NBA Playoffs: Jump on the Utah Jazz


The NBA Playoffs are fast approaching, and if your team isn’t a part of the festivities, that may seem bittersweet. As a Knicks fan, I’ve grown used to not having a dog in the fight. However, the playoffs offer a great opportunity for people like myself to be fan mercenaries and pick a new team to jump on the bandwagon for. It might feel a little dirty, but what fun is watching sports if you don’t have a rooting interest? With that in mind, let me introduce to you a great candidate for this exercise: the Utah Jazz.

“The Jazz? Really?”, you might scoff, but hear me out. The Jazz might be the hottest team in the entire league. Prominent NBA writers like ESPN’s Zach Lowe have covered the team’s exploits since a 10 game winning streak ten weeks ago which catapulted them back into the playoff picture.

After beginning 16-24, they’ve gone 31-9 to storm to a likely top-four finish in the West. In that stretch, they’ve had the 12th best offensive rating (108.4 points per 100 possessions) in the league, an eight-spot jump from the first 40 games. More impressively, they’ve boasted a defensive rating of 99.1, best in the entire league in that time frame, and the second-ranked 76ers are closer to the fifth-place team in that metric than they are to the Jazz.

A lot of that jump has to do with likely Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, healthy after missing chunks of games in the early going. He’s basically a 7’1” pterodactyl, his extendo-arms enveloping so much space that it deters opposing players from even daring to enter the paint where he orbits. Utah has many solid defenders, but it’s Gobert who warps the court and allows perimeter guys to play with aggression, knowing that Gobert is back there to put out any fires.

If defense isn’t your thing, that’s OK. Enter Donovan Mitchell, an uber-talented rookie guard averaging a team-high 20.5 points per game. Mitchell has been simply spectacular this season, becoming the top offensive option for a team with home-court advantage in the playoffs, which is virtually unheard of for a rookie. We’re watching a future superstar grow in real time, and the only reason that he might not capture the Rookie of the Year award is the equally remarkable play of Ben Simmons in Philly. Mitchell is a thrill to watch, a threat to put someone on the ground with a crossover, drain a deep three, convert an acrobatic layup, or dunk on someone on any given play. If you want to know why he’s so fun, just watch this:

If you’re a hoops nerd who loves the little things, and don’t care so much about the flashy guys, well Utah has what you’re looking for too. Ricky Rubio showed sparks of greatness during his tenure in Minnesota, but head coach Quin Snyder (a leading candidate for Coach of the Year, by the way), and his staff have unlocked the best version of Rubio that NBA fans have seen. A notoriously poor shooter in years past, Snyder had given Rubio the green light to fire away, and he’s been on fire from everywhere during Utah’s half-season run, shooting a blistering 42.5% from three, and a tidy 45.4% from midrange. Plus, he’s still one of the association’s most creative playmakers:

Speaking of creative players, Joe Ingles has had an incredible season for the Jazz. The 6”8’ Aussie might be my favorite role player in the NBA, and he’ll soon be yours too if you give him a watch. Ingles is the ultimate glue guy. Need someone to run a pick and roll? Ingles has developed a beautiful two-man dance with Gobert, and can score at the rim or dish to open teammates with ease. Need someone to space the floor? Ingles has been on fire all year, ranking third in the league in three-point percentage at 44.1%. Need to slow down an opposing perimeter guy? Ingles can clamp down on the less glamorous end of the court, and he’s an expert at staying in front of his man, even though he gives up speed and athleticism to many NBA players. Overall, Ingles is a joy to watch, and his success this season is an incredible story. He can even throw down a dunk every once in a while:

Those are the main guys, but the supporting cast offers intrigue as well. Dante Exum, a top-5 draft pick in 2014, is back after missing much of the season with a shoulder injury, and he’s wasted no time in becoming a valuable piece off the bench. The 6’6” Aussie has been attacking the rim relentlessly since his return, and can even offer rim protection on defense.

Royce O’Neale is another rotation cog for Snyder, and he’s been a solid player for Utah after spending the last few years playing overseas. Jae Crowder is playoff tested from his Boston days, as is Jonas Jerebko, and big man Derrick Favors is a nightly double-double threat. The Jazz go ten-deep with useful players, an attribute sure to help them as they enter the postseason.

Part of the team experience comes off the court, and the Jazz don’t disappoint there either. It’s obvious that the players are really close from following them on social media. They hang out together on the road, poke fun at each other on Twitter and Instagram, and interact with their fans regularly. Plus, you can always count on Gobert to talk trash to rival players on Twitter if you’re looking for laughs. It’s a lovable group, and their passing and teamwork on the court clearly translates off it.

So, while the NBA media focuses on the Rockets and Warriors, give some love to the upstart team in Salt Lake City. The Jazz have the talent and coaching to make a playoff run, and could even pull off an upset of Houston or Golden State if things break right. No matter where they end their season, consider hopping on the Jazz bandwagon. You might be surprised at how quickly you grow attached to this squad.

The Rock latest celeb to talk depression


Continuing a movement that has seen a huge amount of growth in the past few months, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson became the latest prominent male figure to publicly share his experiences with depression.

Johnson is one of the most famous celebrities in the world and one of the most beloved (and a University of Miami alum to boot). He’s also famously strong and muscular, playing the hardened, badass character in many of the movies in which he stars.

Some people may see this news and say, “Who cares? Boo hoo. A multimillionaire is crying on his yacht, am I supposed to feel bad?” This misses the point entirely. Mental health is not based on one’s bank account and despite what some may believe, celebrities have an enormous impact on the public, especially young people. Johnson is an activist, philanthropist, and general good guy, so there are worse options for kids to mimic.

What Johnson’s story does is continue the conversation, allowing mental health to be discussed openly and without shame, not something that gets bottled up and ignored. The fact that he is a man, and a non-white man at that, is even more important.

Generally, famous women are the ones who share their stories about battling mental health, and in movies and television its usually women who deal with these issues. Of course, that’s perfectly fine, but as Johnson says himself, men have more trouble discussing their emotions and mental states. The social norm is for men to not show their emotions, and women typically are much more emotionally healthy as a result. Johnson shows that you can be a tough guy and have emotions, they aren’t mutually exclusive.

DeMar DeRozan, the Toronto Raptors All-Star guard, really got the ball rolling when he opened up about his own ongoing battle with depression, and he expressed support for Johnson. If an NBA All-Star and a world-famous actor can thrive in their field even with depression, that helps others realize that you can still be successful while dealing with a mental health issue.

Many of the responses to Johnson were like the one displayed earlier, expressing surprise that Johnson dealt with depression and happiness that they weren’t alone. Many news outlets covered this story, which helps to spread Johnson’s message even further. Hopefully, guys like DeRozan and Johnson become the rule, not the exception, and help us move toward a future where we can talk about our problems and heal them, not just hide them and let them eat away from within.

Google, Facebook store private data


What does privacy mean in a social media-infused world?

Not much, as it turns out. Most people are aware that big tech companies, like Google and Facebook, harbor a good chunk of data on its users, but the extent to which they do so might surprise and frighten some.

Dylan Curran, a web developer from Ireland, decided to reach out to these companies and ask them for all the information they had on him. What he saw prompted him to launch a firestorm of tweets this past Sunday, and it gets creepier the further you venture into it.

As one might imagine, this discovery proved to be quite the bombshell. Curran appeared on CBS News today to discuss.

Curran found that Facebook alone stores all information that comes from users of their service. Naturally, that makes sense, it’s their platform and they would want to collect data from their users.

The truly scary part comes when Curran says that Facebook stores your contacts, call records and text messages from your phone, not from the Facebook app. This means that even though they don’t have permission, this huge corporation has all your private information.

Google’s freakiest privacy breach is likely their location tracking. While it’s amazing to be able to drive somewhere you’ve never been before without using a map, you may not realize that when you use a service like Google Maps, your location stays on unless you manually turn it off.

According to Curran, every time you turn on your phone, Google receives your current location and the time you were there.

That’s just scratching the surface. Curran’s exposure of how these tech companies keep tabs on us is going viral. Facebook has already responded, saying that they will “update” their privacy settings “in the coming weeks”.

While that sounds nice, many critics have highlighted how Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made these types of promises before, only to back away from the situation after the controversy of the time dialed down.

Here’s to hoping that this newest storm will actually create something better.

UMBC pulls off historic upset


Well, it finally happened. For the first time since the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament moved to a 64-team format in 1985, a 16-seed toppled a 1-seed.

The UMBC Retrievers became an instant sensation as they pulled off what will go down as the biggest upset in NCAA basketball history, blowing top overall seed Virginia out of the gym in a 20-point thrashing.

It was shocking to watch, as a UMBC team that had lost to Albany 83-39 in January made UVA—a team that made mincemeat of its home Atlantic Coast Conference with just one  loss, a team with one of the best defenses in college basketball history, a team that ground far better squad than UMBC into dust look like it didn’t belong in the tournament.

Unsurprisingly, the Retrievers’ notoriety ballooned nearly as quickly as their second half lead did. The UMBC Athletics Twitter account became just as big a star as the team itself, as the account lobbed clever insults and pure bliss into the world. Any analyst who wrote off the Retrievers became a target, as CBS’s Seth Davis did before the game.

Even the man behind the account had a swell in popularity.

Everyone’s general reaction to the upset was disbelief and happiness. It was hard not to get behind UMBC, sports fans love an underdog, and you couldn’t pick a more unlikely David to topple the Virginia Goliath.

UMBC became everyone’s new favorite team for the weekend and UMBC went from “Who’s that team that’s going to get destroyed by Virginia?” to an acronym that sports fans will remember for decades, and whose highlights will pop up every time a 1-seed is on upset alert for years to come.

More than that, it was obvious that the stars of the team, like Jarrius Lyles and K.J. Maura, were playing their hearts out, even as the odds overwhelmed them.

This was especially evident in their second match-up, a loss Kansas State. The game itself was truly a slog to watch, and the Retrievers looked every part of the 16-seed they had earned. However, even as they struggled mightily to score, their effort and hustle never waned, particularly on a remarkable series of saves to retain possession in the contest’s closing minutes.

The scrappy underdog vibe was played up considerably by the game’s commentators, who acted like the UMBC players had dunked from the free throw line every time they dove for a loose ball, but they deserved it.

Like others have said, a champion is crowned every year, but nobody else can claim to have accomplish what the kids from UMBC have, and that’s something that deserves to be celebrated.

Celebrities reveal mental health battles


The term “mental health” has been a big buzzword in the last few weeks. Mainly it has been used in reference to the ongoing discussion of gun control as a major talking point for a population that shouldn’t have access to guns. At the same time, some of the rhetoric coming from people in power is scary.

President Trump has floated the idea of reopening mental health institutions and being able to place potential risks in them involuntarily. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who has completed a rapid arc from sympathetic figure to total buffoon, stated in a CNN town hall two weeks ago that he believes that police should have the power to pluck people that they deem a mental health concern and put them somewhere to protect the rest of society.

Yes, their ideas and the similar thoughts that other prominent figures have issued, are noble in their intention, but the reality that changes like this would create is downright terrifying.

What makes a person a risk? Is it depression? Bipolar disorder? Panic disorder? What a lot of people don’t seem to understand is that diagnosis isn’t as simple as: “You are depressed.” Every single diagnosis (and there are dozens) has many different symptoms, and a person can have experience some of them that are potentially dangerous. Do you need to be diagnosed to be a threat to others’ safety?

So, do we take people away from their lives without their consent? Do we want to be a country that abducts people off the street and puts them in an institution, which by the way are generally ineffective in treating mental health disorders? I know I’m asking a lot of questions, and I certainly don’t have the answers to most of them, but these are things that must be discussed when people like our own president are suggesting plans this extreme.

In our culture and in many other cultures, it’s an unspoken rule not to talk about our problems, especially if you’re a man. However, in recent years, many celebrities have opened up about mental health disorders from which they have suffered. In the past week, two NBA All-Stars, DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love, have written their own stories and participated in interviews in which they have discussed their battles with depression and dealing with a panic attack, respectively (

Both had the same core idea: they spent years not talking about their problems but decided to publicize them now because they know that almost everybody has gone through something. Maybe looking at someone who is rich, talented and successful and still deals with a form of mental illness could inspire a person who looks up to them to seek help of their own, and give them a person to point to and say, “I’m not alone.”

I love that they did this and I believe that the more people like DeRozan and Love who talk about mental health aid the fight against the negative stigma associated with it.

DeRozan’s story is especially powerful in my opinion. DeRozan is from Compton, Calif., an area notorious for being the epicenter of rap and gang violence in the 1980s and 1990s. For a black NBA star who hails from an area that would lead many to assume he is tough-as-nails and hardened to reveal that he is battling depression must be eye-opening for people, especially young black kids.

You just don’t see people like DeRozan talk about depression and I hope his bravery and inspire others to do the same. Opening the conversation will only help people get the help they need, and maybe we can treat people before they resort to violence.

James Harden ‘breaks’ NBA Twitter


When NBA fans discuss who should be named MVP in a given season, one main argument is “MVP moments.” This means that beyond the numbers, beyond the team success, did a player have signature plays that we will remember ten years from now when we look back at the season?

In the 2017-18 season, James Harden of the Houston Rockets has been the leader in the MVP discussion for most of the season, ahead of challengers LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers) , Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks) , Kevin Durant (Golden State Warriors), and Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors).

Harden already had the strongest case, posting unreal numbers on the team with the league’s best record. However, Wednesday night may have locked up The Beard’s first MVP trophy.

It was a pretty typical possession for the Rockets, with Harden working one-on-one against Los Angeles Clippers forward Wesley Johnson while four shooters dotted the three-point line. Harden regularly cooks poor saps in these isolation plays, possessing an endless array of moves to get to the rim or knock down a three off the dribble.

What happened next will go down in NBA Twitter history. He drove on Johnson, unleashed a wicked between-the-legs crossover and stepped back to the three-point line. Now this would have been impressive no matter what, but as it turned out, when Harden got back behind the arc, Johnson had crumpled to the ground. And, to be honest, he probably should have just laid there and refused to get up because Harden proceeded to hold the ball, stare at Johnson’s pathetic body— and this is the best part— wait for him to stand back up, before ending his misery and drilling a three in his face. He was fired up, his teammates lost their minds, and NBA Twitter was off and running.

Twitter isn’t always the greatest thing in the world, but there’s no better place to go when something great happens in basketball. Instantly, video of the move was up on the site, various people were giving their flabbergasted thoughts on how absurd the play was, and within 20 minutes or so the video was dubbed over with Titanic music (a staple of great highlights), among other fun videos. Here’s a photo of the great injustice, and a link to a Bleacher Report article compiling many of the best tweets:

James Harden stares Wesley Johnson down after destroying him with a crossover (Courtesy NBA on ESPN)

Anybody on Twitter who remotely follows NBA hoops weighed in on what was quickly proclaimed the most disrespectful move of the season (in an awe-inspiring way).

THAT is exactly the type of moment people remember, one that will be turned into a meme and be joked about for at least a few days. When voters for the MVP award sit down to fill out their ballots, what do you think will be the first think they think of? Probably the best player on the season’s defining team that reduced another professional athlete to rubble. So, congrats to Harden on his first MVP, and stay tuned to see if he thanks NBA Twitter in his acceptance speech. He might owe a lot to it.

LeBron will not ‘shut up and dribble’


LeBron James won NBA All-Star Weekend, in more ways than one. In the first year of the new All-Star game format, in which the top two vote-getters were selected as team captains, LeBron’s squad toppled Stephen Curry’s bunch in one of the most watchable and competitive midseason showcases of the past 15 years. James earned MVP honors for his efforts.

The biggest story involving James came not from the game, but from a Fox News segment aired on Friday morning before the contest. Host Laura Ingraham shredded James and fellow NBA superstar Kevin Durant for voicing their negative opinions of President Trump in a recent ESPN interview. It’s not the first time James has come out against Trump and he has gone as far to make a speech at a Hillary Clinton rally in Ohio during her 2016 election campaign.

Ingraham’s main position was that James needed to “Shut up and dribble.” She also labeled the two stars’ comments as “barely intelligible” and “ungrammatical,” which is ridiculous and inaccurate, considering James and Durant are some of the most-well spoken and intelligent athletes in sports.

James handled Ingraham in the same way he handles opponents on the court: by (metaphorically) dunking all over her.

During All-Star media day, James naturally was asked to comment on the segment and he responded as he tends to do with most things: taking the high road, with a little bit of James’ trademark passive aggressiveness thrown in.

James talked at length about how he felt it was his duty to be a role model for young kids in the same position he was once in.

“We will definitely not shut up and dribble…. I mean too much to society, too much to the youth, too much to so many kids who feel like they don’t have a way out,” said James.

He later posted a picture on Instagram with the words “I am more than an athlete.”

It may sound like cockiness, but he’s absolutely right. Many kids look to professional athletes as role models and there may not be a better one than James. The man came from a poverty-stricken, single-parent household in Akron, Ohio. He was a household name before he turned 17, landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high school junior. He was anointed as one of the greats before he could even drive. How many people would crumble under that kind of pressure?

Instead, James became one of the three greatest ever to play basketball and transformed into a shrewd businessman with holding in a wide variety of industries, from restaurants to multimedia platforms. He donates millions of dollars to social causes, and is a vocal leader of the fight to end racial injustice. If the man wants to give his opinion on politics, his voice certainly has more weight than some ignorant news anchor.

Of course, James is the clear winner in this, with most of the news media throwing hate on Ingraham and this story blowing up to give Lebron’s fight against racial injustice more awareness. Much of the coverage of this story entailed tearing down Ingraham. For example, NFL player Chris Long tweeted many photos of athletes who were guests on Fox News, and none of them were told to stay out of politics. However, James was able to concede this to Ingraham:

“I had no idea who she was until now, so I guess she won in that case,” James said.

Shaun White and backlash culture


One of the most well-known American Winter Olympic athletes, 31-year-old snowboarder Shaun White, accomplished an amazing feat on Wednesday in Pyeongchang, South Korea, producing an electrifying final run in the men’s halfpipe to leapfrog Japan’s 19-year-old phenom Ayumu Hirano to capture his third gold medal in four Olympics.

The feat itself was a story, but the media storm in the aftermath of White’s gold medal victory was just as intriguing, and indicative of the current level of backlash in our society. Nowadays, it’s only a matter of time before the backlash comes, regardless of how beloved a figure may seem at the time.

In this case, it came almost immediately via social media. Many athletes and celebrities took to Twitter to congratulate White on his accomplishment, but some questioned whether we should be celebrating a man who was accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that was eventually settled out of court.

In the ongoing #MeToo culture, many prominent faces have come into question, leading to trepidations among people who call themselves fans of the accused. It’s an interesting moral quandary. If your favorite celebrity has been accused of sexual misconduct of some kind, should your feelings toward them change?

Some might say that they won’t give their support to anybody who may have sexually harassed another person. Others might say that accusations aren’t proof, or if a person was convicted,  it’s totally separate from their exploits in their field, and those exploits can still be enjoyed. It’s certainly a point of contention, and one that will be brought up repeatedly as more prominent figures have dirt dug up about their pasts.

Curiously, NBC chose to cut to figure skating in lieu of interviewing possibly the greatest snowboarder ever after one of the greatest feats in his career, so the first comments we heard from White came in the press conference which followed the medal ceremony. The media members there began to question him about the 2016 lawsuit, and if it might tarnish his legacy. He said he preferred not to speak about what he called “gossip,” understandably wanting to focus on his tremendous win. That comment brought a whole new wave of backlash, and he issued an apology for his wording on an appearance on NBC’s Today later Wednesday.

That just illustrates how strong the backlash cycle can be: within a few hours, White won a gold medal, faced an initial onslaught of backlash (and a fair amount of praise, to be fair), responded to it, then faced another onslaught of backlash for his response to the backlash. On one hand, who can blame White for wanting to talk only about the Olympics in the afterglow of his win? On the other, it’s fair for people to call him into question in light of the scandal. It’s a huge gray area, and one that won’t be made black or white anytime soon.

Taking in all the Super Bowl has to offer


The Super Bowl is the single-best sporting event. Period.

Although I prefer basketball to football, there’s just some magic to the Super Bowl that can’t be topped. It’s the culmination of four consecutive win-or-go-home playoff rounds, and the fact that there’s always a reasonable chance that any of half a dozen or so teams can win the championship when the postseason begins makes the NFL Playoffs totally enthralling, and the Super Bowl is the dramatic conclusion.

One of my favorite aspects of the Super Bowl is the hyper-detailed coverage of everything surrounding it. Every year, my favorite podcast duo, Bill Simmons and Cousin Sal (of “Jimmy Kimmel” fame), puts out my favorite podcast episode of the year — the Super Bowl prop bets. While I don’t gamble, hearing the minutiae of the things that can be wagered on — from as normal as the point spread to as insane as how many times Tom Brady’s wife will be shown on the broadcast.

Then comes media day, which is basically a free-for-all. Media members from around the world gather to speak to players and coaches, all of whom are available to talk. My favorite coverage from this event has to be from people like NFL Network’s Dave Dameshek and Guillermo, again from “Kimmel.”

Both personalities have a similar schtick: going around to the players and coaches and asking them ridiculous questions like, “Is this a must-win game?” It’s always entertaining, and it’s great to see all the personalities of the players and coaches shine through as they get more exposure.

Best of all, of course, is the game itself, but I love what comes after almost as much. Even if the team I’m not rooting for wins, reading all the stories that come out of the players’ reactions to the ultimate team accomplishment in pro football makes me love being a sports fan.

Media members who are fortunate enough to be in the winning team’s locker room post-game, like The Ringer’s Robert Mays, always come up with great anecdotes. Mays pointed out one thing that really stuck with me. It was Malcolm Jenkins, a nine-year veteran and the undisputed leader of the Eagles, just sitting at his locker, holding the Lombardi Trophy. Mays said that Jenkins was cradling it like a baby, just staring at the silver football, “as if there was a deeper meaning to be held in the metal.”

It’s these innocent, purely human moments that are unique to football’s biggest stage. The sheer amount of media attention means that as fans we know more about the match-up, the players, and the legacies at stake than any other game. With only one game to cover, there’s hardly an angle that’s missed.

These guys work so hard, and put in so much effort, that no matter who you root for, it’s hard not to smile when you see just how much this accomplishment means to them. There’s something about seeing some of the toughest men in the world break down from winning a game that makes me appreciate the magic of sports. There’s nothing like it, and the detailed coverage means that we can see every tiny, beautiful moment.

NBA promises mean nothing


As the Feb. 8 trade deadline nears, we have already seen what is likely to be the biggest mid-season deal in the NBA. On Tuesday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Los Angeles Clippers sent former All-Star forward Blake Griffin, and two other players, to the Detroit Pistons for a package of young players and draft picks.

If looked at in a vacuum, this deal isn’t too shocking: an aging veteran, often the discussion of trade rumors, with a litany of injuries in his career who is owed a huge amount of future money is dealt for assets. It happens frequently enough.

Of course, the NBA is always more complicated than what appears on the surface. ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported that during the Clippers’ free-agency pitch to Griffin just this past summer, L.A. set up “a makeshift museum of his life” and then retired his number in a mock ceremony in an empty Staples Center.

Lowe also reported that Clippers owner Steve Ballmer wanted Griffin to be a “Clipper for life,” and expressed before this season his belief that this Clippers squad could be the best in franchise history.

Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins confirmed Lowe’s report in a November feature on Griffin, adding the footnote that a choir was singing as the banner was raised, evoking Griffin’s famous dunk over a Kia in the 2011 Slam Dunk Contest.

Days later, Griffin inked a five-year, $171 million pact, seemingly a boon for a franchise that hoped to remain competitive in the wake of dealing superstar point guard Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets.

In Jenkins’ feature, Griffin spoke about his love for Los Angeles, and the Clippers. Griffin is very into comedy, and he even performs his own stand-up in the comic haven that is L.A.

A museum, a choir, a banner with Griffin’s No. 32 up in the rafters, verbal commitment from the owner, and the “I love being here” Lee Jenkins article. You’d forgive any NBA fan for thinking that Griffin’s L.A. tenure was far from over.

Then, poof, just six months later, Griffin is sent packing, trading out sunny 75 degree weather and a city whose biggest attractions match perfectly with his interests for temperatures in the teens and a totally new culture.

Let this be a reminder to everyone: promises mean nothing in the NBA, so let’s not take them too seriously.