On the John: On big dogs and home runs

On the John

On big dogs and home runs

Originally completed April 29, 2010

The Sandlot kids possess the mental toughness to survive the NBA playoffs.

It’s deck time in Los Angeles, the final sit in the sun. Five hours from now I will board the Southwest Chief and return to my native Chicago, two weeks of west coast life in the bag, eyes square on the future.

A good way to go, yes? Grab an experience and bring it home until you’ve transformed “home” once and forever. That’s the idea, anyhow.

The Bulls have done the same, two years and counting. Tested themselves against NBA beasts and returned to Berto with a taste, hungry for more. If they are eating buttered rolls and water instead of a proper main course, at least they got a table.

It’s no fun to be left on the outside, peering through the window as your friends dine. Those poor Toronto Raptors experienced that this year, as our Bulls slid through the closing door. Yet for some, last minute scrambles for an invite are unnecessary. Their names are already on the list, their table waiting. “Right this way Mr. Bryant. We’ve been expecting you…”

Tuesday was reaffirmation day for the NBA’s top seeds. Whether closing out (Cleveland and Boston) or fighting back (L.A. and Dallas), the big dogs took care of business in four Game 5 home games, reminding us all of Tommy Lee Jones’s famous declaration: “Don’t ever argue with the big dog. Big dog’s always right.”

I learned that lesson the hard way back in 1991. Mitch Hubbarth and I were spending a portion of our afternoon mocking a neighbor’s giant dog through the slats of a fence, when the dog finally realized that the door dipped lower and could possibly be jumped over. We did not believe it possible that this massive, furious Rottweiler could clear a four-foot fence door. We continued to laugh in her face as she jumped and clawed hopelessly at the top…

BAM! Front paws and teeth over, momentum carrying, a kick of the back feet Jackie Chan-style and away we go! Mitch and I were lucky to realize mid-leap that this dog was about to taste freedom at our expense. We bolted, Mitch half a block to his house, me another three to mine, each running like the terrified, half-mad fourth graders we were. And with good reason – that dog had a legitimate score to settle, and was ferociously determined to settle it.

I’ve lost touch with that crazed animal in the intervening 19 years. More than likely it was put down years ago with all of our childhood dogs. Even the big dogs must face death, their fence-jumping heel-nipping days behind them as they waddle sadly to their execution…

Whoops! We were talking about basketball. One former big dog who refuses the needle is Shaq, still chugging along in Cleveland for those hot-to-trot Cavs. Neon Boudeaux is 38, his days of tearing down backboards and coasting to championships long over. There was a sequence early in the Bulls series when Shaq found himself in ideal position for an easy alley-oop, only poor, aging, Big Dog Shaq could no longer leap, catch, and dunk all at once. He got about halfway, successfully securing the ball in midair but choosing to land safely and go for the standing dunk rather than completing the oop. It was like watching an old dog realize he can no longer leap upon the couch, and must settle for a nap on the floor.

The Spurs in San Antonio are another bunch who refuse to rest easy on past success. They lead Dallas three games to two, and so we may well be headed for another showdown between Duncan’s Spurs and Nash’s Suns. That’s a fine battle in any season, as is LeBron against Boston, another series soon to start.

Back in 2008, the Celtics were on a holy mission for the NBA’s grail. They disposed of the Cavs in seven deadly games, and were lucky as all heck-fire that LeBron was at the time more young pup than big dog.

That’s all over now. Boston’s aging pack of former greats may have surpassed the undermanned Miami Heat, but the Cavs are a different beast entirely. I recall one Thanksgiving around 2004 when my formerly lightning-fast Welsh terrier found the front door unguarded as we helped my grandmother unload a shrimp appetizer from her car. Suddenly he was on the front lawn, and our defense was up: he could dart away at any moment with the speed of an antelope and ruin the entire evening.

Instead, he sized up the situation, considered the possibilities, and decided his chase days were over. A 12-year-old dog was better off takin’er easy on the couch, he seemed to think, and without a movement from any of us Killarney walked inside and returned to the living room.

The Celtics will give more effort against Cleveland than Killarney did against us, and that is commendable. Still, there is no shame in an old dog realizing his time has passed – no matter their effort, the Celtics will be on the couch sooner than later as the James Gang marches on. I predict a swift and brutal five game mercy killing, with Captain Mutant James maintaining his 30+ point/near-triple-double average.

Our young pup Bulls will also be watching from the couch, awaiting their growth spurt and another chance to tussle with LeBron. But that is a story for another day, and I have no intention to tell it now. My train departs in five hours whether I am aboard or not, and I have sandwiches to make and granola bars to buy.

That is all for this column, then, and for the 2009-10 Chicago Bulls, and for this stint of life in L.A. Thanks for the laughs fellas. It was fun. Mahalo.

Copyright 2010, jm silverstein


April 13: Let them eat Cubs

April 15: Training with sharks

April 18: Enjoying the show in the NBA playoffs

April 20: When the going gets good

April 23: King Crane Fly James battles the Bulls

April 25: Sports and the good life in sunny California

April 26: Shot through the heart

April 29: On big dogs and home runs


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