Toros on Top

What can you say about these Austin Toros?

Last year’s D-League tragedians are sitting high atop the Southwest Division standings at 13-5, four games ahead of closest rival the Colorado 14ers. Not only that, they’ve been No. 1 on the D-League’s Power Rankings for two weeks. In fact, before Saturday’s close loss to the Albuquerque Thunderbirds, they hadn’t lost a game at home all season. The team is averaging 110 points a game. 110! Points! Who do they think they are, the Phoenix Suns? Six players are averaging double figures for the year. This is madness. Forward Marcus Williams is shooting 90% from the free-throw line. Spurs assignee Ian Mahinmi is grabbing 7.5 rebounds for every 30 minutes he’s on the floor. My man Justin Bowen is putting in 13 points a night. Plus, the pretzels at the Austin Convention Center remain delicious, there’s a full bar complete with Tanqueray, and the Capital City Dancers continue to prove themselves the bubbliest bunch of spandex-clad girls you’d ever want to fire T-shirts at your head with a pneumatic rifle.

These are heady, heady days.

That being said, it’s not all hoop skirts and salami sandwiches in Toros country. Two problems persist:

1) Because of the team’s new affiliation with the San Antonio Spurs (and owing to the number of injuries the aging NBA champs have suffered this year) there have been a ton of call-ups and assignments this season: from the Spurs to the Toros and from the Toros to the Spurs and from the Spurs from the Toros and then back within the Spurs and heretofore, in which, in media res, leaning toward the Spurs vis-à-vis the Toros, etc., etc., ad palladium. Which means that it’s been almost impossible to keep up with the Toros’ roster. Darius Washington, Marcus Williams, DerMarr Johnson, Keith Langford: I can’t tell who’s where or when or even who. You need a dramatis personae to keep up with all the movement. I try to stay on top of things (seeing as how I’m a sportswriter and all), but when rosters change at halftime to suit the whims of Gregg Popovich, it’s not easy to call yourself an expert with anything resembling a straight face. I know this is how the D-League works, and I know I should feel happy for all these Toros who are getting a shot at the NBA, but dammit if I don’t feel a little left behind. Where’s my little team from last season? That lovable collection of Keystone Cops who you could always count on to be there at every game, even if you couldn’t count on them to win one? Where’s that team? “There’s nothing that keeps its promise,” Philip Roth once wrote. Now I know what he was talking about.

The other problem is that the team’s promotional staff hasn’t bothered to change any of the games that they run in between quarters and during timeouts. Every time that fucking whistle blows, you know you’re going to have to watch two tiny kids bowling with basketballs or shooting free throws or racing around on tricycles picking up bags of groceries (since when did grocery shopping become fun?). And inevitably you’ll have to sit through the spectacle of three grown adults squaring off in a dance contest at center court, where inevitably the prize will go to some old lady or a fat guy who still remembers how to break-dance. Surely there are other games out there to play. How about a trivia contest where the first contestant to answer three questions about the D-League pay-scale and how it relates to its allocated-player system wins a job in the team’s front office? Or a game that challenges all fans under the age of 12 to clean up the arena as quickly as possible and then sit quietly in the corner doing their homework? The one who sits most quietly after cleaning most diligently wins a lifelong love of learning, a sense of accomplishment, the thanks of a grateful city, and a 36-ounce bottle of barbecue sauce from Stubb’s. How about a slam-dunk contest between me and the Toros beat writer from the Statesman? I know what you’re thinking: That guy wouldn’t stand a chance against my signature behind-the-back, through-the-legs, off-the-forehead, over-the-river, through-the-woods, 720-degree, tomahawk jam. And you're right to think that. But in the name of fair play and journalistic equanimity, I would agree to dunk with one laptop tied behind my back.

Then we'd see - once and for all - which is the paper of note here in Austin.

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