Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On Unlikely Ends To the NBA Free-Agent Frenzy That While Take Place While I'm On Vacation

1. LeBron James chooses to keep it "especially real," and, citing the counsel of Ron Artest, re-signs with Cleveland and accepts a part-time position at the Champs Sports at Chapel Hill Mall.

2. LeBron James signs with the New Jersey Nets, refers to team's owner as "that Grand Theft Auto dude."

3. LeBron James signs with the Knicks, claims the three free months of Showtime and Cinemax were the deciding factor.

4. LeBron James signs with the Bulls. Michael Jordan, attempting to repair his reputation, volunteers to bequeath James his No. 23, then spends the following decade quietly undermining him.

4. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh all sign with Miami, win a single championship, then retire to become tarpon fishermen in the Florida Keys.

5. LeBron James signs with the Clippers, then team owner Donald Sterling attempts to trade him to the Seattle Supersonics.

6. Dwyane Wade signs with Toronto, citing his affinity for Canadians.

7. Amare Stoudemire signs with no one, chooses to travel through Eastern Europse on rail pass and "find himself" instead.

8. Feeling especially abandoned, Cleveland sets itself on fire voluntarily. Their effort fails.

9. J.J. Redick signs with Miami, winds up having a better career than Wade, Bosh, or James.

P.S. I'll be back in a few days. Until then, you know the drill.

Monday, June 28, 2010

On Giorgio Chinaglia, Hipsters and The Growth of Soccer

Back when I was a kid, back when I didn't know any better, I used to watch soccer all the time. I was four years old, living in suburban New York,*  and my father had control of the television set. My brother and I sat in front of him and changed the channels manually, according to my father's whim; when the volume blinked out on our old RCA, as it did approximately every thirty minutes, it would be our job to twist the knob back up.** Mostly, we watched sports--the Yankees on WPIX and the Knicks on WOR or the Giants on CBS, but before all of that, I remember the Cosmos. I remember Pele (who was mostly just famous and hobbled--it was like watching Julio Franco), and I remember Franz Beckenbauer, and I remember Giorgio Chinaglia, names rolling off the tongue, exotic and strange. Everybody, it seemed to me, was watching the Cosmos. Everybody, I thought, cared about soccer, as much as they did about baseball, or basketball, or football.

I haven't seen the documentary (or read the book) on the Cosmos, but it seems like a fittingly strange subject. The Cosmos came from out of nowhere, and then disappeared; they (and the league they played in, then NASL) were an incredibly expensive fad, an unsustainable attempt at relevance. People seem to forget, when talking about the popularity of soccer in America, that the Cosmos ever existed, and maybe this is fair, and maybe the Cosmos were an exception to every rule, but they did happen. That's what people seem to overlook when they engage in this quadrennial fight about whether soccer can ever make it in America: Under the right circumstances, given the proper billing, people will watch anything, if only for a single moment. During the Olympics, we allow ourselves to become enraptured by anorexic teenagers leaping over imaginary horses. Thirty-eight years ago, thanks to Bobby Fischer and public broadcasting, chess became one of the most popular spectator sports in America.

What's my point? My point is this: The popularity of the World Cup most likely has little or nothing to do with the question of whether soccer will ever catch on as a mainstream sport in America. The World Cup is nothing more than a moment, and in America, everyone catches on to moments: The Super Bowl, for instance, is hardly a sporting event anymore. Everyone watches football on that day, even if they don't watch football at all during the year. It's a patriotic responsibility; it's an excuse for a party. But the reason soccer as a spectator sport appears to be catching on in America has nothing to do with the performance or popularity of the American team, positive or negative. The reason soccer is catching on is because it's growing from the bottom up: In this case, with urban hipsters. It's become a sort of underground badge of honor to watch UEFA matches, to get up early for Premier League games, to crack jokes about relegation. I have friends who talk about English football in the way people in the '90s used to talk about Pavement records. One of the coolest music scribes I know now writes almost exclusively about soccer.

Think about it. The two biggest growth sports of the latter quarter of the 20th century were NASCAR and mixed martial arts: One was started by bootleggers, the other by backyard fight clubs. So maybe that's the only way for a sport to truly catch on in this era of overexposure: It has to gestate underground for a generation. That's what's happened with soccer. A sport grows from the bottom up, slipping from the underground to the mainstream. There is no single moment, because if there is, that moment will simply fade away.

*I was born in Bronxville, and lived in the nondescript community of White Plains until I was five.We also had a Siamese cat named Trouble, who lived up to that moniker by sneaking out in the evening, rumbling with the neighborhood fauna, then coming home in the morning and heaving his guts out in little piles in the living room.
**I feel, in the generation before remote controls, that a whole generation of children were born simply so their parents would have someone to change the channel.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

On Inconsequential Things That Matter To Me

 1. 6/17/94

In researching my latest book,* I spent several days in the basement of the University of Maryland library, watching raw footage of Len Bias. I watched documentaries, I watched game tape, and--most fascinating of all--I watched several hours of spliced-together news footage depicting the aftermath of Len Bias' death. This was a revelatory moment; on those tapes, you can actually witness Bias' death slip from the realm of absolute mystery into the realm of self-inflicted tragedy, and then slowly became a societal signpost, a proxy for a larger War on Drugs.** I saw the whole story unfold before my eyes; it was all there on those tapes.

This is what's brilliant about Brett Morgen's 30 for 30 documentary, June 17, 1994. Sometimes the raw footage is all you need to depict a critical moment in history. Morgen eschewed narration; he didn't interview anyone, because he didn't have to. The story was right there, and even those of us who lived through it tend to forget the emotions it invoked, and none of us understood, at the time, what a watershed moment this was. Only in looking back do we see those threads. This is why that episode of Mad Men last season, in which the characters mostly sat around watching televised reports about the Kennedy assassination, worked for me, while I know it didn't work for so many others; because sometimes the best way of depicting reality is to capture its reflection.

2. The Strasburg Bubble

Seriously, who still pays this much for a baseball card? Is Bernie Madoff able to access EBay from prison? Are we about to enter another period of rampant and irresponsible speculative maneuvering, as witnessed in the 1980s?***If so, I have a ream of Dan Gladden cards that could use a good home.

3. America Number One!

Let me reiterate: I'm not anti-soccer; I've actually enjoyed this World Cup quite a bit, especially the parts where Alexi Lalas isn't permitted to say anything. I'm just anti- American soccer. And let me be clear, all you Fox News acolytes: This does not make me anti-American; it just seems that we, as a country, have no pressing need to be good at this, any more than we need to win a gold medal in hockey or a Nobel Peace Prize. If Ghana wins the World Cup, then it is the biggest thing that has happened to Ghana since...well, since Ghana. They would dance in the street for weeks. If America wins the World Cup, it is a three-day story, and some drunks in Detroit might overturn a few compact automobiles, and then we immediately start talking about Alabama's offensive line and Trevor Hoffman's struggles and Tiger's sex life. So this is my argument: Why should I root for temporality when I can root for immortality?

I expect my IRS audit shortly.

*Only a few more weeks to pre-order, while (yet to exist) supplies last.

**You can also witness an early television appearance by Tony Kornheiser, whose hair, even when he had more of it, was truly an unfortunate hereditary accident.

***And depicted in Dave Jamieson's excellent (and highly recommended) book, Mint Condition.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

On Rooting for the Tie

My friend and I have kind of a standing agreement about close games in which we have no personal stake*--we always root for the tie. When the Mets played that extra innings game a few weeks back, we were rooting for the tie. When Syracuse and Connecticut played that six-overtime game in the Big East tournament a couple of years ago, we were rooting for the tie. When a college football game goes into overtime, we root for both teams to score, and then we root for both teams to score and convert the two-point conversion. Golf: Always pull for an extended playoff. Hockey: Three overtimes, at least. At some point, it becomes more fun, rather than pulling for one team to win or lose, simply to pull for inertia, for exhaustion, for the idea that whatever you're watching will go on as long as possible. This is why I never understand the people who complain that sporting events go on too long, that shortening them by 16.3 minutes will somehow enhance our experience. I hold the opposite view (if I may crudely paraphrase the Buddha): Everything in life is going to end. Why not prolong the enjoyable things as long as possible?**

Anyway, I don't have any great affinity for tennis, as much as I've tried, as much as I adore David Foster Wallace's meandering disquisitions on the sport. But this afternoon, it would seem, a tennis match accomplished the impossible: A tennis match, for all essential purposes, ended in a tie.

I'll admit, I tuned in late, largely because I thought it was a joke: I saw something on Twitter about a tennis tiebreaker that stood at 43-42 and I presumed it was a 140-character quip. And then more people started writing about it...and then everyone started talking about it, and I turned on my television and there it was: 56-56. Two men I'd never heard of***, dressed in white, had been roaming a patch of grass for eight hours, chasing after a felt spheroid. They looked like they'd just spent ten hours in a tanning booth, or on a Northwest flight. They were exhausted beyond exhaustion, and every time you thought one might find an edge, the other struck right back. They exchanged serves, exchanged games, and then one began complaining about the encroaching darkness, and the referee stopped the match. It's now 59-59, and they'll pick it up tomorrow, and my guess is someone will win and someone will lose in expedited fashion, because that's the way things go: The magic only lasts so long. It doesn't carry over from day to day. But in this case, it lasted long enough. In this case, in one of those rare historical moments, the tie proved the winner.

*Which, for him, as a well-known sports atheist, is virtually all of them.

**This is soccer's greatest flaw: It accepts ties too readily. I'm not sure why, except that it's become accepted tradition, despite the fact that a shootout is perhaps the most exciting way to end any sport.

***I think that's John Isner in that photo, but I couldn't say for sure. The point is, it doesn't matter who it is.

(Photo: Sang Tan/via NYDN)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On the Second Review

Publishers Weekly:

Bigger Than the Game: Bo, Boz, the Punky QB, and How the '80s Created the Modern Athlete
Michael Weinreb, Gotham, $26 (288 pp) ISBN 978-1-592-40559-6
The mid-1980s introduced an unapologetic athlete archetype that captured headlines and airtime, taking advantage of a 24-hour news cycle and America's newfound appreciation of flashy, independent-minded heroes both real and fictional such as Ronald Reagan and Rocky Balboa. Weinreb expertly tracks this evolution via a quartet of athletes from that era: Chicago Bears headband-wearing, antiauthority quarterback Jim McMahon, who was more successful as a zeitgeist marketing tool than as a player; multi-sport star and Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson, who viewed his legendary athleticism as an investment; college basketball star Len Bias, whose fatal cocaine overdose hardened a sports-loving nation and led to its misguided obsession over illegal drugs; and flamboyant college football star Brian "The Boz" Bosworth, whose quest for publicity led him to the University of Oklahoma, where he consciously constructed an outrageous persona. In this lively and smart blend of essay and reporting, Weinreb (Game of Kings) details with conviction how seismic shifts in society and pop culture--soon-to-be behemoths Nike and ESPN were just hitting their strides--forever changed the conditions for attaining fame in sports, paving the way for the media-savvy athletes we know and (sometimes) love today. (Aug.)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

On Tom Izzo, Journalism, and the Race To Be First

 A bit of free-form journalism-related rambling ahead...

I. Here's a little pet peeve of mine: I hate when people use the term "media." In this day and age, it is a nebulous vocabulary word. It has been robbed of definition. The media can refer to Hollywood. The media can refer to the Huffington Post, or to the Washington Post, or to MSNBC, or to Fox News, or to conservative talk-radio. Most of the time, when people refer to the media, they are engaging in pejoratives. Most of the time, when people refer to the media, they are using the term to dismiss what they perceived as overzealousness or negativity on the part of some segment of the American populace that broadcasts its views to other segments of the American populace. The problem is, if we go by this definition, everyone is now the media. Using this definition, The New York Times is the journalistic equivalent of this blog. Therefore, the term is meaningless.

II. I have no reason to believe that Tom Izzo is not an honorable man. Anyone who still shoots a hundred free throws a day as a means of atoning for a mistake that took place almost four decades ago must have some kind of moral compass, which is more than can be said for most successful college basketball coaches in America today. Therefore, I am inclined to believe that Izzo's extended deliberation over whether or not to accept the Cleveland Cavaliers' head coaching job was legitimate; I believe he was not grandstanding or holding out for more money or more publiciity. He was, obviously, wondering about LeBron James, as is everyone else in the Western world, but I have to believe that Izzo's conscience might have led him to stay in East Lansing regardless. Either way, I'm sure this was a difficult and emotional period in his life, as it would be in anyone's life when they are considering whether to change virtually everything about it.

III. When these moments occur--when there is nothing but silence and speculation, when the subject himself refuses to engage at all--it is up to this nebulous and undefined "media" to fill in the gaps. And this is where the conflict arises, because the "media" now often includes varied entitities that have little or nothing to do with each other. The criticism that arose at Izzo's press conference was largely of "new media," of Twitter and blogs and a number of other entities that are not held to the same standards as traditional journalists. Michigan State's athletic director, Mark Hollis, criticized the "race to be first," and he was not wrong. (At least 47 percent of all Twitter posts involve A.) Attempting to make an original joke that will be retweeted, B.) Providing a fresh link that will be retweeted, C.) Commenting on/engaging in unconfirmed rumors.) Izzo engaged in a prolonged and fascinating back-and-forth with columnist Lynn Henning (if you're interested in journalism, I highly recommend listening to it: Start at the 13:20 mark), in which Henning accuses Izzo and Hollis of painting the media with a broad brush, and he's also correct; Izzo accuses Henning of specious logic for writing this ridiculous column, and he's right, too. This is one of those increasingly frequent confluences in media criticism where everyone has a point. No one is right, and no one is wrong, because information comes at us raw and unfiltered, no one seems to know the boundaries anymore.

IV. There is always a price to pay in living life as a public figure, and this is it. The question: Is that price now overly punitive? Izzo's intentions may have been entirely honorable, but this will not stop people from believing otherwise. In an ideal world, every extension of the "media" would weigh these elements fairly and consider them equally. But this is not that world. This is a world in which the Michigan State contingent is correct, a world where being first does often matter more than being right, and it has weakened the cause of legitimate journalism. But this is a world in which everyone has voice, in which everyone is lumped in with the media, which means Lynn Henning has a point, as well. The real issue is that no one really knows how to define anything: Not media, not journalism, not information itself. The real issue is that everything is fluid, and even when dealing with honorable men, no one can agree on the truth.

(Photo: Julian H. Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

On Inconsequential Things That Matter To Me

 1. Killer Bees

So, let me make sure I've got this straight: Vuvuzelas are not even twenty years old (a weak case for preserving a "tradition," unless you consider steroid use a tradition), they may cause hearing loss, they are derived from bicycle horns, they are almost universally reviled by anyone who dislikes obnoxiousness, and they drown out the best and most interesting part of the World Cup, which is the weird and interminable chorus of song by thousands of inebriated and patriotic hooligans. Since when is the ability to annoy the world with an artificial noisemaker an inalienable right? I think most of us agree that if we could go back in time and murder Hitler, we would have to do it. Well, I wouldn't be so callous as to say the same about the inventor of this hellhorn--not to mention, the bozo who came up with the Thunderstix--but there are certain very narrow and limited things that the majority of the world agrees upon, and we've found one of them. Let's advance the cause of international diplomacy. Can't we at least have world peace on our television sets?

2. Don't Mess With...

I'm glad Texas is staying in the Big 12, mostly for selfish reasons. I'm glad Texas is staying in the Big 12 because the Pac-10 incorporating a bunch of teams from the middle of the country seemed so utterly unrealistic that it reminded me of a scenario generated in dynasty mode on XBox. It would have never seemed real, and more important, it would have taken me approximately 7.4 years before the facts of the Big 12's dissolution would have sunk in to my subconscious. Here's the thing: I still have trouble remembering that the Milwaukee Brewers are in the National League. I can never recall whether Boston College is in the Big East or the ACC.* When Boise State joined the Mountain West, I kind of presumed they were already in the Mountain West; yet it turned out they were in the WAC, and I have no idea who's in the WAC. I still presume BYU is in the WAC, but this may or may not be true.**Are the Cardinals still in the NFC East? Sometimes, it seems like they should be. My point is, change in sports doesn't register once a person advances beyond the age of 16. Therefore, the status quo is always, at some level, a victory. Which is why the new Big 12 should just rename itself the Southwest Conference. And then start giving away Cadillacs to recruits, just for old time's sake.

3. Paparazzi

It isn't easy to make a sympathetic documentary about an entirely unsympathetic person. But in case you're interested in such things, Smash His Camera is that kind of documentary.

*Honestly, right now, if I had to answer that question to save my life in front of a firing squad, I would place the odds of my survival at 53 percent. 
**38 percent.

P.S. I'm experimenting with new looks here, in anticipation of August 5. Further tinkering TK. Input is welcomed.

Friday, June 11, 2010

On Chess-Related Fabrications

A while back, I was asked to write a short piece for an anthology of chess-related fiction. Well, that collection has finally been released, and is available now, if this is your kind of deal. I should note two things: A.) All the proceeds from this collection go to selected chess schools and clubs, and B.) There are number of impressive writers of fiction* who contributed, including Wells Tower, who recently made this list.

*As I have now failed to complete a book-length work of fiction for the past decade and counting, I do not count myself among them.**

**Although, while I'm at it, I might as well mention that the Chicago Sun-Times included Bigger Than the Game in its summer reading preview. Under two months remaining to pre-order...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

On Penn State vs. Nebraska

It's still the greatest finish I've ever witnessed in person, even though I didn't actually see the ending, even though I was shielded by a mass of body parts, even though I've since covered Masters and World Series and Final Fours, even though I was there the day John Elway pirouetted above a gaggle of Green Bay Packers. And maybe it was just the timing--I was nine years old, a kid growing up in a college town, and everything seemed bigger then, Penn State football most of all--but this was the first thing I thought about when I heard Nebraska seemed likely to defect to the Big Ten: I thought of a catch that never was, and I thought of a tight end named Stonehands.

This was 1982, in that sliver of time (a five-year span) when Penn State and Nebraska met on a yearly basis. These were the days of Turner Gill and Mike Rozier and Jarvis Redwine, of Todd Blackledge and Curt Warner* and Kenny Jackson, of Tom Osborne vs. Joe Paterno, the two most mythic figures in their respective states, arguably the two best coaches in America who had never won a national championship. Nebraska fielded a wave of farm-raised, scarlet automatons back then. They took three of those games, and in truth, they probably should have taken all five--they won 42-17 over a schizophrenic Penn State team in 1979, and they ground out a 21-7 win in 1980, and they annihilated Penn State 44-6 in the '83 Kickoff Classic. (Penn State slipped out of Lincoln with a 30-24 win in 1981.)

But '82 was the greatest game of them all. '82 was, arguably, the moment that changed Penn State football forever. You have to remember: College football was different back then. It was just becoming a national entertainment. An NFL strike loomed that weekend, and the start time of the game was moved to 3:45 p.m. so CBS had some football to show that weekend, and because Beaver Stadium did not have its own permanent illumination, portable lights were trucked in from Iowa, lending everything a weird sheen.

Now, that Penn State team was quite good: Blackledge was an excellent college quarterback, and Warner was a superstar, and the defense was solid all around, and they would lose only one game (to Alabama), and go on to win Paterno's first national championship in the Sugar Bowl against Georgia. But that Nebraska team was epic. This was their backfield: Turner Gill at quarterback, Roger Craig at fullback, and Mike Rozier at I-back. If that's not the greatest triumvirate in the history of college football, it's awfully close.

So anyway, this was the matchup; Nebraska, playing on the road, was still a favorite. And Penn State took the lead, and then Nebraska came back, and then Nebraska took the lead when Gill leapt into the end zone with one minute, eighteen seconds remaining.**(For some reason, that number always sticks in my head: 1:18. It is my Valenzetti equation; it is my 4-8-15-16-23-42. When I am measuring a victorious comeback drive, I measure it against that number: Seventy-eight seconds.) It didn't possibly seem like enough time to drive 65 yards against Nebraska, but then things just started happening: Blackledge completed one pass, and another, and suddenly the ball was at the Nebraska 34. Penn State ran an inexplicable (yet entirely predictable) draw play, and then Blackledge threw two interceptions, and it was fourth down. And this is how comebacks so often go: You exhale, and then you lose your breath, and then you exhale again, accept the disappointment, and move on.

But one out of every ten times, something completely insane happens, a series of events that seems inspired by intelligent design, and these are the moments that set sports apart from any other human endeavor. This was one of those times. Blackledge scrambled, and he found Kenny Jackson for a first down. Blackledge scrambled for six yards to the Nebraska 17. There were 13 seconds remaining. Thirteen seconds, and Blackledge took the snap, and threw to the left sideline, to a tight end named Mike McCloskey. This is that play. You will notice, if you are observing closely, that McCloskey failed to get a second foot in bounds. You will notice, if you are especially watchful, that McCloskey failed to get a first foot in bounds, as well.***It was a travesty. It was a miracle. Penn State had a first-and-goal at the Nebraska 2-yard line and nine seconds remained and Penn State inserted its second tight end, a young man named Kirk Bowman. Nickname: Stonehands. Bowman would wind up catching two passes all season (one came earlier in the afternoon). But Blackledge dropped back and McCloskey was covered and so he threw a soft little lob into the middle of the end zone, and Stonehands flopped to the grass and cradled the pigskin like a baby bird, scooping it off the turf.

I did not see any of this, of course. I was nine years old and standing on my seat, but eighty-five thousand people were standing, as well, and I had no idea what was happening until my father turned to me and screamed. I have only heard my father scream like that once or twice in my lifetime, usually about my performance in 10th-grade chemistry or an errant golf ball. But on that evening, my father did, in fact, scream until his voice was hoarse. "He caught it!" And then: "He caught it!" And when I asked who had caught it: "He caught it!"

He caught it. His name was Stonehands, and if I am being honest with myself, he probably never should have been in that position, for a myriad of reasons. A game was stolen that night, and such a sequence of events might never occur again in my lifetime. But because it did, I adore the very idea of Nebraska joining the Big Ten, of these two teams facing each other year after year. Because someday, another miracle will take place, and someone like Stonehands will catch another one.

*Still the greatest NFL player named Curt Warner, at least in my heart.
**Years ago, in college, I wrote a column about this game. It's terrible, so terrible I won't link to it here, because everything everyone writes for their college newspaper is inevitably terrible, but I talked a good deal about my father, a highly trained pessimist, who at that point seemed determined to beat the traffic.
***Sixteen years later, McCloskey admitted he was out of bounds during a speech at a Boys Town in Nebraska. The speech made headlines in the local newspapers.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

On Inconsequential Things That Matter To Me

 1. Wooden

I have long dug Charlie Pierce's work, and I get where he's coming from with this Sam Gilbert-John Wooden rant: There is something to be said for avoiding the canonization of the recently deceased, especially someone as revered as Wooden. I do kind of doubt that Wooden is entirely innocent in this matter, but in a way, it's all relative: In the late 1960s, when Lew Alcindor was towering over opponents, dabbling in Islam, and trading roundhouses with Bruce Lee, defying the inequities of the NCAA must have seemed like small potatoes when compared to the more pressing issues of the day. That Gilbert was allowed to operate for years is inexcusable--if it happened at Penn State, I'm sure I'd find a way to rationalize it, though I wouldn't feel good about it--but I don't think it diminishes Wooden's legacy. It just renders him into an undeniably human figure rather than a generational signpost. In a way, that might be the best possible signature of his legacy: Even the pyramids are not infallible.

2. Righteous Indignation

I blame the Internet for this ridiculousness; I find it perhaps the phoniest "controversy" of the Obama presidency, but apparently our brains are so colored by the tenor of our everyday online interactions that we presume nothing can actually be accomplished without a public flogging. I hate to sound like--well, like John Wooden--but did anyone attempt to watch those ridiculous MTV Movie Awards the other night?* The entire 120-minute joke appeared to hinge on the use of unnecessary swear words. This is where we are. And I guess this is what people want from their leadership--more oral flame wars, less rationality, more unhinged emotion. Because that's the world we immerse ourselves in every day.

3. Futbol

I have no idea what's going on with most of these, but they're kind of spectacular. It's like a more diversified series of MAD Magazine fold-ins.

*Apparently, the Twilight movies are surprisingly popular among American youth.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

On Angry Writers

It's been years since I've read Friday Night Lights, but I still remember the feeling of reading it. I wasn't much of a serious reader back then--I mostly latched on to Stephen King novels and issues of Mad magazine, and FNL was one of the first books I remember reading in which sports was used as a proxy for addressing the issues of the real world.

I've never met Buzz Bissinger, but FNL was one of the books that led me to where I am today, and so I found this profile of him weirdly intriguing. In a way, I understand where he's coming from--his rants seem to embody the frustration and helplessness many of us who got into this business years ago, with a completely different idea of what good writing should be--and in a way, his approach seems purposefully unhinged. These are frightening times for writers, and Bissinger embodies that fear and anger, for better or worse. I suppose it's a more interesting way to go than just allowing the craft you love to gradually wither away.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

On Inconsequential Things That Matter To Me

1. The NBA Regular Season

In no other sport could the verities of a seven-month season be entirely invalidated over the course of several weeks. In other words, the NBA regular season has once again proved itself to be an utter waste of time; this, I would argue, is the biggest problem the league faces, given its financial realities. That the NBA playoffs defy conventional wisdom may seem like a plus, but it really isn't--it just reinforces every negative stereotype about professional basketball players. It makes people think they only care when it matters, which may be true, but it's a problem when it's so patently obvious.

Also, I have a bad feeling this may be the least interesting Celtics-Lakers finals matchup in modern history, but it's either that or start pretending that baseball matters.

2. Futbol

Let me just get this out of the way up front: I see no real reason that I should be obligated to cheer for the U.S. soccer team. I am (in general) proudly ignorant of this sport, and yet I am excited about the World Cup, but the reason I'm excited about the World Cup is because it is a chance to feel connected to a global event. Therefore, isn't it counterproductive to engage in jingoistic patriotism? Shouldn't I feel equally connected to Slovenia, which looks rather beautiful and, as a burgeoning Democratic republic, probably needs the confidence boost much more than we do? Or, as they say in Ljubljana, Moje vozilo na zra─Źni blazini je polno jegulj.*

3. Cleveland Has an Edge

First time this phrase was uttered since Joe Walsh released "The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get."

*Translation: My hovercraft is full of eels.