April 26, 2017

ESPN NBA Management Rankings

Last month, ESPN released its 2017 NBA Management Rankings, a list of coaches, general manager/team presidents and owners of every NBA franchise ranked from 1 to 30. This is the third year out of the last four that the TV network has released such rankings, starting in 2014 and again a year later in 2015 before the revised list was published in March. I couldn't find anything for 2016 so I'm assuming they just skipped last year. 

This year, the Wizards did pretty well by the folks in Bristol, Connecticut, ranking 12th overall, 9th in coaching (Scott Brooks) and 14th in GM/President (Ernie Grunfeld) with their only bottom half of the league (barely) coming in ownership at 16th (Ted Leonsis). It's certainly better than they fared two years ago when they finished overall at 21st with the highest ranking in any category being ownership, which just like this year, finished in the 16 spot.

Now I'm not exactly sure who has input into these rankings over at ESPN. Two years ago they referred to their ESPN Forecast Panel as the authors of the results. They also provided a link justifying why their panel produces "the most accurate predictions in the game" before referring to the process as "the future of forecasting." There was a list of six names at the bottom of that page, two of whom were titled economist or microeconomist although I'm not sure those folks are the entire panel. This year, the Panel seems to be a little more mysterious but here's the thing: I'm not sure these people have any idea what they are talking about.

So I get that the statement I just made is a little bit laughable. After all, I'm an architect who blogs about being a Wizards fan on nights and weekends and these folks are paid professionals who are presumably respected in their field. I also can't take issue with them ranking the San Antonio Spurs first overall in 2015 and 2017 and the New York Knicks as last overall both of those same years. I mean, who would really argue with those results?

But that's sort of the point. What panel wouldn't put the Spurs first and the Knicks last? It's the results in between that are leaving me questioning the value of this ranking in total because it seems to be a what have you done for me lately contest, with on court results determining the opinion of the evaluators based on what's already happened. Look, I can tell you who wins each NBA division at the end of the season; it's predicting it at the beginning the year and stating why that's the hard part. I think all these folks are looking at is results after the fact. And that just ain't that hard.

Scott Brooks: From 20th to 9th in two years while taking one of the two off. Such progress!
So you need some evidence, right? Let's start with the Wizards. Two years ago, my beloved team finished 26th in coaching in this ranking under then head coach Randy Wittman, a guy who was pretty much universally reviled by any sort of NBA analystics guy. This year, Scott Brooks has the coaching on our team ranked 17 spots higher than two years ago. That makes sense based on him leading the team to more wins and the franchise's first division title since 1979, right? I'm not really proving my own point am I?

Know where Brooks, who was then coaching the Oklahoma City Thunder, finished two years ago? 20th. So I guess that involuntary year off really made Scottie a way better coach, huh? Probably not. Or maybe a bunch of guys ahead of him quit the profession?  Well, yes, if you consider three a lot; but they (Kevin McHale, George Karl and David Blatt) were relieved of their responsibilities. So what's the deal?

Well it turns out, according to the Forecast Panel, some coaches just aren't as good this year as they were two years ago. Atlanta's Mike Budenholzer dropped from 2nd to 11th; Portland's Terry Stotts went from 7th to 14th; Tom Thibodeau switched teams and turned his number 5 spot with the Bulls into a 13 ranking with the Timberwolves; Dave Joerger did something similar (11 to 23) by bolting Memphis for Sacramento; and Frank Vogel was also on the wrong side of history by taking the Magic job this year, dropping his ESPN coaching rank from 9 to 24. All five of these coaches posted worse records this year than they did two years ago and turned a combined 254 wins (.620 winning percentage) in 2015 into 176 wins (.429 winning percentage) this year.

I'm maybe being a little unfair. Some coaches (Erik Spoelstra and Rick Carlisle) are still highly thought of despite not making the playoffs this season. And no doubt they are good coaches. Then again, maybe they are just saved by having led at least one team to a championship this century. But what's the excuse for the change of heart on Brooks and the five other coaches? I say it's team performance. And that sucks. Either you can coach or you can't. And the panel of experts ought to know that.

So let's move on, shall we? Let's get back to the Wizards. This year Team President Ernie Grunfeld looks like a pretty good guy to make personnel decisions according to ESPN, finishing in the top half in this category. Yet two years ago he was 20th. So why the sudden change of heart? He's executing the same plan he was two years ago but this year the team he's been assembling has been more successful than any other collection of players for this franchise since the 1970s.  Why move him up? Is it because the folks ranking him two years ago didn't understand what the plan was and how it would work out? I say yes.

The ranking mistakes aren't as pronounced in the GM/President category but let me offer a few thoughts. The Phoenix Suns seem to have one of the most questionable personnel decision records over the last few years, choosing to lock up Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight long term while letting Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas leave Arizona. But two years ago, ESPN had that franchise's front office ranked ahead of the Wizards (this year they are 11 spots behind) probably because the Suns two years ago were seen as way overperforming when finishing with 39 wins. Clearly ESPN's experts knew about as much as the Suns' General Manager Ryan McDonough (still employed by the way) when he decided to let Dragic and Thomas play for someone else.

The panel was also seemingly in love with Sam Hinkie's process in Philadelphia in 2014, choosing him over Grunfeld by three spots, but not so wed to the aftermath, dropping Philly seven spots behind the Wiz this year. But most striking seems to be their swing on Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta, who two years ago cobbled together a lineup that won 60 games, but who is 17 games worse this year. Sorry, Bud, ESPN drops you from 6th to 15th for that. Looks like ESPN is following the records. Again.

Finally let's look at the owners. And here the Panel may have gotten things mostly right precisely because they kept past NBA Championship winners towards the top of the ranking and let the rest of the teams stack up from there. And let's face it, of the teams that haven't won titles recently, there is plenty of mediocrity. The last five franchises to win NBA titles have been the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs, the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks. With the exception of Cleveland, these teams all rank in the top six in both 2015 and 2017. Kind of stupid to pick against a winner that's already won, right? Like shooting fish in a barrel.

But ESPN does follow the same recent history rule for ownership too. Cleveland is ranked 7th in this year's survey, the year after they won their first ever title; that's a jump of nine spots from two years ago which was 11 spots higher than 2014. Know what the Cavs' record was in 2014? 33-49. Three years, 27 to 7, same owner. The only difference? A title.  Stick to your guns people or stop predicting when you get things wrong. If Dan Gilbert is fourth worst among owners two years ago, why is he seventh best this year? Winning. Plain and simple.

The same situation plays out elsewhere in the midwest in Chicago. Jerry Riensdorf's basketball acumen got him a top 10 ranking in 2014 when the Bulls were 48-34. But with a 41-41 record, Reinsdorf can't crack the top 20 this year. Good owner two years ago; bad owner now. Makes no sense.

I suppose if ESPN ever does this sort of thing again, I may take a look, but only to get annoyed about how much they are dissing the Wizards for not having a great regular season record or winning a title recently. But this thing is of little value to me. It's all results based. They are just putting the teams who are the most successful at the top of the heap and if the same personnel with the same (or different) team are not quite so successful, they knock them down to the bottom. I'll pass on the "future of forecasting" thanks.  I'll just decide for myself how successful each team is at the end of the season. After all, that's what ESPN's doing.

Championships don't necessarily make you a better owner. Except in ESPN's eyes.

April 13, 2017

Hoops At The Garden

The first NBA game I ever attended in person was in December of 1995 in Madison Square Garden in New York City: the New York Knicks hosting the then very young (as a franchise) Toronto Raptors. Over the next 28 months, my dad and I would attend four additional games in the Garden watching the hometown Knicks take on the Clippers, Kings, 76ers and Jazz and see the Knickerbockers go 4-1 over that stretch, with the only loss being an overtime affair with the Jazz.

The season after that Jazz game was the 1998-1999 lockout shortened season and in a show of disgust with millionaires and multi-multi-millionaires arguing over how to split billions, my dad and I decided we would not even attempt to attend a game that season. The next year, I moved to Washington, switched basketball teams and started one of my obsessions of a lifetime by scheduling my life around the Wizards and ultimately deciding to go all in and do something really crazy by starting this blog.

Until last week, it had been 19 years since I'd been to a home Knicks game. My cousin visiting from England and the Wizards happening to be in New York for a Thursday afternoon game provided the perfect opportunity to break that streak.

Now, last week's game in New York wasn't the first time I'd seen a hoops game in the Garden in all that time. I managed to get some tickets to the NBA All-Star Game two years ago when it was in the City and saw the West defeat the East in front of a star-studded crowd on a Sunday night. But other than John Wall and Carmelo Anthony being in attendance, that game bore little resemblance to a home Knicks game in the greatest arena in basketball. Seeing a Knick game in person is an experience all hoops fans need to go through. Even if they are the most dysfunctional franchise in the league right now.

I know what you are thinking. Did you read what I wrote right? The "greatest arena in basketball"? Yes. Look I love Verizon Center as much as the next person and I'm dying for that place to be a raucous home court advantage for the Wizards the way some buildings are for other teams, but there's no way VC is the Garden.

I spent about half a blog post a couple of years ago talking about how special it is to make your way from the New York City streets to the inside of the Mecca of Basketball so I won't repeat all that save to say there is nothing like the interior of the Garden. It's all about that wooden ceiling. There is no other place in the league where looking up means so much. So of course I had to include one shot of the court during the game. First one to 100 wins. Again.

When my dad and I took in those five games at the Garden 20 years or so ago, we never got good seats. We always sat in the upper deck in the end zone so the experience we got was pretty one dimensional. Our court view was pretty much always the same game after game after game after game after game. We even had to sit behind each other one game because we couldn't get two seats together. But with the advent of secure, convenient and reliable secondary market ticket sales outlets; the decline of the Knicks as any sort of serious playoff threat; and maybe me having a little more disposable income, it was time for me to experience a Knick game on a different level. And by that I mean the lowest level of the building.

In addition to my seat location, there are some other changes that have taken place over the last 20 or so years. One of the things I appreciated all those years ago about games in New York was the lack of theater surrounding the team introductions. Maybe I'm remembering this wrong but I believe in the early '90s Patrick Ewing's Knick teams were introduced with the lights on after the classic "Go New York! Go New York! Go!" introductory video. I didn't really expect that level of simplicity this time around but I did expect something less over the top than what I saw at a Lakers game a couple of weeks prior.
I was wrong. If I thought the curtain with the jumbo sized graphic projection in Los Angeles was out of place for a below .350 Lakers team, I really question the wisdom of the Knicks City Dancers' lengthy light and costume show (complete with lighted uniforms) for the below .400 Knicks. It was more deluxe than almost any halftime show the Wizards have put on this year. It was so long that I almost couldn't remember who was introduced in the Wizards' starting lineup. I know I sound like an old fogey here complaining about the show that the kids love these days but it just seemed grandiose for a team that has had no shot at the playoffs in years.

The Knicks City Dancers in the midst of their most elaborate team introduction ceremony.
Once we got through the opening act, it was on to the game. With the Wizards on a 50 win quest and (at that time) still hoping for a shot at the East's three seed, I hoped for a quick killing of the Knicks and some rest for our starters so we'd be extra prepared to face the Miami Heat at home just two days later. Of course, I've been watching the Wizards play week after week since the All-Star break so I don't know what I was thinking with that expectation. There was no quick killing, no extra rest and no win at home vs. the Heat.
The first half looked great. A 12 point lead in the first quarter and a 10 point lead in the second quarter had dwindled to eight by halftime but the Knicks were never really a threat to take the lead despite some play from Brandon Jennings that drove me crazy. That eight point bulge swelled to 15 in the third before the Wizards decided it was probably all they needed to do and eased off the gas pedal a little. Or a lot. The Knicks ended up winning the third by a point and with less than three minutes to go in the fourth behind some poor free throw shooting from the visitors, the game was knotted up.
I gotta say there's no other city like New York and no other people like New Yorkers. There I was sitting in the lower level of MSG watching the Wizards struggle to beat a team that has won just one playoff series in the last 15 years (behind a grand total of four appearances) and the place starts going nuts. I guess there are enough people in New York that the building is pretty much always full but everyone seemed to be behind this team all of a sudden. I can't say I've heard Verizon Center get much louder at any point this season during the best season the Wizards (not Bullets) have ever posted. I find it astonishing how continually embarrassed about our crowd noise I am on the road. And it wasn't even caused in New York by a t-shirt toss (of which there were very very many) or something like that. No free chicken required; just love of a team. Imagine that.

While I was watching the Wizards struggle to contain the Knicks (with no Kristaps Porzingis by the way) I have to say that I was impressed with how helpful the scoreboard at the arena was. There's all sorts of cool information on this thing and it displays each team's stats in team colors, which I think is awesome. Check out the scoreboard at Verizon Center and you'll be well informed about how many points each team has; the points and fouls for each player whether or not their name fits on the scoreboard in full; and how many time outs remain for each team in full and 20 second versions. Yep there's also a big screen on each of the four sides showing replays and live action but as far as stats, that's all you get.
Now check out the Garden's display. Game score? Check. Points and fouls by player with full names on the board? Check. Timeouts in full and 20 second versions? Check. How about assists and rebounds in addition to points and fouls? Kind of cool; Verizon Center has corner of the arena displays for these stats on a rotating basis by team but they are not visible when looking at the scoreboard. Even cooler than that? The shooting percentages from the field, the free throw line and three point range. It's pretty easy to start to correlate why the Wizards have a 10 point lead in the picture above when they are outshooting the Knicks from the field and beyond the arc by 19 and 17 percent respectively.
At the end of the night last Thursday, my teams were 5-1 in games I've attended at Madison Square Garden. 4-1 as a Knicks fan; 1-0 as a Wizards fan. I'm not jealous of the Knicks team but I have a serious crush on their building. When I was here 20 years ago it was before the team embarked on a multi-year renovation and modernization of the place. Today it's even better than I remember all those years ago. There really is no better place to watch pro hoops. I got other places to go to watch the Wizards play in this country, but I'd go back to the Garden every year if I could make the time. It's that good there.

Name me one other NBA arena where you can get a knish. I don't think you can do it.

April 2, 2017

The French Dip

One of the things I love to do when I take Wizards road trips is check out the in arena food offerings in the town I'm visiting. I'm forever curious about food and I'm really seeing if the locals can get some regionally inspired dishes while they are sitting in their seats watching live hoops. If you're a frequent reader of this blog you'll know I've first complained about what you couldn't get in terms of local chef-driven fare at Verizon Center and then praised the opening of a José Andrés owned stand earlier this year.

Last week I happened to be in Los Angeles to see the Wizards play not one but two road games. Before the first of these two games vs. the Lakers, I entered Staples Center about as early as I could to check out the food scene there thinking if there was something really good, I'd order it the very next night when the Wizards played the Clippers on the roadie back to back in the exact same building. A quick trip around the lower level and the Premier level concourses yielded some pretty promising local-type fare: a variety of tacos, some churros, a series of California inspired and themed hamburgers and a French dip sandwich.

I'm sure you may be thinking hold up on that last one: a French dip sandwich? The roast beef sandwich on a roll which typically comes with a side of au jus (or drippings from the roasting plan) to dip your sandwich in as you eat? How is that (a) arena friendly and (b) local to Los Angeles? Well, I can't speak to the arena friendly question because honestly it seems like it would be a little difficult to eat a sandwich while balancing a bowl of beef broth on your lap, tray or no tray. But the local thing? Well, that's easy. The French dip sandwich was invented in Los Angeles.

Philippe's The Original at 1001 North Alameda Street.
I don't know what it is about basketball road trips and beef sandwiches but here we are again. Three years ago I visited Philadelphia to see the Wizards play the 76ers and the next morning walked over to the corner of Passyunk and 9th to get myself a Philly cheesesteak at Pat's King of Steaks. Pat's is the place founded by the inventor of the sandwich, although there's a spot across the street, Geno's Steaks, that claims the same thing. Since I knew I'd only have one chance for a sandwich in Philly, I did some research and pretty much convinced myself that Pat's was the inventor and then picked that as my cheesesteak spot.

Funnily enough, there are two spots in Los Angeles that claim they invented the French dip sandwich. The first of these two places is Cole's French Dip, a restaurant on 6th Street in downtown L.A. According to their website, their chef, Jack Garlinghouse, invented the sandwich as it is today when he dipped a sandwich in au jus to soften it up a little for a customer with sore gums. According to Cole's, that happened in 1908, the same year the restaurant opened. They are silent on where the French came from but one could reasonably infer it's from the French roll the sandwich comes on.

The second contender for inventor of the French dip is Philippe's The Original, a spot north of the 101 on the east edge of Chinatown. Like Cole's, Philippe's has also been open since 1908. Their invention story on their website happens in 1918, which I find interesting and bold, considering most food invention rivalries usually claim a fairly similar timeline for who came first. According to Philippe's, their invention was an accident. Their chef accidentally dropped a French roll in some au jus when preparing a sandwich for a policeman customer, who said he'd take it as is anyway. Apparently he liked it so much that the next day he came back for another along with several friends. Philippe's has three stories to back up the French name on the dish: either it was the French roll or the fact that Philippe Mathieu who owned the place was French or the customer's name was French. We should pick I guess.

If you ask me, both stories are fishy. And since I was going to be in downtown Los Angeles for work for a whole week, I thought rather than researching which place is telling the truth, I just figured I'd go to each spot and find out which one I liked more. So I did.

The interior of Philippe's.
I arrived in Los Angeles Sunday afternoon, checked in to my hotel and hailed a cab to take me to Philippe's. I picked this place first for one simple reason: they are open on Sunday and Cole's ain't. After a quick ride, I arrived at 1001 North Alameda Street on the edge of Chinatown. What I found inside was a deli-like counter with six or seven servers furiously taking orders and a series of three to seven deep lines with hungry customers. This was at 4:40 on a Sunday afternoon. Not exactly lunch or dinner time and the place was packed. And churning through customers as it turned out. I wasn't waiting in line more than about 10 minutes.

You can get an array of dipped sandwiches at Philippe's and you can get it with options. There are pork, ham, lamb, pastrami and turkey dip sandwiches as well as the traditional roast beef and their sandwiches come on white, wheat, sourdough, rye or a French roll and they can be ordered with a variety of cheese. I ordered mine as I would typically think of a French dip sandwich: a beef dip on French roll, no cheese. I also picked up some pickles and a side of potato salad. And a beer. An Indie Blond made by Indie Brewing located right in Los Angeles. A few minutes later, I had my Sunday dinner.

Apparently the thing at Philippe's is to eat your sandwich with some of their hot mustard ("It's hot, but good." according to their website). I'd never heard of eating a French dip with mustard but I've also never claimed to be a connoisseur of this particular sandwich. I applied a healthy squeeze from the bottle located on every communal table and hoped for the best.

Philippe's The Original Beef Dip, with side of potato salad and some pickles.
The meat at Philippe's was pretty much right on as what I think about when I order a French dip sandwich: fall apart tender roasted beef, although I could claim that I like my roast beef a little pinker. I also liked the roll which I found soft and not in need of the accidental or purposeful drenching in the au jus like in Philippe's origin story (you can get your rolls dipped a variety of ways at Philippe's; I opted for it undipped). I also appreciated the finely chopped potato and the slightly sweet mayonnaise mixture (from sweet pickle juice maybe?) in my side order. I'd go lighter or not at all with the mustard next time though.

It was only when I sat down that I realized one thing was missing: the au jus. Apparently, the sandwiches don't come with it at Philippe's; you have to order it separately. Now as a general rule here, I expect when I order a French dip sandwich, that it will come with some pan juice for me to dunk my sandwich in. This to me was a major faux pas. I did not go back and stand in line. I ate my sandwich and it was a good one. I'm just not sure I'm putting Philippe's on my top 10 sandwich list. I don't have one, for the record.

Cole's on Sixth Street in downtown Los Angeles.
Four days and two basketball games later, I made my way over to Cole's for my second French dip of the week. Yes, I passed on the French dip at Staples.

I liked the atmosphere at Philippe's. It seems informal, family oriented and almost college-like and the service was quick. It's high quality fast food, if you will. Cole's is a 180 from Philippe's in terms of the venue. And I was hooked immediately.

I love dark old bars. The older and darker without being dank, the better. And Cole's, at its very heart, is an ultimate dark old bar. What can I say about this place? First of all, it's partially underground, which in the qualities of bars I love adds value. Sixth Street slopes down from the west to east; Cole's, which is located mid-block, seems to have its floor at sidewalk level at the east side of the block. It's also, depending on your perspective, poorly lit or just above ambiently lit (I prefer the latter). Where clear glazing could admit light, there's stained glass. Where bare bulbs or white shades could be used on the artificial light, there are amber frosted globes.

The bar itself is fantastic. High, wooden and dark stained and well constructed to absorb the kind of use a bar over 100 years gets after that much time. And by the scratches and chips in the top rail of the bar, this place has seen some good times and some late nights. This is just the kind of bar I want to sit at and drink good beer and other spirits slowly for hours.

Cole's French dip sandwich with bacon potato salad.
One more thing before we get to the food. When I first sat down at the bar, the sound system was playing Jimmy Ruffn's "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?", which has to be one of my all-time favorite non-Temptations Motown songs. That started a torrent of great mid to late 1960's songs: the Who's "I Can't Explain", the Hollies' "Look Through Any Window", the Association's "Along Comes Mary" and The Animals' "It's My Life". If there was not enough reason to sit at Cole's all night, I found one in the music.

So let's get to the food. Cole's offers a similar range of dip sandwiches as Philippe's. To maintain an even playing field, I ordered the exact same thing I ordered over there the first night I was in town. Sort of. I didn't order pickles because the sandwich came with one spear and I got a cup of au jus, because French dip sandwiches are supposed to come with au jus and Cole's serves them that way. I also couldn't replicate the beer because they didn't have a blond on tap. I went with Lost Coast's Alley Cat Amber instead.

Cole's sandwich was better. It just was. Maybe it was because they claim to have invented it first. Maybe it was the au jus, which i finished all of one dip at a time by soaking it up in that soft almost cake-y French roll. Maybe it was the slightly thinner and slightly pinker roast beef which in my opinion had a little more juiciness to it.

I would not get the potato salad again at Cole's which I found too dry and maybe a little undercooked. They use bacon in their potato salad and I can't believe I'm writing I'd choose a dish without bacon over one with bacon but it is what it is. I would definitely get the pickles again, which are marinated in some kind of chile flake vinegar; in fact, I did. Cole's sandwiches come with a single spear; I ordered extra which turned out to be five more spears. The acid and the heat cut the richness of the sandwich well.

I still don't know which place invented the French dip sandwich, but I know where I'd rather go next time I'm in Los Angeles. Cole's has got to be one of the two best bars I've visited for the first time in the last year (along with Canton, Ohio's Conestoga Grill which was similarly dark as Cole's) in terms of what I love in a bar. I'd take a second shot at Cole's food, probably another French dip beef sandwich with some spicy tater tots. And I'd linger at the bar a lot longer than I did this time and listen to more of that great music they play over there. I don't care who came up with it first, Cole's would be my choice for the Los Angeles French dip.

April 1, 2017

And Then There Was Shaq

When I visited Los Angeles last year for the Wizards' annual roadie with the hometown Clippers, I spent some time checking out the collection of statues in Star Plaza, the open pedestrian area just north of Staples Center, the place where the Clips play their home games in L.A. Because there are no Clippers legends worth erecting a statue of (or just that there are no Clippers legends period), I spent most of my time there photographing statues of legendary Lakers, the team that shares the building with the Clips.

When I got back from the west coast, I spent a few moments banging out a post on this blog describing what I'd found, namely statues of former Lakers players Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson and their legendary broadcaster Chick Hearn in addition to glossing over the fact that Wayne Gretzky and Oscar De La Hoya also have bronze likenesses of themselves in that spot. Hey, it's a blog about being a Wizards fan, so basketball statues get preferential treatment over hockey players and boxers.

This year I had the good fortune of being out in Los Angeles for work in a week that the Wizards were in town to battle both of the basketball residents of Staples Center. When I got there I found one more statue. And of course it's a Laker, not a Clipper. Welcome Shaquille O'Neal to Star Plaza.

I guess there's a chance that some readers of this blog might not have known who Jerry West and Chick Hearn were. There's a slimmer chance (although I guess it still exists) that there are a handful of folks out there who are not completely familiar with the careers of Kareem and Magic. But if you don't know who Shaq is and you consider yourself an NBA fan, you have to be living under some kind of rock.

Shaq's time in Los Angeles was shorter than it probably could have been, relatively contentious and extremely successful. He played in Laker purple and gold for eight seasons from the 1996-1997 season through the 2003-2004 season. He was an All-Star every year he spent in Los Angeles except one (1999); won three consecutive NBA Championships from 2000 to 2002; was the NBA Finals MVP each of the three title years; and won his lone Most Valuable Player award (in 2000).

Ultimately, Shaq kind of wore out his welcome in Tinseltown and was shipped off to the Miami Heat before the 2004-2005 season, where he ended up winning another championship in 2006. The tipping point for the Lakers to trade the most dominant big man in the game for three players and a single first round draft pick was his relationship or lack thereof with the Lakers' other star, Kobe Bryant. Shaq was 32 when he was traded away from L.A.; Kobe was 25. Since the Lakers won two more titles after the trade, it's hard to argue that they did the wrong thing. But just think about what they could have done if they just could have gotten along.

The first six statues in Star Plaza are all planted firmly on the ground. Shaq's is not; it's hanging from the side of the building.

I honestly think Shaq's statue is in an awkward spot. Sure, it's right near the main entrance to the building but the fact that he's mounted right on an inside corner of the building makes it seem like he's sort of shoved into a spot that should be out of the way. Maybe it's the only place that could structurally support a statue that weighs that much but for me, it would be a way better spot visually if they would have slid him to the west a little and had him attached to the exterior corner of one of the terraces overlooking Star Plaza.  Don't get me wrong, it's not like he's difficult to miss. A statue the actual size of a man Shaq's size would have a presence; this one is bigger. 

It's pretty difficult to get a good photo of bronze Shaq without getting a lot of crotch (top photo) or butt (photo above) at the spot he's in but this thing has some impressive details. On each of the Star Plaza Lakers statues, there's a muted purple and gold uniform. Shaq's is a little less muted, which I think looks better and some of the details, like the Shaq logo on the sneakers, are pretty cool. I also like the basketball in motion as it's passing through the hoop Shaq is hanging off. 

I think this statue is well deserved. I just think they could have made it more pedestrian viewing friendly.

I don't expect that I'll be headed back to Los Angeles any time soon for my next Wizards game. Of course, I didn't expect to be here this year so you never know. But I'm willing to bet the next time I'm there, there will be a sixth Laker statue: Kobe Bryant. I'm predicting it will be remote from Shaq and that it will have a number 24 jersey (the one he won his last two titles in without Shaq) rather than a number 8 (first three titles). 

I'm also predicting that next time I'm in Star Plaza there still won't be any Clippers' statues.

Wizards have one more roadie tomorrow night before heading back to Verizon Center. Just two more weeks left in the season. Let's finish strong they keep it going for the playoffs.

Shaq hanging off the building while Wayne Gretzky waves to the fans.