Thursday, July 30, 2009

On Red Sox Nation

Well, that should just about do it.

Allow me a brief chronology: I first parted ways with baseball in 1994, when they chose to deep-six the World Series out of spite. I came back in 2000, when I moved to a cramped and leaky one-bedroom apartment in Boston, in a neighborhood known as the Fenway. I was close enough to the park that I could hear the crowd from my living-room window, and in the instant it took for the satellite to catch up, I knew that something intriguing was about to transpire on my television set. I was a graduate student, and I was perpetually broke, and I would walk to the gym on Lansdowne Street and purchase a five-dollar Italian sausage for dinner on the way home. The Red Sox were a distraction from my own work, a distraction from my attempts to write and to think and to comprehend a Samuel Beckett novel. Hell, the Red Sox were a Samuel Beckett novel.

And so I became a Red Sox fan, at age 27, for the same reason every vaguely literary soul who moved to Boston became a Red Sox fan back then; because they represented the eternal struggle of mankind. The Red Sox were made up of men like Rich Garces and Trot Nixon and Brian Daubach: They were a collection of likeable but flawed humans, forever nudging a boulder uphill. I pulled for them mostly because I could not help but sympathize with all those people who had bided the past eight decades in search of a single triumph.

And then, of course, not long after I joined up with these desperate souls, it just kind of happened; they stumbled into victory, and they did it behind a pair of (seemingly) guileless goofballs who pounded horsehides onto the Massachusetts Turnpike. And in the wake of that victory, the Red Sox themselves became something completely different; they became, as we are all well aware by now, a trend, a fad, a mainstream movement, an army of sorority girls in pink caps, a subsidiary of the school of fan obnoxiousness. The whole thing always seemed kind of hollow and false, as if their souls had somehow been inhabited by spectral figures who had wandered out of an Iowa cornfield. Now we know why. It is because the Red Sox, like everyone else in the game, sold their soul for victory.

And it doesn't matter that this whole issue is increasingly shrouded in moral relativism, and it doesn't matter that Bill James could very well be right when he says that, in 40-50 years, steroids will be rendered utterly mundane and will be accepted by the mainstream, and that no one will hold much against those who chose to engineer their own bodies. Because if nothing else, the steroid era has already transformed the most charming franchise in baseball into something hulking and unrecognizable. And I'm not sure there is any way of going back.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

On Fight Clubs, Journalists, and German Magazines

Just when I have gone and condemned baseball as a stultifying and backward-thinking sport, thereby alienating approximately 47 percent of the already modest readership of this corner of cyberspace--well, along come the Mets, whose general manager, Omar Minaya, having previously hired Tyler Durden as VP for player development, defended himself by auditioning for the role of media ombudsman, accusing an unsuspecting Daily News reporter named Adam Rubin of "lobbying" for a job in player development. This led to a press conference of the genre classified by cultural anthropologists and light-beer enthusiasts as "extremely uncomfortable," during which a man's career flashes before our very eyes.

In this case, it was immediately clear that, even if Minaya's accusations were completely true (and Rubin claims they are exaggerated), his attempt to deflect the blame was embarrassingly ill-advised. And while Rubin may have erred in his judgment (though given the nature of the newspaper business, one can hardly blame him), the error appears forgivable and had little or nothing to do with the actual business at hand. "My reporting was solid, met the journalistic standards of sourcing and beyond and was untainted by any personal agenda on my part," Rubin wrote, and at this point, I have little reason to doubt him, because he is a trained journalist who is getting paid for his work and who publicly disclosed his role in this situation, and the Mets' management appears to have corroborated his account. In other words, no one denied he wrote the truth.

Monday, July 27, 2009

On "Party Schools"

Every so often, as the years pass me by, I am tempted to consider how different my life would be if I had aspired to attend a private college with a prestigious reputation rather than the state university around the corner. Perhaps I would comprehend Chaos Theory, or Pavement lyrics, or the plot of Lost. Perhaps I would do my own taxes, or at least be able to effectively cheat on them. Perhaps I would work at Goldman Sachs, or perhaps I would meet up with my colleagues in the philosophy department to drink Glenfiddich and debate Heidigger on Sunday evening, rather than devouring two full hours of The Celebrity Apprentice.

And then something like this happens, something that reminds me of the true purpose of higher education, which is to squander the family's nest egg while sitting on a salvaged couch, listening to The Lemonheads, watching Elvis Presley films, manipulating cola cans in order to consume plant-based intoxicants, phoning the women of Kappa Kappa Gamma and conspiring to gather kegs of bargain-basement Wisconsin-based beer for outdoor tailgate parties that will most likely end with a regrettable coupling and the theft of at least one public sculpture:

Penn State University has been ranked the No. 1 party school in the nation by the Princeton Review.

The Princeton Review today released its rankings, which also give Penn State the No. 1 ranking in two other categories: students pack the stadiums (intercollegiate sports popular) and lots of beer (usage reported high).

Penn State also made Top 20 rankings in some other areas: students dissatisfied with financial aid, No. 2; jock schools, No. 3; major frat and sorority scene, No. 3; best athletic facilities, No. 3; best career services, No. 6; everyone plays intramural sports, No. 6; best college newspaper, No. 6; lots of hard liquor, No. 9; students study the least, No. 11; and least politically active students, No. 17.

Friday, July 24, 2009

On the "Randomness" of Baseball

I know that yesterday was perhaps the greatest day of an otherwise somnolent baseball season (it's gotten so bad that even Bill Simmons seems utterly bored with the Red Sox), and I know that, given the recent tableau of mid-summer sports stories involving perverts, virgins, zebras and Steve Spurrier, I probably should not attempt to squelch the euphoria of a perfect game being secured by a sublime ninth-inning catch,* but I cannot help myself. Because on the same afternoon, I also read this interview with Buster Olney, who is perhaps the most respected baseball writer in the country, and who was asked to opine on the probability of a legitimate salary cap in baseball:

...I don’t think there will ever be a true salary cap in Major League Baseball, not only because the union won’t necessarily go along with it, but also because teams like the Red Sox and Yankees and Mets probably don’t want it, either.
This is why Wellington Mara’s decision to put the interests of the Giants beneath those of the N.F.L. at large, decades ago, was so extraordinary. In theory, it would be good for baseball’s parity — certainly it would be good for the Blue Jays and Rays — but a lot of rival executives believe that baseball benefits from having the Cubs, Yankees, and Red Sox serve as franchises that always generate interest in the sport, no matter where they play.

So the nation's most plugged-in baseball writer is admitting that game he covers is essentially collusive and largely pre-determined. And I know this shouldn't surprise me--this is America, after all, and, as Secretary of State Trump might remind us, our nation was built on back-room collusion--but it does seem somewhat paradoxical, given what baseball has become, given the Moneyball generation's oft-comical insistence on algebraic rationality, on precision and formulaic decision-making. I do not pretend to know the precise answer to these questions, but if the entire structure of the game is essentially a sham--if five of the teams with the top six payrolls (NYY, Bos, ChC, Bos, Det**) are at or near the top of their divisions, if four of the bottom-five payrolls (Oak, Was, Pitt, SD***) are a combined 86 games under .500--well, then why should I bother to learn what VORP stands for? Why should statistical analysis mean anything at all, if the playing field itself is not inherently level****? Why shouldn't Bernie Madoff be hired as the general manager of the Washington Nationals*****?

Which I guess means that what happened yesterday--a rare and entirely unpredictable confluence of skill and luck on the south side of Chicago--is the best baseball has left to give us. And now that it's over, I can go back to dreaming of a Penn State offense being helmed by a 372-pound quarterback.

*I heard a broadcaster claim afterward that this was, in fact, the greatest catch in the history of baseball, which seemed like a hyperbolic and short-sighted statement until, off the top of my head, I tried to think of a better catch. And I could only come up with this.
**The Mets are the exception, but the Mets fans I know seem to enjoy presuming that they are the exception to every rule. I've never really understood how the fan base of a franchise that has won two World Series, produced perhaps the most memorable team of the modern era, and competes in the largest city in America (albeit in Queens) manages to portray itself as a victim of the fates. But I'm getting there.
***The Marlins are the exception, which seems appropriate, since the Marlins don't actually have any fans.
****Insert indignant steroid reference here. Also, I am aware that there is revenue sharing, but it it hasn't succeeded in changing results: Last year was only the second time since it began that a team from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston did not appear in the World Series. (Here is a very Bill Veeck-friendly idea for tweaking it, courtesy of Michael Lewis).
*****Given my ignorance toward the goings-on of the Washington baseball club, this may have already occurred without my knowledge.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On Inconsequential Things...Summer Feud Edition

1. Seth Rogen v. Entourage.

I spent approximately three seasons battling the encroaching cultural cache of Entourage after realizing, early on, that the show's creators apparently had no interest in presenting us with any sort of real or actual conflict; to this day, I am not sure if Turtle actually realizes that he is an actor rather than the star of some twisted reality series entitled Hot Girls and SUVs. (It is telling, I suppose, that the most realistic character on the show is a cartoonishly gay Asian man.) This angered me, and it confused me, and I could not reconcile my feelings with the fact that this program was both A.) popular and B.) Airing on HBO (It's not TV! It's Premium Cable!).

And then at some point I gave up and conceded that this show was, in fact, engineered to be blatantly idiotic, a sugar-coated chaser to the intensity and violence and lyrical brilliance of all those shows (The Sopranos, The Wire) with actual nutritional value. In case you, like me, were initally blindsided by this phenomenon, allow me a metaphor: Entourage is the pay-cable equivalent of this donut cheeseburger (which I ate while in Portland; and I have to say, it was far better than you can even imagine), and while one donut cheeseburger induces a false sense of ecstasy, six donut cheeseburgers, like six seasons of Entourage, induces hallucinations involving Howard Cosell and the Prince of Wales and may cause the House of Representatives to revamp its entire House health-care bill. Therefore, when Seth Rogen claims that Entourage's creator, Doug Ellin, is a "moron," well, Rogen wins, if for no other reason than he managed to lend credibility to the portrayal of a teenaged boy dating a hermaphrodite, something even Kevin Dillon could not grimace his way through.

In conclusion, Entourage is objectively and indsputably terrible, and anyone who watches for its nuanced and realistic portrayal of male friendship can probably never be my friend. And yet I will continue to watch it, because, well, to quote Homer Simpson, "Donuts. Is there anything they can't do?"

2. LeBron vs....TMZ?

Seriously. This tape, of this dunk, is worth money? It leads me to wonder how much cash TMZ has spent on leads/photographs/videotapes that proved to be so unbelievably bogus that they wouldn't even meet TMZ's standards. Is there a vault somewhere deep inside TMZ headquarters, with videos of a dude who looks vaguely like O.J. Simpson berating a car-wash attendant, and/or still photos of Jeff Bridges posing with Sasquatch?

3. Erin Andrews vs. Perverts vs. Bloggers

So this whole thing is...oh, never mind. Here's some indignant outrage courtesy of Jeff Pearlman. Can we just start over, back in, say, 1999?

(P.S. I have no idea what Lil Wayne is doing in this photo*, and I don't care.)

*Well, I know what he's doing in the photo, I just have no idea why he's there.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On Golf, Beer Bellies and the Definition of Sport

A few years ago, I wrote a book about chess. It was, by all accounts, a curious decision, one I couldn't fully explain even now, except to say that I found what I thought was an excellent story, and I wanted to share it with the world (and in an ideal world, the process of finding an idea would be just that simple, every time around). And in the process of promoting said book, I was surprised how often I was asked a question that seemed, at least to me, entirely irrelevant--the question of whether chess, in any way, shape or form, could somehow be considered a "sport."

I suppose most rational humans would agree that the answer is pretty obviously negatory, though I also rationalized my answer by noting that golf is considered a sport, and is reported about on the sports pages (including by me, for several years), when, in fact, golf is not really a sport at all. I still believe this, and apparently I am not the only one: Tom Watson's near-miss at the British Open, at age 59, has motivated skeptics like CBS Sports' Mike Freeman to make the same point. And yet I find myself somehow disagreeing with Freeman even as I fundamentally agree with him.

I have nothing against Freeman; I once shared the microphone with him at a book reading, and I find him an entertaining and provocative columnist. But he seems determined to denigrate golf by repeatedly likening it to bowling, as if bowling is somehow the bane of the Western world, as if somehow men with beer guts are incapable of feats of athleticism (which would most likely elimate every relief pitcher before 1982, as well as several backup quarterbacks). At one point, I believe he becomes the first sports columnist since Westbrook Pegler to use the word "casuistry," and it is all very interesting, except whenever I read something like this--a pointed argument assaulting our liberal definition of the word "sport"--I find myself asking a simple question:

Who cares?

Perhaps I am the exception to the rule here. Perhaps there is some validity to Freeman's argument that golf, given its long history of haughtiness and racial separatism, deserves to be taken down a peg. But while it is true that there are certain "sports" I would prefer to watch, and while a case can be made that certain sports may seem less relevant as the nation evolves around them, I also think there is simple truth to sportswriting, and to journalism in general, which is that a good story is a good story, no matter what dubious form it may take. And Tom Watson at the British Open was a good story (as Freeman eventually acknowledges), and Roger Federer at Wimbledon was a good story, and LeBron James in the NBA playoffs was a good story, and Bobby Fischer in '72 was a good story, and Earl Anthony when...he was, like, Earl Anthony...was a good story, and all of these men were incredibly skilled--perhaps even geniuses--at their given avocations, be they "sports" or "specialized skill sets."

I mean, let's face it: In an ideal world, we would spend our time analyzing rivalries between neurologists and cell biologists and algebra teachers, and we would value all of these avocations more than the ability to hack at a ball with a stick. That is not how the world works, but until it is, I see no reason not to extend the notion of public genius as far as it will go.

(Photo: AP/Alastair Grant)

Monday, July 20, 2009

On Cronkite and Escape From the Internet

So I spent the past ten days in the Pacific Northwest, drinking potent Canadian beer, attempting to sound intelligent while tasting Willamette-Valley based fermented grape concoctions, consuming insanely excellent meats and freshly caught sea creatures, purchasing tactile incarnations of old Bowie CDs and miscellaneous/other indie/back catalogue material at excellent independent music stores, and generally ignoring the idle chatter of the Interwebs. At times, I read an actual newspaper, which was such a surprising and enriching experience that I wondered why I don't do it more often (all my news, in one package, sans eye strain? Written by professionals and delivered to my doorstep? What an excellent innovation this is! Somebody alert Steve Jobs!)

And in the meantime, I missed a bizarre/sick scandal involving an ESPN on-air personality, and I missed what I'm sure was an inevitable amount of Tom Watson snark, and I missed plenty of other ridiculous events that may have seemed vaguely important if I had been encased in the Internet bubble, and yet because I wasn't, they now seem utterly ridiculous. (For that matter, so does the entire concept of Twitter.) And the fact that, as I write this, said ESPN personality is, in fact, the No. 1 search on Google (and a misspelling of said personality's name is at No. 3) just seems like further validation that a large percentage of what occurs on the Internets is essentially a giant, self-important, all-consuming time-suck.*

And then last Friday night, I was watching television in a Portland hotel room, and I heard that Walter Cronkite died. And this made me especially sad, and not just because of the man's death--he was 92 years old, and he had lived, by all accounts, an excellent and undeniably important life--but because in the 28 years since he signed off from network television, Cronkite's profile had somehow dimmed to the point that his death would probably have little/no impact on an entire generation of Americans. Put it this way: If Cronkite had died in 1985, I have to imagine his death would have been as big as Michael Jackons's, and here's why: He was exactly the type of figure that could not exist in this modern age--he was a figure that everyone in America trusted.

Q: Who could possibly fill that role now?
A: No one.

Not even Cronkite could; no doubt, the right-wing bloggers would have criticized his "impartial reporting" on the day of JFK's death; no doubt, moon-landing conspiracist message boards would have scoffed at his enthusiasm over the Apollo 11 mission. This is not to say that Cronkite didn 't have contemporary critics, but he silenced them by reporting the news in a tone that was both fair-minded and modest** and imperturbable; he gave us immediacy without hyperbole, and if you don't believe me, then watch the video above, in which Cronkite somehow manages to elegantly report the news while speaking on the phone. He was the last great singular voice in American media, and he gave way to an era of fragmentation, an era in which millions of voices all compete to broadcast their own frantic and ego-driven versions of truth, in which we all wrap ourselves in a cocoon of relativity.

And just so I don't come across as a complete curmudgeon upon my return, let me assure you that there are great things about the stunningly rapid advancement of modern technology, like the IPhone app that enabled me to find the nearest public restroom in Portland. But it is not until you escape it, if only briefly, that you realize how crippling it can be to our perspectives--to the way we see our own little world, as opposed to the way it is.

*And yes, I realize that I am writing this on a blog. It is very possible that I am part of the problem. To which I say, Welcome!
**There is some kind of beautiful irony to the fact that Cronkite died on a Friday night, during the quietest portion of the news cycle. As if even in death, he was somehow declining to make himself the center of the story.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

On More Inconsequential Things...and a New Column

1. Duality.
Despite all our disagreements about Michael Jackson, there is one thing that we should be willing to agree on, which is that MJ leaves behind one of the most complex public existences in modern history; in the midst of his apparent attempts to render himself non-classifiable (at least by skin color), he left behind an utterly confounding legacy. And yet it is also apparent that as information and its methods of presentation move faster and faster and get shorter and shorter, we simply don't have room for such duality anymore. Therefore: Michael Jackson is either the greatest pop star/humanitarian in modern history or Michael Jackson is a crass and highly overrated pervert. Michael Jackson is deserving of all this attention or Michael Jackson is a prototypical example of media overkill. There can be no reconciliation of these ideas; there can be no acknowledging that, at various times in his life, he was all of these things, that he was overexposed and underexposed (sometimes for the wrong things), and that perhaps the ideas we are grasping at here cannot be encapsulated in 140-word blocks and three-word Facebook comments and dozens of CNN segments involving Toure.

I mean, people are freaking complicated (see: McNair, Steve). And I worry that as we grasp for the next new thing, as we advance into this new and very freaky age, that there will be fewer ways for people to acknowledge this, that everything will become a back and forth between entrenched points of view who are unwilling to acknowledge that, yeah, people are freaking complicated.

There is a man named Jeff Jarvis, whose views I find utterly repulsive; he is essentially a new media evangelist, and he writes things like this:

The press* has become journalism’s curse, not only because it now brings a crushing cost burden but also because it led to all these myths: that we journalists own the news, that we’re necessary to it, that we decide what’s reported and what’s important, that we can package the world for you every day in a box with a bow on it, that what we do is perfect (with rare, we think, exceptions), that the world should come to us to be informed, that we deserve to be paid for this service, that the world needs us.

It is, I believe, a simplistic and and cheaply populist viewpoint, and it has made Jarvis quite popular, because in truth it is quite easy to hate on the press, especially when the press is in a position of weakness. But I believe there is a reason this "media filter" exists: It exists not just to unify our culture, but to facilitate the exploration of the entire story, rather than that which happens to coincide with our own biases and singular points of view. I find it telling that one of the commenters on Jarvis's post says he does not want to hear news about health-care policy, because he himself has never had a problem with his health care. Therefore, why should it be on his front page? Why should he be bombarded with such things if they do not apply directly to his forehead?

I don't think the press is perfect; in fact, I think the press is populated by natural-born skeptics who tend to be reflexively critical of themselves. And no, the world doesn't need an organized and powerful press, but I happen to think the world is a better and more thoughtful place because of it--even when it comes to Michael Jackson.

2. LeBron.

As you may recall, we consider ourselves an entirely LeBron-friendly blog; we do not publish negative news about LeBron James on this site, thereby invalidating everything stated in No. 1 (above). Therefore, we refuse to believe that LeBron would confiscate a videotape merely because a college kid dunked on his head; we believe LeBron's people most likely confiscated said videotape merely to create buzz for a new advertising campaign in which LeBron will allow himself to be dunked on by strangers, in order to prove his largesse.
Also, Nike scares the crap out of me.

3. Vacation.

As you can probably deduce from No. 1 (above), I need one. Therefore, I am taking one. To tide you over, in lieu of an actual book about the 1980s (which is moving along, and will be released to the public eventually, I promise), here is a piece I wrote for a Remember the '80's package on, about the 1984 Olympics and the insanity of the decade.
See you in a few days.

(AP Photo: Pete Leabo)

Jarvis appears to be speaking of the "printing press" here, but I think he is essentially using this metaphor to pillory the New York Times and other "elite media." (And I find that term idiotic, so I put it in quotes.)

Monday, July 6, 2009

On McNair

I have to admit, I never thought much one way or the other about Steve McNair; he was a professional quarterback, and he was, at times, a very good quarterback, and when I heard that he'd been shot to death over the weekend, I was suitably shocked. But it also kind of surprised me to hear, from a friend of a friend who lives in Nashville, that he had become a cult hero in that city. This is because, as someone who viewed his career from afar, what struck me about Steve McNair's career was how utterly normal it seemed.

And in saying that, I don't mean to discount McNair's extraordinary abilities or his mental/physical toughness or the fact that he led the Titans to a Super Bowl; even if McNair is not quite a Hall of Famer, there is a case to be made on his behalf. But I have this impression that McNair was of a generation of quarterbacks who essentially normalized the idea of the black quarterback, if that makes any sense. When he came into the league out of Alcorn State (a historically black school) in 1995, McNair was widely regarded as the best college quarterback in the country, and yet he was worried--his older brother, Fred, had been a star at Alcorn State and wound up bouncing around the CFL and the Arena Football League, and the 1993 Heisman Trophy winner, Charlie Ward, had gone undrafted and wound up in the NBA instead. "The doubts and stereotypes of black quarterbacks still exist," wrote J.A. Adande of the Washington Post, back in 1994; in fact, the major reason McNair wound up at Alcorn State was due to the fact that a number of major colleges recruited him as a defensive back.

These were not unreasonable concerns; we were only a decade removed from the odyssey of Doug Williams, and there was a very real perception that black quarterbacks were not given the same chances to succeed. I have little doubt that certain underlying prejudices still exist today, but--and I could be naive about this--I would like to think we have, at the very least, undergone a significant shift in the 15 years since McNair came into the league. And I would like to think McNair had quite a bit to do with this,* if only because he defied stereotyping, so much so that most of the obituaries I've read have essentially been color-blind. He was just a good quarterback, and while I'm sure this surreal ending to his life will inevitably alter his long-term legacy,** his football career was anything but surreal. And that's what made it great.

*"Just as critical, McNair wasn't another specific kind of guy: athletic - a running back lined up behind center," wrote former Baltimore Sun columnist David Steele. "The description that will stick to McNair for eternity is not 'athletic' but 'tough.' 'Leader' also fits, but the leadership came from the toughness. It was the one element of his game that could flip the old images on their heads."
**I am quite enamored by the fact that the blogosphere seems determined to solve this case by analyzing Facebook updates and posting cleavage-heavy photos of McNair's (now-dead) companion. "But don’t look for breaking news on this case from the sports media," one especially zealous blogger wrote (while also including a poll asking whether we, the audience, had "changed our mind" about the killings because of the new information his trolling of the Internets had brought to light). "It clearly can’t get away from the story fast enough. Thank goodness for blogs."
To which I ask: Is anyone who writes these things actually old enough to remember Richard Jewell?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

On Lance Stephenson

I have conducted a number of interviews in my lifetime, both of the interminably strange and the utterly unmemorable variety. I'm not sure where on a hypothetical graph I would place my interactions with a man named Lance Stephenson Sr.; when I spoke to him during a basketball game at Madison Square Garden several years ago, I was ostensibly there to talk to his son, Lance Jr., but Lance Jr.--who was then in the eighth grade and had already sparked a furious recruiting battle among the local high schools for his services--spent most of the game eating junk food and staring at girls. And I spent most of my time speaking to Lance Sr. about his son, and fielding, as well as I could, his own questions about the recruiting process and the media spotlight and how it all worked.

In fact, shortly after the story appeared in Newsday--it was supposed to be something of an exploration of the scouts' fascination with prodigies, and about the impact of the Coney Island lineage of Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair, but it turned into kind of a mess--Stephenson left a Catholic school called Bishop Loughlin and moved to Lincoln High, which was on Coney Island, near the project houses where he'd grown up. I have no idea what prompted this move, and I have a feeling I don't want to know.

Not surprisingly, Stephenson's college recruitment process became incredibly...well, fraught with complications. And as with most situations like this, it is hard to separate truth from rumor, and it is hard to know who is to blame for what. But if you really want to know what I remember about the reporting of that story, it is the wintry day I went to his apartment in Coney Island. I had never been to this particular housing project, and what I saw was not particularly inviting; in 2004, while Sebastian Telfair was in high school, a gang-related shooting erupted in these same projects. When you see a place like this from the inside, it does make you wonder about a number of assumptions you may have made, including those about recruitment process, and also about the attitudes and perceptions of those who had emerged from these same projects before him (Marbury, Telfair). It makes you wonder if perhaps Lance Stephenson Sr. has a good reason to take such control of his son's future, for better or worse.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that Lance Stephenson finally committed to Cincinnati this week. I cannot say, obviously, how much he has matured in the past five years, or how much his father has changed (I found him, back then, to be a genuinely decent guy with no real idea what was about to come his way); given the complications surrounding Lance Jr.'s recruitment, and given the NBA struggles of his Coney Island predecessors, he is no longer a "can't-miss" prospect despite the fact that he won four city titles at Lincoln. But I have no doubt I will find myself pulling for him.

(Photo of Lance Stephenson Sr./Lance Jr.: New York Daily News)