Crooked Scoreboard

Why the Love Trade Would Destroy the Fabric of the Universe, or Something Bad Like That

The feeling of gently removing the plastic from a new electronic device. Getting into bed after a hard day of work, safely sheltered from all the world’s ills. Chicken parm.

Perfection is a rarity in the world, and we need to appreciate it when we come across it. Like waking a sleeping lion, the consequences of messing with perfection are swift, dangerous, and will surely result in a big furry mess.

LeBron going back to Cleveland is perfection.

It is crack for the NBA fan, so pure and delightful, although there’s far less of a chance of his free agency decision causing people to poop their pants. It is the story line for the 2014-15 season so fascinating that I think sportswriters are still pinching themselves, because now the Eastern conference is still quite poor at basketball, but now there’s a chance to talk about Redemption, Honor, Pride—all those capitalized words that we can now place on the greatest basketball player alive, rather than Shaun Livingston.

It was perfection, just like that warm comfy bed or the fresh chicken parm, yet Cleveland, being who they are, immediately moved on to discuss trading for Kevin Love. Suddenly the bed is populated by critters, and the mozzarella on the chicken cutlet smells like the feet of a thousand gymnasts.

Kevin Love is an excellent player, probably a top ten guy today. He is a rebounding machine, a sweet-shooting big man who calls himself a stretch-4 and actually lives up to the billing. If given the opportunity to land him on your team, you’d have to be crazy for not going for it.

But you’d have to be crazier for dealing Andrew Wiggins for him.

Andrew Wiggins, one of the most talented prospects since Durant, has been added to the trade talks. That’s Andrew Wiggins, the man as gifted as any prospect the league has ever seen, the young man who doesn’t know how not to smile. I’m pretty sure he is the result of a genetic experiment for creating the perfect NBA prospect. In fact, the truth isn’t so far off that—his father was an NBA player and his mother was an Olympic sprinter. He projects to be one of the great Andrews of sports, right up there along with Luck, Bogut, and Murray, and me, if the sport were “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3.”

If the deal does happen, the Cavs will send at least their last two #1 picks to Minnesota before either has a chance to spend a full preseason with the team. Not only is that an enormous eff-you to the system that has incomprehensibly favored Cleveland, but it’s also enormously stupid. Wiggins is a generational talent, someone who projects to be AT LEAST an elite perimeter defender, and who, under the tutelage of King James, might put it altogether to become Prince Andrew, ruler of backboard blocks, spins through the lane, and owner of the quickest hands on either side of the Mississippi (depending on where the Cavs/Wolves are playing).

It would be a wonderful thing to see, a team full of #1 picks, fresh legs carrying LeBron as he enters the “mature” portion of his career, a real defensive presence on a team that sorely needs one. Kevin Love would help space the floor, yes, and he would gobble up plenty of rebounds on the defensive end. But he is not fit to protect the rim, or do anything to stop big men who have a clue what they’re doing on offense. That said, he would do well on Cleveland, for sure, because he is a great player and great players succeed when they’re paired with LeBron James.

But Cleveland would give up their long-term future, the bridge to the next great Cavs team, the guy who could potentially take over once LeBron is old and gray and his hairline falls to the back of his neck. And keep in mind that they would be getting rid of Wiggins, and Anthony Bennett, and whomever else they so decide, so that they can have ONE YEAR of Love. Yes, Love has said that if he goes to Cleveland he would re-sign, but what if he changes his mind? What if LeBron finally starts to show wear and tear after eleven years in the NBA, and what if getting rid of a few talented guys further depletes a bench that I’m not sure exists in the first place?

If Kevin Love so badly wants to sign with Cleveland, he is free to do so next summer. The Cavs will not win the NBA Finals this coming year with or without him. Think about it: when is the last time a team won after picking up their best player in free agency? How about after signing a new coach, who has never before coached in the NBA? LeBron knows the limits of this team—after all, he is a basketball genius—and he surely knows this. He even said so in his SI letter, in which he said he realizes Cleveland’s rebuilding will take time. The thing about taking time is that it’s hard. Why should I have to wait through 15 minutes of previews when all I want to do is watch rom-coms and weep into my $9 popcorn bag? But LeBron has been here before—remember, when he went to Miami, Wade was a top-five player, and Bosh at that time was comparable to Love now. And even they didn’t win right away, because it NEVER works right away.

Love-to-Cleveland is a shortcut, a desperation move on the part of team that should not be desperate. Cleveland just lucked into three out of four lottery wins, and the best player on earth came to them just because he “missed home.” When everything in your life breaks just right, that is the time to sit inside and watch TV. If you narrowly missed a horrific traffic accident by some stroke of divine luck, that doesn’t mean you should go out and buy a lottery ticket. When the person you are quite fond of texts you asking you to drinks, that is not the proper time to start experimenting with meth. And when you’re an NBA team that has done everything horribly for your entire existence, and when you happen to experience more luck than any team deserves, then you DO NOT go out and flip a bit of that luck for one year of Kevin Love.

Who knows? Maybe the trade wouldn’t really destroy the fabric of the universe. Maybe Neil deGrasse Tyson wouldn’t shed tears on his graph-paper notebook, lamenting the end of our days. And maybe we wouldn’t all be sucked eyeball-first through a supermassive black hole that envelopes the sun and stars and most everything else. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be an organizational failure, a tragic split of two perimeter players who could both end up in the Hall of Fame, á la MJ and Scotty, and a half-baked appeasement to the returning King. I really don’t want to start a #FREEWIGGINS campaign years down the line, as he’s wasting away in the cold Minnesota tundra. We all wonder what could have been had the Cavs had the patience to stand still, just for a bit.

But the team will do as the team will do, and it’s looking like Love will be coming to town.

#FREEWIGGINS

Max Money, Max Problems

When the Miami Heat signed LeBron James and Chris Bosh as free agents in 2010, it was a pretty big deal in basketball circles. People thought some wholesale change toward “superteams” would have to occur, and critics saw it as the death knell of “parity” in the NBA (a league in which two franchises, the Celtics and Lakers, had already won 33 titles between them). Of course, behind the veneer of the questionably kosher moves the Heat made to assemble their “Big 3” roster, there was the fact that no team in the history of basketball has won multiple championships in a short span without employing multiple Hall-of-Famers at once. Surely, Lebron wanted to lead a multi-championship team, but he wasn’t going to do it in Cleveland, with a subpar roster around him.

So, as we know, LeBron, Bosh, and Dwyane Wade all took pay cuts to band together, since it would have been impossible to fit all three players’ max contracts under the NBA’s salary cap and still pay a roster that would not have been 75 percent minimum-wage schoolchildren and nuns. Even a team with that star power needs some sort of depth. Weeks prior to the Heat’s free agency coup, the Lakers had just sealed their second straight championship, the fifth for Kobe Bryant, who was in the midst of a max contract. Since that day, no team has claimed a championship while paying any player the maximum amount of money allowed. In 2010-11, the Mavericks’ leading earner was Dirk Nowitzki, whose $17.3 million salary that year was shy of the league’s maximum, and the team had three other players (Tyson Chandler, Jason Terry, and Caron Butler) who earned more than $10 million that year.

The next two titles were claimed by the Heat, who paid their Big 3 around $16 million each. The 2014 title was won by the San Antonio Spurs, who also realized that their main cogs were too expensive to keep at market value, and therefore were able to compromise on reduced salaries that helped them stay competitive. Their best-known stars, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, made a combined $30.4 million, over $2 million less than Michael Jordan made by himself in the 1998 season, on a team that was only paying Scottie Pippen $2.8 million. Scottie, an easy Hall-of-Famer, had the misfortune of signing a long-term contract before the NBA, largely due to Jordan, skyrocketed in popularity and wealth.

This isn’t to say that teams haven’t tried to build around players making maximum money: one good example of an attempted superteam would be the 2012 Los Angeles Lakers, who somehow paid their three top-earning players (Kobe, Dwight Howard, and Pau Gasol) in excess of $66 million that year. To put this figure in context, the Lakers could have not paid Gasol at all, and the Kobe and Howard salaries would have still exceeded the nominal GDP of Tuvalu, which is an independent country with a functioning government and infrastructure. As a result, due to cap constraints, after the Lakers rounded out their starting five with past-prime Steve Nash and past-prime Metta World Peace, their bench could be charitably described as “Jesus Christ, anything but that.” As the basketball world saw, this was not necessarily the most fruitful experiment, and the (Kobe-less, but whatever) Lakers were unceremoniously disemboweled by the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. Kobe, while sidelined with an Achilles injury, signed a two-year pact for EVEN MORE YEARS OF MAX MONEY when he would almost assuredly never be himself again. Vegas does not like the Lakers’ odds of winning it all this year, for some bizarre reason.

Robert Sacre and Devin Ebanks (seen practicing above) saw bench minutes for the Lakers in the 2012-13 season.

Robert Sacre and Devin Ebanks (seen practicing above) saw bench minutes for the Lakers in the 2012-13 season.

One has to wonder whether players notice this phenomenon unfolding. I’m sure they do. This offseason, when Carmelo Anthony was mulling his free agency decision, he saw a set of suitors that could not offer him a good chance at a title (including, SURPRISE, the Los Angeles Lakers). Carmelo Anthony shows absolutely no signs of being a deluded or unintelligent man, none at all, so he probably also knows that the Knicks have an awful owner and a roster not nearly prepared to contend as currently composed, even in the far inferior Eastern conference. He and his representatives also knew, however, that the Knicks could offer him the most money of any team, due to rules codified in the most recent collective bargaining agreement (which was arguably influenced by the Heat’s moves just a year prior).

Carmelo’s choices essentially came down to “go somewhere else, make less, and don’t win anything” or “stay where I am, and where my wife wants to be. Maybe Phil Jackson figures out a magic spell or something. I don’t win anything, but I make more money.” When the choices are presented in that light, we’d probably all make the same decision. Maybe Carmelo accepted his fate as a very good player who’s being blocked from winning titles by players either in better organizational situations, or in the very rare strata of more talented players. Maybe he’ll sign for a contender in his mid-thirties when his deal runs out. Maybe he’ll do so at a discount.

Reel Sports with Ben: Slaying the Badger

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The success of Richard Moore’s 2011 book, Slaying the Badger: Greg LeMond, Bernard Hinault, and the Greatest Tour de France, inspired John Dower’s documentary Slaying the Badger. I have not read the book, but the titles of these two works suggest they are fairly similar. The story is about two legends in the cycling world of the 1980s: Bernard “The Badger” Hinault, French cycling’s Hannibal, and Greg “L’Américain” LeMond, the Luke Skywalker of American cycling. From the beginning we see that these two teammates are bound for conflict. But which one will be roadkill? Bernard the Badger is a gifted French kickass, and Greg is a very different kind of ass, who is seduced by the Badger into a prison of competitive cycling and cheese-like body odor: France. After joining one of the most competitive bike gangs, La Vie Claire (French for “The Vie Claire”), a doe-eyed Greg runs head first, along with his newlywed wife, Kathy, into a professional cycling world that is essentially the French Mafia, led by Le Badger. The impressive young Skywalker learns how to speak French, and maintains an American-style relationship with his wife on the bike path to glory.

You learn more about cycling than one would care to know if one did not want to know anything about cycling to begin with. Why, then, did I see this film, you ask? Only the man upstairs, God, knows. But, despite my recalcitrant attitude, I was delighted happy fun times yays! No, no, not really, but I was not disappointed in any time poorly spent. It’s a decent film if you want to learn something about the history and culture of the Tour de France in 77 minutes. Who knew Lance Armstrong wasn’t wearing yellow as a fashion statement? Apparently wearing a yellow jersey means you are leading the race! Who knew politics could permeate something so trivial as riding a bike up a mountain and then down it? The constant debate about when to “attack” the other racers is a quarrelsome quarrel amongst all those reminiscing about the time of The Badger.

As the film progresses, the “Slaying” of “The Badger” is something that becomes desired both figuratively and literally, as Greg is wrongfully mauled by his Badger friend over and over again – it is, as the French would say, “nothing personal.” Although there are moments when the two seem happy and in love, it takes only moments for the milk to turn sour and divorce papers to be signed. LeMond’s actual wife has to learn to live with the fact that her husband has a knife sticking out of his back; many tears are shed by both of them. How they dealt with this isn’t really discussed, but I suspect they collected their tears in large jugs, and Greg consumed them before racetime to balance his electrolytes.

LeMond (left) and Hinault, in 1986

LeMond (left) and Hinault, 1986

Highlights to look for include snarky remarks about the folly of Lance Armstrong, and watching The Badger fall off a cliff. My only qualm relates to the excessive footage of men on bicycles. I’m not sure if anything can be done about this, given the subject matter of the film, but if some edits can be made before the worldwide release, I would be ecstatic!

You get an understanding of what it means to be a badger, what it means to live with a badger, and what it takes to slay a badger. It’s a very emotional process, especially when you are in a bike race with one. I’m not going to ruin the ending for you, but I can tell you that the titular event does not end with a perfect happy rainbow – it’s more like a crooked double rainbow with specks of fortune and misfortune. In other words, it is a beautiful ending, but it’s kind of ambivalent, because some crazy things happen after LeMond finally wins the Tour de France. He is never given an easy time. His life is an uphill race in which he is constantly being thrown curveballs. LeMond has lived with lead in his heart for decades after a hunting mishap, and he sports a stylish back brace in the interview footage due to a recent car accident.

The film successfully immerses you into the cycling culture of the time. If you know nothing about cycling history or the characters in it, this film will allow you to discover a new world, and if you know everything, you will be served a delicious badger filet with a side of coleslaw. However, I’m not recommending this film to everyone. It’s a film that takes time, patience, and an open mind – like most documentaries do. But if you stick with it, like Greg does, you will slay this badger of a film.

Crooked Scoreboard Exclusive: The LeBron Letter (First Draft)

On Friday, sports fans nearly crashed SI.com in their attempts to read what has become known as “the LeBron Letter.” Coming from the man who made The Decision, the short essay seemed odd. Just words? For reading? Many expected Katy Perry to come jumping out of the screen with a thunderous rendition of “The LeBron Anthem,” but no such song was sung. We do, however, have something almost as good. Long before James’ words got into the hands of Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins, they existed as a Microsoft Word document typed out by the man himself. Thanks to our unpaid intern (he’s getting college credit, so it’s all good) and his talent for climbing through windows, we are proud to present the original document.

Author’s note: Thanks guys for publishing my work even though I’m not an experienced writer. I’m going to be honest, just like you told me to. Thanks again, and looking forward to Cleveland it’s gonna be sic [sic].

Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I bought my first Egg McMuffin, and tasted my first drop of that elixir they call Sprite. The people there have seen me grow from a kid in Air Jordans to a man in Nike LeBron XIs. I sometimes feel like I’m their son, or even better, their State Farm agent. Without their help, I would never have been able to sell the products I sell now. Their thriftiness can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope that they can one day taste the refreshing blast of a Dunkaccino. My relationship to money is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.

I went to Miami because of D-Wade and CB. They’re a lot better than Mo Williams and JJ Hickson, let me tell you. And Udonis Haslem was okay, I guess. And I was like a big brother to Chalmers, always cleaning up after him and telling him to maybe try and get his shit together once in a while (they say I can do anything, but that job was too tough, even for me). A true icon of the league has to have at least one championship, and those guys helped me do it, sometimes in spite of themselves. And it’s a good thing, too, because no one likes to buy Bubblicious from a loser.

Then I discovered something else: no one likes to buy Bubblicious from an asshole, either. Assholes are way worse than losers, actually! But that’s how more and more people were thinking of me. They didn’t understand that all I did was go away to college. College is a place where people learn to make mistakes; sometimes they get too drunk, plagiarize papers, or sneak a few Pop Tarts out of the dining hall. Or at least that’s what I assume, since I didn’t actually go to there. But just because people do those things in college, they aren’t necessarily drunks, liars, or breakfast pastry thieves. I’m here to tell you I’m not that asshole from college, because that guy is bad for my bottom line.

I can’t just tell you. I have to prove it. So I talked to my wife, my mom, my agent, and my handlers when free agency started. Those people can be tough to deal with, but they were in the room when I made a plan. I had to recover from being the most hated man in the NBA, and a return to Cleveland was the only way to do that. I always believed I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. After the season, free agency wasn’t a thought. I looked at other teams, sure, but I always knew I’d be back in Cleveland. I guess I just wanted to waste the other teams’ time, build some hype about my destination, and maybe make some connections with those big computer companies while I was out on the West Coast (did you really think I’d go to Portland? Come on. They didn’t even have any computer companies! Just a bunch of vegan steakhouses. Gross!). As time passed, my market researchers grew more and more certain Cleveland was the right move. That made me happy, just like you can be when you tune out the world with your Beats By Dre.

I’ve learned throughout this offseason that people love a redemption story. The only way for me to be redeemed in the eyes of the public was to come home again, like in that Bon Jovi song. I’m not promising a championship. In fact, I know we won’t win one for a long time, maybe ever. We have a rookie coach, which means I’ll be the real coach on the floor. Maybe I’ll be able to elevate Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters to passable NBA players. But that’s the beauty of it. By voluntarily going to a bad team in my hometown (the exact opposite of what I did four years ago), I can convince people that I put others ahead of myself. They’ll say I’m humble, loyal, and more mature. I can practically see the tweets coming @KingJames right now!

I don’t need to win championships anymore. I won two of them out of four seasons in Miami, which I calculated as a 50 percent success rate. Now that I’m a proven winner, I can come back to Cleveland and be the LeBron people want me to be. Yeah, I know, Gilbert was a real idiot to me, fans booed me, and some even burned my jersey. To that, I say “even better!” What kind of man is willing to go back into that situation? Especially in the boring old Midwest? A penitent, magnanimous (thanks thesaurus) man, that’s who. Exactly the kind of man who could become the new face of Google!

This is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, and in more ways than one. Two, in fact: financially and monetarily. I was a big part of the Miami economy, but I can practically be the owner of Cleveland. I mean, how much must that place cost, anyway? It doesn’t have a single beach, but it has like 87 Burger Kings. I should get somebody on the phone about that. I should probably put a line in here about my charitable foundation, too. People eat that crap up. What’s it called again?

In Northeast Ohio, they don’t really have anything to give. I have to earn everything. I’ve worked for what I have, and I’ll work for as much more as I can get.

Author’s other note: Let’s keep a lid on the parties and publicity this time, okay? I don’t need people thinking I’m The Wolf of Wall Street. 

I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home. And they better have a PS4 on the jet this time. It’s getting ridiculous.

The All-Star Game Versus “Real” Baseball

The All-Star Break was my favorite part of the MLB season as a child, but probably not for the reasons that you would suspect. My first cogent remembrances of baseball fall squarely within the steroid era, so one could easily assume that I just wanted to watch the Home Run Derby. This is true, it’s just not THE reason that I liked the All-Star break so much (as much as I cried when Troy Glaus hit zero home runs in the 2001 iteration of the Derby). What I liked the most were the few empty squares on the fridge magnet, the only consecutive ones of the whole season, where I could live my life at home without being subjected to the daily agony associated with following a MLB team intently for all 162 games.

Baseball was the dullest thing in the world. Baseball IS the dullest thing in the world, if you ask some people. There are days where I, a person who exports spreadsheets from BaseballReference.com for fun (because what’s more fun than data analysis?), think that baseball is not worth my time. I could be forgiven for having this stance on the game when I was nine; I think any nine-year-old could. I PLAYED baseball, and I would get bored during games. The All-Star Game provided a reprieve from the mundanity, punctuated with the best players alive playing a game that didn’t matter, yet it always felt like some gigantic historical event. Some old-timers were honored, and someone very important threw out the first pitch. The pageantry itself turned the game into a spectacle. It was like finding the one M&M in a deceptively packaged bag of trail mix. You wonder what joy people find in eating the walnuts and sunflower seeds and dried fruit that fill the bag.

Of course, in time you figure out that old-timers are always honored before the game (sometimes the same ones a bunch of times), and someone important always throws a lazy, ceremonial eephus pitch from halfway between the plate and the rubber. If you’ve seen enough of these things, you know that they’re a routine posing as a groundbreaking event, histrionics which would not be out of place at the Golden Globes. “And now, to honor America, please welcome [season 5 American Idol top-ten participant].” The “special” days become little but an annoyance. To know that frills of the All-Star Game ring hollow from year to year, you have to be someone who’s seen a lot of All-Star Games. In order to be someone who has seen a lot of All-Star Games, you are almost necessarily also someone who has seen a lot of other stuff, too. These are the people with the taste for the less fashionable trail mix components, and these are the people who need baseball.

The All-Star Game presents a good indicator of where you are as a baseball fan, and maybe in life. If you’re very excited for it, you probably don’t realize how unmemorable of an event it is (unless Pete Rose is decapitating Ray Fosse or the MLB intervenes to call the game a tie). It probably also means that you need a special occasion for baseball to mean something to you. As you age, you realize that a “special occasion” is more than you want out of a leisurely evening activity. You watch after work, with the guarantee that SOMETHING will happen, then the game will be over, and then you can go to sleep and wake up again, ready for more baseball because what happened the day before had no real effect on your psyche.

This is why I’m glad that football is only played once a week. Apart from the fact that everyone involved would quickly die if football was played as frequently as baseball, it remains true that football lends itself to a wide range of emotional responses from its viewers, borne out of an unpredictable nature that you simply do not find in baseball. You cannot watch football to unwind after a long day. I can’t think of a reason people would watch 162 three-hour games a year if these games were not playing a beneficial role in the lives of the fans. The All-Star Game is, by design, a disruption in the order of a baseball-watching routine. The prevailing thought then becomes less “Wow, all the best players are playing each other at once!” and more “It’s a shame that they had to get everyone out of whack just when Omar Infante was starting to make good contact for the first time in a while.” (A direct quote).

The All-Star Game signifies baseball for people who don’t really like baseball all that much. They’re the $4 Georgetown Cupcake in a world where the dessert cognoscenti can easily name a half dozen better places to get overcharged for baked goods. There’s joy to be had in a pennant race, or even a pitcher’s duel between September call-ups on hopeless teams, or even in the celebrity softball game held the day before the Game, where you might see Nelly hit a home run off of Patton Oswalt. See, you at least know that you’re not supposed to take that seriously. This realization led me to reverse my childhood stance on the All-Star Game: the days off are just days when you can’t relax and watch baseball after work (unless you’re a big Orix Blue Wave fan and are streaming the Japanese league). It’s not suitable background noise, as baseball tends to be. The theatrics then tend to betray the best quality of the game: its unobtrusiveness.

Happy Independence Play: The Top 4 American Athletes of 2014

On this Fourth of July, I want to take a moment to acknowledge just how awesome we Americans are at sports. It’s incredible! We may not have the best politicians, doctors, or architects, but who cares? Eventually, governments collapse, patients die, and Corinthian columns go out of style. Those record books, though, they last forever, and even though our athletes’ names are permanently etched in the history books, those guys still don’t always get the credit they deserve. So, in honor of a championship-laden first half of 2014, I want to honor the unsung stars (and stripes) of the USA.

Tony Parker

This All-American kid looked like General George Washington himself during this year’s NBA finals, leading the Spurs’ Remember-The-Alamotion offense to victory against that Castro-loving team from Little Havana. Tony’s pulled himself up by his bootstraps, not letting his undersized frame keep him from driving the ball to the hoop against his taller and more athletic foes. But Tony was also a living, breathing, fireworks-launching example of the harmony and cooperation between America’s states and citizens. He spread the ball to the brave American soldiers around him, including Marco “Liberty” Belinelli and Boris Diaw, the latter of whom moonlights in the intensely American sport of competitive eating. In his spare time, Tony enjoys hunting quail, eating at Carl’s Jr. (his favorite is the Big Booty Burger), and embarking on his yearly pilgrimage to Mount Rushmore. He hopes his face will also be carved into a northwestern mountain one day, or at the very least, a large plateau.

Team USA's Parker, mocking the French tendency toward ridiculous eyewear.

Team USA’s Parker, mocking the French tendency toward ridiculous eyewear.

Stan Wawrinka

Stan the Man, son of Tom and Laurie Wawrinka, reasserted the USA’s tennis dominance at this year’s Australian Open. His was an underdog story rivaling that of the 1980 Olympic hockey team. Call it the Miracle on Plexipave. On the way to his first Grand Slam championship, Stanley Steemer sent Novak Djokovic back to Serbia, a country that pretends it isn’t in the Soviet Union anymore, but actually is. He then inquisitioned Spanish conquistador Rafael Nadal. In doing so, he became the first player ever to knock of the two top-ranked players in a winning Grand Slam campaign. Stan credits his shotmaking, stamina, and mental toughness to hours spent practicing beneath the searing summer son of his small Texas hometown. He engages in pre-match carb loading at his local Applebee’s, and cites Kenny Chesney, Lee Greenwood, and Ted Nugent as highlights on the soundtrack for his warmup routine. In winning the Australian Open, Wawrinka became the first American man to win a Major championship since Andy Murray won Wimbledon in 2013.

Wawrinka has the above quote, misattributed to Samuel Beckett but actually from Mark Twain, tattooed on his left arm.

Wawrinka has the above quote, misattributed to Samuel Beckett but actually from Mark Twain, tattooed on his left arm.

Martin Kaymer

This Yankee golfer went south to Pinehurst, North Carolina in June, where he riveted his home crowd with a blistering victory at the 2014 US Open. He finished eight strokes ahead of the second-place finishers, Germans Erik Compton and Rickie Fowler. As a youth, Kaymer was mentored by Arnold Palmer, and it is said that the pair co-invented the famed lemonade-iced-tea concoction. Palmer initially wanted to mix iced tea with goat’s milk, but Kaymer persuaded his teacher to use lemonade instead, and not to pursue a post-golf career in beverage development. Kaymer sunk the winning putt for the US at the 2012 Ryder Cup, and enjoys watching episodes of “Ice Road Truckers” and “Deadliest Catch” between rounds. He eats and entire apple pie before every tee time, and vomits an entire apple pie if he gets a bad lie in the sand.

Kaymer proudly donning the red, white, and blue.

Kaymer proudly donning the red, white, and blue.

Ma Long

Football, basketball, and baseball may get all the airtime, but one mustn’t overlook the fact that the United States is a table tennis powerhouse. World #1 Long Ma isn’t a billionaire, doesn’t show up in many commercials, and has only been on the cover of Sports Illustrated twice, but he is, irrefutably, a giant of American sports. Adopted from China by former NFL star Howie Long (“Ma” is short for “Matthew”), he has continued the winning table tennis tradition in the United States, inspiring millions of Americans to drunkenly swat ping pong balls in the vicinity of beer-stained tables (better to assume it’s just beer) in bars around the country. Disappointed that his sport has been surpassed by beer pong as a favorite activity of undergraduates, Long nevertheless feels a strong devotion to his country, and is motivated to rack up championships around the world. Last month, at Venice Beach’s Bud Light Ping Pong Jam For The 18-29 Demographic, he won the Doubles Pro-Am title with partner 50 Cent. His favorite tourist attraction is the Pro Baseball Hall of Fame, and he has been romantically linked to Camilla Belle, the model and actress who previously dated Swedish former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow.

Ma Long performing a celebratory dance inspired by his close personal friend Michael Irvin.

Ma Long performing a celebratory dance inspired by his close personal friend Michael Irvin.

Let Me Run a Baseball Team: A Cover Letter

Dear Owner of Baseball Team,

The world of baseball has fallen into the hands of the analytically-minded. Problem solvers, number crunchers, and charts guys are the ones behind the scenes calling the shots. I am one of these people. The reasons why I should be the general manager of an MLB team are myriad in number. In fact, I could just write a much shorter letter about reasons why it wouldn’t be a good idea to let me run a major-league club. But here is a sampling of the reasons why I’ll be bringing a World Series all up into your kitchen, so to speak:

Playing Experience: One knock against the sabermetric community is that many of its members never played the game, and therefore lack intuitive knowledge about the day-to-day grind of a real baseball season. Not the case with me. As a seven-year veteran of my hometown youth recreational leagues, I bring an unparalleled feel for the game, along with everything else I will mention. Unofficial records indicate that in the 2003 Miami Springs Little League regular season, I recorded a slash line of .312/.421/.523. You might have noticed that that batting average is almost a full .100 higher than Billy Beane’s career average. That is not a typo. Although I was not much with the glove, I clearly know how to put the bat on the ball. And that’s why I’d be great at assembling an entire team that does just that, and can terrorize pitching staffs from Seattle to Tampa.

Age: In 2002, the Boston Red Sox made history by naming a 28-year-old Theo Epstein to the post of general manager, the youngest such hire in the history of the game. In the subsequent five years, the Red Sox went from being a cursed punchline to a near dynasty. Why? Because the infusion of youth in the front office. I am presenting any MLB club (except the Royals, because I don’t want to live in Missouri) with the opportunity to infuse their front office with an unprecedented amount of youth. I am 22 years old. With my fresh ideas about the game and upbringing in the digital era (all-emoji scouting reports, anyone?), a club would be taken aback by the sheer possibilities available to them. Why stop at Moneyball if those guys never won anything anyway? If the Red Sox had really struck when the iron was hot on Epstein, when HE was 22, then they would have won a minimum of five World Series titles, according to my sophisticated statistical model. Statistical model, you ask? Yes, I can make those, which brings me to my next point.

Number Wizardry Credentials: You might be thinking to yourself, “what the hell are you talking about, Jaime? You’ve never worked in baseball and you don’t really even pay that close attention to the team you root for.” It doesn’t matter. My lack of allegiance to any team only cements my decision-making ability. It’s all about the numbers. Did you know that Theo Epstein graduated from Yale with a degree in American studies? That’s cute. I have a statistics degree. While our pal Theo was out there talking about ennui in Rust Belt towns and the cultural impact of labor unions, or something else that doesn’t matter, I was hard at work MAKING CHARTS. Representing real data about real stuff. Stuff more important than baseball. Stuff of life-or-death consequence to people, like DISEASES. Having created visualizations of far more high-stakes data, I feel baseball is small potatoes. I’ve made charts of such quality that several respected chart experts have commented “good chart” on my work. Sometimes I wake up and have to go back to sleep because my dreams about charts were so pleasant that I couldn’t bear to look away.

With that, I believe I have made it abundantly clear that I would succeed immediately as general manager of (TEAM NAME – FILL IN). I look forward to working with you in the near future.

Regards,

Jaime

And You May Ask Yourself, How Did I Get Here? The Search Terms of Crooked Scoreboard

One of the nice things about running a website is that we get to spy on you. Our web design platform gives us all kinds of data about what you loyal readers are up to while you’re on our site. We know which pages you visit, which links you click, and which flavors of pork rinds you snack on while you’re reading. We also get to see what you typed into your Google machines before you landed on our site. Here are the best of the best:

“animal farm hello learn english iron man the song wait a minute netflix full house” - No, you don’t understand how this works. One thing at a time, sir!

“who is the football player who neglected the shakehand of a small boy this tournament”  - That was me, actually. The kid was eating cotton candy and his hands were all sticky and gross.

“donald sterling’s mistress v soriano a man”

“ever since vince young cussed out his nonsupporting white coach vy has been blackballed” - Ever since Tom Brokaw was a terrible quarterback, he was blackballed from the NFL, too.

“what is the meaning of the ad by the topps company ad for jelly bully what is the meaning” - The meaning is Udonis Haslem is the meaning.

“society doesn’t make sense it’s so unrewarding” - We’re sorry you feel this way! We hope our site changed your mind, but we suspect it did not.

“i need a spell to unite my family june 2014″

“how to become a sponsor for a shoe company” – First you should have an intervention. Then you can take Skechers to an AA meeting, if it’s a willing participant.

“stop watching football – your career prospects are diminishing as we speak…. career in waste disposal?”

“give me a positive and negative of using of scoreboard in basketball” - Positive? You don’t need someone to carve tally marks into the walls. Negative? No kiss cam.

“ordinary style and twingle style sex” - Finally, someone found what what he or she (let’s not kid ourselves; this was a guy) was looking for.

Under Further Review: Back on Board

The documentary genre tends to be at its best when someone with an extraordinary mind is at the center of things. If a film immerses me in the life of an oddball artist, a forward-thinking genius, or a narcissistic conman, I’ll have a hard time resisting its pull. For better or worse, Greg Louganis is none of these things. The decorated Olympic diver, who won five metals (four gold) between 1976 and 1988, broke records with his physical skill, but he isn’t the rare personality who worms his way into your mind and stays there. Sometimes, though, two ordinary people can join forces to do something extraordinary. Louganis never would have become America’s best-ever Olympic diver had he not studied under coach Ron O’Brien, who was unfazed by his student’s homosexuality and HIV-positive status, even as a married man living in the heart of the Reagan era. The unlikely partnership between these two men forms the emotional core of director Cheryl Furjanic’s Back on Board, a documentary that has a great deal to say about sports and LGBT issues, without planting itself too firmly in the categories of “sports movie” or “gay movie.”

For someone who became a high-profile Olympic star with rumors about his sexuality constantly bubbling beneath the surface, Greg Louganis comes across as a fairly normal person. His relationship to an American public that was both proud of its successful home athlete and skeptical of his personal life was undoubtedly a difficult one, but throughout his 12-year career, his focus rarely wavered from diving. There were no on-camera breakdowns, drama-laden trips to rehab, or blindsiding public revelations about his sexuality and health. All of the components needed for any one of these disasters were there, but Louganis and O’Brien held things together so that tabloid fodder never got in the way of success. The medals came at a price: the open secret that Louganis was gay kept him from the levels of wealth and fame that his contemporaries, like gymnast Mary Lou Retton, enjoyed for years. The coveted Wheaties box eluded him.

Even in the face of financial ruin brought on by a greedy, duplicitous ex-partner, Louganis started to find his voice and his niche when he retired from competition. In his 1996 autobiography Breaking the SurfaceLouganis publicly disclosed his sexual orientation and his HIV status for the first time. He was greeted by more positive reactions than he expected, and the film does an excellent job showing how the success of the book caused a gradual upward turn in Louganis’ quality of life. Throughout the ensuing book tour, lines of customers at LGBT bookstores snaked through nearby streets.

Despite of the success and peace of mind that the autobiography brought him, Louganis felt as though his sexuality rendered him unwelcome in the diving community. The film’s title refers to his re-entry into this world just as much as it refers to his overall victory against personal struggles. After over 20 years away from the sports, Louganis returned to USA Diving as a coach of the 2012 Olympic team. A key player in his decision to return was Coach Ron O’Brien, who remains a friend and mentor to Louganis until this day.

Its exploration of the friendship between Louganis and O’Brien is where Back on Board sets itself apart from the typical athletes-overcoming-adversity story. It is an incredible stroke of luck that the two men found themselves working together. Louganis believes that many coaches in the diving community would have been uncomfortable, if not openly hostile, working with a gay, HIV-positive athlete. But O’Brien brushes aside these issues, simply remarking that Greg didn’t choose to be gay; he was born that way. It’s not a terribly insightful line, but it’s said with sincerity, which makes all the difference. A climactic scene in which Louganis gifts his Olympic medals to his coach is an apt ending to a story that is ultimately about friendship, cooperation, and interpersonal understanding. Plenty of talented people face hardship, but few have the combination of personal strength and outside support needed to come through that hardship gracefully. Back on Board is unique in its understanding that redemption stories are just as much about the redeemers as the redeemed.

From the Wing: A Close Encounter of the Trail Blazer Kind

This may shock you in light of the millions of pageviews this site receives every day, but I have a day job. For this job, I am spending a few days in Portland for a conference. A few days ago, I flew from DC to Portland, with a stop in Dallas. I could get into how I woke up in Philadelphia the day of my flight without having brought the luggage for my Portland trip, setting in motion a protracted low-budget episode of The Amazing Race across DC and its Virginia suburbs, but then I would have nothing to document on my travelogue Pinterest (it isn’t just for bridesmaids’ dresses and baked goods anymore!)

Instead, I’ll tell you all about a curious thing that happened on the Dallas-Portland leg of the flight. I was assigned seat 23F, a window seat over a wing. A good place, I thought, to read my copy of Skymall and wonder aloud whether the self-cleaning litterbox would look better in red or beige. Right as I settled into my seat, however, I saw a very, very tall man walking down the aisle. I thought to myself, “Damn, it’s probably really uncomfortable to be that tall on a plane. Moreover, whoever has to sit next to…” I couldn’t finish the thought because the man had already settled into 23E and taken both armests, so I had to switch my Skymall out for a paperback (Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth, highly recommended) to conserve elbow space. We exchanged hellos, and the plane took off.

The flight departed at around 10 PM, a time when most people on a three-hour flight with no in-flight entertainment would want to sleep. My two row-mates did just that, and I was left with a dilemma: do I turn my light on? I agonized over this decision for several minutes. I finally decided there was no way it was bright enough to disrupt someone’s slumber, so I turned it on, and obviously the bulb got lit up like Heath Bell in a save situation. My neighbor stirred a bit, but settled back to sleep. A success, I thought. Shortly thereafter, I looked down to retrieve a dropped bookmark, and I saw that the man was wearing socks with the NBA logo. These were very nice looking socks. They looked to be made of some sort of very fine material, as far as athletic socks go. “Guy must be a very big fan,” I thought, “those socks probably run like $20 a pair. Why would anyone have those?”

Why *would* anyone have those? I mean, an NBA players probably receive a bunch of pairs. Maybe this guy knew an NBA player? There was no way he WAS an NBA player, right? A 6’6″ NBA player wouldn’t be on a red-eye from Dallas to Portland in coach, in a MIDDLE SEAT. It wasn’t first class, it wasn’t a chartered private jet with models as stewardesses or a galley full of magnums of champagne. He wasn’t even in an exit row with extra legroom. So, it was especially weird when I glanced over and saw a boarding pass with the name BARTON, WILLIAM on it. I knew that name.

I knew that name because I played my roommate in NBA 2K13 as the Trail Blazers a ton of times, and the backup shooting guard, one WILL BARTON, absolutely cannot make a shot in that game. He and Meyers Leonard and Joel Freeland come in and stink the place up, every time, without fail. This is the one thing I knew about Will Barton, except that he was still on the team and didn’t score very much, or get many minutes. I now knew I was sitting next to this guy, disturbing his slumber with my selfish desire to read late-20th century fiction. Perhaps it was because of inconsiderate plane neighbors like me that he never got his three-point shot right. I was the reason for my own 2K dismantling. This is why I didn’t give him any inclination that I knew who he was. This is why I didn’t comment on his decision to order a cran-apple juice. (I love that juice! I didn’t know they had such niche juices on domestic flights anymore!) I did, however, do some investigative reporting, and picked up his boarding pass after he left the plane, so that people would believe me, even though sitting next to Will Barton would be a very bizarre thing to lie about.

BoardingPass

The fact that a man who made over $900,000 last year was sitting in that seat was not very NBA at all. I guess it’s good to know that he wasn’t buying a new wardrobe in every city just to avoid packing, like Allen Iverson did. Good on you, Will Barton, for not caring about my light pollution and not caring when I peeked at your group iMessage, which was probably with Damian Lillard, Lamarcus Aldridge, Shaq, Michael Jordan, and every other cool person ever. Tell them I said “hi.”

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