Sunday, February 12, 2017

How Dare You Hate

Cake Time
Tonight in Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant made his first appearance as a visiting player, having signed a free agent deal with the Golden State Warriors in the off-season. Not surprisingly, the fans booed the living hell out of him, brought cupcake signs to try to rattle him, and cheered as if their lives depended on it, or as if their team really could keep up with the best basketball team in the world. It stayed competitive throughout, and star guard Russell Westbrook put up a 47/11/8 line for the home team, but the Warriors won by 16, and would have won by more if the scrubs had kept up the momentum in the dying moments. In three games this year, the Warriors have rolled the Thunder in every game, and while anything can happen in a single game of hoop, it's hard to see how they wouldn't roll them in the vast majority of encounters.

Which means that we turned, with speed, into Not Game, and for ESPN's cavalcade of Not Gamers, it was how unfortunate it was that Durant's 9-year career for his former laundry wasn't going to ever have the feel-good moment of Thunder Fan thanking him for the memories in a highlight reel of goodness.

Which leads me to the following and final point, and I'm sorry for the following moment of screaming, but...


Look, NBA tickets are expensive. Sports are something where you can buy a ticket, root for your laundry for a few hours, and think almost exclusively about the dumb thing that everyone else is thinking about. It's a release, escapism, maybe even (just maybe) FUN. Doing something that some media elite tells you to do, because you might hurt the feelings (oh, and by the way, you won't) of some dude who makes more in a single game than anyone in the stands will make in a year...

Well, Screw That. With as much urgency and lack of discretion as humanly possible.

Thunder Fan does not "owe" Durant anything. They don't have to cheer for him if they don't want to. If they ever decide to, maybe in five to ten years if he chose to return to end his career where it began (and even that's not true, since his career started in Seattle), that's on them. You buy your ticket, you get to decide what you want to do, within reason, in the arena. Bring cupcake signs, cheer respectfully in warm-ups than boo him in the game, turn your back on him with a pointed display of disciplined silence (a protest that, I think, would be wildly cool if ever executed)...

it's entirely up to you. Buy the ticket, take the ride. Your ride, your way.

And if any media person wants to tell you any different?

Perhaps, next time, you should bring some signs addressing how much you respect their opinion.

Not that those will get on camera, of course...

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Once More Into The Knicks

This Year's New Low
Let's start this where it begins. In America. The United States, specifically.

In the United States, very rich people like to believe that they got that way on the merits. Those merits might be hard work, insight, vision, determination, or even, more darkly, the superiority of their birth. But independent of anything else, the rich as seen are having merit. After all, if they didn't have merit, they wouldn't be rich.

Now, let's pivot to sports. Unlike way too much of our daily lives, sports has a scoreboard; a wonderful, definitive scoreboard that ends all doubts as to who won and who lost. You can argue that a team was lucky, you can argue that if only one factor had changed, it would be different, but everyone knows in the back of their minds that these are arguments for suckers. You either won or you lost. It's as black and white as life gets, and if you won, there had to have been some merits involved. Talent, hard work, strategy, preparation; teams don't generally just chuck it out there and hope for the best.

Now, the Knicks.

The Knicks are a *terrible* basketball franchise. They've been a terrible basketball franchise for a very long time. In what might be the weakest division in the weaker conference, they rarely threaten for the playoffs, despite playing in the media hub of the universe, to packed houses of NBA-mad celebrities, for a league that keeps its offices in the greater NYC area, and would plainly *love* a NYC team, in the world's most famous arena, to occasionally play a meaningful game.

They don't.

Instead, owner James Dolan fails and fails and fails again. He hires names from the past instead of people who have adapted to the way the game is played now. He cycles through coaches like a sick person cycles through tissues and cough drops. (Yes, actually, as I write this, I'm ill. It's peachy.) And every year, just as it becomes obvious that the construction of the latest Knick roster isn't going to be able to get it done (here's a hint, you mooks: try valuing 2-way players who win on advanced analytics, rather than Name Stars who aren't as good as their reputations, don't move the ball and don't defend)...

Well, there's some New Distraction to show that the organization is always more than willing to put more trash on the fire.

This year, it's GM and Old Man Shaking His Fist At Clouds That Resemble The Three Point Line Phil Jackson, who has spent the past few years showing Tough Love to star forward and embodiment of all that's wrong Carmelo Anthony. With the problem being that Tough Love tends to drive down the old trade value when you are trying to move on from this guy, especially since he's signed to a big whopping contract that you, yourself, inked in the not too distant past, when you made the utter whiff mistake of thinking that you could teach / motivate / change the dude into being something he clearly isn't, which is (not) the centerpiece of a championship team.

This week, it's the tawdry spectacle of franchise legend and very possibly crazy person Charles Oakley, who was escorted out of the building in a scene from Jerry Springer, subsequently banned for life and arrested, then given a rollicking character assassination by Dolan, AKA the last guy who should be discussing anyone's character. (Remember, this is the asshat who keeps hiring Isiah Thomas, no matter what results, on the court or in the courts.)

This has led to the very curious spectacle of people chanting for Oakley at Knicks home games -- as if he's going to wander out on the floor and change the course of play and/or get Anthony to D up -- and the usual hand wringing about what can be done to fix the Knicks.

And now, we're back to where we started; in America. Home of rich people who can screw up all they like, because they are rich.

In other countries, sports leagues have relegation, and long-time readers of the blog will note that I've been singing this sad song for a very, very long time... but the point still holds. If there were many basketball leagues instead of one, the way that the world treats soccer / football, Dolan wouldn't have an NBA (Tier 1) team. And as soon as he didn't have that, the celebs and crowds would melt away, and as soon as that happens, he'd have sold. Or done whatever the hell he wanted to, because who the hell cares.

Instead, Dolan will be an NBA owner until he dies, or takes the Donald Sterling exit. The Knicks will be the Knicks; always chasing the short-term shiny, never doing it with a lick of sense. And we'll have annual moments like the Oakley Affair, with think pieces of how this is the New Low, as if Dolan wasn't always capable of more.

American exceptionalism. See how it hurts?

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Curious Case Of Thomas John McConnell

Win And Run
Coming into this Sixers season, we knew a couple of things.

1) Coach Brett Brown wanted to start rookie Ben Simmons at point guard, and

2) It was probably the best idea, because the other options were a 35-year-old Spaniard, a middling free agent who might be OK, and a too-short undrafted free agent who wasn't good on defense or from the three point arc. AKA a guy who was probably putting his per diem in a cookie jar, because The Dream was going to end at any moment, and there was certainly no other NBA team that would sign his pallid ass.

Then, Simmons got hurt. The middling guy, Jerryd Bayless, came back but never looked right, and went down for the year. The Spaniard, Sergio Rodriguez, turned out to be occasionally useful, but certainly not anything that you had to give 35 minutes a game to, because, well, he was what he was. And the UDFA?

Keeps winning games with last second makes, and the team keeps looking its best when he's on the floor.

I have no real idea if TJ McConnell is anything more than a guy who has strung together some good moments in the dog days of the NBA season, or someone who is actually developing into a real NBA PG. When he has to go up against stud PGs, he suffers, but by that standard, so do a a lot of guys. His three point stroke is better, but certainly not as good as it needs to be. He tries hard on defense and has active hands, but he's just not tall or have enough of a leap to really bother people.

But man alive, does he have good instincts. And while it's totally damming him with the faintest of praise, he's the best PG that the team has had in the last five years. (There are literally dozens of guys who have had this gig, by the way. TJ beats out a gallery of swill that, at its best, includes a half season of healthy Tony Wooten, a driver who could not shoot free throws or threes, the vagabond bricklayer Michael Carter-Williams, and the mildly useful but eventually very overexposed Ish Smith. It's been ugly. Honestly, if the Lakers had just done what they were supposed to and taken Jahlil Okafor, the team would have pounced on D'Angelo Russell and been wildly more watchable for the last year and a half. But I digress.)

Tonight in Orlando, the Joel Embiid-less Sixers snapped a five game losing streak despite the starting forwards (Ersan Ilyasova, fading, and Bob Covington, still not really back after an injury) missing just about everything. They did it with defense, some threes from Rodriguez to help overcome an early hole, a career night from emerging rookie Dario Saric, and in the final two possessions after rampant shakiness, a mid-range McConnell make, then a steal. In the clutch, it was the UDFA with the game winning plays, and not the guy (Elfrid Payton, very athletic and well-scouted PG who doesn't show any signs of being anything but a guy you always lose with) they drafted in the first, then pawned off on Orlando for a first round pick and Saric, drafted two picks later.

By the way, the Saric-Payton trade? Highway robbery, and yet another moment of Sam Hinkie Died For Your Sins. But I digress.

Most telling? That McConnell pretty much ran off the floor after the two plays to end it like he was ducking a subpoena. Maybe he was just trying to avoid a replay of his game-winner in January against New York, when he broke Carmelo Anthony's ankles, then had to endure Embiid screaming at him like he was a pro wrestler.

If and when Simmons hits the floor, McConnell likely goes to the bench, and takes Rodriguez's PG2 minutes. If the rook isn't a PG, the team will probably draft one (please, Lord, guards; it's nice that Nic Stauskas and Gerald Henderson resemble NBA players now, but they don't really resemble NBA players on really good teams, and it's not as if Hendu is going to get any better than this). I still think TJ's NBA future is decades wearing suits and coaching guys, much more than the years that he'll be in a uniform.

But the nice part of these past six weeks is that a guy who tries like mad, plays the right way, and gets everything imaginable out of his meager talents is going to have years in the league, rather than weeks.

And if JJ Barea can win a ring, and Matthew Delevedova...

Well, I like McConnell a lot more than either of those guys. He's not a pocket thug. He throws a pretty great lob to the bigs. He's still also pretty damned young, and if he improves as much as he did from last year -- say, by getting that shaky three point shot right...

He might actually be more than that.

(Yeah, I know, probably not. But at least this year, you don't feel bad about rooting for him.)

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Gift and Re-Gift

In Falcon Red!
The last time the NE Patriots won a Super Bowl, it was on a last minute pick that was judged, correctly in the moment and for all eternity afterward, as a monumental coaching blunder. Instead of just running it with the red-hot Marshawn Lynch against a gassed defensive front, Seattle threw a cross, Malcolm Butler made a play, and we had one of the most astounding escape wins of recent NFL history.

Tonight's exercise in buffoonery won't be as well remembered, because it happened with three minutes left, but it was as remarkable and ill-conceived. After a catch for the ages by WR Julio Jones, the Falcons were in easy field goal position while up 8. Instead of using a running game that worked all night, they.. chose to throw. And took a back-breaking sack, then a holding penalty, then an incomplete, leading to a punt. Which gave NE the ball back, down 8, against a defense that dominated for much of the first three quarters, but simply ran out of gas, the way defenses do when they are out there for most of the game. NE's avalanche continued apace, and Tom Brady and Bill Belichick now have five Super Bowl rings. Boston Fan also gets to be twice as insufferable as they were before (twice infinity? they are up to the task), since they now have the biggest MLB comeback and the biggest NFL comeback.

At this point, I'm ready to renounce football, folks... AND I PICKED THE PATRIOTS TO DO EXACTLY THIS, in that young teams in the Super Bowl behave like idiots, and teams that face The Hoodie do this even more. Damned near every time, honestly.

So that will be, Lord willing and the river don't flood, the last time on this here blog that I will talk about this game for a good long while, because I just can't, really. Sports is supposed to be an escape from depression and disappointment and predictability; when it's all of those things and more, maybe I need to go take up pottery or something. (Don't worry, I'm still totally an NBA mark, and haven't learned my lesson for when Golden State spits the bit against some Gritty People.)

But before this goes to bed, one final word... how much of an idiot did you have to be to think that something (well, something other than Boston Fan booing and having Public Butthurt, because Public Butthurt even in your moment of most improbable joy is important, because Boston Fan cares more about Butthurt than anything) was going to happen in the Roger Goodell trophy pass? Dude eats feces for a *living*, and a very well paid living, from NFL owners in private meetings. He was hired for that. The other 31 NFL owners pushed him to go Moral Oral on you for your cheating ways; he's just their mouthpiece. The idea that he was going to give you some Villain Comeuppance moment when he gave the hardware ever... Jebus.

You people aren't just the worst, you are fracking idiots. Congrats on moaning your way through the greatest dynasty in modern times!

Top 20 NFL Super Bowl Ad Questions: Second Half

Whore Like This
20) Does anyone buy the idea that buying jewelry at Tiffany's had any significant impact on Lady Gaga's career?

19) Did the challenge flag ruin the live Snickers ad, or was it already ruined by being a remarkably dumb idea?

18) Is anyone buying the idea that cleaning will get you laid, or that women are desperate to do bald white guys?

17) Are Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart hanging out together for the weed, or are they also, um, let's not go any further?

16) Is the point of the Kia ads with Melissa McCarthy that the planet would be better of if no one tried to help it?

15) Was anyone else excited to see Kristen Schaal do S&M for a wireless ad?

14) Did the NFL really think anyone would be moved by the idea of a nation united by its bloodsport?

13) Why did America's pharma manufacturers decide to sit this game out?

12) If I use, will I be oblivious to my surroundings to the point of death?

11) Are Alexa users incapable of watching their dog?

10) Did Turkish Airlines just try to promote flight from the U.S. by promising trips filled with Morgan Freeman clones?

9) Does Spuds McKenzie's soul wandering the Earth, never to know peace, really sell beer?

8) Why do Mercedes owners want to annoy old bikers?

7) How many Alfa Romeos do they have to sell to cover all of those ads?

6) Given that LeBron James' endorsement in the election didn't go so well, is that why his Sprite ad is so stilted?

5) Is Jeffrey Tambor making a side income as a laundromat now?

4) When the game went to overtime, did the NFL have to just run ads over again, because they had ran out?

3) If Olivia Munn pops into teenaged boy bathrooms, is spilling cleanser really the biggest problem?

2) Are all car ads in February required to show people driving like asshats in snow?

1) Honestly, can someone tell me how Belichick and Brady were able to negotiate the best deal with Satan ever?

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