Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sabbatical over

I can't exactly explain why I haven't posted anything in a while. There were plenty of interesting topics, but for some reason nothing I had to say about any of them were particularly interesting. Plus, I spent a few nights writing a guide to Rome for a couple of friends of mine that certainly didn't turn out like I had spent that much time on it; for someone who writes as infrequently as I do these days, I sure do seem to go through a lot of slumps. But, I'm feeling good today, so I'm going to try and play catch-up.

(Justin-like side note: I've been having some really weird pains in my chestal area lately. Despite the bad rap I get for my shaky wheels, I'm not particularly prone to fits of hypochondria, but it's been an unsettling thing for me this past weekend. The funny thing is, beside the smoking and drinking, I've actually been pretty healthy lately. But, of course, the ridiculousness of that last sentence identifies the whole problem, doesn't it? I really wish I wanted to quit smoking sometime outside the hours of 1 a.m.-8 a.m.)

1. What I've been trying to say is that David Stern is racist

The post I've lamely been trying to cobble together was a thesis piece on why the NBA commish obviously hates the black man. My inability to actually get it done is something I attributed to a "slump," but it might also be that I found elucidating the point to be much more difficult than my original arrival at the conclusion. I can't particularly break the argument down into a syllogism, which might be why I was having so much difficulty writing the post. But what I was trying to prove was that Stern has decided that the only viable target for the NBA is Corporate America, and he has concluded that Corporate America and the inner city culture adhered to by most NBA players are not sympatico. Thusly, he has spent much of his legislative time the last handful of years trying to whitewash the players, and ultimately the league. The draft age minimum, the dress code, the lowered technical thresholds are the most recent (and most transparent) amendments that aim to make the league less threatening to the rich white dudes that buy luxury boxes. The severity of the leaving-the-bench rule is a historical antecedent for the current rules, and the situation in the Suns-Spurs series brought the problem with it — it's complete lack of regard for basic human instinct — into clearer relief. That such an indefensible policy (or, more precisely, that a rule with such indefensible rigidity in its application) still exists is more de facto proof of Stern's prejudice and willingness to be irrational in his pursuit of a non-threatening league. Furthermore, the paradox of how Jason Kidd and Allen Iverson are treated by the League's marketing department is further evidence that appearances are what's truly important to Stern; despite the fact that Jason Kidd is a confessed wife-beater, he shows up in more NBA montages than the fucking logo. Iverson, on the other hand, has a fairly tame rap sheet that dates back to high school and one insanely overblown fight with his wife in which he was not really convicted of doing anything except screaming out of his patio door. But because he has tattoos and 'rows and talks exactly as you'd expect someone from a poor area of Virginia to speak. But when was the last time the League really promoted Iverson, who actually exemplifies all the clich├ęs — grit, hustle, talent maximization — that we supposedly revere? And I don't think its difficult to find plenty of paradoxes that are equally as angering or suggestive of deeper currents.

And the real problem, of course, is that Stern presides over the league that really owes its entire existence to black people, and to only a slightly lesser extent black culture. When people talk about the issue of black attrition in baseball, I think to myself that it's unfortunate but a product of the fact that other sports — basketball and football, namely — have captured the imagination of black american athletes much more effectively than baseball. And then you look at the NBA, and realize that if Stern had his way, I honestly believe he'd turn the sport into a modern minstrel show. Can I conclusively prove this? Of course not. But I also don't believe that my theory is outlandish.

2. MyfuckinggodIcan'tstandtheYankeestalkanymore

For some reason, I end up becoming a magnet for random conversations about sports at bars. This probably serves as a reasonable explanation as to why I so rarely actually meet girls at bars, since very few girls care about breaking down the draft or debating the relative merits of the stolen base. Anyway, no matter the point a sports conversation begins at these days, it appears all conversational roads lead to the Yankees; in so many ways, that franchise is the Rome of the MLB, if not sports in general. To extend the metaphor, while Rome is clearly burning right now, it's not really as compelling as a lot of people are making it out to be.

Of course the Yankees aren't this bad. This is a better collection of players than that assembled by Tampa, and yet those two franchises share a similarly unimpressive position in the AL East. But what does that mean? A lot of things. One, the team is old, and old teams are very often hard to predict, because an individual player's decline in baseball is often sudden and precipitous. Two, the bullpen is not very good, because Rivera hasn't been sharp and Torre's spent a lot of time the last three years beating the life out of any usable arm in the group. Three, the team has been unlucky in a variety of ways. Injuries have really hurt the starting rotation, things haven't been breaking their way, and the Red Sox are looking like a 110-win team.

And that's all. Is there really anything that interesting about anything I just said there? I don't think so. So why should anyone who is not a Yankee fan — someone who will likely be a part of a rapidly growing population this season — spend any amount of time talking about this? This team is no more interesting than the Indians, who similarly played so far beneath their Pythagorean record last season that it would be the first thing omitted from a regression analysis. There was no hand-wringing from the Baseball Tonight crew, no Eric Wedge death watch. And yes, I realize that they're THE YANKEES, and this means that they're supposedly important to everyone. But, c'mon ... we have no shortage of interesting things happening this year in baseball. Can we just agree to leave it alone until they hit a hot streak and force us to acknowledge them again?

3. (Long-standing beef edition) People really need to learn the meanings of the words they use.

Feel free to use the previous section of this post as a primer for anyone who abuses the word "irony." Is it that hard a concept to understand? Irony ≢ funny. I've had three people tell me something is ironic in the last four days, and not once were they even within skeeting distance of the correct meaning of the word. I also heard someone use the term "diorama" in the following context: "There's an entire diorama of ideas going through my head." The person then followed up with the phrase "The menagerie of my business ..." at which point I suffered from immediate, widespread organ failure, and would not have survived had someone not rushed one of Bill Safire's "On Language" columns to me immediately. Lucky me, I guess.

It should be explained that I spent a good portion of the weekend hanging out with people from Scottsdale, and almost every single person I spoke to was an aspiring "entrepreneur." One of those "entrepreneurs" explained to me that he owns a porn site that remains, at press time, bereft of actual pornography. His plan is to convert one of the rooms in his new house into a studio for the purpose of creating some pornography. "I could be in the movies themselves," he said to me, keg beer in one hand as he brushed back his overgrown, styled bangs out of his eyes with the other, "but I don't think I want to get involved in that side of the business, you know? It's better to keep that separation there." He also claimed to have a grandmother who is some big shot at Pepperdine's law school, and promised to "get me in, for sure."

That story was apropos of nothing; I just felt the need to share it.

4. It is possible that both Greg Oden and Kevin Durant will be outstanding basketball players, and that neither the Trail Blazers or the Sonics will look back on this draft with regret.

One of my ongoing complaints is how everyone seems to approach questions as if the decision were binary. I realize that I've been accused of harboring "black and white" views on many things, but that's reserved for cases in which I believe the potential exists that a right or wrong answer can actually be divined. But how can anyone tell me with a straight face that they know that only one of these two guys is going to turn out to be the better pick by a significant margin? I don't mind analysis, even if it's somewhat unhinged or really just conjecture, because I understand that 24-hour sports networks need to fill up the airtime with something besides poker re-runs. But how is it that I haven't heard one analyst say that it's possible that the Blazers simply can't go wrong with this pick? Does this bother anyone else?

5. At least Greg Dobbs doesn't bother lecturing me about the evils of outsourcing.

I decide not to post for a couple of weeks, and I come back to a blog that looks more like the 700 Level than it does an argument blog. And you know those painkillers they give out for appendectomies are good when Brett Myers' injury isn't enough to fade the high of a man who's been a veritible Monsieur Visage de la Tristesse the last year or so.

At least Justin brought up one interesting point in his last post, which is how the concept of clubhouse chemistry plays into winning and losing. I happen to think there's something to be said about good chemistry; at the least, it certainly can't hurt, and to whatever extent you're willing to accept basic business principles as being applicable to the management of a baseball team, an environment that fosters respect and co-operation is highly favorable. However, I don't believe that bad chemistry is all that horrible; as Justin stated, these guys are well-paid professionals and one should expect that they don't need to like each other to do the job. So, good is good, but bad probably isn't that bad at all.

I agree that this Phillies team is compelling for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I get a lot of enjoyment watching good things happen to teams that are hamstrung by the efforts of complete idiots. I actually called Justin the other day just because I had to remark on the beauty of Charlie Manuel "shaking things up" by benching Pat Burrell for Jason Werth against soft-tosser Doug Davis a couple of nights ago. For the 400,oooth time, Burrell absolutely annihilates lefties, and even better he draws walks, which Davis is ultra-proficient at giving out. Chucky Autism cited Burrell's 1-for-10 career mark against Davis, which is more proof that the man is completed retarded. 10 at bats?!? Even an evangelical wouldn't be willing to draw any kind of inference from such scant data.

Now, the Phillies will provide me the opportunity to witness the exploits of The Sextapus — a gloss that was borne of an otherwise uneventful TGWNA field trip to Chase Airplane HangarField a couple of weeks back — on a nightly basis, since SportsCenter loves showing blown saves by frightening, misshapen, obese pitchers almost as much as it likes cross-promotion. Did we mention that Ole' Six-Fingers will be on Mike & Mike tomorrow, who will be calling the Scripps Spelling Bee, which is brought to you by Tinactin? Here's Billy the Marlin, holding up a cue card! WE'RE TOPICAL AND EDGY!



Colin E. Laisure-Pool said...

I agree with your conclusions on the Stern/NBA situation. That asshole's draconian policy has caused me to turn my back to the NBA.

However, what perplexes me is Stern's perception that 'Corporate America' (whatever that means) is threatened by large black men fighting one another. Most of the rich white men that I know revel in such activity, squealing like delighted school girls whenever Carmelo or his ilk attack someone. I remember being in the Johnson Controls suite at the Glendale Arena and watching very wealthy 50-year-old greyhairs behave like 10-year olds whenever a fight would break out. For many, the fights are the best part, and it is driven by the same mentality that causes people to watch NASCAR races solely for the wrecks.

Also, I enjoy your canonization of Allen Iverson. I find it ironic that you suggest that the NBA acknowledge and praise his grit and determination while loathing the MLB for doing the same for David Eckstein. It also confuses me that you think he "...talks exactly as you'd expect someone from a poor area of Virginia to speak.". Is this racism or classism? You already know which I consider to be worse. I seem to recall a post in which you slammed Joe Biden for patronizing Barack Obama's elocution. To wit: "The idea that one would expect a black person to speak a certain way is inherently prejudicial and arrogant." What gives?

Of course, I expect you to take all of this with a grain of salt. As previously concluded, I am indeed threatened by Mr. Iverson, and I believe that many in Corporate America, Inc. feel the same way. It is basic human instinct to be taken aback by an image with which you are not familiar, as there are many more John Stocktons in the typical office than Allen Iversons. I am certain that the same audience alienation would occur if you took a large white player, covered him in swastika tattoos, gave him a Chuck Liddell mohawk, and pierced every orifice of his body. But this does not mean that the Iversons of the sport are a deterrent to my viewership. Hell, if that were the case, I wouldn't be able to watch a single NFL game or UFC fight.

Anyway, that's the diorama of what's going through my head. I love Snotsdale.

Diesel said...

You're right that I sound like a hypocrite about the Iverson thing; the difference between he and Eckstein, of course, is that one is an awesome player worthy of praise, and the other is a marginal player who gets WAY too much praise, at least relative to his performance. Furthermore, Colin, you must know that the term "grit" can only be used to describe short, untalented white guys.

As for the speech thing ... yeah, I did completely contradict the Obama statement there. I guess my point is that Iverson speaks like a lot of people from his hometown in Virginia who didn't seriously pursue an education, while Obama speaks a lot like people who ended up going to Harvard and becoming politicians. I think it's neither racist or classist to make either point; it's just fact.

The part I left out of my Stern rant was what you said up front: I actually think what Stern sees as "dangerous" is one of the League's selling points. I totally agree with your assertion.

Is your hypothetical, swastika-adorned Lidell-like player really all that analogous to Iverson? The latter is sub-six feet, skinny and appears to be a relatively carefree dude. Furthemore, none of his body adornments are inherently threatening, unlike a swastika. I'm not trying to parse here, but instead drive at my point: Iverson has almost become a caricature thanks to the way the league and a complicit media have portrayed him. You want to feel threatened by Rasheed Wallace, who is clearly crazy, outspokenly racist and huge? OK, I'll bite. But Iverson? I can't see it, to be honest. Furthemore, while your point about "fear of the unknown" is well-taken, when can we expect society to get used to tatts and 'rows? It seems like they've been around forever, to be honest.

Anyway, good comment. Just wait until you see my next post.

b said...

The NBA, and David Stern, aren't out to get 'black thugs' by having the leaving the bench rule, he's simply following the example set by the NHL and trying to prevent another Pistons-Pacers brawl. He's protecting his players and fans, not sucking the fun out out of the game or being racist - he's keeping things from getting out of hand, which they tend to do when a lot of angry people are somewhere they aren't supposed to be.

In the NHL, if you leave the bench during a fight, it's an automatic 10-game suspension, I believe. It's so harsh that the players are willing to let goalies hash it out, simply because somebody has to and it's part of the game - see Ottawa goalie Ray Emery taking out the Buffalo goalie and then squaring off against Buffalo's tough guy!! (A side note, Buffalo's season ended when nobody came out to protect Emery. Advantage, Sens)

Fighting is part of the game of hockey, but it is definitely not a part of basketball. How many good fights can you remember seeing? The only good punch a basketball player landed was when Stephen Jackson cold-cocked that fat Chaldean guy who stepped on the floor (victory, all of us).

The Palace riot, and every NBA "brawl," is an embarrassment and a black eye on the game and the league, because ESPN shows it over and over again, and sorry to quote Sports Guy but, "we have to pretend like we're enraged." Did Stern ruin a potentially great series with his enforcement of the rule? Absolutely. He protected two soft teams from going out and embarrassing themselves even further by fighting. And what if it escalates, and more players get involved in the fray? Where do the suspensions begin then?

David Stern is a brilliant commish and I can't believe Gary Bettman still hangs around to take it from him - like Mo'Nique said, "sometimes life bends you over, and it doesn't use vasoline." This man took a fairly inocuous issue and flipped it - having every news outlet and fan in the country talking about it - just like he did with the dress code and the new ball the last two years.

Your racism take is a little bit more blurry, simply because I believe Stern didn't like where the league was headed, on and off the court, and fixed things. Was he racist? Well, one could infer that by implementing a dress code, he was singling out young black players. But that was a small issue no fan really saw - I could care less how Smush Parker dresses when he walks in and out of the arena every night, and nor should anyone else.

The bigger issue that was more visible and successful was the age minimum. I had all but given up on the NBA from 95-00, but was brought back in because I was starting to see players I enjoyed watching play in college. This increased exponentially over the last few years, as more polished pros like Deron Williams are on the floor instead of Sebastien Telfair. With flops like Telfair and, closer to home, Ndudi Ebi, it eliminates a lot of that AAU influence and makes the NBA a better product for the teams and their fans.

The flipside to that is that the AAU can now focus on destroying college basketball. Will David Stern help his little brother out? Doubtful, and that is a potentially much greater issue than doling out suspensions because somebody broke a rule everyone knew existed.

St said...

A few scattered points:

The misuse of the word irony irritates me on a daily basis.

The next person to compare the abilities of Allen Iverson to those of David Eckstein gets a brand new size-15 Reebok Philadelphia Phillies sandal wedged in their asscrack.

Saying that rural people from Virginia speak like Allen Iverson is a compliment. Go listen to AI speak -- yes, he uses a particular idiom, but he sounds very intelligent.

I submit for consideration in the "best basketball fights ever" the following three examples, off the top of my head:

1. Kermit Washington
2. That guy from the obscure European league punching the referee (check YouTube)
3. Jerry Stackhouse/Jeff Hornacek

And further, I think it's pretty ridiculous to say that fighting is somehow foreign to basketball. My experience is that fights start much more readily in the course of basketball games than they do while playing baseball or football, for various reasons, foremost among them the continuous proximity of the players, the lack of protective gear, and the fact that it has less interruptions in play than either of the others.

Oh, and only Bud Selig's existence keeps David Stern from being indisputably the worst commissioner in major American sport. If the new ball and dress code debacles were brilliant moves -- meaning if any press is good press -- then Selig is a genius for ignoring steroids for so long.

b said...

St., the worst commissioner in sports is Bettman. This cannot be questioned. At least MLB is thriving, pure or otherwise.

Me defending baseball's commish. How ironic.

b said...

Fighting isn't a part of basketball, just like it isn't a part of football. Hockey and baseball, it's a part of the game, even if "fighting" in baseball generally describes two sets of 30 guys emptying the dugouts. The difference between the two groups is that fighting is not only an accepted practice in hockey and to a lesser extent, baseball, but part of the "code" that nobody questions.

A fight in basketball is generally an overblown reaction to an isolated incident (see: Pistons-Pacers, Heat-Knicks), just like it is in baseball and hockey. The difference is, if you don't defend your teammate in baseball or hockey, you're a pussy and, worse, a bad teammate.

Double-standard? I'd say so. But then again, it's generally the media focusing on particular issues (if the foul didn't happen to Steve Nash, it wouldn't have been that big a deal; had Steve Nash said he doesn't bring his best to practice instead of AI, it wouldn't be one of the world's funniest soundclips).

Goddamned sportswriters....

St said...

I don't think fighting is any more a part of baseball than it is of basketball (hockey is obviously different). Hitting batters is a part of baseball, but a legitimate fight, which is rare, always leads to suspensions on par with or worse than those in basketball.

Furthermore, the nature of the game of basketball lends itself much more to fighting than does baseball, for the reasons I discussed earlier, and others. Think of all the bullshit pickup games that lead to fights; do you see that happening in slow-pitch softball, the rough pickup game equivalent of baseball? I played both sports for years and saw one baseball fight in my entire life. I saw literally dozens in basketball, including one legitimate chair-throwing melee at a high school game.

Bettman's sport is certainly faring the worst of the four. But I'm not sure that's all his fault -- I don't think Bill Braski could sell hockey to the average American. I think we've got three bad-to-terrible commissioners right now, and Goodell hasn't been around long enough to know.

St said...

OK, literally a dozen. Probably not two dozen.

As my boy Ezra says, "Fundamental accuracy of statement is the sole morality of writing." And I don't want to sound like I'm Better Than Ezra.

Diesel said...

B, I'm with Justin on this one. In fact, the only thing "overblown" when it comes to NBA fights is our perception of their frequency or severity: I dare say that real fights with real consequences are the exception to the rule. Most NBA fights are nothing more than the kind of pushing contests you see at a typical UA bar on a Thursday night.

I don't have a problem with the bench rule, in principal, and I do think that players who aren't in the middle of the action should not get involved (when they do become involved, it's almost always a mess). If either Amare or Diaw had actually made it into the scrum, then I'd agree that the suspensions were justified. But they didn't get involved; all they did is have the same reaction anyone with functioning testes would have, and that is react to their boy getting roughed up. That Stern believes the value of the bench rule is derived from its rigidity is perhaps the most intellectually indefensible decision he's made as the league's commish, and that's saying a lot.