Thursday, April 23, 2009

War and Peace in Round One

I wasn't going to post today, but I just finished reading... okay, skimming... the 5000-word story the (Current) Sports Guy, Bill Simmons, just wrote on the first round of the NBA playoffs.

Seriously. Five-thousand words. First round. Two games in, yet.

Yesterday, Simmons showed why he's the most popular sports writer of all time. His take on the mindless – and mandatory – sideline interviews with NBA head coaches during the game was fantastic. And funny. And needed to be said. Next I want him to take on the mindless and mandatory shilling of the NBA by the presumptively unbiased announcers on the NBA Cares program, wherein the millionaire humanitarians are ordered to come out from behind their tinted SUV windows and make an appearance in the community.

Then today he hits us with a shark-jumping column on why the Chicago Bulls (of the wildly impressive 41-41 regular season record)-Boston Celtics (who else?) series was "one for the ages."

Did I mention it was 5000 words? Here's what he should have written:

Oh, don't speak to me of the other teams. Perhaps I don't understand things, but they never have wished, and do not wish, for war. They are betraying us! The Celtics alone must save the NBA. Our gracious green team recognizes its high vocation and will be true to it. That is the one thing I have faith in! Our good and wonderful squad has to perform the noblest role on earth, and it is so virtuous and noble that God will not forsake them. etc. etc.

The defending champs, with a 62-20 record this season despite being without many of their aging prima donnas for many of those games, are not only a lock to win the series, but are one of the favourites to be the last team standing. Again. Why Simmons felt the need to tell us why this was the series to beat them all – and spend 5000 words doing so! – is beyond me. Well, not really. The Celtics are involved. If he was going to tackle this series, how about this angle: The fact that a pretty bad (albeit improving) Bulls squad took the first game in Boston and lost a squeaker in game two, spells doom for the once-mighty C's. Maybe not in this series, but down the road. Instead, he builds them up the opponents thusly:
They are slightly more talented than a depleted Boston team.
Uh, sure, Bill.
They will be positively frightening at home with their crowd behind them. (I see them winning Game 3 by 20-plus on Thursday night.)
For the record, the Bulls lost by 21 in game 3. (For the record, I thought this column was over-the-top ridiculous this afternoon when I read it, before the Celts hammered Chicago.)
This has a chance to be remembered as one of the most exciting first-round series ever played.
Ever? Really? Seriously?... No, didn't think so, either.
One thing separates him from other world-class rookies who preceded him on a big stage: As far as pure point guards go, he might be the best athlete we've ever seen. If you built the ideal point guard, like how you can create a player from scratch on "NBA Live," wouldn't you basically create Derrick Rose? Lord help us if he ever learns how to shoot 3-pointers. Regardless, after Games 1 and 2, the ceiling has been removed for Rose. I am prepared for anything over the next 12 years. Anything.
Derek Rose is a good rookie and he played a couple of really good games. But why the hype? Tonight his line was 9 points (on 4-of-14 shooting), 3 boards, 2 assists and 7 turnovers. They're reassembling that ceiling as I write.
All I know is this: Only a few current players can win two games per playoff series by themselves, and he's one of them. If the goal is to win the title and not just compete for one, then I want Ben Gordon on my team. It's as simple as that.
That's Ben Gordon. Yes, that Ben Gordon. There's Kobe, LeBron, Dwyane [sic] and, uh, Ben.
So, where is Rondo headed? I still believe a modified version of Magic's surreal 1981-82 season could be in play for Rondo down the road: Something like 16.7 ppg, 10.7 apg, 8.2 rpg, 2.5 spg and an All-Defense nod to boot.
That's Rajon Rondo. Yes, that Rajon Rondo. D'oh! I'm going to start calling him Homer Simmons. (If I watched it with any regularity, I'd be able to come up with a killer Simpsons reference.) It was either Homer or Leo Tolstoy. I mentioned it was 5000 words, right?

So he builds up his boys (frustrating as hell but understandable, I guess). But why build up the very mediocre Bulls? Simple. By doing so, he's either setting himself up for the big fall or – and this is the big reason – he is able to show what warriors his hometown heroes are.

Simmons also answered a question I had long wondered about. Finishing up a very funny section on why he hates everything about Joakim Noah, he adds parenthetically:
(Of course, if he played for the Celtics, I'd love him.)
I'll never understand that line of reasoning. It's like saying if some pop cultural movie character were to all of a sudden do something from another pop cultural movie... Okay, sorry. I can't do Simmons-like analogies.

He also got a shot in at NBA reffing, a subject near and dear to my heart. The guy can rant with the best of conspiracy theorists when it comes to horrid officiating. But it rings a little hollow when it never occurs to him how many breaks his storied team has received over the years, not the least of which was last season.

Okay, got that off my chest. Let's get away from that subject altogether. Here's a little semi-rant on the subject of cheap corporate sponsors. This one is from the week of May 18-25, 1995:

The Sports Guy
by Guy MacPherson

It always amazes me what people will do for anything remotely resembling a prize. Have you checked out a Vancouver Canadians game lately? Yikes. Some kind of contest or another goes on between almost every inning. And they’re not giving away cars, folks.

Let’s see now... There was the pitch contest after the top of the first. Throw a baseball through a hole and win a “beautiful door mirror.” I’m surprised every game isn’t a sell-out with prizes like that.

At the bottom of the first, a contestant had the opportunity to knock down a bowling pin to win two hours of free bowling. Somebody pinch me.

After one and a half innings, there was some kind of contest where the lucky winner picked up a Pepsi gift certificate. You should never look a gift certificate in the mouth, I suppose, but at this point I realized there was no thrill in watching others embarrass themselves for a bogus prize from some cheap corporate sponsor, so I didn’t pay full attention to the rest. I mean, Definition gave away better prizes.

I do remember, though, there was a T-ball contest, the Fox trot, where that hilarious C-FOX dog pretends to race a toddler, a horse race behind the left field wall with cardboard cut-out horse heads attached to long poles, and a game where a contestant is given the letters to Nat Bailey’s favourite restaurant and has to arrange them correctly in 30 seconds. The successful ones get a gift certificate to the White Spot. I’ll buy someone dinner at the White Spot if they get down on the field and arrange the letters to spell Spew It Hot.

Isn’t baseball worthy of watching without all the small-time hoopla? It’s as if they’re saying, “We realize the game is dull as dirt, but come on out to the ballpark for the excitement of watching fans stand on their heads for that magical chance of winning back the two dollars they spent to get in!”

It’s not just the Canadians, or baseball. Commercial radio is the worst – although we expect it from the high school dropouts who make up AM radio. Some wacky deejay tells us, in a deep, resonant voice, to pollute the city with signs declaring radio allegiance, and everyone gets out their crayons.

The newspapers aren’t innocent, either. The Province has turned a weakness into free help by way of their Head Games ’95 contest. They’re giving away Canuck playoff tickets to the reader who comes up with the best Canuck headline. Presumably, since it is the Province, the winner will have to use the annoying term ’Nucks.

Contestants will have a tough time outdoing the professionals at the daily tab, who scintillate us six days a week with such gems as “Blues Breakers”, “Schumacher Shines” “Medvedev Marvellous”, “Perez Power”, “Prep Prodigy Poised for Pros”, and “Kamloops Wants Cup Keepers.” Do I detect a trend? All this time you thought the Province writers were illiterate. In fact, they are alliterate.

I think a potential winning headline, then, might be something like “New-look ’Nucks Neutralize Nervous Nords 9-Nothing in Northern Knockout”. Feel free to use it.

The Vancouver Sun is also giving away tickets. The sophisticated paper is holding a limerick contest. I’d like to have been in on that meeting. I don’t know if I’m more amazed that someone came up with the idea, or that someone above them actually okayed it. With a team nickname like Canucks, I wonder just how many verses will be printable. And if any of the players will be from Nantucket.

I’m offering this one for anyone who cares to use it:

There once was a defenseman named Jyrke
Who too often played like a turkey

He coughed up the puck

That over-rated Canuck

But the announcers thought he was the greatest thing since beef jerky.

Oh, what the heck. I’m on a roll. Here’s one more:

There once was a goalie named Kay
Who never got in to play

He thought that he should

But he just wasn’t that good

So he would sit on the bench and pray... to be traded to a team that would play... him but he definitely wasn’t going to stay... and he wrote insightful columns in the Province for pay... although someone else wrote his headlines, no doubt a layman... entering a contest, but that’s okay.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Hooked on Sonics

The name Sarunas Marciulionis came up today. How, you ask? Trust me, old basketball fans love to throw out obscure names to make each other laugh. For example, I have an ongoing joke with a friend. Whenever I call his office and his receptionist asks who's calling, I'll answer with names like Kyle Macy, Paul Mokeski, or Terry Duerod. She tells him who it is, he immediately knows, plus he gets to come off like he's getting calls from all sorts of important people. It's a win-win.

You can't just throw any old name out there. There's an art to it. My cover would be blown if I identified myself as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird or Magic Johnson. But at the same time, the names can't be too run-of-the-mill. So no Steve Smith, Kevin Johnson or Jim Peterson.

Similarly, they can't be too obscure. Even diehard NBA fans would be hard-pressed to remember the likes of David Pope, Franklin Edwards and Keith Edmondson (I just looked 'em up otherwise I wouldn't have remembered, either).

And finally, they can't be too unique, nickname-y or ethnic, given the way I sound. I just couldn't convincingly pull off a Kiki Vandeweghe, Sly Williams or Sarunas Marciulionis. See how I bring things around?

Hearing that name again today reminded me of the time the Seattle SuperSonics played an exhibition team in Vancouver in 1994. This was pre-Grizzlies days, although, as you'll read, they were conceived by this time. The city was pregnant with excitement.

Re-reading the story today, I'm surprised at a few things:

1. I realize I wasn't exactly asking relevant questions, but would we hear these types of answers today? It seems unlikely. Maybe nobody is asking stupid questions anymore, but I find it hard to believe that players would be so open about controversial subjects. The players are so over-coached when it comes to dealing with the media these days that you hardly ever read any really juicy quotes.

2. I made a quip about potentially being smacked upside the head, but at no time did I feel threatened. Or even cheeky. But reading my questions today, I feel like that was some young smartass, the kind of person I'd look derisively at today if they were asking the same nonsense.

3. That was a small sample size, I admit, but were/are all NBA players conspiracy theorists? As hard as it is to imagine, I don't think I even linked all their comments together at the time. But looking at it now? O.J. Simpson, John F. Kennedy and UFOs? Krazy.

That was, incidentally, the first time I had ever heard of Roswell. Was Marciulionis ahead of his time or was I just not up on my UFO conspiracy theories? Who hasn't heard of it these days? No one, that's who.

So here's the column from the week of November 3-10, 1994:
An era has ended. Erica Ehm, the lovely and talented veejay, left MuchMusic at the end of October. I, for one, will miss her.

In her program, Between the Sheets, she asked rock stars about the books they were reading. She felt that if the youth of today learns that their heroes have interests outside of their idolatrized professions, and even read books on occasion, then maybe kids themselves could be persuaded to develop good reading habits. It was kind of a Hooked on Phonics for the acne set.

As a tribute to the Divine Miss Ehm, I thought I would carry on her tradition of discussing great literature with role models – in this case, members of the Seattle SuperSonics. I call it Hooked on Sonics.

To break the ice I try to get Sam Perkins and Kendall Gill to comment on the Grizzly logo.

PERKINS: I haven’t seen it.

Are you just being diplomatic?

PERKINS: I haven’t seen it, I’m sorry. What does it look like?

Well, it’s turquoise and there’s a bear on it. There’s some red and gold.

PERKINS: I can’t comment on it. I haven’t seen it.

Okay, then. What are you reading now?

PERKINS: I’m reading The Chamber.


PERKINS: Grisham... John Grisham?... The Chamber?... You never heard of it?


PERKINS: What?! You’ve never heard of it? See, it’s possible you never hear of something or see something, okay?

Are you giving me a hard time?

PERKINS: No, but you couldn’t believe I didn’t see the logo.

But you’re in the NBA. It’s your business.

PERKINS: It’s the first time I’ve been up here.

It didn’t make the news down there?

PERKINS: Hey, I ain’t been with the team. It’s my first game.

Oh, yeah, you were away. What was the problem?

PERKINS: Don’t you read the news? See? Okay, then.

Okay. What else are you reading?

PERKINS: Magazines. I read Essence, a black magazine. About black women. I’m trying to understand them as much as possible. The more I read the more confused I get. What else am I reading? Home Remedies.

What’s that?

PERKINS: What to do in case you have a headache or bee sting or various things.

Don’t you just run to the trainer when something goes wrong?

PERKINS: Well, you know, trainers always get you on medication or something like that, so it’s a good book to have.

A good, entertaining read. I’m waiting for the movie to come out.

PERKINS: Which one?

Home Remedies.

PERKINS: The movie? I ain’t heard about that one. Um, what other books? I read The Client... Oh, this book I read called And Deliver Us From Evil [Murder, Madness and Mayhem in the Lone Star State by Mike Cochran]. It’s a book on Dallas, Texas, all the happenings from John Kennedy to Reverend Walter Railey.

So do you believe in the conspiracy theory?

PERKINS: Oh yeah, definitely, that was a conspiracy, no question. But there are different events that happened in the state of Texas they still haven’t solved. Like Walter Railey. You never heard of him?


PERKINS: Dang, where you been? You’ve been up here too much.

You played in Dallas for a few seasons.

PERKINS: Yeah, it’s a Christian-like city but [there are] a lot of evil things, that’s why the book is called And Deliver Us From Evil. There are a lot of things that happen down there to be so Christian.

They’re hypocrites, is what you’re saying. All Texans are hypocrites.

PERKINS: No, they’re not all hypocrites. But they say one thing and do another.

Let’s all think about that one for a while. It’s an interesting distinction, to be sure. I move on to Kendall Gill but keep Perkins in the conversation.

Kendall, have you seen the Grizzly logo?

GILL: No, but I’ve seen the colours. They’re nice.

PERKINS: See?! See?!

What do you think about the name?

GILL: The name is nice.

Come on, speak your mind.

GILL: Grizzlies? I’m speaking my mind.

You really like it?

GILL: Yeah. What do you think it should be named?

I don’t know. I don’t have one. I can just sit back and criticize.

GILL: I know. You’re a reporter. It’s in your blood.

Are you reading anything right now?

GILL: Right now I think I’m going to go get, uh, what’s that girl’s name? O.J. Simpson’s wife?

PERKINS: Nicole.

GILL: Yeah, I think I might go get that book.

Do you think he did it?


But the book paints him as doing it, doesn’t it?

GILL: Yeah, but I mean the power’s in the paint. You know that, right? (laughs)

(To Perkins) You think O.J. did it?

PERKINS: I don’t think so. Do you?

I don’t know. It’s got to be proved. But why did he take off?

GILL: What would you do in that situation?

PERKINS: What would you do? Go straight to the cops and let 'em take you to jail?


PERKINS: You say ‘yeah’ now. And plus, he was black so what of it?

So what?

PERKINS: I guess if you’re white, I guess you’ll say, “Here I am.”

But he’s a superstar.

PERKINS: If he wasn’t a superstar the case would have been over. That ain’t got nothing to do with it.

GILL: So was Mike Tyson, so was Michael Jordan, so was Michael Jackson.


GILL: They were all superstars and look what happened.

What happened to Michael Jordan? Did I miss that one?

GILL: Yeah, you all ran him outta the game.

I decided to get out of that debate before I got smacked. Shawn Kemp, aka the Rain Man, says he’s just finished reading the latest issue of GQ, featuring his rival Charles Barkley. As for books, he is a horror fan whose favourite author is Stephen King.

But science fiction is no match for science fact. Or at least fact according to new Sonic, Sarunas Marciulionis:

What are you reading?

MARCIULIONIS: I’m very interested in all these UFO mysteries.

There are a lot of sightings in your country [Lithuania], aren’t there?

MARCIULIONIS: No, in the States much more.

Do you believe in UFOs?

MARCIULIONIS: Oh yeah, sure. You think there are just us in this whole space? You think there’s only we human beings?



Why haven’t they been better documented?

MARCIULIONIS: They’re filmed. The thing is, we have to prepare society for all this news. The government, they don’t really want to publicize everything, because people would think that we’re an experiment on this earth. Nobody would feel good about that. This is hypothesis and it’s almost proven.

Have you seen one?

MARCIULIONIS: Uh, not yet.

Aren’t a lot of sightings simply lights people can’t identify?

MARCIULIONIS: No lights. No, this is what some scientists want to tell you. You know, lights, shadows, planes. I’ve seen tapes and it was pretty impressive.

Is this a hobby of yours?

MARCIULIONIS: Yeah, kind of. I’ve been interested for the last 10 or 12 years. But in the former Soviet Union you weren’t allowed to think that way, so we didn’t have much information. People would stop working if they knew there was something more powerful, something stronger around.

What about the Bermuda Triangle?

MARCIULIONIS: There’s gotta be some connection with that stuff – magnetic anomalies in the former Soviet Union and the Triangle. It’s very interesting.

I leave the Sonic locker room secure in the knowledge that our children are in good hands with such well-read role models. Then Marciulionis catches up to me. He informs me that there are four aliens in a Roswell, New Mexico warehouse, having been captured in 1947. He tells me that you can learn more from such TV programs as Montel Williams.

Maybe it’s just as well Erica is no longer on the air. Such discussions can be disillusioning.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Dark Side

I took a single, tentative step to the dark side on the weekend.

A few months ago, I read a story by
Province sports scribe Howard Tsumura that the city needed basketball refs in the worst way (insert snide comment here). So what did I go and do? I sent the association an e-mail. Saturday was our first meeting. I went.

I've been a long-time ref-hater. But at the same time, I've always enjoyed reffing any time I've done it. So you can understand my trepidation. What the hell, though. I'm a walking contradiction anyway: I love jazz music; don't like jazz fans. I love comedy; not that big a laugher. I'm a proud Canadian; have zero interest in hockey.
Whether I follow through with joining the BCBOA or not remains to be seen. We'll see. I think it would be fun. I can take the abuse from people like me. We'll have that special bond. We'll hate me together.
Today's offering is from the week of March 16-23, 1995. The headline Sports Vue magazine gave it was, "The Big Hate – Refs or Coaches":
The Sports Guy, March 16-23, 1995

by Guy MacPherson

I don’t know who I hate more – coaches who spend the whole game complaining to referees, or the referees themselves.

I make my rational decision on who to cheer for based on style and personality. What can I say? I was raised by a kind and loving television set.

For instance, in hockey I don’t like players with missing front teeth. Nobody who looks more like a doofus than me should make more in a year than I do in a lifetime.

Football players who break into dance are not among my personal all-stars, either. And in basketball, I cheer for teams with the fewest shaved heads. I think bald men look ridiculous. Can you imagine going through life with no hair?

The team with the fewest of the above gets my gleeful support. Sometimes, though, an obnoxious coach can override my like for a particular team.

I sailed to Victoria a couple of weeks back for the finals of the men’s and women’s Canada West university basketball championships. My decision to cheer on the UVic women and the Alberta men was made easy by the sideline shenanigans of their rivals’ coaches. Misty Thomas, head coach of the UBC Thunderbirds, and Guy Vetrie of the UVic Vikes pay more attention to the officials than they do to their own teams. No call against their squads is just. According to them the refs are either incompetent or in a conspiracy to prevent them from reaching their goals.

Thomas whined to the media about the neutral officials after UBC’s loss in game one of the best-of-three. Referees, being human and the big thinkers they are, read the sports pages. There’s no saying her words had an effect on them, but the T-Birds won game two. Game three was won in overtime by UVic.

Coach Vetrie was constantly heckled by the three Alberta fans who made the trip. Each time a “bad” call was made, Vetrie marched onto the court, out of the coach’s box, to berate the offending official. When his two assistants joined him at mid-court for a discussion with the refs, the Golden Bear Supporters yelled, “It’s anarchy!” They were threatened with expulsion by a university employee for making too much noise.

Where’s the conspiracy? I thought I was at a tennis match.

Brett Westcott is another example. The Spectrum high school girls basketball coach not only berates officials, but is reportedly so negative that it has reduced some of his players to tears. This could be true. When I coached a grade eight boys team with him years ago, he reduced me to tears regularly.

This year he is not permitted to coach without a school administrator present.

I went to the AAA girls championship game expecting to heckle Westcott the way those Alberta fans so bravely took on Vetrie. But for that one game, anyway, I found nothing wrong with his style. Of course he complained about calls. I’m not saying coaches should remain stoic when an official makes a bad call. But he didn’t ride them all game; just when they deserved it.

And boy did they deserve it.

The reffing was pretty bad. One referee seemed to make all the calls. Or at least all the close calls. The only reason they were close is that they were called at all. He was consistent, though. He made atrocious calls both ways.

Referee supporters – and surprisingly there are many – will say you can’t take the human element out of the game. Referees are human – or so they say – and as humans will err. But unlike intelligent humans, the bad ones don’t seem to learn from their mistakes.

The problem is that you can’t learn from what you don’t admit. Too many referees, like too many players and coaches, believe they can do no wrong, and when they get called on their mistakes, take things way too personally. When a player or coach screams at a ref, the ref should grin and bear it to a point. You can’t let your ego get in the way of the game. Participants in a competitive arena should be allowed to vent their frustrations.

In my experience refereeing, I’ve had players scream at me and threaten me, but I let it pass. Eleven-year-old girls can get like that sometimes.

Reputations should play no part in the decision of a ref to hand out a technical foul to a coach or player. Each infraction should stand on its own. Westcott, whome the refs know is a live wire, was whistled for a T for innocuously motioning for a travelling call on a Salmon Arm Jewel instead of the personal foul that was called on his player.

Maybe Westcott felt the official had it out for him personally. But he got the last laugh as his fab five bested the number-one ranked Jewels of Denial in a great game. He could have been more gracious, granted, in victory instead of chasing the refs out the door while his team was celebrating on the court. But he’s probably trying to get a job coaching in university.

Paul Simon asks the musical question, “What is the point of this story?”

Don’t know. I’m sitting on the fence. But ultimately, I think I side with the coaches and players over the zebras. They are who we pay to see. Officials are there to make sure the best team wins and the rules are followed. They are a necessary evil. They, and the leagues for whom they work, should lighten up when coaches such as Sonics head man George Karl metaphorically suggests that a certain referee be shot.

Refs... you can’t live with ’em, but you can’t shoot ’em, either. But there’s a lot of room in between for argument.