 1940s.

Miscellaneous Wishes

- For Isiah Thomas to find other employment away from the New York Knicks.

- For the next Florida State offensive coordinator to instinctively know running plays on 3rd and long usually don't work.

- For Florida State forward Al Thorton to be drafted by the Knicks in the 2007 NBA draft.

- For a date with whoever wins Playmate of the Year 2007. Kinda rooting for Sara Jean Underwood personally.

- For a Met pitcher to throw a no-hitter this year. Or any year.

- For Terrell Owens to find an attention-obsessive woman who fakes suicide to keep him with her.

- For the Man to quit holding people down.

- For everyone to have a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, safe and joyful Hajj and Eid Al-Adha, Happy Winter Solstice, or whatever it is you do this time of year.

Happy Holidays.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Those fightin' Knicks

There is something about a good brawl that gets the fan loyalty going. Maybe it's the togetherness of a team in combat, the us vs. them ideal, or perhaps the scrappy underdog fighting mentality. No matter the cause, a good brawl and it's proceeding rivalry brings a team and its fans together on a deeper level. No longer are we rooting for the team to win, we are rooting for them to survive and conquer. Victory in the game becomes secondary to victory in battle. Brawls may be bad for a game's image, but nothing beats the intensity of a good physical rivalry highlighted by a few haymakers.

Now I have had my complaints about Isiah Thomas. Honestly, I wouldn't be more pleased if he was no longer associated with the Knicks. However, after this weekend's throwdown between the Knicks and Nuggets, I am much more likely to pull for this team. No, I am not ending the boycott. But I do like the thought of a hardnosed fighting team that might lose every game compared to a well-behaved undefeated team.

Watching the Knicks fight the Nuggets brought back memories of brighter, more violent days when the Knicks took no guff and threw down with little hesitation - consequences be damned. Whether it was a Starks headbutt, an Oakley elbow, or a Van Gundy leg-lock - whatever it took to win. In honor of the Knicks showing some life and togetherness, The Serious Tip presents the best Knicks fights of the last 13 years.

Knicks vs. Suns, April 1993: Twenty-one players were fined and three suspended when former Knicks guard and current Celtics headcoach Doc Rivers went a round with Suns guard Kevin Johnson. And in a clip you might not see on ESPN too often, then-injured Knicks backup guard and current ESPN analyst Greg Anthony left the bench in his street clothes to join the squabble.

Knicks vs. Pacers, May 1993: The Knicks-Pacers rivalry was always like a good opening act before the Eastern Conference's headlining Knicks-Bulls series. One year before Reggie Miller went lights out and drew the ire of Spike Lee and Knicks fans everywhere, he was the recipent of a flying headbutt by John Starks. Give credit where credit is due - it wasn't Mike Tyson or Zidane who made the sports headbutt famous, it was John Starks.

Knicks vs. Bulls, May 1994: Although the Knicks and Bulls engaged in possibly the most intense NBA rivalry of the mid-90s, only once did they come to blows. During the game better known as "The Game Scottie Pippen Sat Out", Derek Harper and Bulls guard JoJo English duked it out at the top of the key. Although only Harper and English were involved, the fight eventually spilled into the stands right in front of Commissioner/Fuhrer David Stern. (Ranked 4th in a pre-Artest melee SportCenter Top Ten here).

Knicks vs. Heat, May 1997: With the Indiana Pacers sliding from playoff significance, the Knicks found a new opening round rival in former coach Pat Riley and the Miami Heat. While none of these games could ever be confused with the recent high-scoring Suns-Nets game, they made for great entertainment in their own plodding, tight defensive ways.

Of all the Knicks-Heat skirmishes, perhaps none was more intense than Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals. With the Knicks down by nearly 20 points and the game winding down, Charlie Ward attempted to box out Heat forward P.J. Brown after a free-throw. Angered by what Heat fans refer to as an "undercut", Brown picked up Ward and flipped him to the ground. Conveniently, as the referees stood in front of the Heat bench preventing the Miami team from joining the ruckus, the Knicks players came to the aid of their fallen comrade. Consequently, every Knicks player who left the bench was suspended, costing the Knicks the following game and eventually the series.

Knicks vs. Heat, May 1998: In Round 2 of the Heat-Knicks War, former Charlotte Hornet teammates Larry Johnson and the Alonzo Mourning threw down in Game 4 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Yes, this was the game former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy clung to Mourning's leg like a pitbull. In what a Knicks fan can only call poetic justice, Mourning was forced to sit out the deciding Game 5 and the Knicks defeated the Heat and moved on to face the Indiana Pacers. (Ranked Number One in the SportsCenter Top Ten here.)

Knicks vs. Lakers, April 2000: Although I never had much positive to say about Chris Childs (I thought Charlie Ward was clearly better), I disliked him a little less when he exchanged fisticuffs with Kobe Bryant. First a headbutt (a Knicks tradition), then a right, then a left - word to the wise, never mess with a sober Chris Childs.

Knicks vs. Spurs, January 2001: After a physical game of elbows and jostling for position, Marcus Camby attempted to take his anger out on Spurs forward Danny Ferry. Unfortunately, this is the most embarrassing of the Knicks battles as Camby not only tried to sucker punch Ferry, but as Jeff Van Gundy stepped between the two players, Camby's punch missed and he inadvertently headbutted Van Gundy, cutting open the coach's face and requiring numerous stitches. (Ranked Number 2 in the aforementioned SportsCenter Top Ten here). No wonder Camby wasn't a factor in the recent fracas, he might have knocked out Carmelo Anthony.

Knicks vs. Bulls, January 2006 - In a game that can only be described as eventful, Maurice Taylor and Chicago's Chris Duhon mixed it up and Antonio Davis went into the stands to the defense of his wife. Not at the same time of course.

(Interesting side note: A few years ago I attended an FSU-Duke game back when Chris Duhon was playing for the Blue Devils. Through a connection I was able to get seats three rows from the Duke bench in the Duke family section. Great seats. So my friend Zheke and I are sitting there cheering on the Seminoles and Chris Duhon's mother turns around and yells at us for sitting where we were and not rooting for Duke. We tried to explain that we weren't bad-mouthing the Blue Devils or her son, we were just rooting for Florida State. Apparently this wasn't good enough for Ms. Duhon. Whatever, lady. Needless to say I am a little biased against Chris Duhon. But I digress.)

So that brings us to this weekend and the first NBA brawl since Ron Artest took on Detroit Rock City. Although the pundits, analysts (including the aforementioned Greg Anthony), and prognosticators may all bemoan the return of pugilism to the basketball hardwood, for Knicks fans it's just like old times.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Debunking Ali as the Edison of Rap

"Just like Muhummad Ali they called him Cassius/
Watch me bash this beat like a skull"

- LL Cool J, "Mama Said Knock You Out"

On December 9th, ESPN will premier "Ali Rap", a program that claims Hip-Hop/Rap music was born from the antics and proclamations of Muhammad Ali. But did Ali really influence rap music, or is ESPN merely grasping for straws in an attempt to capitalize on the attraction of one of the greatest boxers and public figures of the last 50 years?

In order to validate ESPN's claim, it is necessary to look at the difference between Ali and African-American celebrities prior to the late 1960s. Earlier African-American boxing champions such as Jack Johnson were undoubtedly victims of an exploiting white entertainment culture. Because of segregation, African-American boxers were seen as performers no different to the average white fan than the circus strong man or the bearded lady. Only when Joe Louis fought Max Schmeling in 1938 did the American people rally behind a black champion. Louis was an American - "one of us." For one fight, the rich and the poor, the educated and the unlearned, and the black and white were all united.

Nine years later, Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier. Being the first African-American to play in the Major Leagues, Robinson appealed to to African-American communities nationwide. Robinson's strengths however, are the reason he is no longer as culturally relevant as Muhammad Ali, a claim made famous by ESPN columnist Scoop Jackson. Robinson's upbringing, military service, and college education separated him from the average African American. While their civil struggle was the same, Robinson, both because of his diplomatic nature and his initial agreement with Dodgers' owner Branch Rickey to not fight back, did not brazenly approach the social issues the way Ali would 20 years later. Agree or disagree with him, Robinson was not a threat. He was the Martin Luther King, Jr. of sports desegregation.

Although Jackie Robinson did not employ any braggadocio, to claim Muhammad Ali originated the art of "trash-talking" or "talking smack" prevalent in rap music is completely incorrect. Short staccato claims of power had existed in African-American culture long before the 1960s. Gospel, blues, and field hollers all carried the call and response, back and forth style of announcement, where a message was stated without many words being said. Blues singer Muddy Waters, for example, proclaimed he was "The Hoochie Coochie Man" and the world knew he was him, a boastful claim if there ever was. If ESPN narrowed its claim and presented the idea that Ali was the first African-American to employ these techniques in sports it might be more correct.

Where ESPN can claim Muhammad Ali influenced rap is in the role of populist hero. The idea of populist hero in rap/hip-hop culture is discussed in depth by Cutler Edwards in his thesis Kung-Fu Cowboys to Bronx B-Boys: Heroes and the Birth of Hip-Hop Culture. According to Edwards, the idea of hero was one who faced the struggle of his/her environment head-on, took on the establishment, and lived by his own moral code of justice. Edwards writes,

"the hero exhibits all those traits which a society collectively finds most appealing and desirable, and he uses those powers in the ways which it deems most appropriate. Usually this means that the hero performs acts that one feels one would not have the ability to carry out, lacking the physical strength or personal grit (or both) necessary to complete the tasks in question."

Edwards further contends the idea of hero continuing from the cowboy of the old western movies to the kung-fu fighter of more recent cinema to the art of breakdance "battling". By changing his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali, protesting the Vietnam War, and standing up for social justice, Muhammad Ali fit all of Edwards's criteria and became a real-life hero to millions.

So did Muhammad Ali "invent" rap? No. Was he one of the first mainstream athletes to use the braggadocio of African-American celebrities such as Muddy Waters and Satchel Paige? Absolutely. Ali's ability and methods fit perfectly in an age quickly immersing itself in sound bytes and 30 second attention spans. No longer would lengthy discourse and the diplomacy of Jackie Robinson or Martin Luther King, Jr. move the masses. Catchy phrases such as "I am the Greatest" were the future, directly influencing "The Revolution will not be Televised," "Fight the Power," and "Get Rich or Die Tryin'."