Nathaniel Friedman is the founder of the popular blog FreeDarko.com and is co-author of the book FreeDarko presents The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac. Writing under the name of Bethlehem Shoals, his writing also appears on "The Sporting Blog" at SportingNews.com.
Q: Everyone here at our office has been voraciously tearing through your new book - FreeDarko presents The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac. We cannot recall the last time anyone was able to chronicle pro hoop athletes with such dynamism and drollness. With so many unique personalities to choose from, how was your team able to narrow down which NBA stars made the cut?
NF: We initially wanted to go with all cult favorites and minor stars, like J.R. Smith and Josh Howard, respectively. But then our agent pointed out to us that stars sell, and we'd have to strike a balance between minor stars and the big ones, with maybe one or two cult guys thrown in. And in all truth, that was probably the right idea - not only because it allowed the book to have a wider appeal, but because the bigger the star, the more material there is to work with.
Q: Your pseudonym of Bethlehem Shoals reminds me of Ray Allen's character Jesus Shuttlesworth in "He Got Game." I take it that was the inspiration?
NF: That's a good guess, and I'd never thought of that even though I'm a big fan of "He Got Game." Unfortunately, I can't give away the exact origin of the name in front of a large audience because it's kind of offensive. Suffice it to say that yes, there was a religious component to it. And some music nerd resourcefulness.
Q: When did your love affair with pro hoops begin and what part of the game fascinates you most?
NF: Honestly, I was more of a baseball fan as a kid, then took a few years off to pursue more pretentious interests. It was actually the 2000 playoffs that, inexplicably, drew me back in. As for what fascinates me most, I'd have to say watching a promising young player come into his own. Not just learning to be effective, but start playing in a way that looks like it belongs to him and him alone.
Q: How would you respond to the NBA naysayers who claim that the only part of the games that are interesting are the last 5 minutes?
NF: I would say they don't like watching basketball. Really, you could level that accusation against any sport. Especially those low-scoring ones where nothing ever happens. But it all comes down to whether or not you enjoy watching the game played.
Q: The NBA's recent "Show of Strength," bailout is a pretty grisly sign that many NBA teams may be in desperate shape. Could this be one of the signs the league is headed toward contraction (and would that necessarily be a bad thing)?
NF: I know financially lots of teams are in bad shape, but I don't buy the line that the fewer teams, the better. Sure, some teams just flat-out suck. But it's awesome to watch young teams come into their own, or rebuild with some clear plan. I would be bored if all there was to watch was Lakers/Celtics every night.
Q: My 5 picks for the worst NBA unis in recent memory.
Any additions you'd like to add?
NF: I have lately been obsessed with the shiny black trash bag-looking jerseys that Puffy designed for the Tawn/Toine Mavs. No one remembers those unis, which were worn exactly once, or that team. Strange, then, that the gold-lame Wizards jerseys happened after that (I think) and have lasted as long as they have.
Q: Speaking of jerseys, which of these would you see most likely to be factual in the near future?
1) LeBron James with Knicks
2) Rasheed Wallace with Bobcats
3) Ron Artest with Lakers
4) Allen Iverson with Sixers
NF: I actually think AI back to the Sixers would be cool. That team is at its best when it goes with a small line-up and runs like mad. And while Andre Miller throws a mean alley-oop, he's also not exactly a selfless PG. Plus, their defense consists almost entirely of trying to create turnovers. I only worry that it would confuse the good people of Philadelphia.
Q: We've decided to place our odds on who would be considered "better than Michael Jordan," by the time their career is over:
Lebron James 3 - 1
Kevin Durant 5 - 1
Kobe Bryant 25 - 1
What's your take on these odds?
NF: I think you have a strong anti-Kobe bias.
Q: To be perfectly honest, I do. Now perhaps that's because I'm a huge Lakers fan and I'm saddened by the fact Kobe led to the team's dismantling after the 03-04 season. Had the duo stayed intact, they would have won at least one more title for Los Angeles (most likely not in 04-05 since Timmy's Spurs may have been too much, but I like them coming out of the West in 05-06 versus Dirk's Mavs).
Bryant lost last year in the Finals and he appears to be headed back this year (only to lose to Cleveland since Los Angeles will not have home court advantage). Doesn't it seem that he would prefer to keep losing in the Finals without Shaq rather than winning with him?
NF: I could just as easily make that a snotty question about Shaq.
Q: Duly noted. Let's segue away from my biased takes on Mamba. David Stern has recently celebrated his silver anniversary as the Commish. If he were to toss you the reigns as the new head honcho, what would be the changes we would expect to see?
NF: You know how Obama kept Gates on because there are two wars going on? The NBA is having problems at home and booming abroad. Stern didn't cause the financial crisis, and has been the driving force behind the game's international marketing. All I would really change would be to stop caring about losing American audiences (in a regular economic climate), since there are plenty more people in other countries who love this game.
Q: If David Stern is considered the "Darth Vader" of the NBA, who would be your choices for Luke, Han, Chewie and Boba Fett?
NF: LeBron is Boba Fett, but I've always thought that independent of trying to make the Star Wars metaphor work for the whole league.
Q: It seems like most fans have Magic Johnson down for their selection as the best PG ever, Jordan for SG, Bird for SF, and Duncan for PF (although his role as a true 4 is debatable). What's most bandied about is the spot as the best center (i.e. Shaq, Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt, Russell). Care to set us straight on who deserves the nod?
NF: I don't think Bird is hands-down the greatest SF ever. Anyway, at center, I'd go with Wilt. Shaq is even more self-limiting, Kareem didn't seem like he'd touched down from another planet, and I'm sick of hearing how great Russell was because he got rings. Pure ability to take the court and dominate, it's got to be Chamberlain.
Q: I think Russell would have been too lithe to dominate in today's game. To reexamine the last question, if not Bird, then who do you have down at the 3 spot?
NF: Maybe these are sentimental picks, but I'd go with either Dr. J or Elgin Baylor. Or maybe I just hate the Celtics. Hate's the wrong word. Am tired of them.
Q: In a recent blog, you stated that the public has a general consensus that if Lebron wanted to go off for 100, he very well could. Do you think he will indeed break Wilt's immortal record?
NF: That was based on a fairly basic observation: Dude can score at will if he drives the lane. He regularly reels off 20-point quarters. If he put his mind to it, he could at least get 80.
Q: Let's imagine you in a fierce one-on-one hoops battle. Given your basketball skills, which NBA player would you stand the best chance of defeating (and who would you avoid at all costs?)
NF: What in the world could have lead you to believe I'm any good about basketball? I haven't played pick-up ball in two years.
Editor's note: After this article was written we found the definitive list on Star Wars characters and their NBA counterparts. You can read the list at http://thoughtsfromthejockstrap.com/articles-2009/february/recasting-star-wars-with-nba-players.html