Friday, January 05, 2007

Someone Get Yao a Dr Jack; G.F.O.S. reccs.

Hey everybody, Happy New Year, I'm way behind on this, but I've been meaning to comment on an informative post from David Friedman a few weeks back regarding an in-studio passing demonstration from Bill Walton (on ESPN's NBA Coast to Coast), which included the Big Redhead saying that passing was one area in which Yao Ming could improve.

I've actually always thought that Yao was both an able and a willing passer (he has said in the past that Arvydas Sabonis was one of his favorite players growing up, which I think gives an indication of his mindset), and one can't underestimate how much Yao needs a Dr. Jack Ramsay of his own to help tap and utilize his passing skills.

I've always thought that Jeff Van Gundy deserved a fair share of the blame for not better developing/utilizing Yao's passing skills, and frankly, JVG has disappointed me as a fan.

I still remember the first time I saw Yao play, against Team USA in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. From reading about him prior to the Games, it was hard to picture his game. I imagined him as something of a plodder - something like a 7-5 Peja Drobnjak of a better version of Mengke Bateer.

But then, when I saw him, I got it. His playing time was very limited due to foul trouble, but three things stood out to me: 1) even though he wasn't a stunning athlete, he moved with enough fluidity to look like a basketball player, rather than a plodder, 2) he had that soft shooting touch, and 3) he had a great feel for the game as evidenced by a few gorgeous passers he made to cutters. When I thought about it, I really felt like Yao was potentially a 7-5 Bill Walton with a better shooting touch.

I was really optimistic when JVG got the Houston job. I admired the job he did with the Knicks and, most importnat, I thought he was truly cut from the Pat Riley cloth. By that, I thought he would adapt to his personnel as Riles did - play Showtime ball when you have fast-break talent in L.A.; play ugly, dirty defensive-minded ball when that's the card you're dealt in N.Y.

As it turns out, to the detriment of fans everywhere who love free-flowing basketball, JVG apparently only knows the latter game (though, to his credit, he knows it quite well - Houston is one of the top-rated defensive teams despite having several players with subpar reputations as defenders), that he learned under Riles in N.Y.

And he's basically turned Yao into another Patrick Ewing (even bringing in Patrick to help tutor Yao in previous years). That's all well and good - I still believe Patrick was underrated overall, and Yao has become the best center in the game, but I still think there's a-whole-nother dimension to Yao's game that we could be seeing that would make him a true all-time great.

I really wish that Dr. Jack and Walton had been guiding Yao through the past few years instead of JVG and Ewing - I truly believe Yao could be the hub of a team as beautiful to watch (and as overachieving) as the Walton Trail Blazers were, and I feel robbed as a fan that we don't get to see anything close to that style of play out of Yao.

****************************

R.I.P. G.F.O.S.

I haven't had to post since the untimely passing of Soul Brother No. 1, Mr. Dynamite, the Godfather of Soul himself, Mr. James Brown.

This isn't a basketball post I know, but basketball is a game of soul and rhythm, and I firmly believe that hoops and R&B/soul/funk/jazz/hip-hop music have a symbiotic relationship. And basically all of those forms of music, save jazz, owe a good chunk of the entirety of their underpinnings to the Godfather, so I'm going to offer a few of favorites, which I believe that any true hoophead could appreciate.

I've been especially bummed b/c I had tix to see JB perform in San Francisco in Feb., and many of these records have been helping me through my mourning (though I've been heartened to see flags at half-mast around the country in James Brown's honor ;-)...).

For more, I highly recommend checking out the essential soul-music blog, Soul Sides, which has links to the best appreciations along with a handful of wonderful MP3's, accompanied with analysis.

STAR TIME
4 CDs, 71 songs of brilliance. You may think you don't need this much, but I'm telling you: you do. If you want a greatest hits package, don't get one of those 20 Greatest things, get this superb studio package, a truly essential five-star collection if there ever was one. It's a steal on Amazon currently, at $41.99.

LIVE AT THE APOLLO (1962)
Live concert perfomances were the essence of James Brown. An unbelievably tight band under his direction, with a master showman out front. The release of this show, recorded at the Apollo Theater in Harlem - essentially JB's "home court" - truly put him on the map as a star. It's only about a half-hour long, but it's a half hour of raw soul music.

LIVE AT THE APOLLO, VOL. II (1967)
This two-disc set is my favorite live JB package. His band is more mature and polished and generally in its prime. The slow burn, 19-minute version of "It's a Man's Man's World" is classic.

SAY IT LIVE AND LOUD: LIVE IN DALLAS 08.26.68
One-disc set of his original band, teh Famous Flames, in their funky prime. Can't have enough live material from this period, in my opinion. Nice interlude in the middle where the band, led by my main man Maceo Parker, plays a few instrumentals - I could listen to their version of "Tighten Up" about 100 straight times and not get tired of it.

LOVE POWER PEACE: LIVE AT THE OLYMPIA, PARIS, 1971
Another classic one-disc live show, this time with his JB's band, which included Bootsy Collins.

SOUL ON TOP (1970)
I was introduced to this gem based on this post on the Soul Sides blog. The Godfather recorded some of his hits and a few standards with a 20-piece big band. It's "big-band funk" really - pretty cool. He had never performed these songs live in this style until a concert last Sept. at the Hollywood Bowl - I've rarely been so jealous at being unable to attend a show in person.

There you have it. One fan's opinion. Treat yourself. R.I.P. G.F.O.S.

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