Week of March 22, 2015

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Christian Laettner thinks this NCAA Tournament is heating up.

The Media is Public Enemy No. 1 in the Thunder Locker Room. Why?

The Oklahoma City Thunder are stacked with talent. They have two of the top five players in the NBA in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But something is amiss in Oklahoma City. There is a growing divide between the Thunder players and the local media that covers the team. Things have gotten overtly hostile at times. Grantland’s Bryan Curtis dives deep – attempting to figure out what is going on and why. -TOB

Source: “Distant Thunder: What Did Oklahoma City’s Media Do to Piss Off Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant?”, Bryan Curtis, Grantland (3/20/15)

PAL: Fascinating read. What role do beat reporters play in today’s sports world? Athletes can communicate directly with fans or followers and have exponentially more reach than that of local newspapers. Regional cable sports affiliates (think CSN Bay Area) – business partners with the teams – have sideline reporters and bloggers (hardly objective), and the the team’s PR folks hover like chaperones at a Middle School dance during the post-game “scrum”. We all get shortchanged as a result. As Thunder beat reporter Berry Tramel puts it with regards to Westbrook, “I’m just going to be writing about how great he is. I’m never going to be writing about who he is.”


Steve Nash’s Legacy

The NCAA basketball tournament and the NFL free agency madness might have muted the retirement of an all-timer. Steve Nash, back-to-back MVP and the prototype of the modern point guard (Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook all have a pinch of Nash in their games) finally called it quits. Writer Lee Jenkins nails this summary of what Nash meant to his country (he’s a Canadian kid) and to the way the point guard position is played. Here’s a guy who received one D-1 scholarship offer from Santa Clara, and who was third string in Phoenix behind – get this – Kevin Johnson and Jason Kidd. He’s given back to his community (his charity has granted nearly $5 million for child welfare) and has mentored the Lakers young draft picks while battling back and leg issues over the past couple years. What’s more, he’s established credibility to Canadian basketball. In fact, he’s the General Manager for the national team up there. Remember, the last two number 1 draft picks are from our neighbors to the north. All in all, he was a great shooter who also seems like a straight shooter. He was a pleasure to watch. – PAL

Source: “The Overflowing Legacy Of Steve Nash”, Lee Jenkins, Sports Illustrated (3/21/15)

TOB: I’ve been a Steve Nash fan since his college days in the mid-90’s, when he helped lead my parents’ law school alma mater (later mine, as well) to some classic tourney upsets. He is impossible to dislike – he made watching basketball more fun. He seems intelligent. He has a good head on his shoulders. This retirement announcement was a formality, as Nash has effectively been retired for a couple years now. But it’s a good opportunity to thank him for years of entertainment. And for a lot of NBA players, perhaps a time to thank him for their huge paychecks (I’m looking at you, Tim Thomas and Channing Frye). Nash, more than any player in my lifetime, made everyone around him better. That’s about the best thing you can say about an athlete, especially a point guard.


Old Man Does Not Trust Lady in iPhone

Thanks to 1-2-3 Sports! reader Michael Kapp for sending in this short but amusing story about New York Giants’ coach Tom Coughlin and his negative experience receiving driving directions from Siri. Choice quote:

“I don’t trust the lady in GPS, I don’t trust her, because they don’t send you the right way. I hit the button and I go ‘Park Ridge, New Jersey.’ And she comes back on, she’s giving me directions. So now I figure out where I am. I hit the thing and I said, ‘Thank you very much, I know exactly where I am now.’ And she comes back and says, ‘You don’t have to thank me.’ I swear to God that’s what she said. And then I couldn’t get her to shut up. Every turn. ‘Take a right here.’ I know where I am. I know where I am. I’m a block away from my house and she’s telling me where to go. I said, ‘I know where I’m going.’

He is definitely a grandpa (no offense, dad). -TOB

Source: Tom Coughlin Battles Siri”, Tom Rock, Newsday (03/25/2015)

PAL: Wait, this isn’t a story about my dad? There’s nothing more dangerous than a grandpa behind the wheel of a car with a smartphone in his hand. Nothing.


A Lesson In Class

We wrote and posted about Dean Smith following his death in February, but this little nugget was too good to pass up. A quick story worth your time about Smith’s final gift to every letterwinner at UNC (he coached for 36 years). I didn’t know much about Smith while he was alive, but now I understand what the fuss was about. He was a legitimate educator and community leader to the point where, if he hadn’t excelled at coaching college basketball (879 wins, two national championships, 11 Final Fours, 13 ACC Tournament championships, Olympic Gold Medal coach), his life would’ve still been extraordinary. – PAL

Source: “Dean Smith Used His Will To Buy Every One Of His Lettermen A Nice Dinner”, Samer Kalaf, Deadspin (3/26/15)


A World Series Game 7 “What If?”

Game 7 of the 2014 World Series was a classic, but it almost had one of the most bizarre and exciting endings in World Series history. With two outs in the 9th, the Royals’ Alex Gordon hit a line drive that skipped under Giants’ centerfielder Gregor Blanco’s glove, and rolled all the way to the wall. Gordon made it to third, but many wondered what would have happened if he had scored. Everyone involved (especially Royals manager Ned Yost, who says that Gordon would have been out by 40 feet) agrees that it would have been a huge mistake to send Gordon. But Tim Kurkjian still put together a great article – interviewing all the people involved in the play and using math to determine definitively what would have happened had the Royals sent Gordon. -TOB

Source: The Penultimate Play”, Tim Kurkjian, ESPN (03/25/2015)

PAL: Like Tommy, I dig the oral history approach to analyzing this play. As dominant as Bumgarner was, it is more likely that Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey would’ve executed a throw and catch from 120 feet apart than it was for something to go badly (for the Giants) during the next at bat. With Gordon on third, any hit, passed ball, or error ties the game. As odd as it sounds, Kansas City had more positive options facing Bumgarner than it did taking a chance with sending Gordon.


Video of the Week

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Week of February 9, 2015

The only Derek Jeter I like is a fat, retired Derek Jeter.

The only Derek Jeter I like is a fat, retired Derek Jeter.

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Legends Lost

Over the last week, two legends of college basketball passed away: Dean Smith and Jerry Tarkanian. If you are familiar with these two coaches, you might think they could not be more different, but that’s not quite right. Let me back up: I like college basketball now, but when I was a kid I loved college basketball. Guys who were talented enough to leave early (as they do today), stayed 3 and 4 years. Unlike now, you could get to know a team and its players. I watched college basketball every night. I loved the mid-90’s UMass teams with Marcus Camby and Lou Roe; the Kansas squad with Jerod Haase (my hometown hero), Jacque Vaughn, Paul Pierce, Raef LaFrentz, and Scot Pollard. The Fab Five. But perhaps more than any other teams, I loved the 90-91 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, with Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon, and the 94-95 UNC Tarheels, with Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse. Those two teams were fun to watch and didn’t really care about fitting a mold, which appealed to me, and still does. Some of that personality can be traced to the two coaches who led them – Jerry Tarkanian and Dean Smith. Tark and Dean were not your typical coaches. Tark stood up and called out the NCAA for its hypocrisy thirty years before it was fashionable to do so, and took a lot of crap over the years because of it. Dean Smith perhaps showed even more guts. When he was in high school in the 1940’s, he helped integrate his basketball team – in a school district that would later become infamous in 1954 in the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. Dean would continue to champion racial equality the rest of his life, as well as other issues that made him unpopular in conservative North Carolina: speaking out against the Vietnam War, the Death Penalty, and nuclear armament, among other things. College basketball lost two greats this week. Though they haven’t been coaching in quite some time, I will miss them. I enjoyed these articles looking back on their lives and their careers. -TOB

Source: Dean Smith: 1931-2015”, Charles P. Pierce, Grantland (02/09/15);An Appreciation of Dean Smith’s Life”, John Feinstein, Washington Post (02/08/15); “Jerry Tarkanian: A True Rebel If There Ever Was One”, Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports (02/11/15)

PAL: I knew about Tark challenging the NCAA, but I had no idea about Dean Smith’s activism. Considering when and where he was doing this, it’s even more impressive, and I better understand why people like Michael Jordan held him in such high regard.


Pimp My Ride Meets Cribs

Daniel Norris pitches for the Toronto Blue Jays. When drafted, he was given a $2 million signing bonus. He bought a Volkswagen van, and lives in it. How cool is that? His idea of luxury – French press coffee and an ocean view. You don’t need a mansion for either of those. He climbs, hikes, surfs, and – from what I can tell – excels at being awesome. – PAL

Source: “Meet the pro baseball player who lives in a van”, Johnie Gall, Grindtv (2/5/15)

TOB: A few months ago, Phil told me he was looking for a new car, and in particular that he was looking at a VW Westfalia van. I was all for it. Those vans are awesome. We had a VW van when I was a kid, but not a Westfalia. Phil ultimately bought a taxi cab. None of which is relevant, except to lead into this: I am fully on board with Daniel Norris’ life decisions. In fact, I am really jealous. This dude (1) is 21 years old and (2) has $2M in the bank, (3) is a professional baseball player, (4) lives in a dope van (5) surfs a bit, (6) has a solid beard. He is truly L-I-V-I-N. It’s also Reason #5,988 why baseball is better than football. If a top-10 projected NFL prospect told teams he was thinking of stashing away his signing bonus and living in a van down by the river, he’d fall to the 7th round because he doesn’t “want it” enough.


Remembering Ted Agu

One year ago, Cal football player Ted Agu collapsed during an early morning run, and died shortly after. It was a dark day for Cal football. Ted Agu wasn’t a star: he was a walk-on. I am a borderline-obsessive Cal football fan, and I had heard of Ted, but I was not terribly familiar with him. However, from all accounts, he was an amazing person. If there was a silver lining to this tragedy, it was reading all the stories about what a great person Ted was, and how many lives he affected during his time. On the anniversary of his death, team captain Brennan Scarlett wrote an article in the school paper, remembering his friend and teammate. It is heartfelt and I hope you read it. -TOB

Source: Remembering Ted Agu”, Brennan Scarlett, The Daily Californian (02/06/15)

PAL: “Ted did not sacrifice one aspect of his life for another.” The more I think about this line, the more I think it’s one of the nicest things that could be said about a person. Agu’s is a sad story that on most days gets pushed through the pipe filled with other sad stories, so it’s comforting to be reminded the legacies of the relatively common of us live on – not only in memory, but in the thoughtful words of a friend.


Who’s Your A.J. Pierzynski: Baseball Players We Hate

Can you tell I’m ready for baseball to start up again? What a perfect conversation-starter to get us ready for Spring Training. John Paschal polls some other baseball writers on the players they loved to hate, and they nail some good ones (spoiler alert: former Giant Brian Wilson makes the list, which – let’s be honest – we all probably knew before his downfall, right?). More than just listing players, I like that the article attempts to answer why we hate players. Are the players we hate the ones that kill our teams, or are they they guys that underperform for our teams? For me, it was never about the off-the-field stuff. It always came down to what they did to the Twins combined with an annoying, insignificant detail that I latched onto. The Yankees toyed with the Twins, ending four of their last five playoff runs (the Twins managed to win 2 games – f*&%ing 2! – in those 4 playoff series). So, yeah, Derek Jeter is just the worst. Nice Jordan high top cleats, you tool. Honorable mention: Brett Boone and his highlights. – PAL

Source: “Question for the Ages: Who’s Your Least Favorite Player?”, John Paschal, hardballtimes.com (2/11/15)

TOB: I feel like this article is what 1-2-3! was made for. We are putting out a call: What athlete do you hate? What athlete did you hate growing up? It can be rational or irrational. Tell us who it is, and why at our brand new Facebook page. Show your work.


Subsidizing Professional Stadiums – A Band-Aid for a Head Wound

As some of you might know, I’m completely, totally, and entirely against public subsidies for stadiums. It’s a racket, flat out. Whatever local economic growth and job creation that comes from a stadium being built should be an incentive for the owners and not a negotiation play with the state and local governments. You know, help the community in addition to making money type of thing. Detroit is looking to push the issue by trying to pass an ordinance that will hold developers seeking public funding accountable by hashing out a C.B.A (Community Benefits Agreement). While I understand the reasoning, I’m stubborn. How about this – don’t give them public money to build stadiums! The counter-argument is the team could leave a city that doesn’t need more bad news, but I don’t want to support a team who doesn’t support me. – PAL

Source: “Has Detroit Found An Answer To The Publicly Financed Stadium Scam?”, Bill Bradley, Deadspin (2/10/15)

TOB: In a perfect world, Phil’s wishes would be reality – all U.S. cities would collude and tell professional sports teams to build their own stadiums, or go pound sand. But, the problem is analogous to running a sports team. When you are a coach or a GM of a team, your interest is short-term due to concerns for job security. If you’re a coach, you are going to try to win games at the expense of developing your young players. Young players need time to develop, but they also lose while they figure it out. GMs will bargain with the future of a team in order to help the team in the present. Similarly, local politicians are in a tough spot. If they let a professional team leave, they will be largely despised. If they manage to keep a team who is looking to leave, they are received as a conquering hero (See: KJ). Their duty should be to the public, but on a human level, I get the need to look out for themselves and their families, too. With that said, I appreciate that the leaders of Detroit are at least trying to come up with a compromise – if you want public money for your palace, you better guarantee locals will get jobs to build it. We can build on this.


Sad, Pathetic Day For Little League

1-2-3 Sports! reader Jane Williams sent this story along. Remember the all African American Little League team from Chicago that snatched our imagination last summer on its way to win the U.S. Little League title? Remember how great of a story it was (hell, we even featured them as one of our cover photos). Well, leave it to the adults to screw up a good story about youth sports. Then again, who else craps on youth sports except adults? The morons in charge of the team bent the rules with regards to zoning (read: they had really good players that didn’t come from their district play on the team). They were caught. The title was stripped from the team. It’s a crap situation, but in no way changes my feelings towards the kids. They were great. Some of the adults in charge – not so much. – PAL

Source: “Little League national title stripped from Jackie Robinson West”, Austin Knoblauch, L.A. Times (2/11/15)

TOB: This really pisses me off. I feel for the kids – it is not their fault. They played the games and do not deserve this. However, unlike some, I stand by Little League’s decision: the best way to combat this problem is to deter it, and the only way to deter it is to strip any value from it. Not that this will stop this sort of thing completely – it seems that adults have been trying to game the LLWS system since its inception, but if they let this slide, they would be incentivizing adults to do this in the future.


Video of the Week

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“BOOM. ROASTED. Hey, kid. That’s what happens when you hop on them sticks!”

-Thomas O’Brien, Esq.