Watching A Game On Tivo Harder Than It Looks

For example, last week’s big game against the San Antonio Spurs started when I was 25,000 feet over Amarillo, Texas. That’s fine because nobody can use the Internet or the cell phones when you’re on a plane. The problems start when you’re plane lands. Usually the other people on the plane are too uncomfortable standing next to you waiting for their turn to leave to actually make conversation. No spoilers there.

The next stage was more difficult. I had to walk through Terminal 4 with Ninja-like discipline. I couldn’t look left or right for nearly a quarter of a mile because there are TV screens everywhere. Just to be safe, I put on my Mean Face just in case I ran into a friend and they unwittingly blurted out the score of the game. If you think this is a little extreme, you don’t understand that my friends would do something like this, and you also forget that this was the Suns/Spurs game–the first with big Shaq. This is playoff basketball two months early.

While I waited for my wife to pick me up, I opted to leave the massive crowds inside the airport and stand among a handful of smokers outside, because statistically, there was less chance that I’d overhear someone yapping about the game in progress. I smelled like smoke for the rest of the day, but at least I got to enjoy the game from beginning to it’s glorious end. (Even if it was technically three hours after the final shot of the game.)

I’ve spoken to my friends about this anxiety, and they know what it’s like. My friend Justin had problems–coincidentally–over last year’s final regular season game against the Spurs. His girlfriend’s parents were in town for the weekend, which would have been fine, maybe even fun. Welcome to Phoenix…now lets watch the Suns! Unfortunately, these folks didn’t care much for basketball.

He knew this fact a week in advance and decided that watching the game together was a bad idea. Something that could end the whole relationship. So he crafted an brilliant plan. He set the DVR to record the game, and then he took the family to the only event that he could find that would be absolutely insulated from the game: The Renaissance Festival. Genius! Shear genius! Give the man a trophy!

Think about it: it’s so hard to avoid hearing about the outcome of a big game. I almost punched a bag boy at Basha’s last year because he asked me if I bought all this party food to celebrate the “big win.” I looked at him sideways for five seconds and then slowly explained to him we hadn’t seen the game yet. He felt so bad he jumped to the next register to start bagging groceries for a lady who bought a pack of gum.

Really, where do you go? Even if you took them on a hike up Camelback Mountain, there would be a group of girls from ASU laying out in the sun listening to the game on the radio…debating on who is cuter, Raja or Leandro. There’s no safe place. Three years ago, the priest at my parish ruined the outcome of a game during his sermon. How messed up is that? Isn’t that a sin?

True Story: Shaq Almost Killed Me

I have nothing significant to add. So instead, I’d like to talk about the fans that escaped death-by-Shaq in his heroic Superman flight into the stands.

For those of you who didn’t see the game, Steve Nash missed his shot and Shaq sprinted towards the sideline to grab the rebound. The drama began about a half-second later when it became clear that Shaq had run out of court but wouldn’t give up on the ball. He planted his feet squarely, then bounced up and over two young boys in court side seats, threw the ball back on the court, and then smeared a dozen adults in rows 2-3.

He landed much like a pole-vaulter crashes on his back into a pit of fluffy sponges. Except this pole vaulter was Shaq, and the fluffy sponges were ordinary people enjoying the game. Those of you who fail to have compassion for these people don’t understand Shaq’s size.� He is 7 feet, 1 inch tall and weighs 325 pounds – roughly as large as the refrigerator in your kitchen.

Take a few seconds to look away from the computer and size up that big fat fridge in the other room. Now imagine that refrigerator flying at your head. Yeah, that’s pretty scary. The scene was so outrageous that the entire US Airways Center erupted. (An energy that carried through the final seconds of the fourth quarter.) Shaq struggled to pull himself up from the knot of fans and got back in the game.

Video of Shaq flying into the stands.

A few minutes later, one of the fan-victims got a primetime interview with ABC. Another sustained an injury to his lip, but he’s expected to be at the next game in top health. But the real winners are the two young boys who sat courtside. Why? Because they get to tell this story for the rest of their lives.

To help you understand where I am coming from, you have to first understand how much males enjoy telling stories about themselves. The most popular man stories will include one of the following:

  1. Almost dying. It doesn’t matter how you almost died. It’s just cool that you came close. (See Gladiator, 2000.)
  2. Someone saving your life. This is great because guys like loyalty. If someone saves your life, you owe them a big one. It gives your life purpose. (See Sandlot, 1993.)
  3. Fighting a bear. I don’t think I have to explain this. (See Legends of the Fall, 1994)
  4. An encounter with a celebrity. Most women are content with just meeting a celebrity, but men won’t be satisfied unless it’s a bizarre or absolutely normal experience with a celebrity. Let me give you an example. Bizarre means that you saw Michael Jackson hold his kid over a hotel balcony (2002.) Absolutely normal means you stood behind Sean Penn in a long bathroom line in a New York City nightclub or you went bowling in Los Angeles with *NSYNC. (Both of which happened to me, 2000.)

Those two young boys have the ultimate story because their story includes numbers one, two, and both sides of four. While the grownups only get a week to tell their story to jealous and unimpressed co-workers, these little guys have at least ten more years before they graduate high school. This story be retold to eager audiences of close friends, new acquaintances, and future girlfriends.

In twenty years when these two boys are grown men, one of them will meet Shaq at a charity event downtown. He’ll stand at the foot of Goliath and recall the details of the big Suns/Spurs game back in ’08. Shaq will chuckle at the memory, and then point to his 5th NBA Championship ring and remind them that it was a good season with the Suns, just like he promised.

Shaq 2.0

He’s still the same dominant player on the both defense and offense, tipping the ball in his team’s favor with every tick of the game clock. But after watching four quarters, it became clear that Shawn is unequipped for victory without his Band of Brothers in Phoenix. Until Miami can find more talent, it’s Marion and Wade against the world.

On the other side of the country, Shaq inherits Marion’s old reality: sellout games, all-star teammates, and a city of Suns fanatics. I know this because everywhere I go, people are talking at the big trade. When my plane first touched down at Sky Harbor shortly after the trade news broke, I overheard 3 cell phone conversations about the Suns before I even got to the baggage claim.

You expect sports fans to run their mouths at the bars and at the water cooler, but a move this big invites everyone into the conversation. The baristas at my favorite coffee shop are excited to have something new to talk about with the espresso sippers. The UPS people have something in common with the FedEx people. And the Realtors are speculating where the big man will buy a house. (For the record, most Realtors agree he’ll buy a house on my street. I broke the news to my neighbor Bill, and we agreed to campaign for Shaq to be HOA president.)

I knew that Shaq Fever had taken over the city yesterday when I was at the library reading the New York Times. The trademark tranquility of the reading room was disrupted by a rowdy discussion about what Shaq will bring to the Suns. Listen, I like the Suns as much as anyone else, but you don’t yell about it in the library. I lowered the paper to see who was disturbing the peace. Who was it? Two librarians.

In the Arizona Republic this morning, Bob Young wrote that the Suns going into the All-Star break are “like kids on Christmas who have a present under the Christmas tree that they can’t open…a 7-foot-1, 321 present.” This is a loaded analogy because we all know what it’s like to get a Christmas present that’s not as cool as we thought it would be. Only time will tell. This was a trade to make help the Suns bring home an NBA Championship. I just hope I can be patient through February, March, and April.

It’s just good to have a shot of energy on the team and around town. Now, the real question is this: What are we going to call Shaq? Marion was the Matrix. Diaw is 3D. Barbosa is the Brazilian Blur. Stoudamire is STAT (or Hellboy if you ask Barkley.) And Steve Nash is, um, Steve Nash.

What will be the nickname for the new-and-improved Shaquille O’Neal? Someone mentioned Shaqtus (like cactus) but I thought that was too Sun City West. A friend of min came up with Bio-Diesel, which is slightly clever, but says nothing about the epic story of Shaq in Phoenix. I prefer Shaq2.0 but I don’t know if it will stick. Any ideas?

Suns Beat Lakers, Leandro Getting Traded?

Leandro Barbosa is still a Sun and still friends with assistant coach Dan D’Antoni.
(NBAE Photos)

1. Leandro is getting traded. The fan favorite Leandro Barbosa was called in his Los Angeles hotel room yesterday afternoon and was told that Steve Kerr needed to speak to him in the lobby. Apparently, Leandro had been traded to the New York Knicks. A stunned and emotional LB went to his mentor Dan Dantoni’s room and asked, “Do you not like me? I thought you liked me?” Dan barked back at him, “You’re not getting traded!”

Lesson Learned: Famous people shouldn’t use their real names when they check in at a hotel.

2. Mike D’Antoni and Kobe Bryant are great friends. I knew that young Kobe grew up in Italy admiring the explosive play of the superstar Mike D’Antoni. It’s rumored that Kobe adopted D’Antoni’s #8 as his own for several years before he changed to #24 in 2006. Last night we saw Mike and Kobe laughing together on the sidelines. This is hardly evidence of a life-long friendship, but it’s news to most Phoenicians.

Lesson Learned: Sports commentators need to learn to use the word “frenemy.”

3. Boris Diaw can still shoot. If you’ve been a Suns fan over the past few years, you’ll remember that Boris Diaw can hit critical shots in big games. Last night against the Lakers, Boris sunk 9-of-13. It feels good to see confidence in Boris again.

Lesson Learned: Boris needs to get in touch with his inner tiger.

4. Lamar Odom wears girl’s tights. I don’t want to be the fashion police, but some things need to be said. Dwayne Wade debuted his black leotard bottoms to the world a couple seasons ago when his Miami Heat stormed the NBA playoffs and brought Miami home its first championship trophy. His training staff justified Dwayne Wade’s pantie hose as “leg warmers” that kept his muscles limber. Since then, Kobe and Lebron have been seen rockin’ the tights. (At least Lebron has the common sense to grow a burly beard to keep his manliness.) This trend is growing and is causing great trepidation in my life. Last night I suffered through almost 3 hours of watching big and bad Lamar Odom wear purple tights under his gold shorts.

Lesson learned: That ain’t right.

5. Steve Nash is funny. Some of you missed this because you were already in bed for the night. TNT’s courtside clown Craig Sager asked Steve Nash after the game why the Suns seem to be struggling in the first part of the year. Nash listened patiently as Sager stretched a question out over 30 seconds before he finally blurted back: “It’s because we suck!” Steve continued with a straight forward appraisal of the team’s struggles, but it was clear that Steve was in a funny mood after the big game. Sager’s second question was why we haven’t seen more aggression out of Boris Diaw. Nash yelled into the microphone “It’s because he sucks too!” Sager ended the interview before Steve Nash could tell him that he sucks as well.

Lesson Learned: Craig Sager needs new clothes.

Can Grant Hill Break the Curse?

It is clear that the Suns have fought hard over the past three seasons, especially in the playoffs. It is also clear that we’ve had a string of bad luck.

Grant Hill may change the winds of good fortune to blow towards Phoenix. 

(NBAE Photos)

If the wind would’ve blown our way just a little bit (just once!) in each playoff series, we would be 3-time NBA Champions. That’s an NBA Dynasty. But the wind did not blow our way, so we’re here in 202007 trying to figure out if this will be the year if the Suns will win the championship.

Let’s take a quick assessment of our players. We have the familiar powerhouse talent in Nash, Marion, Stoudamire, and Bell. Boris Diaw is playing with strength and aggression that was missing last season. There’s no doubt that Leandro Barbosa will continue to sharpen his offensive game through the regular season to become a stronger, more consistent player in the playoffs. Newcomer Brian Skinner is a defensive and offensive force whenever he’s on the court, something we never saw coming.

The real wild car this season is Grant Hill, a player who came into Phoenix over the summer with little fanfare. Even with his unpredictable health, Grant Hill would’ve made a valuable addition to any team in the NBA, which is why he got big offers when he came up as a free agent. But instead, Grant chose to move to Phoenix because he wanted an NBA Championship.

And if I’ve learned anything from watching Grant Hill this season, it’s that he plays like a champion. I should say that I’m not a sports guy loaded with statistical trivia, nor am I a coach who understands the nuances of the game. I’m not a sports analyst. But I do know what it’s like to be a fan, and that counts for something.

Fans know how it feels to have the ball in Steve Nash’s hands. When the game is tied and the clock is ticking, there’s no greater boost of confidence than knowing that Steve Nash is calling the shots on the court. It’s not important whether he takes the final shot or he dishes it out to another player on the court, you know that the best decision-maker in the league is on your team. It’s a rush of confidence that few fans have when they watch their team in the big games. This is why Nash the two-time MVP.

After watching Grant Hill play in our jersey for the past 25 games, I’ve come to have that same confidence. His athletic ability on the court is spectacular, but what stands out most is his ability to judge the game with precision. I cannot tell you how, but Grant Hill just knows how to make it happen. And this should give us hope.

We’ll never know if the Suns would’ve conquered the Spurs last night had Tony Parker been there to deal the ball. But one thing is for sure, the San Antonio squad caught a glimmer of the championship play that Grant Hill brings to the Suns. And they have till January 31st to figure out if they can contain this new championship team. And this time, it’s on our court

…and the wind is blowing our way.

At Age 29, I'm An NBA Veteran

Today is my 29th birthday. If I was a player in the NBA, I supposed I’d be a “veteran” by now.

Even a little Amare can be intimidating.
 

I know this because I was watching the Utah Jazz’s Matt Harpring shoot free throws when the commentator described him as an “NBA veteran.” This was (kind of) deeply disturbing to me because Matt and I went to Georgia Tech together in the late 1990s. Although we never met one another on campus, I like to think we would’ve been good friends because we had so much in common. We’re both named Matt, we went to Georgia Tech, great hair, and the ladies like us. You can understand why I was offended when the commentator implied that Matt and I were getting old. I turned off the TV and cranked up Tupac.

It’s bizarre when you realize that your heroes are younger than you. This month our own Amare Stoudemire and Leandro Barbosa both turned 25. Hypothetically, if I was a bully and I was raised in Brazil, I could’ve beaten Leandro in a game of 1-on-1 and perhaps in a brawl over a hard foul. I mean really, what could a 3rd grade Leandrino have done against me the mighty 7th grade stud?

I can’t make the same claim against Stoudemire because he’s been beating up 7th graders since he was five–the same year he got his first tattoo.

Since I’m on the subject…Amare has to be the most intimidating dude in the NBA. Yeah Big Ben Wallace is, well, big. But you can’t take him too seriously with that ‘fro. Anyway you look at it, Amare is intimidating. Even when he was injured and sitting the bench in his suit, he blocked two shots a game just by staring down the jump shooters. He’s “hell boy” even when he’s standing still.

As I type this, there is a four-inch tall bobble head of Amare on my desk. I stole from a co-worker last season. When I get angry at my computer, I slam my fist on the desk and my little Amare nods his head to agree with me. That’s the only time mini-Amare seems cool with me. The rest of the time he just cocks his head to the right with a stare of disappointment and disbelief. Even with a stubby body and a massive head, Amare intimidates me–a grown man.

I shouldn’t be too self-conscious about turning 29 because there are a lot of guys playing in the NBA who are older than me. Although I don’t like the Clipper’s Sam Cassell, mostly because he made those awful faces in the 2006 playoffs, he’s living proof that old guys rule. The man is 38-years-old. He was born in 1969, the same year as Woodstock, the same year that “…the age of Aquarius…” was the number one song.

But Sam’s a baby compared to Houston’s Dikembe Mutombo, born 1966. Do the math. 202007 – 1966 = 41 years of awesome. I’d love to play Mutombo 1-on-1 just so I could get dunked on by a guy who’s only 14 years away from getting senior citizen discounts at most restaurants.

I shouldn’t be discouraged by my age. Good things happen with time. Look at Steve Nash. Although he’s always been a good player, his league domination didn’t start until he got out of his 20s. He got his first MVP award not long after he turned 31, then he did it again at age 32. He’s 33 now, and he’s still playing at MVP caliber. Everyone knows he’s going to play into his 40s. This is good news for all of us.

I feel so much better now. I’m only 29. I have all year to prepare for the world-domination that begins at age 30. It’s fair to say that 2009 is going to be a good year for me. By then I’ll have earned back-to-back MVB. Most Valuable Blogger.

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Matt Smith moved from New York City to Phoenix in 2001. He caught one Suns game on TV in 2004 and has been hooked ever since. Flip on MTV and you might spot Matt in some re-runs of The Real World and Road Rules Challenge. Check out his website: www.supafly.com

Leandro Barbosa, a Name You Can Trust

If you are fan of Leandro Barbosa, don’t expect to spot him at a posh night club or hidden behind the tinted glass of a lux car cruising the streets of downtown. You have a better chance finding him on the side of the road helping someone change a flat tire.

Leandro Barbosa signs his autograph for a fan at the Celebrity Waiters charity event. 

(NBAE Photos)

Or helping a bewildered soccer mom find a paint brush in the dizzying isles of Home Depot. Or he’s helping the frightened lady next door kill a scorpion with his size 12 shoe. He’s just that kind.

I know this because my wife and I attended the annual Celebrity Waiters charity event at Barcelona restaurant in Scottsdale. The main attraction, of course, was the chance for fans to interact with their favorite Suns players. Boris Diaw dealt cards at the poker table, Brian skinner mixed drinks as a bartender, and rumor has it that Amare played one-on-one with some lucky fans.

I don’t know what Leandro was supposed to do, but I know he never got to his post because the fans wouldn’t let him get through. I stood back and watched the commotion. Everyone was happy and frantic, waiving their camera phones at his face, yelling his name, giving him basketballs to sign. His handlers were given the job of bringing him from Point A to B, but Leandro was reluctant to leave the room. He was patient and kind, making time for everyone. This went on for over twenty minutes.

Finally his handlers pulled him towards the exit. Leandro stepped out, then turned back to the fans that still wanted to meet him. He looked each person in the eyes and, with his Brazilian accent, comforted everyone by saying. “Don’ woorry, I will be righ’ back.” Then he put his hands forward as if to remind people not to move and said again, “I will be righ’ back.” He hesitated, then turned to back towards the door. The fans smiled and waved goodbye as Leandro disappeared out the door and into another crowd. It was like they were saying goodbye to their best friend.

Leandro is the fastest man in the NBA, and he’s quickly becoming one of our top scorers (not bad for a man who rarely starts the game.) He is a threat to each team that encounters our Suns on the court. He’s just that good. In every post-game interview (he’s been getting a lot of them lately), Leandro always defers praise to his team. It’s not the predictable false humility you hear all day in ordinary life, but authentic humility matched with gratitude. It was a special moment for me to witness Leandro’s character in greater intensity off the court. He’s just that kind.

I guess this is what was special about the Celebrity Waiters event, and why I’ll come back every year–you get a chance to see the personalities of the players come to life. You get closer to the magic that’s made Phoenix such a fun city.

If all goes well, Barbosa will retire after many years in the NBA and run for mayor of Phoenix. When he does, I’ll be right there with him as his campaign manager. I’ll be handing out campaign buttons that read: Leandro Barbosa: A Name You Can Trust.

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Matt Smith moved from New York City to Phoenix in 2001. He caught one Suns game on TV in 2004 and has been hooked ever since. Flip on MTV and you might spot Matt in some re-runs of The Real World and Road Rules Challenge. Check out his website: www.supafly.com

Give it a Chance: Celebrity Tip-Off

Most sports teams don’t get noticed by their city until half way through the season, and for many teams, that attention only comes if they’re winning. But here in Phoenix, the city knows that the excitement starts on Game 1 of an 82-game season.

I always get a sense of pride when I watch the Suns on TV and see our own US Airways Arena stacked to the rafters with fans.

When the Suns play on the road, I stare at my TV and feel bad for the other teams with acres of empty seats. I imagine how lonely it feels when the dribbling ball echoes through the empty canyon. I mean seriously, where are the fans in Miami? Didn’t you guys win the whole thing a couple years ago?

Empty arenas concern me, so I’ve put together a copyrighted solution: Celebrity Tip Off©. Yeah, I know this sounds absurd, but let’s think this through.

It works well for baseball. The opening pitch is always exciting because you get to see a famous non-athlete pretend to be an athlete. Fans have a bizarre sense anticipation as the Senate Majority Leader winds up, ready to chuck the ball to the nice man with the catcher’s mitt. You can’t decide if you want Mr. Reid to throw a legit strike, or if you want him to pitch the ball way left, knocking out the unsuspecting bat boy.

This bizarre anxiety only lasts about 5 seconds; the ordeal comes and goes quickly. Then the home team pitcher steps up to the mound and the world makes sense again. The fans cheer! You see where I’m going with this.

The people of Portland may or may not show up for tomorrow night’s game when the New Orleans Hornets come to town. After all, the Trailblazers’ #1 draft pick Greg Oden is out till next year, and they’ve lost all 3 games they’ve played this season.

With a Celebrity Tip Off©, Portland-born Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, could go toe-to-toe with New Orleans’s resident crooner Harry Connick Jr. I’d pay to see that. It’s a five-second live episode of Celebrity Fit Club. Obviously Matt will out jump Harry, and the proud Blazers will start the game with the ball. The crowd would go wild! Then everyone on the court could back to their day jobs: Travis Outlaw can block shots, Matt Groening can make cartoons, and Harry Connick can make music. The world makes sense again.

Now that I think about it, even teams with sell-out crowds can win big TV ratings with Celebrity Tip Off©. Let’s rethink the Suns’ first home game this season when the Lakers came to the valley. Everyone in our city was watching because of the intense Suns/Lakers drama that’s unfolded over the past few years (and because we knew we’d probably win.) But the people in LA missed this game because they were busy watching re-runs of The Hills on MTV or wondering why the Raiders broke up with them in ’94. They weren’t living in the present.

This could’ve easily been remedied with a Celebrity Tip Off© between our native leaders: Governor Janet Napolitano of Arizona up against Governor Schwarzenegger of California. Granted, the Golden State has a clear advantage because they’re represented by the greatest body builder of the century, but rumor has it that Ms. Napolitano is working on her ups with Aaron Nelson, the Suns’ Athletic Director. (I just started that rumor.) Janet deserves a chance to show us what she’s got.

With a little research, I’ve found that every city has some famous non-athlete, a hometown hero that I believe is ready to jump. Imagine the tip-offs we could have this season:

  • Memphis Grizzlies: Miley Cyrus, Disney actress and pop singer Hannah Montana
  • Atlanta Hawks: Lil Jon, ATL’s King of Crunk
  • Washington Wizards: Stephen Colbert, Comedy Central pundit and 2008 presidential hopeful
  • Philadelphia 76ers: Will Smith, West Philadelphia born and raised…
  • New Jersey Nets: Ashely Tisdale, star of High School Musical I and II
  • Phoenix Suns: Sir. Charles Barkley, NBA Vet and TNT Analyst


Okay, the truth comes out: I just want to see Barkley play basketball again. We all do. That’s why we need Celebrity Tip Off©. David Stern, do you hear me?
———-

Matt Smith
moved from New York City to Phoenix in 2001. He caught one Suns game on TV in
2004 and has been hooked ever since. Flip on MTV and you might spot Matt in some
re-runs of The Real World and
Road Rules Challenge. Check out
his website: www.supafly.com