Week of July 20, 2018

Name that future star. I’m still laughing.

There’s No Game, and That’s a Shame

Most kids I knew growing up liked to play Madden. Every year, they’d buy the game and play for hours. I liked Madden ok. I bought it every few years if I read about a game innovation that was enticing enough. But I was a much bigger college football fan back then, and so my football video game of choice was NCAA Football.

I got the very first EA Sports college football game – Bill Walsh’s College Football for the Sega Genesis. I saved my allowance and got the next three versions when they each came out – Bill Walsh’s College Football 95 and College Football USA 96 and 97. Man, I played those games for hours. As I got older, every three years or so, I’d get the newest version and spend an embarrassing amount of time over the next few years creating the best Cal players, and amassing Heismans and National Titles. I was so good I had to create mini challenges for myself. It was a failure if I didn’t score 100 points or more. Every time the other team scored, I did as many pushups as points they had in the game.

I wasn’t the only one who loved those games. The games came with players with fake names, but characteristically they generally matched the real life rosters. Every year I’d find a message board where people would team-up to rename the players to the names of players actually on the roster. There were around 50 players per roster, and 120 or so teams. And it was not very quick to change a single name. It was an incredible amount of work. Then, they’d make them available and you could download the file to your XBox or PS3, and upload it to the game to use. It was incredibly dorky, but also fun.

But then the NCAA was sued by Ed O’Bannon for the use of his likeness in the EA Basketball game (as in the football game, it wasn’t “Ed O’Bannon”, but it was the 1995 UCLA team with a player who sorta looked like him, had his number, equivalent skills, etc.). In response, the NCAA revoked its license to EA to use NCAA trademarks (school names, logos, etc.). Without this, EA didn’t see the point of making the game. Just weeks after releasing NCAA 14 with Denard Robinson on the cover, they announced there would be no future versions.

Not that people don’t still play. Hell, it’s almost a collector’s item. On Gamestop right now, it’ll cost you $40 to get NCAA 14, a game 5 years old. By comparison, you can get Madden 17, a game just two years old, for $7. And you can still find the faithful updating rosters every summer for use on NCAA 14. I still download the roster every season and try to play at least a season of games, late at night when the rest of the family is asleep. And every time, there’s Denard Robinson. For college football fans, he will become an icon – the last NCAA Football video game cover boy. -TOB 

Source: Denard Robinson’s ‘NCAA 14’ Cover Legacy, and the One He’s Building Beyond FootballCody Stavenhagen, The Athletic (07/13/2018)

Golf Hero: Big Mama

Friday mornings are fun. Cup of coffee, take a little extra time before getting into work, refine the week’s post, and find the perfect quote for the week. It’s a good way to lead into the weekend. But sometimes that feeling only lasts for a few minutes, because you find new story that definitely would’ve made the post. That is the case with this story.

JoAnne Carner, a.k.a. Big Mama, has long been a legend on the LPGA tour. She’s a more successful, less depressing version of John Daly. She likes her cigarettes, she’s not afraid of a beer or three, and she could really hit it.

Last week, at age of 79, Big Mama shot her age at the U.S. Open, a feat made even more impressive when you consider she hasn’t walked a course since 2004!

The story is more of a headline, but it included this great documentary short about Big Mama that I thoroughly enjoyed:

My favorite anecdote is that she would go to gym where the other competitors were working out, put her beer in the cup holder on stationary bike, and b.s. with the ladies. – PAL

Source: A 79-Year-Old Nicknamed “Big Mama” Just Shot Her Age At The U.S. Senior Women’s Open”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (7/13/18)

Serena Lost, and That’s Ok

Serena Williams is the greatest women’s tennis player of all-time. She has won 23 Grand Slams – second only to Margaret Court’s 24. Serena would have likely already passed Court, but she missed the final three majors last year, and the first one this year, because she gave birth in September 2017. But she has returned to the court just a few months later. What’s most amazing is that Serena, at age 35, won the 2017 Australian Open while eight weeks pregnant. I asked my wife, who has twice given birth about that fact, and she deemed it “mindblowing.”

After losing early in the French Open, Serena looked more like herself during the recent Wimbledon. She entered the final with a chance to tie Court, losing just one set on her way to the finals. And then she lost 3-6, 3-6, to Angelique Kerber. Many were disappointed. We wanted history! We wanted Serena, just a few months after giving birth, at age 36, to win the damn thing.

The loss must be painful for Serena, who noted she missed her ten-month old daughter’s first steps while away competing. As Katie Baker points out, for her entire career, Serena Williams has been the best, and thus always has to face opponents giving their best to beat her. During the tournament, Madison Keys, another player, noted that this fact “must suck.” Serena appreciated Keys acknowledging this, saying “That’s what makes me great. I always play everyone at their greatest. So I have to be greater.”

But Baker makes a really great point:

A Wimbledon victory on Saturday for Williams would have been like the 73-9 Golden State Warriors closing out the 2016 NBA Finals in five games, or the 2007 Patriots going 19-0 with a Super Bowl win. It would have been too perfect, too stunning, too broad and borderline-incomprehensible a caricature of success. (What’s worse, it definitely would have inspired people to opine that “women really can have it all!”) What happened instead serves to emphasize just how challenging Williams’s latest quest is, and it adds one more layer of intrigue and nuance to a career that has always been elevated by both.

After tarnishing that 73-9 record, the Warriors went on to win the next two (and counting) titles. After losing the Super Bowl at 18-0, the Brady/Belichick Patriots won two more (and counting) Super Bowls. Serena, too, needs just two more to become the most decorated tennis player, man or woman, in history. What she almost did this month was incredible; I’m betting that Serena takes this loss, uses it as fuel, and once again shows why she’s the greatest of all-time. At least twice. -TOB

Source: Serena Williams’s Latest, Greatest Quest”, Katie Baker, The Ringer (07/15/18)

Exhibition Wins

I love stories that unveil a part of a game that I’ve hardly considered. A lot of folks like to rail on the exhibition of All-Star Games (myself included), but ESPN’s Sam Miller has officially changed my mind with his story. He’s right. I was wrong, and I love how he constructs his story.

He starts with a bunch of teenagers playing a game on a summer afternoon, and the reader is led to believe that it’s just a bunch of friends playing a pickup game at the park. No one’s keeping score, afterall.

These kids were playing not for fun but because there were dozens of scouts and major league execs watching them at a showcase event. Those scouts weren’t all that interested in this game — they were there to see the 17-year-olds — but the teenagers were still trying to stand out. The pitchers were trying to light up radar guns, the batters were selling out for power, the fielders were overthrowing cut-off men to show off their arms, every baserunner was trying to steal. Nobody was keeping score, but this all counted, and it counted mostly to the extent that it would affect some major league team’s chances of winning a World Series someday. The stands were full, and nobody cheered.

“The stands were full, and nobody cheered.” That’s a hell of a visual, and the image is the perfect juxtaposition to look at great moments in baseball that had nothing to do with winning a Major League baseball game.

Barnstorming didn’t count, but it built the Babe Ruth legend across the country during a time when folks didn’t have televisions.

“If you were a pretty good baseball player in the twenties, professional or amateur, big-city or small-town, the chances were pretty good that you played against Babe Ruth at least once in your life,” biographer Leigh Montville wrote in “The Big Bam.” “He had played between 200 and 250 games every year, 154 of them in big-league parks, but the rest in the Dyckman Ovals of America.

And then there’s Willie Mays playing stickball. As Miller notes, we’ve all seen the picture of Mays playing stickball, but I didn’t know he played all of the time. Before games, after games. Hell, he was almost late for a real game when he lost track of time playing stickball.

There are more current examples in the story, too. Definitely worth the read. Miller is right – baseball’s legacy isn’t only built on professional championships. Some of the best stories from the game are about legends connecting with the rest of us, like Willie playing with the neighborhood kids. – PAL

Source:The Home Run Derby and the beauty of baseball that doesn’t count”, Sam Miller, ESPN (7/16/18)

TOB: I loved that Willie Mays story, too. After I read it earlier this week, I even used it as a bedtime story to my oldest – the latest in a line of bedtime stories about great athletes or teams or games. We had gone to the Giants game a couple days before, and I had even pointed out the Willie Mays statue, so he had some context. I had always figured that image of Mays was a one-off, maybe even a photo-op. The reality is too great. Imagine how many people out there can honestly claim they played stickball with one of the greatest baseball players that ever lived. I now know the number is a lot higher than I would have expected.

What’s Worse than Permit Patty or Karen From HR? Calling the Police After a Hard Screen in Pickup Basketball

I mean, christ. What the hell. If you missed this, you’re in for…well, not exactly a treat. A minor-sounding altercation broke out this week during a pickup basketball game at an L.A. Fitness in Virginia. The story unfolded slowly during the week, beginning with this tweet:

The tweet went viral, and the internet rightly clowned on this dude for calling the cops after a foul in a pick-up basketball game. The best that can be pieced together is that one player, the guy on the right in the picture below, pushed the player on the left. The player on the left retaliated with either a body check or a hard screen. The player on the right got upset, left the court, made the gym staff call 9-1-1, and then threw a hissy fit to the police. By Wednesday, we had the officer’s body cam footage. It’s hilarious.

WHAT A CLOWN. He should NEVER show his face at that gym again. Every time he did, he should be clowned like the clown he is. I wish I could see him so that I could boo him right in his clown face. BOOO! -TOB

Source: Virginia Man Calls Cops After ‘Hard Screen’ In Pickup Basketball”; “Here’s The Police Body-Cam Footage After The Pickup Basketball 911 Call”, Giri Nathan, Deadspin (07/17/18; 07/18/18)

PAL: My favorite part of this is when the employee – pictured on the right in the video – handles the absurd situation as calmly as anyone could hope and suggests that either the two players put the issue to bed and stay at the gym, or they can both leave for the day. GET YOUR SWOOSH ON then complains, “How’s that fair to me? I’m the aggrieved party here.” You know this dude doesn’t re-wrack the weights or wipe down the stationary bike.

84-Year Old Woman Can Talk Basketball Better Than Most Bay Area Dads

The Warriors are obviously really good, and very popular in the Bay Area. They are, thus, a major topic of conversation among Bay Area Dads. Every time I go to an event with other dads, talk inevitably turns to the Warriors and the greater NBA. I’m often amazed at how bad the takes are – the dads like to discuss the Warriors, but most have little idea what they’re talking about (excepting you, Ted).

So it was with great amusement I read this article by Craig Fehrman about his 84-year old neighbor, Iris Clawson. Iris likes puzzles, and her garden, and children. But as Fehrman says, “One day this spring, though, Iris startled me by asking if I’d caught last night’s Warriors-Rockets game.”

Recently Fehrman asked Iris her opinion on the NBA offseason moves, and hers are all the correct ones:

LeBron joining the Lakers? Not a surprise. “He has a mansion out there,” she points out, “so that’s probably why he wanted to go.” Still, she didn’t expect Lance Stephenson to follow. “How will they get along?” she asks. “I guess he’ll have more chances to blow in LeBron’s ear.”

DeMarcus Cousins joining the Warriors? Not a big deal. “They’re in their heyday,” she says, “but they’ll get older, and they’ll fall behind. Nothing lasts forever.”

Technically, Iris cheers for the Pacers. (She still prefers Frank Vogel over Nate McMillan, and Rick Carlisle over either.) But her favorite team to watch is Golden State. “I can’t figure out how Steph can be so small and so good,” says Iris, who, stooped over her cane, is barely over five feet herself. She adores his crazy shot-making, but thinks Klay Thompson and his quick release might be even better. “The ball hardly touches his fingers and it’s headed in the other direction,” she says.

Iris also admires KD, and understands why he left the Thunder. “Durant wasn’t getting the ball enough with Westhead, Westpaul …Westbrook. I had every ‘West-’ but the right one. That’s old age. But I think that’s why he left.”

She finds fears about the Warriors ruining basketball to be absurd. Even if they do grab a third straight title, the NBA is about more than just who wins the championship. How will Blake Griffin and Jimmy Butler adjust in their second seasons with new teams, she wonders. Another question Iris has been mulling this offseason: “How come the Sacramento Kings can’t do anything right?”

“College basketball is too slow,” she says. What she likes about the NBA, and especially the Warriors, is the pace. She roots for ball movement, for rebounds above the rim, for scoring of all kinds. “I like to see the action.”

All of those are the good and correct opinions to have! Which makes sense: Iris is no new-jack fan. She began following the NBA in the 1960s, and her favorites include Jerry West and Dr. J. And more recently Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, and Tim Duncan. I appreciate that, unlike some older people, she can cherish memories of the players of the past while also recognizing the greatness of modern players.

I also love that Iris appreciates actually watching games:

The games really are the thing. Iris doesn’t watch SportsCenter, and she doesn’t get a newspaper or own a computer. Sometimes smaller transactions elude her. (She asked me if Seth Curry had landed with a good team.) She learned about LeBron’s signing from the Indianapolis evening news. But she watches more basketball than ever. Part of it is the Warriors. Their style of play encapsulates everything she loves about the sport.

Iris has trouble seeing the score these days, but she’s going in for an eye exam in August, and hopes to improve her viewing experience. As Iris says, “Basketball will be back in October, and I’ll be watching.” I hope to see as much basketball in my life as she has. Cheers to you, Iris!

Source: “My 84-Year-Old Neighbor Has The Only Good NBA Takes”, Craig Fehrman, Deadspin (07/17/2018)

A Fan in Despair

When you love a sports team, and they suck year in, and year out – you start to wonder why you care. “This is so stupid. They suck. Every year they suck. I need to stop caring.” When the Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins, I swore them off – but that was a lie. I almost immediately talked myself into Buddy Hield, the main piece they got back from the Pelicans. And Hield has been…pretty good. Fine. Not bad! When the Kings jumped all the way up to the #2 pick in the draft this year, and then passed on a potential superstar in Luka Doncic, and instead took (another) power forward with red flag in Marvin Bagley, I immediately began talking myself into Bagley into the next Amar’e Stoudemire. Just two games into his first Summer League, it was clear that this comparison was beyond laughable.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

And so it was with great empathy that I read this article by Mallory Rubin, a lifelong Baltimore Orioles fan, written after the Orioles dealt homegrown superstar Manny Machado to the Dodgers. Rubin writes about the years of despair she felt at as an Orioles fan, and the hope (and success!) young Manny brought the team.

All-Star Games don’t matter, but since that draft night in 2010, I’ve longed to see Manny start one at shortstop, smile on his face, cartoon bird on his cap. It felt more important than it was—some sort of confirmation, a declaration that the next great era of Orioles baseball really had arrived. In reality, it marked the end. Manny sauntered down the red carpet, hair slicked back, shades on, chest bare. He looked ready made for Hollywood, like someone who was always just passing through.

It killed me. It feels important to note that there are much more pressing things happening in the world—real problems, real stakes, real distress and pain. I know that it’s all relative, that a sports trade is a dust mite in the fabric of the universe’s misery. I know that to some, I sound ludicrously self-indulgent and out of touch. But I also know that fandom isn’t rational, and that sometimes, it can seem impossible to separate what’s logical from what’s in your heart.

There was joy in Manny’s heart on Tuesday night. He answered trade questions diplomatically, conducting himself calmly and respectfully, displaying the maturation the organization long craved to see. He also slipped into speaking about his time in Baltimore in the past tense, his rumored future in L.A. as a guarantee. He took a selfie with Matt Kemp during the game. Every interview question, every comment on the broadcast, every tweet reeked of trade talk and pennant races, blockbusters and California dreams. I felt robbed of the day I’d waited for, bitter that Manny felt more famous after one day under the Dodgers halo than he ever did in the orange and white. I also felt grateful for everything he’d given me, and so desperately sad that I’d never get it again.

Man. I’ve been there. Sports are great. Sports are terrible. Long live sports. -TOB

Source: It Keeps Getting Harder to Believe in Oriole Magic“, Mallory Rubin, The Ringer (07/18/2018)

Video of the Week

GIF of the Week

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Tweet of the Week

PAL Song of the Week – The Zombies – ‘This Will Be Our Year’

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Negotiations are all about controlling things. About being in the driver’s seat. And make one tiny mistake, you’re dead. I made one tiny mistake. I wore women’s clothes.


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