Dropping ‘Anchor’ on the NBA

Time to Ramble … again

The Sports Guy’s mailbag

Mail call

Well, it has been a few weeks since the last mailbag, and you know what that means: Gentlemen, start your printers! This one’s checking in at a cool 4,700 words … and I don’t even feel remotely guilty. As always, these are actual questions from actual readers:

bill simmons
Q: Do you think it is time for a moratorium on all poker metaphors? Not just in your column, but in all columns in all the magazines and sites? As the co-writer of both “Rounders” and “Tilt,” I feel some responsibility for the poker language bludgeoning we are all taking and I want to be the first to address it. Thanks.
— Brian Koppleman, NYC

SG: No problem, Koppleman — as long as you agree that “Rounders 2” can’t happen without Damon and Norton, then I agree to banish all poker metaphors from my column. But if I read that “Rounders 2” is happening with someone like Wilmer Valderrama or Johnny Knoxville taking over as Mike McD, all bets are off.

While we’re here, let’s make two other poker pacts …

1. Now that Jackpot Jay has retired, nobody can write any more poker columns. Stop writing them, stop reading them, just stop. We all know how to play at this point. We know that you can get screwed over on the river … it happens. We know that you can get lucky on the river … it happens. But if I have to read one more column about how the writer had three jacks, and he thought they would hold up, but then somebody else was going for a straight, and then when he saw that 7 of hearts, he knew it was trouble … for the love of God, who cares??? It’s poker! When you’re at a table where everyone knows how to play — and by the way, just about everyone knows how to play now — it’s 90 percent luck! You might as well write columns giving the play-by-play of a scratch card you scratched off outside a convenience store. Enough. Please stop. I would rather read 200 holier-than-thou columns about Rafael Palmeiro over another poker column.

(And if you’re going to keep writing them, at least make fun of everyone else at your table. Your average poker player looks like he should be holding a squeegee at a stoplight in Manhattan, scalping tickets outside of Edison Field, pushing a hot dog truck in Hartford or chain-smoking outside of a VD clinic waiting for his granddaughter to come out. This needs to be mentioned at all times. Repeat: All times.)

2. No more glorifying poker players. For instance, one of the more famous players has the nickname “Jesus,” as you might have heard Norm Chad mention 65,234 times on that World Series show (when the guy really looks like Waingro from “Heat”). Should a guy who devotes his life to deceiving other human beings with cards really be called “Jesus”? Shouldn’t poker players only be allowed to have nicknames like “Fish Eye” and “Scumball”? Also, how hard can it be to play poker for a living when Jennifer Tilly, Tobey Maguire and Ben Affleck have won major tournaments? Even in a sport like golf, when the celebrities play with the pros, they’re clearly inferior (just watch HBO’s excellent show about Ray Romano and Kevin James trying to make the cut at Pebble Beach). In poker, anyone can become a pro — you just need enough cash to get started and a ton of time on your hands. I mean, have you seen Jennifer Tilly on a talk show? Not a Mensa threat.

Q: Is there a worse feeling than not being able to find the remote when you’re watching a dirty movie and you can hear your wife coming?
— The Ted, Austin, Texas

SG: Yes. There’s probably one worse feeling.

Q: How long will it be before Joe Torre pulls Giambi aside after another home run and just stares straight into his eyes, just like James Caan did to Lattimer in “The Program,” and then we will see Giambi hysterically crying in the dugout?
— Evan Lupion, NY, NY

SG: Funny you should mention this. I was watching “The Program” a few weeks ago, and not only were the Giambi/Lattimer similarities downright eerie but James Caan’s character was a dead ringer for Joe Torre — a little bit over the hill, a little too calm, as though he knows he’s involved in something horrible but he can’t help it. I can’t wait to watch this Giambi Saga play out — if he’s back on the juice, this could make the Palmeiro Saga look like child’s play by comparison. If he’s not on the juice, it’s a fantastic comeback story and should immediately be made into a movie for ESPN (with Sean Astin as the Giambino).

One thing’s for sure: There has never been a more compelling fantasy sports saga. As I mentioned in April, my buddy Hench and I paid $8 for him in our AL-only league, with Hench pointing to Giambi’s name after the draft and predicting “There’s the key to our team.” By mid-May, we were ready to waive him and possibly even have him murdered. Now he’s one of the biggest steals in our league. When the trading deadline rolled around last week, we had the inevitable “Should we trade him now in case he fails another drug test?” conversation, ultimately deciding, “Screw it, we’re already playing with the house’s money with the Giambino, let’s see how long this can last!”

Mike McD
Q: I’m starting to watch Tom Cruise on the news like I would watch a postseason overtime hockey game: Scared to blink for fear I’ll miss something totally, utterly unforgettable.
— Kevin Lee, Morristown, N.J.

Q: Doesn’t Cruise remind you a lot of Col. Kurtz from “Apocalypse Now”? People have told him what he wants to hear for so long he is starting to believe his rants himself? Maybe they could remake the movie and cast Cruise as Kurtz and have Brooke Shields cut his head off?
— Ben, Missoula, Mont.

SG: As you can see, we had a tie for this month’s “Tom Cruise has gone insane” e-mail of the month.

Q: Which do you think we’ll see first, a female president or a female head coach of an NBA, MLB, NFL or NHL team?
–Matt Skelly, Hadley, Mass.

SG: What would I rather see? That’s easy — a female NHL coach. How would she dress? What would her mullet look like? Would she end up looking like a mustache-less Jeff Foxworthy wearing Paula Poundstone’s clothes? At the very least, let’s dress Barry Melrose up in drag for a few games and give this idea a test run.

What will we see? That’s easy — a female president. If you don’t think Hillary Clinton will be running the country in four years, you’re crazy. Ever been stuck in a room full of women when they decide on something ridiculous like “Andie McDowell has been the most beautiful woman in Hollywood for the past 15 years” and they will absolutely stick together until the death when you’re posing counterarguments? Well, I think that’s how the 2008 election is going to unfold — Hillary is going to be Andie McDowell-ed right into the presidency. If she becomes president, that means any woman can become president. It’s too important not to vote for her. So they’ll vote for her.

(And just for the record, I probably will, too — I miss having Bill Clinton around. Imagine having him on tour as the First Man? How much trouble could he get into? It would be just as if he was the president again, only without any responsibility. Think about it — even when he did have responsibility, the whole Lewinsky debacle happened. As the First Man? Anything’s possible.)

Q: So Eddy Curry’s heart is apparently one of the 14 body parts the NBA’s insurer won’t cover. What are the other 13? The obvious ones are Grant Hill’s ankle, Ilgauskas’ feet, Mourning’s kidney and Webber’s knee. What else? Shaq’s waistline? Spree’s fists? Nowitzki’s hair?
–Steve, San Francisco

SG: Good question. Here are my guesses for eight of them …

1. Rip Hamilton’s nose.

2. Vince Carter’s heart.

3-4. The lungs of Damon Stoudamire and Lamar Odom.

5. Quentin Richardson’s back … actually, this is true. Phoenix signed him even though the team couldn’t get it insured, then Isiah assumed his contract under the same pretenses. Smart move. It’s not as though bad backs are a chronic thing.

6. Gary Payton’s back … because of the salad fork sticking out of it.

7. Eduardo Najera’s face … if only because he’s going to agitate someone to the point of a Kermit Washington-type incident soon. He makes Bruce Bowen look like Gandhi.

8. Jeff McInnis … remember when Charles Oakley wanted to kill him before David Stern intervened? Well, I don’t care whether they called a truce to keep the Commish happy. You don’t cross Oak. In fact, I don’t even like joking about Oakley under the 0.0001 percent chance he might know how to surf the Internet. Let’s just move on.

Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes
Q: Where does Roger Clemens rate on the “I’m too old and too tough to be going to a salon to have my hair highlighted” scale — let’s use rockers Richie Sambora and Jon Bon Jovi as the benchmark.
–Randall Iovino, Rockville, Md.

SG: Right up there with Brad Pitt … although Celtics GM Danny Ainge is a perfect 10 on the scale, since he gets his hair highlighted at the same hair salon as my stepmother. In fact, she was sitting next to him while he made at least 12 cell phone calls about the impending Antoine Walker trade last week, leading to her calling me and “breaking” the trade over her cell phone on the way home. That’s right, my stepmother broke the impending Celtics trade on the way home from her hair salon. I will now give myself a manicure with a machete.

Q: I’m getting married in few months at Mandalay Bay, as opposed to St. Joseph’s Chapel at Holy Cross. (I’m an HC ’98 grad). I guess my question is this, how long do I have to wait after the official “I Do’s” to play a hand of blackjack? I mean, my fiancee and I have been together for three years, so it’s not like we haven’t already consummated the relationship. Plus, most of my boys will be out in Vegas with us. I figured you would have some sort of ruling for me.
–Chris M., Worcester, Mass.

SG: I feel like the Wolf in “Pulp Fiction” right now. Okay — I’m assuming you’re having a reception, and I’m assuming she’ll change out of her dress sometime during the night. When she goes to your room to change, tell her you’re staying downstairs to play “just a couple of hands” with your buddies. She’ll be fine with that, but she’ll insist that you play in a specific section so she can find you after she changes. Tell her you’ll be at the tables closest to the sports book. Then tell her she looked beautiful tonight and you’re so glad she’s your wife and all that crap.

As soon as she leaves, walk to the opposite end of the gaming area and find the tables near Raffles Cafe, which are hidden away a little bit. By the time she takes the elevator up, changes, calls her friends, comes back down, then walks around to find you, that should be about 45 minutes — enough time for three shoes. When she does find you, tell her that you had to switch tables because the dealer was bad luck — this way she won’t be angry about it. And even if you’re losing, tell her that you were on a hot streak right when she showed up — in fact, you’ve never been on a roll like this before. She’ll be thinking, “Cool, I’m having eggs benedict tomorrow from room service, and screw it, I might even steal one of the robes!” and leave you alone for another 45 minutes.

Here’s the key: In that next 45 minutes, you have to win money. When she comes back, you need to have at least five stacks of green to show off. Anything less and you’re going upstairs. Then again, that’s probably not a bad thing. You know, it’s your wedding night and all.

(Speaking of Vegas …)

Q: I have a Vegas Bachelorette Party Theory that I want to share with you and your readers: If you see a bachelorette party going on in Vegas, DO NOT APPROACH THEM, the only thing they will do to the men that approach them is tease them and make them look like idiots. There will always be a “mother hen” protecting the really drunk ones. It is a no-win situation. You need to keep your distance. Make eye contact with the ones that are looking around. Smile at any of them that break away to go to the bar, and maybe say hello. BUT THAT IS ALL. Then you must wait. Sooner or later they will all head back up to the rooms, because the bachelorette is way too drunk. Now pay attention, this is the important part. More often than not, in about 20 minutes, two or three of the girls will head back down. Run; don’t walk, to talk to these girls. They came back down for one reason.
–Rob O., Redondo Beach, Calif.

SG: Yikes … that was like beginning of an informercial ad for Rohypnol.

Q: Do you think that Al Michaels is really a part of some elaborate Truman Show-esque experiment? I mean, just look at the guys he has been paired with over the years. Tim McCarver, Frank Gifford, Dan Dierdorf, Howard Cosell, Jim Palmer, John Madden, Dennis Miller, Hubie Brown, Doc Rivers, Bill Walton, Boomer Esiason, Dan Fouts … what an eclectic and bizarre group of announcers. And now he’s doing Monday Night Football on ESPN with Joe Theismann. Are you kidding me? It’s like someone’s trying to see what combination finally makes him crack on the air. Next spring I’m almost expecting to hear: “Welcome to the 2006 NBA Finals, I’m Al Michaels alongside Dikembe Mutombo and a guy from the New York subway system who thinks he’s Jesus.”
–Murray, Vancouver, Wash.

SG: Now that’s a great e-mail. And just for the hell of it, three more thoughts on Michaels:

1. Al did play-by-play for the greatest sporting event of all time (the 1980 Olympic Hockey game); the greatest gambling moment of all time (the Music City Miracle, when Wycheck lateraled to Dyson to beat the Bills); and the most incredible sports moment of all time (when the first-ever Bay Area World Series was postponed for a week by a devastating earthquake that happened moments before Game 3 in San Fran, the odds of which had to be 10 billion to 1 if you added up all the different variables). I always thought that was amazing. If Michaels had just found a way to announce Hagler-Hearns, the Artest Melee and the Shawn Michaels-Bret Hart “Screw Job” match in Montreal, he would have gone down as the Forrest Gump of announcers.
Rafael Palmeiro
2. Isn’t it strange that everyone remembers Al’s “Do you believe in miracles… yes!!!!!” call from the 1980 Olympics, but nobody remembers his partner’s identity for that same game? He ended up becoming the Andrew Ridgeley/DJ Jazzy Jeff of hockey analysts. By the way … it was Ken Dryden.

3. This isn’t a dig about Al — really, it isn’t — but I feel like your name is half the battle as an announcer. For instance, if your name is “Al Michaels,” you’re already a B-plus coming out of the gate. People want to trust an “Al Michaels.” He sounds like he should be a good announcer. Same with “Joe Buck” or “Keith Jackson,” or even “Gus Johnson.” But take Mike Breen, who’s probably the second-best NBA guy behind Marv Albert right now. Very good announcer, blah name. If he went by “Michael Stone” or “Frank Mercury,” he would own a beach house in Malibu by now. I’m telling you: Never underestimate the power of a great name.

Q: It’s a complete travesty that we don’t have a “Night Shift” special edition DVD loaded with special features. I mean, seriously, who’s too busy to sit down for commentary, Henry Winkler or Michael Keaton?
–Chuck Thornton, Kent, Ohio

SG: Agreed. If Michael Keaton can find time to make “Herbie: Fully Loaded” and “First Daughter,” he can find time to sit down and discuss the genius of Bill Blazejowski with Hank Winkler for 95 minutes.

Q: In your “Midseason Form” column, you write about how your wife hates Mariah Carey and that most women do. Try this: Tell your wife that you find Jennifer Love Hewitt attractive and you enjoy her acting. You may even be able to squeeze a whole column out of her reaction and the pure bile that women spit when hearing her name. Ask any sisters, sisters-in-law, other female friends; they all hate her universally, and it is unexplainable.
–Jack, Cleveland

SG: Just for the record, I tried this with the Sports Gal this week … she reacted like George Brett in the Pine Tar Game. Highest of high comedy. Somebody needs to film the pilot, “Everybody Hates Jennifer.”

Q: I was arguing with a friend yesterday as to what the best aspect of TiVo is. I say it is the ability to fast-forward through any scenes of “90210” that Andrea is in, while he says the best part is that it allows him to watch sporting events with no commercials, which I think is ridiculous because games should always be watched live if possible. Anyway, we both agreed that you were the man to answer this question, and there’s 20 bucks riding on your answer. Thanks.
–Dave, Manalapan, N.J.

SG: You make a valid point with the Andrea argument, but I’m with your buddy — zooming through sporting events is the best thing about TiVo. It’s no contest. When I’m cruising through Sox games, I don’t have to deal with commercials, sideline reporters interviewing random people in the stands, pitching coaches taking 10 minutes to waddle to the mound, Jerry Remy violently coughing up nicotine phlegm every other inning … everything gets wiped away. I bang out entire games in 40 minutes or less.

Three other things I love about TiVo (and no, the TiVo folks have never given me anything, and yes, I own two TiVos that I bought myself):

1. The unedited “Saturday Night Live” repeats at 3 a.m. on NBC. Last weekend, Musical Youth sang “Pass the Dutchie” … then they had to come back out and sing a second song. You can’t put a price on this stuff.

2. The Season Pass conflicts. It’s almost like setting a batting order, especially if you’re sharing the Season Pass with your spouse. “All right, if you give me SportsCenter in the 1-spot, you can have Regis and Kelly in the 2-hole.”

3. Since it’s apparently against the law for TV networks to coordinate the times of their shows with TiVo, occasionally, we have situations where you know the show or the game is ending soon — the green thingie is all the way to the right — but the episode is just winding to an end, so it becomes the most randomly exciting 20 seconds you can spend in front of a television. Did it make it? Is there enough time left? Did it… YES! Made it by two seconds! See, it’s the little things in life that keep you going.

Q: I laughed out loud when I saw that Alanis Morissette released an acoustic version of her 10-year old album, “Jagged Little Pill.” Also, if you’re looking to purchase the CD, it’s available only at Starbucks. How hard up for money is she? What would be the sports equivalent to this? Brady Anderson reissuing an autographed set of his 1996 Topps Baseball card celebrating his 50-HR season?
–Mark Graham, Brookline Mass.

Al Michaels and John Madden
SG: You know, I racked my brain for about 15 minutes trying to come up with the sports equivalent, and I think it would have to be some sort of Olympics-type parallel (because of the lightning-in-a-bottle factor). So it would be something like Nancy Kerrigan reenacting her silver medal winning skating routine from the 1994 Olympics, then selling the DVD at various Dunkin’ Donuts around New England … or Kerri Strug reenacting her one-legged vault on the set of “Gymkata 2,” then selling DVDs of the vault at Subway. Poor Alanis. She should have just gone the whole way and changed the lyrics to “You Oughta Know” to Starbucks orders, so the chorus could have gone, “And I’m here … to remind you … about the nonfat soy chai latte …”

Q: Just a clarification about my earlier e-mail on my desire for a special edition DVD of “Night Shift.” In no way should my comments be construed as a rip on either Winkler or Keaton. I can just picture Keaton reading my comments, realizing I go to Kent State like he did, and showing up at my door in the Batman costume to beat me up. On second thought, that would be pretty cool.
–Chuck Thornton, Kent, Ohio

SG: I’m beginning to think that none of my readers could pass a drug test. Not a one.

Q: What is the all-time best performance by a guest host in an SNL skit? I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of this question for a while now … you know, instead of actually working while I’m at work. If you omit every ex-cast member, athlete, man in a dress, woman who’s only on the show because of her breasts, celebrities playing themselves and every Alec Baldwin sketch (there’s just too many, and frankly it’s not fair to the rest of them), what do you have left?
— Dan D., Long Island, NY

SG: First, it’s not fair to penalize Alec Baldwin — for me, his performance in the first “Tony Bennett Show” sketch was Hall of Fame material. What could possibly top his asking David Gest, “I don’t get it … why would you build a cherry orchid when you like bananas?” Or his doing the Dr. Scholl’s ad with the story, “I once made love to a woman’s foot for seven hours … and then the nurse tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Mr. Bennett, she’s gone.'”

Anyway, to come up with a list like this, only one rule applies: Nobody else would have been as good in the skit but that particular guest host. And there have been a bunch of memorable ones — Justin Timberlake as Robin Gibb, Christina Aguilera as Kim Catrall, Gwyneth Paltrow as Sharon Stone, Baldwin as Robert DeNiro, Tom Hanks in the “Mr. Belvedere Club” sketch, Sarah Michelle Gellar in the “Dodge Stratus” sketch, Roseanne Barr in the “Misery” parody, etc. — but only five stand out (in reverse order):

5. Joe Montana in the “Masturbate” sketch
I can’t even describe what it was like, in the mid-80s, to watch a Super Bowl MVP (and somewhat of a dud by all accounts) rattle off the words “I’m going upstairs to masturbate” in a sketch. It was like seeing a UFO land. Even if his career ended the next season, he still would have gotten my Hall of Fame vote for that moment.

4. Richard Pryor in the “Racial Interview” sketch
This was like SNL’s 10th show ever — Pryor was hosting back when he was Eddie Murphy, Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock rolled into one. So this was an event. And they have this sketch in which Chevy Chase is interviewing Pryor’s character for a job, and they start playing word association, only Chase starts throwing out racial insults that get worse and worse, and Pryor’s character gets angrier and angrier … even when you watch it 30 years later, you can feel the tension. I can’t imagine anyone but Prior selling that idea as well … mainly because he probably really was getting ticked off. An electric moment.

3. Christopher Walken in “Trivial Psychic” and “More Cowbell” (tie)
Funny ideas, perfect guy each time. Isn’t it strange that he’s now known more for “SNL” than “The Deer Hunter,” which only won about five Oscars? An entire generation knows him for lines like “You’re gonna have an ice cream headache … it’s gonna hurt real bad” and “Come on, guys, I put my pants on one leg at a time … it’s just that I go out and make gold records.”

2. Baldwin in “The Tony Bennett Show”
One of the best five SNL skits ever.

1. Stevie Wonder in “The Stevie Wonder Experience”
This one happened in the early ’80s, right as Eddie Murphy was peaking on SNL and seemed poised to become the biggest superstar on the planet (which ended up happening two years later when “Beverly Hills Cop” came out). Just the fact that Stevie hosted the show was interesting because Eddie was doing a wicked impression of him at the time. Who knew what would happen on the show? In this particular sketch, Joe Piscopo (playing an agent) brought Stevie (playing a celeb impersonator) to audition for Murphy (who was a music executive) … with the catch being that Stevie’s character bills himself as the Stevie Wonder Experience. Excellent setup.

So Stevie does his Stevie “impersonation,” and it’s terrible. Truly awful. Murphy ends up interjecting, “No, no, you’re doing it all wrong,” then proceeds to slip on a pair of sunglasses as the crowd goes crazy. And he does Stevie with Stevie standing right next to him.

Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan
(Note: I remember being like 12 or 13 when this happened, and you can think I’m crazy, I don’t care. But the most exciting TV moments of the early ’80s were A) this sketch, B) Letterman taking his show to L.A. and having Carson as a guest, C) Michael Jackson singing “Billie Jean” and doing the moonwalk on the Motown 25 special, D) Reagan getting shot by Hinckley, E) Roddy Piper smashing the coconut into Jimmy Snuka’s head. I’m telling you, this was the Mount Rushmore of Random/Exciting Non-Sports TV Moments in the Early ’80s. I won’t even accept any other arguments. Save your time.)

Anyway, Eddie brings the house down with his impression of Stevie singing “My Cherie Amour.” Unbelievable. Stevie’s standing right there. The crowd settles down and Stevie “tries it” again … still terrible. Eddie does it again … kills again. After the crowd settles down, the scene shifts back to Stevie’s “character” for one last “attempt” at an impression. Only this time, Fake Stevie suddenly turns into Real Stevie and belts out an a cappella version of “My Cherie Amour” that was like … I mean, I can’t possibly describe how good this was. Nobody had a voice like Stevie in his prime. And when he nails the last note, the crowd erupts like someone just made a midcourt shot to win an NCAA Tournament game or something — if you watch the tape, even Piscopo breaks character and lets out a yelp. That’s how remarkable it was. I know he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer and a musical icon, but I can’t imagine Stevie Wonder ever brought the house down quite like that.

Of course, Eddie never breaks character. He waits for the applause to die down, waits for an extra second and finally says, “No, man, it still sucks.”

Perfect ending to one of the best SNL sketches ever. And it doesn’t happen without Stevie Wonder.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy’s World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.

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Bill Simmons is the founding editor of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, click here.

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