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The Power of Words

May 3, 2011 1 comment

By Phil Hecken

On April 12, 2011, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers received a technical foul from referee Bennie Adams, in a game against the San Antonio Spurs. A visibly upset Bryant strode to the bench, punched a chair, and snapped a towel. Then, almost inexplicably, he stared out toward Adams, and in full view of TNT cameras (and boom mics), screamed, “Bennie!” His next two words were almost inaudible, but even those who have difficulty reading lips were able to see what followed: “F*CKING FA*GOT”

The retribution by the NBA was swift and severe. On April 13, NBA Commissioner David Stern handed Bryant a $100,000 fine, for “offensive and inexcusable” comments he made the previous evening.

“Kobe Bryant’s comment during last night’s game was offensive and inexcusable,” said Stern. “While I’m fully aware that basketball is an emotional game, such a distasteful term should never be tolerated. Accordingly, I have fined Kobe $100,000. Kobe and everyone associated with the NBA know that insensitive or derogatory comments are not acceptable and have no place in our game or society.” Message sent.

Bryant, for his part, was contrite. “My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period,” he said. “The words expressed do not reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were not meant to offend anyone.” Message received?

Both the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the Human Rights Commission (HRC) were quick to issue statements backing up Stern’s fine.

Applauding Stern, HRC President Joe Solomonese said, “We hope such swift and decisive action will send a strong and universal message that this kind of hateful outburst is simply inexcusable no matter what the context.”

GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios joined in the praise for Stern, saying, “The NBA has sent a clear message to sports fans everywhere that anti-gay slurs have no place in the game.”

~~~

Kobe Shh But was Bryant acting any different than many athletes act in the locker room, where no cameras or recorders are present? And was Bryant being singled out when other stars seemingly get a pass? Three years ago, Kevin Garnett apparently spoke the same words in a playoff game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The only difference was that Garnett directed his comments to the crowd and not a referee.

I believe Bryant when he says his words aren’t reflective of any anti-gay sentiment he may harbor. I think, in the heat of the moment, he did express his emotions without any ill will or malice. But at the same time, I completely support the message the NBA sent with the hefty fine.

Growing up, on playgrounds across the United States, boys and men playing school yard and competitive games will frequently taunt an opponent by uttering similar slurs. It’s almost part of the “game.” But when the game is played on the national stage, no matter what the reason, professional athletes must rise above their macho posturing to achieve some sense of decorum. Allowing this degrading remark to go unpunished, however innocently it may have been uttered, would have been tacitly approving its utterance. The NBA not only needed to sanction Bryant, it had to.

NBA ballers, and all professional athletes, entertainers and those in the public eye must be held to a higher standard, realizing that their words have power. They need to be cognizant of the fact that many of them are role models (whether or not they wish to be), and their actions and words do carry a greater weight. Perhaps the NBA was *making an example* of Bryant, and this was a good thing if that was the intent. Message received? I hope so.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but Kobe Bryant found out that a word (or two) is worth $100,000. That’s powerful stuff.

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A Few Words Singled Out Among Many – Kobe Bryant

May 3, 2011 Leave a comment

New York – We have seen plenty of suspensions and fines around sports that are handed down to athletes and coaches who act of line verbally. Whether the words are directed to the opposing players, referees, coaches, fans or even the national audience that is watching; a professional sports athlete is never safe when it comes to opening their mouth.

Earlier this month, Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, was fined $100,000 by the NBA for using a gay slur during a game against the San Antonio Spurs. The 13-time all-star was caught on camera yelling at a referee after a technical foul had been called on him and while there is no audio to back it up, anyone with eyes can read the words that come out of Bryant’s mouth.

It was evident that Bryant was disgusted with the call and that his emotions got the best of him. After the fine had been dropped on him, he was forced to confront the matter and apologized to anyone that was offended, making several calls to Human Rights officials and even contributing to a PSA about homophobic slurs.

This is Kobe after realizing $100,000 was taken from him...not a care in the world.

But what really makes me wonder is why people were so upset about the act and why was Kobe singled out as if he has been the only athlete to ever has his words caught on camera? Yes, Bryant stepped out of line in using the slur and it was something that he should not have done, but that is the nature of the beast. With the camera being focused star athletes for a majority of the game, at some point, you are going to catch them doing something against “protocol”.

And don’t even get me started on the $100,000 fine that doesn’t even make a dent in Bryant’s wallet. It was an obligated move that the NBA had to pursue to put at ease those who were offended.

Brad Vipperman, who covers the Lakers on the Bleacher Report summed it up well and states, “Why can funny movies, which are not just seen by millions more people than an NBA game but are seen over and over again on TV and DVD, get away with degrading gay culture on purpose?  And yet, Kobe gets fined the average yearly income of over three American households for using it without thinking in the heat of battle?”

 For a person that has watched countless sporting events on television, I have heard and seen much worse when it comes to professional sports. With the technology that is incorporated today, there are practically microphones on the playing surface so every little word can be interpreted to the audience.

So why was Bryant singled out? We didn’t actually hear him say the slur; we could only read his lips. It was the TNT commentators that said they should turn the camera away from Bryant “for the kids watching at home” making it obvious that something was said that shouldn’t have been.

 Was it because the derogatory term has been associated with the anti-gay culture of today’s generation? There is no question about it.

But how come NONE of the professional sports organizations have addressed other insulting slurs that players use? You can hear word-for-word what football and hockey players say during a game, but no action is taken against them when they use an insulting or offensive word. It goes unannounced like it never happened. So either every sport should take a tip from the NBA and start conducting an investigation into what their players say out on the field or leave it at that, not for nothing, they are just words.

Finally, how is right that Roger McDowell, the Atlanta Braves pitching coach is suspended ONLY two weeks for making homophobic slurs at FANS in San Francisco before a game just days later? He wasn’t on the diamond expressing his emotions to the opposing team or an umpire. He blatantly targeted an innocent man and his family at the game and made sexual gestures towards them, while threatening them with a baseball bat. Asking a fan how much his teeth are worth seems a little more drastic than using a slur that no one actually heard during an emotional game.

The two weeks suspension and “sensitivity training” that McDowell received as a punishment? Harsh is a word at the other side of the spectrum. Does anyone have any idea what “sensitivity training” actually is? Me neither.

Ironically, the words that were seen and not heard from Bryant are front and center with no one asking questions about an event that was far greater in my eyes

Categories: NBA

Knicks v. Celtics, Game 1 Preview

April 18, 2011 6 comments

Skeptics arose when Amare Stoudemire boldly declared “the Knicks are back” after New York signed him to a five-year, $100 million deal, last July.

Those doubters have since been quieted after the Knicks (42-40) posted their first winning season since 2000-2001 to clinch the sixth spot in the Eastern conference.

The Knicks are back—in the playoffs, for the first time since 2004.

They now face a Boston Celtics (56-26) squad that stumbles into the first-round, having gone just 15-11 since the trade that sent starting center Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City.

It’s a matchup of the new “big-three” versus the old; hyper offense versus physical defense.  Stoudemire and midseason acquisitions Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups will lead the Knicks into TD Garden on Sunday to face off in what will be an intense matchup against the playoff-tested Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

The Knicks will need Anthony, who will be matched up with Pierce, to play brilliantly to have a chance to steal at least one of the first two games at Boston. One of the major advantages he brings to New York’s offense is that he excels in the half court-game that the Celtics often prefer. They will also need to play tough interior defense against the typically physical Celtic frontline which, fortunately for the Knicks, will be without Shaquille O’Neal for Game 1.

Boston, on the other hand, will need starting point guard Rajon Rondo to play closer to the level he was playing at when the Celtics reached the Finals last season and with the fire and accuracy he showed earlier this season. He has been largely inconsistent since the Perkins trade but will need to push the ball at every opportunity to use his speed against Billups. It will also make a world of a difference if he can make the open shots the Knicks will most certainly give him.

The Celtics will rely on their playoff battle-tested core to lead them once again through the adversity that has many picking the first-place Chicago Bulls or second-place Miami Heat as Eastern conference champion favorites. The Knicks will hope for the upset upon the shoulders of three veterans who have been deep into the playoffs in their respective careers.

The Knicks will certainly give the Celtics a run for their money and will not be an easy-out by any means. The buzz in playoff-starved Madison Square Garden will be electric and should propel the home team to a victory or two. In the end, however, the Knick offense will be unable to match the grind-it-out style that Doc Rivers and his Celtics have become accustomed to the past four seasons and will fall short of pulling off the upset.

Celtics in six.

NBA Playoffs: Knicks-Celtics preview

April 17, 2011 7 comments

Following the trade of Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, Knicks fans eagerly anticipated a chance to make it to the NBA playoffs, somewhere they haven’t been since 2004. Now seated sixth in the Eastern Conference, the Knicks are officially playoff slated and are set to go against the Boston Celtics, a long-standing rival since 1990. A lot of anticipation leading up to the Knicks-Celtics game tonight at 7:00 p.m.

For Knicks fans the Anthony and Billups trade created an elite three when combined with Amare Stoudemire and the momentum that the Knicks needed to ride into a play off spot. Anthony is averaging 30.3 points and 49.0 percent shooting the past nine games. Although Stoudemire was out that past few games due to a sprained left ankle, his return to the court for the playoffs is highly anticipated.

New York is hoping to roll with the positive wave, using the seven game winning streak it had, before the Bills put a stop to it last Tuesday, as an adrenaline rush on Boston’s court, the home court advantage the Celtics are hoping to use for themselves.

A rocky lope to the playoffs, the Celtics are seated third in the Eastern Conference, but have had many bumps along the way. They traded starting center Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City, causing discontent and altering the chemistry of the Celtics starting line up. Upsetting losses, including games against the Washington and Chicago, did little for the Celtics’ morale, but they’re in the playoffs – enough said.

Below is the complete schedule for the Knicks-Celtics playoff games:

Game 1: Sunday at Boston, 7 p.m.
Game 2: Tuesday at Boston, 7 p.m.
Game 3: Friday, April 22, at New York; 7 p.m.
Game 4: Sunday, April 24, at New York; 3:30 p.m.
Game 5 (if necessary): Tuesday, April 26, at Boston; time TBD
Game 6 (if necessary): Friday, April 29, at New York; time TBD
Game 7 (if necessary): Sunday, May 1, at Boston; time TBD

Categories: NBA

Knicks vs. Celtics Preview

April 17, 2011 7 comments


The New York Knicks head to TD Garden in Boston tonight for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Boston Celtics.  This match up will feature the defending Eastern Conference Champion Celtics versus the up and coming, yet unproven, Knicks.  The Celtics come into this series as the clear favorite and after making trips to the NBA Finals the last two years; this will be a tough out for the new-look Knicks.  Some key things to watch in this series:

–       Amare vs. KG – From the time Amar’e Stoudemire declared this past off season that “the Knicks are back” he has been the leader of the Knicks on and off the court.  Even though the Knicks traded for two additional superstars in Carmello Anthony and Chauncey Billups this February, Amar’e still sets the tone for this Knick team.  This season in games that the Knicks won Amar’e shot over 54% from the field, whereas in losses he shot only 46%.  He will face a tough defensive test in Kevin Garnett, a 15 year veteran and a known shut-down defender.  KG has played very well versus the Knicks this year, averaging almost 23 points per game, well over his season average of 14.9.  If Amar’e can overcome KG’s tough defense and set the pace for the Knicks, he will have a chance at leading NY to an upset.

–       Can Chauncey Billups keep up with Rajon Rondo? – At 34 years of age, Billups will be given the task of trying to defend one of the NBA’s fastest and most dynamic point guards in the 25 year old Rajon Rondo.  Both players are playoff-tested former NBA champs, with Chauncey taking home the Finals MVP in 2004.  Rondo, averaging 16 assists per game against the Knicks this season, will be a difficult assignment for the veteran Billups, who has been slowed down in his time with the Knicks because of multiple nagging injuries.  If Rondo runs circles around Chauncey, it will likely be a short series for the Knicks.

–       Can Melo walk the walk? – Not since his years in Syracuse will Carmello Anthony be under a bigger microscope or under more pressure to deliver than he will in these first few games against the Celtics.  After demanding a trade from the Denver Nuggets earlier this season, Carmello got his wish and is now leading his childhood favorite New York Knicks into the playoffs.  After months of rumors, innuendo, drama, and the shipment of three Knicks starters to the Nuggets, its now all on Carmello’s shoulders to deliver.  The good news, at least, for Knicks fans is that back in 2003 when the pressure was on he carried Syracuse all the way to a National Championship.  Knicks fans would likely settle for less this year, but if Carmello gets hot, the sky is the limit for this Knicks team.

Prediction: Celtics in 5

Knicks vs. Celtics Preview

April 17, 2011 6 comments

Following a decade of embarrassment and mediocrity, the Knicks have finally made it back to the NBA playoffs.

Reaching the postseason for the first time since 2004, New York will draw a veteran Celtics group who has won all four meetings between the two this season.  Both teams are also coming off major roster shakeups with the intention of building for the future.

The Knicks added Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to go along with Amare Stoudemire, forming a “big three” that will allow the team to at least compete for a title, something they haven’t been able to say since 1999.

The Celtics recently moved center and enforcer Kendrick Perkins, who was viewed by many as the heart of Boston’s interior defense.  A close friend to many of the Celtic players, most notably Rajon Rondo, the team was not afraid to express their discontent with the deal.  They did however bring in Jeff Green from Oklahoma City, a versatile wing player who was averaging 15.2 points per game prior to the trade.

The Knicks have been up and down since Carmelo’s arrival, losing nine of ten at one point before rebounding with a seven game winning streak.  Anthony’s presence on the floor hasn’t been an easy transition for everyone, as rookie Landy Fields has seen his numbers dip across the board since the deal.

The Knicks 106.5 points per game ranks second in the NBA, however their 105.7 points allowed makes them the 28th worst defense.  Boston on the other hand leads the league in points allowed, only giving up 91 per game.

New York has struggled to find an answer for Paul Pierce this season, who has torched the Knicks in fourth quarters on a regular basis.

Boston is not playing their best basketball entering the series, finishing 10-11 in their last 21 games.  New York’s success will depend highly on their ability to keep Rondo out of the paint, who just crushes teams with his quickness and ability to break down the defense. Coach Mike D’antoni has said he plans on using forward Jared Jeffries on Rajon Rondo, with the idea of combating quickness with length.

On an injury note, the Celtics will be without center Shaquille O’neal, who has missed 45 games this season due to a foot injury.  Shaq failed a running test in practice, and has been ruled out indefinitely.

This will be the teams’ first meeting in the postseason since 1990, when the Knicks defeated the Celtics in five games in the first round.

Categories: NBA

Knicks vs Celtics: Playoff Preview

April 17, 2011 10 comments

The New York Knicks are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2004. As the sixth seeded team in the Eastern Conference the Knicks will face off against the Boston Celtics who earned the three seed with a 56-26 regular season record. The Knicks finished the regular season with a 42-40 record. It was their first winning season since 2000. Boston swept the regular season series winning all four contests.

The two teams each made a significant trade late in the season. The Knicks dealt Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton and Timofey Mozgov to Denver for Carmello Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Sheldon Williams, Anthony Carter and Renaldo Balkman. Initially the team had a hard time gelling with the addition of a superstar player of Anthony’s caliber, but the Knicks finished the season strong going 7-3 in their last 10 games.

The Celtics traded Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green and Nenad Kristic. Although Green is a promising young player, the trade was controversial because Perkins was very popular among his teammates. It can’t be good for team chemistry when players are crying and hugging each other in the locker room after hearing about a trade, which was the case in Boston when the Celtics learned that “Perk” had been dealt.

“It’s not even about a teammate. It felt like you lost a family member today,” Celtics veteran power forward Kevin Garnett said about the trade. “Tough day.”

Not only was Perkins an emotional leader off the court, he brought a lot of intangibles to the court. His pure size and bulk makes him tough for any team to deal with inside. His selfless role-player’s mentality was crucial to Boston’s success. And his toughness gave the Celtics a level of intimidation that seems to have dissipated, especially with their other centers, Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal, battling injuries.

Whether or not the trade had anything to do with it, the Celtics stumbled to the finish line going 5-5 in their last 10. They will need to regain their intensity if they hope to get back to the finals in what is becoming an increasingly competitive Eastern Conference.

THE STARS:

Each team has a core of proven veteran superstar players. For the Knicks Amar’e Stoudemire and Anthony provide the one-two punch. Stoudemire averaged 25.2 points per game, and 8.2 rebounds per game and Anthony finished the year at 25.6 PPG and 7.3 RPG. The offense shouldn’t be a problem for the Knicks, if they are going to win this series though they are simply going to have to play better defense than they have the entire season. Amar’e can be a factor on the inside defensively with his freakish athleticism. He averaged nearly two blocks per game on the year. He will have to make sure to stay out of foul trouble because the Knicks really cannot afford to have him lose any playing time. Many have suggested that Anthony steps up his defense in big games; well it’s time to see if that is true.

The Celtics still have their ballyhooed “big three” of Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. The triumvirate led Boston to a championship in 2008 and they were back in the finals last year where they fell to their longtime arch rivals the Los Angeles Lakers. The most impressive aspect of “the big three” is how each of them was able to alter their games to fit what the team needed to be successful. Something that is not easy to do as was proved by the Miami heat and their “big three” this year.

KEY MATCHUP:

It is no secret that Chauncey Billups isn’t the player he was during his prime years playing for the Pistons. Billups is still smart and tough, and willing and able to hit a big shot, but he has certainly lost a step. That being said, he will have a hard time matching up with the Celtics lightning fast point guard Rajon Rondo. Rondo set a career high with 24 assists against the Knicks in the teams’ first meeting of the season. He showed what he is capable of last year in the playoffs when he had two triple-doubles including a 29 PTS, 18 REB, 13 ASST and 2 STL performance against the Cavaliers.

Though he is not mentioned in among “the big three” for Boston, at this point in all their careers Rondo is certainly in the same tier as them. In fact, he is probably the single most important player for the Celtics because as the point guard he runs their entire offense.

Rondo has publicly stated that Perkins was his best friend on the team and he has not seemed to be the same player since the trade.

X-FACTOR:

The Knicks might consider starting Toney Douglass at point guard because he has the speed and defensive ability to better matchup with Rondo. Douglass has shown the ability to change games with his three point shooting ability; however, he will also go through long cold streaks. For the Knicks to be successful, Douglass needs to make smart decisions on when to shoot and when to pass. In addition, the rest of the Knicks are going to have to compensate for the energy that is lost from having Landry Fields get less playing time.

PREDICTION – CELTICS IN 6

Honestly, the Knicks will be lucky to gut out two wins in this series. The Celtics are a championship caliber team. Don’t read anything into their late season swoon. Many teams that are successful year after year lose interest in the weeks leading up to the playoffs when their fate is pretty much written. Boston will flip the switch back on they will be at the top of their game right out of the gate.

The Knicks are starting to put the pieces in place. They have the superstars, which is the hard part. In the coming years they will have to surround Stoudemire and Anthony with some better role players, particularly big men. The biggest hole on the Knicks roster is their lack of a true center.

Expect all the games to be close. The Knicks can score with anyone and they realize they have an incredible opportunity in front of them. Their energy should be unbelievable and as long as they can stay focused they should be in every game. In the end the depth and experience of the Celtics will be enough for them pull through.