Hustle and Flow 

After finishing up their annual chemistry-building Rodeo Road Trip with a ho-hum 4-4 record, the San Antonio Spurs now set their sights on the remaining NBA regular season grind and another run at that elusive fourth championship.

The not-so-blockbuster trade that hoops pundits were clamoring for finally arrived in a deal that sent San Antonio forward Eric Williams to the Charlotte Bobcats for forward Melvin Ely. The two teams essentially swapped bit reserve players and Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich has staunchly maintained that he expects no major deals before the trade deadline. As silly as some of the fan-proposed trades sound, one has to wonder if bringing back Malik Rose and Stephen Jackson for the post-season push would add some much-needed swagger to the Spurs locker room, but Pop would never pull the trigger on those deals.

Next up for the Spurs are home contests against the floundering Seattle SuperSonics and the surprising Toronto Raptors. Despite flashes of brilliance from guard Ray Allen, the Sonics are currently dead last in the Northwest Division and provide the Spurs with a nice opportunity to improve their home record. Led by All-Star Chris Bosh, the Raptors sit atop the shaky Atlantic Division, with a 29-24 record. Until the Orlando Magic visit San Antonio next week, Bosh can expect to bear the brunt of Dwight Howard’s posturing victory dunk over Tim Duncan. Many news outlets, particularly those in Florida, viewed the vicious slam as a passing of the torch from old man Duncan to the next generation of power forwards, but don’t expect Duncan, a three-time Finals MVP, to bow down so easily.

The upcoming contest with the Raps (who possess the coolest name abbreviation in sports), will be a homecoming for former University of Texas standout TJ Ford. During his tenure in Austin, Ford led the Longhorns to their first Final Four appearance since 1947 and until Kevin Durant came along, was for UT basketball what Vince Young is to the storied football program. After being drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks and posting a solid rookie year, Ford sat out the next season, recovering from career-threatening neck surgery. He made a strong comeback the following season before being traded to the Great White North.

When he wore a Bucks jersey, Ford’s visits to Texas were usually treated as unofficial Longhorn alumni events and it will be interesting to see if the tradition continues with Toronto. After a road loss to the Mavericks earlier this season, Ford commented on playing in Texas: “I think you want to put on a good show every game you play, especially being here,” he said on Raptors.com. Anytime the lightning-quick Ford steps on the court, and particularly against Tony Parker, a good show is sure to follow.

 

Amaechi in the Middle

Much has been made over former Magic and Jazz forward Don Amaechi becoming the first NBA player, former or active, to come out of the closet, and rightly so. Despite feeling somewhat orchestrated — Amaechi is promoting his new book, Man in the Middle, published by ESPN, which continues to push the story on television — Amaechi gets serious props for making the sports nation address its homophobia. It was fascinating to see how different NBA personalities responded to the news, and their looks and words spoke volumes.

LeBron James, the league’s darling, wondered aloud if he could trust a gay teammate and later “clarified” the statement. Amaechi’s former coaches, Doc Rivers and especially Jerry Sloan, looked terrified when questioned on the matter, and retired five-time NBA All-Star Tim Hardaway lost his mind on Miami Herald columnist Dan Le Batard’s radio show. “You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known,” said Hardaway, a University of Texas El Paso alum. “I don’t like gay people, and I don’t like to be around gay people. I am homophobic.”

The fact that an alumnus of the university that shattered ignorant stereotypes in 1966 by winning the national championship with five African-American starters can spit such hateful venom boggles the mind. The smiling Hardaway from the Spike Lee-directed, multicultural ’90s ads feels light years away and his comments reportedly opened the floodgates for anonymous homophobic rants, including death threats, against Amaechi. Amaechi has taken it all in stride and in the grand scheme of things, this retired journeyman may ultimately prove to be this season’s league MVP.


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