Count the Pitches
VIA Andrew Sullivan
Over on ESPN Page 2, Chuck Klosterman explains the NBA's "three problems that are inherent to its modern existence." The NBA is flawed:
No other league is as preoccupied with how others feel about its product. At least twice a year, David Stern feels obligated to deliver a state of the union address that dissects the minutia of TV ratings and tries to manipulate whatever image problem the association happens to be consumed with at the moment. Because the league is 75% black, every controversy feels political (Stern's dress code is a socioeconomic indictment, Steve Nash's MVP awards suggest latent racial bias, etc., etc., etc.). And each one is a PR nightmare, regardless of its real-time impact. Pro football players execute dogs, rain cash on strippers and overpopulate the drunk tanks of metro Cincinnati, but the NFL's popularity remains totally unfazed. Meanwhile, the NBA continues to fret about whether it should use a different ball. Unlike other sports, pro hoops tries to actively reinterpret the meaning of everything it is; it wants to control the way fans think about it.
Good old Chuck.
I grew up in Michigan. My team was the Detroit Pistons and the years from 1988 through 1992 made Michiganders proud. The usually lackluster Pistons had come together with a playing style that represented the working class ethic and scrappy history of our state—and it won games. The Bad Boys were reviled by the rest of the NBA and revered at home. They beat the shit out of their opponents.
But among the Bad Boys was a Nice Guy, Isiah Thomas. Standing 6’1, Thomas was a relatively small guy who had to hustle and fight through ever larger defensive players. He developed an outside shot to match his ball handling skills that gave him an arsenal that allowed him to score 16 points in 1:30 against the legendary Celtics in 1988. And he did it all with a smile, which his why he was my hero. I kept his player card in my wallet for years and wore his jersey around Chicago—where the Pistons are hated like al qaeda—to the sneers and jeers of Bulls fans who took their beatings in the 80s and early 90s like a sick dogs they are.
It turns out Isiah Thomas is like many of my heroes: a depraved pervert. He was found guilty today of sexually harassing a Knick executive and mother of three. According to Sports Illustrated, “The former Northwestern college basketball star characterized Thomas as a foul-mouthed lout who initially berated her as a ‘bitch’ and a ‘ho’ before his anger gave way to ardor, with Thomas making unwanted advances and encouraging her to visit him ‘off site.’”
No word on whether Scotty Pippen will be filing his own harassment suit stemming from the abuse he took in the 1990 Eastern Conference playoffs.
The first thing the Portland Trailblazers did after they drafted Greg Oden from Ohio State was put a huge Oden jersey, number one of course, on the side of the Rose Garden Arena. Now that Oden is out for the season with a knee injury he suffered when he “got up off the couch’ a couch he was confined to due to his tonsillitis, the Blazers need to take the jersey down. It is embarrassing. It is embarrassing first to the city of Portland. The Blazers general manager was so giddy after the draft that he said that the drafting of Oden was “Bigger than the Rose garden, bigger than our organization, bigger than the city of Portland. The whole state and the whole area revolve on the Portland Trailblazers.”
Tiki Barber doesn't want to be on TV. He wants to be on the playing field.
He admitted so much with his claim that, "..."If Tom Coughlin had not remained as head coach of the Giants, I might still be in a Giants uniform." And that may very well be true. It would certainly explain why Barber remains so hostile towards his former employer. And bitter. Very, very bitter.
Lots of people are applauding Barber for offering a strong opinion now that he's in the business of, you know, offering strong opinions (this one being that playing for the Giants is roughly the equivalent of being used as Najeh Davenport's laundry basket). And, yes, part of his job as an analyst and television "journalist" is to be forthright and honest in his points of view. But here's the rub: the only thing I've seen Barber be forthright and honest about is how awful the Giants are.
Every other opinion I've seen Barber express has been done with ham-fisted diplomacy, just like every other goddamned television football analyst out there. So it's not about journalistic integrity. It's about continuing petulance and using a newfound public platform to gripe about a former employer. Oh, it's also about selling a book.
Yes, Tiki Barber has "written" (wink wink) a book, descriptively titled Tiki: My Life in the Game and Beyond. Conveniently enough, passages from the book have been "leaked" to the major media outlets. Even more convenient, most of the quotes pulled have been shots at Tom Couglin and the Giants. There's nothing about what it was like ascending to the NFL with a twin brother, nothing about what an athlete thinks about towards the end of his career, nothing on the adjustment in his ball-carrying that transformed him from above average to superstar running back. Not to say the book doesn't deal with those things. But with the book due on 9/18, and the Giants' regular season opener this Sunday (football's back!!!!!), it's awfully fishy that the Giants' quotes were the only ones leaked.
Barber isn't being a good journalist. He's using his new career to whine.
The Bears have 32 Super Bowl-quality starters. They've got probably the best defense in the league, probably the best special teams in the league, and an offense littered with young playmakers.
They've also got a quarterback who can move the chains, who will take the short gain instead of the big risk, who can keep the ball in the hands of his playmakers and not those of the opposition, who can lead this team to a championship. That quarterback is Brian Griese. He's not the 33rd starter. The Bears won't be in the Super Bowl again.
Look. Athletically, Rex Grossman has Griese by a mile. Rexy would make the perfect quarterback for a team of feisty youngsters who are more competitive than they should be. When things go well, he'd be that, ugh, gunslinger who came up with the game-winning 60-yard touchdown pass because he wasn't afraid to take a chance downfield. When he throws a back-breaking interception on a fourth quarter comeback drive it won't matter, because, well, his team was only supposed to go 4-12 this year and they're on pace for seven wins. In short, he'd be perfect for the 2007 Packers.
But the 2007 Bears aren't the 2007 Packers. With the talent the Bears have elsewhere, all they need is a guy who can pick up first downs, no matter how much smallball has to be played. They don't need to be greedy, hoping their hit-or-miss quarterback can channel his inner Marino. And, truth be told, they can't afford to be greedy either. Common logic dictates that with that defense and special teams, the Bears have a larger margin of error at quarterback. But in this day and age of NFL free agency, dominant teams don't stay dominant for too long. The defense will not always be this good. Devin Hester will not always be this good (returners, in general, are known for having one outstanding year -- see Dante Hall -- and while I think Hester will be good for years, it's hard to imagine keeping up last year's pace). The Bears can win the championship, and they can win it this year.
They won't, however, because they want to win the Super Bowl on their terms, they're choosing a strategy better suited for a 16-0 run than one towards the Super Bowl. They were close last year, the only thing separating them from the Lombardi Trophy being Grossman's inability to limit his mistakes. In the offseason, the Bears should have made their offense more basic. They should have forgotten about producing flash and focused on a higher-percentage attack. They've already got the perfect defense for playoff football, and Cedric Benson is a grinder.
Instead, they fashioned the unit with more flash. Hester will be playing more offense (exposing him, I think, to being "figured out," as well as the increased chance of injury), and Greg Olsen can run a beautiful seam but can't block a tackling dummy. This is an offense that will be occasionally breathtaking, but more often disappointing and self-destructive. This is now a team that doesn't have one cohesive personality. The offense and defense are on opposite ends of the spectrum, and that just doesn't jive.
The window is as open as it's going to get. It's only going to start closing. The Bears do not have any time to waste. For decades, the Bears have had one identity. Now that they're making a concerted effort to denounce that identity, they're going to ruin one of the best defenses they've ever had. Meanwhile, their Super Bowl quarterback isn't the one heaving prayers downfield. He's the son of another Super Bowl quarterback, the one who never lived up to his pedigree but has exactly what it takes to lead this team. He'll spend the season on the bench.
It’s over. Barry Bonds hit home run #756. It was inevitable. We all knew it would happen when he got off to such a hot start. As fans, most of us booed, bitched, and bashed the man as if it would somehow slow his progress down –- as if each boo was combating each power swing.
Obviously, it didn’t, but it was fun while it lasted. We tried to make his journey to the top as least enjoyable as possible. Every time he came a step closer, we tried to ruin that moment by raining the boos down on him. We held up signs branding him as a cheater, as if that would hurt his feelings. Of course, that all did nothing. And now that he’s reached his milestone, it’s time to stop.
I’m not telling you to respect the man. That’s your personal decision. Dislike him all you want. But the personal hatred for the man that everyone outside the city of San Francisco feels can be let go. It was fun for awhile to have a bad guy to root against. But it’s over now. Now that he’s the home run leader, there’s nothing we can do to change any of that.
It’s not as if Barry did something personal to us. Did he taint the sport? Maybe, but Lord knows he wasn’t the only one juicing. Yes, he cheated, and it was wrong, but at that point, baseball was a steroid haven and you had to do what you could to stay afloat. That doesn’t make roiding right, but it was the state of the sport at the time. Barry didn’t hurt your family in any way though. He didn’t fight dogs. He just succeeded where other steroid users did not, and part of that is because he’s one of the best players, steroids or not.
The zero hour is approaching: Barry Bonds has tied Hank Aaron.
The outrage over the tying home run was far less than I had hoped for -- after all of the public outrage over steroids and Bonds in particular, I guess I expected something major to happen (something along the lines of a well-thrown meat cleaver from the stands, a death threat, just give me something). Instead, people cheered. And it was a road game. San Diego is filled with pussies, apparently.
In retrospect, I think the response was so passive because everybody's convinced Barry's going to break it soon, and are saving their vitriol as such. At least, that's what I hope.
But maybe there's just a general apathy towards the record (as interpreted by the brilliantly glum reaction of Selig towards Bonds' 755th home run and the ensuing press release, which had all the enthusiasm of a suicide note). We've been hearing about the record falling, the scandal surrounding it, and potential implications for what, 5 years now? With the actual moment of reckoning nigh, it just seems as if we've been fed enough sensationalism that we're prepared to the point of being numb -- in case of nuclear attack, hide under the desk and tuck myself into a ball.
Still, we need to be indignant about this. And not because Bonds has more chemicals in his blood than Keith Richards, but because he's just an all-around dislikable person. He's arrogant, he's rude, and it's obvious he's only playing to break the record; he's coasting on the Roger Clemens deal that allows him to pick and choose when, where, and how he plays (like taking Sunday off so he'd be likely to break the record at home, like walking out anything that isn't immediately recognizable as over the fence). It doesn't seem right not because of the steroids, but because I think it's safe to say we've all had enough of Barry Bonds for, say, the remainder of our existence on this planet. If we could be societally Eternal Sunshined after he breaks the record, never to remember anything Barry Bonds related ever again, he could have 756.
Unfortunately, we're out of luck there. For better or worse, Barry is in the public consciousness for good. So instead of finding a winning scenario, we just need to find the best-case. And I've found it.
Someone needs to pick Barry Bonds off at the plate.
I'm not talking about a right fielder with a cannon of an arm, either. I'm talking about a sniper in nosebleeds giving Barry one between the eyes. This needs to happen. Tonight. Before any more damage is done.
For Bud Selig, and for us, we get a reprieve. We don't have to live with the sad reality that Barry Bonds is the sole home run record holder. Unlike a case of unfortunate childhood molestation, it'd be easier to forget this whole mess ever happened if there are two people involved. Nobody ever really gives a shit about records held by multiple people, anyway. And we get the bonus of a juicy story, undoubtedly the biggest of all sports (especially if it happens as Bonds is at-bat).
For Bonds, not having the record to himself is a sacrifice (though he'd still be sitting at the top with Hank), but he'd be rewarded. The pubilc opinion on him would shift dramatically if he were to die in such a controversial and undignified way. In 10 years, no one would remember the steroid scandal. They'd remember Barry as the legend, nay, the martyr who gave up his life in the pursuit of greatness.
He might even be met by 70 virgins, feeding him grapes with one hand and smearing The Cream on his ass with the other. He'd be the biggest motherfucker in heaven.
Yesterday morning, the Celtics were the laughingstock of the NBA, a maybe playoff team, even in the horrid East.
Today, because of this supposed deal for Kevin Garnett, they're a serious threat. They're a championship contender. They're "maybe the league's most interesting team." And I don't think any of this is hyperbole. I believe it all.
That's why I hate the NBA.
Is basketball a team sport? Sure, in the sense that more than one guy is on the court at a time. But it's also the only sport in which 25% of a quality roster can make you a legitimate championship contender. The Celtics now have KG, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and nine responses to a Craigslist ad. That means that, at all times, they'll be fielding at least two horrendous players. This doesn't matter. Even baseball, a team sport in which, with few exceptions, everyone is contributing individually, requires more roster cohesion than basketball.
How many times do you look at a trade in any sport that involves one team giving up five players and a draft pick for one guy and expect it to turn out well for the team giving up all the bodies? Trades of this ilk are almost always failures, except in basketball. And isn't it embarassing that this phrase actually needs to be written regarding an NBA deal?
Multiple sources said the deal includes two assets Timberwolves vice president Kevin McHale has coveted: Al Jefferson and Theo Ratliff's expiring contract.
McHale didn't want Ratliff. He wanted Ratliff's expiring contract. Let me put it this way: McHale wanted a terrible player. That was a breaking point in the deal. Because unless you're the Spurs or Pistons, depth doesn't matter. Players 6-12 exist solely to meet league and salary cap requirements. And that's if your team is lucky enough to have 5 capable starters.
The Celtics aren't that lucky. They've got three. And the fact that they're now among the best teams in the East because they added a third legitimate starter is laughable.
We don't typically like to talk about death, here. This is through no cold-heartedness -- it's just a sensitive subject, and in the year-plus we've been working on this site, there hasn't been a death incredibly close to us; we figure there are other people who can write eulogies and rememberances with more perspective.
Bill Walsh is, honestly, no different. As a longtime Saints fan dating back to their rivalry days with the 49ers in the NFC West, I've had the displeasure of watching the proficiency and efficiency of Walsh's genius offenses. Rivalry aside, I was too young to appreciate the innovation in Walsh's offense. I just knew the Saints couldn't stop it. And that made me mad.
But I look around now, and can see that the handprint left by Walsh on the game is as prominent as ever. In a league where trends and strategies have about all the shelf life of a British buzz band, Walsh's West Coast Offense has steadily integrated itself into football's strategical lexicon; it is now a standard offense that many teams run variations of (including my Saints). Walsh's offense didn't define an era in the league, it altered its very DNA.
As an "Xs and Os" obsessed football fan, I find myself saddened that such a brilliant football mind is no longer. I don't even care that he wore red and gold.
The time between the NFL Draft and the beginning of training camps is excruciating for me. For three months, I scrounge for any possible pigskin crumbs -- this year it began in May, when I downloaded the Saints' entire 2006 season (thank you, BitTorrent!) and watched every play over and over, analyzing each player's assignment. The good news is, if Marques Colston gets hurt, I'm well-versed in all of his route and blocking assignments. The bad news is, it's July and I'm still pale. Most recently, as the home stretch became increasingly unbearable, I decided to sift through the team's 80+ 2007 player photos.
But all that patheticness is over.
Training camp has arrived. The Saints are, as I type this, three-and-a-half days through practices. Players are rising and falling. First-round picks are slowly trickling into camp. The first preseason game is less than a week away. It's football season.
My days are full of meaning again. I will no longer resort to looking at gravefaced player photos! I will now spend my days at SaintsReport.com, reading the camp reports intently, monitoring trends and looking out for the next diamond in the rough. (Did I say the patheticness was over? OK, I lied).
Pathetically devoted to football, I may be. But this is a special time of year for me. Over the many painful years as a Saints fan, I've been treated to this Pavlovian condition. The sounds of drills being executed and bare shells cracking against each other, and the sight of red-jerseyed quarterbacks, triggers my endorphins, because until last year it's been the happiest part of the season. I cling to training camp because it's the one time where 32 fanbases are positive that this is their year. Now, oh now!, that hope for me is not unfounded. The Saints are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Considering that, it's no wonder this offseason has been more painful than others. Last year was so fantastic, it ended prematurely (and bitterly) in the Chicago snow. I wanted one more Saints game last season. I needed one more Saints game. Having never seen them get so close to the Super Bowl, I didn't realize how much easier it was to deal with those below .500 seasons. When your team sucks, at least you can slowly ingratiate yourself to an early offseason; last year I went from having Super Bowl dreams to seeing it all disappear in about the time it took Tommie Harris to slice through the Saints interior offensive line.
So this year I get to experience training camp, historically my favorite part of the season, with the concrete possibility that there are even better times ahead. Len Pasquarelli is at the team's Millsaps camp, already referring to them as "the class of the NFC" by what he's seen in practice. Peter King thinks they'll be in the Super Bowl. And I understand that a myriad of things can doom the Saints to a 5-11 season -- a catastrophic injury that could rob us of Drew Brees (and send me on suicide watch), or just a plunge into mediocrity (ala the '06 Panthers). And next year, the sting of disappointment, of a real let-down (not just the pipe dream variety), might cause me to be a little less hopeful.
But I'll still love every minute of training camp. Thank God it's here.
If you're a hockey player going to arbitration, you're going to need to brush up on your Daily Affirmations. It's a tough, tough process -- players do their best to convince an arbitrator of all the ways he contributes to the team, the team does its best to convince the arbitrator that said player is practically worthless. And they don't pull any punches. The player will typically exhaust the process and play one final year under the arbitration ruling, but there's a good chance bridges will have been burned along the way. To a man, they all claim to understand that "it's a business," but I'm not sure how anyone could play for a team that is willing to hit below the belt in paperwork and give them a smile and pat on the back when it's time to start playing in October.
As a Devils fan, I'm familiar with arbitration spurnings. Unkind words have driven Bobby Holik and Scott Gomez away; most people still contend that Scott Niedermayer never forgave the Devils after their nasty arbitration hearing, though Nieds stuck around for a few years. There's a rumor that the Islanders once made Tommy Salo cry. And now the Rangers are getting tough with their tough guy, Sean Avery.
Rangers coach Tom Renney repeatedly referred to Sean Avery as one of the team's most valuable components during the drive to the conference semifinals, so imagine the 27-year-old winger's surprise and anger upon reading that management called him "a reasonably effective player as well as a detriment to the team," in the team's salary arbitration brief that will be presented during today's hearing at Toronto.
"It's hard not to take something like that personally and not to be emotional about it," Avery told The Post yesterday. "I know this is part of the business, I know this is part of the process, but it's extremely disappointing to read something like that coming from Slats [GM Glen Sather] and not to be offended by it.
"They talk about me taking, 'unnecessary penalties,' and make a lot of references about me that I don't want to go into but that I don't think are fair. I certainly don't think I was a detriment to the team."
There's no way Glen Sather actually thinks Avery was a detriment to the team, anyone who watched the Rangers after they acquired Avery last season would notice that he brought a great attitude and spark to the team with his physical style, and added an offensive punch not commonly seen from a rugged forward. (To be fair, I get the impression Sather doesn't watch many Rangers games anyway). As a Devils fan, Avery is the type of guy I hate to see in a Rangers uniform. If he were a Devil, I'd be sporting his jersey to every game.
But the Rangers are in dire cap straits, and they're trying to pinch pennies. Understandable. But know where to pick your battles. Avery helped make that team surprisingly effective. They'll regret losing him after this season, when they look around and can't find any credible backbone on the roster. They should focus their cost-cutting efforts elsewhere -- may I suggest starting with that grossly overpaid, mediocre blueline?