Friday, July 17, 2009

The Continental Football League

My fan has spoken. He asked for another installment of The (Old) Sports Guy; he's got it.

As a sports fan, my interests are rather basketball-centric. Even when I was paying attention to other sports, it was my favourite by a long shot. These days, I don't even pay attention to anything else.

Back when I wrote about sports, I had to follow the boring sports. At the time, I even semi-liked them. I don't know what I was thinking. Although I suppose if I were thrust back into sports writing, I'd be a pro and force myself to watch some other sports.

Recently, a friend came over to the big city, family in tow, to watch a BC Lions game. Can you imagine? I mean, sure, if you happen to be here already and you've got nothing else to do, why not take in a game? But to purposely go out of your way and pay good money to watch the CFL? I don't get it.

So this oldie but goodie goes out to him. (He also, coincidentally, happens to be the fan clamouring for more, or speedier, blog entries.) It's one of the very earliest Sports Guy columns, dating back to 1993 or 1994, back when it was in the West End Times.
The Sports Guy

by Guy MacPerson

Don’t get me wrong. I like the CFL as much as the next fella. The problem is, the next falla could take it or leave it.

You can’t give away tickets to CFL games these days, and yet the league is acting like it’s the most popular sport on the planet. Vancouver, Hamilton, Ottawa and Toronto are all struggling to stay alive and the league believes it has such a valuable commodity on its hands, it decides to expand.

I can understand why the head honchos would want the CFL to grow. They’re trying to kickstart their faltering league. They know Canadians only truly appreciate something when it has been test marketed in the Excited States. What I can’t figure out is why on earth any tycoon who wants to remain a tycoon would want in. If the teams can’t draw well up here, where there’s a tradition of 3-down football, what makes them think they’ll do any better down there?

Last year, Sacramento joined in on the fun. This year new franchises will pop up in Baltimore, Shreveport and Las Vegas. There’s even talk San Antonio, Orlando and Nashville might join in. There has been no groundswell of support for Canadian football south of the border. In fact, when CFL games were shown on NBC during an NFL strike a few years back, they were practically laughed off the air.

Most Americans, and too many Canadians, feel that Canadian football is nothing but a pale comparison to the real thing. The players aren’t as big and strong as NFLers, and in their eyes might makes right. Of course they’re wrong. The CFL’s a totally different game – wide open, high scoring, exciting. Tex Cobb could beat Sugar Ray Leonard every time but that doesn’t make him a better boxer.

Is there enough talent out there to warrant such expansion? Chris Flynn and his family might say yes. But people who have seen Flynn throw would say no way. As long as there are rich guys, there will be expansion. Everyone’s doing it. The APSL will be adding cities to its league this summer. The APSL? Hands up those who’ve ever heard of it. Well, Vancouver already has a team. Now the American Professional Soccer League will be expanding to Seattle, Toronto and Houston. The National Basketball League will be growing, too. Not the NBA, but the NBL. The one situated in Canada. Maybe it’s the climate. The league’s Edmonton franchise obviously believes enough talented unemployed professional athletes are out walking the streets. They are advertising in newspapers for players.

The Western Hockey League has had inquiries from seven cities but have decided to hold off on expansion until they’re satisfied there’s enough talent to maintain the quality of play. Finally a group with sense. Mind you, this is the same bunch who hold best-of-9 playoff series.

I think more people should watch the CFL, and I think Americans could grow to respect it for what it is. But we haven’t given a lot of good Canadian cities a chance. What about Halifax? Easterners love their sports. And the Maritimes, to me, are Canada. When I think of Canada, I think of a small fishing village in Newfoundland. Halifax may or may not be in Newfoundland. That’s not for me to decide. I’m a sports columnist. But I do know this: they all talk the same and they deserve a team. There have got to be other possible cities, only I failed geography so I don’t know them.

Expansion to the States, though, is not a bad idea, per se. Americans worship football, from the high school level on up. Medium-sized American cities can’t afford an NFL team. They might very well rally around their very own CFL team. But how are we going to feel when the Grey Cup is held in Shreveport between Sacramento and Baltimore? No one in Canada is going to watch that. Nor is anyone from outside the cities involved. And the grand finale will be played in front of a stadium filled with people all related to each other.

As Yogi Berra might have said, nobody watches the CFL anymore – it’s too popular.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Silken Laumann: Official spokeswoman for Benadryl

A couple posts ago, my regular two readers were somewhat surprised that members of the fourth estate would name Silken Laumann as a particularly bad interview. She's been a media darling for eons. What was it about her they didn't like? Well, while rooting through the (Old) Sports Guy archives, I came across a column I wrote a year earlier. Remember when dear Silken got in a bit of an ethical brouhaha at a rowing event? Her legions of fans rushed to her defense. I don't know about the rest of the media (who reads such drivel?) but I, being the clear thinker I am, looked at the situation more rationally. No doubt others did, as well, which may have soured her on us. Or vice versa.

I have to say, I have no opinion on Silken as a person at all. While we went to the same university at the same time, and she was in one of my classes, I didn't follow rowing. All I knew was that she had very lovely breasts. A sexist comment, to be sure, but I was a college-aged young man and she never wore a bra. I always appreciated her entrances and exits into our English class.

But as a journalist, I had to take a long hard look at the facts of the case. Here is that column from March 30 - April 6, 1995:

The Sports Guy

by Guy MacPherson

In sports, if a penalty or foul is committed, the offending player is penalized and the opposition is awarded compensation. Whether the foul is intentional or not is inconsequential. An advantage is gained and a price must be paid.

In hockey, an unintentional high sticking gets the same result as one done with purpose. A player who tries for a steal in basketball and accidentally nudges his or her rival off balance is just as guilty as one who fouls out of frustration. Their intentions may be honourable but you know where good intentions can lead.

Canada’s sweetheart, Silken Laumann who won the nation’s hearts with a bronze medal performance in Barcelona, found herself on that road to hell last week when she and her three teammates were stripped of the gold medals they won in quadruple sculls at the Pan-Am Games in Mar Del Plata, Argentina. Laumann was guilty of the egregious crime of taking a banned substance. Nothing like anabolic steroids that fellow Canadian athlete Ben Johnson was reviled for, but the seemingly harmless cold medicine Benadryl Decongestant Allergy.

Now we know how those Chinese swimmers did it. With all that Asian flu going around, they were doped up on cough and cold medication.

Maybe not. But the problem is that Benadryl contains an amphetamine-like drug called pseudoephedrine, which is often used for its stimulant effect by less-scrupulous jocks.

By all accounts, Laumann was an innocent victim. Suffering from congestion and facing a long plane ride to Argentina, Laumann consulted her doctor about taking Gravol to help her sleep. He suggested Benadryl, which would clear her ears for the flight.

She also checked with the Canadian team doctor while in Argentina. Doc gave her the go-ahead. After winning the single and the quad sculls, she reported to the doping control office that she took the cold remedy. She was up-front all the way.

“I believe I did everything in my power to make sure what I was taking was not a banned substance,” she was reported as saying. “I asked the qualified team physician. I checked at the mission... Again there were no questions about Benadryl. I ask myself, ‘What else could I have done?’”

Well, there’s always research, for starters. That might have taken five minutes.

She gets full marks for honesty but loses points for knowledge of the subject. All Canadian athletes are given a booklet which lists banned substances. Granted, you’d think doctors would be informed enough to be trustworthy. (That’s assuming sports team doctors know more than any G.P. I’ve ever visited.) I find it amazing that not one of the physicians she consulted asked which of the Benadryl products she was using. Only one of them contains Pseudoephedrine. But still, she had the information available herself. And as they say, ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Laumann admits to some negligence on her part. “If I had looked at the ingredient label, that would have helped,” she understated. “But I’m not a chemist.”

No, she’s not. She’s an athlete. And athletes can’t be expected to read or make decisions on their own. The ingredients are clearly marked on the package. But if you can’t have clout and be pampered, you may as well go into journalism.

Laumann is getting support from all over, including her teammates, fellow athletes, and even royalty – the head of the IOC’s medical commission, the artist formerly known as Prince Alexandre de Merode.

And garbage sports competitors are rushing to her defense. Synchronized swimmer Carolyn Waldo said, “If two doctors told me it’s not a banned substance, I’d trust the doctors’ opinion.” I can’t imagine what kind of drug could ever aid a synchronized swimmer, except maybe one that makes them terminally happy and keeps their nostrils shut.

Was Laumann treated harshly, as she herself said? If she is suspended from rowing for even the shortest period, then yes, I’d say she is being treated harshly. I agree with Rowing Canada that she was the victim of a professional mistake. Who’s to blame is irrelevant. And Pan-Am officials ruled that the concentration of the drug was consistent with the amount usually found in cold remedies and that the situation was the result of an error.

But is she being treated harshly if she loses the gold medal and is let off with a warning? I don’t think so. Canadian doping officials say that pseudoephedrine is among the most innocuous of banned substances. Sure, next to anabolic steroids, it’s innocuous. But it didn’t become banned because it was hard to pronounce. As a stimulant that can improve performance, it has been used too frequently by athletes for non-decongestive purposes.

Laumann may have gained a slight, albeit unconscious, edge in her race. Most likely she didn’t. At least, not twelve seconds’ worth – the margin of victory the Canadians beat the Cubans by. But we can’t prove that. All we can prove is that her body contained a drug that is known to enhance one’s athletic accomplishments. The amount, and how it got there, is insignificant.

If an athlete were to show the smallest trace of steroids, it wouldn’t matter how compelling the story is, we would be quick to jump off the bandwagon. It wouldn’t be fair to the “clean” rowers from other countries she competed against if Laumann were allowed to keep her medal. If she got away with using Benadryl, then another athlete might figure she could snort Dristan nose spray. It might eventually reach the point where athletes were wantonly rubbing Vic’s Vapo-Rub on their chests before competing.

Silken Laumann’s bandwagon, thankfully, is still full. While technically guilty, she’s innocent of the much more heinous crime of callously pursuing victory at any cost. We know it. The games people know it. The ad men know it. Everybody knows it.

Don’t cry for Silken Laumann. She made a mistake and she’s paying for it. She’ll live to race another day and we’ll still see her on TV trying to sell us things we don’t want.

But I bet Benadryl won’t be one of them.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Helmets: What are they good for?

On CBC radio the other week they were talking about the problem with cyclists. Finally, I thought, those damn cyclists were going to get their comeuppance, the way they take up space on the road, forcing you to wait behind their slow asses or veer into the next lane to get around them, the way they use the left-hand lane to turn left just like cars do.

But no, the people were upset about cyclists not wearing helmets and doing things like riding on the sidewalk. I had to turn it off. I've long been a proponent that cyclists should have no rights whatsoever – for their own safety. It's the way I ride a bike. I agree helmets should be mandatory if you force the cyclists onto crowded streets and make them drive like cars. But take away one and you can take away the other.

I wrote about this in 1995. And it went something like this...
THE SPORTS GUY – June 22-29, 1995

by Guy MacPherson

Attention all cyclists: You have 15 months to crack your head open on the pavement without the fear of penalty of law. As of September 1996, the wearing of helmets will be made mandatory for anyone riding a bicycle. Is it a good thing? Oh, probably. But that doesn’t mean I like it.

I’m sure it will grow on me, just like the seatbelt law did. Thanks to Big Brother, I now buckle up each and every time I get into a car. It makes things awkward when I only want to vacuum the interior, but I just don’t feel safe otherwise.

It’s odd that these laws are passed for our safety and not a peep is heard from opponents. The federal government tries to pass a law banning certain firearms and making registration of all other guns mandatory, and every kook out there takes it as a violation of their rights as neighbours of the shoot-’em-up U.S. of A. In Amerika you can ride free as an uncaged helmetless bird on a motorbike, for heaven’s sake. Where are the Reform nuts on this issue?

And, irony of ironies, the helmet law is announced the very week that the feds have instructed police to stop charging people with possession of drugs. The citizens are permitted to mess their brains up with narcotics, but not with their bikes. Go figure.

I like riding slowly, carefully, defensively, with the wind blowing through me, er, scalp. I realize I may be tempting fate, but I’ve been riding lidless for 25 years with no great harm to my person. I am aware of the dangers: a human skull can be shattered by an impact of 7 to 10 kilometres per hour; helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 85 percent and brain injury by 88 percent. That’s why I’m never in too much of a hurry on my bike. I ride on the roads when I feel it’s safe and take to the sidewalks when there’s too much vehicular traffic. I will never agree to follow the same rules cars must adhere to. The way I figure it, the chances of me getting scrunched by a bus are greater than me scrunching a pedestrian.

I will always cede to a pedestrian the rights he or she has on the sidewalk. And at all times I establish eye contact across a crowded street with any human who might cross my path. I never assume drivers know the rules of the road. For instance, I will not take a left turn from the left lane. That presupposes too much on the part of the driver. For one thing, you can’t establish eye contact unless you have eyes in the back of your head, and for another not every driver is competent or pays full attention. One mistake by a reckless driver could cost you your life and him a small dent. I will always take the crosswalk to cross. Riding, of course.

In Europe and Asia bikes can go pretty much anywhere they choose. They can ride on the sidewalks in busy downtown foot traffic, they can fit as many people onto the bike as they like, and they are not forced to wear helmets. Is there a higher percentage of head injuries? I don’t know, but I doubt it. There’s too many of them to think so. They have the right attitude, and that’s that cyclists have no rights at all. Old people don’t cower and topple over when a cyclist approaches on the sidewalk. They walk straight ahead, knowing that the bike rider will get out of the way. And on the road, the cars are king. That’s the way it should be. Might makes right.

Of course, there’s the argument that the taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill when careless cyclists wind up with fractured skulls. No more, I suppose, than when a big fat guy who smokes and eats cholesterol straight out of the can winds up with a heart attack or when he develops lung cancer. I went to school with a kid who was fooling around with explosives in his basement and accidentally blew off his hand. Why should we have to pay for that?

The argument is ridiculous. We obviously don’t live in such a puritanical society. People make mistakes, accidents happen, and we should help our fellow citizens when they screw up. Wearing helmets will not stop screw-ups. Defensive driving will go a lot further to preventing accidents and lessening brain damage than wearing helmets.

I would encourage everyone to wear one, but respect their decision if they shoose not to. I choose not to. Just like I choose not to own guns, do drugs, smoke or eat right – all things that the government implicitly condones. The law should be made like the old NHL helmet policy (here’s the sports analogy for those of you who were wondering when I’d get to it). Anyone entering the league past a certain date must wear helmets. Before that, it’s up to the individual. For now, let’s set it at 25 years. Those who have been riding their bikes for 25 years or longer have the option of whether they want to wear a helmet or not. All others must don them.

Children definitely should grow up wearing helmets. Just as they are not permitted to smoke or drink. The smart ones will continue to wear them through adulthood. Then we can breed a society of helmet heads that will healthy and productive lives until they die naturally of drug overdoses.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Best and Worst: Reporters fight back

In keeping with the theme of the last post, I came across a little survey I conducted once amongst my peers a while ago. This column was from May 23-29, 1996. Rereading it, it's fascinating how the same athletes get mentioned on both the best and worst lists:
The Sports Guy

by Guy MacPherson

One of the worst frequently asked questions put to sports reporters is in the form of, "What is he/she really like?" The media get closer to Joe Millionaire than John Q. Public does, but most of the encounters are in artificial circumstances. Even if a rapport is developed between scribe and jock, the athlete is always on guard, fully aware that the reporter has a job to do and will pounce on any slip of the tongue.

So to ask a member of the fourth estate an opinion on the personal nature of a particular player is folly.

That's exactly why I did it.

Giving interviews is part of an athlete's job. Analyzing this aspect of the job doesn't tell us exactly what a pro athlete is like, but it does give us a clue as to how various personalities react in quasi-social situations. I polled a number of local journalists on who they felt was the best and worst they have had to deal with.

The questions:
  1. In your experience, which athlete(s) – local, national or international – give(s) the best interview(s)? Why?
  2. Which athlete(s), for whatever reason, give(s) the worst interview(s)? Why?
Neil Campbell, Globe & Mail: Best - Greg Anthony. He listens to questions and thinks about his answers. He is adept with analogies and uses them often to illustrate his points.
Worst - Charles Barkley, Joe Carter. Barkley is too busy trying to be a clown to give intelligent answers, and Carter might as well offer a no-comment every time. He offers stock, cliché answers. He is the master of the verbal shrug.

Paul Chapman, The Province: Best - Deion Sanders. He speaks his mind on any and every topic. He may be arrogant, but he gives his opinion on everything; he's not afraid of anyone. He also provides witty and insightful comments on questions. He'll tell you – technically – what he has to do against a certain offense, then he'll crack you up with a colourful quip.
Worst - Kirk McLean. Mr. One-day-at-a-time-have-to-work-hard-and-play-good
-defense-and-give-110-percent. The Cliché in the Crease. He doesn't give detailed answers; just arrogantly offers generalizations.

Darron Kloster, Victoria Times-Colonist: Best - 1. Kirk McLean/Dave Babych. Both honest. Actually try to shed light and insight on questions rather than bathe it in cliché. Patient. Can answer same question ten times without losing their cool. 2. Trevor Linden. Actually returns phone calls.
Worst - 1. Steve Yzerman. Cranky. Boy, does he want a trade! 2. Pavel Bure. Can't open up. 3. Ben Johnson. Hates all media – even me! 4. Silken Laumann. Great when you don't have to go through her agent.

Jeff Rud, Victoria Times-Colonist: Best - Kirk McLean. Always has time, no matter if he plays well or stinks. Gives thoughtful answers. Nice guy. Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe are right up there, too. Byron Scott and Greg Anthony of the Grizzlies get honourable mentions.

Worst - Kevin Garnett. Basically because he refused to acknowledge my existence as a human being. Former Blue Jay Ernie Whitt for exactly the same reason.

Dave Sennick, Victoria Times-Colonist: Best - Wayne Gretzky. Has time for you. Will explain and elaborate. Does not always give stock answers. Seems aware of your situation, too, i.e. deadlines, etc. Will talk good times and in the bad.
Worst - Silken Laumann. Goes to great lengths to make herself unavailable. Fairweather interview (if controversy hits, she is gone). She doesn't want to do interviews.

Trevor Thompson, Orca Bay Sports: Best - Charles Barkley, Blue Edwards, Dave Benefield. Each gives honest, thoughtful, intelligent answers to questions asked of them. Each also has a sense of humour and each will talk honestly with patience, win or lose. They smile, they're personable and people want to hear from them.
Worst - Doug Gilmour, Dave Stieb, Gary Payton. Each has an ego so big it's a wonder they can squeeze their heads inside the arenas they perform in. When you treat others as if they aren't good enough to stand in your presence, and worse yet believe it to be true, you won't make very many "favourite people" lists. Each is intelligent and well-spoken. Too bad they didn't say something worth hearing every now and then. Does anyone even miss Dave Stieb? I thought not.

I'll throw in my two cents worth. For the best interview, I'd have to say Blue Edwards. The man will talk, good game or bad, about anything, whether it's sports-related or not. He actually listens and thinks before he speaks.

Other good ones include Jayson Williams for his rapier-like wit, Will Perdue
for his honesty, David Robinson for his intelligence and patience, Shawn Kemp for staying the same since he was a rookie, and Bruce Enns and Don Horwood for their enthusiasm.

For the worst, where do I begin? Patrick Ewing for his detachment, Reggie Miller for his unwillingness, Scottie Pippen for his attitude, Chris Mullin for his uncommunicativeness, John Starks and Gary Payton for the chips on their shoulders, John Stockton for his ton of stock answers (I think that's how he got his name), and Brian Winters for keeping all his good quotes in his head.

"As an aside," adds one of the respondents, "I am compelled to say that a majority of sports journalists, both print and spoken, have poor interviewing techniques. So often you hear a statement instead of a question. And when questions are asked, they often are close-ended. In other words, questions that could be answered with yes or no. Those encourage cliché responses."

Sure, sometimes we base too much on how an athlete responds to our often jejune questions. But it's all we can go by. It is these brief encounters that enable us to answer with certainty to anyone who asks that Scottie Pippen is a jerk.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The dumbing of our athletes

This post addresses a couple of comments made by regular reader Dan Jardine of Cinemania fame. I could just e-mail him, but let's pretend there's more than one regular reader. Humour me.

1. Dan asks, "If you were starting a team up from scratch and both Kobe and Lebron were 18 years old, who would you draft and why?"

No offense to Dan, but this is one of these ridiculous questions sports geeks love to throw around. They're both outstanding players. What difference does it make who's minusculely better? If I were a GM picking second in this scenario, I'd be ecstatic. How could you go wrong? You couldn't, that's how.

I was in such a situation not too long ago. As the general manager of the West End Girls of the National Fast Break Association, I sucked so bad one year (okay, for several years) that I got to pick first overall the year LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were eligible. My choice was between LeBron and Carmelo. Whenever given the choice between cornrows and no cornrows, I almost always choose no cornrows. I chose LeBron.

But between LeBron and Kobe Byrant? I dunno. What's the point in trying to say one is better than the other? So for me, it would come down to personal preference, like with the cornrows. Who has fewer tattoos? (Kobe) Who has fewer run-ins with the law? (LeBron) Who is more worldly and well-read? (Kobe) Who's funnier? (Uh...) So I'd flip a coin and be happy with whoever I got. I like them both as players. I like them both as people, as far as I can tell. Which brings us to the next comment.

2. Dan asked, "Guy, you've had close encounters with all sortsa athletes. Are they (as a group--I know there are exceptions like Nash) as dumb as they sound, or have they simply knuckled under to their 'handlers' and become the well-trained speak-but-say-nothing-substantive media whores that their bosses, agents and sponsors demand?"

Now we're talking. This is a legitimate query. My hunch is that they're no smarter or dumber than any other random segment of the population. But it's just a hunch. Sure, I've talked to plenty of athletes, but it's usually about sports. What can you learn about someone if all you're doing is asking them specific questions about a game they just played? I suppose you might get a sense of how they put their thoughts into words, and that would give you an indication of their relative intelligence. But if you heard me stammer and sputter, you'd have no way of guessing that I'm the proud owner of a Bacherlor of Arts degree obtained in only six years. So you never know. Sports talk is the great equalizer.

I remember getting into a political discussion with Greg Anthony when he was with the Grizzlies once. He loved a good argument, which I always take as a sign of smarts. Then again, he was an unabashed Republican so who knows?

The truth is that sports reporters ask such mundane questions, and the same ones rephrased over and over again, that the athlete has no chance to sound intelligent. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a very intelligent man, was also very tight-lipped when it came to answering dumb questions by dumber sports journalists. The first guy I ever had to interview on a regular basis was Canadian coaching legend Ken Shields, who went to the Abdul-Jabbar school of answering questions. Shields forced me to come up with more insightful questions. Because if I didn't, I was going to get a lot of one-word answers. And that's awkward.

But this question got me to look back at a year of quotes I compiled. The year was 1996. A selection of them ran in a season-ending column in Sports Vue. The season being the Grizzlies. The quotes come mostly from that Grizz, but there are others from around the NBA. Looking over them now, it's interesting to see a few from former all-star Jayson Williams, who's in the news these days as prosecutors are trying to send him to jail for covering up a fatal shooting at his mansion in 2002. Williams, in his heyday, was known as the funniest guy in the NBA. I don't think he's laughing too much these days.

Another quote jumps out at me. Shawn Kemp mentions his free throw shooting in the "new" Key Arena. New?! In 1996? This is the arena that ten years later was all of a sudden old and decrepit, eventually forcing the Sonics out of Seattle. I don't buy it. I went to games in Seattle right up to their last season and their arena was great. It was their team that was decrepit (although they were head and shoulders above our beloved Grizz).

Most of these quotes were from direct questions I asked. Since I wasn't a beat reporter, I didn't work on deadline and could wait for the daily beat guys to ask their tedious questions then get in there to speak to players on my own. But some of them are from the scrum and were included (I'm guessing, anyway, 13 years later) to help illustrate what happened that year.

You'll notice that there are some bright guys in the NBA. And some less so. Just like life.
The Sports Guy – May 2-8, 1996

The real NBA season is just beginning. But for us north of the 49th, it’s all over. Here’s a look at my quotes of the year in the NBA.

“People are just friendly. If my car broke down I wouldn’t hesitate flagging somebody down. But if I’m in New York? And my car breaks down? You better call Triple A, or call home and let your family come get you. Nobody’s stopping. That’s the city. They say, ‘Shit, we got somewhere to go. We got places to be. You’re just stuck, buddy. It’s your tough luck.’ That’s about it. Everybody’s in a rush. Everybody’s trying to make a dollar.”
Anthony Avent comparing Vancouverites to New Yorkers

“Basketball is not a complicated thing. But you can make it complicated when you think too much.”
Blue Edwards

“How are the Thundercats doing?”
Blue Edwards trying to take an interest in the UBC Thunderbirds

“You should have told me. I would have been throwing behind-the-back passes, everything, to try and get one.”
Blue Edwards after his first career triple double, when told he was sitting on nine assists for the longest time

“Obviously it’s disappointing but when I hit my hotel room, I forget about it and start concentrating on... who DO we play next?”
Greg Anthony dazed and confused after a 94-88 loss to Chicago

“No. I kind of like attention.”
Blue Edwards on whether he has an entourage to ward off any fans

“It’s just hanging around these guys for a whole week. ... I’m sick of being on the road. I just want to lay in my own bed, cook my nice, good meal and relax. That’ll solve everything.”
Robert Horry on being in such a foul mood with his Phoenix teammates

“I have no idea, but I’m not complaining.”
Lawrence Moten on why he thinks the fans have taken to him

“I have a chance to think about a lot of things so I know what I’m going to say if I’m asked a certain question. And you just happen to ask those questions. So I’ve already rehearsed what I’m going to say.”

Blue Edwards on why he’s so quotable

“I have a lot of respect for those guys, but I’m glad we kicked their ass, though.”
Blue Edwards on the Celtics

“I answered your question, man. Don’t try to put words in my mouth, all right? Any more questions, man? You can leave, please.”
The charming Scottie Pippen

“I wanna go see a game up there. I hear it’s the best place in the world to see a hockey game.”
Joe Dumars, preferring to talk Montreal Canadiens hockey than Detroit Pistons basketball

“Let’s have a Blue haircut day.”
The bald Blue Edwards sounding jealous that Big Country Reeves had his own haircut day

“Country has a body that’s gonna change every year. I think next year you’ll see him be even a little more slim and more muscular. I can see it changing over the next three years. Three years from now you probably won’t recognize Big Country Reeves just because of all the physical things he’ll have to go through.”
Grizzlies coach Brian Winters

“Sometimes. I still answer to it but it’s going to get to the point where I won’t. I ain’t ever going to change it officially. I gotta leave my name Bryant. My wife’s gotta have something to call me.”
Big Country Reeves on whether anybody still addresses him as Bryant

“It’s tough, but my mother always told me to keep my head up. Things happen for a reason.”
Lawrence Moten on how he’s handling sitting on the bench

“Oh no. I never use that word. I don’t think there’s such a word. I just think you miss shots or you make them.”
Byron Scott in the midst of a s-l-u-m-p

“I’ll take easy wins any day, I’ll tell you that.”
Byron Scott on whether he prefers the nailbiters or the blowouts he used to get with the Lakers

“He said something to me about next time he’s going to dunk it on me. I said, ‘Do what you gotta do. Whatever you do, you just bring it. You might do better than what you did, trying to just lay it up like that.’... I can’t remember when I’ve seen him dunk in a game, so it seems like that would be pretty hard for him to do anyway... And he won’t EVER dunk on me.”
Byron Scott discussing what was said in his face-to-face jawing with Gary Payton in Seattle

“They have to have an injury. Whatever it is, whether it’s a hangnail or whatever, it has to be an injury.”
Brian Winters discussing the laughable NBA policy of keeping players on injured reserved

“We hug each other all the time. But how many times have you seen pro basketball players chasing another guy off the court?”
Blue Edwards after his buzzer-beating jumper against Philadelphia and subsequent dash into the lockerroom

“I guess now it doesn’t seem so off-the-wall to me because I know I don’t know all the hockey rules.”
Blue Edwards on the questions he gets from neophyte basketball fans

“You worry about the people that you dive into more than anything. But I don’t think you can play this game walking on pins and needles.”
Karl Malone after going into the crowd and knocking over BCTV’s Michael Kennedy, separating his shoulder

“It’s a fast game shooting a slow shot.”
Gerald Wilkins after his third game back

“He said, ‘Are you sure you don’t get nervous?’ I said I get nervous but for $50,000, who cares?”
Rob Carlson after hitting a half-court shot to win 50 grand

“In training camp I had to sing in front of them twice. A slow song. I can’t even remember the name of it. But I had to tell jokes and I had to tote the bags on the road. I had to do all that.”
Antonio McDyess on life as a rookie

“They came out and kicked our ass the first quarter... Don’t say it like that. They kicked our butts the first quarter.”
Greg Anthony censoring himself after a 91-85 loss to Denver

“I like the weather. No snow.”
Blue Edwards

“Of course I prefer the rain! I don’t know what I’m gonna do with all that sun down there in L.A. All that sun and warm weather.”
Antonio Harvey after being released by the Grizzlies and picked up by the Los Angeles Clippers

“When I was with the Bucks, we kind of went at it. There was a lot of trash talking then. Just some players in the league you don’t get along with.”
Eric Murdoch on his history of run-ins with Bimbo Coles

“Sometimes I hate having breaks. If I could, I would play a game every other night. But I don’t make the schedule.”
Blue “Iron Man” Edwards

“If I had players that could run up and down and score a lot of points, I might run a lot more, too.”
Brian Winters on the slow-down style of the Bears

“I had a good rhythm going. Just the body and the stomach said, ‘That’s enough. Go sit back down.’”
A sick Byron Scott after scoring 19 points in only 23 minutes against Utah

“You can’t play worrying about being traded. If it happens, it happens. You just pack your shit up and move on.”
Blue Edwards on the possibility of being traded

“What am I gonna do? Write ‘em a letter and say, ‘Please don’t trade me!’?
Blue Edwards wanting to stay in Vancouver

“I’ve been doing this since I was six. And even though I’m not an old man, that’s a long time. I figure another six or seven years in the league and I’ll just kind of go on out to pasture. They won’t even know who I am.”
Greg Anthony

“I’d like to play the New York Knicks on the second night of a back-to-back after an overtime every time.”
Brian Winters after Grizzlies shock the Knicks 84-80

“I’d rather put on a wooden beak and go out and pluck shit with the chickens.”
Jayson Williams on the thought of playing for the Grizzlies

“If the trade does come, then I just fail the physical. And I go right back to where I’m going. I’m untradeable.”
Jayson Williams on what he’d do if he’s traded

“Today a peacock, tomorrow a feather duster.”
Jayson Williams on the ups and downs of his career

“I think everybody thought we would have a legitimate chance to win tonight, including myself, and sometimes when you get put in those positions, you almost get too ready to play and you come out and you’re tight. And I just thought we were tight as a drum.”
Brian Winters on a loss to Detroit, number 17 in a row during the first big losing streak

“In the long run, this will make everybody on this team better. I think any times you go through streaks like this as a player or a coach, I think it makes you a stronger individual.”
Byron Scott after a 93-84 loss to the Pistons

“It was just one of those games where you couldn’t kick it in the ocean.”
Brian Winters after the Detroit loss

“It was a monkey on your back and it kind of grew to a gorilla and it’s nice to have it off my back and everybody’s back.”
Brian Winters after ending the first streak with a 104-100 win versus Portland

“This is not a one-hit wonder. We’re not just trying to win one game every 19.”
Darrick Martin

“I was just glad we won. I couldn’t believe it. Nobody wanted to be part of the record. Now we can start a winning streak.”
Darrick Martin, dreaming a little dream

“We kind of fell off the emotional cliff tonight.”
Brian Winters after a 116-85 home loss to Golden State, one night after beating Portland

“We found our team chemistry. Now we’ve lost it again.”
Blue Edwards on the second losing streak

“I don’t worry about the record. If the record happens, it happens. A record is a record. It’s not that big of a deal to me.”
Brian Winters after Orlando loss, 13th in a row

“I don’t really think about the 20 losses that much. It’s frustrating as hell. Yeah, you’d like to win, but all you can do is go out and give your best. Unfortunately, the best hasn’t been good enough for us.”
Greg Anthony

“These are the dog days right now. And you have to be man enough to accept them and deal with them and understand that it’s not going to be like this forever.”
Greg Anthony

“I don’t let anything like this make me not want to play basketball.”
Byron Scott

“I will definitely remember all of these losses come next year. There’s gotta be payback.”
Eric Mobley

“Our goal for the second half is to go out and win at least as many games as we did the first half. I think that’s a reachable goal for us.”
Blue Edwards, said with a straight face

“Because we’ve had a lot of close losses, that’s motivated us to continue to work because we know that a win is just around the corner. Although we haven’t got to that corner yet.”
Blue Edwards in the midst of a 23-game losing streak

“When you have people looking to you to be a leader, you gotta lead.”
Blue Edwards

“I kicked their ass from a personal standpoint. We didn’t win, but I kicked their fuckin’ ass.”
Ex-Grizzlie Benoit Benjamin, continuing his personal rivalry with the Sonics

“I’ve had a difficult shooting year. But that’s not going to deter me from shooting a game-winning shot. In a situation like that I know that I’m going to do everything perfect. I guess it’s just an innate ability.”
Blue Edwards after hitting his third game-winning shot, this time against Sacramento

“Everybody that’s close to me knows that confidence is something that I’ve never lacked since I was three years old. I believe that I’ve been blessed with a lot of talent and I believe that at times I can do whatever I want.”
Darrick Martin

“You gotta be aggressive. You gotta shoot it. I mean, I went 0-for-9 tonight. I wish I had a chance to go 0-for-15.”
Blue Edwards after a 1-point performance in Seattle

“Maybe it’s the gym. I haven’t made a free throw since we’ve played in this gym. I mean, you can’t be perfect, man, and I realize that.”
Shawn Kemp on his troubles in the new Key Arena

“I don’t care how many shots I missed, I don’t care what my percentage is, when the game is on the line I’m gonna shoot it. And nine times out... No, 10 out of 10 I’m gonna make it.”
Blue Edwards

“Game is on the line, gimme the basketball. I have no fear whatsoever that I’m not gonna come through.”
Blue Edwards

“I’m gonna tell you something. No, I don’t. I’ve played a two-guard all my life.”
Gerald Wilkins when asked if he likes playing small forward

“X’s and O’s are fine but whoever has the shot should just go ahead and take it.”
Chris King on the tendency of the team to pass up good looks

“We got a lot of guys here who just don’t understand how to play the game. They got athletic ability, but they don’t understand how to play the game.”
Byron Scott, showing frustration after a 2-17 start

“No, I wasn’t happy sitting on the bench. Would you be happy sitting on the bench”
Ashraf Amaya after loss number 50, a 92-87 heartbreaker against Orlando

“I think this team is starting to take shortcuts. We can’t afford to do that.”
Blue Edwards after loss number 47, a 94-80 setback to Indiana

“For a situation like this you need more of an in-your-face type of guy, where when somebody’s not working hard, he’s gonna let him know about it. A lot of times that didn’t happen this year.”
Eric Murdoch assessing Brian Winters’ job

“If I knew Brian well enough, when he tried to sub me I would have waved him off.”
Blue Edwards after starting off a game red-hot then being taken out

“I think in college there’s not too many good players. Times change. Back then when I was playing, we had Ewing, we had Jordan, the first ten, twelve players were franchise players. But nowadays you get only the first two guys [who] may be franchise players.”
Mario Elie on why there’s no more need for ten rounds in the college draft

“Why I gotta tell ’em? I mean, look at the stat sheet. It’s simple. I’m shooting 90. It’s as simple as that. It don’t take a genius to figure it out.”
Byron Scott, the team’s best free throw shooter, wondering why he didn’t get the ball in a must-foul situation. Instead Greg Anthony hung on and missed the free throw that could have iced the game

“I think the officials let him get away with so much. He’s the one who’s creating contact. He’s the one that’s fouling. But because he’s an all-star they let him get away with that.”
Blue Edwards on ex-teammate Karl Malone

“The thing that I like about these officials is, guys get on ‘em, curse at ‘em, call ‘em all kinds of names, they don’t take it personal. What you see a lot of times, with some of the established officials, when you show ‘em up, they get you on the other end to let you know that they got control, which is basically bullshit.”
Blue Edwards comparing replacement officials with the regular NBA refs

“It seemed like every time I look at the referee they have a tendency like I’m insulting them because I have this mean look that I’ve been playing the game with.”
The grim-faced Dikembe Mutombo, on why he gets so many T’s

“I think they are neutral, but we’re talking about human beings. An analogy: a reporter probably should be more objective sometimes but the reality of it is sometimes we write and we’re a little more subjective because we have a personal stake in it or we have a personal opinion.”
Greg Anthony defending referees

“I think I’m gonna start calling him Jaws Triano.”
Grizzlies radio play-by-play man Don Poier after his colour man Jay Triano was warned by referee Ronnie Nunn not to point his finger at him

“A referee is supposed to be thick-skinned, is supposed to be able to handle things like this. To act as emotionally as he was in the latter stages of that game I thought was really unprofessional... I don’t care if that’s supposed to add colour to the game or not, I just thought that was bush, period.”
Don Poier, commenting on Ronnie Nunn’s antics

“I felt that he tripped me purposely... I don’t think there’s any room for dirty play like that, you know?... I think theoretically he’s probably really a good dude. But when you do stuff like that you tarnish the things that you accomplish out there on the floor. And you also don’t get any respect from players because they don’t respect guys who go out and try to hurt you because basically we’re all out here trying to earn a living, and you’re going to kick somebody in their lower extremities, you know, you could tear up somebody’s knee. And that’s just not professional. I don’t respect people who do stuff like that.”
Pooh Richardson talking about Greg Anthony

“I’m not going to sit here to answer his accusations. I fouled him, period. Period. I didn’t think it was dirty. You know, maybe that’s how they play out there. Maybe they don’t touch each other when they play basketball. I don't know. But I’m gonna hit you. And if you don’t like it, you don’t like it. That’s your business. I’m going to play the way that I know how to play, the way that makes me most effective. And if he doesn’t like it, then I suggest he address it.”
Greg Anthony on Pooh Richardson

“Even when he was in New York he used to come in and he kind of had the reputation of being, you know, borderline dirty.”
Blue Edwards on his teammate Greg Anthony’s rep

“It’s an emotional game and I’m an emotional player.”
Greg Anthony after a flagrant foul against Dan Majerle in a 98-90 home loss to Cleveland

“I’m going to buy me one. I’m going to buy a box of ‘em and bring one to every game. I’ll just tuck it under my shirt and start giving out techs.”
Greg Anthony, thinking of buying some whistles and getting back at the refs

“I just didn’t want him in my face so I pushed him out of the way. The hockey fans are used to seeing that.”
Blue Edwards after another altercation

“Any guy’ll tell you, you want to win, man. This is not tennis. This is not golf. You know, it’s a team sport. Bottom line is winning.”
Greg Anthony dismissing his good stats after another loss

“That was what I call an aberration. It was one of those nights where we couldn’t throw a rock on the ground.”
Greg Anthony on a 33-point loss in Boston

“We could go out and beat Johnny Junior High and I would be thrilled because that’s what we play for, is to win.”
Greg Anthony

“A win’s a win’s a win. I don’t care if it’s against, you know, Sisters of Jehovah’s Witness. I just want to win.”
Greg Anthony after a 69-65 victory against Miami

“An ugly game but a win is a win and it ain’t never ugly.”
Byron Scott after the Miami win

“When they put out in the paper tomorrow, when you guys put our record up there, 7 and 28 or whatever we are, you’re not gonna put an asterisk and say one ugly win.”
Blue Edwards after the Miami win

“Charles is a great, great player and great person. I mean, he’s a character out there on the court. He really gives the fans their money’s worth because he’s an entertainer. He plays the game, he talks to the fans, he smiles out there, he has fun, talks to the referees, talks to opposite teams, coaches, he talks to everybody. You know, I think that’s how you should be. Just have fun and enjoy the game when you’re out there because this lifestyle’s not going to last too long.”
Byron Scott on Charles Barkley

“Everybody’s been treating us bad, but you’re all gonna pay! You’re all gonna pay for all the bad stuff y’all said about our team! Everybody, not just the Grizzlies. Everybody!”
Charles Barkley

“Get me some damn American beer, too. You all be drinking that strong stuff here. I need some light beer.”
Charles Barkley

“They don’t dare ever talk about my family. If they ever say anything bad about me or my family, I’ll kill ‘em!”
Charles Barkley on the media

“The Canadians robbed us in 1983! They robbed us. They wasn’t that good. They just robbed us.”
Charles Barkley remembering when Canada beat his American team at the World University Games in Edmonton

“I like Edmonton, too. I went to a place, there was this little bar called The Library there. I told my mom every night I was going to the library. She didn’t know what I was talking about.”

Charles Barkley holding court

“I don’t think there’s any question. That’s like asking, Do you think Michael Jordan will help the Bulls?”
Jerry Sloan on whether Magic Johnson’s return will help the Lakers

“He’s a guy who loves the game. Anytime you have that, it’s good for basketball. I think it’s important that guys think about the game and not necessarily just themselves. So that’s good for the game.”
John Stockton on Magic Johnson’s return

“I think any guy on that team that was threatened by him coming back is crazy. Because all he’s going to do is make you better.”
Byron Scott on his old teammate Magic Johnson

“I think they’re going to be pretty pissed off! We gotta understand that they’re gonna come after us probably from the get-go. If we show any signs of weakness it’s going to be a blowout.”
Byron Scott after sneaking past Seattle 94-93 in the first of a home-and-home series with the Sonics

“I was just trying to get in his head, basically. I wouldn’t do it if we were in Seattle. I’ll be quiet. I’m not going to mess with him there. Unless we have a 20-point lead then maybe I’ll say a little something.”
Eric Mobley on the trash-talking that was going on between him and Gary Payton

“I could just sit there and call time-out about every third play, but you can’t.”
Brian Winters after a 92-68 butt-kicking by the Sonics

“Let me compare this team to the Milwaukee team that I was on a couple of years ago when we won 20 games. We were fighting in the locker room, guys were not practicing, and guys were pointing fingers. And none of that has happened here.”
Blue Edwards after the Grizzlies break a 23-game losing streak with a 105-103 win against Minnesota

“We hung in there together and we stayed with this whole thing throughout the season. And we rode it out. We played hard, we played together, we won together and we lost together. And that’s a tribute to our team and to our staff.”
Byron Scott assessing the year

“We haven’t played enough together to win. That’s something that’s going to come with time. But the sad thing would be for the fans to say that we quit, that we’re lousy players. It would be sad for management to say that we quit. I never would want a coach or management to question the toughness of this team or me as an individual.”
Blue Edwards

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Swish-ful thinking

Could it be?!

Word was, last week, that the Vancouver Canucks owner was jonesing for an NBA franchise. The rumour was that he was interested in purchasing the Indiana Pacers and shipping them north.

Not gonna happen.

Not with the Pacers, anway. They may be bleeding, but how could the NBA justify taking a team out of basketball country? They couldn't. No way.

So Francesco Aquilini, the owner of the Canucks and their home, GM Place, says he's not pursuing an NBA team at this time. But methinks he's interested in a roommate for his hockey squad.

Wishful thinking? Perhaps. The NBA failed Vancouver the last time they were here. Despite what you may have heard, the Grizzlies were supported. Sure, their attendance dropped to just over 13,000 in their last couple of lame-duck seasons. Keep in mind the Grizz had the worst 5-year record of any team in NBA history. The worst. What city's fans keep coming back year after miserable year when their boys aren't the least bit competitive? For the product they put out on the floor, the Grizzlies were more than adequately supported.

If this town had even a middling team, you can bet your bottom dollar (and that's what it's all about) they would be embraced. Sure, the puckheads are threatened. They seem to think being a sports fan is a zero sum game. But there's room enough for all sports at the table.

Back when the Grizz were here, foreign born were a rare sight on an NBA team. I remember one guy got a look in training camp but didn't stick. Since some American players don't like to be outside the comfort of their borders, who needs 'em now? That is, who needs the ones who don't want to be here, because you can replace them with those that do and with foreign born players who would be glad to be in the NBA. But there was too much made of the few who complained about living in Canada. The vast majority of American players here had no problems. They were happy to have a job. A ridiculously high-paying job.

Vancouver also didn't have any all-sports radio stations and all-sports TV was limited to TSN (aka The Hockey Network). These days, there's room for other sports.

The Canadian dollar was commonly referred to as the peso at the time. Now the Canadian economy is weathering the economic storm better than the Americans, and our dollar has improved significantly.

The Pacers are definitely out (I couldn't possibly support TJ Ford anyway), but there are other possibilities. The one I like the most is the Hornets, just for old-time's sake. Back in the 1940s, Vancouver had a professional basketball team in the Pacific Coast Professional Basketball League. Their name? The Hornets.

Kismet, baby!

C'mon, Francesco. Get on it. I'll forgive the NBA for taking away our Grizzlies if they'll steal us a team from some other city.

Today's (Old) Sports Guy offering is an interesting read in retrospect. It was an interview I did with Steve Nash just as he was coming out of college and preparing for the NBA draft. I wrote some nice things about him, but in reality I had no idea he'd turn into the player he did, let alone an NBA MVP two times over and millionaire several times over. I'm sure he didn't, either.

I don't have the exact date, but it would be some time between April and June in 1996.
The Sports Guy

by Guy MacPherson

“it’s been a while since I’ve taken an elbow in the head from you.”

So I nailed him in the head one more time for old times sake. Dropped him. Sure it was future NBA star Steve Nash and we were in the media dining area at GM Place. But I felt I had to remind him of his roots. He should never forget where he came from once he’s making millions in the NBA.

Indeed, it had been a while – about four or five years – since I last saw the wee lad, since I used to school him on a regular basis in pickup hoops in Victoria.

“I’d just like to say on record that that’s not true,” he said immediately following a rare Grizzlie victory. Of course he has to say that. If the NBA scouts found out the truth, I would be the one running around signing autographs here and doing interviews there with every breathing sports reporter.

Nash had been in town all of one day and had already given interviews to virtually every media outlet in the lower mainland.

“I had to do a couple of hours at the CBC and (interviews with) every TV station that’s here,” he says.

One would think it would get tiresome, answering the same questions over and over again, especially for a kid on holidays from the rigors of studying sociology in university. But Steverino is having a grand old time with it. His answers may be stock but like a polished stand-up comedian, it’s all in the delivery.

“That’s part of the business. I always say it’s a relationship of reciprocity,” he says, proving that you can be a student and an athlete in the NCAA. “The media has to do their job and it helps you out as well. Give and take. You answer the same questions over and over. I just try to have fun with it, be myself and just answer the question as candidly as possible every time. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s tiring with all the different requests pulling you in every direction. But for the most part, I just try to have fun with it and enjoy it while it’s here.”

That’s the perfect attitude to take. Too many celebrities-of-the-month feel burdened by their success. And as soon as their luck runs dry, and they’re down on it, they realize how good they had it.

“It’s a really fortunate time,” says Steve. “I’m fortunate to be able to experience all these different things and be in all these different places. I just look at in the perspective that I get to have a lot of fun and be a pretty lucky 22-year-old. I’ve got an opportunity to work hard and maybe be successful.”

Pretty lucky, indeed. It will be a huge lifestyle change for Nash. He’ll be living the good life, able to afford anything he wants, adored by millions. Is he ready for it?

“Yeah, sure,” he says, like I’m from Mars or something. “I’ve waited 22 years for some money so I’m excited.”

What was I thinking? Of course he’s ready. Twenty-two years is a pretty unreasonable length of time to wait for your first million. Most of us don’t have to wait that long.

American universities go until June unlike their more progressive Canadian counterparts who finish in April. Had Steve done the honourable thing and stayed home to star for the UVic Vikings, he would have been finished by now.

“Yeah, but if I stayed in Canada, my career would have been over, too.”

He has a point. Maybe. But if I were in his shoes, I’d be finished either way. What’s the incentive to stydy now that he’s only weeks away from becoming so well-to-do?

“Honestly?” he says. “Because I’ve come so far, I’ve done my senior thesis, kept up with all my studies and I’m just about to graduate. So I really want to get it done.”

Nudge nudge, wink wink.

During spring break, Nash was at home in Victoria visiting family and friends, playing ball every day at his old stomping grounds, UVic’s McKinnon gymnasium. He just spent four years playing against the best college players in the United States, a couple of weeks ago he was in New York City winning the NCAA 3-point contest. In the summer, he’ll be practicing with the pros, and come the fall will be playing with the best players in the world. But he still has time to play a little pick-up with hackers.

“It’s been fun just going up (to Uvic) and messing around. I gotta play ball. I’m a basketball player. If I get hurt, I get hurt, you know? I just gotta play ball. I’m insured, so...”

For me personally it will be a little strange to see someone whose butt I used to kick so often, playing among the elite.

“It is strange,” he says. “But I mean I thought you would have foreseen it when I was killing you when I was 12. But I guess you didn’t notice.”

Now it’s my turn to state something for the record. Steven Nash wasn’t killing me when he was 12. That’s ridiculous. And an outright lie. No 12-year-old can stop me. He was 13 and he knows it.

But I didn’t foresee anything.

“Well, you should have,” he says. And then he gets all humble on me. “It was probably because I was dribbling off my foot, throwing up airballs and getting nailed in the head all the time.”

Hey, if you can’t stand the head wounds, get off the court, little boy. You teach ‘em when they’re young and it makes them better.

Meanwhile, I’ll sharpen my elbows for when we meet again on the courts this summer. He’ll thank me later.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

General Managing for Dummies

There's some fantastic reading over at the (Current) Sports Guy lately. And (Current) Sports Guy-related readings elsewhere.

Bill Simmons is making a push to be hired at the general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves. He lobbied unsuccessfully a year or two ago for the open position with the Milwaukee Bucks. One of these years, an NBA team is going to take a chance with the guy. Well, probably not, knowing the NBA. But I'm all for it.

Simmons may be an outsider, but he knows his hoops. Sure, he never played the game, but did Bryan Colangelo or his dad? (I actually don't know the answer, but for now let's go with no.) So we can throw that qualification out the window. Did Rob Babcock? You don't have to have played the game to be a good or decent GM.

But the real question here isn't would he be among the best. It's would he be the worst? It's doubtful. Could he be worse than Chris Wallace in Memphis, Mike Dunleavy in Los Angeles, or Babcock when he was in Toronto? Again, doubtful.

Are all former players who have risen to the ranks of GM better than those that haven't? Isiah Thomas, Dunleavy, Chris Mullin, Wally Walker, etc. answer that one for you.

In a Q&A with Star-Tribune writer Michael Rand, Simmons gives a number of great reasons why he's be an ideal candidate. He rails against the old boy's network that continually rehires basketball retreads who have failed elsewhere, he's thought long and hard about both the position and basketball in general (having just written a 700-page tome on the NBA), which I can't wait to read), and Minnesota fans would be rejuvenated by the gimmicky hiring.

He makes a compelling argument and I honestly can't think why a team – especially a sinkhole of a team – wouldn't take the chance. In a fascinating New Yorker piece, Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell just made the case that underdogs, be it in sports or war, needing to take different approaches in order to stand a chance at winning. If the T-Wolves aren't attracting the creme de la creme of GM candidates, they should roll the dice on someone whose outside-the-box thinking might give them an edge. What have they got to lose? Their fan base? Their credibility? You can't lose what you don't have.

The Case Against:
Simmons doesn't help his cause much, though. The NBA is an old-boy's network. This much he acknowledges. So why does he say things like this?:

RandBall: Which three current GMs would you immediately try to fleece in a trade if given an actual GM job, and why?

Bill Simmons: First, Chris Wallace. It’s like becoming a star actor or singer and having sex with Lindsay Lohan — you just have to do it so you can say you did it, and it’s so easy, why wouldn’t you do it? Second, Ernie Grunfeld. He’s panicking and that whole franchise is panicking, they are a dumb blockbuster trade waiting to happen. Third, and most obviously, Mike Dunleavy. You cannot go wrong making a trade with Mike Dunleavy. You just can’t. He’s the perfect storm of fleeceable — bad at his job, unaware of the salary cap, ignorant of character issues with players, desperate to keep his job. What’s better? It’s like being served a good trade platter. “I’ll be your maitre’d, Mike Dunleavy, can I offer you an Eric Gordon to start?”

I doubt Wallace, Dunleavy or Grunfeld would have much, if anything, to do with a fellow GM who denegrates them in public like that. And if they have friends around the league, they might conspire to shut out the outsider. That doesn't help the Wolves.

And then there's the issue of Simmons' Celtics lust. A GM, like a politician, should be clear not only of conflict of interest, but the appearance of conflict of interest. Even when being interviewed by a reporter in the city he hopes to represent, Simmons can't leave the Celts out of the discussion. On the subject of the Wolves' Al Jefferson (a former Celtic), he says:
It’s no secret, we’ve had a one-sided bromance for years now and he’s my single favorite non-Celtic.
Simmons also offers to work for free in the first year of a 3-year contract so long as he's permitted to write a book about Season 1. While such a book would be a must-read, from what I gather, being a GM is full-time work. Even more than full-time. At the first whiff of failure, the grumblings would be out there that he's more interested in collecting material for his book than in bettering his second-favourite team. Confidence would be shattered.

All that being said, I'm still hoping for it. He couldn't do any worse than Stu Jackson.


Speaking of Gladwell, that brings me to the next bit of required reading from the (Current) Sports Guy. The author of Blink, Tipping Point and Outliers is not just a egghead with a bad 'fro; he's an egghead with a bad 'fro who knows his sports. He and Simmons exchanged e-mails over the course of a few days and the results is interesting, thought-provoking and funny. It's in three parts so you'll have to navigate your own way past page one. Do it. It's worth it.

And if all that reading has gotten to you, check out Gladwell's own blog where he answers critics about his story on underdogs. And unlike most sites, the comments are worth reading, too.


I've got no scribblings from the (Old) Sports Guy today as we're on holidays and I don't have them with me. Just as well. I can't compete with what I've linked to, anyway.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pro ball returns

Professional basketball is back in Vancouver, baby! And by "professional", I mean just barely. And by "Vancouver", I mean, of course, Langley. But hey, let's not quibble. The Vancouver Titans are in business.

We are used to barely professional basketball here. We had the Grizzlies for five wonderful seasons, where they became the worst team in NBA history over a five-year period. And Langley is only a half-hour or an hour from various points in the city. A basketball junkie will gladly make the trek to escape the madness of the NHL playoffs.

I didn't quite know what to expect. About anything. I had never seen a minor league professional basketball game before. Who would possibly be there ever, let alone on a night when the local major league hockey team is in the playoffs? I was surprised. Pleasantly. I don't know the official count, but my guess is there were about 300 people there to cheer on the mighty Titans.

The facility they play in looks good from the outside. As soon as you enter, though, it's like you're in a backstage tunnel. In fact, on the way to the gym you pass the team's locker room. The door was open and you could see the players sitting around. Not something you'd see at an NBA game.

As for the play, it was entertaining. There were some great passes, bad defense, and missed layups aplenty. But I could watch elementary school basketball and be entertained if the teams are relatively evenly matched.

What I couldn't stand was the team's announcer. He was almost bad enough that I would consider never going to another game. I think they must have scouted him at the PNE. He had a ridiculous fake radio voice, cheerled during the game so you couldn't even talk to your friends sitting next to you, and had a cache of douchey stock phrases he'd pull out whether it had anything to do with the play or not.

Although there was comedy to be had. Every single time the Slam got the ball on offense in the high-octane fastbreak game, the announcer would scream into the microphone, "When I say D, you say Fence! D!" and then wait for the three people who were into it to shout back "Fence!" It actually made me cheer for a quick Bellingham basket. Nothing better than when he'd say, "When I say--" as the opponents would score on the break.

More good comedy came from reading the players profiles in the program...

STOP THE PRESSES! I just picked up the program again and took a gander. Get a load of this, which I didn't notice until this very second: The announcer, Jason Cook, "... got a job at Playland where he was able to continue his dream of announcing while working on the Music Express ride. He continues to work at Playland entering his 20th year." (italics mine, for obvious reasons) Seriously, that's exactly what he sounds like, as I mentioned above. Every word he uttered (and he uttered lots – way too stinking much for my tastes) was said in the exact same manner he'd shout, "Does anybody wanna go faster?!" at the PNE.

... Okay, enough about him. Back to the player profiles. Without a media presence, and this being my first game, it's hard to know who was who. And I couldn't remember all the names. It set up conversations like this: "Oh man, did you see that pass by the guy who specializes in drawing portraits? He set up the guy whose mom cooks delicious Nigerian food beautifully!" Or "I can't believe the guy whose favourite movie is The Godfather is on the team."

In the end, the Slam lived up to their name with not one, but two slam dunks in the game, handing the Titans their fourth straight loss after three straight wins. I'll go again. But next time I'm bringing earplugs.

I didn't interview any player at the game, but I'm betting they'd all be engaging, which is more than you can say for some NBA players. Reminds me of the time I had a bit of a run-in with one of the 50 greatest players of all-time (or so they say). This column was from the week of December 7-14, 1995:
The Sports Guy

by Guy MacPherson

There’s nothing quite so disillusioning as meeting a hero and finding out he or she’s a jerk. You then have to reassess your values and judgments. This, thankfully, has never happened to me. I don’t like most people and my heroes are either long-retired or long dead.

Another type of disillusionment, albeit of a lesser intensity, is when you meet somebody well-known whom you had previously disliked, and they turn out to be a peach. What do you do? Take for instance Michael Jordan. I’ve never liked him as a player. Don’t ask why. Can’t explain it. The only shoe salesman I like is Al Bundy.

It doesn’t make sense, but that’s the way I feel. The one time I ever had personal contact with him, however, he was kind and gracious is turning me down. I dind’t speak with His Baldness on his most recent trip to the Wetlands, as he was being mobbed by the adoring media every step he took. Who needs the trouble? But I did poke my head in the media scrum and noticed MJ sitting patiently, answering politely all the inane, unoriginal questions reporters love to ask.

Why couldn’t he just be a jerk to justify my dislike for him?

Thank God for Scottie Pippen. He was another player I never cared for. I don’t deny he’s a great player. I just sensed something about him that I didn’t like. Maybe it was because his teams were always beating my Lakers.

Scottie didn’t disappoint.

I have no self-doubts about my abilities to pick and choose heroes in this case. Scottie’s no little softie.

The last reporter left Pippen, while all the others were still hanging on every word at the stall next to his, where Jordan was repeating everything he has ever said on any stop in the NBA. I sidled up next to Pippen and settled in for my brush with grateness.

It started out fine. He seemed like an okay chap.

“I think we just played poor basketball,” he started out, explaining the surprising closeness of the Grizzlies-Bulls contest. “Not taking anything away from their team, but we just didn’t play up to our expectations.” Blah, blah, blah. He was in Bull Durham-style athlete auto-pilot.

Then he opened up a bit more, perhaps by mistake.

“I don’t see anything good about their team right now,” he said as my eyes popped out of their sockets. “I mean, they’re just a team that’s playing with a lot of pride and playing hard. You don’t want to call them a young team, but they’re a team that hasn’t had the opportunity to get together.” Yada, yada, yada.

Hang on there just one second, I thought. Was he really being as forthright as I thought he was? Maybe he could clear things up. You don’t often hear an athlete outside of professional wrestling and boxing put down an opponent, even if he thinks the opponent is hopeless.

“You don’t see anything good about the Grizzlies?” I asked incredulously, because you would have. This is when the mood of the interview changed slightly.

“I don’t see anything good? Are you telling me something?”

“You said earlier, ‘I don’t see anything good about the Grizzlies.’”

“I answered your question, man. Don’t try to put words in my mouth, all right?”

“That’s what you said, though.”

“I don’t foresee them being no playoff team, if that’s what you asked me.”

It was obvious at this point that I wasn’t going to be ghostwriting any book of his. But I had to get to the bottom of this.

“What kind of positives do you see for this team?” I continued, asking the same kind of tired, moronic question that my colleagues were asking of Jordan.

“They’re playing hard,” he answered. I mean, they’re struggling now to win a game, period.”

And with that, my audience with the Pip was over.

“Any more questions, man? You can leave, please,” he intoned.

“Listen here, you arrogant snot. Don’t blame me for remembering what you said. Next time think before you speak, if that’s not too difficult a process for you to handle. And I’ll leave when I’m good and ready to leave,” I shot back.

Only I didn’t use those exact words. What I actually said was, “I’m sorry sir,” and meekly walked away.

The timing, as it turned out, was perfect because no sooner had Pippen dismissed me than the brilliant coach Phil Jackson dismissed the rest of the media pack.

“Come on everyone, let’s go!” the pop-philosopher said. “They close down the border at 10:45.”

I was almost going to tell him that this was a free country, too, and we can come and go as we please. But I thought better of it.

This country isn’t big enough for Scottie and me. One of us had to leave. And it wasn’t going to be me.

Not again, anyway.