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2008 Blatant Ripoff of Bill Simmons’ Draft Diary

So I log-in to my blog for the first time since February, only to find that its busiest day occured not two weeks ago. After my favorite NBA player, Joakim Noah, found himself cuffed and shoved into the back of a police cruiser, it seems searches for websites commenting on Noah’s overall worthlessness as both an athlete and a human went on the rise.

I’m happy to oblige.

Tonight is the 2008 NBA Draft, and I decided to dust off the old blog and challenge myself to a running draft diary, like those written by one of my heroes, Bill Simmons of ESPN. My mouth is always running on draft night anyway. And given that tonight is, in my opinion, a very important draft night for the Orlando Magic, my home team, I’d like to have a proper record of the next four or five hours. When the Magic draft the next Tayshaun Prince or Tony Parker, I want to be able to remember the night it happened.

That said, the odds are against us. The Orlando Magic haven’t made an intelligent draft pick since 2000, when they picked eventual Rookie of the Year, Mike Miller. Of course we traded him soon thereafter…but that’s neither here nor there. Since 2000, with the exception of the no-brainer selection of Dwight Howard in ’04, the Magic have made an inspired number of bad selections. Jeryl Sasser. Ryan Humphrey. Reece Gaines. Fran Vasquez. Guys who lasted in the NBA about as long as Forrest Griffin will last next Saturday against Rampage Jackson, though it’s a given that Griffin will put up more of a fight.

Orlando is due for some success, and this draft class appears to have enough potential for a solid guy to slip. As of this moment, I’m hoping that guy for us is Western Kentucky’s Courtney Lee.

7:26: Jay Bilas, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson and Stu Scott discuss how the Knicks might get back on track. The group consensus: draft a great player to build around. Interesting concept. Someone really ought to get Isaiah Thomas on the phone.

7:30: Shot of the Bulls war room. Shot of Derrick Rose. Shot of David Stern at the podium, speaking over the baleful booing of the Madison Square Garden crowd. Stern just forced a smile and gave props to the young stars and not-so-young stars who made this season one of the most successful in league history. Pretty sure Joe Crawford, Bennett Salvatore and Dick Bavetta know who he’s talking about.

7:37: With the first pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, the Chicago Bulls select Derrick Rose. Shocker. You have to love the cocky sneer on Michael Beasley’s face. Almost as sweet as learning Derrick Rose’s nickname growing up was “Pooh”, as in Winnie The. Turns out he’s got “Poohdini” tattooed on his shoulder. I really need to know these things.

7:41: Whose idea was it to stick Stephen A. Smith on person-to-person duty? He does seem unusually sedate tonight, asking just two general questions. But it’s early. Miami is on the clock. This should be good…

7:42: With the second pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, the Miami Heat select…Michael Beasley. It’s no secret Pat Riley isn’t in love with this kid. Can’t wait to see where he lands in, say, the next hour or so.

7:48: The T-Wolves take O.J. Mayo. Stu Scott asks Jay Bilas: You say O.J. Mayo is the most NBA ready player in this draft. What do you mean by that? Jay billas says, well, what I mean is that O.J. Mayo is ready to step on the court and play in this league, more than any other player available. Well put, Jay.

7:52: Via satellite, Pat Riley talks about Miami’s due diligence in making their pick, and how excited he and the Heat staff are to bring Michael Beasley into the fold. Not buying it. Yet.

7:54: The Oklahoma-bound Sonics take Russell Westbrook at 4. According to Stu Scott, a half-smiling Kevin Durant is saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Right. Westbrook is solid, but he’s not a true point. Not really. I’m surprised Seattle didn’t go with Jerryd Bayless here.

7:57: Stephen A. Smith just posed the hard-hitting question, “Russell Westbrook, what are you?” According to Westbrook, he’s a point guard. I stand corrected.

8:01: The Grizzlies take Kevin Love. This breaks my heart. I was really hoping to see Love slip to Charlotte, to be paired with Adam Morrison. We haven’t seen such a devastating white man combo since Bird and McHale. Love has a bad back, bad knees and he’s out-of-shape…BUT apparently he can throw a chest pass 94 feet, and routinely sink shots from halfcourt in practice. Not a bad choice for the Grizzlies. If he’s a success, they’ll make some other team very happy in a one-sided trade.

Of course, the Grizzlies drafted another great white hope, Bryant “Big Country” Reeves, back in ’96…and we all know how that turned out.

8:07: The crowd in Madison Square erupts with boos at the Knick’s selecting Danilo Gallinari. His nickname is the Rooster. Reebok already made his signature shoe. It has a rooster on it. Cool story, Hansel. According to ESPN’s panel, all he’ll need to do is turn the Knicks into a winning team, and he’ll win the New Yorkers over. Gallinari and Renaldo Balkman have quite a bit of work to do.

8:12: The Clippers go with Eric Gordon from Indiana. Great choice. He’ll be starting in place of Cuttino Mobley before long, if not right away. If it weren’t for Indiana’s wasted season and controversy, I think he’d have gone higher. He’s somewhat undersized, and could never survive as a combo guard in the NBA, but a steal at 7 nonetheless.

8:14: Stephen A. Smith points out that everybody drafted so far thinks they can play point guard, but he won’t knock ’em. I’m sure this goes double for Kevin Love. And is it just me, or is Smith being kind of a bitch?

8:18: Joe Alexander goes to the Milwuakee Bucks. I love this guy. Fundamentally sound, but in the words of Jay Bilas, a “freak of an athlete”. Born in Taiwan. Speak’s Mandarin Chinese. Cute as can be. What’s not to love about this guy?

8:21: Stephen A. listens to Alexander talk about his work ethic and excitement to win games with the Bucks, then with sass that would make Tyra Banks feel inadequate, says, “So I guess what you sayin’ is, Milwuakee is lucky to have you.” Since when is Stephen A. Smith a moody black woman?

8:25: The Bobcats, undoubtedly depressed from missing out on the Great White Hope of Kevin Love, throw themselves under the bus and draft the little guy, D.J. Augustin. Augustin was great. In college. As much as I love Jameer Nelson, he’s proof positive that undersized college superstars never stack up in the pros. ” Then again, Bilas just about puked on himself from excitement in mentioning Augustin’s 6’2″ wingspan…Brook lopez looks more confused than anyone from Stanford ever has. They did you a favor, big man. Have fun in Jersey.

8:30: The Nets select Brook Lopez. Can’t really go wrong with a smart, strong seven-footer. In two or three years when LeBron makes his move to Brooklyn, Lopez is going to be so glad he slipped a bit in this draft. He’ll never make an all-star team, but if Jay-Z’s enduring seduction of King James pans out, he’ll probably win a ring or two.

8:33: Stephen A. Smith points out to Brook Lopez that he is 7 feet tall, 250lbs, and has a mean streak…then asks, in disbelief, why it took so long for him to get picked. I’ve been saying Smith has been begging to get his ass kicked for awhile, but this takes it to a whole other level.

8:35: I’m confused. The Pacers score with Jerryd Bayless at 11, but do they need him? They’ll acquire T.J. Ford in a trade by the end of the night, and still have Jamaal Tinsley. He’s the best player available, but not sure he’s what they need in Indianapolis. Can’t wait to see how Stephen A. Smith questions whether or not Bayless can play the point.

8:37: Smith points out that Bayless isn’t considered a true point. Bayless says he is. Smith smirks and sends it back to Stu Scott. This isn’t getting old. At all.

8:41: Sacramento jumps the shark and takes Jason Thompson from Rider. Bilas says there is nothing spectacular about his game, that he’s “solid” and, an old Bilas fallback, “has a great motor”. The Kings must be thrilled.

8:42: Michael Beasley is still on the Heat roster.

8:46: With the thirteenth pick, the Trailblazers take Brandon Rush from Kansas. To me, and just about everyone else who knows basketball, this kid is going to be the story of the ’08 draft. Portland is going to be SCARY. He’s a great scorer and defender, a natural leader and has good size for a shooting guard. I was really hoping he’d be available for Orlando at 22, and then again can’t understand how he wasn’t taken sooner.

8:49: Andy Katz makes a formal apology on behalf of Reggie Theus and the Kings for selecting Jason Thompson. According to Theus, Thompson was “the best big man we worked out”. It’s the draft equivalent of hitting on a girl in a bar, saying, “I may not be the hottest guy here, but I’m the only one talking to you.” Winner. The Kings are really going places.

8:51: The Warriors waste no time in taking Anthony Randolph from LSU, who will, in my opinion, make Kwame Brown look like a good choice. Even taken 14th. He will prove the ying to Brandon Rush’s yang, the bust of the ’08 draft class. A stiff breeze could snap this kid in half.

8:54: Dicky V makes his first appearance. The draft, according to him, started with the fourth pick. He can’t believe Minnesota passed on Kevin Love. This is the same guy who was elated when Orlando selected perennial benchwarmer J.J. Redick. What is it with Vitale and out-of-shape white guys with bum joints?

8:55: Vitale salutes the Reggie Theus and the Kings for drafting Jason Thompson. I rest my case.

8:57: The Suns take Anderson Verejao’s twin, Robin Lopez. I’m glad. Now Orlando can’t take him. Did anyone other than David Stern and me notice the creepy way he grabbed David Stern’s arm during their photo-op handshake?

9:00: Always wondered what Brook and Robin Lopez’s mother looked like. Huh.

9:03: Philly takes Marreese Speights, which kind of sucks, because I was hoping Orlando could take him. Knew he’d never slip that far. I see him developing pretty quick in the league, especially on a team with the kind of intensity Philadelphia has. Between Rose to the Bulls, Beasley to the Heat, Toronto’s Jermaine O’Neal trade and this pick, the eastern conference is fast becoming far more competitive than I’m comfortable with. Orlando had better really knock it out of the park at 22.

9:07: The new contenders in Toronto take Roy Hibbert. He’s not great, but when you throw him into the mix with Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal, Toronto now has arguably the most dominant front court in the NBA. Hibbert can’t lead a team, but with his size and skill he can put in some solid minutes off the bench. As much as I hated Toronto before, this rockets my loathing into the stratosphere. This is injustice. If Jose Calderon isn’t eaten by a canadian snow leopard by the end of summer, I’m shopping for new religions.

9:13: The candid shots of Brook Lopez pre-draft selection just made my night. I always suspected they kept the questionable attendees in the back, without lights on them, in case they don’t got picked right away. Leave it to a Stanford man to point out the obvious. I like how they cut it right when a confused Lopez, asking who coached the Nets, said, “Lawrence Frank?” Ten bucks says the following clip of him asking “Who the f— is Lawrence Frank?” is on YouTube by tomorrow afternoon.

9:14: The Wizards take JaVale McGee from Nevada. Not sure who that is. By the end of the ’09 season, I’m guessing that’ll still be true.

9:15: The Pacers and Blazers swap Bayless for Rush, with some other riffraff thrown in for salary cap consideration. As much as I love Rush, the Blazers already have Brandon Roy and needed a point guard (no offense to Steve Blake), and Bayless will prove to be the best in the pack. I swear Kevin Pritchard is a sick genius. With a healthy Greg Oden…I…hold on…I think i need to sit down.

9:20: J.J. Hickson will join LeBron James in Cleveland. He’s a bit light to play the four, but he’s got the athleticism and knows how to score. Not a bad pick for the Cavs. In other news: Darrell Arthur is still on the board, and Orlando is two picks away. I’m not even going to let the thought cross my mind. No way.

I’ll say this too: this year’s draft has been light on entertainment value. I don’t think I’ve heard Bilas mention anyone’s upside once, Stephen A. Smith, despite his transition from obnoxious black man to sassy soul sista, is receiving limited screen time. I’m banking on things picking up in the second round.

9:27: The Bobcats take Alexis Ajinca from France at 20, another seven foot beanpole. This leaves Darrell Arthur on the board for Orlando, and with the Nets picking first, who already took a big in Brook Lopez, I can’t help but assume they’ll go small at 21. I’m officially crossing my fingers…

9:33: The Nets take Ryan Anderson from Cal. I swear to GOD if Orlando takes Kosta Koufos I’m going to throw up on myself, and seeing the Lopez twins’ mom will have nothing to do with it. It’s all Koufos.

Darrell Arthur…Darrell Arthur…Darrell Arthur…Come on, Otis Smith.

9:38: Orlando does not take Darrell Arthur. They take Courtney Lee, who easily could’ve been snatched up in the early second round, for cash considerations. He’s a talented guard, sure, but we just passed on the next Antonio McDyess. Way to go, Magic.

For the record, I know I said I hoped Courtney Lee would be our guy. I’m glad we snagged him. It’s just hard to believe we’d pass up such a talented power forward, when we literally have none on the roster, for a two who may or may not turn out to be a contributer.

9:42: Utah takes Kosta Koufos. Better them than us. He’ll fit in fine with Mehmet Okur, and with the general Salt Lake City populus. I don’t think anyone has forgotten the look of fear in Ronnie Brewer’s eyes last year.

9:48: Seattle also passes on Arthur in favor of Congo native Serge Ibaka, who currently plays in Spain for L’Hospitalet. One of his teammates is the Orlando Magic’s 2005 draft selection, Fran Vasquez, who has not and probably will not come to America. Ever. I’m beginning to think the NBA GMs know something about Arthur the rest of us don’t. This is kind of ridiculous. Maybe the Sonics will have better luck. I mean, if moving to Oklahoma City isn’t a sign of good fortune, I don’t know what is.

9:55: The Houston Rockets take Nicolas Batum from France. Could be the next Rudy Gay. Could be the next Thabo Sefolosha. Only time will tell.

9:57: ESPN reports that Arthur remains in the green room because of an undisclosed kidney problem. Holding it this whole time couldn’t be good for that. Just go, Darrell. At this point no one’s even watching anymore.

9:59: Wendy Nix cracks an uncomfortable joke with Mike D’Antoni about reigning in Gallinari by talking to his father if he acts up. Mike’s face says, “Oh yeah, we played together, didn’t we? Huh.” See, it’s funny because D’Antoni and Gallinari Sr. played together, like, years ago, which we already knew because they’ve shown us the photos and commented on it several times. Actually it isn’t funny or interesting. Huh.

10:01: The Spurs select guard George Hill from IUPUI. Of course he’ll be an allstar by 2010.

10:06: Portland trades for the 27th pick from New Orleans. How much you want to bet that cheeky bastard Pritchard takes Darrell Arthur right here?

10:07: Shock and awe. Portland (by way of New Orleans) STEALS Darrell Arthur off the board. According to team doctors at Kansas, Arthur’s kidneys are fine. According to Jay Bilas, he can “really slide his feet” and “really move in a straight line”. No word on his upside, motor or wingspan. You can take a leak now, Darrell. You’ve earned it.

10:11: Stephen A. Smith takes it noticably easier on Arthur, his voice softened, his questions…not really questions, other than, “We’re going to send it down to Doris now, who’s with your mother, is that okay?” The estrogen is really flowing now. Good thing the green room is empty. Ten bucks says Smith is caught sobbing and/or sharing appletinis with Arthur’s mom as soon as he’s relieved of his person-to-person post.

10:15: The Grizzlies take Donte Green from Syracuse. Jay Bilas thinks he’s got a lot of tools, he’s just missing the key to the tool box. Okay, Jay.

10:22: The Pistons take D.J. White from Indiana. Like Eric Gordon, here’s a guy who’d have probably gone higher if the Hoosiers hadn’t had such a busted season. He’ll fit in nicely with Wallace, McDyess and Maxiell. Though at this point I’m convinced Detroit can draft anyone late in the draft and turn him into an impact player.

10:23: Stu Scott mentions Isaiah Thomas, as the last Hoosier taken by Detroit before White, and it draws audible boos from the New York crowd. Gotta love it.

10:27: The Celtics are about to pick. They finished 66-16 last season, and I’d just like to point out that Orlando beat them twice last season, accounting for 1/8 of their total losses on the year. Thank you.

10:31: Boston selects J.R. Giddens from New Mexico, who started out with the Kansas Jayhawks and, according to Bilas, despite some problems on and off the court has all the tools. No comment on the toolbox.

And that’s that. For a draft that seemed to be so up-in-the-air, there weren’t too many surprises. I’m still not convinced Beasley is staying in Miami, but as time passes I’m starting to believe. Hopefully Courtney Lee will rise to the occasion, and Orlando will have an effective off-season in trades and free agency and score some help in the front court. After tonight, Chicago, Miami and Toronto are all officially very scary.

Godspeed you, Dwight Howard.

 

Coming soon…

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An in-depth analysis of the similarities between Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood”, and the episode of Saved By the Bell where Zack makes friends with a duck, Becky, just before they strike oil at Bayside and everything comes undone in a wash of capitalist deception and greed. Anderson pretty much ripped off SBTB, and you’ll see how very soon…

Tom Brady: The Movie

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Just look at him. To look at Tom Brady is to catch a glimpse of the whole thing, the collective excellence, an awesome power bordering that of superheroes in both the fictional worlds in which they live, and our own in which we worship them. This is to say Tom Brady is something like a superhero. Except he’s real. But his story feels scripted, starting with looks that would make a jealous Derek Zoolander put his fist through a mirror or two. The man is really, really, ridiculously good looking. Sure. But he isn’t just handsome, man. He towers, even over other star quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, at 6’4″, and carries his 225lbs like it ain’t no thing, just some immaculate washboard abs, a pair of arms Michelangelo couldn’t have chiseled on his best day, teeth from the “after” photos on your Rembrandt Whitening box (bet you didn’t know that was him, but it is). On the street, he’s like the Clark Kent who wised up, lost the glasses and shopped from his new subscription to GQ. On the field, he’s straight up Superman.

And he’s got the story to go along with it. No, Brady hasn’t always been untouchable. And he didn’t grow up an orphan, or in a small town on a farm. But he did come up in San Francisco in the 80s, when there was nowhere else in the world a budding future quarterback would want to be. This was Joe Montana’s era, during which he led the 49ers to four Super Bowl championships. And a young Brady was there for all of it.

Now, if we were writing a comic book or, more realistically, a film about Tom Brady, this is where we’d start: a wide shot of Candlestick Park, the San Francisco skyline in the background, and the camera flys over the top of the stadium, which is packed to the roof with screaming fans in 49ers red and Cowboys blue, pushing closer and closer to the action on the field, where Joe Montana is behind center on the Cowboys’ six yard line. A quick shot of the scoreboard gives us the situation: third down, goal to go, with :58 left in the fourth quarter. San Francisco is down 21-27.

That’s when we see him: a little boy, wearing a faded 49ers jersey, #16, Montana scrawled across the back in a cracked white print. He’s five years old. The boy tugs at his father’s sleeve and stares anxiously at the field, at Montana, waiting.

Montana takes the snap. He looks for Freddie Solomon, his go-to receiver, but he’s well covered. The Cowboys’ pash rush is fierce. The 49ers offensive line collapses. Montana backpeddles, then breaks for the sideline.

The crowd is out of their seats.

Montana pump fakes. He looks left. He looks right. Montana looking to throw . . . looking to throw. . .The Cowboys defense is closing in fast. Montana throws a pass, high and deep into the corner of the end zone.

The crowd holds its breath.

Dwight Clark leaps, and from his very fingertips, takes the ball and pulls it to his chest. Touchdown.

But this isn’t the 49ers story. Nor is it Joe Montana’s. Not today. The camera pulls back from the field where red jerseys are leaping in celebration, the blue jerseys hanging their heads, and pans to the little boy and his father, who share a celebratory embrace before the father lifts a tearful, smiling Tom Brady to his shoulders. This is where it begins.

And where it began it real life. A five-year-old Tom Brady was present for the 1981 NFC Championship, and he did witness “The Catch”. He grew up worshiping Joe Montana, a guy who was drafted late out of Notre Dame, a storied program, and went on to be the greatest quarterback in the history of the NFL. It’s a more “storybook” beginning than you’ll find in films like “Hoosiers” or “Rudy”.

In this Tom Brady movie, we’ll flash forward about thirteen years, where Brady is the seventh (Yes. Seventh.) string quarterback for the Michigan Wolverines. A two-shot of Brady and the sixth string QB, a guy whose name I can’t dig up, a guy who is now probably selling cars or insurance somewhere in the Midwest, on the sidelines at practice, kidding with each other.

Brian Griese, Michigan’s starter, throws a wild pass, maybe an interception. Lloyd Carr throws his cap to the turf and yells, “Come on, Griese!”

QB6 says: See, I would’ve made that. Any day of the week.

Brady says: Sure you would.

Brady sighs. The banter continues and somehow it comes out that Brady didn’t give up his budding professional baseball career (he was drafted by the Montreal Expos) to ride the bench for four years. Maybe he cracks wise about Drew Henson and his brief stint as a pitcher for the New York Yankees, foreshadowing their future battle for the starting quarterback position.

This is a perfect lead-in to a montage in the style of the Karate Kid or Rocky. Set against the music of Van Halen’s “Right Now”, we see Brady in the gym, benching more and more weight, doing pushups in his dorm room, a poster of Joe Montana taped to the wall behind him. We see him jumping rope, shirtless of course, sweat coming off him in sheets. We see him making big plays in practice, with cuts to a graphic of the depth chart showing Brady’s name on the rise, one slot at a time. Shot of Lloyd Carr clapping on the sidelines shouting “Keep it up, Brady!” And just as the drums and piano fade, just as Sammy Haggar once more sings, “It means everything…” we see Brady suiting up in the locker room, pulling on his helmet, making brief eye contact with a glaring Drew Henson.

The story has got to keep moving. It’ll blow through a few of Brady’s more impressive regular season games, his biggest plays, and the dramatic conflict between Brady and Henson will continue to escalate until some fictional locker room altercation, which resolves with a shaking of hands, a smacking of shoulders and fraternal smiles. Then we’ll skip ahead to overtime in the ’99 Orange Bowl, and draw a blatant symbolic correlation between Brady’s game-winning drive here and Montana throwing to Clark for “The Catch”.

Now we’re about a third of the way through the film. The on-field celebrating in Miami cuts right to a shot of Brady in plain clothes, at home on the couch surrounded by family, watching the 2000 NFL draft. It’s the second day, the late rounds, and Brady’s name still hasn’t be called. His phone hasn’t rung. Dad says, “Don’t lose hope yet, Son. Even Montana wasn’t taken until the third round.” Sometime about now, someone will make reference to the fact that Tom graduated cum laude, and has plenty of opportunities in life outside of football. That evening, Brady receives a call from the Patriots. Because it’s a movie, the call will be from Bill Belichick himself. He’ll say, “Hey, Tom. Just wondering if you’d like to come play for me here in Boston. Interested?” The family cheers, Brady smiles . . . and we cut to a shot of him getting drilled into the turf on a New England practice field.

Because this is a classic underdog story. And, of course, the point is made that Brady is back where he started; he’s made it to the pros, just like he made it to the storied program at Michigan, but he’s once more deep in the rotation, fourth string. Belichick calls him off the field and sits him back on the bench, in passing says, “Hell’s wrong with you?”

We all more or less know the story from here. By the end of his rookie season, Brady moves to second string. Another montage, set to another inspiring stadium rock anthem, may or may not lead up to the September 23rd matchup against the Jets, not two weeks after the attacks of 9/11, when Drew Bledsoe, the starting quarterback, goes down. But he doesn’t just go down. He gets wrecked. He suffers internal bleeding. And an unprepared Tom Brady is thrust onto the field, only to lose the game.

The fans in New England aren’t pleased. But before long, Brady is winning games, leading the Patriots into the playoffs, and the symbolic correlation to Joe Montana becomes more and more blatant: in the first playoff game, against the Oakland Raiders, Brady brings the Patriots back from a 10 point fourth quarter deficit to win. Of course Brady injures his ankle in the next game to create dramatic conflict (which becomes something of a staple for him) but the Patriots eek out a win, go on to the Super Bowl and, of course, win on a heroic fourth quarter drive led by Tom Brady, who is ultimately named Super Bowl MVP.

From here, the story weakens, simply because it’s more of the same. The next six years Brady is dominant, wins a few more Super Bowls, barely misses out on a few others. If this is going to be a pure sports film, it should probably end with Brady’s first Super Bowl victory, a shot of him hoisting the trophy over his head, or perhaps hugging coach Belichick (depending on how well that relationship is developed), followed by a black screen and text explaining what happens in the future. But Brady’s story, particularly in the later years, lends itself to other genres, particularly that of the “Biopic”. He’s dated Hollywood starlets like Bridget Moynahan, and Victoria’s Secret model Gisele Bundchen. He’s hosted Saturday Night Live, made a cameo appearance in the Farrelly Brothers film, “Stuck On You”, and lent his voice to an episode of “Family Guy”. He’s on the cover of GQ and Esquire and People.

And there’s no lack of conflict. He and Moynahan had a child together earlier this year, while he was dating Gisele, whom he also recently knocked up. This is serious baby mama drama, and the paparazzi cameras are always flashing. Not to mention his constant ankle trouble, particularly come playoff time. Point is, the Brady movie could transcend sports film conventions down the stretch and morph into something greater, the epic true story of a great American man: a long and painful biopic. Wait long enough and we may even have the classic “rise and fall” element to go on.

Maybe we’ll get the awesome drunken blow out between a married Brady and Bundchen, high in their Manhattan penthouse, Brady with a scotch in his hand, his stubble a little overgrown and unkempt, Bundchen with a new baby on her hip, while their first child is in bed, awake and listening. Gisele confronts Tom about his affair, which she’s known about for months. “You think I didn’t know?” she yells, her accent thick. “You think it wasn’t obvious?” The baby starts to cry, and she rocks him gently.

Tom shakes his head with escalating intensity, saying, “No, no, no, no!” before throwing his cocktail glass hard against the wall. The glass shatters. The baby is screaming. “You think this is easy for me?” He stretches his arms wide, gesturing toward the elegant excess which surrounds them. “Look at this. Look at me. I’m a man, Gisele. Only a man.”

Gisele asks, “Who is she?” And Tom refuses to answer. We come to know Brady has fallen to third string on another team, maybe the Jets. Gisele’s pregnancies have ruined her modeling. Bridget Moynahan won’t stop badgering Tom for child support. They argue and argue until Gisele moves toward the wet bar, takes the bottle of Glenlivitt and carries it to the kitchen, where she pours it down the sink. He chases after her, grabs her shoulder and turns her to face him, slamming her back against the shimmering granite counter tops. He rears back as if to strike her, but their eyes meet. Their faces soften. And just as Tom moves in to kiss his wife, she puts a finger to  his lips and says, “No, Tom. You can’t . . . ” a tear rolls down her face. “You can’t come back this time. It’s over.”

It gets really awful from here and, if I’m right, leads to a scene akin to that in “Anchorman” where a disheveled Ron Burgundy staggers through the streets of San Diego, his clothes dirty and mismatching, a carton of milk in his hand. It’ll be more or less the same thing, except with Tom Brady.

Who knows. Point is, the guy is a superstar off the field and a superhero on. He’s a living myth. And he’s still on the rise. This Sunday, odds are good he’ll push the myth that much further, leading the New England Patriots to another Super Bowl victory, and the first perfect season in the NFL since the Dolphins did it in ’72. And, arguably, it all can be traced back to that one day in Candlestick Park, when a young Tom Brady’s destiny was sealed, just like in the movies.

My Super Bowl pick:  NE 45 — NY 24

Please watch The Wire. Thanks.

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I stumbled over this show a few years back, rented the first disc of the first season, watched two episodes, got bored, took it back. And even now, after becoming one of the show’s biggest fans, when I go back to start the saga over once again, it takes a little work on my part to plow through the first few episodes. This isn’t your average cop drama (viewership doesn’t increase when a fat man shows his ass or somebody says “shit”) or your average television drama for that matter. Season after season, the Wire has consistently offered something fresh, something important, and, above all else, for better or worse, something difficult.

Difficult things you may not want to see, things you may not want to think about, like how many kids are shot dead in the streets, or even in their own homes, every day; how much damage the “war on drugs” inflicts upon our cities, what it costs in terms of lives and tax dollars, without ever improving. The Wire is even difficult to invest yourself in, which was my problem the first time around. One of the show’s veteran writers, Rafael Alvarez, compares each season to a Russian novel, which tend to require readers to “do the work” for a hundred pages or more before momentum carries the story. But the payoff is huge, and remains constant through all five seasons, each more rewarding than the last.

In general terms, two things make this show great.

First, the show’s creator, David Simon, is both a passionate Baltimore native and an incredibly pissed off ex-reporter for the city’s own Baltimore Sun, which is to say his heart for the city is as big as the chip on his shoulder. Massive. He knows Baltimore, he loves Baltimore, and he knows everything that has gone wrong and remains wrong in Baltimore today. Every season the show focuses on one of the city’s pressing social issues, everything from the dying dockworkers unions to the miserable and failing public school system, and all of it ties in with Baltimore’s perennial good guys and bad guys: the city police and the drug crews.

This is what elevates the show to greatness. While Simon pumps the Wire full of social commentary and protest, the show never loses its footing in terms of action, character or pure, effective storytelling. Characters like Omar Little or Marlo Stanfield are borderline mythic, while Det. Jimmy McNulty and Sgt. Ellis Carver are as flawed and compelling as any characters found in the best work of Charles Dickens*. This is due, no doubt, to the stable of thoroughbred writers at the helm, such as George Pelecanos (Hard Revolution, The Night Gardener) , Richard Price (Clockers, Freedomland) and Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone), as well as superlative** acting talent. Dominic West, Clarke Peters, Michael Kenneth Williams and the rest of the cast consistently deliver some of the finest performances on television, maybe ever.

I won’t spoil any specific scenes or moments. Just know the best (and maybe some of the worst) are better than anything you’ve probably seen anywhere else. The action sequences rival those of John Woo or Sergio Leone at the top of their game. Note: for all it’s social and artistic merit, the show is damned entertaining.

If you aren’t watching now, you have to start from the beginning. There’s no way around it. Each episode feeds into the next, through each season, first to last. This might explain, at least in part, why the show has struggled to find an audience. Work and television don’t mix well, and this is a show that takes some effort. But if you’re tired of the recent influx of reality shows, and crave some substance, then here’s what you do:

A) Log onto Amazon.com or roll up to Best Buy and purchase seasons 1-4. Watch them, and pay attention. Call your cable provider and subscribe to HBO, preferably with OnDemand, so you can catch up with season 5

 Or, if you’re cheap, or just broke:

B) Subscribe to netflix, load your que up with the Wire, and wait a few months for season 5 to come out on DVD (you can probably put it on your que now, pending release)

The Wire may be the most important television show ever created, and could remain as such for a long, long time. Nothing has capitalized on our freedom of speech so effectively or, in many ways, so mercilessly. And that’s the truth, Ruth. Give it a shot. You’ll be glad you did.

Juno still blows.

*A New York Times commentary on the show compared it to the work of Dickens way before I did.

**I’ve used “superlative” on this blog a few times now, and I’m loving it. Great word.

Okay. I have some love for Barack.

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With regard to Barack Obama, I might’ve spoken a little to soon, and a little too definitively. Though I stand by just about everything I said, I think my general implication, that Obama has masterminded some kind of malevolent and intentionally misleading campaign (which I more or less considered, truth be told) is a bit off. Perhaps way off.

The thing is, watching Obama get flustered in the debates, as Clinton and Edwards blatantly team up on him, it seems clear to me that the man really, truly believes what he says. Regardless of how I feel about his vague or flat-out naive plans to bring about the “hope” and “change” he’s campaigning on, my first impression of the man was built on cynicism rather than what I was actually seeing and hearing. Granted, I grew up through three separate Bush Administrations and eight years of a Clinton White House. I’m entitled to some cynicism.

However.

I do believe Obama has more or less deflected the question of his race. In the debate on Monday, when asked about whether or not it should be taken into consideration that the potential first African-American President was in the race, he called Americans to vote not for what divides us, but for those things which unite us. That is, he actually referred to his ethnicity as a divisive element. Upon reviewing his famous address at the 2004 DNC, I discovered he refers to himself not as a black man, but simply as “a skinny kid with a funny name”. I maintain that he is not at all an African American, but believe now that he more or less holds this opinion himself. It is rather those in the media and public arena who have continued to label him, even marginalize him as the “black” candidate.

I’m open to the idea that the man really is this earnest. Maybe he didn’t write his two books to setup his ethnicity and insulate himself from criticism over prior drug use and general bad behavior in his youth. Maybe he just flat-out means what he says, and wants this country to know who he is, all the way. Maybe he felt compelled to join Trinity United for genuine, personal reasons; maybe he found truth there. The frustration in his eyes, and thorough explanations he provides to defend himself against so many allegations, allegations of ties to radical Islamic leader Louis Farrakhan, or an inconsistent record in the Senate with regard to the war in Iraq (a blatant lie from the Clinton campaign — the man has been a model of consistency on the issue) simply cannot be tacked on. It’s just hard to believe that a politician can be so heartfelt, so humane and, quite frankly, so naive.

He’s young. He’s inexperienced. If he’s elected, I’m not convinced he’ll be able to do much good for this nation in practical terms (getting us out of Iraq, fixing the economy, etc.). At best, things won’t be any worse in four years. But in terms of our national morale, in terms of doing something to lessen our contentiousness, the open hostility between our two parties, which every day become more and more alike, I believe he may make a difference or, in his words, a change. Perhaps great change. And someone as cynical as I am about politics and our American government could certainly go for that.

I hate (love) you Heath Ledger

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If I were the center of the universe, then Heath Ledger’s death, even the nature of it (assuming it was an accident) would make absolute sense. Because I was just learning to  love the man. And such was the nature of things between us: unending conflict and bittersweet surprise.

We started off rough.

I was jealous. “10 Things I Hate About You” came out and suddenly every girl  I knew, particularly (or I noticed in particlar) those who had, until then, paid ample attention to me, was in love with this asshole. They called him beautiful. Gorgeous. And my jealousy didn’t stem from a hidden or unwilling agreement. All I saw was a scrawny kid with greasy tangled hair and a smile like one of the Muppets. I thought: it must be the accent. While there was nothing sexual about it (that I was aware of) as a kid I found myself drawn to accents, too, like Paul Hogan’s Aus-Hole drawl in “Crocodile Dundee” or Ralph Macchio speaking North Jersey in the “Karate Kid” films. They just sounded cool. And Heath Ledger, for all his gawky flaws, did sound pretty damn cool. But that was it. He otherwise seemed like the kind of guy who got beat up and had his lunch money stolen on TV shows, a somewhat better-looking version of the guys who dealt with that kind of abuse in real life. Not the kind of guy who could steal a girl’s attention.

“Monster’s Ball” changed things. The summer before, I’d cheered “The Patriot” when Cornwallis stabbed Ledger’s Gabriel Martin through the chest, and yet his understated performance as Sonny Grotowski, the confused and suicidal young man made me feel something different. He was somehow more than just some effeminate Aus-Hole. He was broken and vulnerable and yearning for his father’s love. He was human. And he was giving one hell of a performance. It was something like a chance encounter with someone beautiful, the kind that leaves you asking “what if?” over and over again and, against all reason, leaves you hopeful. Like it could go somewhere. Like you’ll find each other again.

I didn’t find Heath Ledger again for a few years. He made some crappy films. He dated Naomi Watts, which stirred that old bitter jealousy. He was lost to me. A bit of a hack. But then in the fall of 2005, there he was. His performance in “Brokeback Mountain” was superlative and courageous and deserved the Academy Award (I’m a huge Philip Seymour Hoffman fan, too). His talent was all-the-sudden undeniable. Though I suffered constant grief for it, and was not entirely comfortable with the film’s blatant homosexuality, I openly adored “Brokeback Mountain” and, perhaps to a greater extent, Heath. His performance stirred me the way only the greatest performances, Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront”, Peter O’Toole in “Lawrence of Arabia”, Daniel Day-Lewis in “Gangs of New York”, ever have.

So when he got involved with duck-faced Michelle Williams, once again I was conflicted. It wasn’t a major blow, but it left a mark. I couldn’t understand how he could go from Naomi Watts to the ugly girl from “Dawson’s Creek”. It felt too reminiscent of his following “Monster’s Ball” with bombs like “Ned Kelly” or “The Order”. And so once more, I picked him apart like an insecure lover, exalting his high points, ripping into his lows. I wanted him to be the Heath I wanted him to be rather than the Heath that he was.

When I found out he’d signed on to play Joker in Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Batman sequel, I backed off (this, of course, came after hearing of his separation from Michelle Williams, which helped). Seeing stills of Heath in make-up, and clips of him in character during the film’s trailer, I realized he had again exceeded my expectations, that despite his curious relationships and professional decisions, he was even better, even more versatile and badass than the Heath I wanted.

I learned to let go of judgment and celebrate my love for Heath Ledger.

Then he ends up naked and dead in SoHo. And it seems fitting somehow, that after all these years of highs and lows between us that perhaps the greatest rise (Ledger as Joker. I mean, come on.) would come just before the greatest, most ultimate fall; that we would find each other in that final, knowing look as between Romeo and Juliet, of found happiness between moviegoer and movie icon, right as the curtain pulls shut, never to open again.

This is perhaps a stretch. But my heart is broken nonetheless. I hate him for leaving me, yet love him for all that he gave. And can’t help but feel the weight of fate’s injustice, as Britney Spears will no doubt live on and on, until she’s old, sagging and howling in a wheelchair, while remarkable people like Heath Ledger die well before any of us is ready. Me least of all.

Why I Have No Love For Barack Obama

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Barack Obama might just be the finest politician this country has ever known. He has no business pretending to be a serious candidate, and no ground whatsoever from which to stand and suggest he is qualified, or at all prepared to take this nation’s highest office, and yet he remains at the head of the pack, with perhaps the greatest odds of winning both his party nomination and the American presidency. Obama himself is a brilliant tactician and communicator. He knows (and a tearful Hillary Clinton is learning) that winning the race has nothing to do with concrete plans or progressive ideas, but with charisma and emotional resonance. He’s known it since 1995, just before embarking on a career in politics, when he wrote and published “Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance”, a memoir which provides detailed reflections on American race relations and Obama’s journey in discovering his own ethnic heritage. And his heritage is interesting. No more than my own, or anyone else’s for that matter, but interesting nonetheless.

A quick recap on Barack Obama’s heritage: His mother, Ann Dunham, is a white woman from Kansas, and his late father was a native Kenyan who lived in the United States for a brief period to study at several universities. Barack’s parents divorced when he was just two years old, and his father moved back to Kenya, never to see his son again. After a brief stint in Indonesia, Barack was raised by Dunham with help from her parents, as part of a white middle class American household.

Here’s the thing: Barack Obama is not an African-American. And he knows it. He’s black, sure, and no one, least of all Barack himself, is shy about this. But in terms of American history and culture, the only thing black about Barack Obama is his complexion. He is not a descendent of African-American slavery, or of those who suffered the outcome of Plessy v. Ferguson, but of one Harvard-educated native Kenyan and, of course, a white woman from Wichita.

I mention Plessy v. Ferguson because to lump Barack Obama in with African-Americans is to take the root of Homer Plessy’s case, turn it on end and spin it to a blinding effect. Homer Plessy was chosen as plaintiff in this case because he was one-eighth black, an “octaroon” to use the nomenclature of that time, and the argument, underneath all the lawyering, was simple: race cannot be reasonably defined in fractions. The decision in this case, an unfavorable ruling for Mr. Plessy, created the “Separate but Equal” doctrine, which paved the way for insane “One Drop” legislation and further segregation of our country.

To champion Barack Obama as the probable first African-American President, when he is as much a white man as he is black, when he is no more historically connected with the African-American people than our first “Black President” Bill Clinton, is an appeal to the backwards fractional reasoning of the Jim Crow era. The difference is, now the distinction is positive. We encourage this strong black Presidential candidate to the extent that we will overlook or draw contradictory conclusions about his roots and see not the content of his character as a man or political leader, but the color of his skin, the drop of African blood in his veins.

So he wrote his first book. And he joined Trinity United Church of Christ which is, as its website proudly declares, “Unashamedly Black”. In 2004, during his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama compared his  “Audacity of Hope” with the hope of “slaves sitting around a campfire singing freedom songs”. Thus on one hand he is open about both his personal and ethnic background, and on the other he is “unashamedly black”, playing on the emotional resonance of the American racial landscape. He’s got Oprah now. He has engaged (without engaging, which is the most impressive part of his political acumen) the Clinton campaign in ongoing hostile dialogue which portrayed both Bill and Hillary as, at worst, bigots or, at best, merely ignorant (without, of course, saying as much). 

Barack is a master of doublespeak. He embodies it. He gives loud and preposterous speeches about national unity, glossing over our most fundamental political differences as if those between Republicans and Democrats, between liberals and conservatives are akin to spats between little boys and little girls who need merely grow up and learn to get along. Which, of course, is absolutely true, and yet not true at all. And people love him for it.

In his famous 2004 keynote address, he belittled both John Kerry and John Edwards for “[calling] on us to hope”, implying that this call was one of, as he put it, “blind optimism” and “willful ignorance”. But then he went on to define his particular brand of hope as, “The hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a millworker’s son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. The audacity of hope!”

This, of course, isn’t blind optimism or willful ignorance. It’s less than either of these and yet, to most who were listening, who were either unable or unwilling to see it for what it was, a shameless and hollow appeal to our emotions, it was everything. It sealed his status as a great man, a great leader of men and a great candidate for the American Presidency.

This extends to his policies. His position in Iraq, for example, is to pull the troops out of Iraq, keeping only enough to continue to ward off Al Qaeda and protect the reconciliation of Iraq’s political infrastructure. Thing is, that’s what the Bush Administration is doing now. That’s what the Surge is intended to accomplish, though it continues to require even more money and more troops. Thus Obama is admittedly going to do the exact same thing while calling it something different. Something more hopeful.

And maybe this is what America needs. It’s certainly what Americans seem to want, a candidate who can rile us out of our collective political funk, who knows how to deliver a speech, who looks good on television and, on top of it all, really, truly knows how to play the game. A president with the intelligence to criticze his opponents for their vague and/or manipulative language, while using both to a far superior effect. Like in Vegas, where Obama refers to “Those kinds of tricks, that kind of approach to politics,” and how they “[have] to stop because what happens is then nobody believes anything . . . The voters don’t believe what politicians say. They get cynical. Folks in Congress, they’ll tell you they’re looking out for you – they’re looking out for somebody else.” He does not follow this by assuring that he, himself one of those “folks in Congress”, is looking out for us, or map out how he will stop these machinations of government. He just says we need change. And that’s, of course, why he’s running. It’s his whole platform.

How about on the tail end of drawing Hillary’s campaign into that sort-of-but-not-really racist squabbling, when Obama spoke favorably of, and compared himself to, Ronald Reagan, with vague references to “changing the trajectory of America”. A black democrat touting Ronald Reagan, a borderline apocalyptic occurrence.

And some poor, foolish Reagnite thought: Wow. I really like this Obama.

It’s the political equivalent of a magic show, the trickery of smoke and mirrors. He makes you believe he’s sawing the woman in half, when he has just hidden two women in the box. It’s sleek and entertaining and innocuous (at least for now) and causes us to marvel rather than to think. It’s audacious and hopeful and certainly, as Obama will famously and predictably remind us all, a change. But it’s a change that won’t change much of anything in the end. Nothing below the surface. And Obama was smart enough to realize that, to most of America, the surface is what matters most, and most are happily and willingly played as fools, so long as they look good and feel good doing so.

This, I’m afraid, will never change.