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Let's get ready to rumble

Kobe vs. Shaq. Pistons vs. Pacers.  Welcome to the NBA's fight night

Posted: Thursday December 23, 2004 12:48PM; Updated: Thursday December 23, 2004 4:12PM
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If the NBA really wanted to celebrate a merry Christmas, it would postpone its two nationally televised yuletide contests and spare itself the embarrassment of broadcasting a twinbill straight out of the Vince McMahon playbook.

We all know the Pacers and Pistons aren't going to stage another Pier Six, even though the lead-up to the game has been about Bad Blood between the teams. And Shaq isn't really going to go all brick wall on Kobe's Corvette in the nightcap. But that's why people are going to tune in. They want their Christmas hoops served angry, and their plotlines filled with heroes and villains.

So in the best interest of basketball, the NBA should shut off the cameras. Show a Lakers' retrospective from the 1980s, back when basketball didn't come wrapped in brass knuckles. Let Hubie Brown read from the Bible  That would be fun.

Therefore, the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel. And he will have serious upside ...

All that's missing from the Pistons-Pacers tilt is a pre-game declaration from Ben Wallace over the Conseco P.A. system. "At last, The Fro has returned to Indianapolis." That will be the cue for Brent Musberger to alert the Yule logs at home that "these teams just don't like each other."

Back when the schedules were released, this one was expected to be a compelling matchup of last year's Eastern Conference final, with the NBA hoping that its fans would forget that the seven-game slugfest was perhaps the ugliest two weeks of basketball since the '72-73 Sixers staged a season-long protest against good hoops.

Should no fight break out -- a good move for the Pacers, since Detroit has a serious manpower advantage -- fans will have to endure two-plus hours of elbows and forearms between the defending champs and a seriously depleted Pacers club. By halftime, that fruitcake won't seem so bad.

At 3 p.m. ET, we get the Shaq-Kobe showdown. Or so we're told. Shaq's cranky calf may not allow him to play. But if he does step on the court, viewers will anxiously await the first time Kobe drives to the hoop, hoping Shaq splatters him across the Staples Center floor.

If the Big Interview weren't famous for making wild proclamations and creating hilarious word pictures, his "he's a Corvette, I'm a brick wall" statement -- delivered during an interview at halftime of ABC's Monday Night Housewives -- could well have been crafted by writers from Rodney, or one of the network's other unwatchable sitcoms. El Hombre is willing to credit Shaq with the line, all the while imagining ABC's marketing execs wearing lobster bibs to work this week to contain their drool.

At some point during the five or so hours of breathless hype, some basketball will be played, and there will be winners and losers. But after the ridiculous build-up, it will be easy see why the U.S. Olympic team was made to look like alien visitors to Planet Basketball last summer in Athens.

In a season where the Phoenix Suns are playing some of the most entertaining hoops since the fast break was outlawed, LeBron James is threatening to become an MVP before he can legally drink a glass of champagne and the Charlotte Bobcats have won more games than three other NBA clubs, we are being sold Christmas Day games based on the potential of fisticuffs. Why not just let Ferdie Pacheco join Al Michaels at courtside?

But that's the NBA. It doesn't sell basketball. It sells matchups. Come watch Shaq try to maim Kobe. Can the Pistons and Pacers go 48 minutes without beating down a fan? Who are those other guys wearing Laker uniforms? What's Phil Jackson having for dinner?

At the risk of sounding like an old crank, El Hombre pines for the days when watching an NBA game meant watching basketball, not daytime drama. Blame deteriorating fundamentals for the game's sagging level of play. Point a finger at the hosannas directed at teenage draftees. But don't forget to hold the league responsible for some of its troubles. As long as it continues to promote itself by mentioning everything but basketball, it's going to have problems.

Here's hoping your stockings are filled with Christmas goodies -- like ringside seats to an NBA game.

El Hombre Sez

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Shame on those Dodgers. Can you believe they didn't want to surrender their best remaining player -- Shawn Green -- in return for a bunch of nobodies and a homesick pitcher (Javier Vasquez) who has said he won't stay in L.A. for more than a year, just so that the Yankees could get Big Unit Johnson? No wonder George Steinbrenner's mad. Now, he'll have to coax a full season's work out of A-Rod. ... Word out of Lubbock (via Pony Express) is that Generalissimo Knight has been doing a little pharmaceutical work for his Texas Tech players. According to allegations, he and Red Raider grid coach Mike Leach signed off on some shaky Ephreda-laden supplements for players. Of course, after Tech was drilled by Iowa earlier this week, Knight was reportedly seen trying to score some hemlock. ... Even though Eagles fans are crushed that T.O. will be out for several weeks with a broken leg, they were cheered by reports that Charmin-soft receiver Todd Pinkston participated in light-contact drills against the team's cheerleaders and emerged with only minor injuries.

And Another Thing

Kudos to The Associated Press for removing its poll from the BCS formula. Now it's up to the coaches to do the same thing. While this doesn't signal the end of the mammoth blight on college football, it does represent a step toward satisfaction for the right-thinking fans and analysts of the sport.

Once the "blue-ribbon" panel starts trying to figure out which two teams should be playing for the national title, it might occur to them that it's pretty hard to narrow things down like that. Maybe they'll pick four. Then eight.

Of course, El Hombre is assuming that reasonable people will be making the decision, not tradition-bound BCS toadies. Still, it's a beginning. Confucius said it best: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Then again, a more pertinent Confucius quotation for the BCS situation may be: "To know what is right and not to do it is the worst cowardice."