The Toros: Season Three Preview (First Less-Than-Successful Attempt)

OK, now that the professional basketball season has started again and I can finally put aside reading books and feigning interest in conversations with my friends and get back to what’s really important in this life, I have a few comments on the NBA I feel I should make before I get down to business with the Austin Toros. Just bear with me real quick.

The first issue concerns the Boston Celtics. Ever since the season began, sportswriters have been falling all over themselves to sing the praises of the Cs, who, at last count, were sitting on a league-best 12-1 record and have been playing every game like it’s game seven of the Finals and each member of the team has a rare fatal disease that will claim them before the next season begins, and if they don’t win this championship game, their souls will be condemned for eternity to some sort of sports purgatory where the greatest also-rans in history have to pass the time (or lack thereof) in front of an enormous television screen watching endless highlights of Michael Jordan and Bill Russell and Muhammad Ali and Yogi Berra winning title after title. That’s how hard they’ve been playing. Kevin Garnett looks like a man possessed, like he can already anticipate the lingering pain of being one of the 50 greatest retired players of all time who never won a championship. With each swatted block and two-handed dunk, he seems to be railing against the wind and rain of an uncaring universe, like King Lear in a tank top: “I refuse to be Charles Barkley! I refuse to be John Stockton!"

So the Celtics have been playing beautiful, unselfish, intense basketball, and they deserve all the praise they’ve been getting for the way they’ve been steamrolling over their competition. But I think it needs to be pointed out just who they’ve been doing this steamrolling to. Now, I know it’s not easy beating 12 teams in the NBA while only losing to one, regardless of which teams they are. I admit that. In my own basketball career I’ve learned just how hard it is to close tight games and stay motivated during blowouts. (On a side note, I think my unselfish, pass-first, dive-into-the-stands, wave-a-towel-on-the-sidelines style of play would fit right in with the newly constituted Celtics. I’m an assist guy, and my strengths would be the perfect complement to the high-scoring trio of Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen. I’d be like Brian Scalabrine, without the red crew-cut and multi-million-dollar contract.)

Where was I? Right: In the 13 games the Celtics have played, only two of the teams they’ve faced have been legitimate contenders for even getting past the second round of the playoffs, much less winning the title. And they lost one of those two games (to the Orlando Magic). Garnett and company haven’t faced the Spurs or the Mavericks or the Pistons or the Suns or the Jazz or the Rockets. For whatever reason, the scheduling gods at the NBA gave the new-day Celtics two months full of tomato cans to beat up on while they were getting to know one another. Which has made for great, exciting highlights and countless displays of team unity and love, but let’s see what happens to all that love and unity when the big boys start coming to town. Will we see Garnett and Pierce laughing so readily on their way to the court when it’s Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard they’re going to meet? Will the pregame hugs come quite as readily after getting pounded by the implacable Spurs the night before? The first time they get run off the court by Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire, will their postgame interviews be so full of talk about harmony and brotherhood and putting aside individual stats for the sake of winning a championship?
I don’t know. I'm just sayin' …
NBA issue No. 2: At the beginning of the season, Sports Illustrated released their list of the 10 best-dressed players in the league … and Damon Jones was not on it! What kind of madness is that?! Dwayne Wade is on there, looking like Truman Capote, as is Jason Kidd, looking like he’s on his way to a bar mitzvah. LeBron James? Paul Pierce? Andre Kirilenko? They’re all there. So where the hell is Damon Jones? The man owns a leopard-skin suit, for chrissakes! What does a man have to do to earn a little respect around here?

Sure, Jones plays minimal minutes and has questionable skills and determination. Sure, his work ethic is dubious at best and his defense is ungodly. But look at the way he dresses! Not since Dennis Rodman has anyone in professional basketball bothered this much with the way he looks, and he deserves to be recognized for it. All due respect to SI, but I don’t think there’s any coincidence that all 10 guys on their list are perennial all-stars. They’re not making the all-important distinction between what a man is and how a man looks. Damon Jones knows. He lives by the belief that success is a simple matter of perception. He may coast through his career, jacking up threes at inappropriate times and celebrating like he just won a presidential election when he makes one, but he dresses like he’s the greatest to ever play the game. He constructs his own reality out of animal prints, and then he lives in that reality. And for that he deserves our admiration.

I demand a recount.

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Boston Celtics, Damon Jones

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