Guaranteeing a victory is fast becoming the most tiresome cliché in sports. We've already had two guarantees during this NBA playoff season, at least two that I've noticed and I don't even pay attention to these things. And we still have almost a month to go.
Guaranteed games are 2-0, the Kings having won Game 6 over the Timberwolves following Chris Webber's assurance of a victory and the Pistons making good on Rasheed Wallace's guarantee in Game 2 against the Pacers Monday.
Remember when a player guaranteeing a win was kind of a bold statement? Joe Namath in Super Bowl III comes to mind. Now, it's just pregame noise, but boy, it sure gets you some face time on TV. I've seen Wallace intoning "They will not win Game 2" over and over more times now than I've seen that dweeb in the cellphone commercials saying, "Can you hear me now?" Wallace added, "I guarantee it."
Typists like this sort of thing but the TV people really love it because it gives them a story line on which to hang a broadcast, the inherent drama of a playoff ballgame not being nearly enough. There's the guarantee, there's the opponents' reaction (which is usually indifference, but we all know that's just a front!), there's the teammates' reaction (usually, "That's just [whoever] being [whoever]"), and of course there's the fans' reaction. It turned out in this case that following his guarantee, Rasheed was not a favorite of Indiana fans. Can you imagine? They just loved him before, right?
And anyway, there's never anything behind these guarantees. If the Pistons had lost Monday, Wallace would have shrugged his shoulders and said, "All they did was hold serve at home." It's like your local diner pronouncing "Best eggs in town -- guaranteed!" Well, if I don't think they're the best eggs in town, do I get my money back or something? Not likely.
My dictionary's first definition of guarantee is "a pledge that something is as represented and will be replaced if it does not meet specifications." If Wallace had said, "They will not win Game 2, I guarantee it. If they do I'll walk back to Detroit," then you'd have something worth paying attention to. If he had said, "They will not win Game 2, I guarantee it. If they do I'll give back my salary for this game ..."
I had to stop typing there. I was giggling too hard.
One good thing about Wallace's guarantee. It gave ESPN reason to show a slow-motion close-up replay of him at the end of the game as he shouted to the crowd -- the slow motion helped in lip-reading here -- "I told you motherfuckers! I told y'all!"
There are at least 10 and at most 17 playoff games remaining. Before the trophy is awarded, at least one player will guarantee at least one victory for his team. And lo, it'll be the Big Story of that game.
I guarantee it.
Reggie Miller, goat [PERMALINK]
Reggie Miller has long been one of my least favorite players -- and not just because he once guaranteed his UCLA Bruins wouldn't lose to my California Golden Bears as long as he was still in school.
I've disliked him because all he ever gets is praise. He's undoubtably one of the great shooters in the history of the league and a slam-dunk Hall of Famer. No argument here. But he's also one of the NBA's dirtiest, most annoying players, and nobody ever talks about it -- except to praise him for things he should be vilified for.
Miller's method of playing defense is to grab, push, trip, tickle and half-Nelson his man, then suddenly go Zapruder Film, jerking spectacularly as though he'd been shot. Offensive foul on Miller's guy.
The quintessential Miller moment for me came four years ago in the playoffs against the Lakers. Miller, on offense, trotted across the lane, lightly bumped into a Laker who wasn't even looking at him, then pretended he'd been hit by a bus, arms flailing, head jerking, staggering across the floor. Foul on the Lakers guy. "He's so good at that," said TV announcer Doug Collins, referring to Miller's ability to "create a foul."
I was OK with the hosannas for Miller after his winning 3-pointer in Game 1. He'd played like snot for the first 47 minutes, but a game-winner is a game-winner, and Miller has a history of those clutch buckets. But while Tayshaun Prince is rightly being praised for his spectacular, game-saving block of Miller's would-be game-tying layup in Game 2, nobody seems to want to talk about the fact that the block, athletically amazing as it was, never should have happened.
Miller was the straight-up goat of the game. On a night when every shot was contested, when the Pistons blocked an astonishing 19, when every point was bled for, Miller played it soft with a breakaway layup, allowing Prince to make up ground. Miller admitted after the game that "I saw him in my rear-view mirror" and "in hindsight, I should have dunked it."
Miller cost his team a chance to win the game and go up 2-0. You won't hear a word about that from here on out.
I guarantee it.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Crime and punishment: The partial suspension [PERMALINK]
The NBA fined Karl Malone $7,500 for a flagrant foul in Game 2 of the Lakers-Timberwolves series. I'm not sure that foul, a typically vicious Malone elbow, was worthy of extra punishment, but when are pro sports leagues going to get real about enforcement?
NBA players routinely buy $300,000 cars -- Al Harrington of the Pacers, a reserve, rolled up to Monday's game in his new Rolls-Royce -- and Malone is among the better-paid players. Until he took a severe pay cut down to $1.5 million this year to play for the Lakers, he was making more like $19 million a year. That $7,500 feels to him about how $40 feels to you if you make a decent, solid $50,000 annually.
Really, it probably feels like a lot less, because when you're making eight figures, almost all of it is gravy. Malone can drop $7,500 a lot more times before getting down to the ramen money than you or I can drop $40. But let's say it's equal to a $40 fine. Is that going to stop you from doing anything? That's a jaywalking fine, a rolling through a stop sign fine. Do you do those things?
Of course you don't but you're special. I do them.
The NBA and the other major pro sports leagues need to find a punishment more serious than meaningless fines but less serious than suspension, which is very serious indeed. The answer is staring them in the face: partial suspensions.
If the NBA believes Malone must pay for that elbow in Game 2, it should suspend him for, say, the first quarter of Game 3. That would be something he'd feel, and while it would affect his teammates, it wouldn't put an undue burden on them the way a suspension would. A suspension would have been too much for this offense.
Partial suspensions would act as a deterrent, I think, without putting the offender's team at a horrible disadvantage the way a full suspension does. At playoff time especially, a suspension is heavy artillery. Maybe Anthony Peeler trying to KO Kevin Garnett with a forearm to the throat in the last round deserves a full game, but an overenthusiastic shove? See you in the second quarter.
Other sports can adopt similar punishments -- a ban through the third inning or the first period, for example. Instead what they'll do is keep imposing penny-ante fines on players who don't even notice the debit on their bank statements.
I guarantee it.
Previous column: Remembering a great baseball writer
- - - - - - - - - - - -