(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
These Wizards/Cavaliers games are events that put me a couple of steps ahead of where I was before the day began. That’s nothing arrogant, for these games give me a sense of humility I would never get if I wasn’t there. Gilbert is back! Thank God for that. Pray for Abe please. Abe Polin not looking so good truly hurt, but that wasn’t the only thought I struggled with…
Allow me this. Just this once.
Precious basketball moments are like quick but delightful kisses; if you blink away with arrogance, love will tsk tsk, and you won’t even know what you damn sure missed.
What was I supposed to do? I am a Father first. My daughter Taylor had a game and the weather was gorgeous…a perfect softball day. When Anthony Gilbert and Jeff Young picked me up, I was torn. Torn between watching my soul-sugar-and-spice-twice-as-nice or documenting Arenas’ returning competitive light battle LeBron’s omnipresent five mics.
3:30 came…her game time. I was shaking…quiet in the back seat. How would she do without my wise-her-Dad eyes proudly smiling, a witness to her ever maturing athletic mind?
I start to say something to AG, but don’t.
The three of us laugh. We are serious. We sing. We rap. We bond. We pray.
There goes her school in the distance. My heart drops. How did she do? How can I miss her game?
Phone rings; answer with nervous madness.
“Hi Dad. Dad we lost.”
Oh my gosh. I thought to myself. I can’t take this.
“What was the score? How did you do baby?”
“We lost 8-6. I hit two three run home runs, but we lost.”
“What? Really. I’m so proud of you that you realize the outcome is paramount.” I could feel my voice smile. I felt so much better. My daughter is gonna be alright. Let it go Pop.
“Call me later please.”
“I will. I love you Dad. Bye.”
“I love you too Taylor. I give you my star. Go get it.”
I know I embarrass her sometimes, but that’s just how Pops do.
My…that was a relief.
Now I can get to work. I wondered what I would ask the particulars…LeBron, Mike Brown, Agent Zero, Tough Juice, Never Broke Again and even Joe Smith.
We get there. We eat. We greet other writers. We meet some more. Hook up with Evan and Lorin Chvotkin. Yes, sons of that Chvotkin. Lorin is one of those chill cats everyone should know…a really good dude.
The game begins. Lorin downloads 4 gigs of music onto my flash drive. I’m elated. That’s a lot of soul to write with.
LeBron is chill but not passive. Content with baseline turnaround jumpers off isolation. He adapts to the smothering defense and is hitting at an amazing clip considering. Big Z swishes pivot kick shots from all angles. To everyone’s surprise, so does Anderson Varejao.
Gilbert scores his second basket right before the halftime buzzer off the break. Wizards lead.
TNT’s David Aldridge speaks with Coach Brown, I notice from afar.
Out of the tunnel to begin the second half, LeBron’s body language screams “I got something for ya.”
Scores, dunks, no fake of the funk.
Pam’s son booms two from outside the baseline box.
Jamison splashes cottony exquisite jumpers all over; one UNC thunder over Pavlovic.
Tough Juice isn’t having it. He just isn’t.
Making Butler plays. Crowd noise like Zephyr love parlayed.
Mike Brown works the refs and almost comes out of his suit; so coach typical.
James watches…rests…as Gibson and Williams tie it up with 3 bombs and pull up jumpers that make defensive sneaks screech on heels not so defensive.
Gilbert is the facilitator. Stops. Goes. Passes. Future shows.
Jumbotron images and public relation greatness entertain mean mugs, transforming sour work week expressions into child like Christmas smiles.
Washington connects down stretch, still LeBron’s point total climbs exponentially with 35 footers in an underhand Mike Wallace zone.
Agent Zero dreamed of the broken wrist, playoffs-he-damn-sure-limped get back, and willed his team to an inspiring win despite the Cavs 47% from the field on the road.
Darius Songaila scores 17 off the bench.
Gilbert’s 2 game return nets 20 assists to one turnover. He’s learning of himself.
What is this rivalry? Cleveland Wednesday is the next chance to find out.
The Wizards 109-101 win was almost an afterthought at this point because there is definitely something here uniquely competitive. First stop was Cleveland Cavaliers Head Coach Mike Brown. Talking to Mike Brown many times here is different than any other coach post game presser…almost as if the Cavs are the home team.
“Coach what is it about the Wizards that take you out of your team philosophy? Is it this pseudo rivalry?”
Mike Brown: “I don’t know if this is a rivalry. We have a rivalry with Detroit. We got a rivalry in Boston…
“What about them takes you out of your team philosophy?”
Mike Brown: “You have to give Washington credit. They are a talented group which gives us problems. We couldn’t contain dribble drives with these guys. They got in the middle on us time after time after time after time. They seem to rebound very well against us. Maybe it’s because of their quickness…I’m not sure. They spread the floor and force us to take a lot of threes and jump shots which don’t allow us to get to the free throw line. You gotta give them credit. I told our guys you are gonna lose games. We are not gonna go 27-0 towards the end of the season. You are gonna lose. What’s gotta hurt is the way you lost the game. The way we played should hurt us. We played not necessarily to lose, but the way we played on the defensive end? It’s gotta hurt to know we played that way.”
LeBron James obviously was the next stop. He was 11-18 for 31 points…only 5-7 from the free throw line…not good (attempts), but he was hitting his outside shots for the most part. He also had 9 boards, 6 assists and 6 of the Cavs 9 turnovers.This is where we in the media jockey for position to get closest to the player deemed the latest greatest. I swear LeBron was pulling up from 35 to 40 feet on some shots…at least that’s what it seemed. Who else does that?
“LeBron games have a certain personality. What goes through your mind when you play here? What is the difference coming into the game and how you feel afterward…win or lose?”
LeBron James: “When we come into this building, we pack the stands. That helps. When you have 20 thousand fans here, that definitely helps. It doesn’t matter record wise when we play these guys. They know us and we know them. The history is there. You can throw the records outta the gym. Tonight they were successful. They are a good team that matches up really well every position against us.”
“What about your range that made you feel comfortable to pull up from so deep? At one point, it seemed like you were pulling up from Akron.”
LBJ: (Laughs). “I can shoot the ball from anywhere man. Range has never been a problem for me. Besides that, it’s gonna be tough going back to back against Orlando tomorrow. I look at this as a challenge. I relish the challenge.”
More on LeBron later. I got out as the media continued to ask him stuff to hit up other players. I wanted to get something from Caron Butler. He hit for 25 points on 7 field goals…a sparkling 11-11 from the line. Where was he? Oh there he is outside the locker room and some other members of the media had the same thing in mind. Perfect.
“Caron in terms of basketball love…when you go up against a team like the Cavs with LeBron…what is it specifically about this team that brings something out of you that is straight rock?”
Caron Butler: “Damn, I felt that. Look at that team. That team is real special. Their continuity and the stuff they do before the game (mimicking the photos)…they are a fun team to watch. At the same time because they are a top team, they have a big bulls eye on their back. We feel like, we are that team. Now that we have all of our guys healthy that gives us a great opportunity to measure up against.”
“Caron what is it man about this team?”
Tough Juice: “Whenever you play against the top teams in the league, it’s gonna bring out your best. Look at the Lakers. Look at San Antonio…New Orleans. You have a packed house. You are on national television. It’s your chance to show the world your talent.”
“Does the game come out differently than what you anticipate? I don’t want to speak for all the media, but I know I can’t figure out what this rivalry is what it is.”
Tough Juice: “Over the course of the last couple of years, they’ve knocked us out of the playoffs. You don’t forget things like that. You challenge yourself over and over again. Over the course of the summer you think…we have to get up in their heart and we gotta beat the Cavs. This is obviously the team we get up for.”
Where’s that other eccentric stitch of Zephyr fabric? Gilbert is back! In 33 minutes, he shoots 3-11, goes 5-8 from the foul line, has 10 assists, 6 boards and 0 turnovers. If you love basketball, you can’t help but to cheer he has a successful and most healthy return. The NBA needs Gilbert Arenas to be a star. Yeah, the show will go on without him, but he is a show all to himself. Will he go the route of so many other talented but oft-injured stars is the question. I walk into the locker room to see him holding the media hostage like only he can. In terms of quotes? Gilbert is that dude. He never ever disappoints.
“Gilbert there are some great players in this league past and present who have not reached their full potential because of injury. What’s gonna differentiate your talent from Chris Webber, Grant Hill, Tracy McGrady? Players with vast physical talent who unfortunately didn’t grab their full star (physically).”
Gilbert Arenas: “Good question. Very good question. The difference between them is they used their athleticism so injuries take away from what they are good at. Grant Hill was a jumper. Tracy McGrady was a jumper. Webber was a banger…jumper. I’m not that type. I rely on speed and shooting. I have my speed and I have my shot…it’s just not clicking for me right now.”
“With this game here, you came back two games in and you are playing the Cavs. Was it like…go fast…stop…go?”
0: “I’m just out there testing it. I’m just out there seeing what I can get away with. Playing against guards…you know Mo Williams is an all star. You are just finding out what’s going on. I’m not going to go out there blind and try to play my game because things have adjusted. I have to take what I’ve learned and develop over the summer.”
“What is different now? Is it a sense of maturity you’ve gained to realize you can’t go out there hardcore just coming back like maybe you’ve done in the past?”
0: “Umm…yeah. What I didn’t know before is I didn’t know the seriousness of rebuilding my leg. The false advertisement I got the first time coming back is that I regained my speed. Once I regained my speed, I didn’t care about nothing else. I didn’t work on my leg anymore. That was the problem. The second one was us not knowing what was going on. After I got the clean out, I was still feeling the problem until I got to Miami and they figured out what was going on. Basically…I got the scope for nothing. (He laughs) I got the scope for nothing.”
Get it back Gil, get it back. As I wait for LeBron to get dressed, two players I wanted to speak with are Joe Smith…veteran who is still game in the L and finds himself in a great position to win a title and Mo Williams…who is way more talented than the player you see on TV. Joe only played 7 and a half minutes…scoring two points…but I was more interested in the travel of the former number one pick overall out of the University of Maryland.
“Joe is this the top team you’ve played on? You’ve came out of Maryland with a lot of talent and as the years have gone by, what is this scene like for you?”
Joe Smith: “Oh most definitely. We have enough talent to not only play with anybody, but beat anybody. I’ve never been in this situation before to be a position of securing home court throughout the playoffs. Never been in a position where I’ve won 13 games straight. There are a lot of good teams out there in both conferences. In order for us to have long winning streaks and playing the way we are playing, this is the most talented team I’ve played on.”
“The greatness within you and I mean this from day one when you walked into the league, is that something you want to pull from in specific playoff moments…ala Gary Payton when he hit those two big shots during Miami’s championship run? What are you going to add to this team to win-the-ring? Get-that-gold? Confetti shine…whatever you want to call it.”
Joe Smith: (Laughs) Man…if that’s what it takes, that’s what I’m gonna do. The one thing about me man is I never shy away from any type of competition. I never shy away from any type of shot…no matter what time or point in the game it is. That’s the way I’ve been my entire career. If it does come down to me stepping up in the 4th quarter or carrying the load for a few minutes for the team to get it’s bearings, then I’m with that. My thing right now is to do whatever I can to get that ring. That’s my goal.”
“Man I know you don’t want to talk about when it actually happens…”
Joe Smith: (We laugh) “I really don’t. I was just telling my peoples last night about that. I really don’t. He got upset, but we are where we want to be. You don’t want to get too ahead of yourself. I try to pull back a little bit.”
“Is that hard?”
Joe Smith: “It is a little bit, but at the same time you know there is a long way to go. We’ve accomplished a lot during the regular season but, actually, we still haven’t done anything. Once it’s all said and done, I can sit back and relax the road to get here. Right now, I can’t.
“What can you teach that cat (I point to LeBron) over there?”
Joe Smith: “Man, I’m learning from him (We laugh)! I mean uh…we talk about different situations on the floor. We talk about where we need to be at certain points in the game. At his age, he’s probably one of the most aware guys I’ve ever been around out there on the floor. He sees the whole floor. I’ve never been around a player who can come down and visualize a play before it even happens…or know what defense is gonna be played…or know where you need to be on the floor in order to help him out. He has a special talent man.”
“Does the NBA playoffs compare at all to that Maryland run…the tournament aspect?”
Joe Smith: “Definitely as far as atmosphere but a notch above. We are fighting for something real special. When you go through 82 games and then the playoffs begin? Man it’s definitely a notch above.”
“Joe remember this conversation come June. Not May, but June.”
Joe Smith: “Oh..man..I definitely will (Smiles).”
NBA players have all kinds of symbolic tattoos. This is what they do, so I understand. Mo Williams has a tattoo I thought everyone should know about. Besides that, this cat is like Bruce Lee amongst a bunch of Andre the Giants. He’s coming for you no matter who you are.
“Your game is special. How do you combine your distinctive talents with those of LeBron James to make this thing go? Is your talent enhanced playing with him because you are allowed to roam freely in a sense because the defense focuses on him so much?
Mo Williams: “Most definitely. Most definitely. He allows me to do things on the floor not everyone understands. The defense is chasing him around the entire game and he still does things that are just crazy. I have a big opportunity to show the world who I am because of it.”
“Coming out of school, going through Milwaukee and finally landing here, are you looking at this strictly with a professional mind, or are you saying to yourself..”Damn! I have a chance to win a championship right now!”
Mo: “I’m blessed to be playing on a great basketball team. With that being said, I’ve paid my dues. To come from Milwaukee and potential win it all? This is working out really well.”
“Tattoo on your back says Never Broke Again (Mo laughs). Where did that come from man?”
Mo: “Fam was around and I was just chillin’. I loved tattoos, so I figured that’s a helluva tattoo.”
One last. Even though the Wizards stopped a franchise best 13 game losing streak against his Cavs, LeBron is always down for an off the wall conversation no always dealing with the NBA. Crazy, but Washington Capital Alexander Ovechkin walked in and the wunderkinds exchanged expressions of being in awe…Fire and Ice. I couldn’t believe two of the most talented athletes on the planet were in one spot at the same time…both so young and so grounded. LeBron took pictures with Alexander’s companion, another most voluptuous blond and greeted about 30 kids and their parents outside the locker room. Could you imagine doing this over and over and over 82 times more? It takes a special person to be a LeBron James. Over the last two weeks I’ve been on this Old School kick and it’s actually helped my writing. I reference this because LeBron is someone who is so grounded and I sought to see if the correlation between his musical tastes and his NBA game were connected in a historic sense. We all know about his game, so let’s take it somewhere else. I went into this specifically wanting to talk about Marvin Gaye because of the anniversary of his passing on April 1st and also his birthday on April 2nd but didn’t remember until LeBron brought it up himself. Sometimes it works out that way.
“Cleveland Music Hall of Fame. There are all kinds of stars going in this year. Run-D.M.C., Jeff Beck, Little Anthony & the Imperials, Metallica and Bobby Womack. How far does your music history go back?”
LBJ: “It’s decent. It’s not the best. I love music–outstanding music. A lot of people say I have an old soul because I like Curtis Mayfield…the Ohio Players…you know a lot of those older acts. That music is really inspirational. Marvin Gaye…yeah something like that.”
“Crazy you brought up the man. You know it’s Marvin’s birthday. What would you say about his affect on you as well as others?”
LBJ: “He’s affecting a lot of people as well as my life. Music has a lot to do with lifestyle…you know…the way you live. Marvin Gaye was one of those guys who could see the future before it happened. Like when Martin Luther King spoke…he know what was going to happen. Certain people inspire more than what they do. Marvin Gaye inspired people in ways that had nothing to do with music…who could never carry a tune or read a music note ever. Guys like that are really powerful.”
“Your basketball talent is past, present and future. Is that because of a musical influence among other things obviously?
LBJ: “Oh absolutely. Absolutely. I think every basketball player can say music has something to do with the way they play the game. When I work out, I’m listening to music. Before games I’m listening to music. I think music and basketball…you look at artists and people of that nature…a lot of them wish they could do music. You look at a lot of baskeball players and quite frankly, we wish we could do what they do.”
“You are on the floor during a game. Is there a beat that flashes your mind when you make a certain move or pull up for a jumper?”
LBJ: “There’s not a certain beat that goes through my head but if anyone were to make a beat about my game, it could make you live right.”
“Who would you compare yourself to?”
“Is that because of the totality of his talent?”
LBJ: “He’s the best at what he does.”
“Does that mean you are the best at what you do?”
At this point there are many listeners hanging on LeBron’s every word. There’s silence when I ask this question.
LBJ: “Uh….Jay-Z is the best at what he do (Everyone cracks up). Take it from there (Mad laughter).