Yao Ming

For Christina's birthday I took her to see Yao Ming and the rest of the Houston Rockets play the Sonics tonight. Here's my advanced scouting report.
Yao was in the starting lineup for the Rockets. Yes, he's tall, but not all that strong yet. His frame looks like it could support another 30 to 40 pounds of muscle, easily, and he'll need it to be more effective. At 240 he's light for a 7' 6" guy. Not Shawn Bradley light, but at 270 to 280 he should be able to move some people around.
Foot speed isn't his forte, and he couldn't jump onto a pancake if his life depended on it, but he's got some solid post moves and a soft shooting touch. He was playing Drobnjak, another perimeter type of center, so Yao didn't actually get a lot of jumpers off like he could against a defender who stays closer to the basket. In the first half Yao looked confused and out of synch with the offense. Yao will be a solid shot-blocker, not a great one. He should be a better rebounder than he is given his height. Part of that is because he's not strong and quick enough to get solid post position against stronger opponents, and he's not a natural rebounder like a Dennis Rodman who instinctively knows where to be and when to grab the board.
He's a very good passer. The Rockets were down at halftime, and to start the second half they began running their offense through Yao down on the left baseline. Francis would give him the entry pass, and when Payton dropped down to double Yao would turn and use his height to find the open man and pass over his defenders. Lots of open shots for his teammates.
Not a huge game statistically for Yao, but I stand by my assessment. He'll be a very good center in the NBA when he gets more experience and some more bulk. He's very young, in his first year in the NBA, and living in a foreign country where he doesn't speak the language. All in all he's doing okay.
Some other observations. The Sonics really need a big rebounder to round out their team. They're a team of perimeter players, jump shooters, and when they can't shoot, like tonight (Payton was 3 for 16) they'll struggle big time because they won't win the rebound battle too many nights. Desmond Mason is exciting, Lewis is very highly paid for what he is (a finesse jump shooter), Glen Rice is useless when he's not hitting from outside because he's a big defensive sloth, Stevie Franchise is impossible to keep away from the basket, and why can't anyone in the NBA shoot anymore? NBA basketball is just not that exciting a product these days, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that scoring is down. Low scores are not inherently bad, but when it's the result of offensive incompetency instead of defensive excellence it makes for long, dull stretches of boring spectacle. The championship Bulls of Jordan's day knew it was important to surround Jordan and company with a ton of accurate jump shooters (John Paxson, Craig Hodges, Steve Kerr, Bobby Hansen, Ron Harper) because Jordan would draw double teams and you have to score to win. These days it seems like if you break 80 you'll win. Many teams are taking advantage of the new rules to play zone defenses, and they can get away with it because opponents can't shoot which is the easiest way to beat the zone.
To distract from the dull game, the NBA blasts you with loud music, dancing, mascots doing ridiculous stunts, and little kids paraded around the court in series of silly games. By the way, during one break they introduced the Sonics dance team and half of them were still in college at UW. I guess that's one thing the pros have in common with college basketball. The dance squad captain's name was Misty, which is worth a chuckle.
At least in college basketball you get to see star players going off and dominating their competiton. I'd rather see a few standouts surrounded by mediocre players, as you get in college, than seeing a whole group of middling players competing to a standstill as many NBA games seem to offer. Considering the cost and length and quality of an typical game, the NBA is not a great entertainment value unless you're watching the Lakers at an NBA game and can gape at the celebrities seated courtside.

Cure for hiccups

Walking from the parking lot to Key Arena for the Sonics-Rockets game tonight, I got a serious case of the hiccups. That's when I turned to the only foolproof cure for hiccups I've ever encountered. Colin taught me this, and now, little man, I pass it on to you. Here's how it goes.
You'll need someone to help you out unless you have really long fingers. Cover both your ears tightly, pinch your nose shut, and swallow. That's it. Forget about drinking water or frightening yourself. I have no idea what causes hiccups and no idea why this cure works, but it does.
Speaking of strange mysteries, it turns out that scientists don't really know why you can't tickle yourself. The common belief is that it's because you know it's coming and that the element of surprise is the root of tickling, but no one's ever proved it.