Friday, February 27, 2015

Cleveland Gets Taken For A Branding Ride

Vive Le Difference
I've spent my life in advertising. Mostly direct, but with a fair amount of branding work. And as this is a very soft science, the first rule is that you are better off not flying off half-cocked about someone's brand decisions. It's their baby, not yours, and if the baby is ugly, you aren't going to win a lot of friends or influence a lot of people by telling the parents that they should give their kid some sticks and weapons in the cradle, to prepare them for future professional opportunities. It's not that your kid is ugly; it's that they could be making better apparel choices. Etc.

And then there's what the Browns did and paid for, which is go to an NFL fan base and tell them that a slightly different color in their field of non-logo WTFery, and a font difference that matters only to the .1% of the populace who truly care about fonts... is meaningful and significant, and clearly something that requires new merch. Head on over to the store and get yours today, kids, before we go to the next Pantone color.

This is, in a nutshell, why people hate advertising and design professionals. And probably should. Because someone made real bank for the process involved and above. Someone worked through months (at least) of committee meetings, many other storyboards with many other possibilities, and probably much better work that was thrown out the window because it was too much from what they already have.

And then, when they finally all got to the point above, with the side work of a different look for the Dawg Pound (and, honestly, who would care?)... rather than just say, well, screw it, it's not worth the change... they pulled the trigger anyway. Mostly because they know that it will help sell more gear.

In the early days of the blog (and yes, the blog has had early days), we used to mock the idea of alternate jerseys, throwback jerseys, and how every team would eventually get to a new shirt every week. And like many moments of satire or parody, there was probably more truth to that work than the actual truth.

I fully expect some team, at some point, to change shirts at halftime, maybe to break the luck or because they wore black and it's hot out. Or for teams to have one outfit for the sidelines, and a lower one underneath, with tearaways like you get in the NBA. And for each club to wind up having a closet of options, all the better to hide the encroaching presence of ads.

Design is cheap.

Ownership is venal; they will do everything they can to get the spend to rise.

And for the folks who just have to look like athletes, more options will mean more spend, because those people are just there for the taking...

FTT Non-Sports: This Actually Happened Today

Because Snow Exists, I Am Right
On the floor of the United States Senate, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe (R-Of Course), pulled a snowball out of a ziplocked bag, then tossed it to a confederate, as part of his overall treatise that since it's cold outside, climate change is a myth.

No, seriously.

Never mind the numbers. Never mind the melting polar ice caps. Never mind the retreating glaciers, the barren ski slopes in actually wintry climates, the 140+ degree temps in Australian summer, the actual numbers from actual places.

You see, Jim Imhofe got himself a snowball.

And a certain percentage of our populace thinks that's all that's needed to be done, and that it's more likely that all of this has been a cruel hoax, rather than the sad man-made reality...

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Top 10 takeaways from Derrick Rose's Latest Surgery

The Dark Future
10) There is no truth to the rumor that, to save time, doctors are putting in zippers instead of stitches this time

9) If you had February 25 in the pool, you win, and had the most optimistic entry

8) It's a torn meniscus, which other players have returned quickly from, but, um, that's clearly not going to happen here

7) Chicago only starts playing well when short-handed, so they are going to go on a run now

6) During this latest rehab, maybe Rose can work on his three-point shooting, or finding some sneaker that doesn't keep causing injury

5) This is clearly a delayed side effect of Rose playing for the national team, the single biggest knee-killer in the world today

4) That cotton-soft Eastern Conference garden path to the Finals that LeBron James enjoys every year just got a little more kitteny plush

3) It's a little mean to note that Chicago's 7-4 record without him, and Rose's 18/3/5 with 3.2 turnovers and sub 41% shooting percentage in 31 minutes a game, might be very replaceable

2) On the bright side, this will be Rose's third knee surgery, but he's going a very good job of balancing them between both knees

1) Given the number of injuries, one can forgive Rose, or Chicago Fan, for rethinking that whole Christianity thing

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Brief And Obvious Points About The Raiders Threatening To Relocate

Negotiations
They will do this, at some level or another, for the rest of the time that the franchise is in Oakland.

They will do this because there will always be more money in some other location than Oakland, especially as long as the NFL is leaving Los Angeles fallow. (See Clippers, LA, the sale thereof.)

There is no financial penalty to the Raiders for doing this.

There is no one in the Bay Area that makes the decision to go to a game, buy the merch, or tune in the telecast based on whether or not the organization has been petulant asshats.

This is because every NFL franchise is on a continuum of moral bankruptcy and degeneracy, and everyone knows that before they turn on the game, and they turn on the game anyway, because junkies are not picky.

In a better country and system, there would be relegation and promotion to prevent the wanton abuse of a fan base by repellent and incompetent ownership.

In a less better country and system, there would be regulation -- because every franchise is sucking public money in some fashion, and a concentrated federal and state action would attack Oakland's league partners, and use that leverage to coerce the Raiders out of extortion.

In an even less better country and system, taxpayers would rise up and vote out each and every political official that funnels taxpayer money to private and wildly profitable sports monopolies, to the point where people who run for office would no sooner be seen with athletes or owners than they would with pedophiles and reality television celebrities.

We live in none of these things, so please enjoy the continued do-se-do where the Raiders, Rams, Chargers and any other franchise with a financial itch to scratch tries to get to the cash register with the gun and the bandanna first.

No team needs the money, and neither do any of the ownership groups.

And if and when one of them breaks through and cashes in...

You will know just how corrupt and abhorrent the media is by those that choose to tell you how wonderful the new venue is, and how many people in Los Angeles are just so happy to have football again...

Monday, February 23, 2015

25 Awful Fantasy Baseball Team Names

Talk About Mudflaps
Need to offend people in your league, but lack the time or creativity required to get the kind of head shaking reaction and outright revulsion necessary for truly effective fantasy league performance? Let the experts at Five Tool Tool help you be all that you should not be. All names fit in the standard Yahoo fantasy name limit while avoiding obvious profanity. You are welcome! And we'll see you in hell.

Selig Swallowers

Wet Sharters

Balk Not Swallow

Pee Wee, Not Reese

Pine Tar Lube

The Stretch Position

Uncle's Slide Piece

Knuckle Curves

Cory Lidle Air

Curt's Other Sock

Ty Cobb's Beliefs

Playoff Beards

Mudflap Granted

Toeing The Rubber

Cards At Home

Mascot Annies

Ross Gload's Choad

Fungo Waxers

Can Of Cornhole

Sent Down

Switch Hitters

Bat Corkers

Cable Installers

Aardsma All Stars (this one requires an unfortunate trip to Urban Dictionary...)

Alex Rodriguez

Awkward Girls Gymnastics Team Names

And everybody gets cake
Yes, I'm going to hell...

And I'll be joined there by the real life chuckle heads who run the EXTREME! Gymnastics team that I saw at my kid's state finals this last weekend. I'm sorry, folks, but unless your regimen includes copious amounts of barbed wire on the apparatus, broken glass on the mats, and over-the-top promos about what you are going to do in the upcoming competition, it's just not EXTREME! enough for the name.

Anyway, better out of my brain and into yours than staying here forever...

Participants

Briberellas

Plus Size

Faintly

Depilaters

All Whites

Anorexercisers

Chalk Eaters

Leotuggers

Leakers

Unbulimiable

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Gymnast Parent Diaries: State Finals 2015

Bars Dismounting
Tonight in the snowy mess that was northern New Jersey, I took the eldest and her grandmother to the state finals for her gymnastics program, and the latest and biggest meet of her athletic career.

The eldest is 14 now, going on 15 in April. She's been doing gymnastics at the competitive club level for two years, having come to it a little later than most in the field. It's been an interesting experience, because gymnastics is kind of fascinating. Most of the time when you are watching a sport, you are rooting for the other team to lose; in gymnastics, that's really not the case, because a kid who isn't performing well is at physical risk, and no one wants to see that. You want to see all of the performers do well... but you also want to see your kid do better.

Then there's the judging. You can kind of guess what a score will be, once you've watched a few routines and seen what the scores tend to be, but you really don't know what goes into it, or why, and how much, someone might be better than someone else. Every gymnast is engaged in a game of risk/reward; too many difficult moves and you risk catastrophic failure; too few, and you can't score high enough to win. The gymnast also spends the better part of 3+ hours watching other performers work, and can do nothing about their performances; there is no such thing as defense here, just offense. When you do perform, other athletes are working all around you, and the gym is a distraction-tastic zone of side shows and other people, and there really isn't any luck involved. The equipment is supposed to be the same as every other gym, but that's never true, and the "home" performers always have an edge. It's also just you; while coaches and teammates and family in the crowd helps, it's really just you in the moment.

As a parent, especially the parent in the Grenade Age that is 14, your job is to get your kid to the gym on time, in proper spirits and nutrition, and to make sure she's ready to compete mentally, with a minimal amount of distractions. And today, we failed her with a vengeance. A late-breaking snowstorm hit the area this afternoon, dropping several inches of mess to the world and slowing roads to about a third of their usual speed. We budgeted extra time to get to the arena, and still wound up 45 minutes late. Which meant that my kid was in near tears, convinced that she was going to miss an event, not have time to warm up, or at the very least, poison her image with the judges. And adding to the lateness was some last minute problems in simply finding the damned venue, as the gym in question had several locations available.

Her weakest event is floor exercise; it was also what she had to do first, less than a half hour after walking in the gym. This is the favorite event of most gymnasts, in that it shows creativity and personality, and unlike every other apparatus, there's no real fear of strong injury from a failed move. My daughter tends more towards Serious than Fun when she performs, and this seems to limit her scores in the discipline. She also lacks some of the flexibility that you see in kids with, frankly, more meat on the bones; sometimes a hard body can limit that. And she's got my no air genetic legacy, which means a certain lack of explosion on jumps. But she did well, scored in the higher side of what she normally scores, and had good body language. I was relieved that we hadn't messed her up too bad by being late.

Next up was vault, which is usually a drama-free experience. At this level, vault isn't as super-flippy as you see from Olympians, and so long as you have good form and no fear, you tend to do well. But in the warm ups for this round, she kept coming up short on completion, and seemed to be having issues with her shoulder. Finally when it was go time, she hit the approach at speed, completed the move, stuck the landing and broke into a wide smile of relief. The second pass was better still, and she had just under her usual score.

Bars at this level is a real problem for most girls. It requires a lot of upper body strength that most do not have, and the contestant is a long way up in the air, with a real concern for her well-being. Completing rotations requires momentum that is pulling you away from safety; a lack of momentum also means failure. All of this is happening on a thin bar that never seems perfectly attuned to the performer -- complaints about, and adjustments to, bars outnumber all other equipment by a wide margin -- and you also have to achieve the perfect measure of chalk, work with your grips, and oh by the way, execute the damned moves. What usually happens is that a performer does their routine a few times in warm-ups, then looks gassed and nervous during the actual event. If you gave kids one apparatus to skip in every meet, it'd be bars.

My girl, being a different kind of gymnast, actually seems to like bars more than any other event. She's got more strength than most, doesn't seem to get gassed on repeat, and is good at enduring the pain involved with the event (broken skin seems common). She just doesn't have a very splashy dismount, which keeps her from scoring too high, but also makes the event a lot less risky than most. She did fine tonight, then moved on to beam.

In many of the meets I've attended, I've made small talk with other parents, and asked them the event they linked watching the least. The answer has always been the same: balance beam. Here, the risk/reward equation is at its zenith, with progressively more difficult moves working against the simple fact that falling off a balance beam is a lot easier than standing on it. My daughter completed a meet season where she did not fall once, but she did have some moments of shakiness that caused small deductions, and when the score came down, it was right in the pocket of what she normally achieves. All-around, this was one of her better events, especially for overcoming the late arrival, and I could tell she was pleased with how she did...

And then there's the awards.

At this level, medals are given out to every participant, but more are added if you are in the top half of performers. At last year's event, against a field of 25, she had placed just once, an 8th in vault. Unless you obsessively track every score, who wins what is something of a surprise. So when the results for vault were read, and my girl did not place, I was a little worried that she was going to be shut out. Bars came next, and her name was in the 8th slot, so everything was fine... and a 10th on beam was a little surprising, but hey, two medals this year is better than one last year. Floor was announced next, and we were all blindsided by a third place mark. Her worst event, in her biggest contest, and she got third in a field of 20? Something of a game changer, that. Seventh in the all around followed, and she was happily clinking them the rest of the night, and texting her friends, and going into post-meet analysis of who else did what, and what happened that we couldn't see from the stands.

My daughter does gymnastics for a lot of reasons. Fitness, a love for the strategy, her relationships with her teammates and coaches, and, increasingly, the joy of competition. It's her call for how long she wants to keep doing this, because we harbor no illusions about fame and fortune from this. It's expensive and time-consuming and temporary and not as important as school, family, friends, etc.

But it is important, because the values being taught with the tricks -- perseverance, courage, sacrifice, focus, and self-control -- also stay with the performer. 

Can you get these things from other sources? Of course. And she'd have a lot of them in spades if she had never stepped on a mat. But does she have more of all of this for doing the program? Of course. Along with, well, a very clear example to cite when she tells me she can't do something...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sam Hinkie At The Trade Deadline, Or Tomorrow Never Comes

So for a club that most people didn't think was going to do much at the deadline... well, Philly was in all kinds of action again today. And the results will bolster both camps -- those who are all-in on In Hinkie We Trust, and those who are certain that the club is just playing a cheap shell game of perpetual horizon.



The big move was PG and last year's Rookie of the Year, Michael Carter-Williams, going to Milwaukee for the Lakers' 2015 first round pick. That selection might wait for a while, as it's top-5 protected for this year, and top-3 in 2016 and 2017. But with so many teams pushing the reset button this year, and lottery luck being what it is, its not beyond the realm of possibility that the selection could come soon.

Is this enough for the stat filling goodness that is MCW? Well, only if you think that his jump shot is a perpetual minus, because so long as it is, Dub is just not going to cut it as an NBA starter. You can excuse the regression this year as what happens after off-season knee surgery, but when your glaring weakness gets worse, that's not a great sign for your long-term viability as a stud. And there's no winning in the NBA without a stud at 1.

The move that no one in town is going to have an issue with is trading the rights to G Cenk Akyol -- an asset that none with the possible exception of Hinkie knew was in the Sixers cupboard -- for C JaVale McGee, the Thunder's lottery protected 2015 first round pick, and the draft rights to C Chukwudiebere Maduabum, which is, I suspect, some inside joke perpetrated by the Nugget staff, in that can't be someone's real name. What this clearly was money (McGee's 2-year flaming turd of a contract) for a first rounder. Given how the Sixers' salary cap advantage is a use or lose experience with the NBA TV rights money going up, and OKC moved into 8th in the West after tonight's win against Dallas, this has immediate payoff written all over it.

Finally, the club got PG Isiah Canaan and a 2nd rounder -- the lesser of Denver and Minnesota, which should be solid -- for G KJ McDaniels. This is the move that some are going to question, in that KJ has huge hops and a taste for defense to go with a three-point stroke, but there have been rumors of unhappiness and the evidence that was his interest in only taking a one-year rookie deal after getting drafted last year. With the emergence of Robert Covington and Jerami Grant, and Hollis Thompson not looking terrible in the last couple of weeks, McDaniels was expendable. I've liked what I've seen from Canaan, and there is a crying need here for PGs, so maybe he sticks as a back up.

At the end of the day, the Sixers wind up with a real chance at remarkable control of the 2015 draft. With their own selection and the Lakers, they could easily have two of the top six picks. With the Miami and OKC picks, they could have two more in the top 20. You still have Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, the rights to Dario Saric, Covington, Grant and Canaan. They are going to have to hit hard on these picks, have Embiid come back big in 2016, and maybe lock down a second-tier free agent or two (personally, I'd go very hard for Chicago's Jimmy Butler or San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard, and as today's deals showed, there are any number of possible PGs out there), because no NBA team ever wins with nothing but youth...

But honestly, Hinkie keeps racking up trade wins that have to, one suspects, start manifesting on the floor. For 50 games of Thad Young, he got back a first round pick, the second round turn and burn of Alexey Shved, and the increasingly useful play of Luc Mbah a Moute. In the Elfrid Payton / Dario Saric do-se-do, he seemingly got the guy he wanted in Saric, while hijacking another first rounder out of Orlando; it hasn't hurt at all that Payton looks like he can't shoot the ball into an ocean. Last year's Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner exits have shown wise as both guys now wander the NBA like the migrant farm workers they are. Grant's play has been highly encouraging, and so has Covington. And so on.

So while it's never terribly fun to trade for more and more nebulously beneficial draft picks -- and with the rights to 24 to 26 picks in the next six years, packaging for star moves is going to have to start happening soon, assuming the team doesn't want the D-League's first 100% draft pick club -- it's better than continuing to hope against hope that Carter-Williams will learn how to shoot, or that McDaniels would sign a deal to stay in a construction zone. The Sixers might not win more than 2 or 3 of their last 30 games this year, but it's never been about winning this year for this club.

Oh, and finally, there's this. The next 30 games, start any point guard against the Sixers in your daily fantasy league. That, and their games, are not going to be pretty. But it's not as if we're not used to this...

Jerome Kersey Is Dead, And I'm Feeling Really Damned Old

Rip City
Here's what happens to you, as a fantasy sports player with a lifelong game situation. First, you draft men that are older than you, and in some cases, a lot older than you. Then, you get guys that are your age, and fight the urge to not have players younger than you. Eventually, you are older than most of your players, then suddenly all of them. It keeps accelerating, because suddenly all of the players are not just younger than you but a generation younger than you. And then they die, because athletes tend to do that a lot sooner than normal people, and, well, some people aren't fortunate enough to live through middle age.

Jerome Kersey was 52 earlier today, and he'll be 52 forever now. Lots of guys in my damn poker game are older than that, but you don't get older than dead. He went in for knee surgery earlier in the week, didn't feel well, collapsed on the way to the car and what the hell, man. What the hell.

If you don't remember Kersey, you missed a hell of a player. He was kind of a poor man's Scottie Pippen, in that you could put him all over the place and watch numbers across the board accrue. He worked with every kind of lineup, spent his best years in Portland being a Swiss Army knife of 6'-7" rebounder / wing player / defensive hammer, with a bit more scoring and assists than you'd expect from a super-athletic run the court guy. Of the tens of thousands of guys who have made the league, he was one of the top 300 or so; a solid starter on two teams that made it to the Finals, and a guy that played most of his career with winners.

He was, of course, a blue collar fan favorite, beloved by the Blazer faithful, and not just because he kept his nose clean in a one-team town where that has been a problem. He didn't have three point range and wasn't great from the line, but the game was different then, and three point range was rare and suspect. And in a more just basketball world, he gets a ring over the Pistons or Bulls in those two trips to the Finals, because those Portland teams were just so much more fun to watch, in that there was ball movement, 5-man team play rather than star turns, and open court action that, of course, just melted away in meat grinder Finals. 

Kersey finally got his ring as a Spurs benchie, a nice career achievement for wandering through the NBA hinterlands in the post-expansion era. No one can say he didn't get everything out of his talents, lasting 17 years in the Association, and making a little over $15 million. He was a hell of a success story for a second round pick, back in the day when you could find super-athletic guys from small colleges, and before nerd stats showed that his all-around contributions were a lot more valuable than empty calorie scoring guys.

And now he's dead, at 52.

What the hell?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A New "Rocky" Movie is Being Made

No, seriously.

I blame Bill Simmons.

You should, too.

And I will vote for anyone, no matter what their other qualifications or views...

If they just promise that this kind of thing won't happen again.

Preferably, through military force.

Moving on...

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Brief And Obvious Point About Alex Rodriguez's Latest PED Apology

Enjoy That Landing, A-Rod
Yankee players do not care, because they stopped listening to this bag of crap at least five years ago. To be fair, MLB players generally don't listen to people who can't help them win games. Which is, well, a good description of this washed-up mediocrity.

Yankee fans do not care, because Yankee Fans do not care about anything that does not translate to wins, and, well, see above.

The media does not care, unless it gets them ratings or helps them fill the news hole (hello!). And, well, this is a baseball story. Those don't get ratings.

The Yankees do not care, because apologizing or not apologizing makes no difference to the performance of the team, or the player. They have to pay him anyway, so they're going to see if he's better than the collection of sludge that could also fill the slot.

So if absolutely no one cares... well, hold on, wait a minute. There is still someone who cares.

Rodriguez.

See, he still thinks there's an out to the festering turd heap that is his career. He seems to think that if he just apologizes in some magical way that he hasn't done before, then comes back and plays at an All-Star level for five to ten years, he'll pass Barry Bonds, be the all-time home run king, change Cooperstoown forever to accept a generation of outcasts, get those national television ads, etc., etc.

In other words, he's out of his mind.

And always has been. (To be fair, most athletes are. It's why they are better seen than heard.)

And by reporting or reading about this latest apology, we're feeding that delusion.

So this isn't just a train wreck, folks.

It's a train wreck where the crowd puts the train back on the ruined track, then asks the drunken engineer to do it again, so they can get a better look.

And he does it...

Jason Giambi Walks Away

The Legend
So the 2000 American League MVP quit baseball just before it quit him today, having gotten just about everything that he could out of the game. Giambi leaves with 440 career home runs, an on-base percentage of just under .400, and absolutely no chance at making the Hall of Fame due to past admitted steroid abuse.

Giambi is a special kind of PED abuser, though. Since he always looked like a beer league softball guy who won some kind of sweepstakes just to get on the field, people more or less forgave him for his sins, and since his PED use came after plenty of other guys had admitted to the needle, he ducked some of the usual anger and angst. He was also forthright about it, hit after he got clean, and didn't suffer a relapse, all of which helps. The biggest issue for Giambi was that limited nerd metrics liked him better than the actual game did.

By the numbers, Giambi avoided making outs better than nearly every player in his era, and his power was significant, especially with the platoon advantage. Depending on how you judge these things, there is a case for him as one of the best 100 hitters ever to play the game, and maybe even in the top 60. It was legitimate power, too, with not a lot of help from his home fields before he got to New York, and he had good timing with some of the big flies, and his presence in the Frat House A's Rebirth clubhouse always seemed to be a positive... but he clogged the bases and didn't help his teams with limited range and defensive ability at first base.

He was a championship level player, but never led a team to a championship, so even if he hadn't the PED blemish, he doesn't really look like a guy with a plaque. Even the most nerdist numbers don't make him a lead pipe cinch, which is something that they'd really need to do. And without October heroics, he's no David Ortiz, which is the guy that his numbers look a lot like, in retrospect.

He also, frankly, doesn't seem like a guy who really wants to leave the game, and probably won't. He was a finalist for the managerial job in Colorado in 2013, and given how wacko that franchise is for morality, it says something that the man who once said his ethos was to "Party Like a Rock Star, Hammer Like a Porn Star, Rake Like an All-Star" was looking like managerial timber. Someone's going to hire him to sit in a dugout and keep people loose.

But there's one thing, I think, that might have gotten him to Cooperstown. Staying with the A's.

When Giambi left Oakland, it wasn't the first time that the franchise had cut bait on a home-grown superstar that had gotten too expensive for the town... but it still cut deep as bone, and it signalled the domino rally that was the rest of that club going away to greener towns. It even led to the ruinous all-in shove on Eric Chavez, who profiled as a better player but could never stay healthy, and tarnished Giambi's image. Once he signed the big deal in New York, he was a mercenary, when he was so much more fun as a pirate. (And yes, I know, they are the same thing, but you get the point.)

Had he stayed for the necessary hometown discount, maybe the far less intense Oakland media presence misses the PED usage -- heaven knows the A's have had any number of chemical achievers over the years, most of who only got nabbed once they left town. Maybe he stays healthier outside of the Bronx pressure cooker. And maybe he gets lucky in an A's playoff series, gets a hot month, and has one of those memorable stretches that MLB- teams remember so much more than the constant sequence of Yankee Octobers. Wrap it all up with one team on the plaque, he gets the Robin Yount / Cal Ripken treatment, and lots of warm fuzzies from the sucker media.

Instead, he got paid, and caught, and hated by a solid percentage of the Yankee faithful, who noted that the team never won while he was there. He was just one more shiny toy that seemed a lot less fun outside of the box, and by the time he got back to Oakland at age 38, he was pretty much done, with 396 of the career 440 already hit.

There's a lesson here for future players, not that they are going to learn it. And if he had stayed and didn't win, maybe we tell some other negative story of how he would rather lose in comfort than win in pressure.

Oh, and then there's this. Of the $133mm that Giambi made in the majors, $110mm was made in New York.

That plaque costs, folks. It costs a lot.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Top 10 NBA All Star Game Takeaways

Yes, Well, Sort Of
10) Dirk Nowitzki did a Vince Carter post-dunk celebration, just to prove he was the funniest guy in the game

9) The East did well when they ran 4 Hawks at once, mostly because they played a semblance of defense, if only by reflex

8) Arianna Grande looked remarkably chaste for an ex-child star, in that labia was not visible

7) Russell Westbrook hit his head on the rim, just to send Zach LaVine a message

6) Many records were set, including a low in how many f***s were given

5) Stephen Curry clowned some dudes, but also cost himself some money with his moms with turnovers

4) Steve Kerr was mic'ed up to do stand-up with Tim Duncan

3) LeBron James looked like he wanted the MVP early, then remembered the game, just like the regular season in the Eastern Conference, did not matter

2) Klay Thompson came in for Wesbrook in crunch time, because Kerr has to coach Thompson after this game

 1) Just like in most games played at Madison Square Garden, Carmelo Anthony took too many shots, was a liability on defense, didn't try very hard, and lost

Saturday, February 14, 2015

End The Dunk Contest (As We Know It)



So it's kind of the worst sports weekend of the year, actually. It's mind-crushingly cold outside. It's mid-February, so money is tight as people finish getting out of the Christmas hole, and don't have their tax return bucks yet. If you're not down with soccer on ice -- sorry, hockey -- or non-tournament college hoop, all that you've got left is the NBA. And the NBA is on break for the All-Star Game, which means that we're watching skills contests, and whoop de damn doo on that. But I've got a blog post to fill, so I'm watching. While doing other stuff, but still.

And for a while, this is mildly entertaining. The Shooting Stars gimmick lets you see people flail at a half court shot. The Skills Contest saw wily Patrick Beverly come from behind twice in a head to head contest when his competitors whiffed on three pointers to finish, and well OK then. The three-point shooting contest, where Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kyrie Irving were all borderline scoring record in the first round, only to see Curry set a new mark and eradicate both rivals in the final, was downright fun.

Then came the Slam Dunk Contest, and to call it a fart in church would be unfair to flatulence. Those, at least, provide a small moment of relief to the farter, a break from the tedium for the audience, and a giggle to the immature. This year's contest, with the exception of three of four Zach LaVine dunks and one of four efforts from Victor Oladipo, made me feel bad that I wasn't watching commercials.

No, I'm not overstating this for comic effect. Mason Plumlee had home court advantage and no discernible plan. Giannis Antetokoumpo failed on his first dunk and made everyone who has figured out how to spell or say his name sorry for the effort. The only enjoyable part of this, outside of four good dunks out of twelve attempts, was watching Julius Erving deliberately slow roll his judging scores, almost as if he was reconsidering even watching this.

Is there a way to fix this mess? Well, I don't think you can trust guys to come up with three different stylistic dunks that they can't try in games. I'd go with just two rounds. I'd also kill the comedy rule of three on dunk attempts; if you can't get the dunk down on the first (or at most, second) attempt, it's just sad relief to see them pull it off on the third, at which point you've spent two good minutes to watch five seconds of Phew. The idea that not completing a dunk gets you a 6 out of 10 is also a wrong call -- let judges troll guys with 0 scores, if only to hear the crowd gasp -- and open it up to D-Leaguers or whoever else, assuming the league's stars continue to give this a miss. (Oh, and up the penny-ante prize monies, so that the league's stars don't miss this.) Have guys warm up and get ready in the other half court so there isn't so much dead time between dunks. Never, ever, let Kenny Smith and Reggie Miller near the mic again, because their "work" made me want to think better of Chris Berman during the Home Run Derby, and nothing on earth should make me do that.

But all of this has the feel of lipstick on a pig, really. LaVine made some sick dunks tonight, but what made them look impressive was his jumping ability (dude really looked like he was going to hit the rim with his head) and aesthetically correct height for jumping, not any great creativity. None of the guys in tonight's contest are known by the general public, and none of them will do this once if/when they become starters.

We've had dunk contests for nearly 40 years now. It's been bad for over a decade. It's not coming back any time soon. You don't necessarily have to stop having them, but for heaven's sake, stop making it so long, and stop closing with it. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Top 10 reasons why the Knicks might shut down Carmelo Anthony

Victory Formation
10) When you give a guy a max contract, it's not as if you expect him to actually give you a full season of "effort"

9) Anyone that doesn't like it can go root for the Nets, since they are probably miserable alcoholics anyway

8) Season ticket plans are long since sold, and it's not as if this franchise has ever seen the need to feel bad about ripping people off

7) Want to see how low the level of fame can be in the good seats

6) Anthony's left knee is so sore, he's only able to start in the All-Star Game

5) Curious to see if they can keep up their perfect winless record (0-13 and counting) without him

4) As they already have 10 wins on the year, and have avoided historic incompetence, there is really no reason behind non-existent pride to try to win any more games this year

3) It's not exactly the season for anyone with ties to Syracuse

2) The less people see him play, the more they might be able to fool free agents that this isn't a complete train wreck of a franchise

1) Tanking for more balls in the lottery is only reprehensible when Philadelphia seems to do it from the start of the year

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Charles Barkley Pulls His Jock, And Rank

This Isn't Going To End Well
"Analytics don't work at all. It's just some crap that people who were really smart made up to try to get in the game because they had no talent. Because they had no talent to be able to play, so smart guys wanted to fit in, so they made up a term called analytics. Analytics don't work... All these guys who run these organizations who talk about analytics, they have one thing in common: They're a bunch of guys who ain't never played the game, they never got the girls in high school, and they just want to get in the game." - Charles Barkley, NBA on TNT, 2/12/15

Hoo boy.

I enjoy Charles Barkley. His presence on TNT makes for the only watchable studio show, because he's got true comic timing, and I rooted for him a lot as a player. He doesn't pull punches or seem to care if he steps on toes, and if more athletes worked on television like he does, sports studio shows might be fun. For the most part, they are not. No one has ever accused Charles of being bought and sold by his sponsors, ducking the difficult questions, or living his life in fear of someone getting butthurt by something he said. And God bless him for that.

And I don't even want to get into the ridiculous idea that looking at a game with any understanding of math, or that you might figure out some useful way to rank players and teams with that math, is somehow less than manly. The girls in high school who only went for guys who would not think... well, they peaked in high school. Just like those guys. And the modern world really isn't a great place for those folks, because we live for a really long time past high school.

Rather, I want to get into the true heart of Chuck's beef. He played the game, so he knows it better than people who did not.

And, well, I get why he'd be annoyed at having that experience dismissed or degraded. He's spent decades of his life on hoop, played until he got hurt, had surgery to keep playing after that. He's taken charges from bigger men than him, taken the hatred of tens of thousands of fans on a routine basis, put up with "journalists" who used his candor to beat him over the head and shoulders. Basketball is a huge part of his life. For the vast majority of the rest of the planet, it's not.

Everyone thinks they are right when they offer up an opinion, or they wouldn't offer it. And basketball where the mid-range game does not exist *seems* wrong to people who grew up with it, much in the same way that NFL fans of a certain age hate offenses that refuse to run the damn ball, or MLB people who sneer at power hitters who strike out too much, because goddamit, Joe DiMaggio didn't strike out, and so on, and so on.

The game you fell in love with, usually as a child, is the game you want to keep watching, especially when you get older and the pace of change in life just seems to keep getting faster. If you want to hate the Rockets (the team that inspired Chuck's rant in the first place), fine, go on and hate the Rockets. No one's stopping you. I think Dwight Howard's incredibly overrated, and James Harden has only recently started to care about defense, and that they are only a pretender for the NBA crown... but I don't think they are being hold back because they use analytics.

They are held back because they just aren't as good as teams that are better than them. And the teams that are better than them... use analytics as well.

The real problem with Chuck's opinion is that it makes all non-players suspect. When players have, with a few scattered and wonderful exceptions, been absolutely and truly terrible at giving the public any insight into the game at all.

You see, there's a difference -- an astounding one -- between knowing the game with your muscle and your nerves and the system that you were taught, and knowing the game with your intellect and your analysis and the history that you have studied.

If Barkley's argument was valid, all military generals would be ex-infantry. All chiefs of surgery would be ex-paramedics. All coaches would be ex-superstars. All master chefs would be ex-farmers, slaughterhouse workers, and short order cooks. We'd respect career politicians, and only trust the Presidency to very old and very experienced multi-term Senators and Governors. Our CEOs would have all started in sales bullpens, and would never get the job before turning 60. Venture capitalists would never fund anything but people who had gone public before. And so on, and so on.

The plain and simple fact is that there is no such thing as "no" talent. The Sixers are getting useful minutes out of Robert Covington, a guy that anyone in the NBA could have had for a cup of coffee, because there is talent all over the damned place. Basketball is played on six continents, and limited players in the correct situation, or exposed to exceptional coaching, can be part of winning teams.

And outstanding players, like Barkley in his prime, can be kept from winning through small measures and moments. (The mind shudders at just how much damage Barkley did to his teams by being one of the worst and highest volume three-point shooters in the history of the league. Anyway.)

Finally, this. Analytic analysis has taken over every professional league on the planet. The reason why is because it's a false choice to think you have to go for talent or math. Consistently winning organizations, like the Spurs and the Cardinals and the Patriots, are maniacally focused on taking every possible advantage. You might not think that your team has gone all Billy Beane / Daryl Morey on you, because they've got ex-jocks in prominent positions and don't seem like numbers nerds... but they've got scouts, with statistics, and they use those things for defensive shifts and strategies and plays that they are definitely going to call because of, well, the numbers.

And the only people who are dumb enough to think otherwise are on your television, telling you the same things they've been telling you for, well, ever.

Mostly, what their coaches told them. As children.

So I think I've got an idea of what doesn't work at all, and it's this.

The seemingly mandatory presence of ex-jocks on each and every goddamned game broadcast and studio show...

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

12 Questions Steve Young Won't Answer

Young MC
A good friend and occasional FTT poster works for a company where the ex-Niner QB is going to speak at a corporate event. Under the guise that Young might loosen up for corporate money, here are a few questions that we're hoping our man will float his way. Preferably while wearing a FTT Garment Of Greatness, and getting some video we can post on the site. Shooter needs some sweet, sweet cheap Web traffic!

12) How much of your success do you credit to your magical Mormon blood and underwear?

11) When you are on the set with Ray Lewis, are you OK with turning your back to him, and how hard do you try to avoid direct eye contact?

10) Besides San Francisco, which NFL franchise has the most spoiled, front-running and remarkably douche-tastic fans?

9) If the Bucs hadn't drafted Vinny Testaverde and traded you, how much faster would you have been driven out of the league with concussion related damage?

8) When Trent Dilfer talks about playing the quarterback position, how do you keep a straight face?

7) Now that you have a law degree and the possibility of steady employment, are you finally financially secure for your senior years?

6) Do you still have any of that sweet, sweet LA Express gear, and are you disappointed that the team never retired your number?

5) Here's a hypothetical. You are walking in a forest and see Terrell Owens and Lawrence Philips drowning to their deaths in separate tar pits. Which one do you throw more rocks and garbage at?

4) When people talk to you about the great legacy of Niner QBs, do you consider them asshats for having any other QB before you, and start choking back bile if they mention Jeff Garcia?

3) Do you credit Brett Favre's playoff victories against you for his willingness to take the role in "There's Something About Mary"?

2) Did getting inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame significantly improve the quality of trim offered up to you on a daily basis?

1) So, Joe Montana. Big dick, or biggest dick?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Knicks Owner To Knick Fan: The Knicks Don't Want You

The Only Knick
Here's a small point for anyone you know, or might be, provided you root for the Knicks. Owner James Dolan, in email, replying to a Knicks fan of 60 years...

"In the mean while start rooting for the Nets because the Knicks dont want you. Respectfully James Dolan."

Now, Dolan's email brought in other moments of spectacular douche-baggery, mostly presuming alcoholism and other issues with the person who wrote the letter. (I'm also quite a fan of anyone who can be worth serious bank in the Mean While, as opposed to the Nice While. And money doesn't buy apostrophes.) But let's boil this down to the purest essence of what Dolan believes.

He is the Knicks. He gets to decide who is, and is not, a fan of the team.

And that's the kind of thing that every team owner thinks, even though the vast majority of them, having the sense that God gave a doorknob, don't say out loud.

So, once more with feeling, to all of the trustafarians that need this spelled out for them...

You are not a team.

You are just a caretaker.

You will sell the team, or die, or get bounced for some Sterling-esque reason, and honestly, the sooner the better.

The team, and the league, will outlive you, and just about everyone involved will treat the occasion as a freaking state holiday.

No one will miss you in your capacity as the owner of a team. That's because... you are not a team.

You're just in the way.

So why not get out?

And, a small aside to the Knick faithful: why not take a leave of absence until Dolan's gone?

It's not like you're going to be missing anything while he's around...

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Top 10 reasons why the Bills signed Richie Incognito

What A (Fecal) Specimen
10) Needed his non-existent playoff experience

9) He's totally reformed from being a terrible human being and football player to being just a terrible football player

8) Tim Tebow would have been too obvious a sideshow

7) After a year off, 32-year-old guys are always super-sharp and explosive

6) 15-yard flags on offense are rare and unique experiences

5) Want to make sure they have jerseys to put in, and re-emerge from, the closets of the very worst people in town

4) Part of the NFL's remarkable decade-long conspiracy to ensure the Patriots win their division by Thanksgiving

3) Team hasn't been in the playoffs in 15 years, so they figure both are due

2) Still operating on "Tabloid Back Pages Are Better Than Wins" ethos

1) Are conflating "being a bully" with "being effective"

Friday, February 6, 2015

Stuck In NFL Limbo

I'll Be In My Noose
So, as I write this, its the wee hours of the morning on Friday. The SB ended five days and 120 hours ago. Nothing that has occurred after the game has had any real impact on anyone; the result is the result. And yet, it's still leading sports telecasts, still dominating talk radio, still being ruminated. So and so was hurt bad during the game. This coach is defending that decision. So and so is saying this and that, wearing something scandalous, and we've got the odds on who is going to win next year's game...

And, um, Dear God In Heaven, WHEN IS IT GOING TO STOP?

The NFL used to end, at least for a little while, after the Super Bowl. Sure, people were sad and all, because there are weeks of relatively no sports, and preseason baseball doesn't really count for much, but there's still pro hoops and professional college hoops, hockey and more. And we all should be watching those games, or just taking some time off, or pursuing other hobbies. Honestly. There are other things to do.

Instead, people are living in the last minute -- and yeah, it was a hell of a last minute -- because the plain and simple fact of the matter is that the NFL isn't the #1 sport in America now... it's the ONLY sport in America. We just saw a year in which the SB winner seemed to be a matter of random chance, with aspects of fraud, but since the game was close and the money is everything, we don't move on. And we won't, probably not for another week, and only then for the least satisfying popular television event in human history, the NFL Draft.

There are actual Games going on now, folks. The Cleveland Cavaliers are looking like they were supposed to look. Golden State beat Dallas at home by double digits, after falling behind by 24 in the first quarter. The New York Islanders (?) might be the best team in hockey after being a laughingstock for decades. The consensus top player in college professional hoop is a big man who is on a well-known program. And if none of that floats your boat, there's the looming scandal monster that is Boston trying to land the  unmitigated fraud machine that is the Olympics, when no local political group, or the general public, wants anything to do with it. (No city in the world should want anything to do with the Olympics; it makes the World Cup look like sound fiscal planning.)

Instead, people live in the past of the only sport they care about. One that just had the worst year for the league in decades in every meaningful measure, except for the only measure that matters.

Money and ratings.

Which seemingly are better for Not Game over Game now, and Replay over Live, and Rehash over All...

Thursday, February 5, 2015

My Alma Mater, Syracuse, Takes The Pipe

Mr. Charm
Today, Syracuse University took the lead before the NCAA wolves, self- imposing a ban on post-season play for the men's basketball team this year. The hope is that by taking the hit on their own, they'll keep the NCAA from making the penalty worse, and show themselves as cleaning their own house, rather than having to make the NCAA clean it for them.

What did they do to bring on such scandal? Well, Fab Melo turns out to be not much of a scholar-athlete (shocking!), and James Southerland probably got paid, and the fact that I didn't fall asleep while writing that sentence makes me feel awesome about my level of professionalism, and your level of tolerance. Saying that professional sports hosted by colleges is corrupt is like finding health code violations in food trucks. In Fallujah. On some level, I think you are coming for the corruption and disease, in that it adds a certain thrill to the experience.

Head coach Jim Boeheim has been at the school for 39 years (!), so there's no way that he wasn't part of the problem... but it's also very likely that he's not going to just up and leave over this. He's too close to 1,000 wins, won't want to go out like this, has been involved in enough Team USA and media tongue baths to not get too broiled, and is an institution in town, mostly because he finally won the damn tournament with the Single Year Of Carmelo Anthony a decade ago. There's no obvious successor after the Bernie Fine scandal (and the less said about that, the better), though I'm sure there would be any number of name brand options within minutes, given how many Orange have had strong careers in the Association and elsewhere.

The way the school is handling the scandal is telling. Syracuse straddles a lot of lines, in that it's a well-regarded school academically, huge, monstrously expensive, and overly represented in the media, which means that it gets a bit of a white wash, along with more attention and hand-wringing. It's also one of the biggest employers in the region, and the city isn't insubstantial, ranking at the tail end of the top 100 metro areas in the country in terms of population. It's got some mean streets, and some of the worst weather on the planet, but there's money there, and the school is more or less New York City's unofficial Division I college team, what with all of the people that go there from Long Island.

In short -- SU needs to be a pro sports engine. It can't just walk away from that, because the region really could support pro level sports in a number of leagues. But on some level, it probably wants to. As good as the Carrier Dome has been for the athletic department, it is a bit incongruous for 60K+ townies to invade a top 100 college on a routine basis, and it's not doing much to prevent the place from being known more for partying than professionals. Being all things to all students is nice and all, but sports tends to take away from prestige, and vice versa. 

If you are inclined to look at these things with a jaundiced eye, Boeheim's club is 15-7 right now, 6-3 in the ACC, 5th in the conference, and were not exactly a lock to have been invited to any post-season action in the first place. They can't shoot (43.7% from the floor), don't push the pace (131st in points per game), and are doing their usual thuggy zone work to win games and fail to influence people. Center Rakeem Christmas, the last holdover from recent good teams, is going to have an NBA career as a not big enough banger, and maybe freshman PG Kaleb Joseph can learn how to shoot enough to be more than a cup of coffee guy, but the rest of the club is just there. The recruiting scandals haven't helped, but the real issue here is that there are plenty of places you can go to where the weather will be nicer, you'll be able to run and gun more, and the NCAA isn't staring down your wheels or your girl or your living space.

Will they return to prominence fast enough to be more than a soft landing for Boeheim into retirement? Probably not, but the plain and simple of college hoop is that it doesn't take that much, especially with a system like SU, where pace is slowed and you can play 35+ minutes a game without getting hurt. The death knell for this program has been rang a bunch of times in the last four decades, and the school presents well to recruits -- especially if you get the talent to the right / wrong frat. And hey, Boeheim has to have some wiles or mojo to have gotten all of the studs he's gotten all of those years. Write them off at your peril.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Larry Foote Wants Marshawn Lynch To Obey

Nail, Meet Foote
So the story on the World Wide Lemur today is that Seattle Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch is sending the wrong message to children, what with his refusal to talk to print media, and his penchant for touchdown celebrations involving the crotch. This is all according to ex-Steelers and Cardinals LB Larry Foote (who?), who states that Lynch's charitable works don't matter, since his bigger message is to flaunt authority, and if Lynch were more like Jerome Bettis, that would be better.

A few Brief and Obvious Points and/or Questions about this...

1) If you are using an NFL player -- and yeah, you can pretty much put every single NFL player in that camp at this point -- as a role model, you're doing it wrong. I'm sure Bettis is a fine person and all, but he spent his life honing the skill of running people over to the detriment of his long-term health and mental capacities. If he snaps tomorrow and has an episode, we'd all be shocked and feel bad... but we'd also probably shrug, and within a week, there would be all kinds of allegations that were swept under the rug while he has alive. It's where the game is now.

2) Why can there be only one talking point from Lynch's life? If my child liked the Seahawks and Lynch, I'd talk about his determination to keep upright through adversity, to not just go along with rules that make no sense just because they've come from on high, and that sacrificing your comfort for your teammates means that they will have your back, even when you make mistakes. But I guess there is only one lesson to be learned when you want to teach what Foote is really selling here...

3) OBEY.

What's really going on is that Lynch has made an enemy of the people who have to fill column inches on a daily basis. Which means that everyone and anyone with any kind of a name -- and Larry Foote, honestly, just isn't enough of one and proves the point -- can now get media run just to say bad stuff about Lynch, so that it's no longer just the media guy's drumbeat.

4) Does anyone, really, think that The Young People would be magically better about dealing with authority, the workplace, school, colleges, etc., if only Marshawn Lynch was super quiet, devoid of any shown personality, and handed the ball to the ref while weeping about the unseemliness of being recognized for scoring touchdowns, when it was only due to the actions of his teammates?

Yeah, didn't think so. Kids, honestly, are kind of more complicated than that. Being sentient forms of life with free will and all.

5) Final point on this... what would happen if we never heard from Lynch in the media again? Or every player in the NFL? Imagine, for a moment, if sports writers all decided to act en masse to not interview athletes anymore.

well, um, we'd still hear from them. If we chose to. Directly. On their Twitter pages, in commercials, and on the NFL's owned and operated media outlets. In documentaries and reality shows. On call-in stations where the guys who feel obliged to reach out do just that.

There would be absolutely no impact on the ratings for the games.

Or the ticket sales.

Or the merch.

Because, well, no one ever decided to put on the game, buy a ticket, or wear a guy's jersey based on their post-game media work.

(If we did? The WNBA would be much better off. Scrubs and special teamers who stay in the league based on how easy they are to get along with would be all over the airwaves. We'd care about Olympians more than once every four years. The Walter Payton Award for sportsmanship would be discussed as much as the MVP. Eagles long snapper and amateur magician Jon Dorenbos would have his own show. Charity events would happen five to ten times more often than they do. But I digress.)

So if the people who are having the butthurt do not matter now, will not matter later, and are not offering anything to the conversation more than an ignored plea and/or badgering to be more like people who used to pretend they mattered...

Well, isn't the problem the media, rather than the athletes?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Six Reasons Why This NBA Regular Season Rocks

Get To Know It
Bummed out about the end of the NFL season? You shouldn't be. The best NBA regular season in years is going on right now, and it's time for you to get in touch with it. So here's my six reasons why I think it's worth your time.

> Steve Kerr and Golden State. The most watchable team in the NBA is now also one of the best. New head coach Steve Kerr has helped his flash backcourt of Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry step up on defense as well, got former All-Stars to go to the bench with a good attitude, and turned stunning offensive talent into an actually cohesive flow and scheme. They don't need any specific player to be hot any more to beat you, and if they can stay healthy, they really are a serious championship contender. If you have any chance to see them, do it. It's worth staying up late for.

> Non-tanking tankers. I haven't had this much fun watching a Sixers team in years. Wolves Fan is far more enthused about this year's team, because Andrew Wiggins looking better and better every day, and they are dying to see how things look with him, Ricky Rubio, Gorgui Dieng, Nikola Pekovic and more. Knicks Fan is happy now -- no, honest -- because the team is playing kids and trying hard. And so on, and so on.

> Great found guys. Here in Philly, Big Shot Bob Covington is looking like a keeper and maybe even a starter on a good team, with solid shooting from distance and the line, all kinds of hustle on defense, and even a reasonable amount of versatility to go from anywhere from SG to PF, depending on the matchup. If he gets a handle and/or better at his core skills, he's going to make a lot of money over a lot of years. In New York, the new taste in town is guard Langston Galloway, a vagabond from St. Joe's who fills the box score in a lot of ways while avoiding turnovers. In Miami, Hassan Whiteside has played like one of the best centers in the game for the last few weeks, with triple double efforts for a Heat team that will probably make the playoffs just because he's emerged. And so on, and so on.

> Analytics. Covington, Galloway and Whiteside don't just come from the ether; they show skills in the D-League, have those skills found via scouting and statistical analysis, and get the opportunity to show skills. You might not love guys driving and kicking for an endless array of corner threes, but there are payoffs.

The plan and simple is that the Association is getting better and better at finding talent... and as more teams look to re-boot and re-work, they aren't married to just the big name guys. From managed minutes to enforced rest to deeper rotations, the on-court product has never been better.

> The Death (?) of Big Threes. In Atlanta, the Hawks are going nuts with the best month in their history, behind a sum greater than parts club that calls to mind the 1980s Cavs teams that nearly derailed the Jordan Bulls. Washington and Toronto and Portland are the same story, just in different flavors. Cleveland might get back to the Finals behind the LeBron James / Kevin Love / Kyrie Irving troika, and they might not... and even if they do, I don't like their chances against the more organic and cohesive deeper units of the best teams from the West. If you were turned off by the Heat's calculated run to titles, I have a feeling that the Association is going to make you smile.

> The great and terrible West. There is going to be some fantastic team that doesn't go to the playoffs this year, and it's not necessarily going to be the club you expect. Oklahoma City can't seem to get healthy, and is at .500 after 48 games; they may need to win 5 out of every 7 games from here on out to not stay home. The Spurs are only four games out, as I write this, from being on the outside. New Orleans has one of the best players on the planet in Anthony Davis, and if Jrue Holliday can stay healthy, that's another club that could make a run and push someone else.

Ten good teams, only eight spots.

And this is the league where the regular season isn't supposed to matter, and the first round of the playoffs

Monday, February 2, 2015

The NFL 2014 Season Recap: What The Hell Did We Just Watch?

The 2014 NFL Season
In my social media feed, there was a nice snarky moment during last night's game where someone said something to the effect of how we should all now sit back and think about What We Have Learned from the SB.

The writer isn't a sports fan (I follow a lot of stand up comedians, political types, etc.), so it wasn't a serious suggestion... and yet, it kind of stuck with me. And also played at the back of my head. We just saw the closest, most back and forth SB possibly ever, and while I was a bit disappointed in the outcome, having picked Seattle and with the genuine dislike for Boston Fan that, well, everyone in America feels all the time now...

Well, that usually doesn't sit for long with me. A great game is a great game, and hell, I own Tom Brady in my fantasy league. So why the butthurt?

Well, it really comes down to this. What did we learn from this NFL season?

We learned who won the games.

That, honestly, is about it.

One of the reasons that the NBA is moving ahead for me these days is that, well, when the NBA Champion is crowned, there really isn't any doubt that team was the best in the league. Like them or hate them, no one ran around saying the Spurs or Heat or Lakers or Celtics or whoever of recent vintage wasn't the best club that year. A best of seven series, in a game that has hundreds of possessions, tends to boil out the lucky bounces and bad calls, and by the end of it, the victory is more like the 15th round of a fight where the winner is well ahead on points, rather than the flip of a coin. And even when it is the flip of a coin, it's usually because one of the teams seized the coin in mid-air and slammed it down for their side. Ray Allen hits the three pointer. Et cetera. You know who the best team is. They are the people with the trophy.

In sports entertainment, which the NFL has now more or less become, there are good guys (in the lingo, baby faces) and bad guys (heels). When a heel wins the championship, an odd thing happens to the narrative, in that people are supposed to respect the accomplishment and performer, no matter what awful thing they did to get the crown. Sure, they lied and cheated and perpetrated untold crimes against decency and humanity and The Rules, but they got the job done, dammit. Eventually, heel champions develop a subset of the audience that roots for them, especially if they have any kind of ability on the mic, or work rate in the ring. Maybe they even become baby faces in some markets (the wrestler's home town, or some city with a history of cheering for heels), but for the most part, their reigns are transitory periods, moments to be corrected with force by a bigger hero, as soon as one emerges.

Even if you aren't willing to put serious wood to the fire that the Patriots derived considerable gain from tampering with the equipment -- and, honestly, there's no good reason to do that, but let's just leave the smoking turd in the corner of the room for the moment -- the point is this. They won a division where they were the only competent team, in the weaker conference. They won a playoff game, at home with the bye, against a Ravens team that completely owned the line of scrimmage, got out to a big early lead, and let them off the hook with absurd play-calling late. Then they rolled over an exposed Colts team, before playing this game... and in this game, they blew a big early advantage, came back, then made a single great play, while taking advantage of the worst play-call decision in NFL history.

(This is, of course, reductive thinking. New England could have taken a huge early lead with better work in the red zone and fewer turnovers. Seattle could have put the game away with a timely catch or third-down stop in the fourth quarter. The SB was something like five games in one, without much connecting the swings. It was as if the game was played on Adderall. But I digress.)

To sum up... is anyone outside of Boston really convinced that this is the best team in the NFL this year?


(By the way, if Seattle had won? The same doubts would have been around, except they wouldn't be as loud. Green Bay trucked them at home before they played the last five minutes to lose, with a half dozen failure moments on offense, defense, special teams and coaching. But at least they had the pedigree of being the dominant team of last year to fall back on.)

Or, and this is the deeper problem... is there such a thing as a best team any more?

Before Julian Thomas and Peyton Manning got hurt, Denver was the best team in the NFL in 2014. After early struggles, Green Bay looked like the best club. Pittsburgh had moments. Dallas and Arizona and Detroit and Philadelphia, too.The overwhelming sense is just that New England was the luckiest team, in the best position, with the best timing, and a coaching staff that kept running into dumb money on the other sideline. We'll let go the point that the rule book became a tire fire on defensive holding and pass interference and roughing the QB and taunting and hands to the face and so on, and so on.

As an NFL fan, we can put up with a lot of things, and I'll spare you the laundry list because, well, who cares.

But can we put up with the idea that what we watched isn't anything more than random chance?

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Super Bowl 49 Ad Questions

A Haircut Might Have Saved Him
> Can I buy a Toyota if I have normal legs?

> If I file with Turbo Tax, can I bayonet British men?

> Are Kate Upton's breasts activated by sneaker pump technology?

> Is anyone else oddly disturbed about naked Minions?

> Do the guys who hurt themselves for single Skittles have, well, any money at all?

> Is the Terminator still scary when he's incredibly creaky and old?

> If I use Nationwide, will they not murder my child?

> When I switch to Esurance, do I get a blue meth bonus and a sweet Pontiac Aztek?

> Are Go Daddy's users solitary losers?

> How much weed did the Squaresoft people smoke to think their ad concept was a good one?

> Can I abandon my wife and kid just from the purchase of a Nissan?

> Why is Dodge making very old people race terrible cars?

> Does Human Pac Man work better or worse when drunk on cheap beer?

> Can I use Wix if I'm not a brain-damaged NFL has been?

> No, seriously, did Nationwide really green light THE DEATH OF CHILDREN as their new branding moment, or was this just the most effective act of corporate espionage ever?

Patriots - Seahawks Super Bowl Takeaways

Yes, Yes It Is
It is rare, very rare, that a game really comes down to a single play.

It is rare, very rare, that a game, and a season, can come down to a coaches' decision.

The games are too long, with too many moments that can go one way or the other, to allow for that kind of minimalist analysis.

And then there's this game, and the ending of it... and ye freaking gods.

Seattle, with the ball, with momentum, with the dominant power running back of the age, having just seen him bust it for four yards to the left, nearly scoring the go-ahead touchdown...

Having ran it 24 times for 102 yards and a score already, and it's not exactly built on big boom runs, really...

Having not been through for a loss in a really, really long damn time...

THROWING THE BALL ON SECOND DOWN....

THROWING A SLANT INTO TIGHT COVERAGE...

LOSING THE GAME / SEASON / CHAMPIONSHIP on that decision, and, to give credit, New England's Malcolm Butler made an outstanding play on the ball for the pick.

And, um, of any team to get away from the running game there, Seattle? The most dominant running game in football, with, once more with feeling, the dominant power running back in the game?

Had Lynch gotten the ball and scored there, it's 31-28 with about 25 seconds left, and New England with one timeout left. It's not exactly a 100% chance of victory, but it's something like 90%, really.

(And yes, feel free to throw some shade at QB Russell Wilson for the pick, and for not just checking out of the Idiot Play Call and give it to Lynch anyway, but all of that seems quibbling in the scope of Carroll's mind melt.)

So it's Yet Another Championship for Boston, and this one is the biggest gift of the lot, and maybe also the most satisfying for their fans, really. To come down from 10 points in the fourth make this the biggest comeback in SB history. To survive a tip catch for the ages, with visions of Tyree and Manningham dancing in their heads, is even more amazing. To overcome the From Nowhere efforts of Seahawks WR Chris Matthews, who went for triple figures and early MVP honors without a catch in his career before this game...

Well, I try to avoid dumb narratives here, and make it more about the talent and coaching and decision making, rather than Heart or Character or Determination or God or what have you. All of these factors would have been to the wayside if Lynch just gets the ball and gets in.

As much of a coin flip as we've ever seen at this level. As much randomness as imaginable. As little skill or acumen possible in picking the winner, from a gambling standpoint.

And maybe the best game ever in the SB, even though I hated the ending.

And with that... takeaways from the 59.5 minutes of game that will be forgotten about...

> The refs went for roughing the punter instead of running into at the end of the Patriots' first drive, proving that the refs were in the tank for Seattle

> Unlike many of their opponents, the Patriots were content to be patient on offense, and exact enough, at least outside of the red zone, to get away with a lack of running game

> QB Tom Brady's red zone pick at the end of the first quarter was part of a troubling trend of red zone mistakes this year

> 92 total yards and zero points in the first quarter had to excite the Under Bettors, not that it wound up working out

> An effective Danny Amendola confuses me

> Converting 3rd and 9 to WR Julian Edelman for 23 yards, and then the TD to WR Brandon LaFell, showed the Seattle secondary's injury-related weakness

> Not having a completion for 25 minutes is becoming something of a trend in Seattle games

> Lynch's second quarter score was mind-boggingly violent

> Brady to Gronkowski for the go-ahead score was perfectly executed, predictable, and didn't speak well for Seattle's coaching

> Wilson to Matthews for the tying score was as ballsy as ballsy gets, if only for running a play with just six seconds left on the clock

> Seattle failed on multiple short yardage third downs with power runs to Lynch, which, I don't know, might have made Carroll's later brain fart slightly less... nope, still terribly bad

> Bobby Wagner's pick to set up Seattle's third touchdown as MVP-esque, and made a man wonder why he wasn't assigned to Gronkowski on every play

> Seattle kept losing defensive starters to injury after INTs

> Doug Baldwin sullied the honor of a league awash in scandal by pantomiming a poop or egg drop, and also clearly angered Football God, or something

> Monstrous play by Brady and Edelman to convert on third and long and keep it a game

> Brady to Amendola for the Pats' third TD was as good a ball as he can throw, really

> An uncalled trip set up a subsequent three and out for Seattle

> In the long run, Brady's first INT in the red zone might have been a winning play for New England, since it resulted in a Seattle injury that set up the later scores

> Wilson to Lynch on the fly route to start their final drive was damn near perfect

> Jermaine Kearse's juggle catch to get the ball deep was absurd

> And then the world, and Twitter, and everything else, ended...

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