Week of June 1, 2015

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie bats during the first inning of the “True Blue” benefit celebrity softball game at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, June 3, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

No comment.


Steve Kerr: Good Dude

Steve Kerr is a five-time NBA champion as a player, and his Golden State Warriors are presently up 1-0 in the NBA Finals in his first year as an NBA coach. He is quite possibly my favorite person in sports – earnest, honest, unflappable, a great father, and above all else he seems kind, which is a rarity in his world. But there was a time when Steve Kerr was just a scared, lonely, 18-year old kid, just weeks into college, when he received news that his father, a university president in Beirut, had been assassinated by a terrorist organization. Kerr’s family was scattered throughout the world at that point. He could have packed it in and left college. I don’t think too many people would have faulted him. Instead, he marched on. As his college teammate Bruce Fraser says, “It feels strange to say this, but…I think the death of his father helped Steve as a basketball player, because he realized it was just basketball.” I am sure that if given the choice, Kerr would take his dad over his basketball career, but it does give some insight into how he has become such a truly decent person, when so many people in sports are not. Kerr understands – this is a game, it is not life, and he is lucky to have created such a great life by playing a game. -TOB

Source: The Assassination of Steve Kerr’s Father and the Unlikely Story of a Champion”, Chris Korman, USA Today (06/03/2015)

PAL: I wish this focused less on Kerr’s biography following his dad’s death and more about how he struggled and/or dealt with the tragedy. That wish isn’t likely to come true. By all accounts, Kerr doesn’t talk about it much, and his friends follow his lead. I understand. I’ve heard Kerr on a couple podcasts and on his weekly interviews with Tom Tolbert, and this guy comes off like the real deal. Sincere, funny, and – judging by this story – a hard-ass competitor. There’s not a lot of bluster to him, and I like that. I was just talking to TOB, and we agreed – we’d like to be more like Kerr than, say, a Tom Thibodeau if we were coaches (we’re talking about coaching a Little League team to greatness next year). Kerr seems like a good dude who’s succeeded following a horrible tragedy, and though that storyline might seem cliché on the surface, his version of it is unique in sports. With that said, I don’t understand how he remained at school instead of going to Beirut for the services after his dad’s death.


Glory Days: The One Dude Who Struck Out Joe Mauer In High School

I grew up playing against Joe Mauer in Minnesota. Before he was “Baby Jesus” (as he’s sometimes referred to in Minnesota), he was right there with the rest of us in the Catholic School league games, the youth summer camps at Hill-Murray, and the 6:00 PM games at Concordia (no fence). He was “one of us”, or at least it felt like it for about 5 minutes when he was about 10, and then it became clear his talent was from a stratosphere the rest of us could never even see with a telescope. He struck out one time in high school. Once. Here’s a story about the regular dude who did it. – PAL

Source: 15 years later, Paul Feiner’s high school strikeout of Mauer still resonates”, Tyler Mason, Fox Sports North (6/1/15)

TOB: So much to like about this story. How does Joe Mauer strike out only once his entire high school career? How does the guy who strikes him out look like…that? How is it that the guy who struck him out now runs a sports website and has a media credential for Twins games, and Phil and I don’t have squat? Wait, that’s the one part I don’t like.


No Back Talk, Please

This is one of the funniest things I’ve read in a long time. This week, the New York Times re-ran an article introducing then-Boston Red Sox pitcher Babe Ruth to its readers after he dominated the New York Yankees, 100 years after its first publication, on June 3, 1915. The article is short, but I highly recommend that you read it. It reads as almost a parody of old-timey sportswriting. Examples: “As the sky promised to weep and Old Boy Fahrenheit was flirting with the freezing point…a crowd of about 500 were exposed to the pneumonia germs… a teeth-chattering, shivery afternoon was had by all.” And, “…but Umpire Dineen calculated that the run counted. No back talk, please.” And, “Ruth was then at bat. The big pitcher’s architectural make-up is of such a nature that it doesn’t lend itself to speed. He rather rolls along.” It goes on, and you will laugh. -TOB

Source: Left-Hander Ruth Puzzles YankeesNew York Times (06/03/1915)

PAL: Sportswriting is worse today than it was in 1915. To wit: “Between his (Ruth) pitching and batting yesterday the Yankees were as comfortable as a lamplighter in a gunpowder factory.” Call me crazy, but it reads like the writer actually had a good time with this game recap. Reporting? Sure. Entertainment? Absolutely. It’s always best when we don’t have to take sports seriously.


So Fresh, So Clean

I’ve been romanced. I didn’t see it coming. Hell, I don’t even love basketball. Still don’t, but I’m smitten with Steph Curry’s shot. So are you. Recently, Ryen Russillo said that he’s never expected a shot to go in from any other player ever as much as he does when Curry pulls the trigger. I agree. The article dissects the emotions of love into equally impressive analytics that back it up. When a shot’s this pretty, I forgive hyperbole like the following:

“It’s hard to imagine someone so relatively slight having such a huge impact on the game. But that’s what Curry is doing — in the same way a great artist changes the way we see the world, he’s changing the way we see basketball. Suddenly, our ideas of risky shot selection, of off-balance attempts, of what is and isn’t “long distance” have changed. About 20 years ago, in the time of Jordan, sharpshooters like Dell Curry (Steph’s dad) and Steve Kerr (Steph’s coach) were niche contributors, mostly relegated to role-player status…Oh, how things have changed.” -PAL

Source: Outsider Artist: Understanding the Beauty of Steph Curry’s Jumper”, Kirk Goldsberry, Grantland (06/04/2015)

TOB: Steph Curry won the NBA MVP this year. That is pretty amazing. He’s the best “little guy” since Allen Iverson, and that is saying something. Steph can do a lot of things on the court, but for him it comes down to his shooting. He is just so much better at it than everyone else, it is hard get a frame of reference. But this article gives one stat that I think might do it – the average NBA player shoots 24% when his shot is contested and 44% when he is wide open. Steph Curry shoots 44% when his shot is contested! I’ll go a step further than Russillo – it is to the point that I am a little shocked when Curry does miss. That is remarkable. And to top it all off, he’s a great dad.


MORE CURRY!

On the eve of the NBA Finals, the New York Times revisited a really funny rap video featuring college-aged Steph Curry and his fellow students rapping about Davidson College’s dining commons, to the tune of Asher Roth’s “I Love College.” Come for the horrible rapping by Steph and his buds, stay for the the mid-aughts college throwback. -TOB

Source: Stephen Curry Gave Davidson Good Publicity, and a Bad Rap“, Benjamin Hoffman, New York Times (06/03/2015)

PAL: This is terrible. We were all terrible in college, and yet somehow still endearing.


Video of the Week

Fifteen years after his peak, Stone Cold Steve Austin is still culturally significant.


Tweet of the Week

Yes, that is Steph Curry, on a pony, set to Ginuwine. 


PAL’s song of the week: The Band’s cover of Springsteen’s “Atlantic City“. Check out all of our weekly picks here (they’re super good).


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“Dane Cook, pay–per–view, 20 minutes, let’s go!”

– Derek Doback

 

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Week of April 13, 2015

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When it’s your birthday, Helmet Nachos are acceptable.


Why Charles Barkley Once Gained 19 Pounds in 2 Days (On Purpose)

Unrelated to the above photo, this is a great story about Charles Barkley. We’ll get out of the way and let Charles tell it:

“Back in my day we had a hard salary cap so you could not go over the salary cap like you can today and the Sixers had the No. 5 pick in the draft. I left college after three years and in fairness, I was fat in college. I played at 300 pounds. The Sixers called me a month before the draft and said, “We want you to get down to 285 pounds and come in before the draft.” So I get down to 283 and the night before we fly into Philly my agent said, “You do know if the Sixers draft you they are going to give you $75,000,  right?”  I said, “Dude, I didn’t leave college for $75,000. We have a problem.” He said, “You weigh about 283 now. What do you want to do? You beat their weight limit.” I said, “Let’s go out.”

So we went to Dennys and I had like two Grand Slam breakfasts. We went to lunch and I had like two big barbeque sandwiches. That night we went to a big steakhouse. The next morning I had two more Grand Slam breakfasts and when we flew to Philly, I weighed 302. I was like, Thank goodness, the Sixers are not going to draft me. So when you look at my face when commissioner [David] Stern says ‘With the fifth pick in the draft, the Philadelphia 76ers select Charles Barkley,’ I was like, ‘Oh, sh–.’ When people go back and look at me walking, and they see that awful burgundy suit, everybody else is happy and Charles isn’t happy. But it worked out great. The most important person in my basketball career was Moses Malone and he got me down to under 250 pounds and the rest is history.”

Classic Chuck. -TOB

PAL: If for nothing else, read through Barkley’s transcript to see a dude who can get onto a tangent faster than a dog gets on a dropped piece of steak. In response as to whether he will accept an invitation to the Sloan Conference (an advanced metrics gathering), he said the following:

“They just charge you more calling them analytics but they are just stats. It’s kind of like, if you are black, you are a cook and if you are white, you are a chef. The chef gets paid a lot more than the cook (laughs). But my big rule is if people should be able to take a joke … Everyone knows Muhammad Ali is a hero of mine. So is Dr. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. I did some research on Abe Lincoln when that movie came out. There are a lot of great men. But when they asked me for some great Americans, I said Colonel Sanders.”

Source: Charles Barkley Talks Fame, Social Media, at SXSW”, Richard Deitsch, Sports Illustrated (04/12/2015)


Curt Schilling Message to Himself at 16: Don’t Chew Tobacco

I’m not a fan of Curt Schilling. He’s a blowhard. But this should be mandatory reading for all people who chew tobacco, and all teenagers and their parents. Curt Schilling chewed tobacco for decades. It gave him cancer. He is still here, but there’s no way to know if the cancer will come back. Here, Curt writes a letter to his 16-year old self, urging himself to never start the habit. It’s a very powerful essay, written by someone who has stared his own mortality in the face. -TOB

Source: Letter to My Younger Self”, Curt Schilling, The Players’ Tribune (04/11/2015)


Bonds on A-Rod…But Really on Himself.

I have always liked Barry Bonds. I have never liked Alex Rodriguez. This makes their new-found friendship a conundrum for me. Barry helped A-Rod during his hiatus and is supportive of A-Rod’s pursuit of home run milestones. So how do I reconcile this? I have mostly ignored it. My dislike of A-Rod has nothing to do with steroids (as I’ve said here before, I don’t care about that). But in reading this article about Barry and his feelings on A-Rod’s return – it’s striking how Barry’s plea to give Alex a chance is really a plea to give Barry a chance. For example: “Why the hate? Why hate on something you’re paying to see? I don’t understand it. He’s entertaining us…I wish life wasn’t like that…This guy is not running for president of the United States. He’s not running for commissioner. We’re not running for political office. We’re just ballplayers. We’re not God. We’re imperfect people. We’re human beings.” Poor Barry. Just elect the greatest hitter of all-time to the damn Hall of Fame, will ya? -TOB

Source: “Barry Bonds on A-Rod: ‘I can’t wait until he hits 660’”, Bob Nightengale, USA Today (04/13/2015)

PAL: First off, I think TOB and I need to have a good ol’ debate about the Hall of Fame (I don’t think Bonds, ARod, Pete Rose, Sosa, Palmerio, etc. should be in). Secondly, I agree with TOB in that Bonds’ support for ARod is a plea for himself. I would also add that Bonds’ support is conditional, in that he knows ARod will never challenge his home run record.


Matt Barnes: Future Sacramento Mayor?

Well, that’s his life goal, anyways. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing when I read that. I’ve never liked Matt Barnes. He’s a punk. He was a punk in high school, and college, and in the NBA. But I read this story, and I’m glad I did. It gives a lot of insight into an athlete that has many layers and wears his emotions on his sleeve. For example:

“We get paid a lot of money to play basketball. But what I want to let people know is that we’re still human. We’re still going through day to day struggles that everybody else goes through, but for two and a half hours, when you see us on TV, we have to act like we have the most amazing life in the world.” He pauses. “A lot of people don’t give a s— and I get that. They’re paying a lot of money to come see us play and we get a lot of money, so f— your human side.”

Matt Barnes may never be the mayor of Sacramento, but I understand him a bit more after reading this. -TOB

Source: The Clippers Polarizing Pariah Who Tells It Like It Really Is”, Chris Ballard, Sports Illustrated (04/10/2015)

PAL: “And being an a–hole, he knows, is what’s kept him in the league.” Matt Barnes is a goon, and I mean that as a compliment. Every great hockey player has had a goon by his side. Teams in any sport need an enforcer, someone to keep the edge sharp. You don’t like these guys, and — guess what — you’re not supposed to like them, but they serve an important purpose. It’s a bonus that he seems to have his priorities straight when it comes to his kids, too. His job in the NBA isn’t glamorous, but it’s a necessity for a team to be great.


It’s Not Yet an Ending, And It’s Not Exactly Happy – But This is Great

As you may recall, Bryan Stow is the Giants fan who was beaten nearly to death, in front of his children, four years ago after an Opening Day Dodgers-Giants game at Dodger Stadium. He suffered traumatic brain injuries as a result. Stow has had a long road to recovery. It’s not over, but this week he provided quite the moving moment. On Thursday, Stow threw out the first pitch at the San Jose Giants’ (the San Francisco Giants’ minor league affiliate) game. Stow needed a walker to get out on the field, and he can no longer throw overhand, but damn if he didn’t get it to the catcher’s glove. Great job, Bryan – and good luck in your continued rehabilitation. -TOB

Source: Stow Tosses First Pitch For San Jose Giants Home Opener”, Jimmy Durkin, San Jose Mercury-News (04/16/2015)

PAL: You know what really sucks about this? Bryan Stow is known by millions as the guy that was beaten into a coma in some pointless, drunken brawl outside a baseball game. No one deserves to be defined by what has happened to him or her. I wish him all the best, and I commend the Giants for sticking by him all these years (especially Tim Flannery), but it pisses me off that he’s known for what happened to him.


Video of the Week

Well, that was ridiculous.


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Before we get to the quote of the week, I want to thank Tommy for being a great friend, a pain in the ass in a debate, and a well of inspiration. This guy is a friend who always shows up, a doting father, and a husband who’s ridiculously in love with his wife. He’s doing it right, and I’m lucky to call him my friend. Happy birthday, buddy!

“Damn you people. Go back to your shanties.”

-Shooter McGavin

Week of June 9, 2014

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Argentina needs Messi, but do they want him?

Lionel Messi left his home in Argentina when he was 13 for pretty understandable reasons – one of the best clubs in Europe wanted him (FC Barcelona), and they would provide the medical treatments he needed (he had a growth-hormone deficiency). Yet, even as Messi is widely considered one of the best players ever, Argentineans have a surprisingly complicated relationship with their star. They don’t completely see him as one of their own. “We’ve always liked how Messi plays,” the driver, Dario Torrisi, told me, “but we don’t know who he is.” This story does a great job exploring what “home” means in the context of the world’s most popular game. -PAL

Source: “The Burden of Being Messi”; by Jeff Himmelman; The New York Times (6/5/14)

TOB: I visited Argentina about a month before the 2010 World Cup, as Messi was tearing up the Champions League. I can say that Argentina was pretty bonkers for him. The media narrative right now seems to be that Messi is not loved in Argentina (though the latest issue of ESPN the Magazine argues that, while this is true for those old enough to have lived through the 1986 World Cup, the younger generation loves Messi and finds Maradona rather abhorrent). He’s a quiet guy – he’s not bombastic. He has struggled, comparatively speaking, on the national team. He’s not Maradona. This is all true. But he’s amazing to watch, and some of his national team struggles can be pinned on a coach who had no idea how to use him (and had no business being coach *coughMaradonacough*). I think this is his time – and I think Argentina should go deep into this World Cup, with Messi leading the way.  


The Times, They Are a-Changin’

I can’t watch college football anymore without feeling a twinge of guilt, though I still do. In fact, I’m a season ticket holder.  But a tidal wave of change is preparing to hit American college sports. We might not know yet when exactly it will arrive and what it will leave in its wake, but it is coming. The debate on whether to pay college football players seems to be approaching a cultural tipping point (with Title IX implications of paying players threatening to leave college sports completely unrecognizable). The myth of amateurism has never rung so hollow. Making matters even worse is the fact that universities nationwide are facing budget reductions, as state legislatures have been cutting back on higher education funding for years (California, my home state, chief among them). And while public university budgets are being slashed, with those costs being passed on to students, universities across the country continue to subsidize their athletics programs with millions of dollars per year. So it was with some pride that I read this article, about how my alma mater, the University of California, Berkeley, has attempted to eliminate its athletic subsidy. In a few years, Cal has reduced its athletic subsidy from $12.1 million in 2010, to $3.2 million in 2013. The job is not done, but Cal has set a model that other schools should look toward. TOB

Source: “Cal Finds Little Company in Push to Cut Subsidies”; by Steve Berkowitz, Christopher Schaars, and Jodi Upton, USA Today (06/05/2014)

PAL: About a week ago I texted Tommy to give him crap. I’d heard the football field at Memorial Stadium (Cal’s football stadium) referred to as “Kabam Field” on the local sports radio station. Cal had struck a deal with a mobile game maker. “How lame,” I thought, as I grabbed for my phone. In fact, it’s not lame at all. Aside from the fact no one will ever, ever, ever refer to the field as “Kabam Field” in any normal conversation, Cal stands to earn $18 million over 15 years. Among other things, that money will be used to help finance the stadium renovations and student-athlete center (you can find the breakdown here). Lame? No. More like common sense.


A Million Dollars a Year on Fantasy Sports? What the Hell?

You ever win a fantasy league? I have. A few times. The gratification is short-lived, but I still feel pride in each of those wins, and aggravation for the losses. Months of work and hours pouring over stats often come down to something as stupid as 3 blocked shots in 5 minutes by a point guard who had 3 blocked shots the entire season before that, costing you the title (this actually happened to me). But what if the season didn’t take months, but occurred in the course of one night? And what if you bet money on that “season”? And what if you played thousands of “seasons” per night? You’ve just entered the world of Cory Albertson, a business school student at Notre Dame, who has turned fantasy sports into a science – and expects to make $1 million dollars this year on fantasy sports. Yes, one million. On fantasy sports. -TOB

Source: “A Fantasy Sports Wizard’s Winning Formula”; by Brad Reagan, Wall Street Journal (06/04/14)

PAL: When something  conceived as a game then becomes a business, there will be gap when it’s ripe for the taking. Fantasy sports hedge fund? I have some buddies who will no doubt contribute to this dude’s next vacation estate. Also, did you notice TOB mentioned he’s won a fantasy league a few times?


This is the perfect story if you don’t love (or “get”) hockey.

I grew up playing the sport in Minnesota. It’s a great game. Fun to play, fun to watch in person, and it features incredible athletes. Aside from a little San Jose Sharks fever once every couple of years, there aren’t a ton of hockey fans out here in California, even when two of the best teams play out here (it pains me to write that). Here’s a cool story breaking down a seemingly tiny, momentary element of the game – the faceoff. Like a jump ball in basketball, it determines possession; however, unlike in basketball, faceoffs happen dozens of times in a game where scoring is much harder to come by. What makes a player a great faceoff guy? Quick hands, researching the tendencies of the refs, and of course the willingness to headbutt your opponent. -PAL

Source: “Controlling the Faceoff is Critical to the Game of Hockey”; by David Wharton, Los Angeles Times (6/11/14)


No Respect At All.

As I write this, the Heat just lost by 21 points on their home floor in Game 4, and the Spurs have taken a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. That the Spurs are winning should not be much of a surprise to anyone who has been watching the NBA closely this year. The Heat are talented but old, and the Spurs are incredible, and have mostly torn through these playoffs. What continues to amaze me, though, is that LeBron James does not get the respect he deserves. “He’s not Jordan.” Yeah, and? No one is. “He abandoned Cleveland on national TV.” A mistake, to be sure. But why has LeBron not been forgiven? The guy has won two NBA titles and and made 5 NBA Finals. He’s the greatest player of his generation, and the ultimate team player. He works hard on defense, unlike many star players, and he shares the ball like Magic Johnson. Every bit of respect seems to be given grudgingly, and every time he does fail, people seem to relish it. Why? -TOB

Source: “LeBron James Has Earned More Respect Than He’s Given”; by Vincent Goodwill, The Detroit News (06/08/14)

PAL: I typically deplore when people play this card, but here I go: Magic and Michael didn’t play in the era of Twitter and 24-hour sports channels. Every sports story (and every news story for that matter) is reported on 10 percent of the time, then analyzed, editorialized, and debated the other 90 percent of the time. Stories are then made out of the opinions expressed about the original news story. This is why I can’t watch ESPN anymore (they aren’t the only guilty party, but definitely the most insufferable). LeBron was/is the most popular athlete when this media pivot took place. It’s not fair, but it makes sense.


Video of the Week Baseball players are the best.    

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“I saved Latin. What did you ever do?” – Max Fischer