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“OMG, Claire! Can you believe this? Our Lyft driver is the one and only Kris Humphries!”
It’s Game #2 of Must-Win Week #2! Despite a C-minus effort on MLK Day, our Atlanta Hawks passed their first test with a win over the shorthanded Timberwolves. But here’s a Red Alert. The last-place Detroit Pistons returning to State Farm Arena today (7:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports Detroit) are not the last-place Pistons that the Hawks beat here in December.
When the then-unbeaten Hawks fended off winless Detroit (now 3-10), coach Dwane Casey’s crew had two first-rounder rookies, Killian Hayes (now out indefinitely with a hip tear) and Saddiq Bey starting together in the backcourt. Grizzled vets Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose were rested and inactive. And the Pistons had to fly back home, saving their energies for a game against Golden State the next evening.
This isn’t to say the Pistons are good now. Just that they’ll knock you clean off your high horse, if you roll a D-plus effort out there on the floor. Just ask Miami. Absent Jimmy Butler due to COVID protocols, the heat strolled home after dropping two straight in Philly, the last one by 17 points, only to fall at home to Detroit by 20, Miami players giving up the ball 22 times due to turnovers (sounds familiar?).
The defending Eastern Conference champions, still sans Jimmy Buckets, got their chance at revenge in the same building two nights later. Yet they dug themselves in a 12-point first-quarter foxhole, then had to scramble and hang on to escape on MLK Day with a 113-107 victory over the Pistons.
Coach Casey’s seat is warm, by design, as a lame duck under the purview of new GM Troy Weaver. He remains confident that his long-term status isn’t dependent on near-term player development. Youthful charges Bey, center Isaiah Stewart, Svi Mykhailiuk, Deividas Sirvydas and Sekou Doumbouya aren’t getting much burn as Casey relies on multi-year vets (including 23-year-old wayfarer Josh Jackson, whose defense is giving his slipshod career new life) to fill his short rotations. The Piston pupils are nearly non-existent on nights that aren’t part of back-to-back pairs.
If he had his druthers, Detroit’s head coach would have them checking in against the Skyhawks and the Bayhawks, not the Hawks (6-7). “…they should be learning the G-League,” Casey told Omari Sankofa of the Freep about his blue-chippers on Tuesday, “making mistakes and learning from them in the G-League instead of our (NBA) games.”
Even without much reliable depth for Casey to turn to, only one of Detroit’s ten defeats have been by more than ten points. They’ve stayed within shouting range throughout because Jerami Grant has been making plenty of All-Star noise. The Son of Harvey, already in his fourth NBA stop over seven seasons, is dropping career-best numbers (24.9 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.5 APG, 2.7 3FGs/game, 86.3 FT%).
As a 2020 free agent, Grant expressed his appeal for working under an African-American coach+GM combo, and Casey is rewarding him with free reign as the Pistons’ new franchise face, good timing since Griffin’s gasket is leaking lots of oil (career-lows of 14.3 points per-36 and 0.1 BPG; 38.3 FG%, 35.2 FG% in 18 brief appearances last season; 67.9 FT%). Like Charlotte’s Gordon Hayward, and New York’s Julius Randle, Grant (27 points @ ATL on Dec. 28, tied with Jackson in the 128-120 loss) needs teams, like the Hawks and heat, that get caught slipping defensively to help his team escape the Eastern Conference basement and shine up his resume at All-Star voting time.
The final bell hasn’t rung for Professor Griff just yet. Bleak Blake’s still averaging 4.3 APG (1.7 TOs/game), aiding Rose (team-high 5.1 APG, off the bench) and Hayes’ replacement starting point guard, Delon Wright (4.1 APG, 0.9 TOs/game) in creating ample shot opportunities, at least many more than Detroit’s foes can hoist (NBA-low 83.8 opponent FGAs; 17.2 opponent TO%, 2nd in NBA). Grabbing more steals, taking higher proportions of threes from the field, and crashing the offensive glass more frequently than last season, is all what keeps the Pistons more in the ballpark than the Tigers.
The problems come when Grant’s teammates, like hot-and-cold Hawkslayer Wayne Ellington (7-for-11 3FGs @ MIA; 2-for-7 @ ATL on Dec. 28), Griffin and Wright aren’t hitting shots outside, or finishing inside (team 48.3 2FG%, last in NBA; 49.8 eFG%, 28th in NBA). Atlanta, fortunately, has a forward duo that can keep Grant and Griff inefficient when they’re on the floor together.
I am here for De’Angry Hunter! (Way better than The Angry Whopper, no?) De’Andre is out here having it his way -- going up for ferocious dunks, wrestling away 50/50 balls, lofting threes with no hesitation, keeping candy away from babies at game’s end, even chewing out refs on bone-headed calls and drawing techs? My large, adult son!
While watching Zion and N’Awlins taking their turn at getting flame-broiled by the red-hot Jazz on national TV last night, one of my Hawks Twitter faves (@REGGIES_WORLD) asked aloud, “You know who would look good on the Pelicans right now?” Aren’t you hungry? A double-digit scorer all season long, this will be the 12th opportunity in Hunter’s budding career to serve up consecutive 20-burgers for the first time (10.5 PPG in prior 11 chances), if he is indeed good-to-go tonight (probable, sore knee).
With Clint Capela (28.8 D-Reb%, 3rd in NBA; 23-and-15 plus 3 blocks vs. MIN) doing the dirtiest of the dirty work around the defensive glass, John Collins and Hunter are ((slides on titanium draws)) powering forward. Their positive +12.6 Net Rating as a duo in Atlanta lineups is surpassed in the NBA East only by KD and Joe Harris (+13.6, min. 300 minutes played), and currently 6th-best overall.
Tack on Trae Young (8.9 APG and 88.9 FT%; multiple 3FGs, despite a season-low 8 FGAs vs. MIN, for the 2nd time in his past seven games), even with his wayward floaters and jumpers, and with refs trying their darnedest not to fall for his Nashketball tactics, and the Collins-Hunter-Young trio (+12.7 Net Rating, 3rd-best among NBA East 3-Man Lineups w/ 200+ minutes, 6th-best anywhere outside L.A.) is only a Crosby or a Stills short of a supergroup. Teach your children well, LP!
Hopefully, Cam Reddish (upgraded to questionable, bruised knee) or Kevin Huerter (3-for-8 3FGs, 8 assists, 2 TOs, 4 steals vs. MIN) can become that fourth wheel, although four shouldn’t be needed to turn Atlanta into the true Motor City tonight.
Individually, Young (probable vs. DET, sore heel, although the ggod news is his wrist is fine) is just a marginally superior defender in the early going, compared to the balance of his past season. But after enduring Jabari Parker, Damian Jones, the esteemed Vince Carter, and the M.I.A. tandem of Alex Len and momentary Piston Dewayne Dedmon in last year’s frontcourt, Trae’s learning that not being the league’s worst defensive player often comes down to the company you keep.
My only ask of De’Andre, as the serene sophomore begins to shed his Dr. Bruce Banner persona, is that he not try to keep up with Trae in the turnover department. It can be easy being green, if you play possessions looking less like Kermit The Frog flailing about, and more like The Incredible Hulk.
The Hawks can be top-tier competitive (2-1 w/ team TO percentages below 10.0%, as per bball-ref; wins over Philly and the Nets, with sole loss @ BRK) when it’s only Young turning the ball over frequently. Hunter’s six TOs versus the T’Wolves on Monday, tying Trae and contributing to Atlanta’s season-high 24 player goofs, negated his and his team’s own defensive stops and were but his only significant blemishes.
Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce must work on his game plans to improve off-ball anticipation on offensive possessions, his players effectively resetting when a play call is countered and the need to shift to Plan B, with a Drew-ian sense of urgency, arises. Such execution is essential against a Detroit team that thrives off scoring chances after producing turnovers (19.5 points per-48, 5th-most in NBA). A slop-fest won’t work against the Pistons as it did against the shorthanded T’Wolves.
The Hawks need not look ahead, but that doesn’t mean their fans can’t. COVID-craziness notwithstanding, next week’s slate includes a visit to Budworld, where Giannis awaits, and home games with first Kawhi & PG, then the fat-suit-less Harden, KD & Kyrie in town on back-to-back nights. Will we get a well-rested and recuperated Wizards bunch in Washington next weekend? We’ll see.
The week after that? A four-game homestand, but with LeBron and AD, then Luka and the Jazz on a back-to-back, then a Tampato team that’s shedding dead weight (sorry, Alex) and is on the mend. Atlanta will then get four days off, but only before heading to Lukaland for their next, and finally scheduled, national TV appearance.
Things could go south, or soar north, in a hurry for the Hawks. But it’s the outcomes of those games, not the ones against the Knicks, Cavs, Hornets, Timberwolves and Pistons, that ought to define how one looks at this season’s success. It’s why Must-Win Week #2 cannot afford to go the way of Must-Win Week #1.
The Georgia Tech men’s basketball team is aiming to win their third-straight ACC game, and fifth in a row, with a chance of rising to 7-3 tonight by beating 20th-ranked Clemson on the road. Unfortunately for Tech, they’re not Top-25 ranked, and may still not be even in victory, in part because their season has already been defined, by Thanksgiving weekend losses at home to local Peach State “rivals” Georgia State and Mercer. Once you do that, nobody wants to hear about how you beat blue-bloods Kentucky and UNC.
You don’t want to be the Yellow Jackets; you want to be the team that does the stinging of weak opponents around here. Atlanta will have roster reinforcements coming along soon, and they don’t need to show perfection yet, although cutting the turnovers in half would sure be nice. Today, and on Friday in the rematch with D’demono Russell in Minnesota, we do need the Hawks to avoid another buzzkill, by at least showing us they’ve mastered their B-game.
Let’s Go Hawks!
“HEY, PAL! RESPECT THE FLAG!”
In the Capitol building in our District of Columbia, a United States Senator laid on the floor of the Senate chamber, unsure if this day would be his final one alive.
He was swiftly losing consciousness, and his eyesight. He was being blinded by his own blood.
The perpetrator of his assault: one Democratic congressman from the great state of South Carolina, armed with a thick, gold-tipped cane.
Amidst an iconic, nearly 60-year-old Federal building constructed with incomparably cheap and skilled slave labor, in a new cameral wing built much the same, the Massachusetts Republican suffered blows from both the wood and the gold, all of which splintered onto the hallowed floor in a race with gobs of partisan bloodshed. Even as the cane broke apart across his head and body, he was unable to see from whence the next blows were coming.
Stunned onlookers, members from both Houses of our Congress, rushed to intervene, only to be blocked by a Congressional ally of the assailant, one with a willfully violent reputation in the halls of Congress himself, and another Senator brandishing a cane… and a pistol… who demanded, “Let them be! Let them alone!” What unfurled here was no gentlemanly duel.
The assailing Congressman, feeling publicly insulted by the Senator’s words towards a family member, sought to hunt down this man, in the Capitol, and deliver a taste of the irrepressible, irredeemable suffering felt through generations by untold numbers of slaves, individuals the colleague, ironically, hoped to one day free.
Both inside and at all points south of the nation’s capital, there were Big Fans of the carnage Preston Brooks wrought upon Charles Sumner on that fine spring day in 1856. A Richmond newspaper editorial suggested Sen. Sumner, a self-styled “Radical” for advocating the end of slavery, should be “caned every morning.” “These vulgar abolitionists in the Senate,” the typography went on to insist, “have been suffered too long to run without collars. They must be lashed into submission.” Many non-witnesses believed Sumner and his fellow abolitionists were overselling the extent of his injuries in hopes of buying political sympathy.
The golden splinters from Rep. Brooks’ cane were not collected as evidence in a trial. Rather, Southern lawmakers salvaged them, fashioned them into rings, and wore what Brooks would later describe as his “sacred relics” on neck chains, as a display of solidarity. Replacement canes from throughout the South arrived at his door, one in which was inscribed: “Hit him again.”
When Sumner’s Massachusetts colleague dared to call Brooks’ brazen act, “brutal, murderous, and cowardly,” Brooks was again offended, this time challenging that Republican Senator to a duel (with pistols, not canes) that, thankfully, never materialized. He did face repercussions, eventually, for his actions. Arrested and brought to trial in a D.C. Court, Brooks was convicted, fined the equivalent of $8,500 for his assault on a fellow elected official, and was free to go without incarceration.
In mid-July, mere months after the attack, he resigned from his post, thwarting House attempts at expulsion. By the first day of August, he was re-elected by South Carolinians in a special election, and deemed such a hero that a city in Florida, and a new county in neighboring Georgia, were quickly named that year in his honor (to this day, they still are). Brooks was back in the Capitol building by November. But he would live for only a couple months, done in by a nasty case of croup. The poor fellow.
In his final days, he would see an empty Senate chair, left deliberately open by the Massachusetts delegation as a reminder of the effects of Southern American barbarism. One must note, his pistol-packing partner-in-crime, also from South Carolina, would not make it to the end of the Civil War, mortally wounded in battle on behalf of the Confederacy. But before his demise, two years after the cane assault, Lawrence Kiett would try to put hands on a colleague himself, in the Capitol.
A Pennsylvania Republican was jeered by Kiett when he attempted to cross the aisle in the House of Representatives amid intense late-night debate in 1858. Kiett called his (White) political rival a “Black Republican puppy.” The gentleman from the Keystone State retorted: “No Negro-driver shall crack his whip over me.” Oh, NOW you’ve gone too far, sir. Mr. Kiett’s honor has been impugned!
Kiett lunging at his fellow Congressman’s throat sparked a massive brawl of reportedly about 50 elected officials, ending only when a Mississippi rep’s hairpiece went flying as he dodged a punch, errantly placing it back upon his head upside down to uproarious laughter. Talk about flipping your wig! The Boys are back in town. Following Brooks’ lead, Kiett “resigned”, ran for his seat again as ratification for his conduct, and won re-election in South Carolina overwhelmingly.
Back to Senator Sumner. What inexcusable, cane-invoking sin did he commit? African-Americans, and women of all races, lacked much of anything we would recognize as human rights today. But they were certainly easy fodder when politicos sought to rhetorically blast each other. Sumner and other abolitionists were mocked, particularly by Andrew Butler and Stephen Douglas (of Lincoln-Douglas Debates fame) with allusions that they found the Black woman alluring, thereby worthy of their heroism and, perish the thought, the prospect of interracial marriage.
The slaveholder class were taking figurative jabs on the chin, too, as abolition advocates suggested their foes needed female slaves around to have someone around to satisfy their urge for non-consensual sex. Sumner was not so direct.
As he argued fiercely on the Senate floor against permissible slaveholding in the bloody Kansas territories, Sumner invoked the invisible mistress of Don Quixote, the fictional hero who believed, as the tale goes, that he needed (the notion of) a female by his side, to be respected by his fellow male peers as one of chivalrous virtue.
“Of course [Sen. Butler] has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him… I mean, the harlot, slavery.” Oh, snap! Rep. Brooks, Sen. Butler’s first cousin once removed and perhaps not as up on literary references as a distinguished gentleman might expect, indeed snapped. With some egging from Kiett, he set his plan for tilting at Sumner in motion.
But for this heinous, bloody act, the Party of Lincoln might have become the Party of Sumner first. The Massachusetts senator suffered lingering effects from his injuries throughout the rest of his days, including what we now call PTSD. But he did see Messrs. Brooks and Kiett to their graves, as he returned, years later, to the Senate and became one of President Abraham Lincoln’s closest confidantes while their nation veered into internal war.
Sumner specialized not merely on matters of abolition, but foreign affairs. He aided the President in negotiating tactics to keep the Brits and the French from meddling on behalf of what was by now the Confederate armed and naval forces.
From the White House, Lincoln leaned on his Senatorial visitor, who he would come to describe as, “my idea of a bishop.” But Abe’s Congressional consultant would make clear that, for military and moral reasons, the POTUS could no longer cast illusions that emancipation for the slaves in states and territories, was not the central aim of the Union. But for Sen. Sumner, 1863’s Emancipation Proclamation, and the ensuing conclusion of civil conflict in 1865, might have been longer in coming, and to the credit of someone not rocking a beard and a top hat.
A beneficiary of Sumner’s radical political activism (and survival), up to and over one century later, John Lewis wasn’t any more immune from a wooden stick. Or, a wooden crate. Beaten by random bone-breaking bigots as one of the original Freedom Riders in 1961 in Rock Hill, South Carolina, imprisoned in Mississippi’s notorious penitentiary for over a month, bashed with objects of wood, lead, steel, and stone throughout Alabama, law “enforcement” stood back and stood by, reluctant to intervene and eager to assist, not arrest, his and his party’s assailants. The spirit of Congressman Brooks lived on.
There was nothing to suggest that a day might come where Lewis could enter the U.S. Capitol, not as an interloper making “trouble” for the forces of “order” of the day, but as a duly elected Congressperson, a United States Representative from the fine state of Georgia.
It took a lot of slander and spite from his opposition to get there. But before any of that, Lewis had to personally overcome acts, and the omnipresent threat, of violence upon his person. The threats didn’t end once he reached the Capitol, either. But Rep. Lewis was inspired, propelled forward from his impressionable teens to his elderly grave, by something greater than the evil that men do.
A fan of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. since he first heard him on the radio at age 15, Lewis would come to meet Rosa Parks and King in short order. After writing a letter to King about his being denied attendance at Alabama’s Troy University, Lewis’ hometown public college, he was invited to Montgomery to meet with King, warmly received as “The Boy from Troy.”
Rather than risk the young man’s family coming under attack by suing the university system for discrimination (imagine weighing this public act at age 18), Lewis was advised by King to go to a Tennessee HBCU, to pursue his education, pursue his dreams of ministry, and bring forth King’s ideals of Non-violent Direct Action into being.
Well before adopting his pastor father’s new Lutheran-inspired name in his twenties, a youthful Michael King spent his days hooping in a lot behind Fire Station No. 6 on Atlanta’s Auburn Avenue. Perfecting his set shot, the chances young Michael could grow up to make a living as a professional basketball player was up in the air. One thing that was out of the question – he could never aspire to work as a firefighter, not in this segregated station that sits mere yards down the street from his birth home.
King would go on to change that narrative, not for himself, but for the new kids and young men like Lewis who looked up to him for guidance. What he came to espouse was the way of Non-violent Direct Action. But he would always urge his followers that a lot needs to occur, first, before conducting the sit-ins and boycotts that would seize the consciousness of this nation. The essential first step: by educating yourself, and questioning your sources of information, ensure that there is a legitimate issue worth addressing.
Step 2: educate others about the issue at hand. Step 3: petition and negotiate with those likely to oppose you on the issue, seeking cooperation before making them out as arch enemies of your cause. Step 4: if those steps do not bring forth meaningful change, pursue Non-violent Direct Action. Our problem, learned through history and not just this month, is not just the preference to engage in Direct Action through violent means, but to simply hop right on over Step 1.
What we love to do is to fanfic, LARP, and cosplay our way into crafting concerns out of thin air. Dressing up as the aggrieved and ingesting downside-up rhetoric (e.g., “George Wallace? David Duke? Pshh. John Lewis is The Real Racist!”), subversionary tactics trivialize the appeals by generations of people for whom “liberty”, “freedom”, and “justice” rarely apply equally.
A full-throated industry today thrives by applying those patriotish labels to any manner of advocacy and defenses for policies and practices that objectively harm the disadvantaged, and against any measures remotely aiming to remedy them. For the privileged, the invocation and perpetuation of moral panic, futhering justification of violence, is a perfectly exhilarating way to pass the time. ‘Tis but a hobby, like macrame or cornhole, that one can share with their family and friends, only with symbols of intended intimidation and subjugation, rifles, ammo, bombs, and flowery shirts for a touch of fun. Onward, Boogaloo Soldiers! To “Freedom”!
We will drive right past the re-purposed dead Walmart, with cages of adolescents cloaked under the guard of paid Federal agents and contractors, to insist that the real and present danger to the livelihood of children could be lurking in the new Super Walmart’s ladies room. Or, in a pizzeria basement in DC. Or, in a box from Wayfair that might’ve been disguised online as a $12,000 cabinet. Before we don our tricorne hats and shout through the bullhorn, “Won’t somebody please think of the children?”, Step 1, people.
“School choice!” we exclaim, while stripping publicly funded schools of the resources they need to be viable choices, while curling our lips when students who look like Anthony Edwards and De’Andre Hunter are offered seats in the private and charter schools we promoted after desegregation and conveniently “chose”. “Religious Freedom!”, we’ll insist, until a religious leader outside of the “Moral Majority” preaching about equality makes us fear conceding the fruits of privilege.
“Respect the flag!”, until someone not fond of remedial busing policies (above) elects to use one to tenderize a Black passerby in the streets. “Honor the Troops! Back the Blue!”, we demand, until it’s time to back a retired military member and police officer up the Capitol steps in the hunt for politicians we’ve been told we must despise, until it’s time to bash an officer with a Back The Blue flag for standing in the way while we play our racist reindeer games.
“Stop the Thugs!” we declare when it’s the shattered glass and looted property at the College Football Hall of Fame gift shop that gives us pause. Not so much when the shards fall from the many doors and windows of the nation’s legislative branch. Those thugs, we are assured, are instead divinely empowered patriots.
The Subversive Word of the Month is “Unity”. After the failed Capitol coup ten days ago, the individuals who Capitol-ized their careers on fabrications over America’s voting and election processes, items never their concern when gerrymandering and “How Many Jelly Beans Are In The Jar?” was on the table, now want “unity” with colleagues targeted, by those the individuals ginned up by leaping over Step 1.
“Hey, you election fraudster you, sorry we were within minutes of possibly getting zip-tied and hanged by folks wrapping their bigotry in red, white, and blue while reeking of AXE Body Spray and Skoal. Let’s come together and put this anger and division behind us!” If you brought anger and division to, and through, the front door, you don’t get to stand inside the house pleading for unity.
Our Atlanta Hawks and Minnesota Timberwolves play this afternoon (2:30 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, Fox Sports North in MSP, NBA TV) on what is billed as the first of four “Unity Nights”. Unlike those who would deem votes cast at State Farm Arena and throughout the Peach State as suspicious and illegal because they didn’t get the result they enjoyed four years before, these calls for “unity” are sincere and founded in facts, not fan fiction.
“A Call for Unity” was exactly what ministers in Birmingham were pleading of Dr. King and civil rights leaders in a 1963 newspaper editorial, after boycotts, marches and picketing were well underway in the city center. Unity wasn’t sought to correct the systemic denial of employment and fair wages to Black citizens, not when the desegregation of a middle-class neighborhood led to bombings so frequent the place was nicknamed, “Dynamite Hill,” not when leaders responded to desegregation orders by closing parks and public facilities outright, not when leaders complaining of the violence would find their homes, businesses and houses of worship bombed in turn.
Dr. King could not pick up a paper on the day of the editorial, because he was locked away in a Birmingham jail. It was here, from his cell, where he responded with, “Why We Can’t Wait,” a letter that began on the margins of the newspaper he was handed. Responding to claims of being the impatient outsider and agitator of the movement, King asserted that, in stepping to him but not their oppressive local leaders, the ministers had glossed over Step 1.
His presence, as an American citizen invited to help the disenfranchised peacefully pursue purported ideals of justice and equality, in the face of decidedly non-peaceful government-endorsed and extra-judicial violence, was not the problem. Agitators convinced these ministers to errantly believe that King, and civil rights leaders, were The Real Agitators.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” “Anyone who lives in the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds,” and “justice too long delayed is justice denied,” were among King’s scribbled responses that struck at the heart of the true matter. Another of his Greatest Hits: “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
Having spent decades studying the issues on religious, academic, political and social grounds, King stood firmly on Step 1. He educated others on the issue, and he and his followers advocated through peaceful pleas. No shortcuts allowed. No one of sound mind and heart in Birmingham budged, not until after King, Fred Shuttlesworth, Ralph David Abernathy and others had reached Step 4. By 1963, the Civil Rights Movement had ample reason to Stand Their Ground, employing Non-Violent Direct Action to foster the “tension,” among the otherwise comfortable, needed to bring meaningful negotiation to the fore.
58 years later, a Texas leader who took cover just hours before returning to the Capitol grounds, in the wee small hours of the morning, had come across a new issue worth literally fighting for: the folks we cast as fraudsters stealing our election our calling us out as liars! Oh, snap! How dare they?
It was fitting that as he charged at his accuser, he was stopped cold in his tracks by a former NFL player named Colin. This African-American footballer decided long ago he could not simply, “Stick to Sports!”, and ran successfully for Congress.
From Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, and Jim Brown, to the athletic heroes of the present day, sportsmen have long been entwined, sometimes wittingly, usually not, in the aspirations of politicians. Sometimes as the lightning rod, other times as the chastening rod.
The very night before Election Day, on a bitter cold night in a swing state, the Commander-in-Chief was out of ideas to energize the crowd and boost his deflating poll numbers. With no prompting, no rationale, he thought he had his finger on the problem. A no-good, do-gooder athlete from the swing state next door.
“How about basketball? How about LeBron? I felt very bad for LeBron, very badly, down 71 percent,” espoused dear leader, assuming his shivering crowd was as up to speed on Nielsen ratings as his own approval ratings. “I didn’t watch one shot… you know why? When they don’t respect our country, when they don’t respect our flag, nobody wants to watch!” This was his best effort at a closing argument to keep his job.
He got the “LeBron James Sucks!” balloon inflated among the rally-goers. But he lost the swing state, and lost the election. Mr. President slipped past Step 1, on many fronts; now, he cannot fathom stepping aside, especially to a political rival he tormented, and to the African-American who will serve next in line. He pivoted quickly to Pied Piper-ing his followers to the next “issue”: people who look more like LeBron than him, casting the decisive ballots in that state and others, like Georgia.
On the eve of runoff Senate elections this month, he made his last stand alongside a gubernatorially-handpicked Senator who alienated her WNBA employees by publicly criticizing their demonstrations over police brutality in hopes of political gain. She lost, too. “How about basketball?”
We will lean on, and prop up the likes of Jim Bunning, Herschel Walker, Reggie White, David Tyree, John Rocker, Curt Schilling, Josh Hader, and stand for their First Amendment rights if they espouse views we wholeheartedly agree with. Otherwise, the rest are ordered to Shut Up and Dribble, unless we absolutely need them to quell unrest or further our own political aims.
We’re told votes for folks like Colin Allred, the former Tennessee Titan who upended a 22-year congressman in Texas, might be illegal and must be investigated with the highest of scrutiny. The system wasn’t designed or jiggered for folks like him to be our representatives; clearly, there’s some “issue” here! There is an issue, it’s just not the ones we craft to make our bigotry comfortable.
In the early hours of January 7th, Rep. Allred’s most pressing issue was the exposed colleague from the other side of the aisle who, rather than deal with his own exposure, tried in vain to pull a Rep. Brooks on the Pennsylvania colleague who impugned his character. At least this time, unlike 1856, a duly elected Black citizen could stand in the way, rather than being castigated to the margins of society, as privileged noblesse dueled over his family’s fates. “Haven’t you had enough violence today?”, Allred asked of the would-be assailant. Indeed.
Amid the cane-rattling, Rep. Brooks likely didn’t care to notice how the Capitol of his day was under expansion. Above him and his victimized subject, Sen. Sumner, with the assistance of slave labor, a new ellipsoidal dome was underway. The iconic structure would soon be topped by The Statue of Freedom. One highly skilled slave, Philip Reid, was paid $1.25 per day over the course of nearly a year to cast and plan the transport of the statue. Reid would be emancipated in 1862, shortly before the statue that stands tall today was placed in its permanent spot.
Under that statue-topped dome, a man who John Lewis gave his first internship as a teenager will soon be checking in for work. Georgia’s first Jewish senator will be joined on that day by a reverend who would come to caretake the Ebenezer Baptist congregation the late Rev. Dr. King left behind. Their pending introductions as United States Senators will be more than poetic.
She was one of 15 protestors rousted up and zip-tied under Georgia’s state capitol rotunda in 2018, back when voter suppression was simply the way to play the game, and when “Every Vote Counts!” chants while standing peacefully in the building was an illegal obstruction worthy of detention. Then a Georgia state senator, Nikema Williams will be awaiting Jon Ossoff’s and Raphael Warnock’s arrival from the other chamber of Congress, having won the late Rep. Lewis’ House seat.
Those who will propel our society and this nation forward, and not into a descension of interpersonal violence and brooding despair, are those who don’t sit idly by, those who speak truth to power, but who are also are well-versed on true issues, not scare tactics, misinformation, nor threats and acts of violence for the sake of sustaining imbalanced order in one’s own favor.
When you’re armed with truth, no canes, gallows, flag poles or fists are necessary. Like Sen. Sumner, Dr. King and Congressman Lewis, some of Georgia’s newest entrants headed to work beneath our Statue of Freedom understood that to reach solid ground, and to stand genuinely and heroically for us all, you must first work your way through Step 1.
Let’s Go Hawks!
“Vatican just called. Il Papa wants the hookup on a case of BOLT24.”
We won’t have Rudy Gobert around to spank us tonight! Dusting off the first double-digit L of the season, our Atlanta Hawks head to the Pacific Northwest. They’ll be thankful if the good sirs on the Portland Trail Blazers (10 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast and 92.9 FM in ATL, NBC Sports Northwest in PDX) don’t have another paddling in store for them.
Coach Lloyd Pierce conserved some players’ energies during the front-end of last night’s back-to-back, keeping every one of his Hawks (5-6) under 30 minutes. It’s not as if Trae Young (1-for-11 FGs; probable for today despite back tightness) and the starters did anything worth expending any more ergs.
Imagine the margin if Cam Reddish (4-for-5 3FGs, rest of squad 1-for-23) didn’t bring his outside-shooting A-game! Cam’s questionable for today with a bruised knee, so even if he plays, he’ll give up some minutes to Kevin Huerter today. ‘Twas just a year ago, tomorrow, when Huerter’s velvety-smooth jumper ended our decades-long Hawks Hex in San Antonio.
Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell (7 steals combined, more than Atlanta’s tally of 6) stifled the Hawks backcourt with few problems, while Gobert gave Clint Capela and our wide-eyed rookie Onyeka Okongwu fits in the opening half. Aside from a pair of Atlanta runs in the second and third quarters, the eventual outcome was academic.
Capela and the barely visible John Collins must be far more imposing this evening in Portland, as the Blazers (7-5) are reeling with the losses of their starting bigs. At worst, JC should find it easy to be the most impactful Collins on the court tonight.
Zach Collins had to undergo his second ankle surgery in five months, on the same malady that ended his run in the Bubble. He’s out until probably the end of this month. The other beefy big in coach Terry Stotts’ starting lineup, 290-pounder Jusuf Nurkic, returned strong at Bubble time after planning to miss last season while recovering from a leg injury. But now, a broken wrist suffered in Thursday’s 111-87 home loss to Indiana will keep the center out, likely until after the Blazers’ currently scheduled games conclude.
Nurkic wasn’t the singular reason the air escaped Portland’s balloon on Thursday. Even with him on the floor, Indiana went on a 21-8 run to close the half up 59-36. In the battle between Nate McMillan’s last two coached teams, the Pacers throttled the Blazers (7-4) without the services of either the traded Vic Oladipo or the incoming Caris LeVert. (Edmond Sumner filled in as the emergency starter for Indy; historians know who I’m talking about, but you’ll hear of another person named Sumner on Monday, if I can finish my rambling MLK Day pregame thread on time.)
Portland had won four in a row before that loss, but now they’ve suffered four of their five defeats by double-digits. That includes losing the season-opener versus Utah, by 20, and at G-State by 13.
How do the Blazers compensate? One thing Damian Lillard (26.9 PPG, 7.2 FTAs/game, 6.8 APG) and CJ McCollum (team-high 27.6 PPG, 43.4 3FG%, 5.3 APG) will try to do is shoot their way out of any situation. The pair was fairly inefficient with a combined 44 points on 34 shots plus 8 free throws. And aside from pogo-stick Derrick Jones (pro tip: if he’s heading toward the paint, foul him before he gets there, or run the other way), no other starters or Carmelo Anthony’s bench crew could get unstuck.
For a team that’s not usually turnover prone (2nd-lowest TO% in NBA), Portland’s 16 assists and 18 player turnovers on Thursday won’t get it done on most nights. The Blazers (2nd in NBA for 3FGA rate, just ahead of Utah) could find themselves pressing too much to stay in front tonight, particularly trying to play tit-for-tat if Young’s wayward jumpers start finding nylon again.
Make my funk a T-Funk! Trae’s momentary shooting woes (28.8 3FG%) are the least of my worries, as long as he contributes well in other facets of the game and other Hawks elevate their play when the ball heads their way. He won’t be hounded as much by Portland’s star guards as he will by Robert Covington and Rodney Hood. When the double- and triple-teams come, Young (8.4 APG, 4th in NBA) can artfully move the ball inside, where Collins, Okongwu and Capela can overwhelm the hope-you-miss defenses of Enes Kanter and Melo, the turn-sideways-to-go-missing Jones, and the hack-happy Harry Giles.
Even if Atlanta’s shooters are off-line, second-chance points abound for the current NBA leaders in that category (16.6 points per-48). When Portland’s iron is unkind, there’ll be ample opportunities to score on the break (15.9 opponent fastbreak points per-48, 4th-most in NBA).
A steal and a block from Young helped soften the blows last night in Salt Lake, with Portland’s backcourt stars getting multiple defensive looks from Atlanta’s young defensive wings, Trae will need to continue being an assertive help defender, aiding the Hawks in forcing mistakes and low-percentage jumpshots from Lillard’s and McCollum’s floormates.
The Timberwolves will be in town for Monday’s MLK Day Game, and we’ve heard much of Karl-Anthony Towns and his family’s ordeal with the COVID-19 pandemic. @JayBirdHawk shared Trail Blazers forward Nassir Little’s weeks-long personal bout with the coronavirus in the Homecourt thread last month. As did Towns, Little advises everyone within earshot or eyeshot to please be careful:
One clever way to stay close to family during the pandemic? Get them on the team! The pride of Hot Springs, Arkansas and Montana State basketball, Keljin Blevins is Damian Lillard’s cousin. Lillard has been a mentor for Blevins, even more so after the latter’s father passed away while he played at Southern Miss. After training with the Blazers and their Summer League roster in 2019, Blevins made it into the G-League and now serves as Portland’s sole two-way player.
Let’s Go Hawks!
“I’ve got two turntables. But that’s all. I swear!”
Last week’s storming of State Farm Arena remains fresh in the minds of many a Hawk fan. Wins at turns by the Cavaliers, Knicks and Hornets, much like Atlanta’s win at Brooklyn, furthered confirmation that major corners were being turned in the NBA East. But only Charlotte, who fell below .500 yesterday, still has reason to feel that way. And at least until tonight, we’re back to looking down at all three of them.
After beating Atlanta, New York went home and enjoyed an even bigger margin of victory versus Utah, flipping an 18-point deficit into a 12-point win. But the Knicks have since dropped four straight. Cleveland somehow gained even more big men, but it has lost five of six since departing The ATL. Most recently, they lost by 30 at home to the Jazz, themselves winners of three straight (7-4), all on the road, entering today’s game at Vivint Arena against the Hawks (9 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, AT&T SN in SLC). Coincidentally, and COVID-willing, the Knicks and Cavs face off at MSG tonight, so one team’s woes will continue.
In the Western Conference logjam, the Jazz are vying with Portland (7-5), Phoenix (7-4), and Dallas (6-4, now with the Unicorn back) for the claim of Best in the West Outside of LA. After a pair of disappointing back-to-back games in the Brooklyn and Manhattan boroughs, coach Quin Snyder’s club righted the ship and concluded a six-game excursion with three road wins, including a 131-118 victory in Milwaukee last Friday. There were supposed to be seven consecutive away games, but…
Wednesday’s Wizards/Jazz cancellation offered Utah an extended respite ahead of the arriving Hawks, who themselves hope they’ve Euro-stepped a big COVID-scare once Wednesday’s Suns game got canceled. An unspecified staffer, hopefully doing fine, caught a case presumably while the team was prepping in Phoenix. Coach Lloyd Pierce and some staff had to isolate in Arizona, on the Health ‘n Safety tip, but he’s been cleared for takeoff and traveled with the team.
The Jazz remain among just five NBA teams in the “So You Think You Can Have Fans?” COVID-tition (Houston and Orlando lead the way, while the Yboraptors recently dropped out of the running). The Jazz have turnstiled about 1,900 fans per game, so it might be a bit disorienting for the Hawks, for the first time this season, to see a few moving cardboard cutouts sipping on mochachinos in the stands. They do allow coffee there now, right? Back home, we’ll have to wait until at least a week after the MLK game before anyone can saddle up (with their mask on) to the SVEDKA bar.
Utah prevailed against the Bucks without the services of glue-guy Joe Ingles, whose NBA-long 384-game streak of regular-season appearances (418 w/ playoffs included… he’s been around here that long?) ended due to a sore Achilles’. Aussie Ripken’s next streak ended at 1. After giving it a go in Detroit, the 33-year-old was deactivated for the Cleveland game on Tuesday and remains listed as out for today.
It may be true that social distancing demands were the only reason Donovan Mitchell didn’t try to strangle his all-world defensive center last winter. But All-Stars Mitchell (last 3 games: 29.0 PPG, 54.2 3FG%; NBA-high 36.3 PPG in the 2020 Playoffs) and Rudy Gobert (13.4 RPG and 2.6 BPG, 2nd in NBA and just off last season’s career-highs) have let bygones be bygones. They seem sympatico on the court (+6.1 in lineups as a duo), where it matters most.
The real revelation comes at point guard. Mike Conley was, not even arguably, the most derided addition from 2019’s NBA offseason, and his clunker of a shot to conclude the postseason, after Utah blew a 3-1 lead over rival Denver, didn’t help matters. But the 14-year vet has entered this season with newfound confidence. He’s averaging 17.3 PPG, second on the club and a shade ahead of sixth-man Jordan Clarkson’s 17.2. Most importantly, his jumpshots are efficient -- 43.0 percent on threes – while he is passing and pressuring almost as well as he did in his peak years as a Grit ‘n Grinder. If the Jazz can continue eking their way to the top in the West, perhaps, there’ll be room for his first career All-Star nod?
The Nuggets were reveled after taking out the Clippers and blowing up the well-predicted path to an all-LA Western Finals in 2020. But perhaps there would have been a redeem team led by Gobert with the chance to snip the Clips, had Snyder had the benefit of Bojan Bogdanovic (20.2 PPG last season) at his disposal. It’s imagined that his shooting accuracy (37.4 FG%, down from 49.7 and 44.7 the past two years) coming around is just a matter of time.
While firing away from deep themselves (4th in 3-point attempt rate, 6th in team 3FG%), Conley and the Jazz aim to shoo people off the 3-point line, daring ballhandlers into the painted area to wrangle with the windmilling Gobert. Likely to be hounded once he crosses halfcourt, Trae Young’s off-drive floater game needs to be on-point. Because once Jazz opponents get inside (8th-most paint points per-48), they usually don’t get a second chance to make a first impression (6th-fewest second-chance points per-48). Young hits just under 41% on shots taken off drives to the hoop, and among the league’s ten most prolific drivers, Miami’s oddly off Jimmy Butler (39%) is the only other player shooting below even 50 percent.
Utah usually goes about 8-deep, and they are a little shallower without Ingles and possibly Derrick Favors, the South Atlantan who could not wait to return to the comforts of the Beehive State after leaving LouiZiona. He’s probable to play, despite a sore knee, but Favors comes off the bench because Royce O’Neale rolls out to the three-point line (46.7 3FG%) when he isn’t helping Rudy out on the boards.
Snyder would like to go deeper, especially in the early phases of the season, beyond relying on Clarkson, Ingles and Favors as reserves. But Georges Niang (36.7 FG%) has a front seat on the struggle bus. And the Jazz have yet to find somebody who can consistently help alleviate Mitchell, Jingles and Jangles on the defensive end. Shaq Harrison, Miye Oni, and Elijah Hughes are all hoping to become that ninth-man. But with each clocking in under ten minutes apiece, defensive depth for the Jazz (NBA-low 5.5 team SPG) remains a work in progress.
Enter The Gwu-Tang! Will our Trojan Man, Onyeka Okongwu make his long-awaited rookie debut this weekend, in PAC-12 Country? Watching lotto peers like LaMelo, Baby Boy, P-Will and Wiseman show up and show out has been fun. But after enduring all these injury disruptions to the Hawks’ would-be rotation, it would be such a pleasure for Pierce to finally roll out his rookie and find out that Gwu-Tang ain’t nothing to…
Thanks especially to the C+C Muscle Factory of Clint Capela and John Collins, Atlanta (NBA-high 31.3 O-Reb%) joins Utah (75.5 D-Reb%, tie-5th in NBA) among the NBA’s top-five rebounding units, hopefully making tonight’s battle along the boards, much like Martha, a Wash. The over-extended Bruno Fernando and Solomon Hill have rebounded just enough off the bench to make opponents go, “Hmm.” But if Okongwu can effectively sop up some of their floortime this weekend, Atlanta is gonna make Gobert, and whoever starts upfront for the Blazers tomorrow, sweat.
Let’s Go Hawks!
Back before Trae, LP, and John, there was…
The Atlanta Hawks hosted three disappointing games over the prior seven days against fellow non-Bubble teams, but all were consecutive fourth-games-in-six-nights. After a couple days off to reset, practice, and engage in some intriguing film sessions, will the Hawks use their rest advantage to pay back the Charlotte Hornets (CORRECTION: 7:00 PM Eastern, Fox Sports Southeast, 92.9 FM in ATL)? The Hornets (4-5) return home triumphantly after slow-boiling the Pelicans in a primetime Big Ball Brother bash last night in N’Awlins. Coming off his career-high 44 on Wednesday in Atlanta, Gordon Hayward rediscovered his groove in the fourth quarter yesterday with 22 of his team-high 26 points arriving in the second half. Maybe Road is where the Heart is? In the early going, 12 NBA clubs have winning road records, as many as the clubs with winning home marks. Atlanta’s 1-3 at The Farm, the sole victory nearly fumbling away a 20+ point lead to Detroit, while they’re 3-1 so far on the road, the sole loss a competitive one in Brooklyn. Charlotte would like to not only zip past the Hawks (4-4) in the standings today, but also even up their 1-2 record at Spectrum Center like they did their road record (3-3; 2 back-to-back losses at home-dominant Philly) in New Orleans. The Hornets’ biggest margin of victory (+18) so far came at Lukaland. Charlotte had two strong performers off the bench yesterday, in “Sky Miles” Bridges (20 points @ NOP, 4-for-6 3FGs plus a bunch of highlight-reel jams) and the triple-double-hunting LaMelo Ball (10 boards, 9 assists @ NOP), who looked way more comfy running the floor than his big bro 'Zo. If the Hawks keep their starting unit intact, they could use a stronger 1-2 bench punch from wings Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter (5-for-12 3FGs, 6 assists, 1 TO vs. CHA on Wed.). Bogi has had more time to heal up his once-stiff ankle and must be a better finisher on plays inside the 3-point arc (38.9 FG%). Huerter (112.8 D-Rating) has been Atlanta’s most susceptible defender so far, especially on occasions when his help defense (team-high 1.3 SPG) doesn’t create turnovers, the Hawks don’t rotate, and opponents find open teammates in their comfort zones easily. Reinforcements may be coming in the next couple weeks, including Tony Snell (questionable for today, foot). But for now, Bogi and Reddy V must be two cylinders properly firing. A listless effort from Trae Young (6 of his 7 TOs in the 1st half on Wed.) and the Hawks’ starters on Wednesday (1-for-18 combined 3FGs vs. CHA) created a first-half hole (27-11 after one quarter, 59-40 after two) that could not be overcome. Their poor execution, and inability to get to the free throw line, obscured Atlanta’s ability to hold the Hornets to 30.7 3FG% at the other end. It’s hard to tell the Hawks’ perimeter defense is the league’s most effective (NBA-best 30.0 opponent 3FG%). Opponents are finding the interior chances they need when Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter are shielding outside shooters, which is the bad side of the 19 rebounds (13 defensive) that made their way into Clint Capela’s capable hands. Whether it’s drawing charges, winning 50/50 balls, or aggressively pressuring ballhandlers at the point of attack, Atlanta needs to force more stops (12.5 opponent TOs per-48, 4th-lowest in NBA; 1 paltry team block vs. CHA on Wed) on a regular basis, particularly when the ball makes its way inside. The Hawks must also create quality scoring opportunities in transition (1.07 PPP on those plays, 6th-lowest in NBA; 9.8% FT frequency; 2nd-lowest), as Charlotte (20.0 points per-48 off TOs, 4th-best in NBA; 27 off-TO points on Friday) did so effectively last night in New Orleans. It has been a tale of two cities at the charity stripe. Atlanta comes into today sinking 81.3 FT% (3rd-best in NBA), even with a cold Capela. That’s been completely offset by opponents nailing an NBA-high 82.7 percent of their freebies. Conversely, Charlotte comes into today shooting a lukewarm 73.1 FT% (6th-worst in the league), despite scoring leader Hayward sinking free throws at a 91.2 percent clip. Their fortune comes from opponents making just 70.9 percent of their chances (4th-lowest in NBA). No matter the outcome today, the Hawks’ most urgent opportunity for victory awaits on Monday, assuming there is in fact a game to play ahead of a three-game West Coast road trip. Doc Rivers’ 76ers plan to arrive in the ATL after playing this afternoon in Denver with just nine (CORRECTION already: eight, really seven today with Mike Scott sitting, too) healthy and COVID-eligible bodies, two of whom are two-way players. There’s no need to look ahead, but Atlanta will not want to conclude Monday night looking like unprepared victims of The Walking Dead.
Let’s Go Hawks!