Week of September 6, 2019

 

Be impressive this weekend.


Has Twitter Killed Hard Knocks?

Boy, that was a boring season of Hard Knocks, huh? I didn’t expect to say that – Gruden! Antonio Brown! Mark Davis and his haircuts! Mayock! Carr! Ok, not Carr. I was never excited about Carr. The impending move to Vegas! It had the makings of a classic season. And yet…it didn’t work.

Mostly it didn’t work because the show focused on Antonio Brown and his many sagas this training camp. First his feet, which suffered from frostbite after improper protection during cryogenic therapy. Then his dispute with the NFL of his desire to continue using the same helmet he’s used since college. Fifteen years ago, this would have probably been a great season. We would have gotten all the behind the scenes chatter on those two topics, and we would have said, “Wow, this is great drama. So interesting to get all the behind the scenes details!”

But, in the instant information, Twitter age…by the time the show aired on Tuesday night, we had already seen all of it. We didn’t need to see what Antonio Brown thought because he had already tweeted it out (and it was covered online and on TV endlessly). We didn’t need to know what Mayock said because his post-practice statement telling Brown he needed to be all-in or all-out was posted on Twitter seconds after it ended and retweeted all over the place, and then on TV all day.

On top of all that, the show suffered because the NFL changed the roster cut rules a couple years back. Teams no longer have to periodically make cuts through camp. Those weekly cuts were the center of the show’s drama in previous seasons: get to know the borderline guys, watch them practice and play, see the coaches discuss their strengths and weaknesses in the coaches’ meetings, find out in dramatic fashion whether the player would survive the cut, and watch in agony as a young man’s dream was killed. God damn, that was great TV.

But that’s all gone now, until the final week, anyways – and then 37 guys got cut in one day and the final episode didn’t have the time to show more than a couple. So I’m concerned that a once great show is effectively finished – they may continue to air it, but it will no longer be great TV. They’ll just continue to show us stories we saw days before and lack any real drama.

But I hold a sliver of hope that the producers simply made a grave error in judgment on storylines. I hope they thought the Brown stories were too good to not address. Which is true – they couldn’t leave it unaddressed. But I think they erred by making it the focus of the show. Hopefully they take stock of what went right and wrong this season and don’t make this mistake again. I just hope they figure out a way around the new roster trimming rules, because a lot has been lost there. -TOB

Source: “‘Hard Knocks’ Season Finale Recap: The Raiders Go Out With a Whimper”, Claire McNear, The Ringer (09/04/2019)

PAL:  Agreed on all fronts, but the unintentional comedy is too good to resist. Jon Gruden is doing a bad impression of Frank Caliendo’s impression of Jon Gruden. At no point does he forget that he’s got a mic and a camera on him. David Carr’s brother/franchise QB tries so hard to be liked, to be seen as a leader, and no one – I mean no one – is buying what he’s selling. The corpse of Brent Musburger saying “knock on wood if you’re with me”. Mike Glennon’s freakish neck. Gruden’s hair. The b-roll of the smelly lake I run around. There are plenty of nuggets. 

I also am struck – every time I watch this show – at how professional most every one of the players is. Most of them are the furthest thing from a diva. They know it’s a grind, and they know who’s on the bubble, and they don’t resent the guys that end up taking their spots. 

It’s completely b.s. they don’t show much of the cut conversations this season, and it’s even worse that neither the G.M. nor Gruden even show up on camera for the cuts. 

The show isn’t good, and neither are the Raiders. But the show is so slick that it’ll make you forget that. Plus, I’m a sucker for montages and Liev Schreiber narration. Sue me. 

TOB: Hah, agreed on that last part. And the Autumn Wind opening each week would get me so pumped.


The Case For Memorabilia from Not A Big Memorabilia Guy

“I don’t want to be anywhere else. Put me on a wall, and bring me some prime rib.” – Former Giants Shortstop Rich Aurilia 

An autograph has never done it for me, and I don’t feel anything when someone shows me a selfie with someone famous. The story behind acquiring the autograph or selfie too often reveals itself to be a one sentence explanation. The memory is missing from a lot of memorabilia. 

The memories are what make The Shed in Nashville, Illinois (you read that right) so legendary amongst San Francisco Giants fans. It belongs to Kirk Reuter, the beloved Giants lefty from 1996-2005. Nicknamed “Woody” for what are now pretty obvious reasons, he was the loveable thumber that always seemed to be on the mound when the Giants played well (despite an ERA well over 4), with the team tallying a record of 165-113 in games Rueter started. As writer Grant Brisbee points out, some reasons for such a favorable record include a few excellent players on the roster during that time (“Barry Bonds. And Jeff Kent. And Rich Aurilia. And Barry Bonds. It also has a lot to do with Barry Bonds.”) 

Not only did the team win when Woody was on the mound, but he pitched for a team that finally got out from under the threat moving out of San Francisco. The Giants moved from one of the worst ballparks (Candlestick) to what is undoubtedly one of the best (Oracle Park). Talk of the team leaving San Francisco was replaced with talk of a winning ball club. 

Woody felt (and looked) like the regular guy on a team of cartoon athletes. So of course it would be him that formed a fast friendship with the clubhouse manager, Mike Murphy . Of course he wouldn’t shy away from asking for autographs from opposing players. Of course Woody would ask Willie friggin’ Mays for the shirt off his back and the shoes off his feet.

“Now that was a good story, too, Estes. Did I ever tell you that? When I took that from Willie?”

The earnestness and absurdity of the sentence breaks up the room. Ah, yes, who among us doesn’t have a story of taking a shirt and boots from Willie Mays?

“He threw out a first pitch. He comes in … he has a silk shirt, a sport coat … and his boots, these zippered-up boots,” Rueter said. “I’m sitting in Murph’s (Mike Murphy, clubhouse manager) office, looking at him and the ‘Say Hey’ on his shirt, and I said, ‘Hey, that’d look good in The Shed.’”

He says that last part with an affected tone, comically devious and cunning, like a charming cat burglar. More laughs around the room.

“He starts unbuttoning, and I go, ‘Heck, you gotta sign it!’ So he signs it, and I’m still looking at him. Then I’m like, ‘Well, crap, those boots … those would look good in The Shed …’”

More laughter, this time with Rueter joining in. He already knew how ridiculous this was, but it’s all coming back to him as he tells the story again.

“So then he walks out, and he’s walking out of our clubhouse. Murph gave him a pair of shower shoes, and then all he has on is a little tank top. That’s all he’s got as he’s walking out of the clubhouse to go to his car, and everybody is like, ‘You just made the best player ever go out of the clubhouse in shower shoes and a tank top!’”

Rueter’s laughter this time is full-body, again, and punctuated with clapping hands. If he were telling a story about taking my dog’s medicine and throwing it in the ocean, it still would have been impossible not to laugh along.

Now that’s some memorabilia with a memory. This is just one of the anecdotes from Brisbee’s story. There are plenty more, which got me thinkin…

My dad has a small collection of autographed baseballs. There are some respectable Hall of Fame guys ones up there on the corner bookshelf: Willie Mays, Harmon Killebrew, Carl Hubbel, and I think he’s got a team ball from 1987 World Series Twins. But there are two signed baseballs he talks about more than any other: Dave Winfield and Bob Feller. I’ll tell you about the Feller story later if you want to hear it. 

Dave Winfield is the greatest athlete to come out of the state of Minnesota. Forget Mauer. Don’t come at me with Kevin McHale or Bronco Nagurski, or even Phil Housely. Winfield is the answer. He was drafted in basketball, baseball, and football (despite never having played college football) – and considered by at least one publication third greatest athlete ever. Debate over. 

So Winfield’s brother, Steve, had a batting cage down on Rice Street, maybe two miles from home. One day, the word around the cage is Winfield, Dave, was going to be at the cage. My memory gets hazy, about how I got home, but I got home quickly and tore through the garage for a baseball. My dad had all the equipment for the little league teams at our house, including each team’s allotment of game balls for the year. It was clear that I was not supposed to tear into any new baseballs – that those were for each of the teams. So instead of bring one of the literally dozens of clean, new baseballs for the future Hall of Famer to sign, instead getting a new baseball at sporting goods store that was on the same street as the batting cage, I found the cleanest, somewhat tattered ball lying around the garage and had Winfield sign it. Later that night, my dad’s dismay was punctuated by booming laughter when I showed the ball I got him for the bookshelf. 

To this day, it remains one of my dad’s favorite stories to tell. Just cracks him up every damn time. 

And that’s what Brisbee is getting at, or at the least the part of his story that spoke to me. That same thing is what makes The Shed most meaningful.  

The Shed exists in its exact permutation because that’s how Rueter navigated his life, with events that both were and weren’t in his control. And that exact permutation happens to help describe why Oracle Park exists and how the Giants could sell it out season after season.

The stories are better than the memorabilia. Let’s say Gale Sayers signed a baseball that ended up in a plastic cube that was displayed at a restaurant. Here’s what that ball would mean to you: Gale Sayers, Hall of Fame running back, at some point in his life, held a baseball and, with his free hand, moved a pen around the ball in a distinctive motion. That’s it. Gale Sayers touched a baseball with a pen.

When it’s in The Shed, it becomes that time Gale Sayers came through town to see Dusty Baker, with an anecdote behind that. Guys like that were always stopping by the clubhouse to see Bake, and Murph would give Rueter a heads up. “Hey, Woody, such and such is coming tomorrow, so make sure you have a football or a basketball,” and this leads into another anecdote.

The Shed is a collection of this. This happened. And it was awesome. It’s an appreciation of just how strange this world is, and it’s curated by an 18th-round pick out of Murray State who couldn’t throw harder than 86 mph, fully aware of how unlikely and fortunate he is. This isn’t something that any ol’ player could collect and show off with the same zeal. It had to be someone who could appreciate it all the proper amount.

I’ve said it quite a few times, but I’ll say it again: that’s the good stuff. Brisbee does a great job capturing the spirit of the game and highlighting why an average pitcher can become a fan favorite. – PAL 

Source: Inside The Shed: Kirk Rueter’s tribute to Giants history has become an indelible part of the lore”, Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (09/04/19)


Football Is Chess, And That’s Why I Keep Coming Back

Almost every story I’ve written about football over the 5+ years we’ve been doing this has been negative. I’ve ripped the NFL for the Ray Rice story, concussions, treating players like children, the blackball on Kaepernick, and on and on. I’ve ripped the NCAA for not paying players while coaches and administrators make millions. 

If you didn’t know me you’d be surprised, then, that I like football. Sorta. Well, I hate almost everything surrounding football, but I really enjoy the game. It’s a nasty compromise I have to make with myself: I know how poorly football treats its players, but I can’t help the fact that I like the game. Call me morally soft if you must. But damnit the game is great. This video is a perfect example of what I love about football – former QB Dan Orlovsky breaks down the Oklahoma offense, and how they scheme to beat a defense.

It’s great! I hate myself for liking it, but it’s great. Sigh. -TOB

PAL: That much choreography with that many guys in concert…hell yeah the creativity and strategy makes for a great TV sport. Couple that with the athleticism, and the orchestra that is football is almost as great as it is scary.


Video of the Week: 


Tweet of the Week: 


PAL Song of the Week: Ali De Meola – “Mediterranean Sundance”


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I made my money the old fashioned way. I got run over by a Lexus. 

-Jean Ralphio

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Week of June 28, 2019

Sorry we missed you last week, we were too busy boppin’ at the College World Series in Omaha. But we hope you enjoyed TOB’s story on our trip to the U.S. Open. Now, get out there and enjoy the summer. 


The Generalist from Lakefield, MN

I’m back in Minnesota this week. Every year prior, I’d be back home helping my dad get everything ready for our Fourth of July trip up to the lake, but this year – in many ways – is different. For one, the family is not heading up to the lake but over to Keller Golf Course just off of Highway 61 to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. In a month from now, my big family will all head out west to San Francisco for my wedding. And third, my friend is an NBA Champion who gets a Patrick Reusse column written about her in the friggin’ Star Tribune!  

(For Bay Area folks, this would be like Ray Ratto writing a column about your college buddy) 

I’m filling up my Honey Bunches of Oats, about to enjoy the simple pleasures of a cup of coffee, a bowl of cereal, and the sports page on a quiet morning. Reusse’s column is off to the side of the main sports story of the day about the guy who looks after the dirt at the horse track. The headline is non-specific -“Quiet, confident and top of her game” – but I see that Resch name right in the first sentence: “A conversation with Jim Resch quickly revealed the strength of his roots in southwest Minnesota.” 

I know a Jim Resch from southwest Minnesota. Hell, Natalie and I were having a beer with Teresa’s dad, Jim, not a month ago at the bar Local Edition just off of Market Street in San Francisco. That’s because Teresa, my college roommate, invited Natalie and me to party after an NBA finals game between the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors. Teresa is the vice president for basketball operations and player development for the Raptors. We all know how the Finals went for Toronto. Now, T-Resch as I know her, is getting her due in her home state with big column in the sports page. 

The column is vintage Reusse. It charts Resch’s path to her role as a NBA executive, and how she truly is a pioneer for women in a professional sports league. Teresa’s path started in Lakefield, playing basketball, starring on a state championship volleyball team, and earlier in life winning a champions trophy when she showed Spartinia, the ewe lamb, at the Minnesota State Fair in 1994. 

It talks about her time at Augie, where we met, and where Teresa became an All Conference volleyball player in the NCC, the now defunct North Central Conference. I’ll never forget when that team her freshman year made it to the national championship match that was being played at Augie. We were sure they were going to win. The Elman was packed, and then we saw the Hawaii Pacific team come onto the court. They were all huge, adult women from Hawaii and South America. We didn’t need to see more than a couple points to know how the season would end for Teresa and her teammates. 

Reusse then details how Teresa took an internship at the NCC office, where she was given from the league commissioner: “There’s plenty of opportunities arriving for women in sports organizations. If you want that, go to grad school and get an MBA with a sports connection.”

So Teresa did what she always done – she worked her ass off and wasn’t afraid to take a chance on something new somewhere new. She earned an MBA in St. Thomas, Florida, took a bunch of unpaid internships and was eventually hired to work in the NBA League office. Teresa’s ascent to her current role isn’t as straight of a line as you might think from there, but now you can see how she got where she is today. 

So I’m reading this column about my friend (who better be coming to my wedding – RSVP, TResch!), and of course I’m pretty damn proud, but I am also surprised to learn something from my friend…through a quote of hers in the paper. 

The job has evolved in six years. It’s tricky even to describe it. There’s a new book called Range, and it’s about generalists – people who do more than one thing, several things, for a business, for an organization. I’m one of those. My job is to try to ensure that everybody that touches the Toronto Raptors can compete in a championship organization.

Such a surreal moment that I will never forget. And I will never forget how hard she worked for this success. 

I texted T as I was reading the story. Her response: “Big question is did the photo of Spartinia make it?!”

  1. Teresa or someone in her family sent Patrick Reusse a photo of a lamb for this story, and that is so excellent.
  2. Of course that would be T’s first question.

No, the photo of Spartinia didn’t make it, Teresa. They went with this one instead:

You’re living good when you get to watch your friends and family accomplish great things. With my parents 50th and Teresa’s story in the local paper, I’m living really good these days. – PAL

Source: Quiet, Confident and Top of Her Game”, Patrick Reusse, StarTribune (06/27/19)


How to Manage a No-No

This is really cool. Giants manager and soon-to-be Hall of Famer is retiring after this season. Bochy has had a hell of a career, including 3 World Series wins and a fourth World Series appearance. He’s also managed a bunch of no-hitters, and one perfect game. In this article, Boch reflects on those games, and the near-misses. You won’t be surprised to learn that Bochy manages differently if a no-hitter is in play. 

There is no way to account for a bad hop or a bloop, but time and again, Bochy has tried to increase the pitcher’s odds, even if it’s just an incremental gain. Bochy’s plan in those games is pretty simple. If the game is close, as it was with Peavy in New York, he might try to squeeze an extra at-bat out of his best hitters. But most of the historic games for Bochy’s Giants have not been close through the middle innings, and he repeatedly has looked for an edge.

“Ultimately you’re there to win the game, but you’re also there to help the pitcher if he’s got a legitimate chance to pitch a no-hitter,” Bochy said. “That’s kind of what you prepare for as you look down your bench. You ask, ‘What is my best defense?’ “

His biggest regret, though, was a change he didn’t make, in a game where Jake Peavy took a perfect game into the 7th inning:

Peavy was perfect through six, but Mets starter Jacob deGrom hadn’t allowed a hit, either. When left fielder Michael Morse grounded out to end the top of the seventh, Bochy thought about putting in Gregor Blanco to shore up the outfield defense for Peavy’s run at history. Instead, Bochy decided to try for one more inning out of his powerful No. 5 hitter.

Daniel Murphy came up in the bottom of the inning and lined a ball to left. Morse initially broke in and to his right before going back on the ball, and by the time he tried to reach his glove up, it was too late. Murphy cruised into second with a double.

“I couldn’t believe I didn’t do it,” Bochy said. “I thought about it, and sure enough, the ball was hit there, and the baseball gods punished me. That’s what I’m always conscious of, to help the pitcher out. I gambled there, and it got me.”

Bochy has gone to great lengths to not unnerve a pitcher. During Matt Cain’s perfect game in 2012, he wanted to get a reliever loose, just in case. But he didn’t want Cain to see him warming up in those on-field bullpens, so he had Shane Loux warmup in the batting cage behind the dugout instead. When Cain got to two outs in the 9th, Loux threw down his glove and ran to the dugout to prepare for the celebration.

This was just a really good article, interviewing a master of his craft. Enjoy! -TOB

Source: How Bruce Bochy’s Managerial Genius Manifested in Giants’ No-Hitter Bids”, Alex Pavlovic, NBC Sports (06/13/2019)

PAL: It’s great to hear a manager prioritize the opportunity of a guy doing one of the coolest things – throw a no-hitter in a big league game – over pitch count or even a reliever getting ready in the bullpen. It also reminds my how asinine it was for the Dodger to remove a pitcher from a regular season game when he had a no-no going. Unforgivable.


Baseball’s On The Clock

The current collective bargaining agreement between players and owners in MLB runs through 2021, but talks are already beginning. The New York Times’ Tyler Kepner summarizes the urgency centers on the union’s belief that “[Y]ounger players are rarely paid what they are worth, while veterans are now in much less demand, leading to lower salaries for what were once their prime earning years.”  M.L.B., while making no promise to a change prior to the current C.B.A. expiring, is willing to sit and listen. 

I think there’s a whole lot more at stake leading into 2021, and I think the players and the league know it. I think baseball, by far my favorite sport, is in trouble. 

We’ve conceded it’s a local sport years ago, but I bet the viewing numbers locally are fading. We focus on the money regional sports networks generate for MLB teams (either through contracts or ownership), but I’m curious how many people are actually watching regular season games consistently. Here’s a story from FanGraphs from last year that does a deep dive around attendance, viewing, and growth. 

Home runs are boring. Big Mac and Sammy may have brought baseball back with the long ball in ‘98, and it was cool for the first 10 years I watched Baseball Tonight, but it takes something truly special for a home run to get me going. Home runs are up over 17% year-over-year, and MLB is on pace to break the single-season record for home runs by over 450 home runs. Strikeouts are up. Walks are up. Home runs, strikeouts, walks – they get pitchers and hitters paid, and they are so boring to watch. Dan Patrick nailed it earlier this week – there’s no movement in baseball because of the adoption of the three true outcomes. I have no doubt the math proves this to be the best approach over a long season, but I don’t care about watching the pursuit of these outcomes for 3-4 hours, much less all season long. I don’t know what the solution is, but I sure love to watch an organization try to combat this trend with crazy speed, defense, and something crazy like a bullpen full of ambidextrous pitchers. 

Contracts are too long. Mike Trout might be the best player in my lifetime, and I’ve watched the Angels center fielder play less that 10 times in his 7+ years. The Angels are medium at best, again, and again this dude’s going to win an MVP in obscurity. He’s very likely staying in Anaheim for the next 12 years, earning over $35MM a year until 2031. I would do the same, of course, but Trout on a .500 team on the West Coast sucks for everyone but Angels fans. 

Look at the NBA right now. Player movement sparks interest on a national level. Baseball should cap contract lengths at 5 years, and young players should be eligible for free agency 4 years after they are drafted (assuming they sign). This will both allow for players to move from team to team, and prevent teams from holding young, exciting players in the minors to hold off free agency for another year. 

So it’s good MLB and the union are starting chats now. They have time, they have a lot to figure out, and I hope they think outside the box for the long-term health of the game. We’ll need a lot more than two roided out ball players hitting home runs to bring the fans back if there’s a work stoppage in 2021. – PAL

Source: M.L.B. and Players’ Union Set to Begin Early Labor Talks”, Tyler Kepner, The New York Times (6/17/19)

TOB: I’m less concerned about the home run/strikeout stuff – the game is constantly changing, and it’s clear they have changed the ball, once again, to further increase home run rate. The balls are slightly larger, the seams are lower, the leather is smoother, and the ball is rounder. It amazes me when a successful organization cannot help but tinker. It reminds me of when the NBA tried to introduce a new ball, and the players nearly revolted. 

But I am concerned about the contract stuff. The system is so screwed up right now. Minor leaguers should be paid a living wage, and as Phil said, you shouldn’t have to wait seven years after you hit the bigs to hit free agency – especially for any player who went to college, your best days are behind you by the time you get there. And, as Phil notes, teams have gotten smarter and don’t want to pay the aging vets for past performance. So what’s the solution?

One idea I like is giving everyone a mid-level base salary, and then using a stat like WAR to pay players large bonuses after the year. I’m sure the vets would balk – but if you produce, you get paid. If you don’t, you still get paid, but you’re not getting $30M to hit .220. Ahem, Bryce.


The NBA Toys With Major Schedule Change, But Will Fans Pay the Price?

It was reported this week that the NBA is considering major changes to its schedule, which has been 82-games since the beginnings of the league. Any changes would not take place until the 2022-23 season, but the changes are radical, as far as sports leagues, which change at a glacial pace, go. The discussion reportedly included reducing as few as a handful of games, up to a reduction down to 58 games, where each team hosts every other team once. 

The proposed reductions could allow the NBA to include some proposed tournaments. One such proposal a mid-season cup tournament (styled after European tournaments like the FA Cup, an English soccer tournament among not just the Premiere League teams, but all teams down to division 10). Another proposal is a postseason play-in tournament, where teams the bottom teams in each league play a single-elimination tournament for the last 1-2 playoff spots, but also retain the opportunity to remain in the lottery, even if they win. I’m not sure I get the point of the midseason cup, unless we allow the G-League or perhaps even professional club teams from Europe to compete. But fans clamoring for this are going to pay the price.

I think it’s clear the season is too long. It’s so long, and a reduction is player friendly. But a season reduction is not fan-friendly. I realize that the Warriors ticket prices are the highest in the league. But they are simply not affordable. It costs $100 just to get in the door, and that was at Oracle. It will get even worse next year when they move to their new arena. So what do you think will happen when they reduce the availability of their product? It’s simple economics. The prices will go up. I imagine teams will universally raise season ticket prices, and that, plus product scarcity, will cause the secondary market to soar. Fans all across the country will get priced out. And that sucks. 

But that’s not the only way fans will pay. As someone who cares about NBA history, I am concerned with how this will completely change the record books. No one will ever touch Kareem’s (or LeBron’s if he gets there) career scoring record. No one will come close to 73 wins. No one will come close to Curry’s career 3-pointers made record. We will have to start a new record book, and I think we will lose a lot of the league’s history when that happens. 

I am not generally a person who thinks we should do something the same way because that’s the way we’ve always done it. And I think these new ideas are fun. But I do hope the NBA thinks of all the ways this will affect the fan… hahaha. Hahahaha. Sorry. What the hell was I thinking? Of course they won’t. -TOB

Source: Sources: NBA Talks Fewer Games, In-Season Event”, Kevin Arnowitz, ESPN (06/26/2019)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week: 


PAL Song of the Week: Looking Glass – “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)


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I am glad that today spurred social change. That’s part of my job as regional manager.

– Michael Scott

Week of June 14, 2019

That red sleeve on the left is my college buddy, Teresa Resch. She’s the V.P. of Operations for the Raptors. She’s a champ, on the stage with the team. Done good, T!


Thank You, Gabriele Grunewald

I had not heard of Gabriele Grunewald until news of her death at the age of 32 made it to the national websites, but that’s not a good enough reason to keep this story to myself. To our Minnesota readers, let us know if Grunewald, a MN native and University of Minnesota graduate, has been a big topic recently.

For the rest of you, I just want to share with you her story so you can take the time to appreciate this incredible woman. Her drive, her dignity, and what looks like such a beautiful friendship and bond with her husband. You can read a more complete summary of her life here, but for those who don’t click through:

Grunefield walked onto the track team at the University of Minnesota and turned herself into one of the nation’s best at the 1500 meter distance. The day before a race during her senior year, she was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a cancer of the salivary glands. The next year, after surgery and radiation, Grunefield came back and kicked ass, finishing second in the nation in the 1500.

She signed a deal with Brooks and became a professional. Cancer came back in 2010. She kicked ass again. “It’s like I lost all excuses for not pushing myself to reach my fullest potential,” she said. In 2012, she fell one place short of qualifying for the Olympics, but put up a personal best time shortly thereafter. In 2014 she became an American Champion at the 3,000 meters. In 2016, she made it to the Olympic Trials final, despite the cancer coming back. Along the way, she and her husband, Justin, shared their story, inspired a hell of a lot of people, and raised a bunch of money.

“It’s important to me to step on the starting line even if I’m not kicking everyone’s ass. I’m doing my best, and that’s what my story’s about.”

I say we all owe it to ourselves and Gabriele Grunewald to give it our best today. – PAL

Source: Gabriele Grunewald, Who Defied Cancer By Racing At The Highest Level, Dies At 32”, Patrick Redford, Deadspin (06/13/19)


Raptors Win. Klay Goes Down. What Just Happened?

I’m not exactly a Warriors fan, but I am a fan of the Curry-era Warriors. They play a brand of basketball that is so exciting, and they make the sport more fun. There’s nothing better than a Curry hot streak – when every time he releases it you know it’s about to drop perfectly through the net. So it’s taken me about 24 hours to digest their NBA Finals loss to the Toronto Raptors.

A lot of people say, “Not to take anything away from the Raptors, but…” I’m not going to say that, because I do have to say that this is not a strong NBA Champ. I think we’ll look back at this Raptors team and scratch our heads. It took injuries to one of the top 2 or 3 players in the NBA and a top 10-15 player in the NBA, and the Raptors still struggled to put the Warriors away, with Curry missing a three that could have forced Game 7. Nothing about this Raptors team is particularly exciting to watch, and the series should not have been close without Durant, and with Klay hobbled early (and out late).

But they won, and that’s that.

I’m more intrigued about what happens now. Because the Warriors didn’t just lose – they were decimated by injury, heading into an offseason where most expected Durant to leave. Now, with the achilles tear, does KD stay? Are teams really going to give him a supermax – he’ll be 31 next season and it might be two full seasons before he’s 100% healthy? Or does KD’s injury cause him to reevaluate his situation and elect to take the extra $60M or so the Warriors can offer him over other teams? Or does he punt his decision for a year by not opting out and becoming a free agent next year? And if he does sign elsewhere, how does that affect other free agent decisions, knowing they’d be going somewhere (New York, Brooklyn, the Clippers) without KD for Year 1 of a 4-year plan? Does it affect Kyrie Irving? Kawhi? And what about a possible Anthony Davis trade?

And What about Klay? I think the Warriors give him the max, and I think he takes it. But where does his ACL tear leave the Warriors next year? They cannot sign any free agents of note to help them – whether they re-sign Durant or lose him – so what does that roster look like next year? The team was already aging, and now they essentially have to punt next season, in terms of being a true contender. Or do they have enough to make the playoffs next year, and then bring Klay back just before the playoffs? And even KD if he stays? Are they still a contender?

So while I think this Raptors team is kind of a blah champ, this Finals will still be unforgettable. It may be the end of one of the top dynasties in NBA history. Plus, in the span of less than two games, the course of the NBA future completely changed. Wild.

Also I want to give a special shoutout to Klay Thompson, who really tried to finish the game with a torn ACL, and even came back from the tunnel to drain his two free throws when he realized that if he did not shoot the free throws himself, he could not return to the game at all.

What a nail. -TOB


How Is This Legal?

Florida State University’s athletic department is going private. What does this mean? Iliana Limón Romero of the Orlando Sentinel summarizes it as follows:

The switch will also give FSU athletics all the privileges of a private corporation, including declining any public-records requests while still preserving its sovereign immunity. The immunity clause for state agencies caps any jury judgments or settlements reached by the athletics department at $200,000. Any further settlements would have to be approved by the state Legislature to avoid undue burden on taxpayers, a privilege not enjoyed by traditional corporations.

The idea that a state-funded institution could decline public-records requests is insane. At the risk of oversimplifying the purpose of public-records requests, it seems obvious Florida taxpayers, as well as out-of-state students, parents paying tuition, and alumni deserve to know what’s going on at the university, including the athletic department.

As Deadspin’s Lauren Theisen points out, the athletic department at FSU needs more public scrutiny, not less (the same could be said for just about every big-time college athletic department). In the last five years, there have been multiple accusations of domestic abuse (former QB Deondre Francios), sexual battery (former QB Jameis Winston, who, in a separate incident, was later suspended by the NFL for groping an Uber driver), and animal abuse. In the Winston example, FSU settled with his accuser for $950K to drop the Title IX lawsuit. Info I think taxpayers, FSU students, FSU parents, and alumni have the right to know.

In Theisen’s words:

Florida State gets these new privileges without one big drawback that usually goes with them—the athletic department still will be subject to an immunity clause that limits any jury judgments or settlements to just $200,000. Anything higher would have to be approved by the state legislature, because it’d be paid by the taxpayers. Obviously, that’s not a perk a private corporation normally enjoys.

That minuscule limit came into play earlier this decade, to the benefit of UCF’s athletic association, after Ereck Plancher collapsed and died during a football practice in 2008. In 2011, a jury awarded Plancher’s family $10 million, but after the organization appealed all the way to the Florida Supreme Court, they didn’t have to pay more than $200,000.

Under this arrangement, not only would Florida State’s athletic leadership not have to be transparent in the event of a scandal or tragedy—similar to the way Maryland was held accountable after the death of Jordan McNair—but there also would be an artificial cap on the judicial consequences for their actions.

FSU isn’t the first school to privatize its athletic department. University of Florida has operated this way for years, as has the University of Central Florida. This is calculated and sinister. – PAL

Source: FSU announces plans to privatize its athletics department”, Iliana Limón Romero, Orlando Sentinel (06/08/19); Florida State Is Privatizing Its Athletic Department To Shield Itself From Scrutiny”, Lauren Theisen, Deadspin (06/10/19)

TOB: The short answer is it’s legal because the legislature, which undoubtedly has graduates/fans of the Florida and Florida State football teams crafted sweetheart legislation that harms the people of Florida but makes the Gators and ‘Noles better able to field competitive football teams. Which is some real bullshit.


This ‘Content’ Wasn’t Made For You

I am not sure you’ll find this story as interesting as I did, but it touched on a subject that, as someone who works on creative for an ad-supported platform, I find myself debating on a nearly daily basis: what is an advertisement?

Considering you’re reading this on an incredibly obscure website, we are alike. We love sports. We love watching games, we love reading great sportswriting, and we spend our commutes listening to sports podcasts or sports talk radio. We love just about all sports content. We are the reason all of this content exists, right?.

Not always.

In Tom Ley’s words:

When editorial products and advertisements become more “naturally integrated,” it becomes harder to determine just in whose service the work is being created. It muddles the nature of the thing you’re reading, very much by design.

Instead of seeing a media company create something that it thinks its readers will enjoy and then presenting that thing to those readers alongside unaffiliated ads, we’re seeing one create something that’s meant to satisfy its advertising partner first and its readers second, if at all.

Which brings us back to that image at the top here. Notice the stat category. Check out the assist column. See the State Farm logo? You might think, No biggie. Maybe you’re right.

So how about the video?

 

Is that an ad? As Ley points out, this “what-if” scenario is exactly the type of thing that Simmons has been doing for years, but would Simmons have done this segment if State Farm wasn’t paying for it? Again, maybe you think, Who cares? What’s wrong with that?

In that indifference a war is being fought and billions of dollars are being spent. Content people and ad people jockey over inches, pixels, and social influencers. Sellers trying to hit their numbers raise their voice to creative directors and legal to have a brand mentioned just one more time. Endless email threads with multi-colored, inline responses about hashtags, logo placement, and so many other seemingly pointless things fill the inbox. Slack channels churn with sidebars to the sidebar. I know, because I’m on the threads, the slack channels, the endless regroup meetings.

While standard advertising remains a powerhouse, the new horizon of advertising is where content and ads are indistinguishable from each other.

Like him or not, Bill Simmons has a major influence on what sports stories are told and how a lot of people get their sports content. As the CEO of a content company, he finds himself straddling the line between revenue and content. In this seemingly innocuous story/ad, he’s is selling off his most valuable asset to an advertiser: they way he thinks about and talks about sports. In this instance, he’s not thinking about creative sports content on our behalf. Those ideas were for State Farm.   

To be clear, this is happening everywhere. Sponsored content takes place on Facebook, IG, Twitter, YouTube. It’s pitched every day at Pandora and Spotify. It happens on news sites, too. Digital advertising is keeping the lights on for every sports and news website and every podcast network. Any tiered service (free option with ads, subscription option with no ads) out there exists because of ad revenue. Outside of subscription-only services (Netflix, The Athletic), ad revenue is the business model.

It’s a catch-22: for every State Farm sponsored “what-if” video that a sports and pop culture website spends time on, might there be an important story that lacks the resources or attention to be reported? On the flip, very few sports websites would exist without the likes of State Farm, and therefore even less stories would be told.

Of course I don’t mind Bill Simmons doing an ad for State Farm, but I do have a problem when that ad is presented as content.

Ley thinks it’s about how the ads are presented in the context of content.

An advertisement should feel somewhat intrusive, if for no other reason than to remind the reader that the ad has no meaningful relationship to the work it is appearing next to, and also that said work was created for the sake of the reader alone.

I don’t know if I agree with Ley’s solution – it minimizes the notion that advertising can be compelling, artistic, and inspiring while selling you something. It also has to be said that Ley is writing this story on Deadspin, a direct competitor with The Ringer.

All that said, I hope State Farm paid The Ringer a boatload of cash for this, and I hope they use some of the money to pay for some really great content that’s made for me and not State Farm. Maybe they will, and maybe they won’t, but I do know this stupid little assist logo and YouTube sponsored segment cheapens something that I care about. Even if just a little, it lessens my thought of The Ringer, and maybe I don’t visit as often this month as I did last month. – PAL

Source:Naturally Integrate Me Into A Hole, Please”, Tom Ley, Deadspin (06/13/19)

TOB: It’s gross, especially because the What-If segment is dumb. What a boring topic: “Let’s go back in time 5 years and choose a random injury and wonder what happens to the NBA.” And this was produced during a very compelling playoff season! And the discussion was bad! Also, if anyone wants to pay me money to work their brand into 1-2-3 Sports! content, please e-mail me at 123sportslist@gmail.com.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: Rhye – “Open”


 

Week of June 7, 2019

 

Fin.


11 Miles

Perhaps better than any story in recent memory, this Michael Weinreb feature pins down the complicated and uneasy feelings that comes with living in San Francisco and Oakland these days. This is a story about the Golden State Warriors moving eleven miles, and just how much weight is in those eleven miles. It’s a hell of a read about the “gilded age of tech gentrification.”

As billions in tech money swirls up from Silicon Valley – up into San Francisco, and over the Bay Bridge to Oakland – the area now, undeniably caters to uber-rich. It’s a beautiful place to live, as I have for almost fifteen years, but I am not a millionaire. I wonder how the hell we’re going to afford and enjoy a life here. And that’s coming from the guy who works for a tech company that’s helped usher in this era!

I urge everyone to click-through and read the entire story, but this paragraph sums up the broader stakes:

The longer this boom goes on, the more it seems as if the old, weird Bay Area—the region that shaped contrarians and activists like Allen Jones, and long supported ragtag franchises like the Warriors—might not be coming back. And if San Francisco is going to stay this way, and the Warriors are going to stay this way, maybe you can make the case, as team president Rick Welts essentially has, that the Warriors have become too big for Oakland; they’ve been such a sweeping success that they’re now built more for The City than The Town. The Chase Center, Welts told Forbes, is meant to rival the Staples Center and Madison Square Garden. The unspoken context is that the Chase Center is meant to further elevate San Francisco into a city like Los Angeles or New York. Maybe that’s the right play for a region that is now the center of the tech world, but it also feels like a reflection of yet another power city that’s in danger of hollowing out its old spirit.

I find more than a coincidence that I’m writing this summary from a hotel in Brooklyn looking over to Manhattan. – PAL

Source: Eleven Miles, but a World Away: The Warriors Make Their Last Stand in Oakland”, Michael Weinreb, The Ringer (06/05/19)

TOB: Let me start by noting that I live in San Francisco.

When the Warriors first announced they were moving to SF, I was very lukewarmly against it. I didn’t really see the point, other than the owners making money. Oracle is not a palace but it’s a nice place to watch a basketball game.

Plus, it’s going to make it impossible for me to attend a game. Oracle is easy enough to get to, when I want to see a game. Yes, Chase Center will be easier, but the move will likely render me unable to attend a game for a few years. The prices at Oracle are already outrageous because the team is so good. It’s hard to get in the building for a mid-week regular season game against a non-marquee opponent for under $100 per ticket. Good luck finding lower level for under $175. And ticket prices are about to get stupid. So I trade some travel time for the fact I won’t be able to afford to go. Not exactly thrilling news.

But it was hard to get bent out of shape over such a short move. What I find curious about all the noise now, though, is that l was not the only one lukewarmly against it. As Weinreb notes, “Civic opposition over the move never reached a fever pitch.”

In the article, Weinreb talks to Sam Fleischer, a Warriors fan studying sports history in grad school (wait, how do I do that, too?):

“There’s an urban dynamic to basketball, in a socioeconomic sense, that built up through the second half of the 20th century. Oakland’s just like that. It connected a sport to a community that didn’t have a lot of disposable income. Basketball was ubiquitous in that regard.”

But if we’re being honest, the move doesn’t change a lot. As I noted at the outset, the cost of attending a Warriors game is sky high right now. As Weinreb discusses, many longtime fans were priced out years ago. The move to SF changes a lot less than what has happened over the last decade. Look at this photo from Game 4 of the Finals, which very well might be the last game ever played at Oracle:

The fans who can attend games now are not diehard fans. So, why am I now reading think pieces on what it all means? I don’t buy the “being ripped from the city that supported them through good and bad” narrative. First, I do feel for the Warriors fans in the article who feel like they’re losing their team. But Warrior fans come from all over the Bay Area, and always have. Second, San Francisco lost the Warriors to Oakland long before it was the other way around. I wonder what the reaction was then: my guess is a collective shrug of the shoulders.

Because I think a lot of the (still relatively mild) uproar over this stems from the Take Culture we are in. Everyone has to have a take on everything. The Warriors building a new arena and moving 11 miles has to be symbolic of some greater narrative about the differences between the two cities. It has to be about Class War. It has to have a Winner and a Loser. It has to be good or bad. It can’t just be.


The Funniest Article I’ve Read In a While

The sign of a great writer is when they can hold your attention on a subject you are not all that interested in. Such is the case here, with this article by Rave Sashayed on Phil Kessel’s free agency. I don’t watch enough hockey to really understand who Phil Kessel is, but I do have a general understanding that he’s not well liked. But Sahayed’s article had me LOLing throughout. Here’s my favorite passage:

Anyway, guess who’s the epicenter of this year’s drama? Yes, it’s hockey’s cranky but lovable uncle, Phil Kessel, and he is not going to no gadt-damn Minnesota, gaddammit. The no-trade clause in Phil’s contract reportedly has a list of eight teams the Penguins can send him to without prior consent, and Minnesota’s not one of them. So he was able to quash a potential deal that was on the table last week, per Josh Yohe at the Athletic:

…[N]umerous sources confirmed that Kessel is unsure if he wants to play in Minnesota. He did research on Minnesota and the Wild during the past week, the sources said.

First of all, this is a hilarious sentence. The thought of Phil Kessel painstakingly googling “minnesoda where” and “minnesota weather sucks ass yes or no” and “minnesota montana same?” is absolutely thrilling to me.

And don’t bother adjusting your little nerd glasses and going, “Umm excuse me, Phil Kessel spent a college season in Minnesota and his superstar Olympic champion sister went there, he definitely knows where it is.” I sincerely don’t care. I am picturing a late-’90s model desktop IBM, the kind that runs Encarta, and Phil Kessel is hunched over this computer with his glasses on laboriously typing “google minesota best value bulk mesquite smoking chips delivery,” and then he accidentally steps on the surge protector and the computer powers down and he roars “GADDAMMIT AMANDA, WHY IN THE HELL DID YOU BUY ME THIS GAHD-DAMN MACHINE!” No one can stop me from imagining this and having a wonderful time.

Read the whole thing. -TOB

Source: Can’t Everyone Just Stop Hollering At Phil Kessel While He’s Tryin’ To Watch The Teevee?“, Rave Sashayed, Deadspin


Video of the Week:


Tweet of the Week:


PAL’s Song of the Week: Fleetwood Mac – “Hold Me”


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Excellent…wait. Immodium or Ex-Lax?

-Michael Scott

Week of May 24, 2019

Come on back to where you belong, Philly.


1-2-3-4-5-6-8

It is always a good sign when a story includes a video link to local news coverage. Let’s just start right there. This one comes from Iowa’s state high school track meet. The 3200 meter distance race is eight laps, with a bell rung after the seventh lap reminding the racers that they are on the final lap. One problem: the lady holding the bell lost count of the laps in the finals and rung the bell a lap too soon.

In a race that distance, competitors are holding back just enough to decide when to kick. Getting the wrong lap count threw everything in the trash compactor, with runners starting their kick too soon and stopping after the seventh lap. Joe Anderson was counting his laps, sniffed out what was happening, and kept running after the seventh lap.

The race officials were in a pickle. Did Will Roder, the leader after seven laps win the race, or did Anderson? Who do you think won? It’s important, because twenty years from now both of these guys are going to be telling someone at the bar that they are a state champ, 3200 meters, and one of them, deep down in the dark part of their belly, will know they are still lying to themselves. – PAL

Source: Horribly Botched High School Track Meet Awards, Strips, Then Awards Top Runner”, Giri Nathan, Deadspin (5/22/19)

TOB: Let’s pose a hypothetical. You, Phil, Runner of Marathons, are on the 21st mile of your latest marathon, approximately 80% done. You are constantly checking your time throughout the race, and you’re on your expected pace, hoping to beat out your personal best. As you approach what you expect is the 22-mile mark, though, someone tells you it’s the final mile. You think: The final mile? You check your watch. The final mile?? You’re suddenly 20-minutes ahead of your pace. In that moment do you think, “This is correct,” or do you think, “Someone messed up”? As you complete the 23rd mile, 87.5% of the way through a true marathon, there are people gathered. Do you stop running and celebrate? Or do you continue running? If you stop running, do you ask questions? And if you stopped, when everyone realizes that the course got screwed up because a turn was missed, do you from that point claim your time in this race as your personal best? If you do, you’re Will Roder. There’s no way that guy didn’t know he was way ahead of his pace. He deserves nothing!


Smash the Draftiarchy!

The last decade has seen the four major American sports attempt to reel in the amount of money paid to draft picks by setting max or “slot” values for each draft. MLB takes it a step farther – once players do hit the majors, they are not allowed to hit the market for 7 years. In the first few years of after they make the bigs, they are paid the league minimum, or whatever their team wants to pay them. After that, players have a few years of arbitration, where the player and team argue for what the player’s salary should be, and an arbitrator decides (if they don’t come to an agreement).

Although there is zero reason minor leaguers should not be paid a living wage, compensation for MLB prospects is actually difficult. When an MLB team drafts a player, it’s like buying a lotto ticket. Very few draftees become regular major leaguers, let alone stars. So MLB pays prospects very little, relatively speaking. It’s one reason Kyler Murray chose football over baseball: he chose $30 million guaranteed over $4 million guaranteed and no chance to make bigger money for roughly 7 years. But that doesn’t mean players have to accept this arrangement, and one MLB prospect just said, Nah to the whole process.

Carter Stewart was drafted 8th in the MLB draft last year by the Atlanta Braves. But the Braves offered him just a $2 million signing bonus (well under his slot value of $5 million). So he said, “No thanks,” and went to JUCO for a year. Apparently his stock dropped a bit, and he was projected to be a second round pick with a signing bonus expected to be even less than $2 million.

So Carter again said no thanks, but he’s apparently tired of waiting to get paid – so he signed with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan’s Pacific League for a lot more money. Stewart will  be able to come to MLB when he’s 25-years old, as a free agent. As Jeff Passan points out:

Stewart’s decision makes easy sense financially. Say he stayed in the United States and signed for $2 million. Best case, Stewart would have started with a team’s short-season Class A affiliate. In 2020, he would top out at Double-A and make less than $10,000 for the season. And if Stewart is that good, and moving that quickly, his team probably would keep him at scant wages in the minor leagues for all of 2021 too, and promote him around this time in 2022 to ensure it controls him for 6¾ years before free agency. In 2022, 2023 and 2024, Stewart would make the major league minimum — which, being generous and assuming the new collective bargaining agreement gives it a big bump, could be $750,000.

In a near-optimal scenario, Stewart would receive around $4 million for the next six years — and would not reach free agency until after the 2027 season, when he will be 28. His deal with the Hawks would guarantee Stewart $3 million more and potentially allow him to hit free agency three years earlier.

If he’s good, he’ll be ready to make big bucks. If he’s not, well he made an extra $3 million and got to experience the world. Plus, he doesn’t spend the next few years riding around the country on a bus. Win-win-win! -TOB

Source: How a 19-Year-Old Prospect is Turning the MLB Draft Upside Down”, Jeff Passan, ESPN (05/22/2019)

PAL: That’s just a big kettle of hoppy common sense. The counter, I guess, would be he’d be out of sight and away from a MLB franchise infrastructure and preferred player development approach. As you mention, TOB, that really won’t matter if he performs in Japan. Smart idea. I do wonder why more players in basketball and baseball don’t go overseas instead of college. One would have to navigate the rules for each sport, but they can make a fair wage for their skills, and they can learn to be a bit more of an adult while living abroad in a professional setting.


Wait, What?

Here’s a story about a John Wayne Gacy painting of an oriole autographed by Cal Ripken Jr.

You read that correctly.

Serial murderer John Wayne Gacy liked to paint when he wasn’t sexually assaulting and murdering over thirty people in the 70s and 80s. The painting is being sold this week for a shade under $10K.

That factoid was obviously more than enough for me to read Dave McKenna’s most recent story, but it only gets more strange and interesting from there. I started reading, then I scrolled and found I wasn’t even halfway through the story, and I really didn’t know what direction McKenna was going to take me: the odd niche of murder memorabilia, first lady memorabilia, art auctions, or whether or not Ripken actually signed a John Wayne Gacy painting of an Oriole. Spoiler: apparently Cal signs everything, so probably yes.

The sale of this is an odd talisman and reveals a market obsessed with serial murderers. Scroll the top podcasts or Netflix for any additional proof needed. Not only that, but it’s a reminder of how these psychopaths became celebrities that, for a time, profited off their gruesome acts (before the “Son of Sam” laws were enacted).

And while this is the only Ripken item up for sale, it is not the only John Wayne Gacy art signed by baseball legends:

Legit or not, it turns out Ripken wouldn’t be the only baseball all-timer to have his John Hancock on a John Gacy. A collector named Stephen Koschal is currently selling a 16”x 20” painting of baseball’s Hall of Fame logo, from 1990, that he says he’s gotten signed by 46 Cooperstown enshrinees, including Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, and Joe DiMaggio. But not Ripken, oddly enough. (Oh, and noted baseball fan Richard Nixon also signed.) Koschal is asking $27,500 for that definitely one-of-a-kind piece.

Do with that info what you will, but good work by McKenna. I had no goddamn idea where this story was going, and I’m absolutely good with that when he’s writing. – PAL

Source: “Did Cal Ripken Jr. Sign This Painting Of An Oriole By John Wayne Gacy?“, Dave McKenna, Deadpan (05/23/19)


Video(s) of the Week:

Great work, Max:

Brutal:


Tweets of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Perfume Genius – “Slip Away”


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Normally, I find Pam to be a comforting, if unarousing, presence around the office. Like a well-watered fern. But, today, she has tapped into this vengeful, violent side. And I’m like, wow, Pam has kind of a good butt.

-D.K. Schrute

 

Week of May 10, 2019


There’s No Crying in Basketball. Strike That. Reverse It.

I am writing this the night before Game 3 of the Rockets/Warriors second round series. By the time we post this next Friday, the series might be over, in 4 or 5 games. Or the teams could be preparing for a pivotal Game 6, with one of them looking for the closeout. But as things stand today, the Warriors look like the superior team. (Editor’s Note: About that. We’ll get to what really happened over the next three games, too.)

Here’s a recap of the series so far: The Warriors won a tense Game 1, and the Rockets whined and whined about the officiating afterwards. The next day, they leaked an unsolicited report they created after they lost last year’s Western Conference Finals to the Warriors, where they assigned themselves 18.6 points they claim were lost when the referees missed calls. On that basis, they claimed the Finals were stolen from Houston (ignoring the fact that even if they had won Game 7, they still had to play Cleveland). They were roundly mocked for this, justifiably so, and then lost Game 2.

As Brian Phillips says, the leak of the report is sad and embarrassing. When I first read about it I literally LOL’d, and then wondered how the once revered Daryl Morey, the Rockets GM, had done this to himself. As Phillips writes:

After losing to Golden State in three of the past four postseasons, Houston has become so immortally psyched out by Steph Curry and Co. that it would rather poindexter its way into PR humiliation than face the Warriors without a scapegoat. The Rockets apparently thought that penning detailed descriptions of 81 blown calls would create a groundswell of sympathy for their cause and that this groundswell would pressure the league into letting James Harden spend even more time at the free throw line than the 1,000 minutes per game he already spends there. Instead, the internet roasted them for a few days, the NBA shrugged, and the hubbub seemed to fray the team’s already fragile nerves.

The report itself is stupid. As Phillips notes, you can’t take a bad call in a game and say, “That cost us two points, so add two points to our total.” That’s not how basketball works. That’s not how life works. Every action on the court changes the rest of the game. Phillips illustrates:

Say a player travels before a made 3-pointer and the official doesn’t call it. To take three points off the board after the game wouldn’t give you a more accurate result, because if traveling had been called, the rest of the game you saw would never have happened. The next play would have been different. The play after that would have been different. Basketball exists in a state of contingency and flux. You can’t say “a career 66 percent free throw shooter drew an uncalled foul on a 3-pointer, therefore his team should get two points,” because sometimes a career 66 percent free throw shooter makes all three, or misses three in a row, or grabs his own rebound and makes the putback but sprains his ankle on the way down. One thing affects another thing, and statistical tendencies over a very short period of time (a half or a quarter) can’t tell you all that much. For instance, sometimes an excellent shooting team misses 27 3s in a row.

Man, that burn in the end is so good. But as Phillips points out – the Rockets’ crybaby act has, to this point, ruined what should be a great series. We were so excited about this series last year that we wrote up game-by-game reactions. This year? After two games, I didn’t have anything I wanted to say except to laugh at the Rockets. The series feels, to quote Phillips, “weirdly high-strung and legalistic.” Let’s hope it gets better. -TOB

Source: “Only the Rockets Can Save Themselves From Annihilation“, Brian Phillips, The Ringer (05/03/2019)


The Night the Warriors Saved Their Dynasty

Well, for one night at least. Since I wrote the above about the Rockets whining, pulled out Game 3 in overtime, and then won a back and forth Game 4 to even up the series. Game 5, back in Oakland, was going to be pivotal. The Warriors came out on fire, and built a 20-point lead in the second quarter. And then they did what they’ve been doing all year, and instead of stomping on the Rockets’ throats, they let them back in the game. The Rockets cut the lead to 14 at halftime, and kept chipping away in the third quarter.

Late in the third, the Warriors led by just one. Curry was playing like dog crap, again, and I began to seriously wonder if he was just simply on the downside of his career, or if the theories about his deferring to Durant had killed his confidence were correct. I began analyzing his jumper – something seemed off. His release didn’t look the game. He was not getting his legs into it. Was his off-hand getting in the way? He certainly didn’t look confident, and he was missing wide open looks, badly. He was 4 for 14 from the field, 1 for 8 from three, and shooting just 26% from deep for the series.

And then, when things already looked bleak, disaster struck. Kevin Durant hit a jumper to push the lead to three, carrying the team as he had all series. But as he jogged back up court he whipped around, looked at his calf, and then limped off the court. TNT’s crew speculated about a possible achilles tear, and the Warriors dynasty appeared to be up in smoke.

What’s more, suddenly it seemed like Oracle Arena had just 14 minutes to live. If the Warriors lost the game, it seemed unthinkable they could win Game 6 in Houston, meaning this would be the very last Warriors game ever played at Oracle.

Without KD, and with Curry unable to shoot and Klay ice cold since the first, how were the Warriors going to hold off this Rockets team? Players like Kevon Looney was going to need to step up, sure. But the core of Curry, Klay, and Draymond would need to turn back the clock and save their season, their dynasty.

And so it was. Curry suddenly found his confidence and his shot, and hit 5 of his next 6 attempts for 14 points. And then it was Draymond, who after drawing a charge and then picking up a technical, went right down and hit a three to put the Warriors up 5. And then it was Klay, who hit a three to put the team up 8, and then got the layup to seal it after a nice job by Looney to keep the ball alive after Klay nearly threw it away. Others contributed, but the Warriors relied on their old Big 3, and it was fantastic. They hunted for good shots, moved the ball, and took care of it, too, with just one turnover after KD went down.

They recaptured the magic of the pre-KD era, and hung on to win. Oracle lives to see another day, at least. I think Steve Kerr said it best, paraphrasing Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, whose team overcame a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3 in the Champions League the day before:

For one night, they were indeed. But they’ll need to be fucking giants once more to get by the Rockets. -TOB

PAL: The circumstances in which the Warriors go into Game 6 are damn near poetic. The symmetry in this situation to last year, when Houston’s Chris Paul went down at the end of Game 5 (Durant is clearly much better than Paul, but you get it) and hard to ignore. If the Warriors are going to keep the dynasty going, it will in large part up the core players who started the damn thing – Steph, Klay, Draymond, Iggy.

Kevin Durant makes them a better team, but does the Durant injury give the reigning champs an edge that is almost impossible to manufacture now that they’ve been at the top for so long?  If Durant is indeed on his way out of Golden State, and if his teammates know it, wouldn’t a win in Houston tonight be a nice reminder to KD that they won before he came to town?

Does it force the Warriors to try playing that beautiful style of ball movement and not rely on Durant, as has been the case this playoffs? Yep (Strauss does a great breakdown here).

Also, Kevon Looney’s game 5 performance is why the playoffs – in any sport – rule. Ever heard of him? This is a role player that, because of injuries to Durant and Boogie Cousins, will no doubt play a pivotal role in extending the Warriors dynasty or ending it.

TOB: Agree with Phil on Ethan Strauss’ great article on the Warriors going forward without KD. Here’s a key passage:

I asked a few ex-2016 Warriors whether that pre-KD squad exists within the current one, and the answers were somewhere between, “sort of,” and “not really.” To quote Andrew Bogut, “It’s a completely different bench and roster. Half the roster’s different.” Then he started listing: “Harrison, Mo, Festus, Barbosa, Brandon Rush.”

To many viewers, including Kerr, Wednesday night’s crunch time felt like a time machine ride. It looked like that on the floor, save for Kevon Looney’s presence (more on that later). But to the players who were part of the first two Warriors Finals runs, it’s a different experience. The 2015-16 role players might have seemed like guys who got cameos in a show that was all about Steph, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, but that’s not quite how players experienced the journey. Guys who might seem peripheral to the viewer are sometimes huge presences in the locker room, on the bus and on the plane. The principals remain, but some of the guys who gave those old squads their esprit de corps are gone.

And yet, the Warriors may have unlocked something on Wednesday, if only for the brief time they need it. They are obviously better with Durant, but, since signing him, have played a style that does not optimize Curry’s talents. That was the trade-off, and it happened to result in two championships.

Now, we will see what happens when the attack optimizes Steph in the way it once did.

I have Phil as my witness. During their 2014 and 2015 seasons, I always said the key to their success was that the bench would turn a 12 point lead into a 20 point lead. When they signed Durant, I wondered if they would be too thin on the bench to win. They weren’t – but you can’t plan for an injury like this, at a time like this, to a player like this.

Btw, since KD joined the team 3 years ago, the Warriors are 22-1 when Steph plays and Durant does not. Hm.


The Ultimate Trail Run

Not a great story because of the writing, but the ambition is worth sharing. One continuous trail across the United States. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (great name) has been working on connecting a network of existing trails across the country. It seems simple enough at first, but then you think about the amount of research that goes into something at this scale, and the amount of organizations from a local level that have to contribute, and you can see why this is such a beast of a dream. While we are still many years away from being able to bike or run across the country on the trail, there’s enough completed to see it on a map, which is pretty excellent.

And I know it’s corny, but I do think there’s power in something as simple as a trail literally connecting a country, even in some small way. – PL

Source: The 4,000-Mile Trail System That Will One Day Connect Both Coasts Is Closer Than Ever Taylor Dutch, Runner’s World, (05/08/2019)

TOB: Not corny, I think it’s sweet.


Hockey Fan Has Great Idea
This had me laughing. Not uncommon for some fans to utilize the brighter of lights of the playoffs to make a statement. Both celebrities and wanna-be celebrities. This week, an ‘influencer’ made her presence known at a Blues-Stars NHL game:

Come on, lady. Really? Look at the meathead and the deep V sitting next to her, too. The best thing to come from it is this moment of pure genius in the following game:

I have nothing more. This was just excellent. – PL

Source: “St. Louis Blues fan has perfect response to Stars fan that went viral for her, well, you know“, Christopher Powers, The Loop (05/8/2019)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: John Prine – ‘(We’re Not) The Jet Set’ (Bobby Braddock)


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“As a former high school roller hockey player…”

-TOB, discussing NHL strategy

Week of April 19, 2019

Did not give up popcorn for Lent.


Reminder: Tiger Woods Won The Masters

It’s not even a week old, but Tiger’s unlikely Masters win, his fifteenth major victory, feels like such old news. We’ll get into why people care about this so much in a moment, but the sleazeball actually made it all the way back after his life and his body fell apart. Say what you want about the type of person he is, or has been (I don’t know; is he a ‘good guy’ now?), but it’s undeniably incredible that he came back to win another major after over a decade of setbacks – injuries, surgeries, infidelities, arrests, and just bad golf. Through it all, people held out hope to see this performance. We just kept waiting, long after we should have, and then it finally happened.

Tiger Woods is undeniably bland and boring and captivating and unique. The regular sports fan cares about Tiger playing golf; the regular sports fan doesn’t care about golf. I haven’t experienced an athlete with that much gravity in his or her sport. I’m guessing Ali was like that and maybe Babe Ruth. Whoever’s on that list, it’s a short list.

Needless to say, there was a few columns written about Tiger’s win at Augusta. I found this Drew Magary paragraph in particular to be the most resonant:

Athletes are measuring sticks. You measure their ability against yours and you measure their ability to handle pressure against your own, naturally. But you also measure their lives against your own. Their history is your history. They’re personal markers, just as certain movies and songs and pictures evoke moments from your youth that have grown warmer and fonder and perhaps more unattainable over time. I was rooting for Tiger yesterday, but to be more accurate: I was selfishly rooting to relive my own past. I was still in college and away on a semester abroad when Tiger Woods won his first Masters, back in 1997. I read all about his win in a hard copy of USA Today I got from a newsstand in England, because reading news online wasn’t a thing most people did back then. He was already the biggest name in golf even before he won that first title, and he has remained the biggest name in the sport—perhaps all of sports—as he’s toiled for the past 11 years and change to assume his throne once more.

Magary’s onto something here. I was absolutely pulling for Tiger, and afterwards I wondered why. I really wanted him to win, and it just might be because no other golfer serves as personal marker on my life. I also just want to witness historic moments in sports. There are very few events when you know something historic is taking place in the moment. – PAL

Source: Un-Fucking-Real”, Drew Magary, Deadspin (4/14/19)


Pesky Morality

We’ve posted a lot of stories about CTE over the years. Heartbreaking personal stories, medical stories, political stories; this issue flows into so many facets of culture and very well could be the defining sports story of our generation.

This week, Michael Powell wrote about another scenario in which CTE cannot be ignored. When a college wants to hire a coach, that needs to be approved by a board of regents, as was the case at the University of Colorado recently. Mel Tucker’s five-year, $14.75MM contract went to the board for a vote. That vote comes with some culpability.

The nation’s universities face a more ticklish problem known as morality. These institutions were founded with the purpose of developing and educating young minds. It is difficult to square that mission with the fate of those like running back  Rashaan Salaam, who ran so beautifully for the University of Colorado and then as a pro, and like Drew Wahlroos, a fearless, rampaging Colorado linebacker. Both men suffered emotional and cognitive problems that friends and family and even university officials related to thousands of hits taken over the course of their careers. Each killed himself.

In what I’m sure would be seen as high comedy on the campuses of Ohio State, Clemson, or Alabama, two regents at Colorado voted against the hiring. It wasn’t as much about Tucker as it was about their belief that football is an unsafe game.

Regent Linda Shoemaker: “I really thought at first that we could play football safely with better rules and better equipment; I drank the Kool-Aid. I can’t go there anymore. I don’t believe it can be played safely anymore. I want these young men to leave C.U. with minds that have been strengthened, not damaged.”

Wherever you come down on CTE and football (or any sport connected to CTE), what this story highlights is the fact that this issue touches all of us. It’s not just isolated to locker rooms and athletic departments; we vote and pay taxes that go schools that field football teams. Those institutions, and the student body, are our responsibility, and that – man, that really hit home reading this story. – PAL

Source: At Colorado, a Breach in Football’s Wall”, Michael Powell, The New York Times (4/18/19)


Video of the Week: More of this, please.


Tweet of the Week: 


PAL Song of the Week: John Prine – “A Good Time”

 


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With all due respect, Officer Berg, you are not bald. You’ve chosen to shave your hair and that’s a look you’re cultivating in order to look fashionable, but we don’t really consider you part of the bald community…with all due respect.

-L.D.