Tuesday, October 29, 2013

History On the Horizon (My 5 Biggest Questions Going Into the 2013-14 NBA Season)

Jordan’s Bulls. Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers. Russell’s Celtics. Miken’s Lakers. That’s it. Two titles in a row is nothing to sneeze at by any means, but three in a row is the stuff of legend. NBA immortality. That’s what’s at stake for LeBron James and the Miami Heat going into the 2013-14 NBA season. James enters his 10th season CLEARLY, whether you like it or admit it or not, entrenched as the league’s best player. Never has his “King” moniker been so fitting as James is the reigning and consecutive NBA MVP, Finals MVP and NBA champion. (Something only Jordan and Russell did by the way.) I mean, you just gotta give it up at this point. The man is one of the best basketball players ever and he's at the apex of his powers. You're going to get to say you watched LeBron James play basketball and that's going to mean something one day. (Plus this commercial is cool as hell. It's getting harder and harder not to like this guy.)

In the offseason, Miami added former number one pick, walker, zombie, Greg Oden and the always complicated, Michael Beasley. These are low risk, HIGH reward moves that could help Miami cement themselves into NBA history, but here's the issue with that. The last team to make three straight finals where the Los Angeles Lakers from ’08-’10. That team could only win two of three and the Heat are in the same spot as my Lakers a few years ago. After three straight years of going to the edge of the playoffs, does Miami even get back to the Finals let alone win it?

Getting to the Finals four times in a row is damn near impossible. (The last team that did it was the Boston Celtics from ’84-87. And they only won two of four. And that was with the original "Big Three" Bird, McHale and Parrish.) The injury bug has merely “nipped” at the Heat's heels and nagging injuries to Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh didn’t derail their title hopes these past two season, but does that luck last? No matter who your team is, if you love the NBA and the history of the game, you have to at least understand why this is the biggest question going into this season. CAN THE HEAT THREE-PEAT?

2: Can Rose rise with the Bulls?

The Chicago Bulls are the best threat to beat the Heat almost by default. With the return of superstar guard and former MVP Derrick Rose, the Bulls looked primed to truly challenge Miami. To play devil's advocate, a few years ago, and at full strength, the Bulls still fell to Miami in only five games, so what’s different now you say? Maturity.

You always have to wait your turn in the NBA. The Bulls were 41-41 in 2009-’10 before they took a huge leap to 62-20 in 2010-'11. Teams never get that good and win right way. Rose got hurt during the playoffs the next year and last season the Bulls lost to Miami again in five games. But now the Bulls are more seasoned, they have a much better two-guard in Jimmy Butler, Deng and Noah are improved and healthy to boot. There are a few challengers in the East but none as intriguing as the Chicago Bulls and Derrick Rose.

3. How will Dwight Howard play now that he’s “happy” again?

A few years ago I watched Dwight Howard’s Magic play Derrick Rose’s Bulls live in Orlando and I took away two things from that game. There are a lot of hot women in Orlando and Rose and Howard were All-Stars for a reason. You could ALWAYS tell them apart from the other players on the court. I didn’t have bad seats but they weren’t great, but Howard and Rose popped off the court the same way they popped off the screen at home. They were that much better than everyone else. Rose looks like the same guy I saw in Orlando after a few preseason games but Howard doesn’t look like THAT guy anymore.

Howard played with a level of athleticism that no one else in the league did. Not even LeBron James. He was a defensive anchor and could jump instantly but not anymore. He has to bend to leap now when he just use to rise up almost effortlessly. I give him credit for his time in LA if only because he came back months before he was suppose to, played on a bum shoulder and STILL led the league in boards. Primadonna/wish-washy behavior aside he’s still the best center in the league.

Playing in Houston with James Harden, Howard’s finally got a young elite player that can flank him. Kobe Bryant wasn’t the kind of player that would ever work playing with someone like Howard. Kobe doesn’t play games. He doesn’t joke. It’s all business all the time and it’s ALWAYS HIS team. As great as Harden is, he’s going to take second billing to Howard and without any issue in doing so. All the excuses are gone for him this season. He’s where HE chose to be. He’s got a great YOUNG team. He’s healthy. Let’s see what you got Howard.

4. Which West “window closing” team can come back?

ESPN ranked Oklahoma Thunder forward Kevin Durant and teammate Russell Westbrook number 2 and 5 respectively. Houston’s James Harden was ranked 4. Damn! According to this rankings, had OKC kept Harden, the Thunder would three of the top five players on the planet. Westbrook is going to miss the first few weeks of the season and they lost Harden’s replacement in Kevin Martin but the Thunder are still going to be good because they have the second best baller in the world in KD but is that enough? 

Kendrick Perkins is a complete waste on the court and forces them to play 4 on 5 when he's in the lineup. (I have a higher plus/minus for the Thunder and I don't even play for the team!) Plus we don't even know if Westbrook comes back the same. I really think OKC screwed themselves by taking Harden's failure in the Finals versus the Heat too much into account when it came to keeping him. OKC was banking on Serge Ibaka getting better so they payed him instead of Harden. They should have amnestied Perkins when they had the chance, took the cap hit by resigning Harden because it's looking more and more like their title hopes left when Harden did.

San Antonio Spurs got about as close as you can get to winning the title without actually winning it. Now they’re a year older and the Rockets, Warriors and Clippers are all on the rise in the West. Each year I keep expecting Tim Duncan and the Spurs to fall off a cliff but it doesn’t happen. Greg Popvich keeps finding ways to get the best out of this team. On the plus side, Tony Parker is going to be healthy and Kawhi Leonard looks like a budding All-Star so the Spurs aren't totally out of it. But does Duncan have enough left in the tank? Especially after laying it all on the line to win last season.

The last "window closing" team in the West is the Memphis Grizzlies. They seemed so close to winning the title when Zach Randolph looked other worldly and Marc Gasol stepped up but fast forward a few years later and all that has changed. They got rid of a great coach in Lionel Hollins, shipped off their 3rd best player in Rudy Gay and still didn't improve their horrid outside shooting. It was a struggle for Memphis to get to 90 points and in the NBA nowadays that's a huge problem. I say Memphis is a 50 win, lose in the second round type of team at best.

5. What the hell is going to happen to the Lakers?

I know, I know. There are a TON of other great questions going into the season. Are the Boston, Brooklyn Nets too old to win it all? How will the Knicks look? Will the Pacers take the next step? Can Doc Rivers get the Clippers off the hump? Which team is going to suck bad enough to get Andrew Wiggins? If not from a historical perspective, the Lakers are just fascinating from a pure intrigue standpoint. Let's face it, the Lakers are always a story when you're talking NBA basketball. (And this is my list, I’m Laker fan and I’m going to talk about my team. So yeah, deal with it!)

They lost two of their best players from a season ago, only Steve Nash is under contract past this season and Kobe Bryant is trying to come back from one of the most devastating injuries any athlete, regardless of age and sport, can have. But the Lakers two biggest issues continue to be off the court, in my opinion anyway. They STILL have the wrong coach in D’Antonio and Jim Buss is about as fit to run this team as the lady that was giving me my popcorn in Staples last week.

A year ago it just "seemed" like Mike Brown wasn’t the right fit, so the Lakers smartly removed him from the position. Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Kobe were in full swing, and Phil Jackson was itching to coach, but what does Jimmy Boy do? Hire a coach that cares about defense the same way the French care about fighting back in a war. A coach that NEVER adjusts to his players and forces them to play his style NO MATTER WHAT. Until the Lakers fix this mistake THEY’LL NEVER, and I'll say it again, NEVER, win an NBA title.

When Kobe comes back (Because we all know he's crazy enough to suck the blood from his daughters' necks if meant getting back on the court sooner.) there is NO WAY he lets the Lakers suck. The team was horrible last year and he STILL dragged them, kicking and screaming no less, into the playoffs. But why do that again this year? Why kill yourself for this team Kobe? Lakers fans I'm sorry to say this, but the boys got no shot and you know it. Why not bottom out and get one of the lottery picks in the best draft since ’03? Am I the only one that knows that being in NBA "no man’s land" is the worst thing ever. You’re not good enough to win the title but with Kobe you’re just good enough to sneak into the playoffs as an 8th seed. And what does that get you? No lottery pick and a first round ass beating. (Milwaukee Bucks fans are SCREAMING at their computers right now.) You want to be contending for a title or sucking your brains out. Those are the only real places to be in the NBA and smart execs know that. Winning titles or rebuilding. Not treading water.

The Lakers are going to have the cap space to rebuild via free agency and I’m still not sure who the team attracts to Los Angeles. Melo, LeBron, Wade and Bosh could all become free agents in the offseason, but I don’t see any of those guys coming specifically with a coach like D’Antonio at the helm. (Lakers fans get over it, Melo ALREADY got a dose of D'Antonio, so you think he wants to sign with LA to get coach by a guy he hated. That's like becoming roommates with your ex-wife.) I'm not sure if LA has the pieces to make a splashy trade like they tried to do for Chris Paul (I’m STILL mad at David Stern!) and they did do for Dwight Howard. They're going to suck and if they do make the playoffs it's not going to be pretty, but when you’re the Lakers you're always going to have people talking. Love 'em or hate 'em, basketball is better when the Lakers are in the mix.

It’s time to rebuild in LA and here’s hoping they do it. But what do you guys think? I know I missed a few, so leave me a comment below telling me what you think is the biggest question going into the season. Follow me on Twitter @ParisLay. Thanks for reading and as always ENJOY THE VIEW!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

12 Years A Slave Review: The Black Schindler's List

Here's your Best Picture of 2013.

It’s over. It’s over and it’s not even close. I just saw the best film of the year. Director Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave is easily, and I mean EASILY, the most powerful film I’ve EVER seen. EVER. Point plank and period. Few words can truly and accurately describe the emotions I felt sitting in that theater last night. Intense, soul crashing anger and rage at White people. Dumfounding confusion at the idea of a "God". How could a people be so loyal and praise a God so much while He lets them suffer so greatly? Overwhelming sorrow and pain for the Blacks that endured slavery. Gut-wrenching shame in my people because even when there were times when Blacks outnumbered whites, WHILE holding axes and knives no less, they did nothing to free themselves. 

Let’s get into the details. 12 Years A Slave is the true story of a Black man that was born free in the northern United States during the 1800s named Solomon Northup. After being lured to Washington D.C. under the promise of a job, Solomon is drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery. Solomon workes as a slave on various plantations in the south before being freed 12 years later. (Thus the name.) Again, this is a TRUE story. All these events actually happened as the film is based on Solomon’s own memoir, for which the film shares it’s namesake.

I must first warn you by telling you that this film is very, very brutal and definitely uncomfortable to watch at times. As a Black male, I can tell you there were more than a few moments where I almost became physically ill. A few scenes even caused me to have involuntary "verbal" protests. You think Passion of Christ was a hard watch? There is a whipping scene that would make even David Duke (Leader of the Klu Klux Klan) turn away in horror and shame.

Films like Django Unchained are more satirical and cartoonish in their depiction of slavery. The true barbarity and malevolent nature of White people was far more abhorrent and 12 Years A Slave is unapologetically honest with its portrayal of the torture and debasing slaves endured. Scenes of Black men and women standing naked while White men poke and prod them like simple livestock aren’t violent, but the scene is just as unnerving and sickening to watch as bloodier ones. There's a scene where a woman pleads to be sold with her children but is still separated that is particularly difficult to watch. Especially when you remember all these things ACTUALLY happened.

Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor gives the most remarkable performance I’ve seen since Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln. Like Day-Lewis, there is never a time where you feel as if you’re watching Ejifor “play” a character. He BECOMES Solomon Northup. Ejifor's performance is utterly mesmerizing as Solomon's fear and fight for survival is never forgotten for a single moment when Ejifor is on the screen. You have to remember that Solomon was a freeman. He had never encountered the horrors of slavery or the cruelty of White people. Solomon's reactions are that of a Black person from 2013 placed into a time machine and sent back to 1840. There are so many subtle, but impactful moments in Ejifor’s performance that I could honestly write a whole review on just his acting alone. Ejifor is the readon Michael B. Jordan won’t be winning Best Actor this year for his lead role in this summer’s excellent Fruitvale Station.

Paul Giamatti and Michael Fassbender play two of the most unlikeable villains I've ever seen in a movie. Both make Leonard Dicaprio’s Calvin Candie look like Mother Teresa. Although Giamatti isn’t in the film very long his screen time is still meaningful and effective. However, Fassbender is really the other standout of the film besides Ejifor. He plays an evil plantation owner who uses and twists religious scripture to justify his acts of inhumanity. I’m never going to be as comfortable watching Fassbender ever again and I've had to remind myself that he was just "acting" several times since the film ended. Yes, his performance was that good.

Sarah Paulson does fine work as Fassbender’s equally cruel wife and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o is very impressive as the eyes of “masters” desires as she plays a slave girl named Patsey. Whenever Nyong'o's on the screen she dominates it. Brad Pitt, Paul Dano and Alfre Woodard all turn in fine supporting performances also. Oscar nods will be given to most, as well as to most of the talent behind the camera. McQueen perfectly paces and explores a difficult subject matter with such ease you'd think he's lived through slavery himself. While cinematographer Sean Bobbit's captures the beauty of those grand ole southern plantations, while never shying from showing us, in explicit detail, the unspeakable evil that lurked their grounds.

There are so many moments and things I want to say about this film but I can't. You’d be here all day and so would I. If you’re a White person and you’ve ever wondered why Black men always seem to have a chip on their shoulder, THIS is why. If you've wondered why educated Black men work hard but seem to have an underlining sense of urgency in their actions while still holding a deep anger inside? This is WHY. Why Black people always make EVERYTHING about their race? This is why. This is why the world has so many "Angry Black Man". Even though there isn't a person living that was responsible for the tragedy of slavery, and of course I didn't live this, that doesn't make me and many other African-Americans any less angry about it. If your skin isn’t Black you DON’T UNDERSTAND it and that’s okay.

This film should be seen by everyone, but it absolutely MUST be seen by ALL African-Americans. Specifically African-Americans that weren't conscious adults in the 1960's and 1970's or earlier. Most African-Americans seem to forget what happened in this country so long ago. Most of us seem to think that we’ve always been free to go and learn and work and do as we please. This film acts as a huge reminder of what it use to mean to be Black in this country. And even if I weren’t a Black man I’d say this is the best picture of the year. What Saving Private Ryan is to a World War II vet or what Schindler's List is to a Jewish person, 12 Years A Slave is like that to African-Americans. Like those films, 12 Years A Slave is a hauntingly authentic illustration of a historical event that CAN'T be truly felt without a personal connection to the characters or source material. All who see it will be affected but ONLY a Black person can truly understand the pain that's on the screen and that’s fine.