Friday, April 17, 2009

Le Rodman

There's so much to like about the upstart (Current) Sports Guy, Bill Simmons. Funny, smart, passionate. But damn, he can be frustrating to read sometimes if you grew up hating the Boston Celtics, as I did.

I get it. He's not a journalist; he's a columnist and needs a voice. But enough with the cheerleading already.

I absolutely love that he writes great, juicy long columns on the world's best sport, basketball, and the NBA. But sometimes he gets to me. Maybe it's because I never had a hometown team to cheer for that I can't relate to his unabashed glee at all things Boston. I used to bleed Laker blue during the Magic Johnson era. When Ralph Sampson hit that fluke shot at the buzzer to knock the Lakers out of the playoffs one year, not only did it knock the life out of Michael Cooper, who collapsed to the floor, it physically and psychically depressed me for at least two weeks. Then I grew up and didn't feel the need to stick with that team forever. I still loved them after all the good players retired. I cheered for Vlade Divac, Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jordan even when they weren't making the playoffs, like all true fans should. I can root for a loser no problem. Wally Cox is my idol.But when the Lakers got the smug Phil Jackson, former coach of the despica-Bulls, things started to sour. How could I cheer for that guy? He's a front-runner, padding his stats by only taking jobs with contenders. I'm not clear on the chronology, but I think Shaq came next. Come on. Really? Who likes a Goliath? What fun is there in cheering for the mack truck who mows everyone down and shoots everything from two feet and in? I'll answer for you: None.

The piece de resistance, though, was the acquisition of Dennis Rodman, formerly of the hated Piss-tons and then the aforementioned despica-Bulls, a human self-promotion machine who hustled like nobody's business but had almost zero basketball skill. That's it. I was outta there. I never looked back. Laker fan no more.

So I always wonder about guys like Simmons who will stick with one team no matter what. I don't know how he felt about Kevin Garnett before KG joined the Celtics, but Garnett was another guy I couldn't stand. Sure, he's a great player, but I always disliked his phoney intensity and scowl. Had it been Garnett joining my Lakers, I think I would have bailed on them, too.

But that's my problem. The question I have is this: Is there a player Simmons hates enough that he would stop cheering for his beloved C's if they acquired him? I don't think so. He's said some horrible things about Kobe Bryant over the years, but I'm guessing that if Mr. Bryant signed with Boston, Simmons would be his biggest fan. I just don't get that. (I know, I know, conjecture, but I'm pretty sure I'm right.)

So now "his" team has Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury. Yes, that Stephon Marbury, he of the tattooed, lightbulb-shaped head, hands-down one of the most selfish players in the game. You'd think it was Mark freakin' Price, a choir boy, judging from Simmons. Is there not a point where you go, "I can't root for this team anymore"? Or do you blindly just keep on keeping on because, well, that's just the way you've always done it?

I mention it being "his" team, with quotation marks, because Simmons does the absolute worst thing any fan can do, let alone a member of the fourth estate. He says "we" when discussing the Celtics. I've never understood that, either. Even when I was living and dying with every Laker victory and loss, I never once uttered "we" when referring to them. Check out Simmons' latest column on... surprise!... the Celtics:
Anyway, about four weeks ago, it became clear that we were headed for a Cavs-Lakers Finals unless Garnett came back.

Was one title (and a memorable season) worth giving up Al Jefferson, a few first-rounders and Ratliff's expiring deal that maybe could have been used to trump the Lakers for Pau Gasol? Yes. Yes it was. The goal is to win the title. We won a title. I would do it again.

This season, Garnett disappeared but Powe and Perkins stepped up, then Davis did the same when we lost Powe.
So anyway, where were we? Ah yes, Sideshow Dennis. I wrote about him once. After ripping apart Simmons, I feel silly offering it to you. But feel free to rip it apart, too. Whatever. It was about 15 years ago.
The Sports Guy
Sports Vue magazine

by Guy MacPherson

I love opinionated people. It matters not whether I agree with them. It is my humble opinion that Trevor Lautens of the Vancouver Sun is the best columnist in the country. He has a beautiful way of phrasing and writing that is seldom seen in daily papers (you have to go to weekly sports publications for prose as proficiently proffered). He also has an annoying propensity for pomposity, which is expected in a person of opinion. Unfortunately, his opinions are directly opposed to mine 99 percent of the time. But what can one do? The man writes like a charm.

The fun is in the argument. I’ve been called a devil’s advocate, among other things. Like Robert Frost, I never take my own side in a quarrel. I’m told it’s my French heritage (and you thought MacPherson and Frost were Anglo names).

We French love to argue. It’s never personal. It’s just a way of life. If the rest of the world believed Jerry Lewis to be a comedic genius and auteur, we French would call him un imbecile. See? That’s how it works. You don’t want us to do nuclear tests? Ha! We laugh in your collective visages. Greenpeace is altruistic, you say? We spit on them. A little bit of reverse psychology would do wonders to get the French in line.

Mais je suis digress. I was reading the other day about Dennis Rodman’s comments in a radio interview. He said his teammate, NBA MVP David Robinson can’t win a championship. He said he himself is among the three best power forwards in the game today, and should be paid thusly. He said he’s better than Derrick Coleman simply because he has won championships – neglecting to mention that he was on stacked Detroit Piston teams, while Coleman has played alongside such future Hall of Shamers Dwayne Schintzius, Benoit Benjamin and Chris Dudley.

My first reaction to anything Rodman says or does is to look down my snotty French nose (cold season, doncha know) and think, “This man has green hair at the best of times, pierced body parts I don’t even want to imagine, and tattoos as big as Hervé Villechaise. Il est tres amusant, mais un tres, tres freaky hombre.

Then the real Frenchman in me comes forward. "Hang on there just one second,” I’ll say to myself in perfect anglais so as to understand what I’m saying. “Everyone hates Dennis Rodman. You are not Everyman. You are French-man. Do your people proud. Don’t go along with the crowd. The crowd is what gave you The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Denny’s, and Kenny G. What do they know?”

I have a point, I tell myself reflexively. Rodman used to be detestable back when he was winning championships with the hated Pistons. It’s easy to loathe someone when they are on top (unless, of course, they’re your lover, in which case you shouldn’t loathe them at all. Take it from me. I’m French, remember?). Now he’s just an overall average player who, like Colonel Sanders, does one thing really well – rebound (the Colonel was one tough mother on the boards despite the greasy fingers).

Rodman is no threat now. He’s old and needs attention. We will excuse his quirkiness (only don’t ever call him Your Quirkiness to his face).

Rodman brings excitement to the land of dull locker room interviews. He speaks his mind, and that disturbs a lot of people. You don’t have to agree with him. Just appreciate him for what he is.

He’s opinionated. He’s arrogant. He’s different.

Sacre bleu! He must be one of us!

Vive le Rodman!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Sports Guy is back!

Well, not back in any sort of meaningful way. Allow me to explain.

Look, I'm not in any way implying that Bill Simmons, aka The Current Sports Guy, stole my handle. There's no way he could have. When I started
The Sports Guy in a little weekly paper in Vancouver back in 1993 and subsequently moved it to an embarrassing weekly rag called Sports Vue shortly thereafter, the internet was something only computer nerds, academics and Al Gore knew much about. Hell, 99.9 percent of newspaper readers in Vancouver didn't even know about my little sports humour column. So the odds that Simmons would have stumbled upon it are even less than the chance of him writing a column without mentioning Boston, the Celtics, or a shitty movie from his misspent youth.

Plus, let's face it, "The Sports Guy" is hardly an original moniker. I'm not claiming to have invented it. It was, in fact, my editor at
The West End Times – and former high school classmate – Ross McLaren who so brilliantly came up with the name. Brilliant, you see, because unlike Simmons, Guy is my name. The Sports Guy. Get it? See what he was doing? Sometimes it pays to have a generic name. Not that this is an example. I got paid the princely sum of 25 bucks per column.

You'd think with a generic name like Bill, he or his editors could have come up with something more fitting. The Sports Bill? Probably not. Bill Me Now! Meh. But something like that. It's not my problem.

I'm just saying I was, if not the first, certainly
before Simmons.

And let's get this out of the way lest anyone thinks I'm trying to say I was better. Not a chance. Simmons is hilarious and a must-read. I was okay. Better than some, I think, but that's about it. I haven't written about sports since the Vancouver Grizzlies skipped town, whenever that was. These days I cover comedy for various publications but mostly The Georgia Straight. In that respect, the Grizzlies were the perfect training ground. I mean, Bryant "Big Country" Reeves as your $65 million centre, replacing Benoit "Big Mouth" Benjamin? It doesn't get any better than that.

With this blog, I'll dig out the gold (the yellowing newsprint has a certain golden hue) from the vault and reprint it here for your dining and dancing pleasure. They haven't been seen since their original publication date and they're sure as hell not going to be anthologized anywhere else, so this is as good a place as any.

When I'm not running old... er, I mean "classic" columns, I'll write about any sports-related topic that comes to mind. That includes commenting on
The Current Sports Guy on occasion.

To start with, let's go back to the very first Sports Guy column. Sort of. They didn't give me much space at the
Times, so I expanded on the same subject years later when The Georgia Straight hired me to be one of a few pinch hitters for their sports columnist at the time, Kerry Banks, who was taking the summer off to write a book.

Here it is, where I lay out explicitly my strict definition of what constitutes a sport. From the summer of 1999:

by Guy MacPherson
The weekend of bogus sports is over and it’s on to the real thing. Goodbye, you funky-knickered golfers and alcohol- and cigarette-sponsored race-car drivers. It’s time for the real athletes to take over: baseball’s pennant race is in full swing, as are Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, who continute to swing for the fence every time up to bat; ice-hockey training camps open throughout the land (I qualify hockey with ice for those stubbornly holding onto hope that field hockey will ever make it into print); and it’s only weeks before the NBA starts bouncing back into our consciousness. Kinda makes the impending darkness of autumn easier to take.

The beauty of this time of year for Vancouver (motto: City of Losers) is that both the hockey and basketball teams are tied for first. The Canucks (motto: We Can’t Get Any Worse!), without the distractions of Pavel Bure and Mike Keenan, hope to rebound from a very forgettable season. The Grizzlies (motto: The Canucks Stole Our Motto) are going with a new look since general manager Stu Jackson learned that his title enables him to make trades. So it’s encouraging.

It always amazes me that the dailies are expected to criticize some professional organizations but treat others like family. Attach a corporate sponsorship to your event and you’re guaranteed puff pieces and your very own supplement. Don’t insult the golfers or they’ll get their knickers in a knot and stay away. Half the racers don’t even speak English or read our papers, so I don’t see why they get treated with kid gloves in the local press.

I realize there are those who will strongly disagree with my assessment of golf and car-racing as bogus sports. I’m willing to take the heat. Some of my closest friends are bogus-sports enthusiasts, so I’m used to it. In fact, I’ll anger a few more by lumping figure skating and virtually every other Olympic sport into that category. When ballroom dancing qualifies, you know there’s trouble. You want more? Just tune in to TSN at any time and flip a coin. Aerobics, darts, pro wrestling, fishing, bowling, on and on.

This is a topic near and dear to my heart, as I have been forced, through threat of nonpayment, to cover such events for various other “sports” sections and publications. Indeed my rants against what are considered sports by the masses have appeared elsewhere almost biennially for years. It may be getting old, but on the off chance you’re not a regular reader of the Hicksville Weekly Swill, I humbly offer the set of criteriums (that’s how we wrote it at the Swill) I came up with to separate the sporting wheat from the bogus chaff:

  1. The event must require athleticism. Key word: require
  2. It must induce sweat from the activity itself rather than external forces such as the sun, engines, adrenaline, or being grossly out of shape.
  3. It must provide a clear-cut winner.
  4. Participants should accomplish the feat with their own feet (hands... what have you).
At the very minimum, a real sport should include all these. Extra points go to sports with numbered jerseys. Baseball fails number 1.but still qualifies under the numbered-jersey clause. (Bogus sports, by the way, are not to be confused with make-work sports like roller hockey, indoor soccer, arena football, and beach volleyball, which adhere to the criteria but which under no circumstances should be taken seriously.)

By these criteria – and excellent set, I think you’ll agree – you’ll never need wonder again what’s what. Bowling? Not a sport. Korfball? Sport. Pétanque? Nope. Table tennis? Most definitely. Just follow the easy-to-use step-by-step guide. I’ll walk you through it.

Golf isn’t a sport because it fails numbers 1. and 2. Some golfers are athletic, but it is not a requirement of the game in order to excel at it. And, folks, please remember: I love golf. In fact, I recently placed sixth in a miniature-golf tournament. I even took home the Spirit Award, so don’t accuse me of being anti-golf. It’s a great game. Kick the Can is a great game, too, but it’s not a sport either (see point 1).

Racing enthusiasts disagree, but there’s no denying motor “sports” fail numbers 1, 2, and 4. They’ll tell you ad nauseam about the physical strains drivers go through, the muscular effort required to brace their heads against the phenomenal g-forces that can, literally, take their breath away. Yeah, whatever.

Figure skating, rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming, and the like fail number 3. These are subjective events. Granted, they require athleticism, but so does ballet. We go to the ballet (theoretically speaking, of course) for the beauty of it, not to declare a winner. I don’t think anyone is served by having Karen Kain competing against Victoria Bertram for the prima-ballerina belt. And these events are, admittedly, beautiful. Admire them for what they are: ballet on ice, hardwood, and underwater.

And don’t even get me started on curling.

To further prove my point – and I don’t believe for an instant I should have to by now – consider the following inane exchange:

Fan A: Do you like sports?

Fan B: Oh, yeah, baby!

Fan A: Yeah? What are you favourite sports?

Fan B: Figure skating and ballroom dancing are my favourites, but I also love horse racing, the luge, and interpretive dance.

Fan A: Hey, interpretive dance isn’t a sport!

Fan B: It isn’t? Why not?

Fan B: Hmm. Good point.

If we accept this dialogue (Plato, eat your heart out), my grandmother is the biggest sports fan on the planet.