Since we're at the 33-game point of the regular season, what better time to rank my top-33 favorite things about the current NBA season? In reverse order ...
33. The annual "Bobby Jackson is out for 3 months and possibly the season" injury
Officially replaced the annual Dolphins collapse as the punchline for the "It's like Hannukah -- it happens every December, we just don't know the exact date" joke. By the way, has anyone wondered what happens to the Kings when C-Webb suffers his annual 25-game injury -- which should be happening any day now -- and then they have to continue the season with four NBA serviceable players on their roster? Also, how will they regroup from ...
(Actually, this deserves its own paragraph.)
32. The Christies get traded
Five days after news of their reality show for VH1 leaks to the public -- and no, I'm not getting any royalties -- Doug mysteriously gets dealt to Orlando for Cuttino Mobley. There can't be a correlation, right? Who loves being on TV more than the Maloofs? Part of me thinks that VH1 ordered the trade since there are more good-looking women in Orlando, which means more temptation for Doug, which means a tighter leash, which means more fireworks. But who knows?
(More importantly, my dream has come true! A reality show about the Christies! I've been calling for this for three years! If this works out, maybe the networks will start greenlighting some of my other ideas -- like "Stoned Scrabble," "Gymkata: The Series," or "Hooker or NBA Groupie?", "Long Distance Dog Jumping," "Black Bachelor" or even "Pardon The Interruption II" with Tim Hardaway, Eric Dickerson and Dikembe Mutombo as Stat Boy. I have dozens of them. Give me a network! I demand my own network!)
31. Zach Randolph's contract extension
Has a team ever signed someone to an $86 million extension, then put that same player on the trading block before the extension even had a chance to kick in?
(Not to sound like Stephen A. Simmons here, but WHY DIDN'T THE BLAZERS LET HIM PLAY OUT THE SEASON??? They could have just matched any offer he received as a restricted free agent, right? And besides, this is the same guy about whom his high school coach said, "I just don't want the day to come where I pick up that paper and it says (Zach} shot someone, or that he was shot. Every day that goes by that I don't see that, I feel good." Now you're handing over $86 million when you didn't have to? How was that a good idea?)
30. Eddy Curry's impending contract extension
The positives: He's only 22 ... Shaq called him one of the three true centers left ... he's been an 18-7 for a solid month now ... most human beings mature from the age of 22 to the age of 26 ... there's a 20% chance that he could become a 10-time All-Star ...
The negatives: There's an 80% chance he could sign that extension and immediately gain 45 pounds ... a three-time winner of NBA's "Worst Body Language Award" ... Eddy was turned away from the front door of the Vibe Awards two months ago because security thought he looked like "too much of a wildcard."
(All right, I made that last one up, but you get the idea. It's generally not a good idea to invest $80 million in a head case with a permanent sourpuss and a weight problem. Well, unless you're Isiah Thomas. I can't wait to see how this turns out.)
29. Andrei Kirilenko's breakout year (in hiatus)
You have to harken back to the Pippen Era for the last time it was this much fun to watch someone play defense. If we ever have to play the spiders from "Starship Troopers" in one game for the future of the planet, doesn't Kirilenko probably crack the crunch-time five? Wade, LeBron, Kirilenko, Duncan and KG ... does anyone score on that team?
28. The inevitable KG meltdown
Oh, it's coming. Remember when he cold-cocked Rick Rickert during that scrimmage? That was a mere appetizer. Now he's been stuck playing with an aging backcourt, a bunch of head cases and guys who can't play defense for the past 3 months ... he's going to snap. During the Suns game last week, when the Suns went up by 20 and started trash-talking them, KG chewed out a terrified Steven Hunter (who scurried from the free throw line like a little kid) before dropping about 35 points in the next 2 minutes. Sadly, it wasn't enough. But there isn't a more menacing guy in the league right now -- he looks like a cross between Private Pyle, Ogie Oglethorpe and Suge Knight. Do not (repeat: DO NOT) lob a beer at him if you ever see him inexplicably lying on top of a scorer's table.
27. Grant Hill's comeback
The feel-good story of the season ... well, other than the moment when I found out that Gary Payton has sons named "Gary Jr." and "Gary II."
26. The mail-in jobs from Don Nelson and Larry Brown
Who quit on their team more blatantly? It's hard to say. A quick recap:
(At gunpoint, I'm going with Brown. And while we're on the subject, do you realize that Brown buried LeBron, Wade and Stoudemire in Athens last summer ... and all of them are MVP candidates right now?)
25. Guys wearing pigtails
I'm feeling a new feature on SportsCenter: "NBA Player or WNBA Player?" Imagine Mike Greenberg showing Luc Robataille photos of Danny Fortson, Carmelo Anthony, Ruth Riley and Latasha Byers and asking him, "Okay Luc, for 100 points ... can you pick out the two WNBA players?" Wouldn't that be ten times more captivating than "Hearsay"?
24. Emeka Okafor
Nineteen double-doubles in a row ... and yes, I feel vindicated.
23. The Eddie Jones Face
After the Heat-Sonics game last week, I called two friends (House and Sully) and asked them the same question: "Okay, here's an SAT question. Eddie Jones gets fouled taking a three at the buzzer with Miami down by 3. What happens?"
Well, House guessed that Eddie missed the first, made the second and missed the third but they missed the tap-in. Wrong. Sully guessed that Eddie missed the first, made the second and accidentally made the third. Wrong again. The correct answer? Eddie missed the first, made the second, and then missed the rim with the third (so Miami didn't even have a chance to tap it in).
(I guess my point is this: If Miami wants to win a title, they probably need to trade Eddie Jones.)
22. Karl Malone
How long before somebody launches the "Little Mexican Girl Hunt" amateur porn series? Just send someone to Mexico who looks like the Mailman, then have him talk in the Karl Malone voice as he tries to lure girls in Acapulco back to his hotel room. This can't miss.
21. Kobe Bryant
My favorite e-mail of the season, courtesy of Houston reader John McMurray: "We need, at a bare minimum, a 5,000 word column on Kobe Bryant. Can you believe the drama that surrounds this guy? He is absolutely crazy, but in a Michael Corleone kind of way. Can't you just see Kobe sitting alone in the boathouse at his mansion on Lake Tahoe, just staring into the darkness?"
(The NBA ... it's FANNNNNNN-tastic! I love this game!)
20. Kobe's media blitz
This happened after the Malone incident, when Kobe went on ESPN, TNT, ABC, MTV, Spike TV, Nick At Nite, the Learning Channel, Spice Hot and every other channel on my cable system to prove that he was still a good guy. Two things I loved about this. First, when ESPN's John Saunders asked the agonizingly-long question comparing him to Mike Tyson while Kobe had to sit there with a thin smile. That was so astoundingly awkward, I nearly peed my pants. And second ...
(Actually, this deserves its own paragraph.)
19. Kobe's bizarre LA radio appearance
On the morning after Christmas, I was driving to a friend's house to watch football when I flicked on a local radio station, stumbling across a live interview with an athlete whose voice sounded familiar ... and it was Kobe! This was one of those weekend morning shows with three hosts trying way too hard, including the one female host who's there to "sass it up." Brutal show. Before Kobe, the biggest celebrity they ever had on their show was probably Jose Mesa's wife. Somehow Kobe stayed on for like 25 minutes. I kept waiting for him to say, "Guys, I gotta run, I'm taping the Tony Danza Show in a little bit."
(By the way, his little media blitz didn't work -- Smush Parker just passed him on the "Most Jerseys Sold" chart this week.)
18. Random bench guys
You know my Bill Simmons All-Star Team, reserved for the "Random guys I explicably like who haven't hit the big-time yet"? I think we set an all-time record for possible starters this season, including Tony Allen, Chris Andersen, Nenad Krstic, Beno Udrih, Freddie Jones, Mikki Moore, Steven Hunter, Dan Dickau and this year's MVP through 33 games: Cavs rookie Anderson Varejao, the 20 year-old, crazy-haired Brazilian who crashes the offensive boards like a maniac and seems headed for about 25,000 alley-oops from LeBron over the next 10 years. Get ready to see Drew Gooden's minutes start to drop. More importantly, when is Anderson dropping his last name like Nene did? I love when that happens.
17. Heat-Lakers, Christmas Day
One of the better regular season games in recent memory: High drama, high caliber of play, tons of wacky celebs on hand, satisfying conclusion (Kobe missing the game-winner), and most importantly, Hubie Brown's dramatic return to TV. You couldn't ask for much more.
(Well, except for one thing: I would have loved to have been able to wager on the pregame greeting between Shaq and Kobe. One of the internet sites should have provided this -- we could have had possibilities like "Touching fists: 2-to-1," "Kobe goes for the hug, Shaq spurns him: 5-to-1," "Double butt slaps: 20-to-1" and "Shaq punches Kobe in the face: 100-to-1." I probably would have wagered on what ended up happening - "Kobe comes over like a big phony, Shaq obliges with a half-assed hand-shake and refuses to make eye contact: 3-to-2.")
16. The resurgence of the Bulls
Lemme get this straight: It's a good idea to take players who were great in college? So you're saying that, if I'm a GM and I'm following college basketball, and there are certain players who keep dominating games and helping their teams compete at the highest possible level ... those guys might become good NBA players? And I should lean towards these guys over projects who look good in workouts, summer tournaments and one-on-one games?
(Wait, how does this work again?)
15. Baron Davis
Busts his butt for a 26-10-17 against the Kings on Sunday night, singlehandedly carrying the Hornets from 2-29 to 3-29. Now that's how a franchise player should carry himself -- nobody wants to hear that you're unhappy when you're making $14 million a year to do what you love to do. Davis asked for a trade, nothing happened, so he's busting his butt before the deadline to increase his value. Good job by him. As opposed to these two guys ...
14. Vince and T-Mac
Only in the NBA could you have two superstars, both of whom were making $14 million a year at the time, admit after the fact that they didn't give their best in losing situations: Vince in Toronto, T-Mac in Orlando. Good work, fellas. So why would that be one of my 33 favorite things? Because hearing T-Mac and Vince say "You know what? I slacked a little bit on my last team" is a little like hearing Gene Hackman say, "You know what? When I was filming 'The Replacements', I kinda stopped caring there once I saw that Keanu couldn't act."
(In other words, you didn't need to tell us. We have eyes.)
13. Lenny Wilkens
Remember the final game in Hoosiers, when South Bend High blows the six-point lead in the final minute, then doesn't double-team Jimmy Chitwood at the end of the game, and then they show the South Bend coach with that glazed smile on his face? I always wondered what it would be like to have a coach like that in the NBA. Now I know. My favorite Lenny stat: Twice in the past two weeks, the Knicks were down by two possessions in the final 35 seconds (against the Kings and Celtics) and forgot to foul. It's actually a little sad to watch. Okay, that's a lie.
(Part of me feels like Isiah brought in the worst possible coach on purpose, just so it would look better for him when he finally takes over. Of course, if that was his logic, then he should have hired Whoopi Goldberg. At least have some fun with it.)
12. Al Jefferson
Put it this way: If Al Jefferson's name was "Alzac Jeffersovladcic" and he came from the Republic of Uzbekistan, Chad Ford would be writing that the Celtics got the biggest steal of the 2004 Draft.
11. The Pacers-Pistons Melee
I know, I know ... just a terrible night for the league. But look at it this way:
10. Ultimate Darko, Season Two
Two Sundays ago, the Pistons were leading the Celtics by 24 with seven minutes left, so they put Darko in the game -- he officially has an "Igby Goes Down" look to him, like a prep school kid who just got kicked out of his fifth boarding school. You can almost picture him wearing a bad blazer and sneaking a smoke behind the cafeteria. Anyway, the Celtics immediately went on a run and cut the lead down to 10 ... so Brown had to take Darko out and put one of the Wallaces back in. Poor Darko can't even stay on the court in garbage time. This is going to end badly.
(On the flip side ... )
9. The high schooler influx
Maybe I'm in the minority here, but what's wrong with having high schoolers in the NBA? Have you seen Jefferson, Dwight Howard, Shaun Livingston, Sebastian Telfair and the two Smiths yet? Not only can all of them play, all of them are getting minutes right now except for Livingston, and he'd be starting for the Clips right now if he hadn't gotten hurt. And just look at LeBron, Jermaine O'Neal, KG, Kobe, T-Mac, Rashard Lewis, Al Harrington, Eddy Curry ... I mean, what's the problem here? When you're ready, you're ready. I watched Jefferson put up a double-double in 16 minutes against the Magic last night. You're telling me he belongs in college? Please. Even when it doesn't work out -- as evidenced by the Robert Swift Era in Seattle -- you still get the comedy of seeing an overwhelmed teenager with red hair trying to pull off a five-step handshake with Antonio Daniels.
(I say keep letting them in. And if Greg Oden wants to skip his senior year of high school and join the NBA, let him in. Who are we to tell someone that they can't earn a living? Just think, if Warren Coolidge had gone pro straight from Carver High, he could still be playing right now. Instead he ended up as a janitor on St. Elsewhere. There's a lesson here.)
8. Talking to my Dad after Celtic home games
Every conversation goes pretty much like this:
-- Me: You go to the game?
-- Dad: Yeah, we lost.
-- Me: I know, I watched. How was it?
-- Dad (long pause): I mean ... Mark Blount ... it's like he's not even trying out there! At least Perkins, he tries. Blount doesn't care. Put that in your column, you need to write about this. He's stealing money!
7. The Suns and the Sonics
Two West Coast teams winning games in unconventional ways: One by playing Euro basketball, the other by playing 80's basketball. My prayers have been answered. And yes, this deserves its own column.
6. T-Mac on "Maad Sports"
That's the weekly sports show on BET ... I'm probably the only white person in America who has it on their TiVo season pass. Last week's episode centered around T-Mac, who stared into the camera for 30 straight minutes, congratulated himself and talked about how great he was. Then others would come in and do the same about him. Occasionally they would go back to Houston, where the host (can't remember his name, but he broke the record for saying "Know what I'm saying?") and rapper Lil' Flip told us how great T-Mac was. Then they showed footage from T-Mac's charity softball tournament, which had guys like D-Miles and Bo Outlaw playing softball in front of maybe 20 fans (I'm not exaggerating), while everyone talked about how great it was that they were doing this for T-Mac's charity. In fact, we raised 19 bucks! Needless to say, T-Mac's cousin was running this thing -- he looked like a Lester Munson/Don Yaeger investigation waiting to happen.
Then, at the end of the show, Lil' Flip randomly attacked some rapper who had insulted him, finishing off the tirade by insulting Unknown Rapper for not making sure that his posse looked good and had enough bling -- while his posse members smiled proudly behind him and showed off their jewelry. That was the show. And there are two reasons I'm telling you this:
A. I couldn't recommend "Maad Sports" any more vehemently. It's not possible.
B. Either T-Mac is the most self-absorbed superstar in the history of the league, or this was a Chappelle Show skit and I never realized it.
5. Clippers season tickets
Does it get any better than looking at the schedule and saying, "Wow, Seattle on Wednesday night, Miami on Friday night!" I think not. Although I really feel that any time the Clippers start Rick Brunson during a home game, we should get a 25% discount on our tickets. Let's make this a rule.
4. A genuine MVP debate!
Well, for some people, anyway. At least people are arguing about it, which is a good thing. But if you break it down, there's only one possible choice. Here are the candidates:
KG -- Out of respect, we have to include him here. But it's not happening unless they go on a 35-4 run after the All-Star Break.
Duncan -- So far, there's nothing exceedingly special about this season compared to any other Tim Duncan season. Except for when he grew the fu manchu. Which was pretty damn cool-looking.
Steve Nash -- The most perplexing candidate to me. Last time I checked, there were two sides to the game of basketball: Scoring points and preventing the other team from scoring points. So how can someone who's such an obvious defensive liability -- seriously, he couldn't guard me at this point -- be mentioned as a possible MVP? Watch a tape of the Suns-Spurs game from two weeks ago; Tony Parker could have sprung for a 40-20 if the game remained close. I love Nash's offensive game, he's one of my favorite players, he helped transform the Suns into one of the most entertaining teams in 20 years, blah blah blah. But this would be like voting a DH for the A.L. MVP. It can't happen.
Dirk Nowitzki -- Better stats than Stoudemire, playing for a much more disheveled team. He's now approaching every Dallas game with the same intensity he saved for the German National team. But we can't give it to some guy from Germany. I can't allow it. That would be ten times worse than the Blue Jays winning back-to-back World Series.
That leaves the following candidates, each of whom deserve their own number in the column ...
3. Dwyane Wade
Probably doesn't get major consideration, if only because Shaq is like DeNiro in the 70's and 80's -- everyone in the cast looks a little better when he's involved. With that said, he's clearly one of the top players in the league, as well as one of my favorite reasons I don't mind paying $179.99 a year for the NBA Package. Nobody has been better in crunch-time this season -- he's an absolute assassin. My favorite player in the league not named "LeBron."
2. Amare Stoudemire
Like watching Shawn Kemp in his prime, only if Kemp was a better shotblocker and a little more polished on the low post. He's probably two years away from one of those Moses-like 30-pt/14-reb seasons and his first MVP award. By the way, I caught the Suns in person on Saturday night and Stoudemire had the best move I've seen all season: Drove left like he was going baseline on Brand, seemed like he was settling him up for a short jump hook ... then he just jumped over Brand and dunked it on his head. Unbelievable. He gives you three of those "Wow!" plays per game. And physically, he looks like an MVP -- there's something commanding about him in person, a sense of entitlement that the great ones have.
And yet he's not quite as dominant as ...
1. LeBron James
In my opinion, this isn't even a debate right now: He's headed for 55 wins on a team with an overmatched coach, two decent starters, three role players and a bunch of stiffs. More importantly, he's reached "There's nothing on right now, maybe I'll flick on The Package and see if LeBron is playing" status -- which hasn't happened since MJ was playing in Chicago. Not only is LeBron the most talented young player since MJ 20 years ago, he's going to average a triple-double within the next 5 years. And he just turned 20. This is unbelievable.
Two questions remain ...
A. Over the past three months, have you seen anything to make you think that we're NOT watching someone in the early stages of becoming the greatest basketball player ever?
(Um ... no.)
B. And did you ever think we would see a player who combined the best qualities of a Young MJ and a Young Magic?
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.