Sunday, July 30, 2017

Falling Out Of Sports?

Getting There...
About three months ago now, I left my home in New Jersey, and my connection to cable television. I took a new gig in California, money is tight, and I've just been renting rooms ever since. In time, maybe a year or longer from now, the plan is to get the family back together, cut our housing expenses to a single location, and maybe then, I can get back to watching sports again.

And then again, maybe not.

Because honestly, when I poke my head above water once a week or so, and try to come up with some gist for this mill, I get...

> More, as if there's anything more to say, about Kyrie Irving

> Tim Tebow hitting his fifth (fifth!) home run of the year in some minor league park, because ESPN can't resist pressing the Tebow button for as long as humanly possible

> Smart people with options quitting professional football, because it will ruin your life

> Coverage of professional football that tries to make everyone forget that everyone who is playing, watching, or covering the game is complicit in a blood-soaked devil's bargain

> Baseball in a year where there are a handful of utterly dominant teams in the National League, which will end in a short data sample that will probably make the preceding six months meaningless

> UFC for everyone who thinks the blood bargain in the NFL isn't bloody enough

And, well... I've been a sports fan for over 40 years now.

But the last three months that have been more or less without it?

Not entirely bad, really.

And certainly more productive...

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Cash Over Rings

Note: Not Really The Ring You'd Get
Item: Kyrie Irving requests trade from Cavaliers

A year ago around this time, Kevin Durant was pilloried in many circles for taking a free agent deal with the Golden State Warriors. Durant was, according to many blowhards at the moment, a coward; rather than stick with the team that ripped basketball away from a vibrant and beautiful coast city with a championship history, he was supposed to spend his entire career with the heartland schmoes who traded James Harden for 15 cents on the dollar, rather than work out a way to keep four drafted star level players together.

Durant more or less spent the last year showing the world that he was no worse than the second or third best player in the world, earned a Finals MVP, and helped the Dubs win their second ring in three years. He might have also made the Association less interesting in the process, because the Dubs are starting to get to the point of foregone champion conclusion, but that's not his problem. Dude has a ring, lives in the best area of the country, and will rake in endorsement bucks that will greatly outweigh the contractual dough he gave up. It's not out of the question for him to have many rings before his career is done.

Fast forward to now. Irving is looking to do something directly opposite of what Durant did. Rather than buckle in for another year of running roughshod over the lEastern Conference as Option 1B to the LeBron James show, he's pulling his chute on a Cavs franchise that's a questionable Draymond Green suspension and a single legendary defensive play from a 50+ year championship drought, despite having the services of the best player ever (yes, ever) for the vast majority of his career.

Let's leave aside the relative merits of each player... well, actually, let's not. Irving is a great half-court scorer, able to break down nearly every player in the Association off penetration... but he's also an indifferent defender, and a guy who doesn't really involve his teammates as much as you'd like. In the Dub Era of ball movement, open corner threes off penetration and maximum points per possession efficiencies, he's not really the guy you want dominating the rock. He also doesn't rebound like all-around beast Russell Westbrook, stay on the floor forever while staying healthy, and doesn't wear out the opposition with an inordinate number of drawn fouls (aka, the Harden Handbook). When James has been out, Irving doesn't elevate his teammates. He simply, well, gets his, and NBA history is rife with guys like this who never win a damned thing. But since he was with James in the year of the Cav Comeback, he's got his ring, and no one can ever take that away from him.

Now who, honestly, seems like more of a person to pillory?

If I were the man I was twenty or even ten years again, this is where I'd tell you that Irving is a complete greedbucket. That he should willingly subjugate his ego to James, who covers for his defensive lapses and makes sure he rarely if ever sees a double team. That before James returned, Irving was simply another empty calories guard on just another losing team. That unlike Durant, he didn't really care about winning, just being the lead player on a team that didn't have to play too much extra basketball in the late spring.

But I am not that man now.

Instead, I'm a guy in his late '40s, who increasingly sees sports as a con job that doesn't really make him very happy. I'm cord cut and scrambling to make ends meet, living apart from my wife and kids so that I can keep paying the mortgage. I watch games online and in gyms and bars, which means I watch games very infrequently.

Irving wants to cash out for the most he can cash out for. He doesn't want to play for the only team he's ever played for, for the rest of his career, in a borough that got its ring and the next day, well, still remained Cleveland.

If rings matter more to fans than people who will make nine figures and up from playing a game, who is to say they are wrong?

If money matters more than some legacy narrative that, in your heart of hearts, you don't really care that much about, why does anyone need to presume that they know better than the person making the decision?

If everyone with the option to avoid Dan Gilbert and his Comic Sans plantation sensibilities does so, why would it wrinkle the skin on your nose?

And if you were in Irving's shoes, knowing that your earning potential is going to come to a crashing halt after your life is maybe less than a third over...

Would you honestly step away from the biggest possible payday?

Especially when James is likely an overwhelming favorite to shake the dust off Cleveland again in a year...

Because Gilbert cares even less about rings than you do?

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Tha NBA Sells Out, Or Milking The Last Cow

We Bring Good Money To Asshats
Item: NBA jerseys are going to include ads on the front in the upcoming season.

First things first: cheap comedy. Most teams haven't announced revenue figures, but nine clubs have gone for this already, and it's an interesting group. Let's take them each in turn.

> $7 million to the Celtics for GE, because nothing says killing the planet with eco-hazards quite like... well, both of them, really

> $10 million to the Cavs for Goodyear, because when LeBron James leaves again next year, tire blowout and deflating blimp jokes won't be easy to make at all

> My Sixers (gah) for StubHub, AKA a ticket-scalping service that hasn't been used by anyone watching a Sixers game in the entire Process Era

> The Sacramento Kings going for Blue Diamond Almonds, because they are also a tasty snack for opponents

> The Orlando Magic lying down with Disney, because like Disney, the Magic are in the business of providing luxury vacations for visitors

> The Minnesota Timberwolves slapping on Fitbit, because it'll be nice to show digitally how often everyone on the team takes extra steps on their post moves

> The Brooklyn Nets (Brooklyn is still in the league? Oh, sixty year old baseball references are your key to Quality Comedy) for Infor, a software company that, like the Nets, no one knows or wants to know

> Toronto Raptors for Sun Life, because nothing says Sun and Life like a concrete Canadian city that the rest of the country not so secretly despises in the winter

> Utah Jazz for 5 For The Fight, a Qualtrics move to raise money for cancer research, because Utah exists to make you feel bad about trying to see the humor in things

But seriously, folks... half of the cash from each of these deals goes to the team, while the rest slides into a league-wide revenue pool. Which means that every single team will have one soon, because who wants to be the asshat that takes from, but doesn't contribute to, the pool?

And sure, it's inevitable, and has been the case for any number of jerseys in any number of leagues all over the world before now, so why make a fuss... but It's Inevitable isn't really a stirring call to arms, yes? Death is inevitable, and so are taxes, and visits to the dentist and incontinence and new music being unpalatable, and so on, and so on. Ads on jerseys won't reduce ticket prices, or give fans free parking (now *there's* a sponsorship opportunity that would engender serious good will), or even a free drink with food. So welcoming it is pointless, because it's just a money grab / "innovation" for the owners, and who in heaven's name would welcome that?

Instead, look at ads on jerseys for what they are. One more straw on the donkey's back (we're the donkeys, folks), one more reason to not watch sports or share them with your kids, one more jab to the kidneys in the perpetual punch-out game that is Sports v Fans. One more thing that takes away from the fun, and one more reminder in the middle of your escapism that there is, nope, no sir, no escape.

Sports teams are used to a certain equation; take, and no give. The game is good enough, the athletes amazing enough, the coverage worthwhile, the analysis and fandom adding so much more that the Lords of Sport could never have done on their own. The people in the stands are rubes, marks, sheeple; fleece 'em all you want, just don't be quite so obvious about it, and win often enough to get their hopes up. Or, what the hell, be obvious about it; there's always some other town that will take your robber baron ass with open arms, and leagues love it when owners go rogue, because it makes petty crimes so much easier to get away with.

But here's the thing: other parts of our society *don't* treat the customer this way. Video games give the user an ever-increasing amount of content and game play without labor stoppages, PR nightmares, and naked profiteering. The community of these gamers interact with each other as easily as sports fans do, and you can be passive or active in your participation. Gaming used to be console-based and stationary; now, it's everywhere. Maybe even at the actual real-life game, even.

I am, of course, long past the event horizon of when people stop caring about sports; even in a year of remarkable personal upheaval, I'm in three leagues, run two of them, and made special efforts to see the games that matter to me. That's all more likely to continue than not.

But my kids, now 17 and 11?

Could, maybe, give you about a minute on which sports are which, what's done in them, and what teams their dad roots for. They haven't watched a game with me in years, and I sincerely doubt there is any incentive that I could give them that would get them to go to a game now.

I don't consider myself to be a particularly great parent, but at least there, I think I got it right.

So enjoy your ad revenue, gentlemen. Milk that cow while she's still able to stand.

But I don't much like your chances of getting the same output in a few years...

Monday, July 10, 2017

Joel Embiid, Lonzo Bell, And The No-Beef Diet

I Cropped Lavar
Item: Joel Embiid, the Sixers' star center and best player in the laundry since Allen Iverson, has beef with the Lakers' first round pick, combo guard Lonzo Bell, and Bell's wrestling heel of a father, Lavar.

This has led to a $10K fine from the NBA to Embiid for a profane Instagram post to Bell, and a GoFundMe campaign from Sixer faithful who want to pay Embiid's fine for him.


No, seriously.

I know it's the silly season; summer, when the only games that count are baseball, and hoop fans are paying too much attention to NBA Summer League games because there are clues, dammit, of who the good rookies are going to be. (Hopefully, this occurs without injury.) I also get that beefs between players are catnip to many people, mostly because they aren't capable of just admitting that, well, they prefer WWE-style shenanigans to Actual Game.

Because the fact of the matter is that Embiid and Bell are *never* going to have a level of beef that actually impacts the game on the court. The Sixers and Lakers play twice a year. They aren't going to meet in the Finals again anytime soon, and while their battles in the '70s, '80s and Iverson's lone run to the Finals in 2001 were among the most meaningful games in the history of the Sixer franchise, they aren't all that likely to be replicated in our lifetime. Even if the Sixers are the next great superteam -- and honestly, bet against it, because as good as Embiid is, he's got to stay healthy, and as good as Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric and others may become, the chance to be great and actually being great are worlds apart...

Well, the Lakers just hired Magic Johnson to be their GM. Who hosted "The Magic Hour", and was the worst analyst ever heard on an NBA national game. Short of making money after hoop, and the Lakers being desperate for relevance in the post-Sterling Clipper Age, I'm not seeing why the guy got the gig. Watching him ship D'Angelo Russell out of town for the defense-free injured stylings of 29 going on 35 C Brook Lopez from the Nets doesn't exactly fill me with confidence that he's going to start fleecing guys in trades, either. In the contiunuum of ex-player turned GMs, Magic is trending to the Kevin McHale/Zeke Thomas dunce end, rather than the Joe Dumars/Jerry West Guys With Rings side. (Honestly, making your ex-star your GM doesn't seem to be a winning trick. Michael Jordan might be the worst GM in the last 20 years, and for all of the picks that Danny Ainge has hoarded, his C's are the very definition of Paper Tiger. Larry Bird's also been a sham for the Pacers, too. Anyway, moving on.)

So what's going to be the blowoff from all of this? Maybe a moment or two when Embiid blocks a Bell shot, or fouls him hard, and Angry Glances are exchanged. Perhaps even some players moving towards each other, with Shoving. Then the refs will jump in, wussy double technicals will be called, and both players will remember, oh, yeah, Game Actually Matters More Than Bullspit, at which point Game will continue.

Honestly, beef is just the worst, and I know... we're never going to get to live in a world where everyone's too smart to give a damn about it. Besides, Bell seems to have a talent and family support for rubbing people the wrong way. Expect the line of people wanting to torch him to be long, and far more local.

But if you really have to eat beef, here's something to consider.

Fultz was traded away by the Celtics to their greatest historic local rival. Between two cities who have ire over football and hockey, who are a long car ride away from each other, and who don't like each other for Actual Reasons, some of which go back hundreds of years.

He's going to play them four times a year, in the same division, with a more than reasonable chance of meeting them in the playoffs. More than once, even.

I get that he's not Embiid, and you don't really know or love him yet, but if anyone's bringing red meat to the table...

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Sixers Extend The Process: JJ Redick and Amir Johnson come to town

Please Don't Squeeze The TJ
So in yet another sign that The Mood Is About To Change in Philadelphia, my basketball laundry went out and made a couple of expensive but thoroughly useful one-year rentals. Coming to town is shooting guard JJ Redick from the Clippers, and big man Amir Johnson from the Celtics, both on one-year overpay deals that, well, Are Just Swell.

Let's start with Redick. He's a thoroughly capable 2-guard in today's NBA, an elite level shooter who is also not horrible at defense, ball handling or passing. He's past his prime, but not so much that it's a significant problem, and he's also going to the easier conference. On a team with willing passers and penetrators, and with the potential of best-in-class defensive anchor Joel Embiid behind him, he's going to be no problem at all on defense, and a guy that historically makes open threes often enough to be part of 50+ win teams in the West.

He's also a guy who was a stud in college, then a role player coming out, who has steadily rebuilt his body and game to compete at the highest level. He's not really a star, but he's better than 2/3rds of the guys that start at his position in the NBA, and he immediately injects a very necessary dose of veteran leadership into the Sixers' kiddie corps.

Even more important, honestly, is what the Redick signing signifies. Philadelphia is no longer a Siberia where no desirable free agent would ever dare to explore, or a place where winning is not an expected Process result. Redick chose Philadelphia over several other suitors, sent out a Trust The Process tweet, and fits in this lineup damn near perfectly. The Sixers won't have to hope for the shaky three balls of Robert Covington and Nik Stauskas next year as the fifth option on the floor in crunch time; instead, Redick will be getting into comfortable spots outside of an Embiid double team, taking the feed from a Ben Simmons dish, giving Markelle Faultz space. On a team that will also have Dario Saric doing lots of stuff, and even the useful stylings of Richaun Holmes (check out the big man's numbers from distance!), he adds depth for when others are having an off night.

Oh, and he also has a decent injury history, and the club didn't mess up any of its long-term cap room for locking down the young guns to long-term deals. It's just, well, perfect.

As for Johnson, the guy that wore his jersey a few years ago in Toronto is more useful than the guy who does that now, and it's a little worrisome that the Celtic rebounding numbers were so poor with him and Al Horford last year. But what you are getting from Amir is toughness -- useful when NBA vets play old man tricks on the team next year to get them off their composure -- and I suspect that being near Embiid will make him a hell of a lot more effective than being near Horford. If he does nothing more than suit up as an Elton Brand who can play next year, it'll be money well spent.

With the moves, the odds on the Sixers winning the NBA championship next year -- in a world, we presume, where there is a massive combination of good fortune on health, breakout seasons from a number of young guys, and some kind of zombie outbreak in the Bay Area -- dropped nicely. I wouldn't bet on them to be playing meaningful basketball in June myself....

But April? April is looking more and more likely.

And maybe even May...

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