Week of January 20, 2017

Baller President.

Rock Raines in the Hall of Fame, or Why We Care About Sports

Tim “Rock” Raines was a guy who I juuuuuust missed. He had a short peak, from 1983-1987, in part because of his struggles with cocaine. He did have one last great year in 1992 with the White Sox, and I do remember that. But I’m not sure I thought of him as a Hall of Famer. However, Jonah Keri is one of my favorite writers, and over the last two years, Jonah has undertaken a public campaign to get Rock inducted into the Hall of Fame, and I quickly bought in to Raines as a Hall of Famer. This year was his last chance, and he got in with 86% of the vote (75% is the requirement for election). He was hovering around 50% before Keri began his campaign, which is impressive and speaks to how respected Jonah is in the baseball writing community. Jonah’s campaign was mainly centered around raising awareness/reminding people of Raines’ greatness, and of what Raines meant to Jonah. Raines is to Jonah as Puckett is to Phil. Here, the day Raines’ election to the Hall of Fame was announced, Jonah explains what Raines, and Jonah’s beloved and defunct Expos, meant to him. More broadly, Jonah uses his love of Raines and the Expos to explain why we love sports

Why should we care about any of this? Why are we driving ourselves nuts over a museum in a tiny little village in upstate New York? Why give a damn about a baseball player who retired a decade and a half ago, whose best years came with a team that ceased to exist at nearly the same time? Why care about sports at all, when there are so many seemingly far more important questions to ponder in the universe?

You can conjure a bunch of reasons for why we do care.

For one, we love to argue. We debate, rank, and scrutinize everything from breakfast cereals to pop singers to presidents. Switch to sports and we get electrifying plays, reams of numbers, and clear, binary results. Either your guy won, or he lost.

We also welcome the distraction that sports bring. Life can be damn hard. We get sick. We have our hearts broken. We watch dear friends and family members die. Sports have a way of lifting us up, away from personal tragedies or even the mundane frustrations that get us all down.

For me, sports are a proxy for the people I love, and loved.

But those old memories never fade. More than the Expos or even Raines himself, being a fan was about sitting beside my Papas, watching those first games when I wasn’t yet old enough to fully understand what I was seeing.

That’s why, when Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson called Raines’ name today, I, a 42-year-old man of relatively sane mind, jumped around and yelled like a damn lunatic. It’s why I thumbed through so many old albums, and cried like a damn baby whenever I thought about those very first baseball games.

Preach. -TOB

Source: Why Tim Raines Making the Hall of Fame Means So Much to a Kid From Montreal“, Jonah Keri, CBS Sports (01/19/2017)

PAL: Didn’t see the turn at the end coming. Keri is great – passionate, fresh perspective in baseball writing in a time when it was needed – but his writing and podcasts are hit and miss with me. This article was a hit, and, I’ll be damned if I didn’t get a little choked up there at the end of this article.

Marketing Unicorns in the New N.B.A.

He dunks this...

He dunks this…

Perhaps more than any other American sport – basketball’s popularity is driven by its individual players, and our proximity to them is mattering less and less.

I know who Giannis Antetokounmpo is, even if I can hardly pronounce his name. I know because any of his highlights are immediately delivered to my phone, and I know because I don’t think I’ve seen anything like him. He’s a 7-foot point guard for the Milwaukee Bucks, and he’s what many people consider a unicorn – a “singular talent without antecedent.” Here’s the proof:

This is a really interesting story about a collection of young NBA unicorns, and how to market them when the old equation no longer works (big market, relatable, no lumbering big men):

‘And while the franchises and shoe companies that make up the N.B.A. economy haven’t completely caught up with the online buzz generated by the league’s most dedicated fans, they have begun to prepare for what feels like inevitable change. Antetokounmpo and fellow young “unicorns” like Kristaps Porzingis of the Knicks and Joel Embiid of the Sixers…will go a long way toward determining whether the pro-basketball industrial complex can make as much money appealing to liberated fans as to their hidebound, local-market counterparts.’

No American-based athletes are more recognizable than NBA players. No helmet. No hat. Small playing surface. 10 competitors on the court at a time. With this in mind, it makes sense that “shoe-company nation-states” invest a hell of a lot more in NBA players than MLB, NFL, NHL, or Nascar.

TOB and I went to the Warriors – Thunder game this past Wednesday. As we were walking in, we realized we were about to see 5 of the best 20 players in the NBA in one regular season game: Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a sporting event featuring that many of the game’s best. Who of those players would you define as a unicorn? I’d say Durant, Curry, and Westbrook. Needless to say, it was incredibly fun to watch. – PAL

Source: Hunting for Unicorns in the N.B.A”, Jay Caspian Kang, New York Magazine (01/18/2017)

Basketball’s Impact on Barack

As we swear in a new president, I found this article about the impact basketball has had on Barack Obama the day before his inauguration. Although a bit long-winded, it puts together a very clear pattern of how basketball has helped shaped Obama at many phases of his life. Obama’s passion for the game in rooted in what he calls an “improvisation within a discipline that I find very powerful.”

A few weeks ago at work, we went around the room and talked about what we learned in the past year. For me it was clear: All of the lessons I learned in youth sports absolutely apply to my daily life today, and I’ve finally re-embraced them. I scoffed them off for 15 years, but they still remain the best guidelines on how to go about my job. The qualities that makes a good teammate or leader at 12 are the exact same qualities that make a good co-worker or manager.

Here are a few of my favorite bits from this story. If you need a little escapism today, this is a good article to jump into over lunch.

  • Obama on early lessons from the court: “A handful of black men, mostly gym rats and has-beens, would teach me an attitude that didn’t just have to do with the sport. That respect came from what you did and not who your daddy was. That you could talk stuff to rattle an opponent, but that you should shut the hell up if you couldn’t back it up. That you didn’t let anyone sneak up behind you to see emotions—like hurt or fear—you didn’t want them to see.”
  • Obama on being a benchwarmer on his high school team: It’s about “being part of something and finishing it up. And I learned a lot about discipline, about handling disappointments, about being more team-oriented and realizing that not everything is about you.”
  • Brother-in-law Craig Robinson (former Oregon St. coach) on pickup basketball and Obama: “There’s an ethical undertone in pickup that people miss. The game has to be played fairly or it breaks down. You practice an honor code, making your own calls and giving them up. If Barack travels, he’ll give it up, not sneak it by you. You play with hundreds of guys who’d never do that. It all gets back to how you can tell a guy’s character on the court.”

Pickup became Obama’s game after high school, and he used it at every phase of his life.

  • After graduation he took a job on Chicago’s South Side, where he brought together white priests, black pastors and civic leaders to solve common problems. It was frustrating work marked by intermittent victories. For example, he used basketball as a means to get through to an on-the-edge adolescent who was scaling back his expectations for life.
  • “Several years later, at Harvard Law, Obama joined a group of law students who played against inmates at a nearby prison, where the cons lining the court made sure their visitors knew how many packs of cigarettes rode on the outcome.”
  • “Before matters between Barack and Michelle could advance too far, she had a test to administer. Having grown up listening to her father and her brother, a two-time Ivy League Player of the Year at Princeton, insist that a man’s character gets laid bare on the court, she hatched a plan. Craig Robinson rounded up a quorum of friends of varied abilities…Obama found that sweet spot between not shooting every time and not always passing to Craig.”

While the now grey Obama is more likely to play golf than a rough pickup game, I hope he sets aside plenty of time to at least kick a little ass at the local gym. – PAL

Source: The Audacity of Hoops”, Alexander Wolf, Sports Illustrated (01/19/17)

TOB: Maaaaaaaaan, am I gonna miss that guy. I’ve never made a bucket list, but playing pickup with Obama would be on it. I heard he’s headed to Palm Springs this weekend…just sayin. Also, the title of that SI story is amazing.


Video of the Week: 

PAL Song of the Week: Tom Waits – “Frank’s Song”

Like what you’ve read? Let us know by following this blog (on the right side, up near the top), or:

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

All kidding aside, we all know about your credentials, and your breadth of experience. For example, on a recent episode of Celebrity Apprentice, at the steakhouse, the men’s cooking team did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks. And there was a lot of blame to go around, but you, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership. And so ultimately, you didn’t blame Lil Jon or Meatloaf, you fired Gary Busey.

These are the kinds of decisions that would keep me up at night. Well handled, sir! Well handled.

-B. Obama, #44

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