Week of August 11, 2017

Swing for the fences, Benny.


The Olympic Gift That Keeps on Giving

One year later, it is safe to call the Olympics an absolute disaster for the city of Rio de Janeiro. The laundry list of problems is exhausting:

  • 15 of 27 venues have not been used even once since the Olympics ended.

RICARDO MORAES/REUTERS

  • The Maracaña, the iconic soccer stadium built for the 2014 World Cup just two years prior to the Olympics, has been vandalized and had its power shut off due to an unpaid $950,000.00 electric bill.
  • Olympic park, “long hailed by Brazilian politicians and Olympic proponents as a path to upgrade one of Rio’s poorer neighborhoods, is shuttered.”
  • “The community pool that was supposed to come out of the canoe slalom course was closed in December and has yet to re-open.”
  • The pool at the Deodoro Aquatics Center “is now covered in bugs, mud and rodent feces.”

ANTONIO LACERDA/EFE

  • A fire from a “flying lantern” torched the velodrome roof, badly damaging the track.
  • The plan to turn the handball arena into four public schools has been abandoned.
  • The 31-tower Athlete Village, which was said to be turned into luxury condos, sits largely vacant.

Oh, but that’s not all! No, no. That is not all!

“Promises that the Olympics would modernize Rio and make its streets safer and favelas cleaner have also failed. According to Brazil’s Institute of Public Safety, street robberies are up 48 percent and deadly assaults by 21 percent, to the highest rates since 2009. In the first three months of 2017, violent crime spiked 26 percent compared with the same period in 2016. The state of Rio is still unable to pay its teachers, hospital workers, police and other public employees on time, if at all. Many favelas still lack running water or proper sewage removal.”

When Brazil was awarded the 2016 Olympics way back in 2009, its politicians promised the Olympics would transform the nation’s sports infrastructure. And it did, for a while.  The government and private industry poured money into Brazilian athletics over the next 7 years in order to maximize Brazilian performance at the games. But since?

“Athletes who had been showered with opportunity in the lead-up to Rio were now in the middle of a nightmare, a few with the Olympic medals around their necks…. And perhaps no segment of Brazilian sports has been hit harder by the post-Olympic downturn than aquatics. For 26 years, the Brazilian Postal Service sponsored Brazil’s entire aquatics federation. But after Rio, that investment was slashed by 67 percent, from $5.2 million to $1.7 million a year. Earlier this year, the president of the Brazilian Olympic Committee, Carlos Arthur Nuzman, admitted that economic investment in Brazilian sports has recessed to where it was in 2000, nine years before Brazil was even awarded the 2016 Games.”

In some ways, this is for good reason. The economy is so bad, and the corruption so deep, that the country can’t afford to spend money on athletics:

“Coupled with sagging oil revenues, the people’s lack of trust in government led Brazil into its worst recession in history. Ten days after the closing ceremonies, Rousseff was impeached, largely blamed for the country’s crisis. No segment of the government was immune from scandal, including sports leaders. Coaracy Nunes Filho, the president of the Aquatic Sports Federation, and two of his directors were arrested and charged with the misuse and misappropriation of $13 million in funds, for their own personal gain and by giving favorable contracts to associates. Sensing a larger problem, the TCU launched an investigation into 10 sports entities, including Brazil’s Olympic Committee. Nine of the 10 were found to be misusing public funds. The only organization that wasn’t: the Brazilian Confederation of Sports for the Visually Impaired.”

Unlike the U.S., Brazil’s government has long provided stipends to its Olympic athletes. Those stipends are being slashed. And who can fault that, at this point? As Judo Gold Medalist Rafaela Silva puts it, “Everybody will want a good performance in 2020, but sports are no longer a priority. We understand the government had to decrease the investment. How can you justify the expense of millions on sports when we have no hospitals?” -TOB

Source: After the Flame”, Wayne Drehs and Mariana Lajolo, ESPN (08/10/2017)

PAL: It’s been a pretty common topic over the past few years: hosting the Olympics does jumpstart an economy is bureaucrats promise when they are pitching the idea. I’ve made my opinion known several times on the blog that the Olympics should rotate between a handful of locations with the infrastructure in place and a history of putting on the event. Those arguments can feel a little abstract. Drehs’ story does a good job of putting the impacts of the Rio games right in your face:

Even some of the medals awarded to the athletes have tarnished or cracked, with more than 10 percent of them sent back to Brazil for repair. Rio officials blame poor handling by the athletes.

Almost a year since the Games closed, the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee still owes $40 million to creditors. Bloomberg reported in April that the Olympic organizers were attempting to pay creditors with air conditioners, portable energy units and electrical cables. In July, the organizing committee asked the International Olympic Committee for help with its debt; the IOC said no.

Above all else, the perhaps the most fitting symbol of the lasting impact of Rio 2016 are the seedlings every athlete carried with them during the opening ceremony. These seedlings were to be planted in Rio to help offset the environmental impact of the games, but they also represented a bigger promise: Rio 2016 was not to be a circus that came through town, but rather it would mark the beginning of a long term investment in the community and its athletics. Where are those seeds now?

[J]ust over a year later, there is perhaps no greater example of the Rio Games’ complicated legacy. The seedlings sit in planting pots under a sheer black canopy on a farm 100 kilometers from Rio. Prior to last week, Marcelo de Carvalho Silva, the director of Biovert, the company responsible for the seeds, hadn’t heard from Olympic organizers in months. He had no idea what the plans were for the seeds, but he painstakingly watched over them for free, knowing what it would mean for his company — and the country — if something happened to them.

That’s when the TCU, following up on the Olympic promises made for Rio, started asking questions. And then, sure enough, Olympic officials finally reached out. Twenty-four million seedlings were supposed to be planted to offset the environmental impact of the Games. But that has not happened. The trees that were part of Olympic Park are dying from a lack of irrigation and maintenance. The mayor blames the organizing committee; the organizing committee the government. And, as a result, there is a stalemate.

What a scam.


I Was So Much Older Then, I’m Younger Than That Now

The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis explores the retired athlete’s impulsive, seemingly unavoidable need to tear down the accomplishments of today’s athletes. As Curtis notes, this has been going on since at least as long as modern sports have existed – in September 1939, Hall of Famer Tris Speaker was asked about young Joe Dimaggio. Speaker spat, ““Him? I could name 15 better outfielders!” Joe D was 26, and finishing up a season in which he’d hit .381 with 30 home runs, and an OPS of 1.119, FYI (Speaker later walked back his assertion…sorta).

More recently, Dennis Rodman said the early-90s Run-TMC Warriors were better than today’s Warriors. His reasoning? Run-TMC scored 130 points per game, and the Warriors did not. For the record, the Warriors scored just 115 last year, while giving up 104, while the Run-TMC Warriors scored 116 and 116 (never close to 130), and gave up 119 and 115, in 1990 and 1991, respectively; they missed the playoffs in 1990 and won a single round in 1991. The current Warriors fared a bit better.

Michael Jordan is perhaps the most interesting recent case. When asked to compare Kobe and LeBron, MJ said Kobe is the better player because “5 is more than 3”, referring to the number of titles each player won. This analysis is flawed on many levels. For one, Kobe’s career is done. LeBron is still in his prime. For two, it ignores so much more that goes into career. No one other than Laker fans would argue Kobe was the better player than LeBron. But Jordan has a reason to argue Kobe is better – Kobe, who again is retired, is no longer a threat to MJ’s legacy. After all, 5 is less than 6, using Jordan’s logic.

Legacy protection aside, what’s this phenomenon all about? Curtis makes a strong argument:

Anyone who has listened to their grandfather complain about the modern world knows these complaints are most interesting as a window into the insecurities of an aging man. Imagine a star player being the greatest for his entire career. Then, in his golden years, he is constantly baited: What do you think of the New Guy? Is he better than you? Are you ready to surrender your title as homerun/touchdown/scoring king?

The particulars of the gripe are less interesting than the yearning behind it: Oh, to be a young man enjoying the pleasures of the modern world. Now that’s a story.

(In true Ringer fashion, the ending of this story is abrupt and off-putting. But, I still enjoyed the article, so there you go.) – TOB

Source: Sportswriting’s Old-Timers Game”, Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (08/08/2017)

PAL: All this talk of Mike Trout being the best centerfielder – give me a break. Kirby Puckett has 2 World Series rings. 2 is more than zero. Puckett is the best. That’s all I can add, because Curtis nails it. However, he fails to mention how much we love it. We love talking about what the old, out-of-touch player said about so-and-so. It fills our afternoons of sports radio and podcasts every day.


Tell Me Who You’re Loyal To

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

I remember reading somewhere – maybe it was about Chuck Klosterman talking about Kevin Durant coming to the Warriors – that the real “team” of an athlete isn’t found on jersey they wear, but rather the shoes they wear. Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Steph Curry – Nike and Under Armour will likely pay them more money than any NBA team. These are the athletes primary employers. 

It makes sense when you extend that thinking to coaching and trainers, too. Coaches come and go. There are exactly 3 NBA coaches that have been with their team for more than 5 years. With a revolving door of coaches (and their staffs), who is thinking about the individual player’s development over the long haul?

Enter Rob McClanaghan. This former gym teacher is carving out one hell of a life for himself as a trailblazer in the new world of specialized trainers. He’s not there to make sure Steph Curry is lifting weights or adhering to his diet. Nope, he’s there to make sure that beautiful, perfect shot stays just so. Makes sense, right? A lot of guys can keep a professional athlete in shape and eating right, but not a lot of dudes can keep a shooter’s stroke finely tuned.

McClanaghan’s small empire started like many small empires – with a flier. The high school gym teacher started with kids, then met college players in the area. His persistence and his players’ results finally got him a gig at the legendary ABCD camp (invite only camp for the best high school players in the country). At around that time, in 2007, former NBA player and new sports agent B.J. Armstrong had an idea.

[I]t occurred to Armstrong that elite draft prospects should spend the nearly three months between the college season’s end and the NBA draft training to transition to the NBA, rather than playing in the various, then-popular All-Star games. Armstrong saw the average age of draftees drop and more NBA teams hire coaches with “development” in their titles.

“The draft started placing emphasis on potential,” Armstrong says. “The guys were 19 and 20 instead of 22 and 24. Summers went from honing your craft to real basketball development. The attention to potential shifted development.”

A mutual friend suggested Armstrong discuss the idea with McClanaghan, whose name had become known around the league.

In the span of 5 years he went from charging $40 for a personal lesson with a kid to training lottery draft picks and NBA stars like Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Steph Curry.

We’re seeing it more and more in all sports. Like McClanaghan, quarterback coaches, hitting instructors, and skating coaches are working with ‘clients’ from middle school to professionals on one component of the game. Honestly, a part of it makes me shake my head, but I concede that it makes sense, I guess. More than anything, I like how McClanaghan saw an opportunity and hasn’t taken his foot off the pedal ever since. – PAL

Source: Meet the Man Behind Your Favorite NBA Jump Shots”, Sam Fortier, The Ringer (08/09/2017)


Video of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Neil Young – “Till The Morning Comes”




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It’s funny that pirates were always going around searching for treasure, and they never realized that the real treasure was the fond memories they were creating.

-J. Handy

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