ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — Conan O’Brien has the height to make it in the NBA — he’s 6-4 — but from an early age O’Brien focused on comedy and entertaining, making any sporting dreams irrelevant. This has not stopped him from having dozens of NBA players on his shows through the years, from Charles Barkley to Kobe Bryant to Carmelo Anthony.
(There was also an NBA/Conan appearance that I have been actively trying to find video of now for over a decade. Back when he was a member of the Atlanta Hawks, Dikembe Mutombo visited Conan’s NBC show, sucked helium from a balloon and attempted to speak. It was just as amazing as it sounds. And yet there is no visual record that this happened. I know it happened because I watched it live on TV. I’ve spoken with Hawks staffers who were there at the show with Mutombo. I have made official and unofficial pleas to NBC to find this tape. Yet this video is not on YouTube or Hulu or anything else. Mutombo’s second appearance is online, but not the helium-fueled first visit. So I throw it out there into the public domain occasionally in the hope that someone, somewhere, can dig this video up and make the world a better place by uploading this seminal moment in NBA comedy history.)
Anyway, we’ve talked a lot about NBA Style here on the All-Ball blog, and now Conan O’Brien gives us his own take on press conference style. You can check out a slideshow of ridiculous press conference garb here, or just check the videos below… -
Thunder forward Nick Collison, along with NBA legend Dikembe Mutombo and Bucks forward Luc Mbah a Moute is in Kenya representing the NBA as part of a UNICEF field trip. Collison has filed this travelogue for NBA.com.
Entry 1: Making my way to Kenya
I previously attended Basketball without Borders in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2008, so this marks my second trip to Africa. I had a great experience and wanted to return, so when I was approached by the NBA to come to Kenya as part of a UNICEF field trip followed by another BWB in Johannesburg, I jumped at the opportunity.
Friday morning I left New York on a flight to Johannesburg then on to Nairobi. The total travel time was over 20 hours. After relaxing Saturday we had a day to spend in Nairobi. A small group of us toured Kibera which is one of the largest slums in the world, located in the middle of Nairobi. Walking through Kibera was a powerful experience. The living conditions are awful. Children are playing barefoot in the dirt roads among the sewage and garbage. Like many other parts of Africa, HIV and AIDS is a major problem. Families have taken in orphans into their already overcrowded homes. I visited a similar neighborhood in South Africa in 2008. Both times I came away feeling sad for the people, but also inspired by them. Despite their struggles, life goes on. I met people who are working to help others through churches and small health clinics. The children were playing with smiles on their faces. It is a great experience to see how other people in different parts of the world live. It gives perspective and appreciation for what is important in life.
The journey continues today as I am on a plane to Kakuma. I am part of a UNICEF team going to visit a refugee camp that is the home of over 100,000 refugees displaced by conflict or famine. I will fill you in on what comes next…
The Spurs dominated the NBA for most of the regular season, starting the year 13-1 and reaching the midway point of the season at 35-6, halfway to the rarified 70-win plateau. And though they suffered some injuries and stumbled down the stretch (including a six-game losing streak), they still finished the season 61-21, good for the second-best regular season mark of the Popovich/Duncan Era.
Sounds like the recipe for a first-round sweep, doesn’t it? Except as we all know, that’s not what happened, as the Grizzlies dropped the Spurs in six games and became just the fourth 8-seed to topple a 1 since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1984. Not many people saw this coming this side of Sir Charles, but compared to the other 8-1 conquests, just how big of a surprise was it?
Here’s how I’d rank them:
1. 2007: Warriors (42-40) over Mavericks (67-15), 4-2
The “We Believe” Warriors flat-out embarrassed the heavily-favored Mavericks in 2007. Though the Mavs were nearly unbeatable in the regular season, they played right into Golden State’s hands by trying to go small in the series rather than using their height to their advantage. Some believe Dallas was a victim of a bad matchup (the Warriors won the season series 3-0) and might have won the NBA title had they faced any of the other 15 playoff teams. But the Mavs’ loss, coming on the heels of a collapse in the 2006 NBA Finals against the Heat, cemented their reputation as playoff chokers, a moniker they are still struggling to shed.
2. 1994: Nuggets (42-40) over Sonics (63-19), 3-2
Best remembered for Dikembe Mutombo‘s “I can’t believe it!” moment at the end of Game 5, this series marked the first time an 8 beat a 1. Making it all the more impressive, the Nuggets lost the first two games of the series before winning three straight to close out the Sonics, including the last one in Seattle. Amazingly, Denver would go on to nearly pull off the same feat in the next round, falling behind 3-0 to Utah before winning three straight to force Game 7, where they were finally eliminated.
3. 2011: Grizzlies (46-36) over Spurs (61-21), 4-2
Eerily similar in tone to the Warriors-Mavs series, the Grizzlies came out and won Game 1 of the series and never really looked back. From early on, it was obvious the Grizzlies were younger, faster, and more athletic, and the Spurs had absolutely no answer for Zach Randolph inside. Did injuries play a role? Perhaps. But Memphis didn’t have Rudy Gay either, so seems like that’s a wash at best.
4. 1999: Knicks (27-23) over Heat (33-17), 3-2
Uggh. I get tired just thinking about these two teams brutalizing each other on the basketball court. This was the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, so the disparity between the two teams may not have been much, and indeed they were only separated by six games in the standings. Allan Houston famously won the series for the Knicks with his runner in the lane with 0.8 seconds remaining in Game 5. New York would validate their win with two more upsets, eventually becoming the only 8-seed to make the NBA Finals, where they fell to the first of Tim Duncan‘s title-winning Spurs teams.
That’s how I see it. Which do you rank as the biggest upset?
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It’s Friday, which means it’s time for another edition of the insanely popular series “Can he ball?” Last week we discussed World Series hero and 1990′s slacker-film lookalikeTim Lincecum, who you decided (63%-37%) can, in fact, ball.
This week’s contestant is a man who is about to return to the nation’s airwaves after a 10-month hiatus spurred by one of the most public breakups in history, a man whose doppelganger is the President of Finland, a man who gave us the greatest weather report in history, and a man whose new TBS talk show debuts Nov. 8:
O’Brien certainly brings the funny, but can he bring the pain on the basketball court?
Let’s examine the evidence:
– At 6’4″, Conan certainly has the height to play the game. But as gangly as he is, I could see where he might have been too embarrassed to play growing up if he wasn’t any good (as everyone assumes tall people can play basketball).
– According to exceedingly-accurate Wikipedia, Conan attended Brookline High School in Boston, where he was managing editor of the school’s newspaper. I’ll assume that means he didn’t compete for any of the school’s varsity athletic squads.
– O’Brien went to Harvard, and as we all know, there is only one person who played at Harvard that is any good at hoops, and his name is Jeremy Lin.
– Conan has been around the world of basketball before, filing this report from All-Star Weekend all the way back in 1995 in Phoenix:
Look how young everyone looks! I think Shaq and Charles have each gained an entire person since then. Also, though it’s simulated, Conan gives a glimpse of his form at about the 5:07 mark.
– O’Brien isn’t afraid to take on NBA players – here he takes on Shaq in an impromptu dance contest (is there anyone who hasn’t been in a dance contest with Shaq yet) during his short-lived tenure as host of the Tonight Show.
We clowned on him a little the other day, but we all know we kid Dikembe Mutombo because we love him, and in particular we love what he does for his community, in the U.S. but especially in his war-torn homeland of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Deke is currently on the panel to decide CNN’s 2010 Hero of the Year, and recently CNN caught up to the former NBA star to talk about all of the charitable initiatives the big man has undertaken:
I’d say I miss his playing days, but who knows, he may still have another run left in him – I wouldn’t put it past him.
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