Things That Are Cool: Misunderstood

What's that you say? It's almost Christmas and you haven't bawled your eyes out over some sort of Christmas-related commercial? Well, it's time we put an end to that. Here's Apple's Christmas ad to really get the waterworks going for you. Merry Christmas! (NOTE: Haven't had much time to write the last couple of weeks but I've got a couple of doozies headed your way soon. Stay tuned.)


On Allen Iverson and Flawed Heroes

AI2 NOTE: You'll have to forgive this departure from my regularly scheduled mildly amusing stories about my kid and movie-related shenanigans for this brief tangent into the world of sports. We'll get back to normal tomorrow.

Yesterday, in a press conference before the Philadelphia 76ers opening game of the season, former superstar Allen Iverson announced his retirement. It wasn't an unexpected event; a 38 year old point guard who hasn't played in the NBA in over three years doesn't exactly draw a lot of interest from most teams even if the guy comes equipped with a sparkling reputation which Iverson most certainly does not. Still, it was a somber moment for me to see one of my all-time favorite athletes, a hero of weird sorts, officially walk away from the game he made better for 14 seasons.

I love sports in general but basketball was my first love and it will always be the game I gravitate to with the most passion. In my lifetime, I have had three favorite athletes, all of them basketball players. When my basketball odyssey began in 1991, Derek Harper became my hero and his tough, fundamentally sound playing style made him a fantastic sporting role model for a kid who desperately wanted to play basketball for a living but lacked, shall we say, EVERYTHING that one needs to make that happen. And in the early to mid 2000s, Dirk Nowitzki reached his prime and eventually became the all-encompassing force of awesomeness he is now, leading my beloved Mavericks to the title I had literally dreamed about for 20 years. But in the interim between Harper's retirement and Nowitzki's rise to prominence, my go-to guy, my favorite player, my hero as it were, was Iverson, a guy who was pretty much the exact opposite of what Harper and Nowitzki represented.

Iverson (who became known as "The Answer", which is probably a top ten nickname ever) was brash, flashy, and thugged out before that term had even been invented. He AI3came from the projects and he had a troubling past but instead of ducking that or shying away from it, he owned it and wore his lifestyle for all to see, flaws and all. He made a ton of mistakes, released a relatively graphic hip-hop song, and sported the tattoos and cornrows look in an era that didn't accept such things. On the court, he played a style of basketball that we hadn't seen before. He threw up a ton of shots, didn't seem to like passing the ball, and carried himself in such a way that one might believe he would just as soon stab you rather than shoot over you. Put simply, he had an edge that no other player in the league had at that time. All of this made it nearly impossible for White America to embrace him. Iverson was the personification of what was wrong with sports to many a veteran basketball fan because he didn't "play the right way" and, whether they would say it out loud or not, he definitely didn't look the right way.

But I loved him. I loved him because he played this game that I cared so deeply about in a way that no one else did. He was a small guy, listed as six feet tall but really he was closer to 5'10 and under 170 pounds, but he threw his body around like someone with the physique of a Lebron James. He relentlessly drove to the hoop, often taking a smack and a face plant into the ground for his troubles and yet he would get up, shake it off, and do the same thing on the next play. It did not matter how many times you knocked him down, Allen Iverson was coming right back at you, over and over again, and he was coming to KILL YOU. He was intimidating in a way that smaller players never are because he always knew he was the toughest guy on the court. He also had this ability to command your attention. You'd be watching a Sixers game and then you'd realize that you have absolutely no idea what was happening in the rest of the game because your eyes were locked on Iverson the entire time. And the best part was, he knew you couldn't take your eyes off of him and he used that to his advantage. He had a flair for doing spectacular things in the biggest moments when you got the feeling that he was feeding off the spotlight.

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Perhaps most importantly for me, and the thing that I don't think people have given him enough credit for, was the constant, all-out nature of his game. In a very famous press conference during which he was confronted by the media over his propensity for sitting out in practice, he responded with a classic line that allowed people to write him off as a guy who didn't care enough about the team to do the important things, like practice. (Never mind the fact that most NBA teams only actually "practice" about 20 times a season, total.) I saw the other side of this, though. I saw a guy who literally left everything he had on the floor every night. I saw a guy who competed harder than anybody else the night before and didn't have anything left to give the next morning. It has always bothered me that, in the midst of a horde of underachieving athletes who simply didn't care enough to try to be great every single night (Shaquille O'neal is a notorious example), we would focus in on the practice habits of a guy who had just spent the previous night carrying a terrible team on his back in an all-out effort to get a win. Iverson was ALWAYS playing as hard as he possibly could and that probably took two or three years off of his career.

Iverson's accomplishments were immense: 11-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year, League MVP, 7-time All-NBA team, 4-time NBA scoring champion, and a Finals berth that gave us one of the greatest moments in NBA history and saw the man take a terrible team to heights it had no business enjoying. (The other important players on that team were Eric Snow, Aaron McKie, Matt Geiger, George Lynch, Todd MacCulloch, and Dikembe Mutombo. If you're a passing sports fan and you've heard of any of those guys, it's Mutombo and it's because of this Geico commercial. They were AWFUL.)

And yet, throughout his career, he was a lightning rod for fans and his presence created a sort of line-in-the-sand for his fans. Those of us who loved him, a small club that gets smaller by the day, rallied around him and defended him to the death which, career wise, came far too soon due to his reputation (which I would deem to be unfair) as a ball hog and a gunner. His detractors, always the larger group I would say, have grown as his distance from the game has lengthened and while there was never any convincing this group of Iverson's true greatness, he has now become almost a punchline to the smug majority that never appreciated him in the first place. He was always overrated, they say, a guy who only cared about himself and the stats he put up, and whose greatness was marginal at best. His off-court issues (a battle with alcoholism and the likelihood that he will soon be broke) certainly haven't helped.

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For my money, though, Allen Iverson will always be a singularly bright spot in a sky filled with stars. He was supremely imperfect and didn't conform in the way people wanted their sports heroes to conform, but he played a style of basketball that will never be forgotten and, I think, will never be replicated. He left it all on the court every single time out and that total competitiveness and constant will be, for me, his lasting legacy: Allen Iverson, my flawed hero.

http://youtu.be/wF23TaJTqnw

Things That Are Cool: "Going Home"

My usual morning routine goes something like this: Get up. Bring Cooper downstairs. Try desperately to get him to laugh and/or smile. Give up when he makes it clear that all he's interested in drinking as much formula as humanely possible RIGHT NOW. Let the dog outside before she pees on the floor out of nervous excitement that someone said her name. Get Cooper's bottle ready. Sit down to feed him while watching SportsCenter. Pretty normal all around.

Today I added something new to that routine:

WEEP UNCONTROLLABLY ALL OVER MY NEWBORN SON.

Because that's what happens when SportsCenter plays a tremendous feature on soldiers coming home and surprising their families; you weep uncontrollably. See for yourself. Easily one of the best things ESPN has done in a decade.


The 2011 Mavs and the Value of Suffering

dirktrophy Note: I know that on the surface this post may seem like a departure from the baby-related content this website is supposed to be pushing. But I promise it ties in so give a read anyway. Also, this is my website and I'll write about whatever I want and if you don't like it, you can leave. But also, please don't leave. I need you now.

Two years ago yesterday, the Dallas Mavericks clinched their first NBA Championship with a Game 6 win over the hated Miami Heat. It was, without question, the best sports/pop-culture related moment of my life and probably a top five day in my life, period. (Okay, it’s definitely a top five moment and probably top three but I don’t want all of you to judge me too harshly for this.) It is highly unlikely that any sports moment will EVER mean more to me than that win did unless Cooper realizes his sports potential and leads the Mavs to a title in, like, 2035 or something. When the final buzzer rang and the team ran onto the court to celebrate, I wept and that feeling of absolute elation carried on for, literally, MONTHS afterward. I still get chills (and maybe some leaky eyes) when I think about that series. There are a number of reasons why this particular title run was so special but here are three of them:

1.)    Because of Dirk. There are any number of athletes that hold a special place in my Sports Heart for one reason or another but none of them have ever been as important to me as a fan as Dirk is. Even in my youth, when Derek Harper was my role model, the level of devotion I had was less than it is toward Dirk. If any athlete ever truly deserved to win a title, it was him;

2.)    Because it was Good triumphing over Evil. Miami was built in a day through collusion and (I assume) witchcraft with Lebron James infamously joining forces with Dwyane Wade the summer before and bringing Chris Bosh along with him. They were a gaudy collection of superstars who, in the minds of many, essentially cheated the system in order to create an easier road to championships. Dallas, meanwhile, was built over time, a true team that gelled together perfectly when everyone thought their window was closed. The Mavs did it the right way and for once, were rewarded for their efforts;

3.)    Because it took 20 years. This is the biggest factor in my love for this team and for the championship they earned. It’s something that not everyone can truly understand and it’s what this piece is all about.

I went to my first Mavericks’ game in early 1992. It was, I believe, the second professional sporting event I’d ever been to and to that point I couldn’t have cared less about any sport, let alone basketball. But those three hours spent in Reunion Arena completely changed my life. I was hooked on the sport almost immediately and became obsessed with all things relating to this game that I’d known nothing about previously. (This love was cemented a few weeks later when Christian Laettner hit “The Shot”, illustrating to me how incredible winning basketball could really be.) I watched or listened to just about every game the following season and before long, I lived and breathed Maverick basketball.

It should be noted, then, that living and breathing Maverick basketball in 1992 was akin to willingly allowing someone to stab you with a rusty knife and then coming back the next night for another stabbing. That first year (92-93), the Mavs won 11 games. Total. The next year they got all the way up to 13 and traded my hero, Derek Harper, at mid-season (I cried all night and could barely hold myself together at school the next day). The next year they drafted Jason Kidd and things started to look up (36 wins) but everything fell apart again in ‘95 and before long I found myself a devout, zealous fan of a team that hadn’t been to the playoffs in a decade. Everyone I knew was a fan of the team of the day (either the Bulls, the Rockets, or the Lakers) but I steadfastly returned to the Mavs year after year, bad draft after bad draft, losing season after losing season, always hopeful that the new group would be better while knowing deep down that Cherokee Parks and Chris Gatling were not the saviors I so desperately needed them to be.

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The next decade, however, was pretty incredible. With Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash on the floor and a brash new owner, Mark Cuban, running the team, the Mavs became a perennial powerhouse. In 2001, they made the playoffs and even managed to advance to the second round by beating the favored Utah Jazz in five games. I was at that first home playoff game and it is, to this day, the best sporting event I’ve ever been at in person. The place was BONKERS. The next few years were filled with tremendous highs (an incredible series with Sacramento in ’03, Dirk dropping 50 on the Suns in ’06, an unlikely first round upset of the Spurs in ’09, and this) and heart-wrenching lows (first round exits in ’04, ’07, ’08, and ’10, the loss of Nash in ’04, and of course the gut-punch Finals loss in ’06) but always the team was competitive. After the loss in ’06 and the complete collapse in ’07, I convinced myself that I had to be content with the Mavs fielding a competitive team year after year that would never win the big one but each year, almost unwillingly, I talked myself into that particular squad’s merits and felt a severe sting when they were inevitably bounced out of the playoffs (usually by the bloody Spurs, whom I hate with the passion of a thousand suns).

Then came 2011. I’m not going to lie, I was completely unenthused about that team. In a summer that saw Lebron James, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, and a number of other big name free agents find new homes, the Mavs came away with only Tyson Chandler whose value I didn’t truly understand. But as the season wore on, it became apparent that there was something special about that team. They grinded out games like few teams do these days. A veteran team, every guy on the roster understood his role and filled it consistently. Chandler shored up the defense the way no other teammate of Dirk’s had ever done before and everything else fell into line perfectly. By the time they reached the Finals, the whole thing was starting to feel like destiny, a sensation I had seen other teams’ fans go through but had never experienced myself. In the closing seconds of that clinching Game 6, Dirk raised his arms above his head and looked around in complete shock, a feeling that I sympathized with given that I genuinely never thought that day would come.

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And that’s what makes it so special. I had been a true, ardent, diehard fan of this franchise for 20 years when that title finally came to fruition. I had watched somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 games. I had put in countless hours of blood, sweat, and tears. I had considered giving up a few dozen times. I had come to the conclusion that it was never going to happen and yet I continually came back with half a hope. I had spent an embarrassing amount of time thinking up trades or free agency solutions that would solve the team’s problems. (I don’t even want to tell you how many spreadsheets on my computer have been dedicated to various trade scenarios and salary cap-related formulas. Sometimes I don’t know how I’m married to be honest with you.) In short, and this is what I’m getting at, I had struggled. Struggled with the tremendous number of losses early on, struggled with the playoff exits later, struggled with the departure of players I loved, struggled to find a way to come back for the next game, the next season, the next decade. I struggled for 20 years and 2011 was my reward. When it was all over, I felt like my life’s work had been completed and while I’m not sure I’ll ever capture that exact feeling again, it’s one that I believe I will never, ever forget.

I hope that this is something my son has occasion to experience. Not just the win, which is undoubtedly the cherry on the top of the very strange yet extremely satisfying sundae, but the struggle as well. That struggle bought me ownership in one of the greatest moments of my life and while it may just be a silly game to some people, the lessons I have learned through the experiences of those 20 years bleed through every facet of my life. So while I hope Cooper’s team of choice never hits rock bottom the way the early ‘90s Mavs did, I hope he’ll have the heart to ride out the bad times that will inevitably come his way in order to fully appreciate the good times down the road. Unless he somehow becomes a Spurs fan, in which case I hope they hit rock bottom and stink so badly for so long that he gives up and comes back to the Mavs where he belongs. Old wounds die hard.

Dirk for President 2024, Brian

P.S. Two years later and this video the Mavs played before their home Finals games still chokes me up.

http://youtu.be/vkULpbkxzvA

Things That Are Cool: The Office Farewells

Tomorrow the final episode of The Office will air and it will bring with it a shameful amount of tears from at least one blogger who shall remain nameless. I have a big post coming tomorrow to commemorate the event as best I can but in the meantime, any fan of the show needs to check out this video featuring John Krasinski, Rainn Wilson, Jenna Fischer, and others reflecting on their time on the show. Warning: Tissues may be required. 


Summarizing the NBA Lockout or "Why You Shouldn't Blame the Players"

NOTE: There are very few subjects in which I would consider myself an expert. Basketball (and the NBA in particular) is one of them. By “expert” I mean, of all the people you know in real life, I know more about basketball and the NBA than 99% of them. That’s not meant to be bragging but rather as an illustration of my general lack of a life. I love basketball and I love the NBA and I happen to have a brain built for stats, facts, and meaningless trivia. Hence, “expert.” Having assembled all of this (useless) knowledge, it really bothers me to see so many people blaming this whole mess on the players when in fact I’d say it’s at least 80% the fault of the owners. But it should be noted that while I am presenting several facts in this piece, my opinion as to what all of this means may differ from your own. I just want people to be informed before they start throwing around blame.

On Monday, the NBA Players Association voted to reject the owner’s latest Collective Bargaining Agreement, a move which will extend the already infuriating lockout and will likely cost us the entire season. In these situations (which have become far too frequent for anyone’s taste), the average fan almost always blames the players. It doesn’t matter where it’s baseball, basketball, football, or whatever else, if games are lost, everyone jumps on the players and accuses them of being greedy. In some cases, those accusers are right: the blame for the 1994 MLB strike should be placed firmly at the feet of the players who chose to prove a point rather than participate in America’s pastime. It took several years and a steroid-infused home run race to get many fans back on board. In many cases, however, the players are at the mercy of power hungry and selfish owners who happen to be much better at playing the public relations game than the players. This is one of those occasions.
First, at no time have the players asked for a single penny more than what they earned last year. (Bear in mind, we’re coming off a season in which the NBA had better ratings than had been experienced in years.) In fact, they’ve been quite willing to accept the need to cut their salaries. Without delving too far into the economics of the situation, the players currently receive 57% of all Basketball Related Income that makes its way into the NBA’s coffers in a given year. Ticket sales, merchandise, and (most importantly) TV money all add up to create the league’s BRI. The players came to the negotiating table and offered to cut that figure to 54%, then came down to 52.5%, and as of the final negotiation session, they’d dropped their requirement to 50%. The last proposal that the players made to Commissioner David Stern would have saved the owners (read: “billionaires”) three billion dollars over the course of the deal. Let that sink in for a minute: these “greedy” players came to the table willing to give up THREE BILLION DOLLARS.
To put that into perspective, imagine that you are a teacher who makes $45,000 a year. When Rick Perry screws your school district over (as he’s prone to doing), your superintendent comes to the teachers and demands all of you to take a 7% pay cut. That’s $3150 less than what you made the year before. How much of an impact would that make on your life? I know, it doesn’t seem fair to compare the wages of a group of millionaires to that of working class professionals but from a purely financial standpoint, this is what we’re talking about. (And hey, I make less than $45,000 a year and if I’m willing to accept this analogy, I would hope others would as well.)
Second, at no time have the owners offered anything of value in exchange for the $3 billion the players have offered to give up. Sure, Stern would have you believe that his constituents have significantly and graciously brought up the terms of their initial offer and indeed they have. However, keep in mind that their initial offer was ABSURD. Instead of the 57-43% BRI split that players currently have or the 50-50 split the two sides have come to currently, the owners started off with a proposal that would shift the BRI to 54-46 in favor of the owners. That’s an 11% shift in favor of the owners. In addition, the initial “hardline” proposal would have made player movement (i.e. trades, free agency, etc.) nearly impossible and cut the opportunity for raises to next to nothing. It was an offensive, inflammatory offer that did nothing but infuriate the players and gives Stern something to point to when he talked about, “how far the owners have come.” Stern has also been incredibly disparaging toward the players, engaging in a PR blitzkrieg that demeans the players in ways that would prompt fines and perhaps suspensions if the tables were turned. He’s been exceptionally threatening in his tone from the very beginning and treated the players as underlings which hasn’t helped this situation in the slightest.
To put this into perspective, imagine that you’re planning on buying a brand new car. You do your research on your vehicle of choice and determine that $33,000 is a fair price for said car and you might even be willing to go as high as $35,000. When you get to the lot, the sticker price on the car is for $38,000, a reasonable number that you believe is within a fair negotiating range. But when the dealer comes to chat you up, he quotes the price of the car at $100,000, which undoubtedly sends you back to your car, furious about the time you’ve just wasted. When that same dealer calls you the next week and offers you the car at $35,000, a figure you would have accepted in the beginning, are you going to accept that deal as if nothing happened? Or, like me, would the principal of the matter infuriate you so that you’d curse the dealer for a conman and refuse to have any further dealings with him?
That’s how the “negotiations” have gone to this point. The owners started with an extremely low-ball offer that everyone knew would NEVER get passed, and then played it off as if they were giving up significant ground in these negotiations. Now that the players have walked away from the table, Stern has accused the players of failing to negotiate in good faith which is, in fact, EXACTLY what the owners have been doing this whole time. The current deal, which the players turned down today, was not rejected over money but over the NBA’s demands regarding player movement. The owners who spend more money (read: “winners”) would be extremely limited in their ability to acquire new talent either in free agency or through trades, making it very difficult (if not impossible) to build a dynasty (Spurs, Mavericks, Lakers, etc.) and forcing many players to stay in bad situations with teams that have no chance of winning (often times a product of crappy ownership).
Let’s go back to the teacher analogy. Again, you make $45,000 a year and your superintendent demands that you take a 7% pay cut. But then he comes back in and declares that not only must you accept the financial hit, you’ll also not be allowed to go out and look for a new job with a district that is willing to pay more or at the very least, provides a quality work environment. To top it all off, the superintendent then threatens you and your coworkers with a MASSIVE and slanderous press campaign that will paint you all in a negative light and kill your chances of finding work elsewhere. That’s what the owners are forcing upon the players right now. “Sign this deal that will seriously cut into your pay, prevent you from seeking out a better job, and make us BILLIONS in the process or else we’ll stop your pay altogether and make you look like greedy thugs in the press.”
Third, this entire lockout is based on the fact that several owners have lost money over the last few years. Forget, for a moment, that these are supposed to be some of the brightest business men the world has to offer. The bigger issues with this sentiment are as follows:
1.)    The NBA has refused to turn over all of its books to the players while standing behind the statement that “many” teams are losing money. If this is so cut and dry, why not show the books?
2.)    As Deadspin so expertly pointed out, it is EXTREMELY easy to make a team’s finances show a loss when in fact, the owner of said team is making bank through team-related revenue that doesn’t get accounted for in the bottom line.
3.)    Stern would like all of us to ignore the fact that the NBA’s current TV deal will expire in four years. When that happens, they will undoubtedly sign a new contract that will bring in billions of dollars to these teams that are currently “losing money.” Do you think the owners will be willing to renegotiate the CBA when that money comes in? No chance.
4.)    While on the surface this lockout pits players against owners, the reality is that many of the problems are actually owner-vs.-owner. The big market teams are making more money while the smaller market teams are falling behind. Instead of a negotiating a proper revenue split between themselves, Stern has used the lockout as a convenient fix for a problem that really has nothing to do with the players.
5.)    Most importantly, owning a sports franchise isn’t inherently SUPPOSED to be profitable. As Malcolm Gladwell said, sports franchises should be treated as art collecting: a hobby and a long term investment that may or may not pan out, not as a typical business. The best NBA owners (Mark Cuban, Jerry Buss, etc.) don’t concern themselves with the day-to-day and year-to-year bottom and line and yet their teams succeed and generally pull in a ton of revenue.
And that brings us to the biggest issue within this entire, jacked up situation and one that David Stern doesn’t want you to think about: many of the owners he’s brought on over the last decade have no business owning an NBA franchise. Of the 30 teams in the league, at least ten (Charlotte, Phoenix, Los Angeles (Clippers), Sacramento, Memphis, Minnesota, New Orleans, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Toronto) are owned by men who have very little in the way of liquid assets and even less knowledge of how to run a sports team. These owners, plus a few whose teams reside in smaller markets (San Antonio, Portland), represent the group that has pushed for an excessively hard stance towards the players in negotiations and some of whom are on record as saying they’d be happy to miss games because it would save them money.
There is a sentiment among some writers that Stern is at the mercy of his constituents who forced his hand into demanding a deal that the players would never accept. Consider, however, that these owners, many of whom bought their franchise recently, came in at the behest of Stern himself. Robert Sarver (Phoenix), the Maloof Brothers (Sacramento), and their ilk should never have been allowed to purchase franchises in the first place. Whereas the NFL and Major League Baseball are exclusive (almost to a flaw in baseball) in whom they allow into their fraternity of owners, the NBA has basically accepted whoever could come up with the most money on paper, regardless of interest in the game or ability to, you know, actually spend any of that money. This is a STAGGERING misstep that is privately biting Stern in the butt at this moment but one that he’s done a good job of covering over with the average fan. If you’re a fan of the Suns, you should be furious that your franchise was sold to a man who has no money to spend and who cost your team several chances at a championship because he was too cheap to put forth the cash it takes to build a true championship contender. Instead, Stern would have you blame Amare Stoudemire for leaving Phoenix for the greener pastures of the New York Knicks, whose owner has actual money in the bank. Add in the fact that Stern, overly concerned with his global legacy, has over-extended the league as a whole, resulting in a 30 team league that really can only support 26 to 28 teams. If New Orleans, Charlotte, Sacramento, and Memphis were never given franchises, the league would be MUCH healthier.  
Stern’s failure to properly control his owners seems even more egregious when you consider all of the crap Donald Sterling has been able to get away with while maintaining his ownership of the LA Clippers. What should be a premier NBA franchise has instead become an absolute wasteland because Sterling has figured out that, at least in LA, he can make big money without striving to put a winner on the floor. (It’s the same formula that Tom Hicks discovered with the Texas Rangers.) More important is Sterling’s reputation as a human which is somehow even worse than his reputation as an owner (widely regarded as the worst in all of sports). Sterling is a proven racist who refuses to rent his properties to African Americans, who has been sued by at least two former employees in the last year, and who refused to pay the insurance premiums for a long-time coach who contracted cancer, prompting players to take up a collection for the man. Add in the fact that Sterling has been known to heckle his own players from the stands (you can’t make this stuff up) and it’s a marvel that ANY free agent has EVER had the stupidity to sign with the Clippers. And yet, Sterling’s ownership has never been challenged by Stern. Is there any business in America that would allow this sort of moral reprehensibility in one of its key members with no ramifications whatsoever? Kind of makes the rants of Mark Cuban seem pretty harmless, doesn’t it?
Now, there is a portion of the fault for this situation that should be attributed to the players, but most of it has to do with the complete lack of leadership the NBAPA has demonstrated. From the beginning, it has seemed as if chief negotiator Billy Hunter hasn’t had a clear path to follow and the union’s president, Derek Fisher, is unquestionably in over his head. Today’s move to decertify the union should have been made in July when the NBA first imposed the lockout. Had it been done then, the NBAPA would have some had some leverage in their negotiations early on when it mattered. At this point, we’ll be lucky if the courts rule on whether or not the decertification will be allowed before February, meaning there is almost no chance of a season taking place. If Hunter makes this move in the summer (which many players were in favor of), we’re probably done with this whole thing by now. This is a tremendous mistake that should (and probably will) result in Hunter losing his job.
Likewise, Fisher, by all accounts a nice guy who’s carved out a solid career, didn’t have the requisite credibility to make firm decisions for the players and neither did he have the respect of Stern and the owners. This is a major issue within the NBAPA and it doesn’t just stop at Fisher. The NBAPA Executive Committee includes guys like James Jones, Roger Mason, Jr., and Keyon Dooling. If you’ve never heard any of those names, you’re not in the minority. Leadership with the NBAPA used to be a desirable post but as AdrianWojnarowski reported, recently it’s become almost a form of punishment for young players and journeyman veterans. What this group really needed was a killer in the room, a guy who Stern wouldn’t be so quick to cross and demean. Essentially, they needed Kobe Bryant. (Bryant is the Lakers' team representative but is not on the executive committee.) If Bryant is the NBAPA’s president, I think we’re potentially looking at a much different outcome. In addition, there's more than a little speculation out there that if the decision of whether or not to accept this deal was put to a vote of all players rather than only the 30 representatives, they might have accepted. But Fisher, Hunter, and the rest of the committee have struggled from the get go in terms of understanding the desires of their constituents. That lack of leadership is on the players.
At the end of the day, simply put, this whole thing sucks. Coming off of a banner year, the owner’s lockout combined with the player’s incredible lack of leadership and negotiating skill have combined to do what could be irreparable harm to the league’s brand and left a billion fans worldwide with nothing to look forward to. Perhaps most troubling is the fact that this lockout went into effect July 1st and yet almost no serious negotiations were conducted until October. This shortsightedness should result in the loss of jobs for both Stern and Hunter and definitely WILL damage Stern’s enduring legacy. A league that never missed a game due to lockout or strike before 1998 is now likely to lose the entire season, making Stern responsible for the loss of 112 games during his run as commissioner. But before you start blaming the players for their greed, consider applying that same sentiment to the billionaire owners who would rather lose games and fire employees than pay their players (you know, the people we go to games in order to see) their cut of the profits.

Texas Rangers Keep the Dream Alive

I don't deviate from the "movies and TV" theme of the Soap Box Office very often. But on rare occasions, sports takes priority and since this is my only medium at the moment, I must commandere this space for a moment. We'll be back to our regularly scheduled (and completely irrelevant) movie ramblings tomorrow.

The Texas Rangers have just completed a historic playoff series victory. The TEXAS RANGERS won a playoff series. I have to keep repeating that to myself because it doesn’t feel real. I’m a little worried that this is some giant episode of “Punk’d” with the Universe playing the role of Ashton Kutcher. Like I’m going to wake up in the morning and the Sportscenter anchors will be laughing at the brilliant joke they’ve just pulled on us all. Linda Cohn will point into the camera and scream, “HA! Like you could EVER win a playoff series! You fools!” And I’ll just slump my shoulders and nod my head and know it to be true just like Luke Skywalker knew Darth Vader was telling the truth on that platform in Cloud City. (Anytime I can combine sports with “Star Wars” you know I’m doing it.) The last twenty years of Ranger baseball has conditioned me to expect utter failure and to be happy when the team wins enough to keep me interested until football season starts. So to win three playoff games (and all three on the road no less) seems almost out of the realm of possibilities.

It’s not easy to write a celebratory sports column in a moment like this. We haven’t won the World Series or anything like that and in fact, this is a pretty insignificant victory in the grand scheme of baseball things. The truth of the matter is Yankee fans don’t even know what it’s like to celebrate a Division Series victory. That’s just a small stepping stone on the path to another bought and paid for championship. But writing is what I do and when my team makes franchise history…come on, what the heck else am I supposed to do? I’m certainly not going to go to sleep anytime soon. So I’ll focus on a couple of small moments and hope I get a chance to write another victorious blog post in a couple of weeks.

There are four moments that really stuck out to me tonight that might have gone unnoticed.

MOMENT ONE – Bengie Molina Steals Second
Molina, the Ranger catcher known first for calling a great game behind the plate and second for being slower than a one legged tree sloth, led off the top of the third with a line-drive single. A couple batters later manager Ron Washington called for a hit-and-run on a 3-2 count. Batter Elvis Andrus swung and missed but the call caught the Rays so off guard that Molina managed to truck into second for a stolen base. This is the moment when I knew we were going to win. I didn’t voice this thought so as to keep from incurring the wrath of the sports gods but in my mind, I KNEW we had the win. If Bengie Freaking Molina is stealing bases, then you know you can do no wrong.

MOMENT TWO – Cliff Lee Strikes Out Carlos Pena
In the bottom of the third, Cliff Lee gave up a couple of weak hits that resulted in a run for the Rays. He had looked uncharacteristically erratic through three and he stepped up to face Carlos Pena to start the fourth inning. Pena crushed the Rangers in the last two games and I hate him for this. It’s not enough that he was a first round pick for the Rangers in the late 90’s and did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING the entire time he was in the organization. No, now he has to kill us in the postseason, too. Jerk. Lee works quickly, going low curve for a strike, high heat for a ball, inside fastball that was fouled off, and then ends it with a curveball that started at Pena’s shoulder and dropped beautifully into the zone. Lee had gone to the curveball a few times before that but this was the moment where I think everyone realized, “Crap, he’s got his stuff tonight.” After this pitch he routinely went back to the curve and worked it all over the plate, getting the Rays to swing at the balls in the dirt and watch the ones that hit the zone. In other words, he was unstoppable.

MOMENT THREE – Ian Kinsler Drives in the Final Nail
Okay, obviously a two run blast in the top of the 9th that puts the game away didn’t go unnoticed. What might have slipped under the rug, however, is that suddenly and out of nowhere, Ian Kinsler is clutch. I have mercilessly bashed on Kinsler at every opportunity over the last couple of years. On a team that is chock full of likeable players, Kins is an easy target for negativity. He comes across as arrogant, he swings at 3-0 pitches when he shouldn’t, he commits stupid errors in the field, and he routinely chokes when it matters most. Somewhere in the last month, though, Kinsler has gone from the guy who foolishly tries to win the game with every swing to a valuable, big play hitter. He hit a game winning double in the last week of the season followed by his huge bombs here in the ALDS. All three of his homers in this series were big, clutch hits. I’m not sure what’s turned it around for him but when the team’s long-time clutch bat Michael Young is slowing down and MVP Josh Hamilton is obviously still struggling with injury, Kinsler’s sudden dose of clutch hitting is greatly appreciated. I take back 87% of the things I’ve said about the guy.

MOMENT FOUR – A Ginger Ale Celebration

Josh Hamilton’s history of drug and alcohol issues have been reported ad nauseum so I’m not going to delve into that here. Suffice it to say, the Hambone simply CANNOT be around alcohol. When the Rangers clinched the division a few weeks ago, Hamilton had to skip out on the champagne-soaked post-game celebration, opting instead to spend the evening in a church. Things were a little different this time around. When Hamilton entered the clubhouse tonight, the champagne and beer were replaced by ginger ale. The guys all piled into the room, goggles on, and doused each other in bubbly soda so that their teammate and on-field leader could be involved in the celebration. It was just one more example of how ridiculously tight the Ranger clubhouse has been all season. From the Claw and Antlers to the endless barrage of post-win shaving cream pies, the guys on this team have created a firm bond with each other. That’s the only reason they’ve been able to succeed against near-impossible odds given all of the hardships the franchise has gone through this year. It was a seriously touching moment that I picked up on immediately and choked me up a bit. I’m honestly a little ticked that so many other media outlets caught hold of the story and that I’m easily the 4 millionth reporter, journalist, or blogger to write about it.

Of course there were a lot of other huge plays throughout this season, series, and game. (How in the world does Vlad score from second on an infield single?!) But these are the moments that stuck out to me as I paced the floor relentlessly and came close to nervous vomiting on numerous occasions. This is without question the biggest win in the history of the Ranger franchise but you get the feeling there are more wins to come. It’s time, yo.

I hear Christopher Lloyd is in town this weekend,
Brian

P.S. Lloyd was the head angel in “Angels in the Outfield” in case that reference was over your head.