Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Stern Vs. Rome! Fight!

I admit, in the Jim Rome vs. David Stern tempest in a teapot, I have to go with Stern. Rome's a bully, a jackass who built his career on schoolyard taunting a guest into taking a swing at him. He regularly incites his listeners to abuse their subject matter and each other (and no doubt there's a ton of self-abuse going on as they dream about getting on-air for a SmackDownTM). His interviews tend to hit one of two poles: complete suck-ups, or smarmy insults phrased as questions, the "So when did you stop beating your wife?" bullcrap that Stern correctly called him on. And when he does get called on it, he hides behind the "Hey, I'm just the guy asking the questions" excuse, cheerfully ignoring the fact that sometimes, giving a stupid question play is as good as believing in it.
Which leads to the question he asked Stern, namely, was the NBA draft lottery fixed. This is a stupid question, and an insulting one. Smarter people than have pointed out that no matter who got the first pick, there would have been accusations the whole kit and kaboodle was rigged. New Orleans? That's Stern doing the new owner a favor (or bestowing one last good-night kiss on a team the league briefly owned, take your pick.) Charlotte, he's doing Michael Jordan a solid. Brooklyn, hey, we want stars in New York, right? It goes on and on and on, and it feeds on itself. It's not just the draft, either. Go to any NBA discussion board and half the content is conspiracy theory. They're not calling fouls on LeBron because The League wants Miami to win. They froze the envelope so the Knicks could get Ewing. On and on and on, and above it all sits the grinning, Machiavellian spectre of David Stern, puppetmaster extraordinaire.
And that's where we get into the deeply insulting aspect. The business Stern runs - and I confess, I'm not a huge fan of his, either - is one based on the notion of honest competition. The day the perception that the NBA is rigged moves out of the comments sections and into the conventional wisdom is the day the NBA dies. And the question Rome really asked David Stern is this: Are you a crook? Are you cheating your customers and the cities that host your teams? Are you lying to your fans? Are you actively engaged in what can only be described as criminal fraud? Because that's what "Was the lottery rigged?" really means. It implies Stern rigged it, and that he and his entire enterprise are crooked.
Think about how you'd react if someone asked you that question. I'm guessing, probably not well. Rome got off light; Stern saw his bullshit for what it was and called him on it precisely. And then Rome turned around and played the martyr - always the last resort of the bully - to his fans and his peers, because the big mean commissioner was mean to him. And then the next day, Rome was back to talking smack and smirking, same as always.
But if you ask me, Stern won this smackdown. And if for just a second Rome felt the slightest bit queasy about the sleazy stuff he was doing, then it was worth all the fallout and yammering and geshrying. And if we're really lucky, maybe there's a question Rome won't ask next time, because of this.
Or at least we can hope.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Clemens Found To Have Been Friends With Unbelievable Asshole

So here's what I think happened:
Rusty Hardin (Wesleyan '65) took a look at the case. He realized that his client was an unlikable bully who couldn't keep his yap shut, operating in a climate that was disinclined to be sympathetic to those accused of using steroids. He saw that the prosecution had handled its prosecution of Barry Bonds with all the delicacy of Paula Deen taking a frozen ham to the side of her head. He saw that the government's case, regardless of whether or not his client had in fact jammed his ass full of enough monkey hormones to make him climb the Empire State Building clutching Naomi Watts in one meaty paw, rested on the testimony of a dyed-in-the-wool scumbag. And he did a little math - they do teach math at Wesleyan, when no one is looking - and did a rough estimate of how long this case could run, and how many billable hours he could get out of it.
Then, in my imagination, Rusty Hardin did his best maniacal laugh, twirled his imaginary mustachios, and tied an innocent woman to a set of disused railroad tracks. Because that's what Republic Serial Villains, like Rusty Hardin, do.
To be fair, nobody really expected Clemens to be found guilty, not when the government's entire case rested on Brian McNamee, and the public remained convinced Clemens was on trial for using steroids. (He wasn't. He was on trial for perjury, which is kind of serious, and the sort of thing you'd hope they'd actually prosecute, otherwise that whole "trial by jury" thing goes out the window. But I digress.) But Clemens had already had his name dragged through the mud, the public was sick of it, and it became fashionable to bitch about what a waste of time and money the whole thing was.
The real test, of course, will come when it's Clemens' turn on the Hall of Fame ballot. Remember, he wasn't found not guilty of using steroids. He was found not guilty of committing perjury. And the gatekeepers of the Hall of Fame tend to frown upon steroid users and suspected steroid users, even ones who never failed a test or were mentioned in the Mitchell Report or got put on trial for perjury.
There's a hell of a lot more evidence to suggest Clemens did PEDs than there is against Jeff Bagwell. If Clemens gets in - if Clemens gets close - while Bagwell and McGwire and Sosa are locked out, then all hell will break loose.
Then again, maybe it won't. Maybe the weary acceptance of Clemens' greatness will open the door for those other guys.
And if it doesn't, I'm sure Rusty Hardin would be happy to advocate on their behalf.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Heat is On. Again.

So when the Miami Heat started last season, their first one with LeBron James and Chris Bosh on board to play Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson to Dwyane Wade's Neal Peart, around the .500 mark, there was wailing and moaning and gnashing of teeth, and widespread speculation that Pat Riley was about to dump coach Erik Spoelstra and take over the reins of the team himself.
This did not happen. The Heat straightened themselves out, and had a largely successful year.
They did not, however, win the NBA title. And as such, there was rumbling that Spoelstra was going to get fired.
This did not happen, and the Heat started this year with Spoelstra as their coach. They played extremely well, considering the Benny Hill sketch of a condensed schedule the NBA threw out there. But when they hit a rough patch, largely due to injuries, the rumblings were back. The team wasn't jelling. LBJ and D-Wade (and how lazy do you have to be to abbreviate a guy's name to something with THE EXACT SAME NUMBER OF SYLLABLES) couldn't play together because their skills overlapped. You get the idea.
Spoelstra was not fired. The team lumbered into the playoffs and immediately went down, 2-1 to a fresh, exciting Indiana Pacers team that had no players anyone had ever heard of. Miami was in turmoil. The team was going to get blown up, starting with injured star Chris Bosh. Spoelstra was gone. LBJ couldn't handle pressure. Wade - well, Wade was immune to criticism, despite having a game 3 that was very A.J.-Burnett-at-Yankee-Stadium. But you get the idea. Kaboom. Heat can't win under pressure, Spoelstra can't coach, etc. Blow it all up.
Except, of course, that the Heat woke up and then brutalized the Pacers three straight to close out the series. Wade and James clicked and had some truly monstrous games. On came the Celtics, fresh off a Londo-G'kar deathmatch with the scrappy, undermanned 76ers. Needless to say, the Celts immediately put the Heat in a 3-2 hole and looked poised to eliminate them. Again, Spoelstra was gone. Again, the team - despite firm statements to the contrary from the front office - was going to get blown up. Umpteenth verse, same as the first.
And  of course, the Heat woke up and left a leprechaun-green smear on the bottoms of their sneakers. 4-3, Heat win the series, and on to face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the finals. The Thunder are favored, and the talk is about how if the Heat doesn't win, and James doesn't star and get Finals MVP and throw down the game-winning dunk in the last seconds of the last game, then his legacy is tarnished forever and Spoelstra is gone.
All of which suggests to me that there are people out there, many in the sports media, who get unhealthily attached to narratives and will attempt to cram them in at a moment's provocation. They decided a while ago that Pat Riley coaching the LBJ/Wade/Bosh triumvirate was a better story than some random dude who'd never coached the Lakers doing it, and they've been pushing for it ever since.  This is, I think, both bad narrative and bad journalism.
There are narratives there with this Heat team, compelling ones. Will James be able to fulfill his massive talent and claim a title? Can he put the ill-omened Decision behind him and earn the fan base's love? Can the Dream Team experiment work in an NBA setting? Can Chris Bosh thrive in the shadows of metaphorical giants? And of course there's Spoelstra, who is the first Filipino-American coach of a major professional sports franchise and who's done nothing but win since he was handed the reins of the team.
But that's not good enough for some. They want the equivalent of a Heavy Metal cartoon, with Pat Riley riding a dragon and wielding an axe as he swoops down to court side to rescue the day. Excellence and striving, need not apply.
And honestly, that's kind of sad.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Stellar System

Deadspin says the whole fixation on "the best player in the NBA" is  pointless.
Deadspin is wrong. You need stars.
Right now, the Stanley Cup Finals are in full swing. The teams involved - Jersey and LA, in case you were wondering - represent the two biggest media markets in the country. There are story lines here, with LA chasing a Cup that even Wayne Gretzky couldn't give it, and Jersey trying to win another one for the ageless Marty Brodeur. It's exactly the sort of thing that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman - a man who apocryphally was once given a hockey puck as a present and spent an hour trying to open it - would want.
And yet, nobody's talking about it. The airwaves are full of LBJ choke this and Kevin Durant that and some Josh Hamilton, and maybe a little Drew Brees on the side. But no hockey, not unless you really look for it.
On the NBA side, everyone's a-flutter over the ascent of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and totally stoked to have them in the finals. This is despite the fact that OKC is the 30th largest city in America, the sort of market whose presence in a Finals tends to provoke hand-wringing and sad cries of "will no one think of the ratings?"
But they have stars. They have Kevin Durant, who is turning into the MJ to Greg Oden's Joe Barry Carroll. They have Russell Westbrook. They have James Harden, whose national profile skyrocketed after Metta World Peace used him for a speed bag on national TV. And this makes all the difference.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Thuuuuh Yankees Lose (some money)!

The Yankees are unhappy.
There are empty seats at the cavernous hippodrome of New Yankee Stadium, and someone's got to be to blame. It's not the economy. It's not the fact that a single game ticket in many sections costs more than a monthly car payment. It's not that the Yankees haven't been terribly interesting to watch this year.
No, the villain is StubHub.
StubHub, you see, is MLB's official ticket resale partner. The deal MLB made with StubHub was a simple one: You get to be our official reseller, and we get a chunk of the action. And because it's an official partnership, the teams are locked into it. Even those who thought they'd be selling out every game and getting a slice of the resales, too. Even the Yankees.
The Yankees are not selling out every game. Tickets for Yankee games can, in fact, be found on StubHub for less than face value. This is not a surprise; you buy a season ticket package and then life surprises you,  such that the day you thought you were going to the Stadium to watch Yankees-Rangers is instead the day your in-laws suddenly need to get picked up at Newark International right around first pitch. So, you put the tickets up on StubHub - they're yours, after all. You bought 'em - and mark them down, and hope to get some of the cost back because God knows the Yankees aren't going to be understanding about that sort of thing.
But Yankee President Randy Levine is furious that StubHub (which, incidentally, does not set prices), is selling tickets for Yankee games for below face value. It is an outrage. It is an affront. It is something that he cannot let stand, and he has promised a "fan-friendly alternative" from the depths of his high dudgeon.
Now, color me crazy, but I think "cheap tickets" is about as fan-friendly as it gets. Also, there's that whole "contract with MLB" thing going on there, not that the Yankees have ever let that sort of thing stop them. What Levine is really saying is that he's tired of his business partner undercutting him, and he's going to get that money back by hook or by crook. "Fan Friendly" is just the barest cynical nod to PR.
But why is this happening, and what is Levine so upset about? It's simple.
Let's say you're Joe Fan, who wants to take Junior to a ballgame. You go to the official Yankee website and you see two good seats available for $500. Sure, that's a couple of car payments, but it's going to be a special day with Junior, and they're really good seats.
Then, Joe checks StubHub and finds that there are seats in that same section going for $300. Why are they going for $300? Because Bob Seasonticketholder can't make the game that night, say, on account of his kid's dance recital, and he wants to get rid of the tickets. Joe sees the tickets, sees the location, and buys them from Bob through StubHub.
So far, so good. Joe wins, because he got great seats for 40% less than he thought he'd have to pay. Bob wins, because he gets something back on those tickets, which he was ready to take the full $500 loss on. The only loser here is Randy Levine, whose desired outcome was that A) Bob ate his tickets and B) Joe bought from the ticket window, ensuring that the Yankees sell 2 sets of seats, not just one.
Needless to say, in every instance where Joe is not actively deranged, he's going to buy from StubHub. It's the sensible thing to do. The model Levine was counting on was one where Yankee Stadium sold out every game, pushing the prices in the secondary market higher due to scarcity. But that's not happening. For whatever reason - the Yankees' insane ticket prices, the economy, the general blah nature of the team, fear of having John Sterling bleat "THUUUUHUHUHUUHUH YANKEES WIN!" in your ear, the games aren't selling out. And when you can't sell your stock of a luxury good (like a baseball ticket), then the secondary market for that same good is going to come in lower than the primary.
It's basic economics. It is, in fact, the free market at work in all the ways it's supposed to, finding an equilibrium between buyers and sellers. It's just not the one the Yankees want.
But let us not forget, we are dealing with the Yankees here. We are dealing with the team that took $800M in public money and perks to build its stadium, that sputtered about "socialism" and UnAmerican badness when discussing the luxury tax, screaming to high heaven when the oracle of the free market suddenly turns against them. Here's a news flash, bunky: You don't get to get it both ways. Or maybe you do, but hey, I'm at least going to make fun of you for it.
And in the meantime, it's enough to make a man root for the Red Sox. Or StubHub.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Logic of Mario Chalmers

So let me get this straight:

LeBron James was a choker, because he gave the last shot to Mario Chalmers in a Round 2 loss to Indiana. Giving the ball to Chalmers was a betrayal of James' superstar status, because superstars should always want to take the last shot, regardless of whether they're the guy with the best chance to make it. And so, we cued up endless yammering about LeBron being soft, and "it", whatever "it" is, being in LeBron's head, and how he would never be as great as Robert Horry, and, well, you get the idea.
All that lasted until James woke up and destroyed the Pacers over the next three games, at which point no doubt some talking heads claimed credit for "waking him up".
Dwyane Wade, on the other hand, went rogue by not giving the ball to Mario Chalmers for the last shot in a Eastern Finals loss to the Celtics. Because the play was drawn up for Chalmers, you see, and by ignoring him Wade was being selfish and immature and...err, being a superstar who wanted the last shot at crunch time, which is what the media said a star should do, and...yeah, whatever.