June 10, 2003

The Rust Age of the NBA

POST #    483

The Rust Age of the NBA
By Gregg Easterbrook
Page 2 columnist

Each year around this time, Tuesday Morning Quarterback journeys alone to a distant wilderness, fasts, meditates, gawks at the Philadelphia Eagles' cheerleaders' lingerie calendar and offers a prayer of thanks to the football gods that the NFL has not become the NBA. Herewith the prayer:

Oh football gods, on thine couch above
Copyrighted be thy names.
Give us each fall some mojo sport
And reverse our bad calls,
As we reverse the ball calls of others.
Deliver us from the NFL turning into the NBA!
For thine is the gold standard, the buzz and the ratings
Now and forever, at least till the next network contract.

Thanks be to the football gods that the NFL does not become the NBA! There is a reason why the National Football League is America's No. 1 sport by every measure -- attendance, ratings, merchandising -- as the once-hot NBA continues its downward slip-slide in popularity. The reason is the decline of NBA play, which every season seems to become more simplified, less coordinated and more immature. Every year the NBA becomes less mature by about one tree-ring. During the Magic-Bird-MJ Golden Age, it was a sport of mental 30-year-olds, then 29-year-olds, then 28-year-olds and so on. Currently the NBA is a sport of mental 19-year-olds.

If the NFL turned into the NBA, there would be no plays on offense; 11 guys would just run around doing whatever they felt like, calling for the ball. Each person who actually got the ball would immediately throw a 60-yard pass, then turn to the officials to scream for a foul. Players would refuse to speak to each other, and cover their ears when coaches spoke. Players would put tattoos on their helmets. Fans would start leaving while the game was still on the line, as the home fans did Sunday night in the Meadowlands. With a minute remaining and the Nets down three, there were already hundreds of empty seats throughout Continental Airlines Arena, while those moving up the aisles to exit blocked the view of those staying for the quaint reason of finding out who wins. Home fans streaming out in the final minute of a close championship game. Ye gods. You've got to have a pretty troubled sport to achieve that. Welcome to the NBA.

But don't take my word for it, take the people's plebiscite. NBA attendance is down, while NFL attendance sets a new record almost annually. NBA ratings have fallen almost 45 percent in the past decade, while NFL ratings remain tops in sports and have been rising mildly in recent years. For a decade the quality of the NBA product has been going downhill. The NBA's attitude is that fans are too stupid to notice. But fans know about the decline and are paying steadily less attention. Please, oh football gods, don't let this spread to the NFL!

The central measure of NBA quality decline is the ever-more-awful performance of teams on offense. The clichè is that NBA gentlemen play no defense, but the reverse is the problem. It's the offensive game where the awfulness is, and this was true long before the Nets and Spurs played the lowest-scoring NBA Finals quarter in history on Sunday night; was true long before the Nets and Mavericks, two teams in conference championship series, each turned in embarrassing sub-double-digit quarters in key games.

We present you with Miss Universe, because Jason Kidd is just not pretty.
NBA defense has been pretty decent in recent years, because defense principally requires exertion, and most NBA players are giving fans their money's worth there. Check those bald heads -- they're dappled with sweat from effort. And with the expansion of NBA rules to allow both zone and man defenses, some defensive schemes now actually exhibit planning, the Spurs 3-2, which they have switched in and out of to bedevil the Nets, being an example.

Offense, on the other hand -- cover your eyes! Offense requires coordination between players. Offense requires players listening to coaches and following their instructions. Offense requires team spirit and unselfishness. Offense requires knowledge of fundamentals, the kind of knowledge you get by playing several years in college. On coordination, coaching, unselfishness and knowledge of fundamentals, nearly every NBA offense has gone south. This is why the game has become ugly, aesthetically. Fans know it and are responding by watching less.

Almost any NBA contest provides examples, but take the most recent -- Sunday night's Spurs-Nets collision. It was not unusual defense that made for 63 combined points in the first half, or for a New Jersey nine-point quarter; it was appalling offense. If the Nets ran any coordinated play at any point Sunday, I missed it. Every possession was a high screen followed by someone going one-on-one while his teammates watched. Give-and-go? Pick-and-roll? Baseline rubs? If New Jersey ran even these simple plays, let alone anything requiring practice or coordination, I missed it. The Nets on offense looked like a bunch of guys who had just met a few minutes before and just chosen up sides for a pickup game.

The nadir came when the Spurs led by five and New Jersey took possession with 43 seconds remaining. Did the Nets run a play -- do anything that required planning or thinking? Kenyon Martin grabbed the ball and went one-on-one as everyone else watched; his shot clanged and the game was effectively over. Yumpin' jiminy. The farther into the postseason the Nets progress, the worse their offense becomes. New Jersey averaged 102.2 points per game in its first playoff series, 101.3 in its second, 90.8 in its third, and is down to just 85 points per game in the championship round. The farther New Jersey progresses, the more often its offensive possessions become one guy grabbing the ball, going one-on-one and heaving up a bad shot that clangs.

The Spurs, in turn, aren't exactly the 1966 Celtics on offense. But at least they run plays, mainly the inside-out action, instead of just going one-on-one. Merely running plays, rather than running around at random, may be what hands San Antonio this year's title.

While the NBA is purportedly a flashy offense-dominated league, overall offensive proficiency is in long-term decline. The Spurs, the likely champions, are shooting just .447 percent in the playoffs. Boston, which got to the conference semifinals, shot just .422 in the playoffs. Detroit, which got to the conference finals, shot just .410 percent in the playoffs. Dallas, promoted as the exemplar of 21st-century offense, averaged just .450 percent in the playoffs. Imagine what would be happening to NFL popularity if runners averaged 2.9 yards a carry and passers averaged 4.7 yards per attempt.

Shooting numbers are so poor because NBA teams spend much of their time launching low-percentage shots. Anyone can go one-on-one and then heave up a low-percentage prayer. Getting into position for high-percentage shots requires tactics, set plays and coordination among players. In the ego-is-everything contemporary NBA, plays and coordination don't happen. Low-percentage shots happen. Clang happens.

Ladies and gentlemen -- here is your NBA leader of tomorrow.
One reason for the erosion in NBA quality is the ever-earlier age at which players join the league. Jumping from high school, or after one or two years of college, means players arrive with insufficient coaching in fundamentals -- equally important, with insufficient repetitions of the fundamentals. Callow, lightly-coached players arriving in the NBA must choose between patiently learning fundamentals, or going one-on-one and then jumping around pointing at themselves. Which option would the typical teenager be expected to select? TMQ's big argument against letting anyone below the age of 20 play in the NBA is that this is bad for basketball, killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Every year there are more younger, unpolished players and fewer golden eggs. Think about it.

Adoration of the three-point shot also contributes to NBA decline. Every NBA gentleman now wants to drain a trey and then dance around pointing at himself; most seem willing to clang quite a few silly attempts in order to get that one moment of self-pointing. Announcers and sportswriters are complicit -- they wildly praise the three-pointer that falls, rarely criticize the silly long attempt. Players know they will be wildly praised if they hit a big three, while no one will say anything if they miss threes that should have been twos. So, responding to the incentive structure, players launch crazy shots that go clang, and offensive quality erodes.

Then there's slam-dunk psychology. Announcers and, especially, marketers extol the slam. Yet the most exciting play in basketball is the layup -- because layups don't happen unless at least two players are working together. The best and most exciting play in Sunday's Spurs-Nets game was a first-quarter fast-break layup by New Jersey, the layup coming after two very sharp, coordinated passes. Slam-dunks don't require coordinated play. Slam-dunks don't require practice. They just happen. What do we see in the current Nike commercials? Basketball players going one-on-one and slam-dunking. We don't see coordinated action being extolled; we see immature, pointing-at-myself strutting.

The Nike commercials don't even depict games. They depict one guy trying to jump over or blow past one other guy -- the least challenging, least interesting aspect of basketball -- one-on-one being the form of basketball that requires no thinking whatsoever. Nike may believe that emphasizing low-percentage immature strutting is a way to sell shoes; perhaps Nike calculates that its typical customer is a low-percentage, immature sort of individual. But this race to the bottom surely is not selling the NBA. Every year there are fewer golden eggs.

Readers Asked, As a Public Service, to Inspect Swimsuit Photos: Congratulations to 6-foot-1 Amelia Vega of the Dominican Republic, Miss Universe 2003 -- though, as TMQ annually complains, if it's really a Miss Universe competition, why were there no contestants from other worlds? The whole thing is rigged so that Earth always wins.

International women in swimsuits. Thank you, Donald.
Last year the form you had to fill out to apply for the Miss Universe competition mysteriously asked "gender M/F?" Presumably the male applicants didn't progress far. This year the gender question goes unstated, but the form restricts birth years to 1976-1985 -- that is, to an age of 18 to 27.

TMQ perennially complains that the Miss America website posts nothing regarding the single most important aspect of the event -- pictures from the swimming competition. No such problem for the Miss Universe pageant, which is owned by Donald Trump and, in the spirit of The Donald, cheesecake-friendly. Just go here, pick a country under "select a delegate," then click photo and then swimsuit. Alternatively, for fun, click "national costume."

Through some rapid clicking, TMQ discovered that the delegates from Australia, Costa Rica, Finland and the Netherlands were among those making a mega-babe impression in swimsuits. Many are athletic -- hey, there's a flimsy excuse that would justify cheesecake photos! Anna Stromberg of Finland participates in snow skiing, ice skating, soccer and judo; Ashley Talbot of Australia favors gymnastics, snow and water skiing, martial arts and mountain climbing; Andrea Ovares of Costa Rica does gymnastics and spinning, in addition to playing soccer and basketball. The national costume photo of Malayka Rasmijn of Aruba was quite something, as was the fact that she speaks four languages and races dragsters for a living. What might the national costume of the United States be? According to Susie Castillo, Miss USA, it's a Wonder Woman outfit. TMQ would have thought business attire, Kate Spade bag and sneakers.

Owing to time, I only skimmed a few Miss Universe delegate portfolios. This week's Reader Challenge is to gawk at the Miss Universe contestants and call to TMQ's attention others who are either mega-babes, deserving of a swimsuit appearance in the column, or whose national costume is entertaining. Propose your nominees and reasoning (must be printable) here.

The Three-Pointer At Its Worst: Last season, Robert Horry of the Lakers won a key playoff game against the Kings with a trey at the buzzer. Los Angeles trailed by two with seconds left; the Lakers played it smart and went for the tie to force overtime; the sphere bounced around; Vlade Divac of Sacramento hurled it away from the basket thinking to win the game; Horry, standing at the three line, caught the ball and drilled a three. TMQ wrote at the time -- see this column for many more examples of declining NBA offense -- "Horry was carried off the court on his teammates' shoulders, but he should have been taken away by the CIA for questioning." With his team down by two in the final seconds, what on Earth was Horry, a power forward, doing 25 feet from the basketball, blowing on his fingernails, rather than down in the paint trying to tie the game? But he took a zany three, got lucky and was praised. It was, TMQ wrote at the time, "a spectacularly successful bad offensive play that will have pernicious effects for years to come."

Hey, Robert ... the Daddy is open.
Now the chickens have come home to roost. Detroit trailed by two with seconds to play in a conference final game against New Jersey. Did the Pistons do the smart thing and try for a two to force overtime? Chauncey Billups stepped back for the three to win, clang. Somehow Detroit considered Billups from three-land the right move in a need-two situation, though Chauncey shot just .310 percent from the arc (and a cover-your-eyes .374 overall) in the playoffs. San Antonio trailed by two with seconds left in Game 2 of the finals. Did the Spurs do the smart thing and try for a regular basket to force overtime? Stephen Jackson, shooting .337 from the arc in the playoffs, stepped back for the three to win, clang.

These are the pernicious effect of the Horry play. Remembering how Horry was praised for blind luck while playing poor tactics, NBA players now want to fire up a three to win when tactics dictate a two to tie.

The Customary Five Steps: At this point, traveling has become so common in the NBA that it might as well be legalized. Four and five steps are standard; unlimited steps seem to be allowed so long as you dunk the ball. Announcers don't even bother to mention traveling anymore. Purists like TMQ think one reason for the decline of NBA quality is the lower standards on this rule. But if traveling is going to be legal, let's make it official and change the rule.

This year, up-and-down has become legal as well. On Sunday night, Jason Kidd drove the lane, took the customary four or five steps, leapt into the air, came down on both feet, paused, then jumped for a basket. No whistle, no comment from the announcers. Kobe Bryant and other NBA players have used this up-and-down lane drive this season -- to my knowledge, no whistle has sounded. In the Lakers-Spurs series, Shaq drove the lane, took the customary four or five steps, jumped up to fake, came back down with both feet, paused, then jumped to slam. "What a shot!" Marv Alpert thundered, not mentioning that what made it so distinctive was being illegal. In the Philadelphia-Detroit series, on the final Pistons' possession of regulation, Tayshaun Prince drove the lane, took the customary five steps, stopped, jumped with both feet, came down with both feet, took another three steps and scored the basket that forced overtime, which Detroit won. "I've never seen a move like that!" TMQ heard one highlight-reel type rave. TMQ hopes you've never seen a move like that, and hopes you never see it again.

Up-and-down seems even to have been decriminalized in the NCAA. In the Duke-Kansas tourney game, Sheldon White at one point spun into the lane, leapt, came down on both feet, looked around, then took two more steps and shot to score. No whistle.

So if up-and-down is now going to be legal, along with traveling, might as well make both these new rules official. Just bear in mind that every time standards are lowered, the number of golden eggs declines.

So Sammy cheated! Don't you know that it's all the rage right now?
Investigators X-Rayed TMQ's Sentences and Found Banned Gerunds: Allegations that Sammy Sosa has been using corked bats have been hotly denied by his press spokesman, Jayson Blair. His agent, Jack Grubman, swears that all 4,000 of Sosa's previous home runs were genuine, while Arthur Andersen is conducting a no-holds-barred audit. WorldCom is tracing Sosa's cell phone calls to make sure that none were to cork dealers, while Adelphia promises to review tapes of his previous games. Following a meeting at the offices of Enron -- no, I can't go on with this joke.

Here is what you see if you go to the Arthur Andersen website -- a single screen that connects to nothing. But then, we now know Arthur Andersen was always just a screen!

Proposed: Swap Sparkids for Chippendales: Lisa Leslie of the LA Sparks recently was praised for becoming the first woman to dunk in a WNBA contest. (Georgeann Wells of West Virginia University was the first woman to dunk in any competition event, an NCAA contest in 1984.) This made TMQ wonder, if NBA teams have scantily clad mega-babe dance teams, shouldn't WNBA teams have shirtless ultra-hunk cheer studs? The Los Angeles Sparks instead have Sparkids, the low-rent answer to courtside animation.

But No Warning About Sex, Which Means It Is A Realistic Portrayal of the Typical Wedding: Disclaimers for the movie "The In-Laws" caution viewers of "action violence." The movie is a comedy about a wedding.

Maybe They Should Be the Bergen County Nets: With NHL and NBA finals events in the Meadowlands on consecutive nights, ABC showed a graphic of the number of times in sports lore that two major championships have been won in the same year by "the same city." But it's the New Jersey Devils and the New Jersey Nets going down to the wire. In what sense, exactly, is "New Jersey" a "city?"

Non-Cheerleader of the Week: WNBA teams have no cheer-hunks and NBA teams do not have cheerleaders, they have "dancers". This distinction surely can't be because basketball is more sophisticated than football, considering that a typical NFL playbook is hundreds of pages thick, whereas in the NBA the playbook consists of an erasable marker and a diagram of the court. TMQ is always aghast, during timeouts, to see NBA coaches furiously scribbling a play on their little diagrams and showing it to their charges, as if extremely highly paid professional basketball gentlemen had never seen a designed play before. Of course, maybe they never have.

Welcome to the party, Isamari.
Anyway, the NBA has "dancers," not cheerleaders, in part because the court environment allows basketball babes to perform more rigorously choreographed routines than is possible on a football sideline. So TMQ's Non-Cheerleader of the Week is Isamari of the Spurs' Silver Dancers. Born in Puerto Rico and raised in Texas, Isamari is a nursing student whose goal is to become a nurse-anesthetist -- presumably, just looking at her makes some guys pass out -- and who would like to visit "Tibet, to learn about a culture that is so peaceful." Isamari, since Tibet's failed 1959 rebellion against Chinese occupation, the country has been a culture of dictatorship. The current Department of State Human Rights Report calls Tibet's human rights record "poor," documents general repression -- including the torture of Buddhist nuns -- and cautions travelers that movement of foreigners within Tibet is "tightly controlled." Unhappy conditions in the country are China's doing, of course, but for the moment the Riverwalk is a lot more peaceful than Tibet.

That's Like Passing Huge Tax Cuts and Pretending No Deficit Will Someday Come Due. Who Would Ever Do Anything So Foolish?: Though Memphis was awful this year, it won't have the second-overall pick in the NBA draft, because the Grizzlies traded their 2003 selection to Detroit six years ago. Several badly fouled-up NBA franchises, including the Grizzlies and Wizards, have in the last decade traded No. 1 choices far in the future in order to acquire has-beens and who-dats today. Since the typical NBA general manager knows he won't be around in six years, why should he care? But the league should impose a time limit on such transactions.

What Memphis Needs Is a 2,1-High Center to Clog the Lane: As European, Mexican and South American performers continue their influx into the NBA (cartography note: Mexico is in North America, not South, as is commonly said), the league now lists player statistics not only in metric numbers, but using the European convention of commas where the U.S. system places decimal points. For instance, did you know that Mehmet Okur is 112,9

We give you the Laker Girls, because we felt it was too soon for a picture of Hillary.
It Takes a Village to Write a Hillary Book: Last year, TMQ pointed out that Hillary Rodham Clinton was lying when she claimed to be the author of "It Takes a Village," which was actually penned by a ghostwriter named Barbara Feinman Todd. Specifically, TMQ noted last year, "Hillary's official U.S. Senate biography states, 'In 1997, she wrote the best-selling book It Takes a Village.' This is an outright lie. Wouldn't it be a nice gesture if official Senate biographies did not contain lies?" Clinton's current Senate biography repeats the lie that she wrote "It Takes a Village," while going on to assert that Clinton "also wrote 'Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids Letters to the First Pets.' Her latest book, 'An Invitation to the White House' was an immediate best seller … in addition, the Senator has authored numerous magazine and journal articles as well as op-ed pieces." All these statements are outright lies, as the other Hillary books were also ghosted, while staff members penned the "numerous magazine and journal articles" for which Clinton now claims authorship.

Comes now "Living History," another book "by" Hillary Clinton. Set aside whether this much-hyped marketing vehicle contains so much as a single sentence that rises above the level of statements of the obvious regarding events that have already been reported in excruciating detail. Once again, Clinton is presented as the author of what is actually a ghosted book. The world learned that Barbara Feinman Todd wrote "It Takes a Village," because the publisher inadvertently issued a press release announcing the true author; Hillary threw an ego fit and demanded that all reference to Todd's existence be removed from the book and its press materials, which was presented to the world as if it were the product solely of Clinton's late-night labors. This time around, the pages of "Living History" thank three people -- the much-admired former White House speech writer Alison Muscatine, veteran ghost Maryanne Vollers and researcher Ruby Shamir -- who are assumed to be the actual authors. But the cover and the frontispiece still boldly state, "by Hillary Rodham Clinton."

"Living History" is a 562-page book. A work of that length would take an average writer perhaps four years to produce; a highly proficient writer might finish in two years, if working on nothing else. Clinton signed the contract to "write" the book about two years ago. About the same time, she also was sworn in as a member of the United States Senate. Clinton took an oath to protect the Constitution and to serve the citizens of New York. So in the last two years Clinton has either been neglecting her duties as a United States Senator -- that is, violating her oath -- in order to be the true author of "Living History," or she is claiming authorship of someone else's work. Considering that Clinton has made almost daily public appearances during the period when she was supposedly feverishly "writing" her book, let's make a wild guess which explanation pertains.

If you didn't write something, and claimed to the world that you did, what you would be doing is lying. Wouldn't it be a nice gesture if United States senators did not lie?

Perhaps you're thinking, "But all people who reach the limelight lie about being authors." No, they don't. Consider that the previous book project of Maryanne Vollers, one of Hillary's ghosts, was about Jerri Nielsen, the doctor who had to be airlifted out of Antarctica. How was that book presented? As "Ice Bound: A Doctor's Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole" by Jerri Nielsen with Maryanne Vollers. No lying about the true author.

TMQ wonders how Sen. Clinton found the time to write a 562-page book.
Consider that John McCain's autobiographical work, "Faith of My Fathers," proclaims on its cover "by Mark Salter, with John McCain." The true author's name is there for everyone to see, and this neither detracts from sales ("Faith of My Fathers" was a commercial success) nor causes anyone to think any less of McCain. Famous people who care about their honor, like McCain, freely acknowledge using ghostwriters -- this is called "honesty." Famous people with serious ego problems, or who don't care about their honor, lie about being authors.

Now suppose you were a college student, hired someone to write a thesis paper for you, then submitted the work as your own. Suppose, when caught, rather than confess, you indignantly insisted you were the true author. What would happen to you is that you'd be expelled. For you to lie about having written something would be considered inexcusable.

As for Hillary's presidential aspirations, voters have on occasion elected presidents who turned out to be liars, such as Richard Nixon, and lived to regret it. If voters choose a president whom they know in advance to be liar, woe onto the voters. And what is it that the jacket of Hillary Clinton's new book proclaims to all the world?

Her Exact Words Were, "Tonight I Am Having Dinner With You Exclusively": One reason the establishment press won't point out Hillary's lies about authorship is that it is engaged in a symbiotic relationship with her. Sunday, the senator gave a prime-time "exclusive" interview about her book to Barbara Walters of ABC; Monday, the cover of Time magazine was an interview with Hillary; Tuesday, she gives a prime-time "exclusive" interview to Larry King of CNN; "exclusives" with NBC, CBS, Fox, UPN, MSNBC, CNBC, ESPN/2 and the Food Channel can't be far behind. Any news organizations that noted Clinton is lying when she claims to be an author would be frozen out of this game.

And didn't "exclusive" once mean, "to this news organization only?" Now "exclusive" seems to mean, "I am only talking to this news organization at this particular moment." By such a definition, virtually all interviews are exclusives. Hmm, when TMQ began dating the Official Wife of TMQ, she assured me she was seeing me "exclusively."

The Clerk Will Now Call the Roll on the Hillary Clinton Deception About Authorship Act of 2003: President Bush's hydrogen-research funding request, made during his State of the Union address, emerged from Congress as the "George E. Brown and Robert S. Walker Hydrogen Future Act of 2003," amending the "Spark M. Matsunaga Hydrogen Research Act of 1990."

Now members of Congress are even naming elements after themselves! And Tuesday Morning Quarterback loves that spurious use of middle initials for members of Congress -- Senator Spark M. Matsunaga, as if to say, "Oh, you mean that Spark Matsunaga."

Note That I'm Tastefully Leaving Out Other Comparisons Involving Harnesses and Riding Crops: As the Triple Crown season concludes, TMQ is moved to the following comparison regarding horseracing. Vast expense, months of planning, emphasis on appearance, emphasis on stud performance, all building up to about two minutes of action -- hey, horseracing is just like dating!

Undercover Brother: Mindless movie or conspiracy exposè? You decide.
In "Undercover Brother II," We Learn the Sinister Truth About Field-Goal Kickers: In 2002, "Undercover Brother" declared that the 3-point shot was introduced into the NBA to help whites. TMQ was dubious of this conspiracy theory, as all players of all colors, creeds, religions and national heritages seemed to be making the same unpleasant clang sound with their trey attempts.

But then Mehmet Okur from Turkey, who looks like he should be bagging leaves for a lawn service, went 7-for-13 from the 3-line in the playoffs for Detroit, helping advance the Pistons to the semifinals. Then the Canadian antiwar protestor Steve Nash, whose hair makes him look like he's just taken a quick, refreshing dip in a pool of transmission fluid, went 37-for-74 from 3-land in the playoffs, almost pulling out a championship appearance for the shorthanded Mavs. Then Steve Kerr had his rapid-fire four-straight-treys outburst that left jaws hanging and put the Spurs into the NBA Finals.

Could it be that "Undercover Brother" was actually right about something?

Just the Words "Cherry Vanilla" Brighten Up My Day: Probably readers assume that mega-babes rush up to TMQ everywhere and write their phone numbers in lipstick on my arm, or at least, Mercedes and Acura provide free cars. Actually, as this column has noted many times before, the only tangible benefit I have ever sought is a bag of ESPN Zone tokens for my kids, and Disney corporate headquarters still hasn't sent same. I was, however, delighted to receive from reader Joe Rancatore, Jr., a dry-ice-packed shipment of the yummy specialty ice cream he makes at Ranc's Ice Cream and Yogurt in Belmont Massachusetts. If you stop by his store, TMQ suggests a cone of one scoop cherry vanilla, one scoop bittersweet chocolate. But not even Ranc's makes the Official Flavor of TMQ: blueberry almond martini. Just as well, perhaps.

TMQ Perfect Moment: Gawk at Cheerleader Calendar While Eating Ice Cream: Besides ice cream, the other tangible object of value that TMQ has received is a Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders' lingerie calendar with each month autographed in gold Sharpie by the cheer-babe in the picture. This was sent my way unsolicited by the Eagles' PR department, and has become a treasured TMQ possession. When the calendar runs out in December, I plan to donate it directly to the Smithsonian Institution.

Eagles cheer-babes, please tell us you have something spectacular planned for this year's calendar edition. Elegant, tasteful, artistic and revealing, OK?

Signature Dish at Salvatore's: T-Bone Steak. Get Two and You Have to Leave the Restaurant: Working the refs almost always backfires, and never was this better displayed than in a Sixers-Pistons playoff game in Philadelphia. Bennett Salvatore called a terrible game, as he so often does. Larry Brown and the Sixer players responded by jawing at him endlessly, while Rick Carlisle remained stone-faced and cautioned his charges not to engages in ref-baiting. The result was that the Pistons went to the line 38 times and the Sixers 22 times, in a four-point game played on the Sixers' home court. Yes, Salvatore is a terrible ref. But some refs are terrible, and dealing with them is one aspect of being a professional. Philadelphia exited the playoffs partly through its childishness in dealing with the officials.

How can we forget the Eagles cheerleaders?
Click here for a review of the "elegant atmosphere" at Bennett's Steak and Fish House in Stamford, Connecticut. Does Salvatore, who is notorious for calling technicals whenever coaches so much as look at him cross-eyed, throw diners out if they complain about the fish sauce?

Coaching careers note: Carlisle's Pistons just bested Brown's Sixers in a playoff series. What happened a week later? The Pistons fired Carlisle in order to replace him with Brown. Yea, verily, the basketball gods will exact vengeance on Detroit.

The Trenchcoat Is Lovely for Perp Walks, And You'll Want Something Casually Formal During Testimony: Martha Stewart has now been indicted on criminal charges of obstruction of justice, and faces a civil complaint of insider trading. Read Martha's reaction in her own words.

The main charges involve accusations of altering evidence about trading that, in itself, appears to have been legal. This makes the whole situation puzzling, to say the least: Why perjure yourself about your innocence? Calling the situation "bizarre," Stewart's own lawyers offer no explanation of why she would be dishonest regarding legal acts. Here's a possible explanation: Stewart knew there was something fishy about what she'd done, and tried to doctor the evidence in hopes of denying everything. Only after an anti-Martha backlash started did she focus on the fact that her trades, while unethical, had not been against the law. By then, she had doctored evidence and was, in the classic sense, hoisted on her own petard.

Seen "in the light most favorable" to her, as lawyers say, Stewart through no initiative of her own received indirect insider information suggesting stocks she owned were about to plummet in value -- her broker called to say the company's president was unloading all his personal shares. That probably means something bad is about to happen to the stock, but you can't be sure this is what it means; it might mean the company president needs to pay off his mistress. At any rate, tipped that the shares probably though not definitely were about to nose-dive, Stewart immediately sold her entire position. The next day the shares nose-dived.

Embarrassed by having suffered a greed attack, the "best light" interpretation continues, Stewart later tried to alter records to make it seem her decision to sell that day had just been an amazing coincidence. Simultaneously, she was unjustly accused, in the press and by a publicity-seeking congressional committee, of engaging in a much worse form of insider trading -- of knowing "material nonpublic" information, in this case that a company had learned a primary product was about to be denied government approval. Upset at being accused of doing worse than she actually did, Stewart lost her poise and made devious statements to investigators. There ought to be some sympathy for the bundle of nerves you, too, would become if you knew that federal investigators were poring over the minutiae of your affairs, hoping to find a way to ruin your life.

If you're worth a billion, you're a special kind of stupid when you get in this mess over $47,000.
But don't fall for the notion, advanced by pro-Martha commentators, that her sale of the ImClone stock was a victimless crime. Stewart does not dispute that by using privileged information to sell her ImClone shares just before their value dropped, she avoided a loss of about $46,000. That's the same as saying she swindled the stock buyers out of $46,000, and if someone swindled you out of $46,000, you would want government agents to knock on that person's door. Swindles are not very tasteful, Martha!

Martha's handcuffs create an excuse for Tuesday Morning Quarterback to repeat its Stewart jokes of a year ago. Herewith,

The Stewart empire is based on the magazines Martha Stewart Living, Martha Stewart Baby and Martha Stewart Weddings, plus her "everyday" and "signature" product lines. Tuesday Morning Quarterback suggests her new publications will be:

Martha Stewart's Minimum Security Living

Martha Stewart's Gang Colors Guide

Martha Stewart's Markin' Time

New "signature" products will include decorative electronic ankle bracelets, pure Scotland wool orange jumpsuits with hidden shiv pocket and Early American lacework wall-hangings perfect for steel bars. In the "everyday" category, tips on how to dress for jury sympathy, plus the most fabulous recipe for bundt cake with fresh raspberries, peaches, crème Anglais and baked-in key! For an actual Martha Stewart bundt cake recipe, click here.

Now, Having Taken Shots at Martha and Hillary, Let's Take a Shot at a White Male: "In a crisis, don't hide behind anything or anybody. They're going to find you anyway." Thus said Paul "Bear" Bryant, legendary football coach admired by Alabama native Howell Raines, who resigned last week as editor of the New York Times ("All the News That Might Be True").

The N.Y. Times editors should have stuck to their Bear Bryant approach.
Raines was renown for quoting Bryant around the newsroom, but when crisis arrived for Raines, he ignored the Bear's counsel. Though a newspaper editor, Raines spent a month refusing to give interviews about the Jayson Blair fiasco and hiding behind the claim that he, as editor, could not possibly have known that writers were fabricating material! Raines also worked furiously to shift blame, though Bryant cautioned against leaders trying to shift blame, saying a leader's philosophy should be, "If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes okay, you did it. If anything goes really well, the team did it."

The Bear knew whereof he spoke; Raines tried to hide, and they found him anyway.

NBA Low Point of the Year: The Celtics, a playoff team, recorded the worst two defeats in franchise history, losing to the Pistons by 52 points and to the cover-your-eyes Wizards by 45 points.

Next Week: Tuesday Morning Quarterback's advice for surviving the grueling final weeks till the NFL returns.

Posted by tien mao in Sports at 8:43 PM



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