Friday, May 1, 2009

Basketball and Bikes

A couple of posts ago, I took the (Current) Sports Guy to task for penning 5000 words on the first-round NBA playoff series between Chicago and Boston. He called it "one for the ages", saying it could go down in the annals of sports as one of the most exciting first-round series ever. He wrote that after two whole games. I mocked him after game three was a blowout.

Turns out he was right. The next three games have been unbelievably great. The best was last night, when da Bulls won in triple OT. No doubt after game 7 we'll be treated to 10,000 words of either how the refs screwed the Celtics or how this Celtics team is one of the gutsiest in history. Looking forward to it.

Don't believe me? He's heading that way. After game 5, he wrote 6289 words, many of them explaining why the hack-tastic Celtics point guard, Rajon Rondo, shouldn't have been punished for his cheap shot on Brad Miller. I'll let Simmons explain it:
So when Rondo walloped Miller across the face on that climactic drive Tuesday night, it was his single smartest play of his phenomenal first round. He had no chance of blocking the shot, and he had to hit Miller as hard as he could to prevent the and-one, so screw it ... SMACK! (He even admitted this after the game.) Since the motion technically looked like Rondo was swiping at the ball -- even though his hand wasn't within two feet of it -- the officials couldn't call a flagrant and that was that. If Bulls fans want to whine about it, fine, just remember that (A) Boston's best clutch guy (Ray Allen) fouled out on two of the worst calls of the playoffs, and (B) Ben Gordon stepped out of bounds right as he got fouled by Tony "Why Am I In The Game Again?" Allen for three game-tying free throws in the final 30 seconds. Sweeping incompetence will eventually even out over time.
You know you're dealing with a homer when he compares cheap shots with things like bogus fouls and stepping out of bounds. Let's imagine the Bull's best clutch guy, Ben Gordon, fouled out on two of the worst calls of the playoffs (oh wait, he did in game 6!) and Ray Allen stepped out of bounds (or more likely travelled) before hitting a big shot, and then Brad Miller clobbered Rajon Rondo in the face on a potentially game-winning or game-tying layup. Would Simmons justify it by saying he just evened up the incompetent officiating? Doubtful.

He later goes on to say that Rondo should be suspended for game 6 but won't be because the league has to keep the "illusion going that NBA referees don't suck!" He was right again. Then in game 6, Rondo throws an elbow. Will he be suspended for game 7, as he should be? And if so, will Simmons support it?

Then Simmons goes into full crazed homer mode with this:
On St. Patrick's Day, Doc Rivers and longtime nemesis Bill Kennedy got into such a staredown/screaming tiff that Doc was fined $25,000 and Kennedy was fined as well. Heading into Game 4, I was texting my Boston buddies, "The league needs this series to go seven, and they will screw us on the officials. You watch." One of your three officials? That's right ... Mr. Bill Kennedy. It was like seeing Ike and Tina get back together. I mean, why even go there? And that's before we mentioned the Boston Herald's report that two of the three members of Kennedy's Game 4 crew live in Chicago and greeted families after the game who were wearing Bulls gear. No, really.
"They will screw us on the officials." Even forgiving him the unforgivable personal pronoun in reference to a team he's not on, I don't think any Boston fan can ever blame the league for it being out to get them. The Celtics have probably received more breaks from refs than any team in the history of the game. The Lakers are a close second. Even if the league did "screw" them in game 4 because they wanted a game 7, you can rest assured, Billie, that the same league will come to your rescue in game 7. (There, I wanted to jinx them. If I put a prediction in print, it's almost certain to be wrong.)

And can you imagine? Bill Kennedy greeted families wearing Bulls gear! He should never be allowed to ref another Bulls game! Because we all know that if you know someone who likes a certain team, you have to like that team, too.

Okay, enough of that. The vintage Sports Guy I'm running today barely qualifies as a sports column at all. It's from the week of June 8-15, 1995:
The Sports Guy
by Guy MacPherson

I can’t walk past a rack of magazines without stopping to browse. There’s something about glossy paper that immobilizes me. Maybe it’s my fascination with shiny objects.

I need my magazine fix. Even when I lived overseas, I couldn’t go without my periodical fix of periodicals, shelling out the equivalent of 15 to 20 Canadian dollars per issue. I enjoy a wide variety of publications, such as Sports Illustrated, Inside Sports and Sport. Oh yes, I’m a regular renaissance man.

But I also spend my not-so-hard-earned cash on weightier journals, from AdBusters to Z, from Vanity Fair to FAIR, from Saturday Night to Spy, from Esquire to the Economist, from National Geographic to National Lampoon. Each has a lot to offer: good writing, thought-provoking articles, and varied topics.

Yet with all the magazines I’ve read over the years, there are still hundreds I’ve never even glanced at. Better Homes & Gardens, for instance. Or Popular Mechanics – an oxymoronic title, if you ask me. Did I miss that particular craze?

While a sports fan, I have no time for all the endless specialty monthlies. Did you know they have magazines for divers, sailors, golfers, runners, and car racers? And they come out on a regular basis! How many different ways are there to line up a putt?

On the heels of 'Ride Your Bike To Work' week, I decided to check out a specialty mag on the subject. Surprisingly there were a few to choose from. I picked Bicycling because not only is it “The World’s #1 Road & Mountain Bike Magazine,” but it’s cheaper than the others.

Presumably 'Ride Your Bike' week is there to remind us to quit using our cars so damned much. There is an us-versus-them mentality between cyclists and motorists, each claiming the others are road hogs (cars being the smellier of the hogs). Surprised, then, I was to see ten ads for automobiles sprinkled throughout Bicycling. Talk about sleeping with the enemy. That’s like the Catholic Times running ads for condoms.

Overall, though, I’d say the magazine is first-rate. Not that I’m going to buy it again, but there was enough enjoyment there for this non-avid cyclist to get his money’s worth. And I’m not just talking about the four-page spread on hubs.

In the June issue, there’s a fascinating story on an ultramarathon mountain bike racer who is a three-time winner of the Iditabike. You know you’re reading a specialty magazine when you come across a lede like this: “He’s the Ned Overend, the Juli Furtado, of his chosen discipline. But you’ve probably never heard of John Stamstad...” No, I haven’t. But if he’s anything like Ned Overend or Juli Furtado he must be pretty good.

In an article on Hammerhead’s disease (“your prostate and cycling – the start of a beautiful relationship”), it is stated that under certain conditions, cycling can cause prostatitis, an inflammation or irritation of the prostate, which, in a worst case scenario, can lead to impotence. One of the six guidelines given for eliminating prostatitis is “try rear suspension”. You make up your own joke. I’m not going to touch that one.

Funnily enough, this article follows one entitled "How To Stay Seated and Still Conquer Steep Climbs". Knowing what you know now, are you still in such a hurry to get to the top of that hill?

(Incidentally, I rode my bike to work for months until three weeks ago when, during 'Vandalize a Bike' week, my seat was stolen. I heard that’s even worse on the old prostate.)

There are other interesting tidbits throughout. In a feature called Tip Talk, readers contribute helpful cycling hints. This one comes from Spokane: “I store emergency money in the ends of my handlebar. It’s handy for snacks and emergencies, and won’t be discovered by dishonest people who pilfer seatbags.” Not until now, anyway.

And finally, there’s this bit of sage advice from the Swiss national cycling team coach: Rest as hard as you train. He says he and a team member went to Mexico for six weeks of altitude training, “and when we got back my boss ... looked at all the rest days and said we could have saved money by only staying four weeks. He didn’t understand the need for rest.”

I hear you, brother. My regressive boss thinks the same way. I put in a strong 27-hour work week. He doesn’t understand that the 13 hours I spend asleep at my desk is for the good of the company.

Maybe I should take up cycling.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hockey Fever vs the Swine Flu

Tough choice for me. One gives you the chills, nausea and makes people want to avoid you. The other is an international pandemic.


It's hockey playoff time and there's no worse country than Canada to be in if you're not a fan of the pucks. Every other car has numerous hockey flags waving from it, newscasts stop scare-mongering with the latest on the pig disease in order to bring you our local heroes skating around, and, worst of all, everyone assumes you care.

The other day, a mom at my son's preschool tried to engage me in the subject of the NHL playoffs. I told her I don't like hockey. In retrospect, I think that's a little harsh. It's not that I hate it; I'm indifferent to it. And because I don't have a rooting interest in any team, or the sport in general, I don't follow it or care one way or the other how things turn out.

I mentioned that I had to go downtown one night last week and, wanting to know whether parking would be more of an issue than normal, had to ask my wife if there was a game on. My wife said there wasn't.

There was.

That tells you something right there, that two citizens of this hockey-crazed town didn't even know if a playoff game was being held in their own town that night. The mom said to me, "You do realize the Canucks won the series 4-0, don't you?", figuring that I at least got the broad strokes if not the finer points.

I didn't.

With the internet now, I don't need to read the papers and sift through stuff I'm not interested in to get to what strikes my fancy. I don't have a day job where I have to go and interact with people on a daily basis, so I'm not privy to office buzz, and I listen to my iPod when driving rather than the radio. And friends know enough not to default to hockey talk around me lest they be greeted with blank stares. So how would I know these things?

In looking back at an old Sports Guy column I did in 1996, I see I wasn't always this way. But the writing was on the wall. I think my history as an all-purpose sports fan would be charted as a bell curve. And a skinny bell at that. It wasn't until I got a temp job as a sports reporter for the Province newspaper that I realized I didn't really care about any sport except for basketball, which I didn't get to cover. From then on, I didn't define myself as a sports fan.

This column, from May of 1996, was co-written by my friend Danny Mather, as I mention in the piece. Turns out I have become him:

The Sports Guy, May 9-15, 1996

Sports are all around us. You walk into a restaurant or bar and you’re inundated with a wall of TV sets keeping us up-to-date on all the latest games. It seems every other person pledges allegiance across their chest or on their cap to a favourite pro team. You would think one would have to be from Mars not to follow sports. And yet, inexplicably there are people, otherwise like you and me, who are loathe to the mere mention of the word.

These people have no interest in it and take great pride in their ignorance. They have to. It’s a defense mechanism. They’d get eaten alive otherwise.

Many of my best friends are Martians. Sure, it’s hard to talk to them once the topic of the weather has been exhausted. But we make do. They know not to call me during Sports Page and I know not to call them after 8:30 because these people have no lives. What’s the point of staying up if you absolutely, positively don’t have to find out who won the pre-season Lakers game?

But I can relate to them because I come from these people. My family is not what you would call a sports family. As an adolescent, my father worked at the public library. Nuff said. We may be one of the few groups of humans in Canada who didn’t watch one single second of the 1972 Canada-USSR hockey series. Didn’t even know it was on.

It wasn’t until 1979 when I underwent my metamorphosis into sports fan. No one, myself included, knows how it happened, but Kafka would have been proud. Consequently I am able to talk with total strangers about the equivalent of Paul Henderson’s game-winning goal. And furthermore I can’t think of a thing to say to my family.

Although lately with the increase in popularity of motor sports (he said oxymoronically) I’ve felt like my outcast Martian friends, feigning interest over the lamentable fact that Ford has overtaken that other car company (or was it the other way around?) in one of the major circuits.

In such situations one feels totally helpless. It’s like being dropped in the middle of a foreign country, the only difference being that talking slowly and loudly won’t help you. And there is no Sportsfan/Non-Sportsfan dictionary and phrase book to fall back on. Although, if you read further, maybe there should be.

I asked my friend Danny Mather, of Mars, to help me convey his angst to the sports-reading masses. The rest of the column is his:

“So how about those ’Nucks, eh?” the serviceman asked me as I unlocked the door for him.

“Sorry?” was my confused reply.

“The Canucks. You know, pretty lame, huh?” he again queried.

I didn’t know what to say. I’ve never paid attention to sports in my life, except for going to see Rocky III, and I have reason to believe that most of all that wasn’t real.

“I don’t watch hockey much,” I ventured lamely, not meeting his eyes (my peripheral vision is all I need to pick up someone’s disdainful glances).

I let him into the area he was working in and then headed to my desk to phone my friend Rocky (no relation to the famous actor guy), who has to be a sports fan the way he’s always yelling when he’s watching T.V.

“Rocky, I’ve got a problem. People keep trying to use sports to make small talk with me and I don’t know what to say back to them. This has been going on my whole life and that damned Raptors shirt that my brother got me for Christmas hasn’t helped one bit.”

Rocky laughed in that crazy sports fan/stalker way he has. “Easy as cake, pal. Just say the following: ‘As long as we got Hirsch.’ It’s only relevant to hockey, but you can still try it. Anybody who doesn’t understand it doesn’t matter anyway. And hey, can I have my Rocky III video back yet?”

I think it works. I haven’t actually tried it on anybody yet, except for a few test tries on people that know I don’t know diddly-squat about sports, but I’m pretty sure there were impressed anyway.

If you’re reading this column, you’re probably some kind of sports fan. If it happens to be you that walks in when I’m working and starts making small talk about sports, just humour me, okay? Don’t start asking me tough stuff, like what team he plays on or what position or what his first name is. Because then I’m just back at square one. Then we’ll have to talk about the weather, or politics, or about the latest plane crash/natural disaster that killed a whole lot of innocent people. And that depresses me.

The world is a nice place. A good place.

As long as we got Hirsch.