Monday, June 30, 2008

100th Post!

All Star Blog has survived three years, a few extended breaks, and the rise of the NHL to massive popularity to reach its 100th post. (That last one actually never happened, but I was recently told some Canadians read my blog, so I wanted to inject their day with a little excitement.)

In celebration of my 100th post, I wanted to write about something dramatic, something moving, something awe-inspiring, something which centers on a great success.

But I'm a Knicks fan.

On the night of the NBA draft (a.k.a. Second Christmas, as my buddy J-Rubs calls it) I had the unlucky task of getting to Boston during major train-track construction. This meant four and a half hours from New Haven to Beantown. On the way, J-Rubs texted me to say that the Knicks had selected Danilo Gallinari from Italy rather than take a point guard. He also said that ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy told America that Stephon Marbury is still a very good point guard, prompting me to throw my laptop at the older woman sitting to my left. She was very upset and gave me a piece of her mind. It's amazing how rude people can be when they don't understand sports. Anyways....

My first thought about Gallinari was that the Knicks could finally land a solid foreign talent with some versatility. My next thought was, "There is no way in hell Knicks fans pronounce this guy's name." So with about half of my train ride remaining, I came up with a list of nicknames: 'Nilo (turns out Bill Simmons coined this in his column as well), DG, 'Nari, and the Runnin' Rigatoni.

In all honesty, it is way too early to tell whether or not this was a good selection. David Lee and Renaldo Balkman weren't met with too much excitement (especially Balkman), but the pair changes the dynamic of a lackluster team whenever they step on the court and are both fan favorites. Maybe Gallinari turns into a great inside-outside threat. Maybe he turns into the next Frederic Weis. (He's that French center the Knicks took in '99 whose only great basketball accomplishment was allowing Vince Carter to jump clear over all 7 feet of him in the Olympics. Brilliant.)
Either way, being a loyal fan to the Knicks continues to be no better than trying to patch up a relationship. You do it because you love the idea of her more than what she actually is. You overlook her blemishes in looking forward. You even give her some cash to go out and dress herself up a bit. But what does she do? She buys a top that would look great on someone else but just doesn't fit her figure (Mike D'Antoni), and she gets a pair of expensive Italian shoes when she should really focus on that broken nose (DG).

In the end, the shoes may be a great fit. But she still needs several million in plastic surgery.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Actually Posting about the WNBA...

Okay, fellow sports fans, don't panic -- this post isn't really going to analyze the WNBA. But as I perused an article about the league's second dunker ever, I wanted to attempt something harder than rocket science in the sports world: addressing the male/female divide in a post shorter than 1,000 pages. Before I begin, a few caveats: I'm sticking to basketball; I'm using logic that can in fact be refuted simply because this is a gender issue over just a sports issue; and the jury is still out as to which is less impressive, the WNBA or the NHL. Now then...

I was recently talking to a friend of mine who cheers for Holy Cross, a Division I college in Worcester, MA. Though she lives with a member of the women's basketball team, she says she can't stand cheering at their games because they're slower and more boring than men's games (her words, not mine). Now, this has nothing to do with their gender. It's a matter of preference. I'd prefer to watch a Division I basketball game over a Division III game. Why? I can play with Division III athletes, for the most part. Division I athletes wow me, and they're faster and more athletic than Division III players. I'd also prefer to watch a soccer game over a field hockey game. Why? Because I like the sport of soccer more than field hockey. (And secretly, I believe that field hockey was invented by a few former ice hockey players who went to one too many English pubs, realized they missed their sport, and struck up a game with broken stool legs in the backyard.)

My point is that, when fans select their sport to watch (ignoring allegiances to individual players and teams), they usually do so for two reasons: (1) they enjoy this sport over that sport, and (2) they enjoy this particular matchup over another. Allow me to address each point here:

1) Enjoying one sport over another: Men's and women's sports are, fundamentally, different. There are rule differences in almost every sport, including basketball (e.g. the size of the ball). No one would argue that softball and baseball are the same sport. But where do we draw the line? When does one sport become different? Five rule changes? A different playing field? Either way, because of this view, I can't sit here and say I'm overly impressed with Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker (WNBA Dunkers #1 and #2). Treating the WNBA as simply basketball, thousands of other players have dunked before them. But they've all been male. So should I celebrate the women dunking because it's unique to their sport, then revert to treating the WNBA just like the NBA? Where's the logic?

I dislike the WNBA for the same reason I dislike lacrosse -- it just doesn't do it for me. I treat it as a separate game from the NBA, because that's what it is. It's a different-paced sort of basketball with some different rules. Do I appreciate their skill? Of course. Do I think I can beat Diana Taurasi off the dribble? I can't beat my 10 year old cousin off the dribble. But I can't stomach commercials which broadcast that the WNBA game is the same as the NBA. Why? Because I'm sexist? Because I've had a bad experience (or five) with women? No (maybe). It's because the games are different, Mr. Commercial Maker! And I appreciate different...I just don't want to watch it.

2) Enjoying a particular game over another: No one will get too upset with me if I say that Celtics-Lakers is infinitely more interesting and engaging than Knicks-Bobcats. The level of play in the first game is more intense. There's more talent. There's more intrigue surrounding the players. Now, the same applies when I choose to watch Random NBA Game vs. Random WNBA Game. But I'm not allowed to say that without being called sexist, without being called ignorant of the WNBA. Look, I'm not climbing onto my throne to preach about how unbiased I am. And sure, I'm probably a little bit sexist when I discuss my interest in the NBA over the WNBA. But the fact remains -- people would rather watch Yankees-Red Sox than Royals-Rangers, and Patriots-Colts will get the Sunday night spot on NBC over Jets-Dolphins.

This is not an attempt to settle the debate. Hell, I'd have more respect for a talking head on any major network who comes out and says this without coming to any coherent conclusion. Because he or she would be taking a risk. They would be breaking down a little bit of that Hyper-PC filter. They'd be tackling Title IX. I love that women have an equal shot at playing. That is something I will never, ever have a problem with. I do, however, have a problem with people talking down to me, telling me that the sports are the same.

I have a problem being lied to.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Comin Back like Jordan, Wearing the 4-5?

Much like Favre, MJ, and Flavor Flav, I'm attempting my umpteenth comeback. After sacrificing this blog to the gods of thesis writing during my senior year, it's been resurrected by the imps of unemployment. (For this post-grad professional purgatory, I'd like to thank my English degree, George Bush's effects on the job market, and my own irrational fear of the title "assistant regional manager.")

Anyways, I've decided to knock the rust off this good old blog for another go-round, due to an overwhelming influx of demands from ESPN, SI, and Carl Pavano. (I know, I know, that's an obviously false claim -- no one has heard from Pavano for several years now...)

But I refuse to start off my comeback brilliantly before plummeting terribly and disappointing your hopes. Essentially, I refuse to be the 1978 Red Sox or 2007 Mets. Instead, I turn now to the advice of T.S. Eliot, who points out, "Mediocre writers borrow; great writers steal." So allow me to borrow quickly and in mediocre fashion from the sports media at my fingertips. Hopefully in the future, I will turn to truly great things yet again through outright theft. After all, in the words of newly-crowned NBA champ Kevin Garnett, "Anything is POSSIBUUUUUUUUUULL!!" Here are my three favorite storylines from this week in sports...

1. Tiger wins the US Open. Nothing like a brisk 91 holes to take your mind off work. As runner-up Rocco Mediate exclaimed early in the tournament, as Woods trailed the leaders, "Tiger, we all know you're going to do it. So just stop it. Stop it." What I loved most about watching this tournament on NBC was how much the broadcasters got into the epic excitement and spikes in action. (That's a lie. They still sounded like doctors delivering bad news, but I think at one point I had to turn the volume down to 57 they were so loud.)

2. Kevin Garnett finally loses his mind. Throughout his career, KG has always changed the "I'm so happy about what you just did that I'm pumped up" mentality into "I'm so happy about what you just did that I may actually kill someone." No one grins while chest bumping and pumping up the crowd. I understand that. Sports can be testosterone time, and anger fuels intensity. But Garnett always seems to take an I.V. of it to the jugular when he plays. I'd seriously be too afraid to celebrate with this man. So what happens when you take the 6'11" tower of testosterone and satisfy 12 years of frustration all at once? You get the most amazing postgame rant I've ever seen.

3. The Tampa Bay Rays sweep the best team in the Majors, the Chicago Cubs. As an intern at ESPN this spring, I asked senior writer/Baseball Tonight analyst Buster Olney about his favorite part of the job. He cited playing devil's advocate for each team, and as an example, said to me, "Like walking into the Tampa Bay clubhouse and saying, if X, Y, and Z all go right, this could be a really good team." Well, as of Friday, the third-best team in the MLB is Tampa. But why am I enjoying this? Maybe I like watching exciting young teams do well. Maybe I like the poetic justice of this team finally rising from the basement. Maybe I like that another team aside from the Yanks can challenge Boston, because I don't feel great about the Yanks' bridge to Mariano, and I don't trust the rotation without the injured Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, who may not be as good as ticketed to begin with, but may be the keys to New York advancing in October, along with Chien-Ming Wang coming back strong from his injury in September, but who will replace a back-to-back 19-game winner in the interim? It could be any one of those reasons. But I'll never say which.