Friday, April 23, 2010

Socks Brothers Present: "The Bigger Bang Theory." Not your Grandfather's Game of Floor Hockey

High Socks: Welcome back, Low Socks. It's been a while. The sports world is flying right now with the NBA/NHL playoffs in full swing, the NFL draft kicking off, and early season baseball starting to pick up steam. But I know that you've always held a special place in your heart for the game of floor hockey. Care to share with the class??

Low Socks
: Thanks, HSL. Glad to be back running the court with you. I do hold a special place in my heart for floor hockey. Not just any floor hockey, mind you: I'm talking about the kind with slippery floors, a tiny gym, and those lightweight foam sticks. Get your paws on one of them and you immediately feel powerful...almost like holding a bolt of lightning from Zeus' arsenal.

Before you call me crazy, let me enlighten you about the history of this earth. Leave it to the high courts to judge the validity of a certain theory of evolution or the story of creation. I think I've got one better for ya. Call it "Sam's Theory of Foam Stickitivity." No equations, no relativity, no natural selection; just some good old fashioned foam-on-foam fun.

Picture this scene.

Two guys on opposite teams scramble for the loose puck wherein each player tries to take control of it...and WHAM...the blades collide, causing a massive sonic boom resonating throughout the whole place. This is what happened four billion years ago, but has somehow lost support among scholars in recent centuries, which is why you've never heard it before. Is that the answer you were looking for, HSL?

High Socks
: Let me just start out by saying, "Wow." I've heard a lot of wild conspiracies and theories relating to the beginning of this here world, and none of 'em made as much sense as that one.

I am quite familiar with the "Floor Hockey Stick Bash." Every time I am startled from a sound sleep by a loud crash in the middle of the night, my first thought is always, "Foam Stick Face-Off." Then I come to my senses and realize it was probably a big clap of thunder, but I'm still never entirely convinced.

The floor hockey games that took place in elementary and middle school were probably the purest form of competition since those epic Gladiator fights-to-the-death in the old Roman Coliseum. If you lost a close game to a buddy on the opposing squad, you didn't talk to that guy for the rest of the day, or maybe even a week. Hell, I'd understand if it meant the end of that relationship completely.

It meant that much.

Low Socks
: Well gosh, I've never lost a friend over a battle on the ice, errr, floor, but I'll tell you one thing: if I lose a floor hockey game, don't come and pick me up from school Mom. I'm walkin' home.

I would like to share some insight into the mind of the "guy that plays ice hockey recreationally and for some reason thinks his abilities translate to the floor." I know you have experience handling the puck and operating near the blue line, but that goes right out of the window once you pick up that foam stizznick. You put Sid the Kid out there versus the 7th Grade All-Stars, equip everybody with the styro-stixx, and I can guarantee you the playing field will be level.

"Oh, hello there, Foam Stick, nice to finally meet you; my name is Wrist Shot and this is my good friend One-Timer."

It's no big surprise these guys have never met...

High Socks
: Couple things.

To your earlier point about not getting picked up by Mom after a tough L: I respect the passion there, but don't your feelings change if you know she's waiting in the car with a bag of Honey BBQ Fritos and a cold 20 oz. Cherry Coke? That combo always had its own special way of curing the afternoon blizz-nues.

To your second point, I remember "Ice Hockey Guy" all too well, and to this day, marvel at his belief that the skillz would translate from pond to playground.

You feel like telling this lush, "Look man, it's 4:30 on a Wednesday afternoon. We're playing 3-on-3 floor hockey in a shoebox auxiliary gym with about three fans in attendance. The temperature in here is about 112 degrees. The referee is a guidance counselor that does far too much guiding and far too little counseling. The goalie's "equipment" consists of a couple mangled youth-small shin guards and a horror film mask that doesn't even have eye-holes to see out of. We're just out here to grab a couple smiles and get home safely to our families, so please for the love of all that is good and holy; stop trying to "curve your stick," stop body-checking the 55-pounder on the other team, and last but not least, stop smashing the styrofoam into the ground every single time you want the puck. I see you over there; I'm just not passing it to you."

Low Socks
: I suppose this is a good time to wrap it up. Don't get me wrong, I love talking about floor hockey just as much as the next guy, but your point about shady guidance counselors left me feeling kind of ill. I say let's make like the white cap of a foam stick and break this thing off.

Thanks for the time, HSL. Where's the exit to this place, down the hallway on my left?

Oh yeah, and one more thing.

Is there any way I can get the last hour of my life back? Just wonderin'...

Care to comment on the blog? Drop a comment below, or styro-stick the Sox Bros. an E-mail at

Monday, April 19, 2010

Once is Special, but Twice is Unforgettable

I start out watching every baseball game the same way: wishing for a no-hitter. Sure, a perfect game would be ideal, but I'm not greedy. The no-hitter will do just fine.

Now, of course, with this approach comes plenty of disappointment. Inevitably, in the first couple of innings, both teams will erase the zero from their hits column and my dream officially goes up in smoke.

But then there are those rare occurrences when everything falls into place. The pitcher has his A+ stuff working, the defense behind him is extraordinary, and the opposing lineup trots out a slew of strikers south of the Mendoza line. This perfect storm of events converged in Atlanta on Saturday night.

Ubaldo Jimenez entered the game against the Braves looking for something. As a 6-foot-4 flame throwing right hander, the sky has always been the limit for the Rockies' Jimenez. In his rookie year, he went 4 and 4. He came back the next season and finished 12 and 12. Finally, last year, he shed the "Even Steven" label. Jimenez reeled off nine wins after the All-Star break on his way to a 15-12 mark. Still, he wasn't quite on the baseball map.

Jimenez took the hill at Turner Field with intentions of announcing himself to the world. Two hours and thirty-one minutes later, his mission was accomplished. The game was over, the Braves had zero hits, and his name would forever be part of baseball lore.

But one thing always enters my mind as soon as the euphoria of the no-hitter dies down. What happens next??

Ubaldo Jimenez will get the ball again in about a week and in all likelihood, the game will be less than memorable. Our hero from just five nights prior will likely allow a hit early in the contest, grind out a workmanlike outing, and watch as the baseball spotlight shifts its focus to the next big thing. Jimenez will have had his moment in the sun, and that will be that.

There have been 222 no-hitters twirled since 1900. Of those 222, some were thrown by Hall-of-Famers (Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan) and some were thrown by virtual unknowns (George Culver, Juan Nieves). Some were thrown by cagey veterans (Bret Saberhagen, Dave Stieb) and some were thrown by fresh-faced rookies (Bobo Holloman, Bud Smith). Some completed their no-hitters as part of a perfect game (Kenny Rogers, David Wells) and some finished the job without recording a single strikeout (Ken Holtzman).

Scroll your way through the list and you can find just about any type of player you are looking for. The gamut of no-hitter hurlers runs from A to Z. But one man refused to be like the rest. Whereas his fellow mound men took the ball in their next start and simply faded into the sunset, this pitcher recaptured history just four nights later.

Johnny Vander Meer.

To any baseball trivia guy worth a hill o' beans, this name means one thing and one thing only: back-to-back no-hitters. Vander Meer did what nobody could do before him, and nobody has done since.

He threw a no-hitter, took a few nights off, grabbed the rawhide again, and did the exact same thing. Without question, Vander Meer's accomplishment remains one of the most remarkable and unique records in all of professional sports.

Ask a baseball historian to name a particular feat or record that they think will never be matched. Most times, they will point to Cy Young and his astronomical total of 511 victories. And yes, I am in complete agreement that this record will never be equaled, passed, or even sniffed by any pitcher ever again. But, with all due respect to Denton True and his otherworldly win total, the current climate of the game simply will not allow for this record to be chased down.

From 1890 to 1911, elite pitchers such as Cy Young routinely started more than 50 games a year. Racking up more than 30 W's (he did it five times) was not uncommon and earned you little more than a yawn during salary negotiations for the following season. Roy Halladay is considered to be a modern-day bulldog, refusing to come out of games until they are finished. And he has only pitched 316 times in his entire major league career. He coulda won 'em all and he'd still be about 200 victories short of Mr. Young.

The point being made is simple. 511 wins is an unbreakable record, but it is also literally unreachable. Vander Meer's mark is similarly everlasting, but not because the state of today's game dictates so. The opportunity for a double no-no will always be there for any pitcher with a ball and a glove; it is just very, very, verrrrry difficult to duplicate.

Sports trivia hounds remain well aware that not all records are held by the game's legends.

-Most consecutive free throws made?? 97 by the onetime Bad Boy, but mostly anonymous Micheal Williams.

-Only NHL goalie to record five straight shutouts?? Journeyman netminder Brian Boucher.

-Most passing yards in an NCAA game by a left handed quarterback?? None other than former Lions signal-caller Scott Mitchell with 631 for the Utah Utes in 1988.

Johnny Vander Meer also belongs on that list. His career win-loss mark reads 119 victories to 121 defeats. He was a part of one World Series champion, but he only contributed three October innings to the cause. By all accounts, his career as a whole was perfectly forgettable.

Except for those two days in June of '38. For those 18 innings, Vander Meer was bulletproof; you couldn't touch him.

Ubaldo Jimenez toed the slab on Saturday night and did something special. He threw a no-hitter. Thursday afternoon in Washington, he will have the opportunity to do it again.

Johnny Vander Meer has been alone at the top for 72 years.

It's about time he got some company...

Reach the High Socks Legend at

Friday, April 16, 2010

The High Socks Legend's Second Annual Playoff Preview Extravaganza!!

Matt Bonner's 3-Point Stroke

Does his shooting motion closely resemble that of a middle school girl? Yes.

Would your dad have scolded you growing up if you tried shooting the basketball this way? Yes.

But, the most important question of all is, "Does the ball go in?" Quite simply, yes, it does.

The "Red Rocket" is a 40% shooter from downtown this year, and has been cashing 'em in at about that same clip throughout his career. Bonner is a true X-factor for the Spurs, capable of stealing a playoff game all by himself on the strength of his unsightly long range release. With Roger Mason having an unusually ineffective year shooting the ball and Richard Jefferson morphing into a sad version of Sean Elliott, it will be more important than ever for awkward Matty Bonner to step up and knock down those shot put treys from 23 feet. Just be sure to cover your eyes when he does.

(Sidenote: Is Bonner the "pastiest" NBA player of all time? It's a close call, but I think the list looks something like this.)

5. Steve Kerr

A whiter version of Steve Blake.

4. Pat Garrity

Could shoot the pill from anywhere, but homeboy's complexion was far from "glowing."

3. Jud Buechler

Would it have killed Judson to get a little sun back in the day??

2. Chris Crawford

Rumored to have had an affair with head coach Terry Stotts during a very tumultuous 2003-04 Hawks campaign. Crawford never played in the league again.

1. Matt Bonner

Takes "pasty" to a whole new stratosphere. His official skin color in the San Antonio media guide is listed as "salmon."

The "NBA-TV" Series

Every year, one first-round playoff series gets treated like the ugly stepchild of the NBA postseason. Its games are scheduled at weird times. The worst referees get sent on the assignment. And Dick Stockton is usually prominently involved. Not surprisingly, this year the honor went to Milwaukee-Atlanta, which begins appropriately enough, at 5:30 Saturday evening. But don't fret, there are still plenty of reasons to get jacked up for this not-so-prime time battle. Here are five of 'em.

5. Old Guard (Mike Bibby) vs. New Blood (Brandon Jennings).

If there is any spot on the floor where the Bucks should have a decided advantage, it's at the point. Jennings is super-quick and can scoot by his defender pretty much anytime he wants. Bibby is 32 years old going on 75. His ability to move laterally on D is comparable to a one-legged elephant trying to keep up with a steroid-abusing cheetah that just chugged a case of Red Bull. Al Horford and company better be ready to help at all times.

4. Can Josh Smith continue to avoid the 3-point line??

In a recent Sports Illustrated article, Smith talked about his decision this year to completely abandon the long ball and instead focus on using his freakish athleticism to get easy looks around the rim. Smith's quotes regarding the 3-point shot made him sound like a recovering heroin addict trying to stay away from the needle. "I just don't put myself in that situation where I'm tempted to do it, because I probably will. If I find myself dangling around the perimeter, I'll move in a couple of steps." True to his word, Smith attempted just seven treys this season (making zero), most of which were end of quarter heaves in which he had no other choice. It was J-Smoove's best year as a pro, and the Hawks will need his continued long distance sobriety in order to make an extended run through the playoff bracket.

3. John Salmons...go-to guy?

It might sound strange, but it's the truth. After years of toiling away on benches in Philly and Sacramento, Salmons has finally found his true home in Brew City. After rescuing the under appreciated Sal-Muns from Chicago, the Bucks rolled off 12 wins in 13 games and finished the year on a 22-8 tear. And if there is anybody on the Milwaukee roster looking forward to meeting the Hawks, it is Salmons. The three times these clubs met since the trade, he erupted for point totals of 32, 32, and 28. And the unique thing about Salmons is that he doesn't possess the typical off-the-charts athleticism normally displayed by high-scoring NBA shooting guards. Instead, he does it with a clever in-between game, respectable range from 3-point land (38%), and an ability to draw contact and get to the stripe at crunch time. With Andrew Bogut's 16 points a night vanishing after that gruesome boo-boo to his elbow, the pressure on Salmons to light it up will be ratcheted higher than ever come Saturday night.

2. Gunners off the pine.

Jamal Crawford has been hugely important to the Hawks bench all year, and he will almost assuredly be taking home the 6th Man of the Year award next week. Despite not hearing his name called in the starting lineups once all year, Crawford still poured in 18 a game and hit countless 4th quarter daggers from well beyond the arc. Teaming with Joe Johnson, the Hawks have as good a combination of late-game snipers as any squad in the league. Also featured in this series will be the efforts of 14-year vet Jerry Stackhouse . Regardless of how you feel about Stack's sometimes erratic game, you can't knock the guy's competitive fire. Late in Milwaukee's home loss to Boston last week, Paul Pierce started jawing at Stack. Not one to back down from a challenge regardless of who's issuing it, Stack demanded the ball next time down the floor. He faced up on Pierce, made a quick first step towards the baseline, left his feet just outside the paint, and right when you thought you were witnessing a genuine turn-back-the-clock moment - Stack threw a horrendous cross court pass to nobody in particular that was picked off easily by Rajon Rondo, essentially icing the win for the Celtics. Stack may be light years away from his salad days in Chapel Hill, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's aware of it.

1. Mike Woodson is not exactly "familiar" with advancing deep into the playoffs.

As a player, Woodson played 11 years in the league, qualified for the playoffs five times, and not once escaped the opening round. As a matter of fact, his teams won just 2 of 16 playoff games overall. Bill Russell he is not. As a coach, the story hasn't been all that different. This is Woodson's sixth year at the helm in Atlanta (quietly tied for longest tenured coach in the East with Doc Rivers), and in that time, he has guided the Hawks to exactly one playoff series victory. If there was ever a year for Woody to make a run well into May, this is probably it. His team won 53 games and managed to grab the all-important third seed, which means no LeBron until the conference finals. Still, I think it's two rounds and out for Woodson and his boys, repeating last year's fate. This group remains too perimeter oriented, and needs to add a legitimate veteran big guy for next year to really be considered a championship contender. And no, Joe Smith and Zaza Pachulia do not count.

No Pistons Allowed

In 2001, Chucky Atkins was a jitterbug point guard trying to carve out a niche in the league and Ben Wallace was a powerful young forward just beginning to learn how to put all that strength and energy to good use. The Pistons won 32 games and failed to qualify for the playoffs. The next year, they added a couple pieces, won the Central division, and began a streak of eight consecutive playoff appearances.

Well, Chucky and Ben were back this year to try and recreate some of that old magic, but as it turned out, they were just old.

With the 'Stones missing out on the postseason festivities for the first time in a long time, let's take a look at the top five reasons why this season turned into the absolute train wreck that it wound up being.

5. Rip Hamilton quietly transformed into the Tracy McGrady of the North.

He'd play a few spirited games, turn an ankle, and proceed to sit out for the next month and a half. When he did suit up, he showed some flashes of the old Rip, but for the most part, his effort left a lot to be desired. It is painfully evident that Rip's mind has been elsewhere ever since November 3rd of 2008 when his backcourt mate and best friend Chauncey Billups was unceremoniously shipped off to Denver. Rip has had a tremendous eight seasons in Motown, but the time has come for both parties to move on. Plus, his "wearing a mask all the time" bit got old in like 2006.

4. As a unit, the big men for this team were simply atrocious.

Ben Wallace's offensive game has never looked nastier. Jason Maxiell is about two Cinnabons away from becoming Mike Sweetney. Jonas Jerebko blocked one shot in his final 365 minutes (he's 6-foot-10). Chris Wilcox spent most of the year in street clothes, wearing bizarre sport coats that made you wonder aloud, "Since when did they start putting buttons on shoulders??" And last but not least, Kwame Brown, the former #1 overall pick, is a guy with hands so slippery and unreliable that he probably couldn't even hold on to his you-know-what with a jar of Stickum and last month's issue of Everyday with Rachael Ray.

3. The crowds at the Palace were pathetic.

Most nights, the stands were half-filled, or worse. The fans that did show up were generally comatose. And those were the good ones. In a four-game stretch right around New Year's, the Pistons entertained the worst the Eastern Conference had to offer: Raptors, Knicks, Bulls, and 76ers. A good way to turn the season around with some easy home victories, right?? Umm, not exactly. The Pistons dropped all four games by an average of 17 points. Oh, and the Clippers won there, too.

2. They were the worst 3-point shooting team in the league.

That's right, somehow a roster filled with guards, swingmen, and big guys that like to shoot from deep managed to finish dead last (31%) in long range accuracy. And a special Mazel Tov to the not-so-bashful point guard combination of Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum - a tandem that fired 134 threes and converted just 30, good for a season-ending tally of 22 percent. Way to cash 'em in, fellas!!

1. Three words.


The Good Doctor (No, not that one)

By day, my dad is one of the most respected internists in all of Metro Detroit. By night, he is one of the sharpest basketball minds in the Midwest, analyzing games on League Pass like he would a patient in the exam room with three different shades of yellow fever. Like any Hoops-Head, he's got players he likes, players he hates, and thoughts on everything in between. Here are five popular Doc High Socks comments pertinent to this year's post season.

5. "I've never seen Stephen Jackson make a shot."

Now, at first, glance this seems like a ridiculous statement. How can the guy never make a shot when he racked up over 1,600 points this season and is just short of 11,000 for his career? But tell me this. Does Jackson ever make a shot when you are watching? He seems to be one of those guys that does all this damage and makes all these huge plays in some fantasy world that nobody can see. When you actually get a chance to watch him play for yourself, he throws up a 3-for-14 with six turnovers and lots of angry faces. Ichiro is another great example of this. The guy rips off more than 200 hits every year, but always manages to roll out weakly to short whenever you happen to catch one of his ABs. Stevie Jax's exploits will be on full display when they take on heavily favored Orlando. The only way his club stands a chance is if he hangs a 30-spot every night while maintaining complete sanity throughout. Anything is possible...just as long as my dad's not watching.

4. "Dallas just isn't tough enough inside."

A simple, yet spot-on analysis regarding the hoopers from Dallas and their continued inability each spring to make that final leap and reach the summit. Dirk's been doing his thing for years. Jet Terry is always there to knock down big 3s from the corner. Mark Cuban remains the most passionate owner in professional sports. But one thing about this squad never seems to change; they just aren't big and strong enough inside. Erick Dampier is decent enough, but he's getting to be a little long in the tooth. Hell, the guy was in the Final Four 14 years ago, and he looked like a 40-year-old then. Eddie Najera brings his own brand of toughness to the table, but he's so pesky and bothersome on the court that his own teammates even seem to hate him. Brendan Haywood was added at the trade deadline, but is he really the kind of guy that transforms a contender into a champion? The aforementioned group of bangers are all capable of rebounding and defending, but none of them are really legitimate options in terms of operating on the low block. There's no doubt that the Mavs have the depth, athleticism, and variety of scoring weapons to beat most every team in the league, but it still might be that Achilles heal in the paint that keeps them from achieving their ultimate goal in June.

(Sidenote: I think Mavs-Spurs will be the best series in the entire first round, and would not be shocked in the least if Tim Duncan and friends get the job done. In fact, let's mark it down as the official HSL upset selection.)

3. "You hungry?"

Getting full enjoyment out of the NBA playoffs is only possible if you know how to work the snack rotation correctly. Now the key is you don't want to peak too early. Going for that bag of chips or scoop of ice cream in the nine o'clock hour could ruin your whole night. See, you have to wait for just the right moment. The first leg of games are winding down. Denver-Utah is about to tip on the West Coast and you start to hear that tummy rumble. Jackpot. Now your options are limitless. Set that toaster oven to broil and get a little hot dog action going. Grab a bowl of Rice Chex just because it feels right. Or go to the freezer and let DiGiorno be your date for the evening. My dad has made a living knowing how and when to make these decisions safely and accurately. If you want to get the most out of your playoff experience, I suggest you do the same.

2. "I would just back off LeBron and let him shoot all day."

Sounds a bit weird when talking about the soon to be back-to-back league MVP, but much truth lies in that statement. No matter how big of a LeBron slappy you may be, it cannot be denied that his inconsistent stroke from the outside (and the FT line as well) has been one of the major hurdles in preventing the King from ever cradling that precious Larry O'Brien trophy. Go back just two weeks ago. The Cavs were in Boston on a Sunday afternoon. It was on national TV. You could tell both teams wanted this game. And as is usually the case in spotlight contests such as this, LeBron went off. 42 points, 9 assists, and 7 boards in 45 pressure-packed minutes. But examine that box score a little deeper. LeBron jacked up nine three-pointers during the game; he made zero. He got to the line a mind-boggling 22 times; he made just 14. The Cavs wound up losing by four. Again, I understand and recognize that LeBron is one of the top two or three basketball players on the planet, but can you be the leader on a championship team shooting 33% from distance and 77 from the stripe? When Michael was winning titles, he was always over 80% on his free throws. Ditto for Kobe. LeBron will continue to be the bridesmaid at the end of the playoff season until he finally learns to master the purest form of basketball skill: shooting the rock. The Good Doctor says it best..."Just let him shoot."

(Sidenote: Either LeBron is the most careful player in NBA history or the refs are just terrified to blow the whistle on him. Mr. James played close to three thousand minutes this year. He committed just 119 fouls. Only eight times in the history of the league has such a foul-free season occurred. Amazingly, LeBron has currently gone 30 straight games spanning almost three months without picking up more than two personal fouls in a night. And in a strange oxymoronic twist, you won't find many players that complain more than #23 in the Wine & Gold. Go figure.)

1. "I just love the NBA playoffs."

Ok, so maybe my dad never actually uttered that corny sentiment, but let's be honest; it's the way we all feel. There is high drama on a nightly basis. Young stars (Russell Westbrook) burst on the scene in their first postseason showing while battle-worn vets (Grant Hill, Antonio McDyess) make what could be their final push towards that elusive championship ring. Some matchups will be instant classics (Spurs-Mavs, Jazz-Nugs) while others will end before you realize they started (Thunder-Lakers, Bobcats-Magic). Others (Blazers-Suns, Bucks-Hawks) would have been memorable if not for a couple of ill-timed injuries to vitally important players (Brandon Roy, Andrew Bogut). The other two series' out East (Bulls-Cavs, Heat-Celtics) are simply mandatory warmups leading to a sizzling second round affair.

Epic individual battles will play out right in front of our eyes: Chauncey Billups-Deron Williams...Kevin Durant-Kobe Bryant...Dwight Howard-Theo Ratliff...and the showstopping Joe Johnson-John Salmons duel (okay, I'm a little bit obsessed with Milwaukee).

Every night, fresh storylines will emerge and new heroes will be crowned. It is truly two months of unbridled joy for all hoop fanatics that adore and cherish Naismith's century-old creation.

So for all of you that will go to sleep tonight dreaming about Matt Bonner rainbows from the right elbow extended, know that you are not alone. You're most definitely sick, but you're not alone.

Enjoy the playoffs, people.

Drop your own playoff thoughts and predictions here, or reach me by E-mail at

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

In Progress: NBA Playoff Preview

The High Socks Legend is busy preparing the annual NBA Playoff Preview. In the meantime, feel free to check out last year's encyclopedia-sized rendition or take a look at Antonio McDyess and his never-ending quest for a championship ring. Or check out any other classic article from the HSL archives.

And be sure to come back later in the week for all the playoff shenanigans!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

An Unforgettable Night for All the Wrong Reasons

Everything seemed to be business as usual inside the Palace of Auburn Hills last Wednesday night.

The Pistons were getting trounced by the visiting Heat, the stands were half-filled, and Chris Wilcox was taking his customary second quarter snooze over on the bench. My buddy BK and I slumped back in our seats, practically searching for ways to be entertained.

We stared at Charlie Villanueva for a while. It appeared as if CV was chomping on some kind of in-game snack. It was the most action he got all night.

Watching the huge Jonas Jerebko fan club to our right was mildly amusing until it became clear that JJ was having one of his patented "Look, I was at the club until like 5:00 this morning, so don't expect much from me" kind of games.

Pistons' rookie DaJuan Summers got significant minutes in the team's quest to see if they have a real ballplayer on their hands. On one hand, if the rules of the sport drastically change to the point where all you need to do is graze a piece of the rim or backboard in order for a basket to count, Summers would be on the fast track to Springfield. However, if the rules remain as they are now, requiring the ball to go all the way in the rim and down through the net, we are looking at quite possibly the worst NBA player of all time. It really could go either way.

Like I said, it was a very ordinary night at the Palace.

Then, things got weird. Really weird.

There was a timeout on the floor. Both teams went to their respective huddles. Music blared over the loud speakers. PA guy John Mason barked about some contest going on in the upper deck. And to the court came Hooper, the Pistons mascot.

Only, Hooper wasn't himself. He was moving at a snail's pace and it looked like he may have enjoyed about a half-dozen Heinekens before entering the building. But then I looked a little closer, and realized ol' Hoop had a reason for the restricted movement and abbreviated pace. Our mascot was on crutches.

I nudged BK and told him to check it out. He couldn't believe his eyes. An NBA mascot on crutches? Is that even legal?

We agreed maybe it was just part of a comedy bit. Maybe Hooper was going to feign injury, then a loud bang would go off, he'd fling the crutches aside, and the crowd would eat it up. But no such thing happened. He hobbled his way back to the tunnel and the night continued.

Midway through the 3rd, it was time for the "T-Shirt Toss," the most stale of all stadium gimmicks. The shirts are fired into the upper reaches of the crowd while throngs of screaming fans throw self-respect completely out the window and proceed to go absolutely berserk in trying to secure the cheap garment. Usually this event is right in Hooper's wheelhouse. He bounces around the court, determines which section is most passionate, and then directs his prizes accordingly. It's basically Mascot Heaven. But this was just...sad.

Hooper still had his crutches and clearly could not lead this event as is his custom. However, the Palace Patrol had come prepared. They wheeled this bizarre wagon-like contraption over to Hooper, and he struggled on board.

Just when you think you've seen all this world has to offer, here comes an old, beat up, NBA horse mascot forcing his way onto a makeshift T-shirt tossing machine. A more depressing sight I could not imagine.

The helpers pushed the ailing Hooper around the court, allowing him to work the cannon and blast the shirts. But the insanity that usually envelops the fans during this scene was absent. Instead, the crowd responded the same way they would if one of the favorites in the Kentucky Derby just collapsed on the home stretch with a shattered kneecap. Pure, unadulterated horror.

The thing that I haven't been able to wrap my head around is this.

I understand mascots get injured sometimes.

They are routinely flying off trampolines, roller skating across the floor, or somersaulting through a ring of fire. Accidents will occur.

, if these furry heroes do get hurt, why not get a healthy replacement? Finding an adequate stand-in for this chronically mediocre mascot over the final few weeks would not have been difficult. Hell, you give me a couple Red Bulls and a few high-quality hallucinogens, and I'd throw on the outfit for a few hours. It ain't rocket science.

Or how about just going without a freaking mascot for a few games? Would that really have been the worst thing in the world? Would anybody have gone to a game, watched a couple quarters, and then screamed, "Hey, where has Hooper been tonight? I don't think I've seen Hooper!"

But anything would have been better than the current model of just sending out the same crippled Hooper night after depressing night.

Recently, Hooper and his fellow Piston spirit crew members went out for a community appearance. Hooper, being the honorable mascot that he is, called the event planner Daryl Hawkins ahead of time to let him know about his broken ankle. I love picturing how that conversation transpired.

Hooper: "Hey, so I'm uhh, on crutches. I messed up my ankle bad, dude."

Hawkins: "You're on crutches?!? But you're supposed to be the life of the party! How are you going to rev up the crowd and do your job if you can't move??"

Hooper: "Yeah, I can't answer that, man. I really just called to tell you to make sure there's beer. And some hay. I'm gonna be pretty hungry."

This Pistons season has been a nightmare from beginning to end. They've gotten blown out more times than I can remember and are headed for their worst record since the apocalyptic Sean Elliott-Olden Polynice squad in 1993-94. The players have underachieved, the coaches have lost control, and the fans have become disinterested. Our last safe haven was our mascot, and now he has fallen, too.

It's been one low point after another this year for the Pistons, but nothing will ever be as downright saddening as the night we saw Hooper on crutches.

Get better soon, big fella. For everybody's sake.

Don't forget to check out John Kuester's Year-in-Review, or return to the HSL Main Page

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Ridin' High with the Giraffe Socks Legend

  • As if the Pistons season had not become pathetic enough, now we have this weird issue at practice between Charlie Villanueva and Austin Daye. Apparently something major went down, but thankfully, both players did the mature thing by posting bizarre messages to their Twitter feeds all afternoon. Villanueva said, "This has been a very fustrating year, it just only got worse 2day, I have never experienced, in my 5 years, what I have experience this year." We learn here that Charlie V is definitely unhappy with his current situation, and also very confused as to when is the appropriate time to use a comma. The rookie Daye tweeted back with, "Sonthin happened to me today that won't every happen again and I'm just venting right now but I'm twisted mad and and gunna b ready 4 r game." Again, we see a not-so-peachy Detroit Piston and a less than stellar mastery of the English language. I like how Villanueva is simply "frustrated" with the incident, while Daye is actually "twisted mad." Sort of a sad representation of their personalities on the court too, isn't it? Villanueva is always floating around the floor, not really caring one way or another what happens. At least Daye seems to have an ounce of emotion in his body, even if he does lack any discernible basketball ability to go with it. Maybe we'll find out in the coming days what this whole fracas revolved around, but I can tell you one thing they were definitely not fighting over...a defensive rebound. Bup bup bup.
  • I'm not saying Barack Obama has the worst throwing motion of all-time, but let's just say he makes Lori Petty from A League of their Own look like Walter Johnson. That was atrocious, Mr. President, and I think we would all understand if you decided to step down as Commander in Chief, effective immediately. It was that bad. Health care, Schmealth Care; real issues take place at 60 feet, 6 inches. And when placed there Monday, Obama, the "Most powerful man in the free world," turned to jelly and looked about as confident as an aging cow at the starting line in the Farm Animal 100-Meter Dash. Absolutely brutal.
  • Most times, people are impressed with other people when they are able to come up with an answer to a really tough question or simply display a large amount of knowledge on a particular subject. Well, on Saturday I was wildly impressed with somebody for knowing absolutely nothing at all. At a stoppage during the MSU-Butler game, a few highlights of Geno Auriemma's dominating UCONN team were flashed across the screen. My Dad piped up and casually wondered aloud, "Has the women's tournament started yet?" This is a guy that knows more about the world of sports than 99% of the general public, and yet, he had absolutely no clue that the women's bracket had been unfolding for three weeks and that their Final Four was already set. Such complete unawareness of a particular topic has never been more refreshing.
  • Cameron Maybin got his 2010 campaign off to a rollicking start with an 0-for-4 at the dish, accompanied by a cute little trio of swinging strikeouts each time he faced Johan Santana. Fortunately for "Five Tools" Maybin, the Mets pulled Santana in the 7th with the game in hand, allowing Cameron the privilege of actually putting the ball in play, which he did by bouncing a depressing grounder to short for his final action of the day. I'd be shocked if this guy lasts the year in the big leagues, and if he does, I'd be doubly shocked if he hits above two-fiddy. He's basically like Willie Mays Hayes from Major League, only Maybin never seems to realize he should stop taking big cuts and instead be concentrating on slapping the ball around and using his speed to his advantage. If the Marlins were smart, they'd get Lou Brown on the horn immediately. He knows how to deal with guys like this. Brown would ensure Maybin's success by making sure he does several thousand push-ups while stressing the importance of hitting the ball on the ground.
  • That Andrew Bogut injury on Saturday night was quite simply one of the worst things I have ever witnessed. And this is coming from a guy that has seen 5 of 6 movies in the Saw franchise. (If you haven't seen the play, click here.) He just went up so high, and came down so hard, with one-hundred percent of the fall being absorbed by his woefully helpless right elbow. Oy, I cringe just thinking about it. Seriously, try and watch the highlight without audibly gasping or half-covering your eyes when Bogut is about to crash. It's not possible. Just a really tough break for the fightin' Glenn Robinsons. The team surprised everybody this season by overachieving with a weird mix of rookies, veterans, and complete journeymen. This injury, however, forces old warhorse Kurt Thomas into the starting lineup. And let's not forget, this is the same Kurt Thomas that led Division-I in scoring fifteen years ago. Not exactly the guy you want battling Dwight Howard 40 minutes a night come playoff time. The Bucks are still headed for a spot in the post season, but their chances of putting a scare into somebody were essentially obliterated with the loss of Bogut.

    (Sidenote: Nobody has really had the guts to call out Amar'e Stoudemire on this play, but I'll do it. I thought it was dirty. Everybody knows that when a guy is either a) about to take off or b) already airborne, you stay away. Even the slightest bit of contact when a player is at this most vulnerable state can lead to devastating injuries, which was precisely the case here. Stoudemire trailed Bogut all the way, had no chance of stopping the eventual dunk, and should have simply stopped his own momentum and allowed the play to conclude. But instead, he trails closely behind, and when Bogut begins to elevate, places his hand ever so gently on the small of Bogut's back, giving the big fella just enough superfluous momentum to cause the horrific descent to the hardwood. I hate nothing more in basketball than a dirty play that leads to an injury, which is why at some point I will be devoting 12,000 words to Eric Snow sticking his foot under Chauncey's landing spot in the 2003 playoffs, and why I think capital punishment would have been an appropriate consequence in the aftermath of that situation.)
  • Placido Polanco bombed a grand slam and collected six ribbies for the Phillies on Opening Day. Still confused as to why Tigers' brass viewed Polanco as expendable this past off-season. I know money was an issue, but isn't three years at $6 million per a pretty fair deal for a career .300 hitter that plays Gold Glove defense at second? A lot of people are excited about young Scott Sizemore and the numbers he's put up as a minor leaguer, but forgive me if I'm a bit trepidatious. Frankly, I think I liked Sizemore better the first time he was with the know, when he was called Warren Morris.
  • Dear MLB Extra Innings 'Free Preview Week,'

    I love you. Like, more than a friend.

    -Yours Truly, High Socks Legend-

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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Year in Review with Coach John Kuester

Pistons P.R. Guy: I'd like to thank everybody for coming out this afternoon for the 2009-10 Year in Review with our head coach, John Kuester. The coach is here to answer any questions you may have about this past season. Let's begin.

Reporter: Coach, can you explain to us what happened with Ben Gordon this year? Twelve months ago, the guy was on top of the basketball world, leading the Bulls during what was quite possibly the best opening-round playoff series in NBA history. He blew up for 42 one night, 33 in the Game 7 loss, and seemed to have more confidence than anybody on the court. So how is it that in the span of one 82-game schedule, you were able to completely shatter Ben's confidence and also surgically remove any semblance of a soul that he had left?

Coach Kuester: Well, it wasn't easy, I'll tell you that. It all starts by making his role as unclear as possible. When Ben walked into the arena this year, he had no idea whether he'd be getting 35 minutes or 13. Maybe I'd throw him in the starting lineup, maybe not. He would have no idea until the game got going. Those things are crucial to removing a player's confidence. Also, I would often give him a quick hook if his first couple shots didn't go down. There is no way a guy will play to the best of his abilities when he's got that nervous feeling in the back of his mind, so that was very important as well. And let's not forget the instrumental contributions from Ben's ankle and groin, which he was able to borrow on loan this year from Joe Theismann and Nomar Garciaparra, respectively. Currently, Gentle Ben has gone 18 straight games without reaching the 20 point mark, which is by far a personal best for him after six years in the league. This is a guy that shot over 40% from 3-point land every year of his career; this year he's below 30. Going forward, we will just try to keep his role completely undefined like it has been all year, and frankly, just continue to make him feel as uncomfortable as possible whenever he steps foot on the court.

Reporter: Hey Kue, how important is it for you guys to finish last in the league in free throw shooting? I know you've been dead last for most of the year, and now you sit in 29th, one spot ahead of the Cavs for this honor. Wouldn't it be nice for your team to accomplish something this year??

Coach Kuester: Yes, obviously we are well aware of that race and are doing everything possible to finish the job. Make no mistake about it, we want this record. Haven't you noticed the increased burn for Kwame Brown lately? That's not an accident. The guy is an atrocious free thrower and that's earned him extended minutes. We aren't even in this race without his 5-for-20 effort in March, and his horrifying 35% on the year. Sometimes it looks like Kwame is trying to see if he can actually shatter the glass with one of his attempts, and lemme tell you something, I really hope the kid does it. You work that hard at something, you want to see results. One thing that has hurt us is the injury to Ben Wallace. He really had been so painfully bad at the line this year, and we've truly missed that 39% down the stretch. Who can forget the night that Gregg Popovich went to the Hack-a-Ben, and I left him in there to shoot 10 fourth quarter free throws??? You can't pay for memories like that. We just have to keep doing what we're doing, and hope Cleveland starts hitting a few. I mean, who does Antawn Jamison think he is, getting traded to the best team in the East and then transforming into a 46 percent foul shooter?? We won't stand for tank jobs like that. It might take putting Jason Maxiell (59%) at point guard and slashing Ben Gordon's (84%) minutes even further, but trust me, when all is said and done, we will be the worst free-throw shooting team in the National Basketball Association. You can quote me on that.

Reporter: The Pistons' trainer, Mike Abdenour, has been with the team for 31 years. He also happens to look just like the iconic Nintendo character Mario. But that being said, the team has suffered countless injuries this year and rarely has the full lineup been available. At what point do you cut the umbilical cord here, Coach?

Coach Kuester: It's a very tricky situation with Mr. Abdenour. Putting all our cards on the table here, I will tell you that we have fired Mike after each of the last three seasons. We clean out his office, give him a pink slip, and escort him out of the building. But I'll be darned, when we open training camp the following season, the little fella is right back on the bench, stuffing himself into that Youth Small sweater vest and cleaning Rip Hamilton's face mask. In a few weeks, we will bring in Bowser and Koopa Troopa, remove all mushrooms from the facility, and try to let him go again, but it likely will not matter. Mario never goes down without a fight.

Reporter: John, it seemed like Charlie Villanueva was starting to come on a bit of late. He had three straight games scoring in double figures and was finally beginning to display a consistent human pulse. But then you played him just five minutes in Sunday's loss to Chicago. Is there any truth to the rumor that you are planning to install an actual dog house at the end of your bench next season for Charlie V to crawl into when he is not in the game?

Coach Kuester: Yes, that is true, and I'll tell ya what, we are very excited about the possibilities with this. Joe Dumars and I have been spending a lot of our free time at IKEA looking at all kinds of different models and designs, and we think Charlie is really going to be happy with the end result. There's one particular dog house that we think will be perfect. It has enough space for a sleeping bag, a pillow, and a little shelf for an alarm clock. That way, Charlie can get some good rest when he's not playing, while also remaining perfectly clueless as to the flow and direction of the game out on the floor. I can call him out of the dog house, throw him in the game, and he can go jack up senseless 25-footers with no real idea of who's winning or how much time is left. It's essentially the same situation we have now; this would just make it official. A win-win for everybody involved.

Reporter: Coach, Rodney Stuckey is about to complete his third NBA season and he is still light years away from being a legitimate NBA point guard. Is there a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow, or should we just politely accept the fact that he's never gonna be more than a glorified version of Robert Pack?

Coach Kuester: Rodney is really coming along as a point guard, and with a couple more years of tutelage under Chucky Atkins- hold on, I just threw up in my mouth a little- we think he will become one of the top assist guys in the whole league. Here's who Rodney is, in a nutshell. He's at a kid's birthday party at a bowling alley. The last frames are rolled and the pizza is being delivered to the tables over by the Claw Grabber machines. Rodney darts over before anyone else can get there, helps himself to the three largest slices of the pie, and sits down to enjoy his Za. Once he has devoured every last morsel of cheese, sauce, and crust, he will then go find the birthday boy: he will help him scrounge up any remaining grub, refill his glass of Coke, and make sure all the presents are up front and accounted for so the gift opening process can go on without a hitch. His ultimate reaction was all well and good, but it was not his first reaction. His initial move was to help himself to the pizza, fill up his own belly, and then go forward in helping his buddy out. That's not the behavior of a true point guard. Steve Nash wants to hook up Amare, Richardson, and everybody else. Then he will look for his own offense; but still, never at the expense of getting his own teammates involved. Unfortunately, we are still teaching Rodney these essential skills, and like I said, Chucky Atkins remains heavily involved in this process. Uhh, you're gonna have to excuse me...I think I'm gonna be sick.

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