The Diplomacy Exhibition
Listen, I don’t know nearly enough to form an educated opinion on whether or not President Obama should have been the first U.S. president in 90 years to visit Cuba. The trip was centered on an exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team. Some will contend it is an initial step to begin engagement with Cuba; while others will see it as him embracing a murderous dictator. At the very least, we should take a moment to take read Dan Le Batard’s column on the matter. For him and his Cuban exile parents, this is very much a personal story. When I try to put myself in his shoes, I just don’t know how I would feel any other way but the same as him. Here’s a snippet below, but be sure to read the entire column. – PAL
“I’ve never known anything but freedom. My grandparents and parents made sure that was so. Now my grandparents are dead, and my parents are old, and the Cuban regime that strangled them somehow lives on … lives on to play a baseball game with our country this week. America extends its hand toward a dictator who has the blood of my people on his own hands. And now my parents, old exiles, have to watch Obama and Jeter and ESPN throw a happy party on land that was stolen from my family — as the rest of America celebrates it, no less. That’s going to hurt, no matter how you feel about the politics.”
Source: ‘Historic’ game in Cuba ignores the pain so many people endured, Dan Le Batard, ESPN (03/21/2016)
TOB: I get LeBatard’s emotion. But I can’t see how lifting the embargo will be anything but a good first step. The embargo has caused so many innocent people to suffer. Hopefully tourism, at the very least, will bring an influx of cash to Cubans who desperately need it. However, I must say this: I watched the pregame ceremonies and the first few innings. ESPN needed to chill out a bit on the Baseball (and by extension ESPN) as Savior thing. I mean, my goodness. That was some overwrought, jingoistic crap. I liked this quick read by Yahoo! Sports’ Tim Brown on the subject.
Steve Kerr Offers a Little Love for Cal Basketball, Which Badly Needs It
It is not hyperbole to say that Cal basketball endured one of the worst weeks a college basketball program can ever suffer, absent a tragedy. A quick recap: On Sunday, March 13th they were given a 4-seed in the tournament, the highest ever for Cal. The next day, Monday, it was announced that assistant coach Yanni Hufnagel was fired, effective immediately. On Tuesday, it was announced that he was fired for sexually harassing a female reporter. On Wednesday, the report was released and it was bad. Also on Wednesday, Tyrone Wallace, the team’s senior starting point guard broke his hand in practice. On Friday, moments before their opening round game against Hawaii, starting shooting guard Jabari Bird was ruled out due to a back injury. Cal then went out and lost to Hawaii. If you thought that was the end, you’re wrong. By Friday, rumors swirled that head coach Cuonzo Martin was under investigation for his response to complaints by the reporter about Hufnagel. And then over the weekend, Tyson Jolly, a 4-star recruit set to enroll at Cal in the fall, asked and received a release from his Letter of Intent (Jolly was close with Hufnagel). That was exhausting to type.
So, damnit, I am taking this opportunity to highlight what a nice thing Warriors head coach Steve Kerr did this week. Kerr’s son, Nick, played basketball at Cal this year as a 5th year graduate transfer (he had previously played at USD). Kerr tweeted some kind words about Coach Martin and the Cal program. And when asked about his tweet, Kerr said:
“My son was a walk-on there this year. He had an incredible experience with his teammates, with the coaching staff, with Cuonzo. I wanted to say thanks for the season that Cal had and for the experience that my son had. All I wanted to vouch for was his character. He’s been an incredible mentor for my son, phenomenal coach, and I just wanted to say thanks for that. I know that the program is going through some turmoil with the issue that’s happening. … I just know from my son and getting to know Cuonzo what kind of person he is, and I wanted to support him.”
*sniff sniff* That is why I can’t quit you, Steve. -TOB
Source: “Warriors Coach Steve Kerr Tweets Support to Cal Coach Cuonzo Martin”, ESPN.com (03/23/2016)
The $14 Billion Bench Player
How do Davids slay Goliaths? Something extraordinary happens. Something transcendent occurs, and a strength becomes a weakness. I don’t care who makes the shoes Steph Curry wears (Under Armour), but the circumstances that led to him choosing UA over Nike says a lot about how the game is changing, the dream Nike has sold us for decades, and how Curry is very much like Michael Jordan when it comes to his place in pop culture. While this story has a funky structure, it’s an enthralling look behind the scenes of a multi-billion dollar sports heist. of the century. This is the story of how Nike, which holds 95.5 percent of the basketball sneaker market (2014) lost out to a company with less than 1 percent market share on the next transcendent talent in basketball, and the pivotal role a 10-day contract player had in pulling it off. Some of my favorite nuggets below. – PAL
- The (Nike) pitch meeting, according to Steph’s father Dell, who was present, kicked off with one Nike official accidentally addressing Stephen as ‘Steph-on,’ the moniker, of course, of Steve Urkel’s alter ego in Family Matters…It got worse from there. A PowerPoint slide featured Kevin Durant‘s name, presumably left on by accident, presumably residue from repurposed materials.
- As someone familiar with Nike’s marketing operation says, in regard to Curry: ‘Everything that makes him human and cuddly and an unlikely monster is anathema to Nike. They like studs with tight haircuts and muscles.’ This, then, is the paradox of Steph Curry: The reason he was ignored is the reason he’s so popular. Nike looked past him for the very reason so many fans now can’t look anywhere else.
- “Your primary employer is who pays you the most money,” ESPN’s Bomani Jones says. “LeBron was Team Nike before he was a Cleveland Cavalier or a member of the Miami Heat or any of those things. We contextualize guys around the teams they play for because that’s the relevant variable for the kind of work that we do.”
- This is how it came into the orbit of one Kent Bazemore. As an undrafted rookie on the Warriors, sneaker companies had little reason to throw money Bazemore’s way. Hell, there was no guarantee Bazemore would even make the team. His agent, Austin Walton, had an idea, though. He contacted Under Armour. “I sold them on having a guy on the West Coast, having a presence there,” Walton says. “I sold the fact that they had a couple other guys with shoe deals up, Klay and Steph, that maybe, you know, he can get some other guys on board if he makes the team.”
- It wasn’t a thankless effort for Bazemore, either. Now, three years later, he makes six figures annually with Under Armour, according to Walton, an unusually high figure for a player of his profile. “That was signed before last summer when he signed with the Hawks,” Walton says. For context, Bazemore averaged 6.0 points the season before inking that lucrative shoe deal.
- Perhaps this is how Nike missed. Years of promoting Michael Jordan descendents made them oblivious to a player who shot the ball over that whole paradigm. It left them vulnerable to Kent Bazemore, and a company with less than 1 percent of the sneaker market.
Source: “How Nike lost Stephen Curry to Under Armour”, Ethan Sherwood Strauss, ESPN (03/23/2016)
TOB: With all those excerpts, Phil somehow missed my favorite part of the Bazemore story. Bazemore was an undrafted rookie without a guaranteed contract. So, to get Curry’s attention, they lavished Bazemore with shoes and gear. Bazemore got so much stuff he was giving it away to staff. Curry noticed how well UnderArmour was treating an undrafted rookie and that is how UnderArmour got its foot in the door.
The other amazing thing, after Nike bungled its pitch meeting to retain Curry after the 2013 season was that Nike had the right to match UA’s deal with Steph. For only $4.5 million. Yes, they have lost billions of dollars to UA because they didn’t want to match Curry at $4.5 million, thinking that they didn’t want anyone in their stable that didn’t want to be there. Pride cometh before the fall, Nike.
The Continuous Evolution of Sabermetrics
If you like baseball, this is an article you should read. At this year’s SABR Analytics Meetings, Sabermetricians discussed how new advanced measurement tools (notably Statcast, which we here at 123 Sports love) have unlocked a whole new treasure trove of baseball data. One such advance is the ability to record the “exit velocity” of a batted ball, and how that affects how Sabermetricians value a pitcher. As the article notes, FIP has long been a sacred cow for Sabermetricians. And while I like sabermetrics, FIP has never sat well with me. FIP is pretty simple. It stands for Fielding Independent Pitching and it measures a pitcher’s at bats that end in a strikeout, a walk, or a home run. That’s it. All other batted balls are not valued. The theory is that once a ball is in play, the outcome of that play is dependent on the pitcher’s defense, not on the pitcher, and they are hoping to isolate a pitcher’s true abilities vs clouding that data based on how good the defense is behind him. FIP never sat well with me because…if I’m throwing up meatballs that the offense is turning into line drives, that’s a lot more difficult to field than a pop fly or a grounder. And shouldn’t that be my fault as the pitcher? As the article discusses…yes. Now that they can reliably measure the exit velocity of each batted ball, they can understand better what batted balls were a lot more difficult to field. So, don’t get too attached to FIP. It might not be around too much longer. -TOB
Source: “How Baseball’s New Data is Changing Sabermetrics” Rob Arthur, FiveThirtyEight (03/17/2016)
PAL: I’m worried, folks. My last social media app was Twitter, and now I fear I’m becoming a baseball fan who hates new stats. FIP? Exit velocity? What the crap, man. Back in my day–dammit! See, it’s happening, and I can’t control it.
TOB: Exit velocity is pretty straightforward, Phil! Btw, the wife and I watched a truly excellent episode of HBO Real Sports this week, and I highly recommend it. All three stories were great – the sexual harassment/assault allegations over the years against Kevin Johnson, Mavericks, and Craig Sager’s ongoing battle against cancer. Find it and watch it. I mention this here because Bryant Gumbel closed the episode with an old man rant against sabermetrics that even had the wife rolling her eyes. Don’t be like Gumbel, Phil.
Video of the Week
PAL Song of the Week: A Tribe Called Quest – “Steve Biko (Stir It Up)”
Check out all of the weekly picks here. It’s all over the place.
“Nuh uh. Superman does good. You’re doing well. You need to study your grammar, son.”
– Tracy Jordan