Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Sale of the Clippers

To quote Billy Ray Valentine from the movie Trading Places, the best way to get at rich people is to make 'em poor people. 

I suppose that by banning Donald Sterling for life (in stark contrast to one-time Ugandan dictator Idi Amin's making himself president for life), the NBA made Sterling reputationally poor (that said, they didn't really do anything that Sterling hadn't done to himself).  In making him sell the team, they are making him "trophy" poor, as in here's a rich guy who can't have his pet team any more (and if the Clippers were a pet, someone would have called the SPCA a long time ago and taken them away from him). 

But what they didn't do was make him assets poor or cash poor or any of that (and, of course, Sterling is refusing to pay the NBA's multi-million dollar fine, because a) he rejects his punishment and b) his argument probably is that if you're banning me for life -- assuming you can do that -- then how can you fine me if you've tossed me out)?  And, of course, Sterling and his estranged wife could be fighting all this because they have a history of litigation that has probably put many children of his outside law firm's partners through orthodontia, private school, private college and perhaps therapy. 

All that said, let's just suppose that the sale goes through.  Bank of America is running an auction over the weekend (it started yesterday) that might gross $1.2 billion for a good team that once was the NBA's version of the Washington Generals (except that the Generals never tried to win; the Clippers purportedly did try but messed things up so badly that the casual fan wondered whether you could have planned for the mishaps that consistently befell the Sterling-owned Clippers).  Now, I don't know what Sterling paid for this franchise say 30 years ago, but my guess is that it was less than $10 million.  The Clippers were awful, they had migrated during their history, and they always were the other team in Los Angeles (of course, in international soccer, the other team in Madrid, Athletico Madrid, won the first division of Spanish soccer, besting both Real Madrid and Barcelona, so there will be occasions when that other team prevails).

Perhaps there is a lesson in all this.  Sterling is a pariah, increasingly isolated.  He'll get his money, as will the IRS, but he'll have less to lavish it on, or so the theory goes.  No other sports league will touch him except the desperate who are looking for any lifeline to stay afloat.  He'll miss his courtside seats, he'll miss people kissing up to him because he's the owner, whatever.  He, however, will not be missed. 

But he'll have his money to console himself.  The NBA assured him of that as a parting gift.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

10 Years of Blogging

I lost track of time.

Ten years ago, blogs were very new things.  Ten years later, there are all sorts of ways to communicate on social media.  So much so that at times it appears that people have moved from blogs to Facebook to Twitter to Instagram to Pinterest to all sorts of combinations of the above.  So far, I have stuck with Blogger and a bit with Twitter.  It's been fun to have a vehicle to share thoughts and ideas, although I confess that the posts that draw the most frequent hits are the ones that relate to practice plans for kids' basketball teams.  The ones I've liked the best are writing about shared experiences with my father and my kids, or my elegy of sorts to Barry Bonds to the tune of Harry Chapin's "Taxi" (precisely because something was rainin' hard in Frisco -- I'm not sure what, though).

A lot has happened in the world of sports since 2004, and I won't repeat the past ten years here -- you can go back and look through the blog if you like.  I wasn't sure how long I'd persist with this, and at times work and life intervened to create longer absences from posting than I would have liked.  It used to be that I tried to post daily; now I aim for weekly given various other responsibilities and interests that I have.  It's more of a journal than a vehicle for the most polished pieces.  Stuff that I do for work might go through several drafts and edits; here, I try to do the best I can in no more than fifteen minutes. 

We end up writing about what interests us and what's in front of us.  While the plight of the average Royals and Pirates fan troubled me for much of the time I've written this journal, I don't live in Kansas City or Pittsburgh and have no connection to either city, so it's hard for me to have the feel that residents or natives of those towns have.  But that doesn't mean that I cannot understand their frustrations, as being a native Philadelphia fan has ingrained in me a sense of hope, despair, frustration, tragedy and triumph, sometimes all wrapped up in one.  And while I realize that the Pirates broker their score-long losing streak last year, for most of the time that I've written this blog the Pirates struggled mightily.

I've tried to focus on broader sports themes than reporting, as I have a day job and a family and don't plumb the depths the way other blogs do.  I know enough about statistics and math to know that they're important, but I also know that data without context represents numbers without much meaning.  For example, a .279 hitter might be a good hitter, but if his on-base percentage is .285, he's killing your lineup.  If his on-base percentage is .385 and he hits with power, he's probably one of the top 30 hitters in the game.  That said, the many advances in statistics in all sports means that the average fan cannot possibly understand who is a good performer and who isn't just from watching, and I do wonder how that will affect the average fan's experience.  For example, I always thought that the Willie Stargell/Dave Parker Pirates teams were menacing teams that could club you to death with their hitting and always hit in the clutch.  But was that because they wore cool uniforms, had a swagger, had a transcendant leader in Stargell, natural-born hitters in Parker, Bill Madlock and Mike Easler, or did the numbers really back that up?  And, could it be that they didn't always, because if that team was that good shouldn't they have won more titles than they did?  Sadly, today there's probably someone who can tell you why your favorite player isn't nearly as good as the image he's burnished in your mind.  I don't know whether that's a good thing or not.

The one thing that is constant is evolution.  I recall a conversation with my father when I was a young boy that focused on the top-five most popular sports in the country.  Among them were baseball and football, and I think basketball, but also horse racing and boxing.  As for the latter two, you have to remember that this was before there was legalized gambling anywhere but Las Vegas, which meant that the track represented one of the few places you could legally bet on things.  As for boxing, well, this was the dramatic sport that film was kind to and lent itself to film, and one that some of the best writers loved writing about.  I recall watching many Olympics where the fate of the U.S. boxing team might have eclipsed anything save the fate of the men's basketball team; today, there's hardly any coverage of boxing.  As for horse racing, it's an "event" sport for the most part; tracks are fewer and farther between.  You can place a legal bet almost anywhere now. 

Indy car racing was once a big deal, but years ago the split between two factions tore it asunder and the ace marketers of NASCAR turned it into "Top Gun" on the ground, making the drivers rock stars.  While many golfers seem stamped from the same warm-weather state mold (either middle-class church-going Republicans or southern good-old boys with some swagger), the PGA has made the top touring pros personalities.  Decades ago, the top tennis players were like that, and we were captivated with the likes of McEnroe, Borg, Connors and many others.  Today, while players like Federer and Nadal are among the best ever, the evolution of the equipment seemingly has taken much of the guile, guts and strategy out of the game, although there have been a few individual matches in recent years (albeit among ranked but not top-ranked players) that are for the ages. 

Baseball is no longer the "national pastime," and despite very good attendance in some places the games take too long, the steroid scandal stained it almost indelibly, the pitchers dominate the hitters and it's becoming the game that grandfathers and fathers liked.  When games were 2 hours, people liked watching; now that they're over three, it could be that MLB is losing interest faster than it realizes.  The advent of the English Premier League on NBC Sports Channel and the coverage of the World Cup will brand international soccer stars better than domestic baseball stars.  Somehow, it's cooler to be Messi or Ronaldo than it could be to be Trout or Harper.  I don't know why that is, but the world is no longer American-centric; we've become much more global more quickly.  At my eighth-grader's lunch table, the focus is on the NBA now, soccer frequently, and the NFL in season.  No one talks about baseball, except the kids whose parents are Yankee fans, and then only on occasion.  And while football is very popular, few in our area play it.  Let's face it, the action can be compelling, but you can get really hurt playing it.  I do wonder whether football will have issues in the next 10-20 years that baseball has now -- how to stay relevant despite all the hitting and violence.

So, those are some of the thoughts as I approach the 10th anniversary of this blog.  I've enjoyed writing it, even for sometimes small audiences.  I'll continue to do so, and I thank all of those who have posted comments for their interactions with me.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The U.S. and the World Cup

Jurgen Klinsman did the right thing.

By jettisoning Landon Donovan and other veterans, he took a stand for what he believes to be the best 23-man roster.   Naturally, this is not without risk.

Politics play a big role in the selection of a World Cup squad.  Ask any English fan, and they'll tell you that at times the national squad has rested on the reputations of veterans instead of fielding the best team possible.  In the U.S.'s case, Klinsman decided to bank on hope over experience, especially in the form of a bunch of German-Americans who show promise but who haven't played much on the world stage.

That the U.S. cut a veteran like Donovan draws attention because he, along with Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard (and to a lesser extent, Michael Bradley) have been the face of U.S. soccer over the past so many years.  That said, the cutting of a player of Donovan's caliber might not have drawn much attention in countries such as England, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Argentina and Brazil, where Donovan might have been fortunate to make the second team, let alone the top 23.  That's how far behind U.S. soccer is, no matter what their publicity machine tells us.

Examine the rosters of the top World Cup contenders, and you will find that they are populated with players who play in the top leagues in the world, get meaningful playing time and in many cases are among the best at their position.  Examine the U.S. roster -- and the U.S. is among the 10 largest countries in the world (and four of them -- China, India, Pakistan and Indonesia -- have crummy soccer teams -- and you won't find those players.  Why?  Because soccer is not ingrained in our culture, and because the best athletes in the U.S. play football, basketball and baseball.  They do not lace up the boots and play what the rest of the world calls football.

Big news in the U.S.?  Of course.  Donovan has done a lot for the game in the U.S.  Big news for the World Cup?  Sure, precisely because Donovan is one of the U.S.'s biggest names.  But let's make sure that when we examine Donovan's skill set and accomplishments we don't confuse them with the likes of the biggest names on the best teams.  Because, even if you're a Donovan fan, he's just not in their league (and, truth be told, but for a small dose of the Premier League -- he didn't want to be there).

Friday, May 02, 2014

Enough with the Stupid Idiom "Score the Ball."

This is perhaps one of the dumbest, if not dumbest, idioms that I've heard a sportscaster say.

I mean, what the heck else could a player score with?

His shoe?

His mouthgard?

Compression shorts?

Cell phone?

A water bottle?

Since when did some of these guys declare war on the English language and good sense?

When you hear "he's great at scoring the ball," you wonder what else gets points in the NBA?

Does a player get points for scoring with a cheerleader?

Motivational dancer?

Daughter of an owner?

Son of an owner?

As in, "Not only does he score the ball, but he scores after the game with the owner's daughter, who is a graduate student."

There are three-point goals, which did prompt one of the best lines in NBA history.  When former player Antoine Walker was asked why he shot so many threes, he responded with, "Because there aren't any fours."

And that got me to thinking.  If you score something other than the ball, could you get extra points.

For example, if you grab the P.A. guy's toupee and dunk it, could that mean four points?

The possibilities are endless.  But for right now, anyone in broadcast land, let's end the stupidity.  Of course you score with the ball, so let's not sound redundant and nitwit-like by saying that someone is good at scoring the ball.  It's ridiculous.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Famous Sports Quotes

Here goes:

1.  "Luck is the residue of design."  Branch Rickey

2.  "The harder I practice, the luckier I get."  Ted Williams.

3.  "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail."  John Wooden

4.  "'Potential' means you ain't done it yet."  Duffy Daugherty (one-time Michigan State coach).

5.   "If you yell at a kid and he gets mad at you, you've lost him.  If you yell at a kid and he gets mad at himself, then you have something."  Pete Carril

6.  "I won't quit on a player who doesn't quit on himself."  Charlie Manuel

7.  "Win now, and we'll walk together forever."  Fred Shero

8.  "The reason I win is that I think five shots ahead."  Willie Mosconi

9.  "Sports don't develop character, they reveal it."  Attributed to many

10.  "All that analysis is well and good, but what I need right now is a left-handed batter who can hit the ball over the shortstop's head."  Casey Stengel

11.  "Am I a great manager?  Huh.  I was blessed to have a front office that found great talent, and then I was smart enough to stay the hell out of their way."  Sparky Anderson

12.  "Our chief want in life is to have someone who can challenge us beyond what we ourselves could do alone."  Attributed in some form to Ralph Waldo Emerson (okay, so he wasn't a known sportsman).

13.  "The reason I play so hard is that somewhere out there is some kid who has never seen me play before, and I don't want to disappoint him."  Joe DiMaggio

14.  "There is no "i" in 'team,' but there is one in 'win.'"  Michael Jordan

Stay tuned for more.