- I don’t know a ton about basketball, but I feel like combining the rarely-coachable Rajon Rondo, a surly, past-his-prime-with-something-to-prove superstar like Dwayne Wade with a budding superstar like Jimmy Butler who desperately wants to prove that he can be a true leader might be pretty combustible under any coach. With Fred Hoiberg, this could be a disaster. Or they could win 40 games! Which would be even more of a disaster. I’d be willing to have a terrible season and have more room for when the cap expands, and do a rebuild around Butler, Tony Snell, and Dougie McDermott. “Buckets, McBuckets, and Snell” is pretty catchy, right?
- That said, while I don’t know a ton about basketball, it’s nice to know that I won’t ever be as wrong as The Country’s #1 Hoophead, Bill Simmons. Thanks to Awful Announcing for digging up a Simmons podcast where he “discusses” a Wojo scoop in February about Durant being interested in Golden State. “In his podcast, Simmons called the report ‘one of the most ludicrous stories I’ve ever read,’ stating that the Warriors were ‘not thinking about Durant,’ adding that ‘it’s absurd,’ and ‘I just don’t believe it.’ He went on to say it was ‘the most idiotic logic I’ve ever heard,’ and the story got Yahoo’s The Vertical site ‘some traffic, some attention.’ It’s not just being wrong, and it isn’t even just being unbearably and arrogantly and reflexively wrong: it’s that he dismisses Wojo as hungry for attention. Even a casual NBA fan like me knows that Wojo scoops are worthy. Simmons is the most petty and vainglorious writer in the land. Even Norman Mailer would tell him to stop finding slights everywhere. Gore Vidal would advise him to show some humility. Virginia Woolf would tell him to fuck off. (No real reason; I just don’t think she’d care for him.)
- Hey, Democrats! Worried about the email scandal never dying? Well, of course it won’t (and more on that anon), but are you worried about Trump skillfully taking advantage of it? Well, maybe you don’t need to be. There’s no question that he can use it to rally people who hate Hillary, but he is unable to talk too much about it, because, at the end of the day, when he talks about Hillary he isn’t talking about himself. As the Times reports, at a rally last night, he spent a few minutes talking about Comey’s scolding report, and then went into a long rant about the Star of David tweet he got from a white nationalist collection. He defended himself for a long time on it, in a rabbling incoherent stream-of-conscious rant. The thing is, there is a strategy here: doubling down did good in the primary, where any sign of capitulation to the Hideous Liberal PC Establishment was a fatal weakness. He knew how to play it perfectly, and it fit his “I am the cosmos” mentality (apologies to Molly Ivins). He is incapable of not talking about himself, and showing that he is always right, even if- especially if- it means outright lying, obvious lying. A man who has always seen himself as powerful wants to make the truth his possession. Hopefully, that’s a fatal electoral weakness.
- This is as-of-now unconfirmed, but apparently on the local radio this morning Mark Kirk said that his double-amputee opponent Tammy Duckworth doesn’t want to do a Spanish-language debate with him because she isn’t as “quick on her feet.” That isn’t offensive; Kirk wasn’t being deliberate, I’m sure. It’s just a saying, divorced from any actual meaning. But still: it’s literally the one thing you shouldn’t say. It’s the only phrase you can’t use, except maybe like “she’s so incompetent she’d need two partners in a three-legged race”, which isn’t even an actual saying, but that’s the point: you’d need to make something up to say something dumber.
- That said, the idea of a Spanish-language debate is interesting. It’s a skill Kirk has, a good one, and I wish more politicians spoke other languages. (Remember when John Kerry was belittled for speaking French? 2004 was a horrible and stupid year, wasn’t it?) It’s smart politics, and a sign of basic humanity to recognize that maybe other languages aren’t inherently bad. I feel this is something though that only a Republican could get away with. Were it Duckworth who spoke Spanish, and challenged the monoglot Kirk, you’d hear a lot about un-American pandering.
- Now that I think about it, “she’s so incompetent she’d need two partners in a three-legged race” is a great phrase. Remind me to use it when I run for the Water Reclamation District, unless, you know…
My good buddy Brett Max Kaufman, who by day is a national security lawyer at the ACLU, also has for a cause a group even more damned than the forgotten wretches in Gitmo: the Chicago Cubs, and their fans. Well, not this year, of course. They are legitimately great, and brain-breakingly fun. He has an excellent piece over at The Classical describing how strange it is to be on the cusp of something he never thought could happen.
This—this air of concrete possibility—is new, and accordingly the young Cubs season has required Cub fans to make an emotional adjustment. We’re having more fun than ever, stumbling around dazed and delirious, smiling at strangers, shaking our heads. But the stakes are no longer merely philosophical. Growing up, I did not see any “meaningful games” this early in the year; I just saw games. Generations of us have watched in dejected disbelief as the Cubs blew one (and then another, and another) in May, but we always did so with a knowing wink at a universe we knew drove an impossible bargain. Occasionally, the games became important later on, with the weighty, improbable momentum of an entire summer behind them, and those particular failures left their marks. But Cub fans’ overall exposure—game to game, season to season, generation to generation—has always been relatively limited.
This is no paean to losing, no panegyric to the benefits of misery. Them being good is clearly for the best. It’s a recognition though, of what it all means.
As a Sox fan, I’m happy for Brett. I’m happy for all Cubs’ fans, and even for most people who just claim to be fans. It’s not a Chicago thing, per se. It’s for the people in it who care, and for whom this would mean so much. Part of me hopes they don’t do it, just because it would be unbearable, but I hope they go all the way. It’ll be a hell of a story.
- The Guardian has a fun little article today on Euro 2016, helping Americans choose what team they should root for by finding the closest analogy to a local squad. Ireland was compared to the Buffalo Bills which is…not ideal. Northern Ireland got the Raptors, which is too boring to even be tragic. The analogy for the Cubs was Poland, and I am sure there is a joke there somewhere, but we daren’t touch it. The best description was for Spain, who is your team if you like the Red Sox. “Years without success for one of the sport’s big teams? Check! A resurgence with titles galore at the start of the 21st century? Double check! A nagging feeling that their very best years may be behind them? Check! Check and triple check!” Left out: you’re probably an asshole.
- Speaking of the Cubs, as a White Sox fan, let me assure you that, the post at the beginning of the year notwithstanding, we’re never going to speak of baseball again. Bitterly shouting “Big Game James!” every 5th day might be the only joy left in my life.
- Programming note for next week: we’re going to have a lot of posts on the Waukesha Diversion, which will have a final decision by the end of the month (and it looks like a go). This is a complicated issue, which is key for how we’ll use water in the coming dry years, and really hinges on the role the geography and geology play in our lives. Hope you like Great Lakes stuff!
- Jim Newell has a smart piece on how Donald Trump might actually bankrupt the GOP by running in places like New Jersey and California. Key line: “There is something about Trump’s personality that makes him believe he needs a marquee media-centric state like California. He probably doesn’t see the typical Republican strategy of cleaning up in the South and the Plains as “flashy” enough for his brand.” This is, I think, correct, and wish Newell had gone a little further with it. The entire idea of Donald Trump, as businessman, is using flash to cover up enormous deficits and kicking the can down the road. Most of us call it lying, but Trump has always known there are a lot of people dumb enough to believe something, and then fail to check on it later (remember his claims that his birth certificate investigators couldn’t believe what they’ve been finding? That’s no different than saying “Everyone says this casino is going to be a huge success!) That’s been the key to his campaign as well. Promises, based on his name and “success”, that everything is going to be good, just believe me. It’s why he keeps saying that he’ll be so Presidential you’ll vomit in terror, ok? The sell, the con, is to say something is going to be great to hypnotize the gulls and hope they give you money, and then never follow through. The point isn’t to change, but to convince people that you will, and then keep doing it, over and over. He relies on the sunk cost fallacy. People have invested so much that they hope, this time, he means it, and that it’ll pay off. That has worked for him, weirdly, in business. He always flees before the bills come due, usually literally. I’m not particularly optimistic, but I think that there’s a chance a lifetime of fraudulence could blow up in his face, and the entire image could come shattering down. At the very least, isn’t it pretty to think so?
According to AS, a Real Madrid fan club in Iraq was targeted by Islamic terrorists during a meeting, with 16 people being killed, and 20 more injured. The attack occurred in the town of Balad, about 75 miles north of Baghdad, where at least 93 people were killed in three car bombings yesterday. Gunmen wielding AK-47s entered the cafe where about 50 club members were meeting and began firing, leaving a grisly, blood-soaked scene.
The president of the group, Ziad Subhan, told AS that the Islamic terrorists “don’t like football, they think it’s anti-Muslim. They just carry out attacks like this. This is a terrible tragedy.”
That ISIS are the kind of guys who think everything that makes life even slightly worth living is anti-Muslim is as wretched as it is, at this point, axiomatic. It’s a blinkered and blood-soaked worldview that makes the simple act of watching soccer one of almost unimaginable bravery. It makes the world as parched as the land. But the story also has this.
Real Madrid is aware of the attack and released a statement expressing condolences for the victims and their families. The team will wear black armbands during tomorrow’s match against Deportivo.
Is this the first time that Muslim victims of ISIS have received international support and sympathy on the sporting level? The sympathy gap was made obvious to everyone after the back-to-back attacks on Beirut and Paris in November, which The Atlantic more accurately called “the empathy gap.” There is of course the idea that simply by being Muslims, they have brought it on themselves, and are victims, sure, but somehow also culpable. But more than that, a feeling that those lives are disposable. Partly because they are Muslim, but also because we assume that they are going to die, just from living over there. It’s an unspoken and unexamined feeling that they don’t feel pain, or that their losses aren’t as wrenching as ours. (TNC talked about this with the lives of black men in Between the World and Me).
So it is easy to be cynical and say “ok, so their lives matter only because of sports, right?” But if it is a shared love of sports that lets people recognize a shared humanity, then all the better for sports. Let’s just hope we remember this when people who aren’t cheering for a team are slaughtered.
There’s a weird temporal oddity among former athletes that “the good old days” stopped on the exact day that any individual in question retired. That is the exact day that sports stopped being “old school”, which is why you can have guys who were considered obnoxious new-era punks in the 1990s looking down on today’s players. Every ex-jock with a microphone has two contradictory stock phrases, both of which begin with “in my day”, and which concern how you couldn’t get away with something, or how you used to be allowed to get away with other things.
That’s normal human stuff. We always want to believe things were better when we were younger, when we had the world licked. That the passage of time doesn’t just highlight a personal diminution, but general dissipation. It’s why you have people who came of age in the 90s and 2000s saying that kids today don’t know how to drink like we did, or that they have stupid slang and talk like idiots and listen to terrible music. We don’t want to accept that even if the world isn’t exactly progressing, it’s refusing to stand still. It’s why we all secretly believe our own deaths are the actual end of the world.
The sports’ fan corollary to this is that no team is ever as good as your favorite growing up. As a Bulls’ fan, this is particularly relevant, right as the Warriors are about to win their 73rd game, breaking the 95-96 Bulls record for wins in a season. For 20 years, one of the main highlights for me as a fan was when the last team in the league got its 11th loss, usually in December, no later than January, and I knew the record was safe. I never popped champagne like the 72 Dolphins, but there was quiet gratification.
That never came this year, and by January it seemed inevitable. The last week it looked like they might “stumble”, but a wildly impressive win against San Antonio makes it look like a done deal. They won’t lose to a feisty Grizzlies team at home. And they deserve it. While I’m not happy the record is gone, these Warriors are amazing. There is nothing better in sports right now than watching Steph Curry ball. If it had been LeBron’s Heat teams, it would have been painful (I love LeBron, but come on). It would have been like when Emmit Smith broke Walter Payton’s record. That sucked. Bears fans would have been ok if it was Barry Sanders, who never had an offensive line and was a joy to watch. His was the inventive joy that made sports so great and meaningful. These Warriors are the same. The passing of the torch is odd and elegiac, and it makes me sad, slightly, but it is fine. Time passes, and if we can’t accept that, then we’re that loud guy at the end of the bar yelling about the good old days. We’re the self-blinding anti-prophet who refuses to think that maybe, just maybe, there’s some good music coming out. We’re the vain mummy who refuses to accept the reality of death, and therefore never actually lives.
Philosophy aside. The question is: who would win? The Bulls or the Warriors? I think that when people argue about which rules they’d play under it is kind of moot. The talent on boh teams would adjust. Hand-checking doesn’t stop someone who can pull up from 28 feet like he’s hitting a layup. And MJ would obviously thrive in any era.
What it comes down to is if the Bulls have enough offense vs. if the Warriors could actually run their offense. Klay Thompson is a great player, but I think Scottie would shut him down. People talk about Draymond vs. Rodman down low, and how Rodman couldn’t score, which is true, but people forget what a bruising and powerful defender Rodman was. Draymond would be working for his points (yes, rule changes mean that Rodman couldn’t be as aggressive, but great players- and Rodman is one of the greatest players of all time- adjust). Ron Harper would hound Curry, who would get his, but not as easily. On the other side, Igouldada and some of the Warriors other players would be able to move against weaker Bulls players who played softer D, like Kukoc- who himself would be a matchup nightmare. The X-factor, of course, is what happens when Phil Jackson is telling a young Steve Kerr his gameplan: does the Steve Kerr who is coaching Golden State somehow remember it suddenly? Does that change everything? Will Kerr be both simultaneously playing and remembering what happened, while he’s coaching? And will that make him insane? These are legitimate questions!
Nah, there’s no question. Bulls had Jordan. Chicago in 5.
- 1-0! The Cubs aren’t the only first-place team in town!
- On more of an ontological level, nearly every season projection has had the Sox as a “possible surprise team”- that is, if things break right, they could be able to make the post-season. The questions that rise: is “consensus surprise pick” a logical impossibility? And is “possible surprise” so vague as to be entirely meaningless?
- On that, my prediction is that they’ll win somewhere between 78 and 130 games, depending on my mood and what is happening at any given moment. Adam Eaton gets hit by a pitch in the first? Big on-base team this year! Caught stealing two batters later? We’re not going to score any runs. The joy of baseball is that it is a long a long and languid season, punctuated by impossible excitement, and that the moment-to-moment doesn’t matter, but you can’t convince my imagination of that.
- The defense already seems markedly better. Yes, the smallest possible sample size, and yes, this is just the anecdotal eye test, but come on. It can’t be any worse than in 2015, unless a new punitive MLB rule forbids the outfield from wearing gloves.
- I have no idea yet if Brett Lawrie is a delightful goon or an obnoxious hypercaffeinated bro. Maybe both? It’s the Swisher Variance.
- Jimmy Rollins can still move, man. I hope that when I’m 37 I still have most of my speed. (Note: I am, and nope)
- Another nice thing about baseball is that you can flip and watch a bonkers awesome basketball ending and not miss much of your game. Unfortunately, because I was only watching intermittently, I didn’t realize I had the “UNC broadcast” and couldn’t figure out why they were only focusing on their crestfallenness. I was actually angry- are there not any Villanova fans, I complained bitterly to my wife- and conjuring up all sorts of nonsense bias scenarios. Along with speed, a sense of proportion and rationality is the first thing to go.
And not even college basketball, or the Warriors, both of which at least have the benefit if currently being interesting. I’m watching the Bulls play the Knicks, and wondering if there has ever been a superstar with as pointless a career as Carmelo Anthony. He’s undoubtedly one of the best players of his generation, and has largely been healthy, but has maybe one memorable playoff run? Can you really think of a signature moment? His most interesting time in the biggest market in the league came when a Chinese-American kid played pretty well for three or four weeks. Even his annoying drama with the trade looked Punch and Judy compared to the media Gotterdammerung of The Decision.
This is completely pointless, of course, but I can’t think of a parallel. Until recently, he was a top-5 player, but no one has cared about any of his teams or his career. Even the jokes about the Knicks seem perfunctory. It’s not even a “what if” career; it’s a minor shrug, a weird blip for someone who could be a first ballot immortal.