Week of April 28, 2017

Better ingredients. Better buzz. Papa John’s.

Long Live the MVP?

Very early this season, the MVP race became, effectively, a two-man discussion: (1) Russell Westbrook, who finished the season averaging a triple-double and dragging a bad, talent-bereft team to 47 wins in the Western Conference, through sheer force of will; (2) James Harden, who moved to point guard under new coach Mike D’Antoni and damn near averaged a triple double on his own, while leading the Rockets to the 3-seed in the West. The online debates are raging, and I find myself firmly in the Westbrook Camp. I don’t care if a triple double is arbitrary; I don’t care if he’s a ballhog. What he did this season is amazing, and will be talked about for decades to come. Harden is a boring player, by comparison, flailing and falling into defenders to get to the free throw line, and doing much of his damage there – he did have a great season, but if we’re splitting hairs I’m going to split some god damn hairs.

Finding himself as a complete afterthought in these discussions is the reigning two-time MVP, Steph Curry. Curry got hurt in last year’s playoffs and never regained his form, as the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead to the Cavs in the Finals. It was, perhaps, a long-term blessing for the team, as I find it hard to believe they really would have signed Kevin Durant in the offseason. Durant was the league’s MVP before Curry first won it two years ago, but seemed tired of playing in Oklahoma City, alongside the mercurial Westbrook. The Thunder, of course, also blew a 3-1 lead in the playoffs…to those same Warriors.

When you look at Curry’s numbers, though, you start to wonder why he’s not a bigger part of the MVP discussion. Even adding Kevin Durant, though his numbers are not as insane as they were last season, they are nearly identical to his 2014-15 MVP season. His team once again won a ton of games, and they are the favorite to win the title this season.

FiveThirtyEight broke down the candidacy for Steph Curry, and it is hard to argue with, and this chart is Exhibit A:

I’ll let Benjamin Morris explain:

There are stories to be told in each section of that chart, but for our purposes, focus on the fire raining down from the sky in the Curry section. Not only do virtually all of his teammates (10 of 11 players with at least 30 shots, representing over 1,700 shots taken without him shoot worse without Curry on the court to draw attention, they shoot dramatically worse. Overall, Curry’s teammates shoot 7.3 percentage points worse with Curry off the court, with his average teammate shooting 8.3 points worse. Among our MVP candidates, LeBron has the next-highest impact on average teammate shooting (3.9 points), followed by Westbrook (2.5 points). When it comes to opening up a teams offense, Curry has no equal.

For the uninitiated, “true-shooting percentage is a shooting efficiency statistic that acts like field-goal percentage but is adjusted for three-pointers and free throws. Essentially, because three-pointers are more valuable than two-pointers, and because free throws are not accounted for in shooting percentage, it adjusts shooting percentage based on those numbers to get the “true” value of a player’s shooting.

So, looking at the chart, not only is Steph Curry very good, but both the shots and spacing he creates for his teammates makes them all (or nearly all) much better players.

Another chart helps explain the end result of this.

When Curry is off the floor, his team is a good team. When he’s on the floor, though, they are great. The delta between Curry on the floor and off the floor is second only to LeBron’s impact on the Cavs. There’s more, and if you like basketball, you should read the article. You might just end up wondering why there wasn’t more support for the two-time defending MVP to win his third. -TOB

Source: The Case for Stephen Curry, MVP”, Benjamin Morris, FiveThirtyEight, (04/13/2017)

PAL: Sold. How can anyone make a case for someone other than LeBron or Steph win this award after reading this article? 

I watched just enough of Westbrook this season to strongly believe he is not the MVP, and Houston’s drubbing of the Thunder in the first round only firmed that up (I know – the votes were cast before the playoffs). His season was an unbelievable showcase of effort, volume, and endurance, but that does not equate to MVP. No doubt, that’s a critique on Westbrook and the team around him. To be honest, Westbrook seemed a bit like a sideshow.

Surely, LeBron could average a triple double if that was his goal coming into a season (even at this stage of his career), which I think was the case with Westbrook. And I don’t doubt Steph could average 35 a game if he shot as much as Westbrook (Curry attempted 18 shots per game, Westbrook attempted 24). If either of those scenarios played out, LeBron or Curry wins the MVP this year.

LeBron and Curry didn’t do this, because it wasn’t the best approach for their teams to win a championship. Westbrook’s approach may have very well been the best way for the Thunder to win, but it was never going to amount to a significant run in the playoffs, which is really easy to say after they lost in first round of the playoffs.

Westbrook’s triple double season is historic, and it will age well, but it tastes a bit flat coming right out of the brewery.

The Search for ‘The Next Jordan’ has Ended

Note: All of these graphics are pulled from the original story linked below.

In many ways, Michael Jordan has been our North Star by which we’ve navigated the past three decades of athletic greatness. While his success on the court is measureable (averaged 30 PPG for his career, 6 NBA Championships, 6 Finals MVPs, 5 season MVPs, 10 All-NBA first team, 9 All-Defensive first team), it’s harder to quantify the magnitude of his cultural significance. As Howard Beck writes, every superstar athlete is “playing in a world MJ practically created.“

However, in one way his significance has faded, and that’s the anchor to Beck’s article, which you should absolutely read. At the end of his career, we started looking for ‘The Next Jordan’. For decades, anytime a talented player with some hops – be it a high school phenom, or a college kid with a few great games in the NCAA tournament – made a splash, the media asked if he was ‘The Next Jordan’.

This premature coronation of promising basketball players spanned generations of players. From Len Bias to Penny to Harold Minor to Grant Hill to Vince Carter to Kobe to LeBron.

We don’t hear that curse wrapped as a compliment much anymore – a fact that Google search term stats back up. What’s more, Beck asserts “that might be the best thing to happen to the NBA since, well, the Age of Jordan began.”

Beck makes a compelling case as to why that phrase has floated away from relevance.

Reason 1: We are not that young.

The following anecdote from Jordan’s former teammate and Bulls announcer Bill Wennington captures it all in one fan exchange:

Overheard at the United Center at a recent Bulls game, where two fans were admiring a large photographic display:

Fan No. 1: “Oh, wow! Look at that guy! He’s wearing the original Jordans!”

Fan No. 2: “Dude! That is Michael Jordan.”

You want numbers to back it up? Beck has numbers for you, and they are not going to make you feel very spritely, my friends.

  • 17 active players competed against the creaky, Wizards edition of Jordan, who sank his last field goal 14 years ago.
  • Lakers rookie Brandon Ingram was nine months old when Jordan clinched a sixth championship with his iconic jumper over Utah’s Bryon Russell. Steph Curry, now an elder statesman and an idol at age 29, was 10 years old.


Reason 2: The game today hardly resembles the one Jordan played.

“The hero-ball style that Jordan inspired may be as out of fashion as acid-washed denim in today’s pace-and-space, three-point-obsessed NBA. And just three of the league’s top 20 scorers this season play Jordan’s once-glamorous position of shooting guard (DeRozan, Beal and CJ McCollum), while only two shooting guards made the All-Star Game (DeRozan and Klay Thompson) alongside eight point guards.

“The game has changed radically—more wide-open, more free-flowing, less grabbing on the perimeter, less banging in the post—and it no longer demands, or rewards, the repertoire of footwork and mid-range isolation artistry that made Jordan elite.”

Jordan’s dunks might be the posters of our youth, but those dunks were set up by a mid-range jumper that is now seen as the worst shot on the court. A higher volume of three-pointers, combined with a higher percentage of shots by the rim is a formula nearly all teams have adopted in recent years. Combine that philosophy with a game that made the hand checking illegal in 2000 and the maturation of a generation of kids shooting three-pointers from grade school on, and you have better long distance shooters in a league where it’s also easier to get to the rim.

Michael Jordan made 591 3-pointers in his 13-year career. Steph Curry made 402 last season.

Reason 3: Unique is more interesting than commonality.  

Jordan was transcendent, so it makes sense that we wanted to bask in that greatness after he retired the first, second, and third time (well, maybe not so much the third time). How foolish. Here was this once-in-a-lifetime talent, and we knew that fact while simultaneously criticizing the next phenom who didn’t match the once-in-a-lifetime talent. Vince Carter, one who was dubbed ‘The Next Jordan’ for a minute, provides blunt honesty on the topic:

“I want to be me, man,” Carter recalls of his sentiments as a springy 6’7″ guard out of UNC in the late ’90s. “I just don’t want to put that pressure on myself. In no way, shape or form I’m thinking that I am him, will be him or could be him.”

“As soon as I walked in, my first year, that’s what you hear. For as cool as it may be, you don’t want it. You’re like, ‘No, thank you.'”

“There was a point where [critics said], ‘He doesn’t have the approach, his mentality is not like Michael Jordan,'” Carter recalls. “You’re right. Because I’m not Michael Jordan. You’re right. You’re exactly right. And that was starting to get frustrating.”

As I’m thinking about this, LeBron, who in Beck’s opinion represent the end of ‘The Next Jordan’ lineage, seem like the first great player that escaped the shadow of Jordan. Kobe, featured prominently in this article, admittedly impersonated Jordan in every way; LeBron is so unique that admiring him within the Jordan context isn’t as fun.

Sure, we can compare the numbers, but you don’t think of him in terms of whether or not he’s like Jordan. Furthermore, the NBA is so flush with unique talents right now —Curry’s shooting, Westbrook’s triple-doubles, Giannis’ essentially playing point guard as a 7-footer in Milwaukee to name a few—that the comparison to Jordan seems not only dated, but downright lazy.

Thanks to my college roomie and battery mate, Ryan Nett, for sending this article along. He threw a good knuckleball one time, and he never misses an opportunity to bring that fact up. – PAL

Source: The Ghost of The GOAT: Why There Isn’t a ‘Next Michael Jordan’ Anymore”, Howard Beck, Bleacher Report (04/26/2017)

TOB: Man, what a fun read, and great job by Phil of pulling it all together.

Dion Waiters With the Best Players Tribune Article (And Headline) Ever

Dion Waiters has always struck me as an interesting guy. He seems moody and overconfident in his skills. He’s kinda J.R. Smith, but less athletic and less talented. Dion had a very good season with Miami, though, his first with the Heat. The Heat just barely missed out on the playoffs, and likely would have made it if Waiters hadn’t been injured for an extended period early in the year. This week, sitting at home, not in the playoffs, Waiters wrote an article for the Players Tribune…and it’s REALLY good. The dude is funny. Here’s Dion talking about his best friend growing up, Rhamik:

Everybody in our hood loved Rhamik. He was just a legendary kid. The thing people knew him for, other than ball, was skating.

See, in Philly, skating was a huge deal. Still is. I’m not talking about, you know, Tony Hawk. I’m talking about roller skating — the brown skates with the four wheels. Every Sunday, we used to have these skating parties run by Ms. Doris. If you were up to no good in school (which I usually was), Ms. Doris would catch you at the door and be like, “Dion! You’re banned from the skating party until you start acting right.”

That was a dagger. You did not wanna be banned from the skating party. That was the spot for meeting girls. If you’re picturing some disco thing, that’s not what it was. This was like 100 Philly kids skating around to Rick Ross, doing the Philly Bop.

Sadly, Rhamik was killed when Dion was away at a boarding school to play basketball. Which is kind of Dion’s story. No, it’s not a unique one, sadly. Lots of professional athletes came from impoverished areas and buried friends and family members, just as Dion did. But the way he tells it is very good. Including how he responds to his critics:

You know, it’s hilarious to me. I’m not a big Internet guy, but I see things. I see what people say about me. I see the GIFs and all that. They say, “He never seen a shot he don’t like.” “He’s got irrational confidence.” “He thinks he’s the best player in the NBA.”

Hell yeah I do. I have to. Listen, now you know where I’m from. Picture yourself walking into a South Philly playground at 12 years old, with grown-ass men, bleachers packed with people, trying to get a run in. You think you can survive in Philly without irrational confidence?

He also tells the story of meeting his boss, Pat Riley, for the first time, last summer:

I walked into his office and … damn. The hair was slicked back, and he was wearing one of those suits of his, you know, real O.G., looking like a million bucks. Behind him, he’s got photos of all his championship teams lining the walls. He’s wearing one of his nine rings. He’s sitting there looking like De Niro in Casino. He’s looking like the boss. He’s looking like he’s seen it all, because he has.

And he gives us a great headline, to boot. Quintessential Dion Waiters. -TOB

Source: The NBA is Lucky I’m Home Doing Damn Articles”,  Dion Waiters (04/25/2017)

Truer Words Have Been Written

Stephen Krupin was a speechwriter for President Obama for about a year, but he’s been a Washington Capitals fan his entire life. Being a Caps fan means hating the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have beat the Caps in 8 of their last 9 playoff appearances. Ouch! The Penguins won the Stanley Cup last year, which comes with a visit to the White House and a speech from the president. Krupin wrote the president’s speech praising the hated Penguins.

On the eve of yet another Caps-Pens playoff series, Kupin shares his experience writing the speech last year, and it’s pretty damn funny.

Cody Keenan, our chief speechwriter and a die-hard Chicago sports fan, offered me an out. He recalled that on the day the Super Bowl-winning Green Bay Packers came to the White House, Cody didn’t just delegate the speech assignment; he worked from home rather than risk running into any cheeseheads in the hallway. “You don’t have to be a hero,” Cody counseled.

At one point, a baby in the crowd cried. President Obama ad-libbed an apology for the dad jokes we scattered through the speech. “These are so corny,” he said. Good, I thought to myself; the Penguins don’t deserve our best stuff anyway.

One of the problems in writing a speech is you have to research the subject, which meant Krupin had to get to know the people behind the Penguins jersey. What he found didn’t help: Acts of charity, brotherhood, grace, and community building.

I place speechwriter for the president in the dream job category, and I assume Krupin would agree. I imagine him watching the Penguins close in on another Cup and realize he could play a role in their celebration. Painfully hilarious. Just the the thought of having to heap fake praise on the Yankees or the White Sox disgusts me. – PAL

Source:The one speech I wrote for Obama that I didn’t believe in: Praising the Penguins”, Stephen Krupin, The Washington Post (04/27/2017)

TOB: Nah, I couldn’t do it. I’d beg off. Because if I didn’t, I’d make subtle and not-so-subtle digs at every chance I got. Like, if it was the Dodgers I’d congratulate them on their first World Series win in the last 7 presidential terms! What an accomplishment, I’d say. And then I’d get fired.

Video of the Week

That did NOT happen at my school.

Bonus video:

PAL Song of the Week: Minutemen – “Corona”

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“I’ve got American Express. I’ve got Visa. I could’ve posted bond and gotten miles, damn it.”

-C. Young 

Week of April 21, 2017

Required reading.

I Can’t Stop Thinking about Aaron Hernandez

Aaron Hernandez was convicted of murdering one person, recently acquitted of murdering two others, and allegedly shot another in the face. At the time of his apparent suicide on April 19, Hernandez was appealing the murder conviction that had him facing life in prison without parole.

As many of you know, Hernandez, 27, was also a very talented tight end for the Patriots. He was at one time the youngest player in the NFL, a major contributor to the team’s 2012 Super Bowl victory, and after just two years in the NFL, he was awarded $40M contract extension. He was so good that his troubled past – both in his hometown of Bristol, CT, and during his time at University of Florida – was worth the risk and the effort. 

Clearly, he had some major issues. From MMQB’s Albert Breer:

Both at Florida and in Foxboro, Hernandez had one of the defining qualities of a sociopath. As one coach of his whom I know well described him, “He’s the most talented liar I’ve ever been around.” As such, he could move as smoothly with guys in the financial district in Boston as he could with the people on the street in his hometown, something that facilitated the double life he was able to lead.

To many around him, it seemed like Hernandez had put his life in order. He was a beast on the field, and a favorite of owner Robert Kraft. But this timeline tells a different story:

  • July 16, 2012: Two people are shot and killed in their car in Boston. This is the double murder of which Hernandez was recently acquitted.
  • August 27, 2012: Hernandez signs a $40M contract extension with the Patriots and donates $50,000 to the Myra Kraft Giving Back Fund (Kraft had recently died of cancer).
  • February 13, 2013: Alexander Bradley, then a close friend of Hernandez is shot in the face in Miami. Bradley was reportedly the only witness to the double homicide in Boston. Bradley survives, but does not name his Hernandez or any other assailant when police question him.
  • June 13, 2013: Bradley files a lawsuit against Hernandez for, in plain speak, shooting him in the face.
  • June 17, 2013: Odin Lloyd murdered, shot multiple times in the back and chest in a industrial park 1 mile from Hernandez’s house. Hernandez destroys the home security system, his phone, and hires a cleaning crew to his house the day Lloyd’s body is found. Hernandez is later convicted of the Lloyd murder.

In light of his apparent suicide, Breer recounts a dinner he had with Hernandez in Indianapolis in February 2013. While Breer doesn’t give an exact date of the dinner, the 2013 NFL Combine began on February 20 and ended on February 26, so it seems like Breer’s dinner with Hernandez took place 1-2 weeks after he allegedly shot Bradley, the only witness in the 2012 double-homicide. With this info top of mind, consider the following from Breer:

As for Hernandez himself, I think back to a February night in 2013 when I had dinner with him at a steakhouse in Indianapolis during the combine. I think about the truth of why he was there to talk to his then-coach, Bill Belichick, and about the way we treat athletes in this country…

…The Patriots’ then-star tight end was in Indy in February 2013 to tell Belichick he was going to spend the bulk of the coming months rehabbing his shoulder in California, rather than Massachusetts. Hernandez told me he was doing so to be closer to Tom Brady, who was spending the offseason in Los Angeles. It was only after Lloyd’s murder four months later that I found out that was far from the whole story.

I later discovered what Hernandez’s lawyer, Ronald Sullivan, detailed on WEEI radio in Boston earlier this week. Hernandez told Belichick that day in Indy that, at the very least, he needed to stay away from Foxboro because the heat was on back home in Connecticut. Hernandez broached the idea of a trade to get him out of the area. Belichick told Hernandez he couldn’t trade him but offered to help with security measures.

Hindsight certainly is 20/20, but this look back is down right scary. In my opinion, he killed two people in 2012, tried to kill the only witness, then killed another friend in less than a year. He was completely out of control and made one last effort to get as far away as possible by way of a trade.

Side note: There’s been some stories about whether or not the Patriots are on the hook to pay Hernandez’s estate millions of dollars because, at the time of his death, he was appealing the murder conviction. In Massachusetts, there’s a legal principle called “abatement ab initio”, which essentially means that if someone dies before he or she can exhaust all appeals, then they die innocent. This article makes a pretty strong case that, no, the Patriots in all likelihood are not on the hook. For one, Hernandez was very likely in breach of his contract. Second, he and the Patriots had a grievance settlement, which, in all likelihood, ended the matter once and for all.

One last thought, and I might be missing something, so please correct me if I am. Reports are that Hernandez had written “John 3:16” on his forehead before hanging himself with a bedsheet. Is it safe to assume there are no mirrors in a maximum security cell? If so, wouldn’t it be pretty difficult to write anything on your forehead without a mirror, considering you’d be essentially writing it backwards? I just tried tracing it on my forehead – it’s not easy to do. – PAL

Source:Hernandez’s Suicide: Questions We’re Left Asking”, Albert Breer, MMQB (04/19/2017)

TOB: Such a great heart, that Belichick.

The Things New Englanders Do for Tom Brady

Words to live by: If you’re going to be loud and obnoxious, then be right, too.

The Boston Marathon was this past Monday (which my sister, Missy, completed and kicked butt once again). One guy, Abdul Dremali, found some great motivation for the runners on an unseasonably hot Patriots’ Day:

Funny. Local. Topical. Solid post! The pic was so good, in fact, that ESPN reached out and asked the Dremali (not the guy in the picture) if they could use it on its platforms. To put it politely, he said no, because of “the witch hunt” they led against pretty boy Tom Brady. He used other words, too, and it’s impossible to read them and not hear Morgan O’Mally, Casey Affleck’s character in Good Will Hunting, drunkenly uttering the tweet (click on the story for the unfiltered tweet). 

Dremali was the toast of the town. He gave permission for seemingly every other outlet to post the photo, even though Twitter is public so permission isn’t necessarily needed.

There was just one issue. Can you guess? It wasn’t Dremali’s picture. They were asking permission for a photo that wasn’t his, and Dremali never exactly corrected media outlets when they asked for permission they did not need.

Deadspin’s Samer Kalaf sums it up poetically: “There’s a lesson in all of this: Validation on the internet is the most addictive drug of all.”

Still, it was some damn good sign work. The real hero is the subject of the photo. I think those might be cargo shorts. – PAL

Source: Patriots Fan’s Heat Check Goes Wrong”, Samer Kalaf, Deadspin (04/18/2017)

TOB: I’ll just leave this here:

Update: Bud Grant Garage Sale

In May, 2016, we posted about a tradition unlike any other: Bud Grant’s garage sale. This year will be the last garage sale for the Minnesota Vikings hall of fame coach. His reason is pretty straightforward: “I’m running out of stuff.”

This last one comes with a great marketing campaign: a Bud Grant bobble head.

Grant, who led the Vikings to 4 Super Bowls (0-4), is a big deal to football fans in Minnesota. He’d definitely be on the Mount Rushmore of Minnesota coaches. With this in mind, it’s kind of crazy to think he’s never had a bobble head. Well, not a mass produced one at least (a few prototypes were made, but Grant and the bobble head maker could not agree on a price).

Grant has been approached about a bobble head many times. So why the change of heart this year?

“[S]omebody suggested to have them at your garage sale to advertise. You’ve got to have a hook. You can’t just say, ‘Come to my garage sale and buy baby clothes.’ ’’

That’s true, Hall of Fame football coach and Minnesota legend. It’s not the baby clothes that brings them to your garage sale. – PAL

Source: Bud Grant’s final garage sale will include unique bobble head“, Chris Tomasson, Pioneer Press (4/20/17)

NFL Doctors: We Should Receive Military Exemptions Because Our Players Are Warriors on the Field of Battle

photo: Robert Clanflone/Getty Images

The arrogance of the NFL knows no bounds. There is presently a federal class action lawsuit against the NFL brought by former players regarding the illegal distribution of addictive painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs by NFL teams to its players. At a meeting in 2011, the DEA warned the NFL doctors and trainers about drug laws and how the NFL was violating them. The DEA gave a presentation, and the doctors got defensive, and angry:

“Rannazzisi lectured them on their duties and responsibilities in the context of the opioid epidemic that was sweeping the country. The doctors felt they were being compared to pill pushers, and the meeting became confrontational. “He was treating everyone like a criminal,” said one doctor in attendance.

The teams’ medical personnel were unhappy with the DEA official’s tone, his message and the laws he was outlining. Groans, catcalls and even some boos filled the hotel ballroom at times.”

“I’d done hundreds of presentations,” Rannazzisi said in a recent interview. “I’d never experienced that before.”

One doctor gave some insight into just how warped the NFL really is:

“The 2011 Indianapolis meeting marked a flash point for the NFL in which team medical personnel were advised of the federal laws they later would be accused of violating. Those in the Indianapolis ballroom say the doctors were particularly frustrated to learn they couldn’t travel with prescription-strength medications across state lines to road games, as they had for years.

At one point, Rannazzisi said, a doctor raised his hand and asked why the president is able to travel with drugs aboard Air Force One. The DEA official explained that Air Force One is a military plane and statutes allow exemptions for military aircraft to move drugs around the country.

 “I’m thinking as I’m saying this, ‘This is surreal,’ ” Rannazzisi recalled. “So he says, ‘The military is exempt? Well, think of our players as warriors every Sunday on the field of battle.’ I was stunned.”

Who was this doctor? Kellen Winslow, Jr.?

Needless to say, the lecture did not help. NFL teams continued their illegal practices, indiscriminately pumping their players with dangerous levels of drugs, allegedly. Good work, guys. -TOB

Source: The DEA Warned NFL Doctors About Drugs Laws in 2011. It Didn’t Go Well“, Rick Maese, Washington Post (04/20/2017)

Video of the Week: 

PAL Song of the Week: Kendrick Lamar – “DUCKWORTH.”

Sorry, song is not on youtube. 

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Excuse me, sir? I asked for pickles on my burger and there are only 5 or 6.”

-M. Scott

Week of April 14, 2017

Happy birthday, TOB! May your old man basketball game only getting more refined over time.

Altruistic Masochism

The Barkley Marathons consists of five roughly 20-mile off-road loops (most agree the actual distance is closer to 26 miles, thus, Marathons, plural) in Frozen Head State Park, in eastern Tennessee. Each loop features about 13,400 feet of elevation gain and loss, two-thirds of which does not follow an existing trail. The early spring race date practically [e]nsures foul weather. Entrance is limited to 40 people who must navigate the unmarked course without GPS, hitting 13 unmanned checkpoints along the way. The checkpoints are books stashed under rocks or wedged between trees from which the runner tears the page that corresponds to his bib number, turning in the pages after each loop to prove he finished the whole route.

What draws people to marathons these days: ego or self-discovery? Surely, there’s balance of the two, but the proliferation of mileage bumper stickers, Team in Training groups, energy bars, compression socks, and fitness wearables point to a growing industry for which the prevailing purpose just might be so more and more people can tell you they are running a long distance.

Running a long distance is a challenge. We impress ourselves for doing something challenging. We want people to know we are challenging ourselves and for them to be impressed, too.

I understand, but in recent years there seems to be a lot of weight on the ego side of this teeter-totter—maybe too much—and a man they call Lazarus is ruthlessly orchestrating the shift of some some weight back on the side of self-discovery.

The Barkley Marathons is about the accomplishment of finding your breaking point. More of the Forrest Gump kind of running than the Strava kind. No technology is allowed, and no amount of training will fully prepare you. 18 people have completed the race since 1986.

This year Gary Robbins (pictured above) “completed” the course six seconds after the 60 hour cutoff. He also got turned around in the last two miles of the race, and crossed the finish line – a yellow park gate – from the wrong direction. DNF.

If you’ve ever rolled your eyes at people and their boring marathon training ramblings, this story is for you (there’s also a fun documentary about the race on Netflix). Laz is your anti-hero. -PAL

Source: The Brutality Of The Barkley Marathons”, Sarah Barker, Deadspin (4/10/17)

TOB: This is incredible, and I want to watch this movie, but…when is enough enough? Someone is going to die doing this, right? I can’t decide whether I like this Cantrell guy. He’s got some pluses and minuses. Charging $1.60 and a random item for the race entry fee (e.g., gold-toed socks)? Funny, cheap – a plus. Starting the race, on a whim, in an eleven hour window? Minus. Buuuut, starting the race by lighting a cigarette? Plus. Calling yourself Lazarus? Minus. Having a bugler play Taps when a racer drops out? Hilarious. Huge plus. Announcing an hour from race time with a conch? Oh, come on. Minus. Greeting runners with, “Good luck, morons.” Hahahahaha. Plus. Well, there you go. Simple math says I’m on team Cantrell. And read this great account of a guy who nearly lost his mind during the 5th loop. Highly entertaining. Finally, shout out to the 30 people, of 1,000 who have attempted this over the years, who never even got to the first book in the first loop. You are my people.

Where Does Russell Westbrook’s Season Stack Up?

In the wake of Russell Westbrook becoming the first player to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson, The New York Times asks if his feat is the greatest season for an athlete and reached out to a stable of writers to see what their choice is for the greatest individual season. Here are some of the more interesting factoids from the nominees:  

Secretariat: I’ve watched the Belmont video multiple times now. It looks incredible, and I’m not sure where I stand including horses as athletes. On one hand, an animal doing what it was born and bred to do seems like athleticism in its purest form. On the other hand, I just don’t care about horse racing. For the purpose of comparison, I can’t weigh 3 horse races against Westbrook doing it over the course of 81 of 82 NBA games this year.

Bobby Orr: My favorite comparison of the article. If the triple-double is stat about all around play, then Orr’s leading the league in points (120) as a defenseman, leading his team in penalty minutes, and dominating the playoffs, all while capped with a Stanley Cup winning goal in iconic fashion is a pretty damn good season.

Ruth/Bonds: I love Tyler Kepner’s definition of greatness: breaking the game is a fresh way of putting it. “To find the greatest individual season in baseball history, look at the players who broke the game. Many have changed it, mastered it or nearly perfected it. But to really break it, a player has to upend the norms so thoroughly that the performance looks like a mutation.”

Ruth and Bond broke the game, and it’s plainly evident with two stats. Babe Ruth hit 54 home runs in 1920, more than any other team in the American League. In 2004, Barry Bonds was intentionally walked 120 times. No other player has ever been intentionally walked more than 50 times in a season. As Kepner puts, “Bonds was such a destructive force in 2004 that rivals simply stopped competing.”

Tiger Woods: Tiger won 9 of 20 golf tournaments in 2004, including 3 of 4 majors with a combined score of 49 under par. With a typical tournament field ranging from 132 – 154 golfers, when all of those dudes are capable to shooting low on any given day, it’s astounding that one guy was just that much better than—not just a division of 5 teams, or even a league of 30 other teams—than a field of that size in a global game. It’s not like running track, where some guys have literally never run as fast as Usain Bolt’s average time. All pro golfers are capable of shooting 65. I don’t care that Nicklaus has more majors than Tiger; no one can convince me there’s ever been a better golfer on this planet than Tiger Woods in his prime.

Michael Phelps: 2008 Olympics: Tough to beat, but I’ll admit I’m a sucker for gold medals. Karen Krouse brings up a good point about the level of competition and its role in ranking greatest seasons. There were no pushovers like the 2016 Lakers in the Olympics. However, 2 weeks of greatness can’t really stack up to 82 games of consistent excellence. And yet, these two pictures makes it hard to rank anything above Phelps. Here he is with the 8 from Beijing:

And here’s all 23 golds just for good measure:

Fun read, and an even better happy hour debate. – PAL

Source: Is Russell Westbrook’s Season the Best Ever? Some Apples and Oranges to Pick From”, The New York Times (4/10/17)

TOB: I have to ignore individual sports. Sorry, Phelps, Tiger, and others, who had impressive seasons. It’s just a different discussion. And I tried to set bias aside…but I can’t get away from Bonds’ 2004 season being the best ever. Westbrook’s season, though, is right up there. As Sopan Deb says, Westbrook made the triple double look “routine, to the point that fans began undervaluing it.” The Triple Double Season has been, as long as I’ve been alive, one of those untouchable records. It just wasn’t possible. LeBron came…sorta close a couple times, with 30/8/8. But that’s not really all that close. Think about this: Triple Doubles were major headlines in nightly highlight shows. This dude just had FORTY TWO of them in one season, which would be the 9th most in NBA history for an entire career. If he doesn’t win the MVP, I’m going to be furious. People will look back at it in ten years and say “Hey…a guy averaged 31/10/10 on a team with very little help, still won 47 games and made the playoffs in an insanely competitive conference, and didn’t win the MVP? What the hell?” This is like Barkley over Jordan in 1993, or Malone over Jordan in 1998. Someone idiot suggests something and suddenly people start clamoring to show they’re so much smarter than everyone else and say “The triple double is nothing more than our desire for round numbers.” Or, “He’s a ball hog and hunts for rebounds.” To that I say: 30/10/10! GTFOOH.

But back to Bonds, and I’m so happy to discuss this. As Tyler Kepner noted, Bonds broke the freaking game. He was intentionally walked 120 times that year! 120! That’s almost one per game. He was once given an intentional walk with the bases loaded! He was walked with the bases empty many times. As luck would have it, I came across this fantastic video this week. It’s our video of the week, down below. It analyzed, in depth, Bonds’ 2004 season with one twist: what if Bonds played the entire 2004 season without a bat,  buuuuuut the pitchers didn’t realize he didn’t have a bat. It’s entertaining, and really goes into the depths of how insane Bonds was in 2004.

PAL: What about the idea of controlling the game, and how that impacts your ranking? As great as was, Bond’s was at the whim of the pitcher. Hitting is a reaction. Westbrook is like a pitcher. He has the ball. He dictates the game. If anything, this makes what Ruth and Bond’s did even more impressive to me.

When Sports Bring People Together

This week, just before its Champions League Match against Monaco, the Borussia Dortmund team bus was bombed. Yes, bombed. It could have been a lot worse. One player was hurt, and the game was postponed…an entire day. Many Monaco fans had made the trek to Dortmund, and some were left scrambling for a place to stay, not having planned to stay so long. Dortmund fans began tweeting with the hashtag “#bedforawayfans”, offering Monaco fans a place to stay. Monaco fans took them up on the offer, and boy isn’t the internet great?

Yes, das ist futbol, indeed. -TOB

Source: Dortmund Fans Gladly Host Traveling Monaco Fans After Champions League Game Delayed by Explosions”, Patrick Redford, Deadspin (04/12/2017)

Short Dudes Representing

I’m short. Short dudes are hitting more long balls in baseball the past few seasons. Chicks dig the long ball. I like this story.

Why are short dudes hitting more dingers and scoring more chicks? Perhaps it’s because the strike zone has lowered in recent years. Maybe it’s because more kids are coming up knowing that dunking singles over the shortstop’s head ain’t going to get them where they want to go in a game that’s put a premium on power.

But really, my guys are swinging for the fences for the chicks, man. By the way, I hate the title of the ESPN article I’m linking here. Mighty Mites? How cute and diminutive…what the shit is that crap? – PAL

Source: Mighty Mites are taking over baseball!”, Sam Miller, ESPN (4/13/17)

TOB: I’m sure all of the factors discussed in the article contribute. But I happen to think the majority of it happens to be the last factor mentioned: we’re in an era with a cluster of good power hitters under 6-feet tall.

PAL: Or, TOB, short people have been persecuted in sports for decades and we’ve finally had enough. By the way, you aren’t that tall either, bub. You easily qualify as short using this articles cut-off (under 6-feet).

TOB: Short people got no reason to live.

PAL: I wonder how my life would be different if I was 6’2” more often than I should.


Video of the Week

What if Barry Bonds had played the 2004 season without a baseball bat? It’s long, but very entertaining.

PAL Song of the Week: Neil Diamond – “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon”

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“If you keep your mouth shut, you’ll be surprised what you can learn”

– John B. McLemore

Week of April 7, 2017

Drink it all in.

In Which Tony Hawk Teaches the Writer to Ollie

Sometimes you read an article and realize, “This writer is deeply funny.” This is one of those stories. The writer, Kelly Conaboy, had never ridden a skateboard in her life. She decided she wanted to ask Tony Hawk to teach her how to ollie. So she e-mailed him. And he said yes. And they filmed it. The results are funny, but the way Kelly writes it is even funnier. She walks us through the entire process – including video, from pitching the story to various publicationsto learning how to simply rideto Tony Hawk kinda, sorta, teaching her how to ollie


Congrats, Kelly. And, please, keep writing. -TOB

Source: I Asked Tony Hawk If He Would Teach Me How to Ollie and He Said Yes”, Kelly Conaboy, The Outline, 03/31/2017

Killing Them Softly With His Threes

This has not been Steph Curry’s best season. That’s undebatable. The bar was set VERY high though, and he’s still been fantastic. Unrelated: The Ringer is largely, in my opinion a dud, but Shea Serrano is a Grantland veteran who still does a very good job there. Shea Serrano writing about Steph Curry couldn’t have been anything but good, and it was. Serrano discusses the different and devastating ways Curry uses the three-pointer to demoralize a team. But, he does it in a funny way. My favorites are The Wire-inspired “You Want it to Be One Way” 3:

This is the 3 where you want it to be one way, but Steph shoots it to let you know it’s the other way. The most perfect example was that 3 at the end of the third quarter of Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Grizzlies in 2015. The Warriors led the series 3–2 and they were playing in Memphis. The game was close (73–68) and the Grizzlies had the ball with a chance to cut it to two or three. Also, remember, this was before the Warriors had won a championship, so most people didn’t quite understand how all the way terrifying that team was yet. There was a feeling that if Memphis could just squeak out a win in Game 6, their veteran leadership would prove the difference in a big, Big, BIG Game 7. Only Jeff Green dribbled the ball up the court in the final seconds, tried to shoot a 3 at the buzzer, had it blocked, and then everyone watched as Steph, who’d grabbed the loose ball, chest-passed a 75-foot shot at the buzzer toward the other rim that swished in. The Grizzlies were suddenly down eight, the crowd was stunned, and 12 game minutes later the Warriors were headed to the next round of the playoffs. The Grizzlies wanted it to be one way, but it was the other way.

And the Apocalypto 3: “This is the 3 Steph shoots where he toasts somewhere from three to five different defenders on his way to getting it off.”

Sports GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Start the playoffs already! -TOB

Source: The Five Stephen Curry 3s You Meet In Basketball Heaven”, Shea Serrano, The Ringer (03/31/2017)

Can a Pair of Headphones Improve Athletic Performance? I dunno. Maybe?

This year, the San Francisco Giants have adopted brain-stimulating headphones from Halo Neuroscience for their players to use during practice. How does it work? Well… let’s let the scientists explain it:

When you put on Halo Sport, those special features underneath the headset naturally go over the motor cortex. Those features are actually electrodes that send out electrical pulses that stimulate the motor cortex. After a 20-minute neurostimulation, which we call neural priming, Halo Sport will induce a state of hyperlearning, known as hyperplasticity, in the motor cortex. We tell athletes to use the headphones 20 minutes before their workout while stretching and warming up. When the neural priming session ends, they start their athletic training session and begin feeding their brain with movement-based repetitions. For a basketball player, that can be shooting free throws or dribbling. For a baseball player, it can be throwing or fielding grounders. If athletes feed their brain deliberate and trained repetitions after neural priming, their brain will learn more in that training session than they would’ve without it.

Makes sense. Does it work, though? The Giants used it on some of their top minor league prospects at their annual winter workouts ahead of Spring Training. Half of the players used the Halo headsets, and half did not. The players who used the headsets “did much better” than the players who did not. The Giants were convinced and adopted Halo throughout the organization. I just hope the bullpen starts using it. That 6.65 ERA after the first series of the year is an eyesore. -TOB

Source: The San Francisco Giants Think These Headphones Will Help Them Win“”, Joseph Misulonas, Good Sports (04/04/2017)


A few weeks back, we invited our readers to join the first annual 1-2-3 Sports! NCAA Tournament Bracket Challenge. No cash was involved, but we offered a guest column on the blog to the winner. Uh…

I won. Suckers. -TOB

Video of the Week

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I’m not superstitious. But I am a little-stitious. 

Michael Scott