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After all the speculation, the NBA’s free-agent frenzy is finally here, and after all these year, the Knicks are finally ready to realize their dream of being a player in the free-agent market.

I just want to announce, as a lifelong Knicks fan, that whatever the outcome, I want to thank them for at least trying. If they don’t get LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, or even the likes of Joe Johnson, expect them to be crushed by media and fans as a failure. Which wouldn’t be wrong. Missteps probably have been made (the few draft picks they have had recently are hardly scintillating, they don’t seem to have planned for some sort of bench or role players after getting their superstars, and I suspect they thought Tracy McGrady could still play), but I want to stand up and at least applaud the philosophy. There’ll be plenty of time to bitch about the execution later.

For years, this was a team done in by the quick fix, trading for not-quite-good-enough-players now in order to stay relevant and competitive with no realistic shot at a title. But, the more you watch the NBA, the more you know that without a superstar and a pretty good No. 2 leading the way, you’re just cannon fodder for the Jordans, Olajuwons, Shaqs, Duncans, and Kobes. Knick fans had caught on to this as this philosophy was executed in progressively worse fashion by Scott Layden and Isiah Thomas.

So I’m glad they finally acknowledged that in order to be great, they had to at least try to swing for the fences. And I’m glad that they actually proved that yes, New York fans will stand for a rebuilding project. So we can throw away that trope. Sure it would have been nice to try to rebuild with draft choices, but, um, well, they don’t have many of those on the horizon.

So if they trot out these second-tier free agents left behind in the dance of musical chairs (in Arenas’ case, after a trade for Eddy Curry made in desperation), I won’t be happy, but I’ll be OK. At least I know they tried, and that they acknowledged how championships are actually won in the NBA instead of patching it together with quick fixes like the Knicks have been doing for pretty much since I’ve been alive.

Before of course, they return to that philosophy. $2000 courtside seats don’t sell themselves, people.

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After a couple of days of late nights at work, I finally got home at a reasonable hour and decided not to spend the time watching the news. Mostly because it reminds me that when I’m 65, my kids will ask me where I was when Obama was inaugurated, and I will tell them, “On the toilet, because I really had to finish drafting those tax certification forms, and once I was done, I couldn’t wait. Shouldn’t have put all those raisins in my oatmeal.”

Here’s what I’ve learned watching basketball and mildly surfing the internet:

1. Paul Blart: Mall Cop is the number one movie in America. I don’t regard that as some sign of the apocalypse or anything, I actually thought it didn’t look bad…as a rental. Look America, I know it was cold out, but do you think Kevin James is really an A-list movie star? Because that’s what you just made him.

2. I’ve seen none of the Oscar-nominated movies. Looks like I have to get on that if I am going to anger moviegoers with contrarian blog postings. I still get the occasionally shitty email for my reaction to “There Will Be Blood.” Although I’ll say this right now: No “Benjamin Button”. I saw “Meet Joe Black” in the theater many moons ago, and Brad Pitt, “three hour movie”, and me will never go together again.

3. If you like basketball, and you think Charles Barkley can’t be replaced, check out the comedy stylings of Chris Webber and Gary Payton on TNT while they sub for him.  Here’s a look at their little-seen NBA TV work:

We may have just found the new Wayans Brothers.

4. Jim Beam has a series of ads that are kind of jaw-droppingly sexist, basically, they represent the worst of male fantasies and thoughts, and proudly associates Jim Beam with them. In the one I saw tonight, a scantily clad, hot woman speaks of how she likes slightly fat men with back hair who go to strip clubs. It then says “the girlfriend”, and Jim Beam is “the bourbon”. Yeah, okay. You gotta be drinking a bottle of Jim Beam to think that’s going to happen. When I think sexy girls, I think Jim Beam, that’s what they drink. Yeah, sure.

What’s even worse is they’re trying to mask it as “ironic” by having a video contest where you make fun of these plodding, pathetic, and obvious ads.  So you can make fun of how impossibly sexist they are. Because you know it’s not true, right? Way not to man up, Jim Beam.

If there’s oneball, lebron james, lebron james in new york topic that seems to be sparking heated debate in ye olde sports website forums, it’s whether or not LeBron James will opt to stay in Cleveland, where he can make the most money and remain a hometown hero. Or will he take less money in NBA salary to make more money, supposedly, in endorsements and business deals on his way to becoming a billionaire athlete and ‘global icon’?

The debate is furious. New York fans waiting for the resurrection of their franchise, now bolstered by the shrewd, cap-clearing trades of last week, feeling that LeBron has given just enough hints that he wants to play the big stage versus Cleveland fans, nervous Midwesterners, and New York-haters, who feel that he likes Cleveland, cares about the home folks, and doesn’t really need the bright lights and the media glare of New York. 

Of course, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. He likely hasn’t made up his mind yet. He’s still twenty-three, and the decision will probably come down to two things: where’s the best place for him to win multiple championships, and is it truly important to him to be an international celebrity and marketing powerhouse? Perhaps all these factors will change by the time he’s 25.

But that’s way too boring. Better to make the decision now for him. Right?

I hate to say it to the contingent that wants to see him stay home, but all the signs point to New York. A guy who is happy with the comfort of home doesn’t say things like, “I want to be a global icon.” Surely there are musicians from his native Ohio he could be palling around with other than Jay-Z.  He seems too obsessed with fashion, the media spotlight. Tim Duncan wants none of that stuff and happily plays in San Antonio. And there was really ever little doubt that he would leave there as long as he was assured that the team was committed to putting a winning product on the floor.

So I don’t think it’s unreasonable to consider that if he thinks New York can give him the spotlight he wants while at the same time providing him the support he needs to win championships, he would go there. Of course, he can also look at his main man Warren Buffett and see that it’s not impossible to become an influential billionaire Midwest-style.

I wouldn’t bet on it, though. I look at many of the people that I know now who live in New York but didn’t grow up here. A ton of them came from places they loved and appreciated (mostly), but knew that they had a little bit of a thirst for the big stage and possible greatness. That, I think more than anything else is what brought them here. And unfortunately for Cavalier fans, if the Knicks continue to do things right (that’s still debatable), LeBron James may decide, like many young folks, to go for the big stage.

Well, I was in denial for a long time, much like David Stern. But the signs are too apparent. But you knew that already.

Actually, I’m not sure I really believe Tim Donaghy a bit. After all, he is a convicted felon trying to get his sentence reduced, and I actually feel like if this kind of league-wide conspiracy was going on, it would have been exposed already. There are too many people involved, too much money is at stake, and quite frankly, too many sports reporters out there who would eventually get the dirt. That an league fixes its matches through the referees? The reporter(s) who broke that would be the Woodward and Bernstein of sports, journalistic legends. Think that doesn’t beat sitting around and screaming on “Around The Horn?”

What this really points out is that David Stern’s failure to take the perception of his league’s refereeing and it’s actual refereeing seriously has finally come back to bite him in the ass. I mean NBA diehards pretty openly say stuff like, “I’m sure they’ll extend the series by putting Bennett Salvatore on the case” and then he actually shows up for Game 3 of the finals, and then the Lakers get the free throws they need in order to stay alive. Stern simply brushes this off. Hopefully the attention Donaghy received will make him finally rethink that.

One of the reasons I kind of have lost full-time interest in NBA basketball is that in just too many NBA games, I feel like the refereeing was a deciding factor in the game. This should be unacceptable for any sport with integrity, but that’s just the way it is in the NBA. And its accepted by fans, but it’s kind of hard for others to take you seriously. I’ve been into this Finals series partly because I’m not worried that the league will favor one of these teams to win the title, they’re good either way. Not like 2006, where I felt like the league was out to create a new star in Dwyane Wade, and so he seemed to get the benefit of every call possible.

And I know these games aren’t fixed. It’s too impossible. But the fact that I walk away convinced is problem enough. It’s time for the NBA to get serious about making its referees invisible, they way they’re supposed to be. A plan that puts in place, the consistent calling of fouls no matter the crowd, the team, the style of play, who’s handling the ball, and how much time is left on the clock. If David Stern had been trying to get that in place instead of simply pooh-poohing and laughing off the conspiracy crowd, people wouldn’t be taking a convicted felon so seriously. Until Stern and his league takes these steps toward taking the integrity of the sport seriously, I’ll keep saying it:

Look, I’m not saying the NBA is fixed. But the NBA is fixed.