Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Marquee Matchup: Black Mamba vs. Agent Zero

One of the more interesting sub-plots of the NBA season so far has been the inspired play of Washington Wizards virtuoso Gilbert Arenas. A do-it-all combo guard, Arenas currently ranks third in the league in scoring by averaging 30.1 points per game. To be fair, Arenas has never strugged to score -- he averaged 29.3 last season and 25.5 the season before. The suprising aspect of Arenas' awakening has been the fashion in which he's torched the competition, dropping 45 against Cleveland, 54 versus Phoenix and 60 on the Lakers. This type of scoring output would come a suprise, except that Arenas vowed to seek revenge against Team USA for being cut from the team last summer. Presumably this means its open season on everyone.

After succumbing to Arenas' 60-point barrage in overtime, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant told reporters, "He doesn't seem to have much of a conscience. I really don't think he does. Some of the shots he took tonight, you miss those, and they're just terrible shots. Awful. You make them and they're unbelievable shots. I don't get a chance to play him much, so I haven't gotten used to that mentality of just chucking it up there. He made some big ones, but I'll be ready next time."

First of all, the notion of Bryant not understanding the mentality of taking shots in bulk is ridiculous; he's the poster boy for bad shots -- he just makes them often enough that they're "okay" shots for him.
Second, Arenas made an excellent point in rebuttal, stating that Kobe wouldn't have stooped to make negative comments unless it had really gotten under his skin.

Everyone knows that Bryant is a fierce competitor blessed with elite athleticism and killer instinct. He can single-handedly take over games. Opponents fear him; last season he issed a challenge to Seattle's Ray Allen in the preseason -- incidentally, Allen missed the game. Bryant is one of the few among the NBA's elite who is a true two-way threat, potent on offense but talented enough to impact the game defensively as well. The game against Washington was no exception; after having the ball stolen by Arenas from the weak side, Bryant chased him down the court and blocked his layup attempt. He was taking the challenge personally, as all great players should. In watching Lakers games of late, it is obvious that Bryant is trying to trust his teammates more in an effort to help the team grow. However, without Lamar Odom, who is injured, the Lakers' triangle offense is stagnant, and Bryant's deference to his teammates often results in hurried possessions or turnovers. The result has been that Bryant, who is the focal point of defenses anyway, has been forced to take long jumpers or other low percentage shots.

Arenas, on the other hand, is unpredictable. He's known for giving himself nicknames like "The Black President," or "The Stealth," and yelling out "Hibachi!" when he shoots (although this has been changed to "quality shots" since Kobe's diatribe). He owns a professional video game team named Final Boss. Arenas is the guy who, after scoring 50 against Team USA Assistant Coach Mike D'Antoni's Suns, stared into the camera with a crazy look in his eye and declared "one down, one to go" -- referring to an upcoming game against the Seattle Supersonics and Nate McMillan, another Team USA assistant coach. He's basically impersonating Babe Ruth and telling you where he's going to hit the home run. Arenas is gaining a reputation for being the guy you don't want to tick off. In the Wizards free-flowing offensive attack, he has perpetual green light, and it is not uncommon for him to pull up from just inside halfcourt and launch 35-to-40-foot jumpshots. They're not necessarily bad shots either, as the Wizards uptempo style allows plenty of possessions for Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, who combine with Arenas to form the NBA's highest-scoring trio.

The NBA currently offers more marquee matchups than at any time in league history. There are a variety of players with the multitude of skills or indomitable presence necessary to take over a game. In some cases, as with Houston's Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, or Denver's Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson, a team has more than one such player. More often than not, individual rivalries overshadow the team matchup, as has become the Christmas tradition with ABC's Lakers-Heat game, obviously parlaying the Shaq-Kobe hissing match. This year however, with Shaquille O'Neal recoving from knee surgery, a new rivalry was initiated between Bryant and Miami's Dwyane Wade. In the head-to-head matchup, Wade absolutely dominated the Lakers to the tune of 40 points and 11 assists, while Bryant managed a sincere 16 in a loss.

Now, it is important to keep things in perspective. With Shaq out, Miami's offense flows almost exclusively through Wade. He is the primary ball handler and, in fact, they have few other scoring options. The Lakers, on the other hand, run the technically structured triangle offense, which requires Bryant to sacrifice shots that he could probably make. Also, Wade is the type of explosive player who can score 40 on any given night, so this was by no means a singular performance for him. Finally, Bryant, by all accounts, was suffering from the flu.

Still, perception is everything, and from a certain perspective, the Christmas Day game against Miami was a key point in Bryant's season, if not his career. It is no secret that Bryant's professional persona is an emulation of Michael Jordan. Jordan was one of his childhood idols, and Bryant received criticism for his Jordan-esque mannerisms early in his career. It is fair to say that Bryant is motivated, in a sense, to be better than Jordan, to establish his own legend outside of the imposing shadow that Jordan casts on the current generation of basketball players. Bryant wants to be the best. Now.

And he may be. This is the player who scored 81 points in a single game last season. A player who thrives in those moments in which others choke. A player who sets the league's current standard for greatness. You can be sure that, while Arenas' 60-point battery of the Lakers was nothing personal, it was motivated by Bryant's marquee status -- if you have something to prove, you must prove it against the best. But Bryant is also a player who's explosiveness has been limited by off-season knee surgery. He has seen his production decline due to Lakers' Coach Phil Jackson's emphasis on sharing the ball. With the arrival of Wade, Anthony and LeBron James and the new spokesmen of the NBA (Wade was recently named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year), Bryant has heard his name fall out of discussion.

After Arenas' offensive outburst, Kobe's remarks were the clue that revealed his frustration. The one-sided defeat against Wade -- with the entire NBA fan base watching -- might be the last straw. While Bryant and Wade were not playing one-on-one, the media's focus on marquee matchups creates a constant comparison between players that are often as similar as apples and oranges

How long will Bryant be able to squelch his ego and tolerate the short end of the stick? Jackson has stated that Jordan reached his greatest apex once he was able to trust his teammates. In chasing the game's greatest player, can Bryant adjust to playing within a system that limits his production and detracts from his personal legacy?

Perhaps the more intriguing question is, how will Bryant respond to the unspoken challenges issued by the NBA's new generation of superstars? One thing is certain, when the Lakers play the Wizards again on February 3, all eyes will be on the marquee matchup.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Improvisational Jazz

The feel-good story of the fledgling NBA season has got to be the Utah Jazz. Thier 9-1 opening ties a team record, and with their next opponent being Toronto, the Jazz are all but guaranteed their best start in franchise history. Not bad for a team that went from a perennial contender in the West to an injury-plagued chemistry nightmare, seemingly overnight.
John Stockton and Karl Malone were the face of the Jazz for more than a decade, leading their teams to the cusp of greatness twice by reaching the finals in 1997 and 1998. Stockton and Malone so distinctively embodied the Jazz that they are enshrined in bronze outside of the Delta Center (now EnergySolutions Arena) in Salt Lake City. Their flawless pick-and-roll execution notwithstanding, Stockton and Malone's teams were eclipsed by the Chicago Bulls and the talent and indomitable will of Michael Jordan. After their franchise cornerstones retired and moved on, the Jazz were left with few assets, having recieved nothing in return for their departed superstars. Faced with rebuilding, suffering through a miserable season and having endured personal tragedy after the death of his wife, Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan, the longest-tenured coach in NBA history, considered retirement.

Nobody deserves to win more than Jerry Sloan. If victories were based on merit, Sloan would be much higher on the list of the winningest coaches of all time (he's 8th). A throwback to a different era of the NBA, Sloan was deemed by many to be too "old-school" to relate to today's young players. Somehow, Sloan and VP of Player Development Kevin O'Connor have managed to assemble a young roster that will not only listen, but will play hard and compete.
The new Jazz were built around gritty, defensive-minded role players. Small forward Andre Kirilenko, a wiry, spring-powered ball of energy, is their best shot-blocker. Post bruiser Carlos Boozer plays power forward at only 6-foot-7. Center Mehmet Okur is arguably the team's best three-point shooter. On paper, everything looks backwards, clashing like the team's new baby blue alternate uniforms. But on the court, the Jazz are a running-and-gunning, fluid basketball team that outscored the notoriously uptempo Phoenix Suns 120-117 in overtime tonight.

Its not shocking to realize how Sloan turned things around. He has always been able to maximize the performances of mediocre players, taking teams deep into the playoffs while relying the likes of Thurl Bailey, Bryon Russell, Howard Eisley, Greg Ostertag, Adam Keefe and Jarron Collins for major contributions. Kirilenko, Boozer and Okur are much better than any frontcourt tandem Utah previously offered. None of them possess the all-around skill of Karl Malone, but with AK-47, Booz and Memo on the court together, they present a host of matchup problems for most NBA teams. Not to mention that the trio average 46.4 points and 27.9 rebounds and are a major reason the Jazz are favored to win the Northwest division title. They have remarkable chemisty considering that Kirilenko and Boozer have spent more time in the training room over the past two seasons than on the court together (incidentally, Kirilenko is out again).
The Jazz are deep in the backcourt as well. Deron Williams, selected No. 3 in last years draft, has matured and improved his decision making after spending the summer training with Stockton. Matt Harpring is a determined, physical guard who's game is reminiscent of Sloan's days as a Chicago Bull. In the off-season, Utah added guard Derek Fisher, a sharpshooter who brings championship experience and veteran leadership. They also drafted two rookies: Ronnie Brewer, an athletic wingman to complement Williams' uptempo flair, and Paul Milsap, a no-nonsense frontcourt workhorse. Perhaps the biggest suprise for Utah has been the rapid development of second-year guard C.J. Miles, who played in the NBDL last season but earned a starting spot in training camp this year. Sloan, who is known for keeping young players on the pine, isn't breaking from philosophy. He's playing the youngsters in an effort to build team chemistry, establish a rotation, and help the team escape the shadow of Stockton and Malone.

Sloan's system has always been based on tough defense and the high pick-and-roll. With a capable point guard in Williams and a well-balanced frontcourt, Sloan now has a variety of options despite his rather simple offensive game plan. Even if the pick and roll isn't clicking, Williams can make clutch shots, just as he did tonight against Phoenix, hitting the jumpshot that sent the game into overtime. This newly discovered confidence, the swagger, is what has been missing in Utah since Stockton and Malone were removed from the marquee. Although the system and coach have remained the same, this team needed to find its own identity.

The new, young Jazz look like they're for real, and if they can stay healthy and make the playoffs, Sloan may earn the much-deserved Coach of the Year honors that have eluded him during his long career. It might just be enough to wipe that frozen scowl off his face. Then again, maybe not.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Pungent Punditry

ESPN's resident sports satirist Bill Simmons is known for his sarcastic insight and analysis of prominent athletes. After the Dallas Cowboys recent foibles, he offered some thoughts on Drew Bledsoe and T.O. Here are his comments from ESPN.com's Page2:
"Drew Bledsoe has added a degree of difficulty for blowing big games. In the old days, he'd just throw a backbreaking interception at the worst possible time. But because everyone knows that's coming now, he added a fascinating wrinkle: An improbable play to throw us off and make us forget he's about to blow the game (like last week's fourth-and-18 bomb to Glenn), followed by the backbreaking interception that becomes doubly backbreaking because of the preceding events."
While there is truth to Simmon's barb, has Bledsoe been any more disappointing this season than Duante Culpepper, Brett Favre, Steve McNair, Ben Roethlisberger or Kurt Warner? I would consider each of the aforementioned QB's (except Big Ben) reasonably comparable to Bledsoe by age, experience and performance, but only McNair's Ravens (4-1) have a better record than the Cowboys (2-2). Lets face it, Bledsoe has never been consistent -- except that when he needs to throw the ball he holds it, and when he needs to hold it he throws a pick. However, I can't think of anyone more steadfast than Bledsoe's coach, Bill Parcells, and I believe he is still determined to get the best out of Bledsoe this season. That being said, last week's 3rd-and-goal interception by Philadelphia's Lito Sheppard made me consider moving to New Orleans and following the Saints to the Super Bowl.
"If you're broadcasting a game with Terrell Owens involved, it's important to blame him at all times for whatever bad things are happening to his team, even if his QB and secondary are the ones blowing the game. And it's imperative that the production crew shows every possible replay of T.O. yelling at someone on the bench without anyone wondering whether he's yelling because it's so deafening in the stadium that nobody can hear. Keep playing it this way until we can CGI fake footage of him punching teammates. He's clearly the Antichrist."
Okay, T.O. is a distraction, Bledsoe has A.D.D. and the secondary are narcoleptics. Blame is an easy thing to toss around. Blame Jerry Jones for paying Owens $10 million. Blame Parcells for his stoic philosophy. Blame the media for the spotlight that magnifies T.O.'s every action. It seems like simple logic: T.O. scores touchdowns; throw him the ball. Owens may not have been responsible for the Cowboys loss to Philadelphia, but he is in control of the negativity that follows him around. Nobody is manipulating T.O.'s sideline demeanor or post-game comments. Ostensibly, T.O. is unhappy because he's not being given the opportunity to help the team win. When was the last time Owens was happy about anything? For Cowboys fans, it is a hard pill to swallow coming from a guy who has repeatedly proven that he's not a team player.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Morbid Curiosity

A 2005 triple-homicide in Tacoma caught my interest primarily due to the arrogant contumacy of the killer. Now, more than a year later, the wheels of justice are clunking absently along, giving the accused a chance to declare himself "guilty as charged," thereby avoiding the death penalty. Some of the more interesting facts of the case are coming to light, including the dubious character of all involved players, Caesar-esque tragic irony in the form of murder delivered by a comrade, public messages exchanged on Myspace, and the comical ignorance of the so-called "mastermind."

It seems that Daniel Varo, Darren Christian and Ulysses Handy knew eachother well. Christian was a known drug dealer who befriended Handy, an ex-con. Whether Christian or Varo knew the full extent of Handy's background is unclear. However, an altercation led Handy and accomplice Sirree Mohammed to murder the two, along with Lindy Cochran (who is the definition of "being in the wrong place at the wrong time"), during the course of a robbery. Handy got caught by having the audacity to return to the crime scene.

The most fascinating aspect of this story was the Myspace ripple effect -- the exchange of messages leading up to the killings, and the sympathetic or vindictive messages left afterwards -- taking place in full view of the public. Handy himself seems like a walking contradiction, cold-blooded enough to murder his friends, foolish as to leave incriminating messages on Myspace, and insolent enough to remain remorseless.

Handy (left), with Darren Christian.

This consequential fallout of this story illustrates how portraits of people can be painted, often inaccurately, post mortem. Even if one knows and supposes nothing about these individuals, by browsing through the myriad interwoven threads the picture become less obscured -- and presents an inherent and unavoidable duality. News coverage of violent crime tends to focus on the atrocity of the crime itself, often glorifying the killer and divulging little about the victims. The Myspace ripple, in this case, reveals the victims and their ostensible social circle as money-loving, hard-partying, motorcycle-riding speed demons. The ripple, while meant to provide tribute to the victims, may result in a decreased probability of empathy from the common objective reader.

That is not to say that the victims are to blame for their own murder; Handy executed Christian and Varo without provocation for what he deemed to be a disrespect issue, and murdered Cochrane because she was a witness. However, the irony of leaving behind a visual reference of the fast-lane lifestyle that resulted in the owner's demise is too substantial to go unmentioned. The depth of information on Myspace serves a greater purpose in that it brings to light the circumstances under which these people lived and died, and may act as a deterrent to others who seek to appease their morbid curiosity by perousing those blogs.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Redefining Torture

The military trials bill approved by Congress on Thursday night lends legislative support for the first time to broad rules for the detention, interrogation, prosecution and trials of terrorism suspects far different from those in the familiar American criminal justice system.

President Bush's argument that the government requires extraordinary power to respond to the unusual threat of terrorism helped him win final support for a system of military trials with highly truncated defendant's rights. The United States used similar trials on just four occasions: during the country's revolution, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and World War II.

Included in the bill, passed by Republican majorities in the Senate yesterday and the House on Wednesday, are unique rules that bar terrorism suspects from challenging their detention or treatment through traditional habeas corpus petitions. They allow prosecutors, under certain conditions, to use evidence collected through hearsay or coercion to seek criminal convictions.

The bill rejects the right to a speedy trial and limits the traditional right to self-representation by requiring that defendants accept military defense attorneys. Panels of military officers need not reach unanimous agreement to win convictions, except in death penalty cases, and appeals must go through a second military panel before reaching a federal civilian court.

By writing into law for the first time the definition of an "unlawful enemy combatant," the bill empowers the executive branch to detain indefinitely anyone it determines to have "purposefully and materially" supported anti-U.S. hostilities. Only foreign nationals among those detainees can be tried by the military commissions, as they are known, and sentenced to decades in jail or put to death.

At the same time, the bill immunizes U.S. officials from prosecution for cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of detainees who the military and the CIA captured before the end of last year. It gives the president a dominant but not exclusive role in setting the rules for future interrogations of terrorism suspects.

Written largely, but not completely, on the administration's terms, with passages that give executive branch officials discretion to set details or divert from its protections, the bill is meant to provide what Bush said yesterday are "the tools" needed to handle terrorism suspects U.S. officials hope to capture.

For more than 57 months after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Bush maintained that he did not need congressional authorization of such tools. But the Supreme Court decided otherwise in June, declaring the administration's detainee treatment and trial procedures illegal, and ruling that Bush must first seek Congress's approval.

Now Bush has received much of the authority he desired from party loyalists and a handful of Democrats on Capitol Hill. "The American people need to know we're working together," Bush told senators before yesterday's vote.

But Tom Malinowski, the Washington office director for Human Rights Watch, said Bush's motivation is partly to protect his reputation by gaining congressional endorsement of controversial actions already taken. "He's been accused of authorizing criminal torture in a way that has hurt America and could come back to haunt our troops. One of his purposes is to have Congress stand with him in the dock," Malinowski said.

The bill contains some protections unavailable to the eight Nazi saboteurs who came ashore in the United States in 1942 and were captured two weeks later. Six were executed that year after a closed military trial on the fifth floor of Justice Department headquarters. That proceeding was upheld by the Supreme Court in a decision it explained two months after the electrocutions.

Under the new procedures, trials are supposed to be open, but can be closed to protect the security of individuals or information expected to harm national security. Defendants have a right to be present, unless they are disruptive, and a right to examine and respond to the evidence against them. Proof of guilt must exceed a reasonable doubt.

Many constitutional experts say, however, that the bill pushes at the edges of so much settled U.S. law that its passage will not be the last word on America's detainee policies. They predict it will shift the public debate to the federal courts, a forum where the administration has had less success getting its way on counterterrorism policies.

"This is a full-employment act for lawyers," said Deborah Perlstein, who directs the U.S. Law and Security Program at the New York-based nonprofit group Human Rights First.

Former White House associate counsel Bradford A. Berenson, a supporter of the bill and one of the authors of the rules struck down by the Supreme Court, agreed. "Some of the most creative legal minds are going to be devoted to poking holes in this," he said.

Anticipating court challenges, the administration attempted to make the bill bulletproof by including provisions that would sharply restrict judicial review and limit the application of international treaties -- signed by Washington -- that govern the rights of wartime detainees.

The bill also contains blunt assertions that it complies with U.S. treaty obligations.

University of Texas constitutional law professor Sanford V. Levinson described the bill in an Internet posting as the mark of a "banana republic." Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh said that "the image of Congress rushing to strip jurisdiction from the courts in response to a politically created emergency is really quite shocking, and it's not clear that most of the members understand what they've done."

In contrast, Douglas W. Kmiec, a professor of constitutional law at Pepperdine University, said Congress "did reasonably well in terms of fashioning a fair" set of procedures. But Kmiec and many others say they cannot predict how the Supreme Court will respond to the provision barring habeas corpus rights, which he said will leave "a large body of detainees with no conceivable basis to challenge their detentions."

There are other likely flashpoints. In the Supreme Court's June decision overturning previous administration policies, four members of the court who joined the majority opinion said conspiracy is not a war crime. The new bill says it is.

Georgetown University law professor Neal Katyal said the bill's creation of two systems of justice -- military commissions for foreign nationals and regular criminal trials for U.S. citizens -- may violate the Constitution's 14th Amendment, which requires equal protection of the laws to anyone under U.S. jurisdiction.

"If you're an American citizen, you get the Cadillac system of justice. If you're a foreigner or a green-card holder, you get this beat-up-Chevy version," he said.

On Detainee Legal Rights

The Definition of 'Unlawful Enemy Combatant'

The bill expands the definition of unlawful enemy combatants to include people who have "purposefully and materially supported hostilities" and people who have been declared enemy combatants under Combat Status Review Tribunals, "or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense." Under this new language, people in the United States who are not American citizens could be declared unlawful enemy combatants and held indefinitely without trial.

Habeas Corpus

The bill prohibits detainees held by the United States from filing lawsuits challenging their detention, known as habeas corpus pleadings. This wipes out both pending and future lawsuits, and it would apply to people picked up anywhere in the world, including the United States.

The provision is significant. Habeas corpus is an ancient protection that stems from English common law, and its use dates back to as early as the 12th century. In 1969, the Supreme Court called it "the fundamental instrument for safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary and lawless state action." Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) introduced an amendment to remove this part of the legislation. He argued that the ability to challenge one's detention is one of the most fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution. The proposed amendment failed.

On the Geneva Convention

Coercive Interrogation Tactics

The bill prohibits "grave breaches" of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. That includes "cruel or inhuman treatment." But many legal analysts and government officials believe the definition of cruel or inhuman treatment as written in the bill does not encompass some of the severe interrogation tactics that the CIA has reportedly used against terrorism suspects. The bill also prohibits enemy combatants from filing lawsuits claiming a violation of their rights under the Geneva Conventions. That could make it difficult to hold accountable those who do engage in torture.

Presidential Power

The bill gives the president the power to "interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions." Critics fear this means that the president can unilaterally authorize interrogation techniques that many people would consider torture.

War Crimes Act

The legislation would narrow the range of offenses prohibited under the War Crimes Act. This would protect civilians (such as CIA interrogators and White House officials) from being prosecuted for committing acts that would have been considered war crimes under the old definition. The change is retroactive to 1997, which means any crimes committed since 1997 would be prosecuted under the new standard, not the old one.

On Military Commisions

Evidence Obtained Through Coercion

If an enemy combatant made a statement under coercion before Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act in 2005, the evidence is admissible at a military tribunal in most cases. If the statements were made after Congress passed the 2005 ban on coercive interrogation tactics, the evidence is admissible only if a military judge finds that "the interrogation methods used to obtain the statement do not violate the cruel, unusual, or inhumane treatment or punishment prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution."

Secret Evidence

The first draft of this legislation said that defendants could "examine and respond" to all of the evidence against them at a military tribunal. Now it says only that defendants can "respond" to all evidence. The full implications of this phrase aren't entirely clear. Defense lawyers will likely argue that defendants can't respond to evidence they haven't been able to examine.

Hearsay Evidence

Hearsay evidence is generally acceptable at military tribunals. A judge has to rule that the evidence is reliable and relevant to the trial.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Who is the Real Terrell Owens?

Off the record, from what I've been able to gather so far today, Terrell Owens' press conference is only half of the story. For those of you just tuning in, the Cowboys' wide reciever was rushed to the hospital late Tuesday night. Early reports indiciated that he may have attempted suicide, although he later denied those rumors, stating that he suffered an adverse reaction to a mixture of pain medication and nutritional supplements, and that the police mistakenly categorized it as a suicide attempt.

The details that trickled across my desk late Wednesday may shed some light on the true nature of events. The information came from Owens' close friend and personal trainer, James "Buddy" Primm (via a third party, of course). Apparently Owens' young son (from a prior relationship) celebrated his seventh birthday this past Monday (I'm still trying to confirm this), and the two were unable to meet. The same day, Owens' current girlfriend, to whom he has been engaged for over a year, allegedly gave him an ultimatum, which my source relayed as "get married or else." According to Buddy, Owens explained that he was under too much pressure this year to take that step, and she dumped him. So Monday was not a good day for T.O.

Pressure is an interesting phenomenon. Some individuals thrive on it; others crumble under it. Pressure should be nothing new to T.O., he is in the limelight on a weekly basis and seems to embrace every minute of it. However, personal and professional pressure are two very different animals. In Owens' case, he has made life in Dallas more stressful than necessary. T.O. lives in a $400,000 loft about a block from Fair Park. While the surroundings are very posh, it's a long drive to Valley Ranch. He wakes up early to get to practice during rush-hour and spends a long day there, after which he participates in more specialized, intesive workouts with Buddy. Buddy insists that Owens' teammates have been telling him that he lives too far from work, that he should move out before the State Fair begins (Sept. 29), and that Owens has been contemplating moving into the W Hotel for a few weeks to escape the frenzy.

What is certain is that there is more to the story than meets the eye. Behind his showmanship and smiling persona, T.O. is a very emotionally dependent person. Buddy, the man who introduced Owens to the hyperbaric chamber, recently lived with T.O. until publicist Kim "25 million reasons" Etheredge took his place. (On a side note, after the press conference today, I have the feeling that Etheredge won her job after a drunken night of playing H-O-R-S-E with Owens: "Okay now T.O., if I hit this one, I get to be your publicist...") Buddy infers that Etheredge's presence is a result of the cold, corporate environment at Valley Ranch. Apparently Owens is not close with many of his teammates, and spends much of his time hanging around with second and third-string players. From a psychological angle, it almost seems like a self-esteem issue. Coach Bill Parcells is known to be unfeeling, distant and demanding -- it's hard to imagine that he provides the TLC or personal attention that Owens needs.

Unfortunately for Owens, his fastest and most vocal supporters in this case have been Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders. Maybe it's just me, but doesn't an emotionally unbalanced person need friends with a bit more moral fortitude? Regardless of the circumstances, it's hard to believe that T.O. would "mistakenly" mix hydrocodone with nutritional supplements. The man's body is maintained to perform like a machine -- even Buddy admitted that sending Owens to the Cowboy's training staff was like "taking a Lamborghini to the Sears auto center." Even with a broken hand (not finger), there's no way T.O. mistakes painkillers for supplements.

The underlying tragedy in this is that, after several "fresh starts," T.O. may have missed yet another opportunity to earn the public's trust. In today's era of commercialized mega-stars, the true nature of the person can become lost in the promotional chaos; while we recognize our favorite athletes by their faces, names or the products they endorse, we don't really know much about them. If Wednesday's events were, in fact, a suicide attempt, Owens had a fair chance to address the emotional issues that seem to plague him on and off the field. Unfortunately, T.O., along with his agent and publicist, turned the press conference into a fiasco of half-truths and selective amnesia, further isolating Owens from the fans upon whom he relies for emotional support. Like many star athletes under pressure, T.O. chose to salvage his celebrity persona and sacrifice his integrity. Instead of focusing on his humanity, the questions quickly turned to "Will he play on Sunday?" For professional athletes, who are often treated as commodities, the line between being a person and a product can become blurred. In T.O.'s case, he has obliterrated that line, and has nobody to blame but himself.

I doubt that any of this will ever be stated for the record. Just remember that you read it here first!