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So, it's been more than a week now.

The coolest day of my life, that is. One week has already passed!

See, I've always been a big fan of Bamboo. This goes all the way back to '96, when I first heard "Kisapmata" on the radio. Up until that point, I never really cared much for Pinoy music. Maybe it was my age or something, but amazingly, Ace Of Base simply appealed to me more. Yeah...

But all that changed once I heard Rivermaya's "Kisapmata". Being exposed to Pinoy music was like opening a gift that had been sitting on the shelf for months. The next thing I know, I was hooked on music by Side A, the Eraserheads, South Border, and the like.

Above all that, though, I remained a big fan of Rivermaya.

Back in the age of cassette tapes, the only way to acquire these tapes was to physically hunt them down and purchase them from the store. This might not seem all that hard, but when the nearest record store from your house is four (!!!) freakin' hours away, you really don't have much of a choice. So, really, since I was only maybe 9 or 10 at that time, I could only go out when my parents did. And at that period, they had just moved to Davao, so there was no way for me to buy the albums. Looking back now, I truly pity myself... It got to the point where I resorted to imagining what the album cover looks like! Countless days where spent on me waiting for the songs to be played on the radio, then pressing "Record" as soon as the DJ stopped yapping. Yeah, it was pretty desperate, but without MP3s and the internet, I didn't really have a choice. So, basically, I had a collection of songs that either: (a) had some random dude introducing the song or (b) started during the 2nd line of the song. Nice.

So, really, it wasn't really surprising that when I finally arrived in the "land of no traffic", Davao City, I immediately went to the mall and purchased their first two albums. Great. Now whenever we would accompany my dad on one of his trips to Gen. Santos or Cagayan de Oro, we would blast Rivermaya non-stop! Especially fun considering it was a noisy (at that time) album and the pick-up we rode on was full of 40 and 50-somethings. Good times, indeed.

And all this brings me back to why I wrote this piece.


When he made his comeback, I was really unsure of how I felt about his music. I never really liked "inspirational" songs. To me, they always sounded too "preachy". So when they released "Noypi", I was probably the Filipino who felt unmoved by the cut. And man, when I think about it now, I feel so f*cking stupid. Not feeling probably the only great modern song that empowers and applauds the filipino spirit? Shit. I really deserved all the stupidity I felt, and then some.

Eventually though, with Kricket's insistence that I appreciate the new Bamboo's music, I finally did. The more I listened, the more I felt the emotions. It was nothing like how I saw it before. This was like looking at an object from a fresh perspective, with a new renewed sense of purpose. Merely hearing the music didn't do it justice. It was more than that, and thankfully, I understood it now. And right then and there, it was over. I was once again hooked on the band. Only now, it was more than just music to me. Now it was art.

So imagine my surprise when Kricket told me she could score free tickets to Bamboo's concert! Through some weird way, she knew the drummer (Vic Mercado) and a friend of Nathan Azarcon (the bassist).

And when the band hit Davao for a small concert way back in February, we were there. In another pleasant surprise worthy of lots of hugs and kisses (YEAH!), Kricket somehow managed to have us stay at Nathan and Vic's hotel room before their concert.

A quick refresher, just to clarify the magnitude of this event...

Me=BIG Rivermaya fan=reluctant Bamboo supporter=turned BIG Bamboo supporter

So, really, do I need to even describe how I felt when I met a member of the Philippines' greatest band EVER!?!? But it doesn't even end there. Meeting them in person is icing on the cake already, but talking to them and hanging out with them for hours? That's chocolate-syrup-on-the-icing-on-the-cake-sprinkled-with-macadamia-nuts good. Crazy.

So, by the end of the night, me and Kreng managed to score some autographs, we managed to walk to the stage with Nathan and rocked out to every Bamboo hit. Perfect.

Like all good things, though, there must be an encore. And on August 16, 2008, the encore occurred.

It was unfortunate that Kricket couldn't bless me with her presence then, but it was a good night all the same. This one, I have to give it up to Buddy once more.

Similar to the last time, I was once again granted backstage passes (pinch me). Seeing how the band prepared was crazy, and at that time I felt like the dude from Almost Famous, awestruck yet trying to act all cool.

So, with a glass of J&B in my hand (thanks, Bud!), we lost ourselves in the music once more. Don't think I exaggerate, because let's face it, every one of us has done this before. And it feels so gooood.

Honestly, by then, I was waiting for the "catch". There was just too much good happening that I half-expected something out of the blue to bring me back to reality. Maybe I spill a drink on my jacket, or I unexpectedly stumble while jumping... Anything.

But really, it was as if everybody knew it was my birthday and they were helping me celebrate it. As if the free tix aren't enough, I was invited to hang out with Nathan and Ira Cruz after the gig. Damn. So yeah, I guess you could say I PARTIED WITH ROCK STARS!!! It was great chillin' with these guys, which were only made better since they were all so down-to-earth and natural. Absolutely no posturing from these dudes.

After a few more drinks and numerous photo requests, it was time to call it a night. My head was throbbing, my body was dead-tired, and I had to wake up early the next day, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Stuff like this only happens once (or twice, in my case) in a lifetime, and you just have to go all-out.

A week later, I still can't get over this. The craziness that occurred is still fresh in my mind, clear as crystal. On my way to work, I still blast "Probinsyana" full volume, non-stop. My voice is still hoarse, the result of shouting along to the songs still being felt. I still tell these tales to anyone who shows even a faint hint of interest. And despite this... No, scratch that... Because of it, I feel good.


Digg! BallHype: hype it up!

In the first part of my series, I documented how I fell out of love with the NBA Live series by the 2006 edition.

For Part 2, I have to be fair. Unlike past Live editions, when their "new features" were about as useful as a 3-pointer at the buzzer when your team's down by four, 2009 actually seems very innovative.

It's going to take a lot for Live to win me back, but so far, everything they've shown looks interesting. And really, we have to admit that this could be the next step in sports games. As much as Live's gameplay emulates a sport which is nothing like basketball, we have to give them due props for trying to move the sport forward. As soon as I typed that last sentence, I sneezed... Guess my body's still not used to giving EA Sports compliments.

You can find the full list of features here, but it's all smoke and mirrors. Yeah, they're cool (or so it seems), but it's their jobs to make them sound cool. Only a fan knows which features are truly important, so let me enumerate the things NBA Live '09 has going for it.

Dynamic DNA - "...which evaluates Player DNA that breaks down how a player scores, Team DNA that rates how the players on the floor play as a unit and Tendencies that refer to the percentage a player drives left, right or shoots from each spot on the floor."

This is the single biggest reason why I even started writing this series. When I first read about the Dynamic DNA, I was blown away. A system that updates player stats and tendencies based on real-life performances?!? Wow. Remember the days when we were stuck with whatever rating the players had? Yeah, we could tweak their ratings, but it would have been inaccurate. And it would have been a lot of work. And more than that, it was their tendencies that really needed editing. It's common in the actual NBA for a player to adjust their style to fit their new team better. And somehow, that was never reflected in video games before.

Another great thing about this is the Team DNA. I hope they can somehow incorporate this into the way the CPU constructs their franchise. It really annoys me to no end when CPU makes random trades that does their team more harm than good. Yeah, you traded your best PG for a stud C, but what use is it when you already have a stud C in your team? Hopefully, this Team DNA gives each team its own identity to build around on. So, in a perfect world, the run & gun Phoenix Suns would never trade for a player like Shaq (oh, wait...). And as the years go by, this would also (hopefully) allow a team to change styles. Using the Suns again, when Steve Nash retires, then obviously the helter skelter style would have to change (unless the CPU is smart enough to develop a PG similar to Nash's style). Now that the team revolves around Amare Stoudemire, then hopefully they'd target players that complements his style. Or the CPU could decide to "rebuild". The possibilities are limitless, but I seriously doubt that they would extend to the Dynasty Mode for this year. Wish this could make its way to the game by next year, though.

The other thing that EA Sports does really well is present their product in the most authentic way possible. If you are new to the basketball game market, you'd immediately think that Live is the one to own. And for that, you have to give EA props.

From hyping their games months before the release date, holding mega-parties, granting interviews to NBA superstars and locking in the ESPN license, EA Sports has the marketing aspect on a stranglehold. And when it comes to features, they continuously cook up every NBA fans' dreams.

First off, one thing that I always liked about Live is their FIBA license. Yeah, the rosters' player ratings are appropriately inferior, but how classic would it be to match up the US with Spain? Or how about using Greece and Argentina? Just one more example of how EA knows how to sell games. Next thing we know, they'll have the WNBA license ready for next year.

Their presentation is also always slick, and their soundtracks always feauture more big-names. Not saying 2k should go mainstream, but they definitely could take a page from EA and try to crank up the hype machine like never before. The last thing I would want is EA locking up the NBA license the way they locked up the NFL's. Hell, even 2k's college ball game has been cancelled!

As for the other features, some of them were found in 2k8's games. The playcalling system, lockdown control and NBA Academy are basically just rehashes of 2k's games.

So far, the gameplay of Live seems much improved (although eerily similar to 2k's), but there are still some animations that are nowhere near natural. Honestly, it looks much like a less polished version of NBA 2k8, and right now, 2k9 should really blow 2k8 out of the water. But let's reserve judgment until we see more.

Basically, the Dynamic DNA is the one thing that could possibly leapfrog Live back to respectability. If this feature truly changes the way players and teams play, then this will be a success. But if the technology proves to be too advanced for the gameplay, then it's all for nothing. The promise is there, let's hope it works out.

For Part 3, I will talk about how the basketball game world can improve more, and updates on how 2k9 is looking. But for now, check the latest preview out for NBA 2k9. Makes you wish it's already October, eh?

Digg! BallHype: hype it up!


When it comes to basketball games, it really boils to just two titles: EA Sports' NBA Live series, and 2K Sports' NBA 2K series.

Back on the PlayStation One, I was a Live guy. Granted, it was essentially the only basketball game around (Sony's ShootOut SUCKED), so it was really no contest. But still, back then it was a very good game. It was the first game to allow mid-air passing, a season mode, full stat tracking and even feature a "defensive stance" button.

My love for Live continued into the PS2. Although the 2001 edition sucked big-time (worst rebounding physics ever), they made up for it the next year and actually offered a playable game. Then, a few years later, they would introduce the use of the right analog stick. This made the game feel more natural, as the right analog stick basically acted as the player's "arms". Want to steal left? Flick it to the left side. Want to pull off a crossover going to the right? Done. I remember reading the ads and previews for that game, and it only increased my hunger. Back then, I had no idea of the official release date, so I would call the game store everyday just to know if they had it on stock.

This addiction continued up until NBA Live 2005 (pictured above), which I consider to be the greatest Live ever. Just like Chris Paul and the Hornets, everything clicked in that title. By this time, I feel that EA had perfected the balance between offense and defense. You had strong offensive groups (Sac-town, what up!) that could shoot the lights out every game. But in addition to that, defense wasn't just an afterthought. Yeah, you had strong shooters, but you were allowed to play great defense, too. Defense that actually prevented the opposition from scoring, mind you. Back in a time when paying Ben Wallace $ 10+ mill per year seemed like a pretty great idea, Live was the king. Just remembering the Saturdays when we would play until 4:00 am comforts my soul.

But then, by 2006, Live started regressing. In Dwyane Wade's cover year, I started my "fallout" with Live. The game had transformed into a shootfest, one that negated any defense at all. Yeah, you could go "steal-crazy" (like I did with King James and Laura Hughes), but it felt more like a bug. Activate you damn superstar power, and simply press the steal button and voila! You're suddenly running the break. B*llshit.

I had been hearing lots of great things about the 2k series by then, so I decided to buy the 2007 editions of NBA 2k and Live. I bought Live '07 first, and after playing one quarter of it, I decided I was done. The game was just terrible. How could the graphics get worse every year? Damn.

So, despite my strong dislike for Shaq, I bought 2k7. I remember buying it the day before the final exam of a subject I was thisclose to failing. Asking me to not play it asap was like asking Ruben Studdard to "take it easy" on the buffalo wings.

Anyways, upon playing it, I was blown away. Here was a game where the players actually planted one foot, pivoted, before they ran in the other direction! I'm not joking, those were the things that mattered to me. Simply put, this was everything Live was not, and I was thankful for that.

Hell, when everybody was buying an XBox 360 for Halo and Mass Effect, I bought it primarily to play NBA 2k8. Right now, I've answered 120+ trivia questions correctly in the game, which should tell you how much I play this game. This is true next-gen basketball, with numerous animations, much improved gameplay and a deeper Associaton mode. How can a basketball junkie not love this?!?

However, I haven't been hearing a lot about NBA 2k9. Considering it's scheduled to be released in early October, to not have more info available is seriously confusing. They do plan on releasing one, right?

This worries me because Live is seemingly going all out for NBA Live 2009. I'm certainly no 2k fanboy. And I have no qualms giving Live credit if they truly deserve it. But Live does this year after year. They promise a great set of features, they guarantee us improve gameplay, they swear to us improved A.I., but like Tracy McGrady, they never come through. So that's why I would much rather see 2k cranking out the hype machine by now. They always seem to deliver on their promises and their gameplay is pretty much set in stone. Any improvement should only make the game that much better.

Right now, that's Part 1 for 'ya. I plan on doing this up until the release of both games (and maybe even beyond that). There's so much more to discuss, after all. When it comes to basketball, nothing is too much. Nothing.

For Part 2, I'll be talking more about NBA Live '09's impressive and staggering list of innovations. If there's one edition that's likely to bring me back to Live's arms, this could be it. Crazy.
Epilogue: Glad to see Jay and Kanye teaming up to change the game once more. Not that this is surprising, but damn this song will be a hit.

Last 5 songs played on my iPod:
1. POD - Tenacious D, "The Pick Of Destiny"
2. Superstition - Stevie Wonder, "The Music Of Stevie Wonder"
3. B*tches & Sisters - Jay-Z, "The Blueprint 2"
4. Reason Why - Rachael Yamagata, "OST: The Last Kiss"
5. Dahil Sa'yo Sa Himig Ng Aking Gitara - Hale, "Twilight"

Digg! BallHype: hype it up!

The date was July 17, 2008.

The place, the United States Embassy in Manila.

And the time, it was early in the morning.

We left Bulacan at around 4:30 am, hoping to avoid the grating traffic. We can't be late, can't play with fire. Not today, at least. This was a very important day.

What happens today could very well decide if I will be able to go to the USA.

So, there we were at Baywalk at around 6:00 am, two full hours early for our interview. I was groggy and sleepy, but I'm glad I woke up early today. I've never been to Manila Bay at this time of the day, and I must say, I'm missing out on a lot here. As polluted as Manila is, I thought the air here was fresh. I can see why numerous people would want to wake up at 5:00 am and jog here.

Anyways, as luck (or lack of it) would have it, my documents needed for the appearance were incomplete. Instead of having the last page of my papers stamped with "$ 131.00", only "$ 31.00" was stamped.

It was 7:30 am when I found out about this, so in 30 minutes, I had to find a way to somehow put a "1" there. The VISA officer probably felt my desperation, so she offered me a postponement. I had to be there again by 10:00 am, otherwise my interview (and the f*cking $ 131.00 I paid) would be nullified. Sh*t. And to make matters worse, BPI opens at 9:00 am. Great.

We went to the nearest BPI branch we knew (the UN Avenue branch) and basically conducted a stakeout. It was really funny... I know how cautious and scared of robberies these banks are, so it must have been weird for them to see this car parked directly outside of their office an hour before they were supposed to open. Haha. And for us to tell them we were waiting for the dude who carries the keys to the vault (who I shall dub the "Keymaster" from this point on), well, let's just say the security guards were earning their pay at this moment.

So we waited and waited for the Keymaster to arrive. The wait eventually turned into a guessing game, where we tried to determine whether the person entering the bank was the boss or not.

Sample quote: "'Di yan yung boss, tingan mo, ang pangit ng kotse oh..."

And so he arrived. He was a little dude, the guy you'd never think holds the key to moolah. But he was nice. Unfortunately, he wasn't of much help. He politely directed us to another branch of BPI nearby (I think it was the Dewey Ave. branch?). He told me that was the office that dealt with problems like this, since it happens often. WTF?!?! Not exactly the best endorsement for BPI...

At around 9:00 am, I finally got BPI to correct their error. So we hurried off to the Embassy, and thankfully we were able to get inside. I really think that the appointment times are useless, as we weren't even questioned inside.

So there we were, waiting for our turn. I have to credit the Embassy here, the whole process was very seamless. Though the waiting time was a bit long, it was never a hassle. As an IE, I admire it. As an applicant, I love it.

While inside the interview room, I noticed that the person sitting in front of me is LA Tenorio of the Alaska Aces. I fought the urge to ask him what the hell he was doing here when the PBA season was in full swing. Then I remembered, his team was eliminated the previous week. Since I like him as a player (and former Blue Eagle), I didn't rub it in his face.

*By the way, since I saw him on US soil, does that technically mean I've met a basketball player in the US?*

Anyways, my grandma and I were called for our turn. I thought the interview would take place inside a room and we would all sit together and discuss stuff. I was wrong, though... We were asked to stand up during the whole interview and answer his questions by speaking at the mic/radio hybrid attached on the glass. It was really awkward.

The interview lasted about 5 short minutes, and in that span of time, we had to convince him we were coming back here. I can't say I really got to unleash my whole "I love the Philippines so much I just have to come back" speech, since he was directly asking my grandma the questions.

At the end of it all, he didn't trust us. He didn't believe we'd come back. And to think, I shaved the goatee I grew for 4 months for this.

And there it was. We were denied a VISA. We wouldn't be going to the US anytime soon. The leave-with-no-pay, waking up at 3 am on a perfectly good day to sleep, the $ 131.00 application fee, the stakeout at BPI, everything... It all went down the drain. In 5 freaking minutes.

And you know what? I'm actually relieved. And truthfully, I was happy.

Yes, the sting of disappointment was undeniable. It was the US, after all. But overall, though, I was kinda glad that I wasn't leaving Davao yet.

Don't get me wrong, I would love to be with my family again... But right now, I'm loving life alone. This is the first time I've been left behind for an extended period of time, and somehow, I feel good about it.

Right now, there's too much to leave behind. Kreng's still here. My closest friends are here, some of my relatives are here, and I'm still loving my job. Hell, ever since my mom left, I've gotten so much more involved in her business. I was given a taste and an idea of how to run a business, and right now, I think I'm doing a decent job. Since I have so much time to myself, I've even found the time to play more basketball than I ever did before.

As much as I thought life would be harder with them not around, the exact opposite has happened. My life has slowed down, and I feel more relaxed lately.

See, all these were just pipe dreams when they were still here. Now, they are facts.

I never meant for this post to sound like I like it better when they're not around. Or that I feel like I can truly live on my own right now. Very far from that, in fact.

What I mean is, with them not around all the time, I've been learning new tricks everyday. How to spend money wisely, paying (though not with my own cash) the bills, thinking of ways to cut costs, knowing your limits, learning the value of good health, etc. The importance of all those things have been amplified the second they went to the US. And right now, I'm still feeling things out.

And the denied application only means more opportunities to grow.

For that, I can safely say that it was truly a blessing in disguise.
Epilogue: Music is a universal language. And music tells so much about a person. So in an effort to let you know me better, here are the last five songs shuffled and played on my iPod. Interpret them however the hell you want to.

1. "Believe Me, Natalie" - The Killers, Hot Fuss
2. "I Got A Woman" - The John Mayer Trio, TRY!
3. "I Want You" - Common, Finding Forever
4. "Hola' Hovito" - Jay-Z, The Blueprint
5. "Light Powered" - Deastro, Ghostly Swim

Digg! BallHype: hype it up!

Ok, I know everybody's talking about the past Draft these days, but I got something else on my mind...

Is the NBA Championship all that it's cracked up to be?

To avoid further discussion, YES. Yes, it is. It truly is the greatest prize in the sport, the sole goal (ideally) of any professional basketball player.

But somehow, I keep asking myself: is it really the best gauge of a player's greatness? I mean, if Player X puts up virtually the same stats as Player Y, but Player Y happens to win more titles in his career, is he truly better? Or is there something else there that we just don't see? Or, more importantly, does he deserve to be seen as the greater athlete?

And really, despite all the hoopla that is the NBA Draft and the impending Free Agency period, I keep coming back to this one topic. Maybe the high of seeing the Celtics win is still fresh in my mind, or maybe it's because I don't really know most of the players in the Draft, but this is one thing that I keep thinking about.

And it always brings me back to two players.

Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett. Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan. Big Ticket, Big Fundamental.

You see, as recently as 2006, it would have been blasphemous to say that Kevin Garnett was on the same level as Tim Duncan. Talent-wise, you might be right. But in everything else? Nuh-uh. Tim Duncan was always the better player, the smarter leader, the greater teammate. Kevin Garnett was always the "lovable loser", a transcendent superstar with street cred to match that just couldn't seem to win anything substantial.

The stats? They played to a virtual stalemate. Timmy D averages 21.6 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 3.1 APG, 51% FG, and 2.4 BPG. KG? He averages 20.4 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 4.4 APG, 49% FG, and 1.6 BPG. Really, they were always thisclose to each other in terms of stats.

So why all the love for TD while KG was left in the cold? Simple. The rings. The titles. The chips.

Throughout the years, Tim Duncan was seen as the champion between the two. He's boring as hell, sure, but he was a proven winner. He brought four titles to San Antonio and won the Finals MVP thrice. As charismatic as Garnett was/is, all that really matters is the ring count. And up until 2008, the scorecard read: Tim Duncan: 4 & Kevin Garnett: 0.

But somehow, that changed this past June. Kevin Garnett suddenly got his. The prize was his. And just like that, claiming that KG is as good as Duncan suddenly didn't sound that ridiculous. There were doubters, obviously, what with Paul Pierce winning the Finals MVP, but there was no more doubting that Kevin Garnett was now a "winner".

And, really, that's what's led me to make this post. That's what made me ask the all-important question...

Why? Why just now? Why not then?

Why did it take me (along with so many other people) just now to recognize the realness? Why is my heart and my mind suddenly comfortable with KG being a "champion". But more importantly, why was it hard for me then to recognize his excellence when he was playing much, much better? Better than he did this year. Or at least just as well. Why?

To put it bluntly, this really made me question the tags we place on so-called winners. Yes, of course their excellent play led them to their titles. And yes, they aren't really chopped liver. But, in my mind, it could also be because of the situation they were placed in.

Remember, when Kevin Garnett was drafted back in '95, he played for an unidentifiable Minnesota team. No real history yet, no pride, no great players on board to teach him the game... And by his second year, he was producing well.

Contrast that with the Tim Duncan Robot, who was placed on a team that had David Robinson, Avery Johnson and Sean Elliott. All proven winners, all with playoff experience.

Not to take anything away from Timmy D, though, because he's clearly elite, but man... Could his job be any easier?

I hope by now you catch my drift. But if not, it's simply this. Assume KG was in Duncan's place... Still believe he'd have lost all those first-round match-ups? Titles really are important, believe me. But maybe it doesn't really tell us the whole f*cking story.

Maybe Minnesota wasn't really KG's fault.

Maybe he's a victim of dumb management.

And maybe, throughout the years, he was truly as good as Tim Duncan.

And we only recognize that now? For shame.
P.S. I really wanted to post this separately, but I don't know much about boxing to dedicate a whole post to it. But I am EXTREMELY elated my fellow Filipino Manny Pacquiao dominated once more.

And to the people befuddled by my sudden KG love, this video probably has a lot to do with it. Enjoy.

Digg! BallHype: hype it up!

By now, NBA fans will surely have seen Shaq's impromptu "freestyle" that really puts Kobe Bryant on blast.

It was harsh, yeah, but did we really expect anything less from Shaq? I mean, this is the same dude that called Erick Dampier a WNBA player and referred to the Sacramento Kings as the "Sacramento Queens". So, really, was that surprising?

That's not even considering his complex relationship with Kobe Bryant.

But, perhaps more surprisingly (or not), is that we have yet to hear from the Black Mamba.

Well, I was on my daily visit to SLAM and Russ Bengston took it upon himself to issue Kobe Bryant's potential rebuttal. And man, this sh*t bites harder than Nas' "Ether".

This is so cot-damn funny it should be considered an instant classic. I only wish Kobe would come out and post this sh*t on Youtube. Damn, Russ... You are a god.
The following is taken from Russ Bengston's "Pop Goes The Diesel":

Your reign on the top was short like leprechauns
Sure-thing rings lost to Wallaces and Olajuwons

You’re a true, what? You’re a true blue pr*ck
On the outside you’re happy, on the inside you’re sick
Oh, my bad, I forgot, that’s just part of your schtick

Admit it, you just mad ‘cause your career’s almost over
You’re a black hole while I’m still supernova

And while we’re on the topic of being a star
I’ll be in Phoenix in February—can I borrow your car?
Since I’ll be in the game, I won’t drive it too far

I remember when you had the Reebok Shaqnosis
Now you’re working on a coronary thrombosis
I live in the gym, you’ve got a body by Hostess

Nike makes me shoes and spots, I jump cars for fun
Tell you what, I’d rather hang with Jackass than be one

You claim to be a player, but I f*cked your wife
Yeah, that’s just jokes, but—haha—I f*cked your life

Wanna go after me for your problems, nah, that’s all on you
And those big alimony checks—those are all on you too
Watch Shaunie stack those chips while you get blue

And what’s this I hear about how you went after Kareem?
You’ll never be like him, he was part of a team
Forget about Cap, were you even better than Dream?

Please explain the MDE with one MVP?
That’s like calling yourself a forest when you’re only one tree
Russ had five, Wilt had four, even Moses had three

As for the rings, yeah, you wound up with four
But the Most Dominant Ever should really have more
You weren’t the most feared to ever step on the floor

Those three titles we won, yeah, I couldn’t have done it without you
At least I can admit it, how ‘bout you, Shaq-Fu?

It’s always all about you—the big center of attention
But you ain’t notorious, never had that dimension
Coulda stayed in L.A. but you had to have that extension

You can score in the paint, can’t get it done at the line
Say “I hit ‘em when it matters” and everything’s fine?
Those ugly-ass bricks don’t take from your shine?

Nah, I guess not, but while it may not hurt your fame
It’s something to consider when you’re benched at the end of the game

And now new guys are coming through to rip that S off your arm
Bad enough you lost your game, now you even lost your charm

What ever happened to you, when did you get so bitter?
Used to be a champion, now you’re a quitter
Could have done more in Miami if you only got fitter

If you couldn’t take the fire, should have stayed out the Heat
You’re so out of shape you can barely THINK on your feet
And they even took your badges, that I’m sorry to hear
Because at least then you might have had another career

Call yourself a cop? You’re nothin’ but a pig
And rhyme all you want, you can never be Big

I’m a Laker for life, you’re just another man on a journey
In fact, don’t ever speak to me, just call my attorney
Keep playing with fire, you ain’t gonna burn me

You think you can spit? Like those six Grammies mattered?
You never were sh*t, but I’m glad you were flattered

You never really could rhyme, got carried by many
Kind of like how it worked with Dwyane, Kobe and Penny

People only rhymed on your records because they knew you had money
You think they laughed at your jokes ‘cause they thought you were funny?
Always thought you was Vito when you’re really a Sonny

As for your movies, they laughed WITH you, as far as you know
But maybe you should go back to school, like Neon Boudeaux

And hey, my coach came back, unlike Mike D’Antoni
He chose the KNICKS over you, you big f*cking phony
You think you a horse, but you barely a pony

I’ll be in Beijing this summer, going for gold
You could be too, if you weren’t so old

Face it, you mad, that’s why you came at me first
If I show you my trophy, will it slake your MVP thirst?

I got to stay home, you got displaced.
As years go by, your memories erased.
What was that, Diesel? How does your ass taste?
Shouldn’t you know? You’re the one sh*tfaced.

Digg! BallHype: hype it up!

I started this blog just for the hell of it. It seems to be the "in" thing now, and I thought it'd be cool to join in on the fun. After all, it really is fun to write, and it's nice to be able to put your thoughts out there.

Slowly (as in snail-slow), my blog has picked up a few regulars. So I started scouring around the net for more blogs and saw some nice-looking blogs out there. I soon noticed that there was a lot more to blogging than just writing, and what was once considered merely an avenue for my ramblings has turned into sort of like a mini-column. This wasn't purely about writing anymore, folks. Like with cars, there has to be a peaceful balance of style and substance.

So, as recently as two weeks ago, I decided to really up my blogging game. With Kricket's help, I was able to find a better (but not perfect) template. I know skulls and bones ain't really my thing, but damn if that template didn't look hella nice! But don't worry, I'm not emo.

And soon after, I put up some nice YardBarker and BallHype buttons in every piece I wrote, even non-basketball related ones. And I must admit, it doubled my traffic. It went from one to two!

All kidding aside, though, it really did help in gaining some mild exposure. As you can see in Kricket's heart-warming homage to my short stint as a featured blogger, this piece somehow stumbled its way onto YardBarker's Top Stories for the Day. Needless to say, that made me very happy. I know it's not much, but it was a solid start. Along with that, my last two pieces surprisingly garnered around 20 "barks", which is definitely a big step up from my previous mark of zero. Hell, my story was even linked to, once!

Now, yes, I admit first-hand the disgusting self-love currently going on here, but please don't mistake this schoolgirl giddiness for arrogance. I am simply in a great mood because, let's be honest, it feels good to be recognized for something you worked hard on. It just feels nice that, in some weird way, this has turned into something that not only I enjoy.

But that's only part of the reason why I wrote this post.

Like I said above, blogging is starting to evolve. What was once purely about writing has now grown into a mini-industry of sorts. Case in point: the ability to make money.

Yup. First, it was about the content. Then, it somehow became about the appearance. And now, it's more like running your own business.

And that's really what I want to share with all of you right now. I recently read a post on The Sports Dollar on how we can get rich off blogging. And yeah, it's probably skewed towards the sports bloggers, but there are some tips there that are applicable to most blogs, too. Sometimes, maybe, you change BallHype to Digg, but it's not that complicated.

Basically, that's all I wanted to share. Maybe most of you have done way more to promote your blogs than I have... But if you haven't, then maybe it's time to seriously consider upgrading your blogs.

Shit, like I said, we can make money off this! And while writing is still the main thing, it's nice to get some cash on the side. I don't wanna get rich alone... We're in this together!

Here's the link to start you off: 80 More Tips To A Better Sports Blog

Digg! BallHype: hype it up!

Yes, it's all over.

I realize that I may be a little late to the party. Simply posting game notes right now would be absurd and pointless. Surely so many other people have done a better and more thorough job than I could possibly do even on my best day.

So, right now, with reality and lucidity setting in, I feel I can write a much better piece than I could have written right after the Celtics were crowned. So far, I can feel the (undeserved, inappropriate and frankly, out of left field) Celtic hate fleeting my body. Gone, too, is that sudden and creepy impulse to cheer for the Lakers (and Kobe, no less)!

That will not be the most bizarre realization I will have, however. As soon as the Finals concluded, thoughts just poured into my mind. Not entirely about the NBA, mind you, but also about life. There's just too many great stories and characters here that simply deducing it to "winners" and "losers" just doesn't do this series justice.

We all know the story by now. After years of toiling away for the Wolves, Kevin Garnett finally manages to break on through to the other side. Watching his post-game interview, seeing just how happy and relieved he was, really gave me goosebumps. I'm not exactly his biggest fan, but it was just so sweet to see him get his ring. If not for the fact that I was at work during that moment, I bet a tear would've been shed.

It just feels so good because his victory is sort of like a validation that hard work truly pays off. I didn't always believe that, especially since I value "smart work" more than "hard work", but it works. KG just proved it.

It's inspiring because here was a guy who was mad-talented (who certainly had enough clout to influence management) but kept it classy throughout the years. He may have shown some frustration (who hasn't?) but it was always of the "get me some help" variety instead of the standard "ship my ass out". He didn't want to leave 'Sota, he always wanted to stay. Even as recently as the 2006-2007 season, he was begging for Iverson to come to his team. Only when it seemed hopeless did he finally give up on the Wolves. Yet, when he won his title, he never forgot Minnesota. Loyalty. Apparently, wolves are also familiar with the concept.

Then, here was this dude named Paul Pierce, who just wouldn't let his team lose. Here's a dude who, knowing that his window is slowly closing, just up and decided to take matters into his own hands and never let this one slip away. Remember the regret you felt when you didn't ask out that one special girl? Well, P-Double asked his out, and closed the deal to boot. The sense of urgency I saw in his every drive was phenomenal. It's called "seizing the day", and boy, did Paul ever seize.

And that's just from two players. I won't even write about Rajon Rondo playing on a broken foot, Ray Allen putting family first but still knocking down 7 treys in the series clincher, and Doc Rivers' rise to prominence after his stint in coaching hell.

But on the other end of the spectrum, we have the Los Angeles Lakers, who suffered a humiliating meltdown at the hands of the Celtics. Yes, they deserve more credit than they are getting right now. After all, they did still beat the defending champions.

Still, though, you can't help but feel a little disgusted at their performances. Once again, Lamar Odom crumbled in the Finals, but it's not like the Spurs were chopped liver. I truly believe that if we are to conclude that Odom is unable to play in big games, then he would've done it way back when they were battling the Utah Jazz. As it stands, however, LO only played consistently terrible against the Celtics. And I think it has to do more with lack of effort than anything else. Same goes for Pau Gasol, who only seemed interested in playing during portions of a game.

And I think that's the biggest reason the Los Angeles Lakers lost. They didn't want it enough. Maybe they became over-confident, or maybe they quit so early into the series. I can totally see it happening, though. They must've felt like for the next 5 years or so, they will be strong championship contenders. And that they can afford to let this one slip, because -MAYBE- they believed they will be in the Finals again next year. Which is not guaranteed, at all. I'm sure Kobe Bryant doesn't feel this way, and neither does Derek Fisher. But what about the rest of this young team?

It's like all those times we say to ourselves, "there's going to be a second chance"... But what if there isn't? What if that opportunity never presents itself again? Then what are you left with? Nothing but regrets.

Of course it's unrealistic (not to mention physically impossible) for us to grab every opportunity out there. Ultimately, we will have to let some of them go. But that's where priorities come into play. We have to understand what's important, and as far as I can tell, winning a championship is probably the greatest prize in the sport. This is the time when we lay it all out there, similar to the times we worked so damn hard to get a diploma, or conquering fear just to be able to drive. It's that desire for something so great that makes us put our body and mind through so much, and somehow, that's what I felt was missing from the Lakers this year.

Apologies if this turns out to be a tad preachy, and there's probably so many more events that better show the strength of the human body and mind, but this is the most recent reminder that, should we want it enough, we can get it.

Like Kevin Garnett shouted emphatically, "Anything is possible!"

And for the first time in my life, I find myself agreeing with KG.

Thanks for reminding me what I need to do, dog. Congratulations.

Photo credit again goes to Getty Images, from Yahoo!

Digg! BallHype: hype it up!

Aside from the wack officiating in the first half of Game 2, the biggest controversy could be the truth behind Paul Pierce's knee injury. For the past 3 days, I have read so much about it that I don't even know what to believe anymore. 

Some say Pierce faked the whole thing, from the crumpling to the floor in agony to the wheelchair shenanigans to his eventual inspirational comeback. They claim that somebody who suffered an injury like that (and required the afore-mentioned wheelchair) simply should not have been able to come back 2 minutes later. If it was that bad, they said, then Pierce should have been unable to play-hell, walk-for a week, at the very least

I have to admit, even I was skeptical at first. I mean, knee injuries are no joking matter, and the Lakers have Andrew Bynum as proof of that. So anytime a knee is damaged, it truly is a cause for concern. Even Pierce said he heard a "pop", so it must be real. But when he returned quicker than lions pounce on fresh meat, I sided with the conspiracy thoerists. Maybe he was indeed faking it, trying to rally the crowd and his team and basically having his own Willis Reed moment. The fact that he led the Celtics to the victory and managed to score 22 points on the night. Then, he followed it up with bullish 28 points (along with the game-sealing drive) in Game 2 to put the Lakers in a 0-2 hole. Needless to say, Pierce was giving the skeptics (or as we call them: Laker fans) plenty of ammunition to doubt the validity of his knee injury. 

But along the way, I felt Paris Hilton-like (as in "dumb", not "f**ked") because I wasn't exercising the most basic of my human abilities: my common sense. 

It was entirely possible that it was just a scare; that Pierce was actually hurt during that moment yet it was nothing but a momentary pain. Maybe a muscle got bruised or some other thing. I surely can't blame him for hurting and still manage to accuse him of over-selling the injury, right? Right. I was convinced that it was nothing more than a minor injury. 

But just a few minutes ago, I grabbed an old SLAM magazine to browse to while eating my dinner. It was the April 2003 issue, with the "Allen Iverson-American Hero" tagline on the cover. I decided to read the Elton Brand article inside. It was an interview conducted when he was about to enter free agency. Here is what was written regarding the Clippers' drafting of both Chris Wilcox and Melvin Ely in the first round (ooh boy, nice way of reminding me of how terrible the Clippers front-office is) of the draft.

From SLAM:
".... It was even part of the reason he (EB) didn't tell anybody about his injured knee during workouts with the U.S. national team before its ill-fated, sixth-place belly-flop in the World Championships. Eventually Brand couldn't keep the secret any longer. He had torn lateral miniscus in his right knee. Hello, arthroscope.

"I was coming up on restricted free agency, whatever that is, and I was nervous," Brand admits. "I tried to play on it, and I tried to say that it wasn't hurt as bad as it was. But when I had an MRI, we saw the tear. It made sense,  because I couldn't run or jump off it. I wanted to play through it, though.""

He did, however, manage to recover in time for the following season. And we know he was able to lead the Clippers back (have they ever been there?) to the post-season in 2006. So really, it's not all bad news. 

Now, I have no idea how Elton injured his knee, and I really can't say which injury was worse. In fact, there could be no injury at all. But I'm just putting out there the possibility that Paul Pierce could really be injured right now. Whether the rush of playing in the NBA Finals masks the pain or he's just gutting it out, we can't discount the fact that he may be playing on only one wheel.

For some other-worldly reason, I'm rooting for the Lakers right now. Still, I can't delight in the fact that a player is injured in the biggest games of his career. I know full well how much Pierce wants a chip, and to see it slip away from him due to a freak accident is not something I want to witness. 

But maybe, just maybe, we should put to rest the accusations that he faked it. And maybe start considering (and admiring) the fact that even on a bad knee, Paul Pierce just continues to pwn the Lakers, two games deep. 

Besides, wouldn't you want the Lakers to beat Boston at their best?

Photo credit goes to Getty Images, from Yahoo!

Digg! BallHype: hype it up!

Aside from the NBA Finals, there are two things that are on constantly on my mind: Grand Theft Auto IV and Usher's latest album, "Here I Stand".

And, in an attempt to somehow diversify my blog and please all you non-NBA fans out there reading my blog (yup, all three of you), I want to share my thoughts on those releases.

I know this is a bit late, having been out since April, but I just got this game last Sunday. And man, I wouldn't wish the long and torturous wait on anyone.

5 hours into the game, this is absolutely the greatest game I have ever played. No, don't confuse "greatest" with "perfect", and it saddens me to hear people call this game over-rated. Just like in life, there will never be a perfect video game. There will always be compromises, whether it be due to hardware limitations, software capacity, time constraints or just plain ole' developer mediocrity.

And it is with this realization that I so readily proclaim GTA as the king of games. It's just the over-whelming details the developers have flooded us with. Everything here just screams "next-level" GTA. The city has been rendered so beautifully that you can practically hear the "booos" directed to Isiah Thomas. The people populating the city are exceptionally varied you'd swear you knew them. It's that diverse. Hell, I was walking down the street when a car intentionally ran me over because he claimed that "his car wouldn't get hurt, but you will". Crazy. Sometimes, in fact, it's enough to scare me from going to New York City.

I also like the details peppered all throughout the city. There are faux versions for all things relevant in today's pop culture. Surprisingly, though, I never expected to see Ricky Gervais performing stand-up. And let's not forget the amazing selection of music. The theme song, in particular, is both haunting and climactic.

Technically, though, this is a very big step up from previous GTA's. This is what next-gen gaming is all about. The movements and physics are so real, it really pained me to see Niko Bellic getting ran over by a car. The way their arms and legs flail wilder than Michael Flatley's is disturbing. This is not a cartoon, and I'm glad their physical movements reflect that.

5 hours in, with most of my time spent on watching the TV in my apartment (the perfect way to cap off a day of killing random dudes), I've only just begun to get to the good part of the story. But from my brief playing time, character development has been astounding. This is no random character on a rampage. Everything he does has a purpose, and just like in GTA: San Andreas, you will soon form a bond with your main character.

There are a few quibbles, however... For one, the driving aspect of the game underwent a drastic change. Whereas, in the past, handling was pretty smooth, Take-Two seemingly decided to make things more "realistic". In turn, I think they only made it worse. I bought GTA for the open-ended gameplay, not for Gran Turismo-like vehicle handling, dammit! I just want tight handling and I don't care if my pickup truck handles like a Ferrari.

Lastly, despite welcome changes, I think the combat aspect could still be improved. They made the necessary improvements (cover, blind-fire, etc.), but it still feels a bit too mechanical. The controls remind me too much of Tomb Raider. I expect this to get better.

In all, this is still one of the finest games ever made. Like I said, compromises can never be avoided, so maximizing all of your resources is key to making a great game. GTA was never meant to be the next Gears Of War. To match the graphics of Metal Gear Solid was never in their intentions. Instead, they set out to make the most immersive world out there. One that would capture life in the big city. In other words, it set out to be the perfect Grand Theft Auto. And for that, mission accomplished. Stop hatin'.

Mature. Grown man music. Underwhelming. Lost the edge.

These are just a few of the things I read bout Usher's latest disc (or, more appropriately, group of .mp3 files). And, with all due respect to the critics out there, I'd like to disagree.

These types of assessments lead me to question the mindset of our society (or maybe America's). They say that by getting married (or maybe, being genuinely happy), Usher lost his edge. He lost the sexiness that used to ooze out of his past songs. Where were the "U Don't Have To Call"'s? The jams so sex-infused they could impregnate women upon listening? "Where are those now", they ask. In all honesty, it's still there. It just so happened that they are not the lone topic Usher discusses.

They claim he wasn't being creatively musically on "Here I Stand". That it's basically the same tunes he's been singing all throughout his career. That could not be farther from the truth. Yeah, the tunes may sound slightly similar, but the lyrics sure have changed. It's pathetic how critics say he should have sticked to the getting his sexy on. After all, isn't a person supposed to grow? To somehow mature and view life from a different perspective? This is exactly what the album is... Usher's entry into the world of fatherhood. And while I am in no way being that mature soon, I appreciate the fact that Usher wasn't afraid to branch out. Jay-Z said it best on "Best Thing", "boys become men". Spoken perfectly by the newly-minted Mr. Beyonce Knowles.

Still, though, this isn't all substance and no style. It's not like Usher suddenly forgot how to churn out hits, after all. There are plenty of juicy tracks here. The lead single, "Love In This Club", is hella catchy. And it's proof that although the Usher we knew is quickly evolving, he still has the good sense to throw us a sensual jam about, yes, making love in a club. The song's remix, "Love In This Club Part 2", is equally sweet, with Usher and Beyonce playfully playing cat-and-mouse.

The new single, "Moving Mountains", is heartfelt. It's such a pleasure hearing the man singing his heart out in a struggle to win the heart of his woman back. "His Mistakes", a personal favorite of mine, was written by Ne-Yo and is perfectly sud-dued and mellow. These are songs that shows Usher's more vulnerable side, and is unlike all the other cookie-cutter songs out there.

Hell, you want variety? Try this: Usher gets his inner R. Kelly on in "Trading Places", the afore-mentioned "Best Thing" with Jay-Z is a future hit, the Stevie Wonder-ish "Here I Stand" is magnificent, the Motown-tinged "Something Special" makes you warm inside, and the bonus track "Will Work For Love" is cheery and cute, despite the desperate undertone.

See? Despite most people pigeon-holing this album as "lame", it actually isn't. A majority of the songs just focus more on the less-extravagant parts of a relationship. The songs are still hip, the mandatory big-name producers (The-Dream, Will.I.Am, Polow Da Pon, etc.) are out in full force, and he's still putting out hits. What's there to not like?

Actually, there's one thing I dislike about this. Despite being good all the way through, I think the album is much too long. At over 70 minutes, it may be too long for some people. And really, there are songs that could have been left off. It's a shame, really, because the length could prevent some people from ever listening to "Here I Stand" and "Will Work For Love".

Despite that, this has been on "PLAY" for 4 straight days now. It's that good. The last album to do this to me was the vastly under-rated "Love/Hate" by The-Dream. "Here I Stand" is a truly wonderful album, and one that I recommend buying to just about anybody out there.

Well, at least the mass population agrees with me.

Digg! BallHype: hype it up!

Tony Montana's rise from everyday thug-for-hire into a drug emperor... The death of Little Foot's mother and his eventual discovery of the "promised land"... Luke Skywalker's slow transformation from Jedi into the Sith Lord...

Time and time again, Hollywood has provided us with the greatest stories. The most exciting finishes. The toughest battles.
And this year, we have the NBA's version of a summer blockbuster.

In a fashion not unlike the most spectacular films, the NBA's two most-recognizable franchises are set to battle for the ultimate prize. Two clubs with lots of history, with the participants having so much to prove.

Can Kobe Bryant really win a championship without Shaq? Can Phil Jackson surpass Red as the king of coaches? Will KG shed the label of "un-clutch" that he has been carrying for years? Who's that dude on the Celtics wearing # 20? Will Pierce will his way into the elite group of Celtics greats?

These questions will be answered soon, when the NBA Finals commence.

But first, I'd love to put my thoughts out there to the two Conference Runner-Ups.

The San Antonio Spurs are not done, by any means necessary. Yes, they are aging, but I would not consider them old. They are still one of the smartest, most experienced teams out there. To say there are over-the-hill is akin to saying Dane Cook is funny; it's just not true. Remember, people also tagged them as past their primes when Dallas beat them in the semis way back in 2006. Yet, since then, the Spurs have been champions once more and the Mavs' title hopes have clearly been squashed.

Yes, the Spurs have lots of issues to address. Despite a core group that I see redeeming themselves next year, they really need some fresh blood off the bench. Horry's status is still up in the air, and so is Mike Finley's. But even if they do come back, it's not like they will be overly productive. Ime Udoka is a nice player and should be able to fill Bowen's blood-stained shoes nicely, but everything else needs improvement. Especially since it's looking like Tiago Splitter would rather play overseas. But still, when all is said and done, when the dust settles and when the sun (or the Suns) sets, the Spurs will be right where they were for the past decade: in the hunt for the title and the singular team that all championship hopefuls must overcome.

As for the Detroit Pistons, the cracks are starting to show themselves. I can't (and won't) say that they are doomed, but for the first time in quite a few years, the franchise as a whole is looking vulnerable. Just this day, Joe Dumars has fired Flip Saunders and openly implied to the public that nobody on the starting five is safe. This is big news for a team that has essentially kept the same starting five for the past 5 years.

I'm glad, though, that Dumars admitted that. This club needs some serious re-tooling. As good as their starters are, they seem to allow themselves to collapse in the biggest of games. Whether it's due to complacency, lack of respect for their coach or some other crazy thing that I would not put past Detroit, the facts are there. Three straight trips to the Conference Finals, three straight exits in the Conference Finals. And come October, we could be seeing an entirely different Pistons opening five. Which is what exactly they need.

But now, let's head on to the NBA Finals match-up...

By now, most of you have probably read so much about the Lakers-Celtics match-up. And just like me, maybe you would all just like to move past the smokescreens and get on with the games. So with that, let me keep things short and sweet.
Just like I said, Boston would finally slay the road demons and use their previous Game 7's to their advantage. After sending Detroit home in six, I feel like the Celtics finally learned how to effectively play together in the post-season. Ray Allen found his stroke, Kevin Garnett's offense has improved and hopefully Pierce accepts the role as team closer. The bench also played solid defense all throughout, and was capped of by Posey's steal on Prince.

The Lakers, on the other hand, have been disspelling the notion that young teams should "pay their dues" first. Although if you have a future Hall-Of-Famer, I think it's a reasonable exception. Kobe Bryant has been playing lights out, and I SERIOUSLY doubt Pierce or Posey can defend him. Hell, all Bowen had to do was guard and Kobe still handed it to Bruce.
But really, I'm making my prediction based solely on one thing...

Tell me if you recognize these names: Rudy Tomjanovich, Gregg Popovich, Phil Jackson, and Pat Riley. All great coaches, yes, but also the only coaches to have won a championship since 1991. That means the past 18 titles have revolved around just 4 coaches. Stretch that a bit and you see Pat Riley winning two more with Lakers back in the 80's. That in itself is unprecedented.

But look deeper (and for basketball junkies, it shouldn't be that deep), and you'll see that Phil Jackson has half of those. But let's play "what if" and assume that had MJ not "retired", the Bulls would have won 8 straight championships. That would up his total to 11, and a good argument can be made that they let one slip away to the Pistons in 2004.

Yeah, that's a lot of assumptions right there, but the reality is this, Phil Jackson always found a way to win the title when given great talent. And in my opinion, this is a very, very good Laker team. They aren't as flashy as the Bling Dynasty, and they aren't seen as rock stars like the '96-'98 Bulls, but this team gets the job done. Everybody knows their role well. Pau Gasol is skilled offensively and is a respectable defensive presence and rebounder. Lamar Odom is starting to get his head on right and holds accountability for his play. Derek Fisher is playing inspired. The bench is a healthy mix of crazy (Turiaf) and fundamentals (Walton). In short, this is a TEAM. And I just can't bring myself to believe a TEAM as solid as this, when coached by Phil Jackson, cannot win a title this year.

This will be a battle for the ages. But, using as much common sense as I possibly can, there is only one clear result...

Los Angeles Lakers, NBA Champs 2008.

Digg! BallHype: hype it up!

By now, almost every blogger out there would have put out their own predictions for the Conference Finals.

Being one of them, I thought I'd join in on the fun! But a word of caution: the basketball channel in my household switched over to another cable provider at the start of the year, so since January I haven't been able to watch the NBA on a consistent basis. And even in the playoffs, I missed some great games, and that sucks. I've been doing my best to make up for it by scouring the net for blogs, articles and features, but it's just not the same.

Still, I think I've read and know enough about the teams playing to make, at least, some sensible predictions.

And with that, I present my thoughts on the NBA Conference Finals.

Boston Celtics in 7

This is it. The dream match-up. The one almost everybody saw coming since the season began. The Cavs almost screwed it all up, but we finally have it.

I'm picking the Celtics in 7 games, though. Despite their obvious troubles on the road and Ray Allen's nightly flirtations with mediocrity, they have found ways to win. I think those tough tests should only prepare them better for Detroit, who is oozing experience and team chemistry. Ray Allen is too good not to get better (although he did shoot 3-10 in Game 1), and Kevin Garnett has somehow increased his role in the offense. Pierce showed the world how much he wants to win the title this year when he answered the call in Game 7, so I feel all the Celtcis will follow suit. Oh, and yeah, they will finally win a road game in the Playoffs.

The Pistons, I believe, will prove to be a tough test. Although you have to question their mindset. Let's not forget, this is the same team that claims to perform better when unappreciated. But with Celtics underachieving, mostly everybody favors the Pistons now. And that could rob them of their intensity. Especially Rasheed Wallace, who thrives on adversity. Detroit will still come out focused, though, and you can bet Chauncey will keep his boys in check all throughout.

Every obvious advantage goes to the Pistons (deeper bench, rock-solid chemistry, championship experience, and a clutch player), but somehow, I feel it's the Celtics' time. Paul Pierce wants it, Kevin Garnett also wants it, Ray Allen should want it, and they just survived two taxing match-ups. I think they're ready for the next step.


Los Angeles Lakers in 7

As much as I disregarded all conventional wisdom in my pick for the East Finals, I have to be more realistic with the Spurs-Lakers series.

Like the Pistons, the core of the Spurs have been together for so long now. Also, like the Pistons, they have been playing virtually the same core for years now, have won championships and always is a threat to win the title any given year.

But that's where the similarities end. Unlike the Pistons, the Spurs have no motivational issues, plays the same way whether they're the underdogs (HA!) or the favorites. They have one of the best coaches in the league, they never implode at the most inopportune times, and they seem to have mastered the black arts while getting away with it.

HOWEVER, the Lakers have the reigning MVP. But, unlike Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant can never be considered as "soft" or "un-clutch". And, as dirty as Bruce Bowen can be, he cannot contain The Black Mamba. With Kobe playing for something meaningful again, expect him to rise to the occasion like he always does.

The biggest question here is whether the bench will answer the call. This is a pretty young group of guys, with no one exceptional having been on a stage as big as this. Fortunately for them, they have an international champion in Pau Gasol, a Lamar Odom who seems to have turned the corner, and the valuable leadership and toughness that Derek Fisher provides.

This will be a great series, and with two coaching genuises at the helms, it's going to be fun seeing them one-upping each other game after game.

But in the end, I think the Lakers will take this in 7. The Spurs are tough, but the series against the Hornets showed they have somehow really slowed a little. And I just can't vouch for a team that deliberately hurts other players.

And yeah, the Spurs are allergic to consecutive titles.

Digg! BallHype: hype it up!

"You Shall Not Doubt"

Why is it that we never learn? We used to do it with the Spurs, calling them "old and tired" whenever they finished with less than the # 2 spot in the West. Doubting that they'd be able to win a championship that particular year.

Well, at least we've moved on from that absurd notion. Now, despite the Spurs finishing # 4 in the West, despite being down in a 0-2 hole, despite them actually aging and tiring, we are smart enough never to count them out. Never ever.

I think it's about time we treat LeBron with that kind of respect.

For seasons now, we have been doubting LeBron's (and the Cavs') abilities to get it done in the postseason. We cite far too many reasons, and while most are valid or even clearly evident, we keep forgetting one thing.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James.

I started to notice this last season. Everybody was pretty disappointed with him during the regular season. Cleveland's record (and LeBron's stats) somehow gave off the vibe that their superstar is coasting. People got on him for obviously not giving his 110% night-in and night-out. Faulting him for looking at the bigger picture (fresher legs come the Playoffs) and declaring that his team would not even get past the 1st round.

And how did he respond? He basically slayed the Eastern Conference Gods (the Pistons) single-handedly, bringing the Cavaliers to their first-ever Finals appearance since never and showing the world that he will dominate when necessary.

He showed his mortality against the Spurs, but hell, even the Spurs couldn't win the championship every year.

I thought that by this season, we (including me) would have learned something.

But no. People believed that the Wizards could beat the Cavs. People thought the Hawks stood a much better chance against the Celtics, and that Cleveland would never even get to sniff the possibility of beating Boston. Yet here we are, four games in the Eastern Semis later, and the series is tied 2-2. With the momentum clearly now in Cleveland's favor.

Once again, LeBron is dismissing the notion that they have gotten worse.

I don't mean for this piece to sound like a declaration that Cleveland will win the title. Far from it, in fact.

What I mean, however, is for us to start viewing LeBron James (and the Cavs) in the same light as the San Antonio Spurs. That no matter what their regular season's record is, no matter who the players are on the roster, no matter how formidable their foe is, we should never, EVER count the Cavaliers out of any game. Ever again.

As long as they have King James... As long as they have The Great Equalizer... As long as LeBron plays (he can beat you without scoring)... They can beat any team. Any team. Just ask the Pistons. Then maybe we'll need to ask the Celtics later on.

Digg! BallHype: hype it up!

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