Down with the O.J. Mayo Era

If you missed the McDonald's All-American Game Wednesday night, you missed an appalling 4-for-17 performance by O.J. Mayo, who has a legitimate chance to replace Vince Carter as my least favorite NBA star of all-time before everything's said and done. Really, USC is expecting him to play point guard? That's the worst basketball-related idea since the Pacers teamed up Stephen Jackson and Ron Artest.

Fortunately, the game featured my new favorite incoming recruit: UCLA's Kevin Love, a 6-foot-9 power forward who studied Wes Unseld/Bill Walton tapes as a kid and throws the best outlet pass in 30 years. I've heard about him for months, hoped the stories were true and didn't want to jinx it by saying anything. But screw it. With Durant fleeing to the pros, I'm dumping Texas and jumping on the UCLA bandwagon. Hell, I'd even get season tickets if it were remotely possible to get UCLA season tickets. It's been so long since we've seen a big guy grab a rebound, look down the court and whistle a 50-foot pass to start a fast break in the same motion. I just feel Love will become a revelation for a whole new generation of fans.

As you know, I'm a huge basketball dork and have more than 300 classic games burned to DVD. Other than the Celtics and MJ's Bulls, you know which team is featured the most in my DVDs? Walton's Portland team from '77. Why? Because they were built around a premise that doesn't exist anymore -- a passing big man and quick guards. Every time the other team missed, the guards took off and Walton hit them in stride with a 45-foot outlet. For this reason, they couldn't be stopped -- they were starting every game with 30 free points. Remember, they won the '77 title without a perimeter player who could create his own shot in a half-court offense. That will never, ever, EVER happen again. Unless Kevin Love or somebody like him is involved.

The bigger picture: With Mayo joining a loaded USC team and Love playing 20 minutes away for a Final Four team, that's looming as a dynamite rivalry and the most intriguing media subplot for the 2007-08 season. After all, Love represents everything good about basketball (unselfishness, teamwork, professionalism) and Mayo represents everything we've come to despise (showboating, selfishness, over-hype). If Love were black, this would be a much easier topic to discuss. But he's white. So even though there's a natural inclination to embrace Love's game and disparage Mayo's game -- you know, assuming you give a crap about basketball and care about where it's headed as a sport -- there's also a natural inclination to hold back because nobody wants to sound like the white media guy supporting the Great White Hope over the Black Superstar Du Jour.

So here's the answer to make it easier for everybody: There's room for both guys.

Like it or not, Mayo's style of game resonates with a certain demographic, with his final high school dunk symbolizing the divide between traditional fans and the budding generation that was weaned on Slam Magazine and me-first "superstars" like Stephon Marbury and Vince Carter (neither of whom has played on a 50-win NBA team, by the way). Head over to YouTube and you'll find an unedited clip of the dunk that makes Mayo look like an attention-seeking punk, as well as a heavily edited clip of the same dunk that lionizes it. Is it alarming that a 19-year-old kid throwing himself a halfcourt alley-oop in the final minute of a 40-point win, dunking it, tossing the ball into the stands and getting thrown out of his final high school game, then soaking in a standing ovation could be considered a beautiful moment by some people? Probably not. That's just our culture now. Rappers sing songs with their own names as the chorus. Wannabe celebrities intentionally leak sex tapes to make themselves famous. Rich teenagers make fools of themselves on "My Super Sweet 16" and don't even get that they're the joke.

So O.J. Mayo fits into all of that. It's not a good thing or a bad thing; it's just the way things are. But the sport of basketball is headed for a crossroads of sorts, personified by the fact that Kobe Bryant's recent streak of 50-point games received far more national attention than the incredible Suns-Mavs game two weeks ago. Nobody wants to be the next Steve Nash; everyone wants to be the next LeBron James, the next Gilbert Arenas, the next Vince Carter. Those guys make the most money and get the most magazine covers and commercials. Just look at what happened to LeBron's all-around game when he reached the pros -- blessed with an innate passing gene that gave him a choice between becoming the next Magic or the next MJ, he said "Screw it, I'm going for my points" and went the MJ route. I will always be disappointed about that choice.

Again, it's not a black/white thing as much as a philosophical thing -- we glorify scoring and dunking and allowed an infrastructure in which AAU games and summer camps matter more than high school games. Winning and losing doesn't matter nearly as much as how you did and how you looked. We're seeing the effects in the NBA right now; it's been one of the worst regular seasons in recent memory, mainly because the vast majority of players don't seem like they give a crap. For instance, the Celtics had the youngest team in the league this season. During their 18-game losing streak, nobody ever got kicked out of a game, knocked someone into a basket support, threw a frustrated punch ... hell, even the coach didn't get kicked out of a game. There was a passive, pathetic, indifferent response to everything that was happening. Not a single person stepped up. As somebody who travels with the team told me, "If you were with these guys every night and saw how little these losses affected them, you'd never want to follow sports again ... the losses just bounce right off these guys."

Why? Because they've been playing 100-plus games every year since they were 14 years old. Because the final score never really mattered for most of those games. Because they were taught at an early age that it's all about how YOU looked, not how your team looked.

To be fair, some guys break out of that mind-set or never get corrupted in the first place. At the same time, it's definitely a mind-set. And it's depressing.

Which brings me back to that McDonald's game. When Mayo bricked the game-winning 3-pointer with five seconds left and soaked in those scattered boos and a few "ov-er-ra-ted" chants, do you think he was more upset that his team lost, or that he would have been the hero if he made the 3? Call me crazy, but I'm going with the latter. Meanwhile, Kevin Love's team came out on top. He finished with 13 points and six rebounds and jump-started at least five-six fast breaks that directly led to layups or dunks. Looking at the stat sheet, you'd never guess that he was one of the key guys in the game. But he was. And that's why I'm looking forward to the Kevin Love Era and preparing myself to hate everything about the O.J. Mayo Era.

It's not a white thing or a black thing ... it's a basketball thing.

Some fun links for a Thursday ...

• From Ryan in Fairport: "Just giving you a little link of a couple Derrick Rose dunks ... Yeah, there are tons of three-minute compilations of things he's done but this one is just nasty. I've never seen anyone throw down a windmill as quickly and as smoothly as he does, and then for the NEXT PLAY to make that steal, slow down and let this other idiot try to challenge him only to boof on his dumb ass. Then watch what happens afterward -- the crowd going nuts, him dancing -- it's great. Can't wait to see him in the college game next year.

• Reason No. 10,530 why it would be more fun to be a college student now rather than 1991: This story.

• Steve from Big Rapids passed along this link with the comment, "I love youth sports!"

• From Jeremy P. in Washington: "I wanted to pass onto you this fascinating link about John Thompson, who's regarded as one of two things in D.C., either social icon or social pariah. Easily one of the more polarizing figures not just in the greater D.C. area but really in the country ... especially during the heyday in the early and mid-'80s. If you don't believe me just watch the HBO documentary "Perfect Upset." Anyway, Mike Wise of the Post captured some of the animosity and downright bitterness in this article about Freddy Brown, the guy who inadvertently threw the ball to James Worthy and has bit his tongue the last 25 years in all interviews regarding Thompson and his Georgetown experience ... until now. The gloves really come off here."

• Hundreds of readers passed along the story about LeBron building a 35,000-square-foot house that features a casino. Not to sound like Jeff Foxworthy, but when you're building a casino in your own house ... you might be a gambling addict. With that said, if there's a God, I hope reality-TV cameras are rolling in LeBron's casino at all times. Hey, look, it's Charles Barkley! What's he doing in town??? And wait ... he's carrying a briefcase!

• This YouTube clip of Kermit the Frog singing "Hurt" by Johnny Cash practically killed the Sports Gal. She demanded that I pass it along.

• Chris in K.C. writes, "I saw your link to the NCAA Division II final. I thought you might be interested in this link. The NAIA semifinals went to FOUR overtimes! The same team kept hitting huge 3s at the buzzer. Talk about stretching your "foul the guy rather than let him shoot it" theory to the limit! They would have had to complete the "hit-the-freebie, intentionally-miss-the-freebie, get-the-rebound, score" scenario FOUR (!!!!) TIMES! (!!!!)."

• Joe Sheehan wrote about the Tout Wars draft for the Baseball Prospectus (subscription only). I'm linking to this column for two reasons -- because I enjoyed it, and because I wanted to bitch about the fact that they didn't extend an invite to me and Hench as an expansion team. They should have just put us in a cage during the draft and said, "You will never get this, you will never get this." Some day, we break out and we GET this.

• How did I not find out about this site until last week? And how did I not know that Thora Birch's parents were two of the stars from "Deep Throat?"

• Mike in Mass. sends along a fantastic clip and adds, "I think Chad Ford has this guy going somewhere around pick 13 this year."

• Mike from Detroit writes, "I know you will probably get this link sent to you a ton but the first time I read it in the paper I couldn't stop laughing so hard I had to read it numerous times. This story reminds me of the beginning of "Anchorman" when the producer is telling Ron Burgandy he's on the air and he says " ... I don't believe you ... " and goes back to drinking his scotch.

• I don't wanna get my hopes up ... but, I mean ... my hopes are up.

• In the middle of Dan Shaughnessy's column about Dice-K, we learn that Dice's favorite three American movies are "Lethal Weapon," "Cliffhanger" and "When Harry Met Sally." Can somebody give him a DVD of a movie that's been released since 1993? Thanks.

(Although I love Dice's affinity for "Cliffhanger." Do you think it bothers him when the husband of the girl who falls to her death at the beginning blames Sly Stallone for what happened, even though the husband was the one who made an inexperienced hiker climb an impossible trail and got them stuck on the top of a mountain where they could only be rescued by shimmying across a flimsy rope from one mountain to another? That's always bothered me. I'd love to discuss this with Dice at some point.)

• Speaking of Sly, he's apparently using a body double for Rambo IV. Apparently Plan A didn't work: "Purchase illegal steroids in Australia."

• You can stop sending me this story with the joke "Dolan immediately signed the severed leg to a five-year deal." But if you've ever seen Dolan, doesn't he seem like the kind of guy who WOULD find a severed leg? I can see him walking along the beach with a metal detector and wearing a black turtleneck on a 75-degree day, then saying, "Hey, wait, is that a foot?"

• Um ... James White can two-hand dunk from the foul line and we DIDN'T invite him to the 2007 Slam Dunk Contest?

• M.T. from Georgia sums up everyone's feelings: "How the F do you blow it when you're next in line to the Yankee throne!?! As you've undoubtedly heard, Steve Swindal, whom Steinbrenner was grooming to take over the most famous sports brand in the WORLD, just got tossed by his wife ... Steinbrenner's DAUGHTER!!! You'd think the dude would be the world's best foot-rubber and would be reading 'Mars/Venus' every freaking night! Divorce? Are you kidding me??????"

• Zack in Poughkeepsie writes, "I believe this is CBS's equivalent of a 'makeup foul' for Gus Johnson getting hosed out of the Sweet 16. Conspicuously absent from the YouTube account: The Best of Billy Packer. Hmmm."

Finally, Michael from Dallas passes this account along:

"I don't know if you saw any of the Bucks/Mavs game last night, but if you want a FANTASTIC example of tanking, there you go. Michael Redd was having one of his crazy hot nights, and was 14-18 from the field with 34 points when he was subbed with :33 left in the third. The Bucks were up 82-77. Redd then sits on the bench until 4:35 left to go in the fourth quarter! He gets one more shot the entire quarter, and the Mavs win 105-103. Oh, and in spite of how hot Redd was, and the fact that he is their $90 million star player, he's not their go to guy in the fourth (that's some dude named Ersan Ilyasova -- who had two turnovers in the final minute). Don't get me wrong; I'm a Mavs fan, and I'm glad we won (the fact that that was our 60th win is overshadowing the tanking), but seriously! You're not even trying to hide it!"

He's right. The Bucks will not win another game this season -- they'll cripple Michael Redd like Kathy Bates hobbled James Caan in "Misery" if they have to. Just look around the league. Ray Allen isn't coming back. Neither is Joe Johnson. Charlotte is "resting" its big guys. Minnesota pretty much threw the Sonics game two night ago. And so on and so on. Everyone's pushing their chips into the middle of the lottery table.

On the flip side ...

A. The Celtics keep trotting out an injured Paul Pierce, who killed himself for 53 minutes in a double-OT win so we could move within three games of the Bucks (remember, we play them two more times in the next month).

B. We have a coach who tried to tank one time (last week against Charlotte) and screwed it up so egregiously that we have to try for the rest of the season just to erase the stink of one game.

C. This whole mess is leading to the legitimate scenario of Doc Rivers coaching an overmatched Brandan Wright in Boston for 82 games next season.

I have never been more upset about anything so dumb.