Sunday, May 31, 2009

On the NBA's Cranky, Manic Depressive Tendencies

Of all the explanations and rationalizations and manic hand-wringing over the reasons for Cleveland's defeat, of all the arguments that have been formulated against Mike Brown and Mo Williams and Delonte West and Danny Ferry and St. Vincent-St. Mary High School and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the city of Cleveland itself, of all the bandwidth occupied today by angst-ridden commenters blaming defeat on an inexplicable shortage of Lorenzen Wright or J.J. Hickson, of all the attempts to somehow condemn or marginalize LeBron James himself (although, in fact, based on the ridiculous numbers he put up in this series, you could make an effective argument that he is actually underrated)--it is this one, from Charley Rosen, that most confounded me. It is, I guess, one reason why the NBA is in a constant state of emotional anguish, why it is "always in trouble," and why the culture of the game itself is one of pathological self-obsession on all sides (fans, media, and the league):

LeBron's swaggering and continual self-promotion was the most egregious of these haughty antics. It's only fitting that the prestidigitations of the Magic made LeBron disappear in the same cloud of chalk dust that he ostentatiously employed to announce his imperial presence before each game.

I have little doubt that Charley Rosen could argue, quite effectively, that he has forgotten more about professional basketball in the past 24 hours than I will ever remember (and in his column, he does make some interesting points which allude to the basic fact that explains everything, which goes something like this, according to one addled Cleveland friend of mine: THE ORLANDO MAGIC ARE A BETTER TEAM THAN THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS). But I refuse to believe that unfettered joy is somehow what doomed the Cleveland Cavaliers, just as I do not believe the league was somehow better, as Simmons and other have argued, when players were permitted to wrestle and brawl and charge into the stands after fans in truly regrettable sportjackets. Does this mean that Dwight Howard smiles too much to win a championship? And wouldn't Howard's invocation of the Lord as the central factor in Orlando's success qualify as a far more "haughty" and "ostentatious" gesture than the explusion of microparticles of chalk dust into the air?

I speak as a casual fan, but I presume I speak for many like me when I say that these have been the most compelling playoffs in recent memory. And yet it still seems like no one is quite happy with the NBA or its superstars, and its superstars are angst-ridden,* and even the NBA doesn't seem quite satisfied with itself. It is a twisted and psychologically complex relationship; Nike is perhaps the only self-assured party here, and their attempt to assuage us with Muppet propaganda has failed miserably. I suppose, if nothing else, this explains the game's continued attraction to tormented Jewish filmmakers.

*Rosen suggests LeBron's refusal to speak to the media after Game 6 reveals "an ego of... humungous proportions." I would argue that Rosen's attempt to delve into Freudian analysis of a player's refusal to utter five minutes of banal cliches, when in fact he will have six months to address every possible issue at hand, is probably a little overstated. But that's just me.

Update: Apparently Rosen has harbored a longstanding (and, as far as I can tell, largely inexplicable) grudge against LeBron. Is this "New Paltz bias"?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

On..Oh, I'm Sorry, But This Is Just Childish

Anti-Denver cabals.* Accusations of general officiating incompetence from the nation's most prominent NBA writer, who makes some solid points but generally (unless I am misreading him) yearns for a return to the glory days of grown men beating on each other in the paint. Let us all agree: The most compelling NBA playoffs in recent memory have been ruined by the zebras,'s not true.

But I suppose this is what happens when sources of objectivity are subsumed by a dense forest of fandom.**

Quoth ESPN's John Hollinger:

That won't stop everybody from grousing about it in the meantime, of course. We'll complain about zebras' being cowed by the league into blowing whistles on every play and hark back to the glory days when the Bulls and Knicks would beat each other up while the refs stood by and let the grown men settle it. (Those seasons actually had higher rates of free-throw attempts per field goal attempt than 2008-09, but we wouldn't want facts to get in the way of a good story.)

The Internet: Fostering paranoia and conspiracy theories since 1995.

*I realize, as previously stated, that the NBA brought much of this criticism upon itself with the Donaghy revelations, but the fact that actual players are now accusing the Lakers of paying $50,000 to "win that game" is proof of just how utterly ridiculous the conspiratorial notions have gotten. And why only $50,000? I realize this is the fine Phil Jackson and the Lakers paid for complaining after Game 4, but come on now: Is that all it costs to guarantee a playoff victory these days? Shouldn't there be an extra vig on the back end? Doesn't Jack Nicholson pay more than that for a single-game ticket? I would think there are reserves on the Denver bench who pay more than that for their earrings. Perhaps this is proof that the fundamentals of the economy are worse than we could have imagined. Somebody get Geithner on the line!

**Terrible metaphor alert.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On the Internets (and NBA conspiracies)*

(NOTE: The first half of this post is a rant about the future of the Internet; the second half is a rant about NBA conspiracy theorists. I'm not sure if the two are at all related, but hey, it's a blog! Peruse at your leisure.)

And my point is this: the major content businesses of the world and the most talented creators of that content -- music, newspapers, movies and books -- have all been seriously harmed by the Internet....Freedom without restraint is chaos, and if we don't figure out some way to prevent online chaos, the quantity, quality and availability of the kinds of entertainment, literature, art and scholarship we need to have a healthy, vibrant culture will suffer.
--Michael Lynton, chairman and CEO, Sony Pictures Entertainment

It is not often that I find myself concurring with the general philosophical principles of a CEO, especially when said CEO happens to be blogging for the Huffington Post. Lynton's primary complaint is about Internet piracy, since it is piracy that most directly affects his own business, but I think the argument could be extended to include what he refers to as "changing business models," and this notion that the Internet has so completely changed the rules of our culture that--hey!--none of the old ones apply anymore. Of course, those of us who point out the danger of such an attitude are merely corporatist Luddite left/right-wing Jewish homosexual pornographers whose only interest is in impeding modern progress by stealing away your ability to read Thomas Friedman gratis while illegally downloading Nickelback songs and second-rate comic-book adaptations starring Tim Riggins.

I'm not quite sure how this is all going to end. But if we all believe that mainstream media and popular culture is mired in mediocrity and subjectivity, how is it going to improve by removing the financial incentive to create anything objectively worthwhile?

*One in a series of poorly informed (and mercifully brief) rants that have little or nothing to do with sports, except in an extremely tangential fashion.**

**However, let me add: I do find it amusing that the Internet has given the people the power to explode anything remotely controversial into an unquestioned conspiracy. Most notably, I am thinking of NBA officiating--which would seem to have certain legitimate conspiratorial elements. Therefore, given even the hint of an actual conspiracy (and granted, the Donaghy situation was not a great thing), it has now become an absolute given that the NBA is fixed, that is utterly rigged, that David Stern is a Nike-owned puppetmaster (ah, those commercials are one big metaphor!!!), and that Stern and his band of merry troublemakers (led by Joey Crawford) are pulling the strings for an L.A.-Cleveland NBA Finals.

Except, what happens if we do wind up with Orlando-Denver? Does this mean that Dwight Howard and his granite shoulders have somehow foiled Big Brother? Does this mean that Walt Disney and John Elway are in fact involved, in a much greater conspiracy than anything Nike could ever imagine? Does this mean David Stern has been ejected from the Bilderberg Group? Are the lizard people in charge? Is Rick Reilly somehow involved?

This sounds like a Warren Beatty movie waiting to happen!

But then, what do I know? I am just a corporate tool.

(Photo: Timothy A. Clarey/AFP/Getty Images, via

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

On Tall People

My latest ESPN column, exploring the logic (or perhaps lack thereof) behind the dearth of tall players in the NFL, can be found here. In keeping with the unexpectedly Cleveland-friendly vibe of this here blog, it is part of larger package about whether a certain very tall Akron-born individual (pictured) could make it as an NFL wide receiver.

This package was not my idea, but I think it is an intriguing one. As you can probably tell, I do not think it is humanly possible to engage in LeBron overkill at this moment in time; in the late 1990's, when I covered the PGA Tour, it was entirely justifiable to write a story about Tiger Woods every single day of a six-day tournament. (In fact, that's probably still true.) This was what interested people; this was what they wanted to read. The demand for profiles of Davis Love III was not exactly overwhelming. So I suppose if "media bias" consists of writing a greater number of stories about athletes that interest a greater number of people, then yes, media bias does exist. Alert the blogosphere at your leisure.

Anyway, let us all agree on an objective truth: In the NBA, the star system exists for a reason; in no other realm can a single individual become so clearly responsible for his team's success, especially in the playoffs. There are four teams remaining, anchored by four outstanding players; and while Carmelo Anthony has become the most weirdly fascinating superstar of this era, anchoring a team that plays like a ridiculously talented AAU squad; and while Dwight Howard is no doubt capable of strangling a crocodile with his bare hands, I would continue to submit that LeBron James is the most captivating athlete in the NBA, and Kobe is a close second, and the only people (beside ironic hipster contrarians) who might legitimately be able to say that they'd find an Orlando-Denver NBA finals more intriguing than LA-Cleveland are Walt Disney*, George O'Leary and John Elway.**

That said, it may happen anyway. In which case, it will be time to re-evaluate everything I've just said.

*Presuming there is basic cable in cryogenics facilities.
**And you should know that the author owns zero (0) pairs of Nike sneakers, and finds puppets kind of intimidating.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

On The Shot '09

The older I get, the more reluctant I am to believe in the notion that something as esoteric as a sporting event could be decided by mystical forces. You win some, you lose some: It all evens out in the end. Everything is life is 50-50, a friend often says. And even a moment that seemingly defies logic is, in fact, the product of several million hours of shooting drills and conditioning drills, the product of a superior genetic code, the product of maturity and musculature and skeletal structure...

But let us not kid ourselves. Cleveland has been due. For a long time. So perhaps this is what karma looks like.

Friday, May 22, 2009

On Tony K.

I come from a long line of balding and irascible Jews, and so I feel a certain inevitable kinship with Tony Kornheiser. And while I will take him at his word that his resignation from the Monday Night Football booth was voluntary, and while I imagine Jon Gruden will do a fine (if VERY INTENSE) job as Kornheiser's replacement, this does raise an interesting quandary about the average sports fan, who does not abide by lightheartedness or cynicism or pop-cultural musings during an actual game, but will gladly wade into these waters for hours at a time between kickoffs.

I suppose that's what ESPN is aiming for here: A more HARDCORE FOOTBALL crew, perhaps in an effort to directly compete with the NFL Network, perhaps as a reaction to the fact that Monday Night Football is now only the second-most popular game in a given week (Sunday, after all, is now "Football Night in America," although I actually refer to it as "Keith Olbermann Night in Socialist Russia"), and MNF often attracts only the truly degenerate fans who can bring themselves to sit still for a Week 15 matchup between the Vikings and the Lions. It makes sense for ESPN to go TOTAL FOOTBALL, but it also kind of unwittingly reflects my own cranky complaints about the new media landscape, which increasingly only offers two viable options: Hardcore SABR-metric analysis based on statistical regression, or blogs named after 1980's middle-relief pitchers that link to pictures of WAGs and drop steady streams of cynical references about...well, pretty much everyone.

It used to be that newspapers served to fill in the middle ground between the hardcore and the ridiculous; newspapers, when fully staffed, offered the best glimpse of personalities, of ongoing narratives--Kornheiser's genius as a newspaper columnist, in fact, was his very fusty ability to call out bad behavior while simultaneously tempering the seriousness of the games themselves. (I would argue that he did this on MNF, as well, by calling out the otherwise excellent Ron Jaworski on his forays into rampant nerdiness.) But this, I think, is the real problem with the new media landscape: There is no middle ground anymore. And if that makes me sound irascible, well, so be it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

On Kobe and Spike

I've always thought that even Spike Lee's failures tend to be relentlessly interesting, but I have to agree with the general assessment (made by Bill Simmons, among others) that Kobe: Doin' Work is both the dullest and the most uncomfortable film he's ever made. In case you missed the worldwide cable television debut, here is the idea: Spike chases Kobe around for a day, toting a phalanx of cameras, gaining unprecedented access to a locker room full of teammates who seem highly amused by this whole notion, and then Kobe steps in months later (on the night of his 61-point explosion against the Knicks at the Garden) to provide voice-over narration, detailing his thoughts and insecurities and quantum theories during a blase regular-season victory over the San Antonio Spurs. In other words, it is ninety minutes of Kobe "encouraging" his teammates by displaying an embarrassingly high-octane level of enthusiasm, ninety minutes of Kobe droning on about execution and laughing hollowly his at his own jokes, ninety minutes of Kobe reinforcing his perceived place as Phil Jackson's intellectual equal. At one point, he actually begins diagramming defensive rotations on a whiteboard. At another moment, Kobe lovingly declares that he and Jackson are kindred spirits because they "both love basketball, and we both love details."

Such are the psychic revelations of Kobe: Doin' Work.

I presume that this was Spike's attempt to craft a strictly technical film about the game he loves, a profile of a man in his element, sort of a documentary version of John McPhee's classic book-length profiles of Bill Bradley and Arthur Ashe. There is, in fact, no discussion of Kobe's background, or of his experiences outside of basketball, except for some platitudes about his children; as with every other attempt to understand Kobe, it is impossible to ignore the glaring omission of a single event that continues to define him, more than anything else, despite his best efforts to distract us.

Still, Spike had an intriguing idea--a thorough dissection of the complexities of a single NBA game through the eyes of its best player, an attempt to capture Kobe Being Kobe. The problem is that Kobe refuses to reveal himself in any way that even seems remotely real. His persona is either A.) laughably contrived or B.) completely hollow. At times, it is vaguely Batemanesque.* It is almost as if he is trying to make his public self as boring as possible, as if this will somehow negate the sins of his past. There are ways to get at this, to peel beneath those layers and reveal what is perhap the strangest superstar arcs of our time (as Mike Sager did here), but this is not that movie. This is ninety minutes of extremely unsettling small talk, ninety minutes of a man who would clearly prefer it if we just loved him for being Kobe. Whatever the hell that is.

*Though let me make clear: I do not think Kobe is a serial killer. Nor do I believe he is a fan of Phil Collins' solo career.

(Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images/ESPN the Mag)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

On the Paradox of the Internets

I was reading a recap of a popular television show* on a prominent sports blog this morning, and I noticed that the author linked to a vague and confusing Wikipedia entry for a book of Flannery O'Connor short stories. At first, this made me rather angry, because it was clear that the author of this blog--an influential voice in the blogosophere, and a former journalist--had never actually heard of Flannery O'Connor, let alone read anything she's written**, and I fell into one of my thrice-daily condescending laments about the Internet, about how it is making idiots of us all, and how it has basically turned me into a drooling ADD-addled numbskull who checks his IPhone every six minutes and skips from one site to the next and scans the Huffington Post headlines without ever actually absorbing any information at all.

And then I considered this. And I thought, I have just read a reference to a Flannery O'Connor short story on a website whose primary preoccupations include A.) Whether a one-time backup wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles is indeed dating a Playboy model, and B.) Post-apocalyptic survivalism. This, of course, is what is so brilliant about Lost: While absorbing audiences into its story, and into the emotional arcs of its characters, it is also doing something that few, if any, network television shows in history have done: It is surreptitiously attempting to make us all smarter, to make us read things we otherwise would not have read (I almost picked up a copy of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time at a used bookstore the other day, but I started reading it and became intimidated), to make us contemplate really huge and unanswerable questions that often seem to get--well, lost--in the modern age.***

Again, this doesn't have a lot to do with sports--except I think it has something, however vague the connection, to do with the future of the Internet, and with the future of journalism, and with the future for people like me, who traffic largely in books and long-form narratives that attempt to grasp at some greater truth. I would like to think that these types of stories will still exist in 20 years; in fact, it is kind of interesting how the best television shows have grown increasingly more intelligent, driven largely by HBO, which--not coincidentally--charges a little something extra for its product. Maybe this will happen with the Internet, as well. But it can't happen for free.

So I would like to think that the mythology a show like Lost has engendered--the fact that there are now websites dedicated to deciphering Latin phraseology and analyzing the works of Charles Dickens and Desmond Hume--are further proof that technology can, in fact, contribute to an intelligent dialogue, and that this will happen in new and different and currently unfathomable ways, when (and if) we find a revenue model that works, so that such creativity can be fostered.**** In sports, I hope that means there is still a place for pieces that deliver subtext, that dig deeper, that actually tell real stories, that there will always be a place for something more than 140-character punchlines or links to stories that somehow involve Michael Irvin.

The problem, at the moment, is that stories like these--stories as complexed and layered and nuanced as Lost--require two things to thrive: Patience, and financing. And at the moment, the Internet--or at least, Internet journalism--is in short supply of both.

*Hint: Said show involves mysterious polar bears.
**Which is, of course, typically hypocritical behavior on my part, since I've had a copy of O'Connor's collected stories on my shelf for years, and have probably read 2-3 of the stories in that book.
***My guess is I've come to learn more random facts about history, philosophy, and literature in the reading Doc Jensen's column on than anything else I've ever read on the Internet.
****And no, I do not believe that serious journalism cries out to be free, any more than Jeff Tweedy is crying out for me to illegally download his new album. And I think the people who are saying things like this are going to very embarrassed about them someday. Either that, or they will be embarrassed when they attempt to read "citizen journalists" who have not read an actual book since Hop on Pop attempt to craft a coherent narrative about a zoning board meeting.

Monday, May 11, 2009

On the Allure of the '80's*

I saw a movie called Adventureland this weekend, and I cannot recommend it highly enough: I like to think of myself as a megafan of the "teen/college/post-college angst" genre (see: My first book), and this one was different from anything I'd seen in recent years. The humor was subtle. It did not overreach, and it did not resort to slapstick**. It was perhaps the best entry in the category of "overwrought youth romance" since Dazed and Confused.

Of course, I have an ingrained bias. Adventureland was set in 1987; the book I've been writing for the past two years is set in 1986. I have a colleague who recently wrote a book that was set in 1984. There is an obvious allure to setting stories in this time period, if only because this was the moment when so many of us Gen X-ers came of age. But it is also the last moment when youth culture was only superficially engaged by technology, when cable television remained a novelty (there is one scene that incorporates MTV, and it is perfectly placed), when even a cordless phone seemed an unnecessary luxury. Adventureland is set in a dreary old amusement park in Pittsburgh, of the sort I used to visit with my friends amid the doldrums of midsummer in central Pennsylvania. It is a movie about youth culture in the age before youth culture became tangled up in technological spiderwebs, and, perhaps because we've all been so swept up in these changes, this movie--despite a plot we've seen before--somehow seemed simpler and sweeter and less contrived. Also, the soundtrack is absolutely perfect, and afterward, I had a yearning to go to a record store and browse and purchase the remastered versions of the Replacements' Tim and Lou Reed's Transformer. I wanted to buy the actual CD's. After watching that movie, I felt like I needed a tactile experience.

And then I remembered that there are no longer any record stores in my neighborhood.

It wasn't really that long ago, and yet, given how fast we're moving, it somehow it feels like it was.

*This post has absolutely nothing to do with sports, but as the great Charles P. Pierce once wrote, "my column is like my house...If you don't like my paintings, my food or my music, don't come to my house."
**Unlike director Greg Mottola's previous film, Superbad. That film was entertaining, but in a completely different way--as is everything written/directed/produced by the Apatow mafia, none of which I would describe as subtle.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

On Manny

Here's the thing: I actually kind of believe Manny Ramirez. Given the circumstances, I probably shouldn't say this, because its baseball, and there are no surprises anymore. But Manny is, well, Manny. He is the exception to every rule. We've known for quite some time that this dude is utterly inscrutable; ten years ago, I wrote an extensive profile* of him which revealed what we all pretty much knew, even then--Manny is amazingly weird, but he is also completely guileless. All of which makes me think that if Manny had been doing steroids all these years, he wouldn't have been able to keep it a secret from the writers, from his coaches, from the front office.

Manny is the bizarro Alex Rodriguez--he is utterly oblivious as to his image. He does absurd things, but he almost always does them because he doesn't think, because he is not capable of scheming and planning even the contours of his own life. Which is why it makes perfect sense that he would take a medication without checking whether it might be affect a drug test. But I just can't imagine he would even possess the ability to fool everyone around him for years at a time. If it is true, this would potentially be the greatest con since the days of Doyle Lonnegan.

Then again, this is baseball in the 00's. Anything is possible.

*The version I've linked to was rewritten and reprinted by the editors of the Sporting News--therefore, I cannot be held responsible for some of the literary flourishes.

Update: Well, this doesn't look good. Or, to keep with The Sting metaphor:

Your boss is quite a card player, Mr. Kelly; how does he do it?

He cheats.

(Photo: Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

On the Tao of LeBron

I don't watch much NBA regular-season basketball. I'm not sure who does, with the exception of David Stern, Bill Simmons, Jack Nicholson and my friends at Slam magazine. Me? If I'm going to spend an hour absorbing something mindless and haphazard, I prefer Chris Matthews.

For the most part, the NBA regular season is a frustrating and defeatist exercise: It is 10 incredibly muscular and athletic men engaging in a glorified rec center pick-up game for 40 minutes, before 2 or 3 of the best dudes on each side choose to actually pick up their feet and play defense and engage in isolated games of one-on-one down the stretch. Sometimes, this lethargy carries over to the playoffs, which explains why one team can suddenly make up a 28-point deficit in the course of seven minutes. In no sport I can think of is the lack of effort such a glaringly obvious--and tacitly accepted--part of the game.

I don't think LeBron James can change this entire culture by himself. But I watched the Cavaliers dismantle the Hawks last night, and what was enlightening about it--what feels different (and strangely disconcerting) about watching the Cavaliers play--is that they actually seem to be playing hard all the time. They chase after loose balls. They throw the extra pass. They take charges (even LeBron, who saved what would have been an otherwise simple alley-oop dunk by stepping in on the passer at the last possible moment). "If the newly crowned MVP is willing to hit the court [and that often hurts] like an undrafted free agent trying to make the team -- it tells everyone else to follow his lead," wrote Terry Pluto. "Later in the first half, 7-3 Zydrunas Ilgauskas hit the court twice for loose balls. Remember, this is the same Ilgauskas who had five foot surgeries in his career."

I think that's what could wind up being most unique about the Age of LeBron (which certainly feels as if its glorious arrival is upon us). More than any other player in the modern history of basketball--moreso even than Michael Jordan--LeBron has a way of making his teammates care, of eliciting the kind of effort that seems almost anachronistic. Jordan accomplished this by being a taskmaster--and often, by being an absolute jerk--but we accepted this, because this was Michael's way, and it worked for him.*

But with LeBron, these things occur organically, given his natural tendency to pass before shooting, given his genial (and often outright goofy) persona. He can be dominant and still somehow be utterly likeable. I'm not sure if we've seen anyone like that in the modern age, with the possible exception of Magic Johnson. And--while I hope against hope that LeBron will somehow be powerful enough to cajole his peers, as well as the next generation of Lil LeBrons, into revolutionizing the NBA--I'm not sure we will ever see anything like this again.

*Kobe, of course, came of age the Era of Jordan, and therefore mimicked Jordan's domineering style. This is why Kobe was not very likeable, even before that, um, thing happened.

Monday, May 4, 2009

On LeBron and His Hometown

I spent five years living and working as a sportswriter in Akron, Ohio, in the late 1990's, which would be a rather unremarkable statement, except for the fact that I can now say that I lived and worked in Akron, Ohio at a moment when perhaps the greatest athlete of our generation (or, potentially, of any generation) was coming of age. This still seems utterly bizarre to me. I remember watching LeBron James win the state championship as a freshman, at a time when he was still growing into his own body; I remember his coaches raving about his potential, uttering the kinds of things that sound so hyperbolic that you have trouble believing there could be any truth to them at all. Honestly, I didn't believe them. I remember a friend urging me to come back to Akron shortly after I left so I could write a book about this kid (since then, four different friends/colleagues of mine have combined to write three different books about him). I think, at some point, I probably watched him play football, too.

This afternoon, LeBron will do something that I'm guessing not many NBA Most Valuable Players have done before: He will accept his trophy in his high-school gym, in his hometown.

It is difficult, despite the time I spent there, for me to fully comprehend the impact LeBron has had on Akron. This is a town with a strange and checkered history, a bastion of middle-American life at its finest and its most bizarre, the home of the Soap Box Derby and Geoffrey Dahmer, the home of a world-class golf course and a once-proud (and now decimated) American industry. It is a place, my friend David likes to say, where there is one of everything, but only one. And this is why it has been so fascinating to see how LeBron James has continued to identify himself with his hometown as much (or perhaps moreso) than any other major American athlete.* This is also why I believe that as long as the Cavaliers are able to provide him with his teammates who can actually catch his passes, he probably will not leave. He has no reason to leave. He has lived here his entire life; he knows nothing else, and he seems happy with that, and I think this will remain fundamentally true even if he winds up spending six months of his year living in a Tribeca condominium and hanging out with Jay-Z. Life for a superathlete is different than in the age of Jordan; the proliferation of electronic media, of this very medium, means an athlete of LeBron's stature can succeed without actually playing in a major media market. In New York, as outstanding as he is, he would still be one of many; in Akron, he is one of one.

*Tom Brady is from San Mateo, California. Tiger Woods is from Cypress, California. I had to look these up.

(Photo: Bob DeMay/Akron B-J, Mark Duncan, AP, via NYT)

Friday, May 1, 2009

On Mandatory Minimums and Len Bias

From the WSJ:

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration said it favors shorter jail sentences for crimes involving crack cocaine, a stance likely to spark a debate with law-enforcement officials who have opposed easing the penalties.
Under current law, a person caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine gets the mandatory minimum sentence of five years, while it takes only five grams of crack cocaine to trigger the same sentence. Critics of the law have long maintained that it unfairly targets African-American communities, where crack is more prevalent.

We are fast approaching the 23rd anniversary of Len Bias' death, and this has become the most socially impactful aspect of his legacy. I wrote this (very long) piece about Bias' life and death and the "legislative frenzy" that brought about these sentences on; I'll also explore this angle in the book I'm writing. It's just nonsensical, knowing what we know now about the hyperbole disseminated during the crack scare of the '80's--and about the futility of the all-out War on Drugs--that these disparities still exist.