October 31, 2006

Shall We Begin?

A great wiseman (whose name is escaping me right now, largely because I’m not certain he actually exists) once said that life is a series of new beginnings.

And beginnings, as we all know, come in many sizes. From the surprising feeling of renewal that comes from a dapper new haircut or the procurement of a fresh new pair of kicks to the great, insurmountable high of stepping out of the doctor’s office after finally getting that vasectomy you’ve always dreamed of (umm…not that I’d know anything about that).

In the sports world, new beginnings don’t get much more exciting than tonight, when a new NBA season gets underway. Okay, admittedly the NBA, like a vasectomy operation, isn’t necessarily for everyone, but just know that at the same time as I scorn you for your accidental out of wedlock bastard child, I pity you for not being able to partake in the great joy that is watching NBA hoops.

So whether you’re with me or not, come along for a brief moment as I commemorate this great new beginning in 2006 with a list of 10 fearless, groundbreaking and undoubtedly largely incorrect predictions for the upcoming NBA campaign:

10) Lamar Odom will play a truly inspired season of hoops.

They’re words that at one point in time may have been unprintable, or at the very least unthinkable.

For years an underachiever with talent to match anyone else’s in the league, Odom now has a heartbreaking source of motivation: The death of his infant son Jayden over the summer.

And even before opening night, Odom has already provided a glimpse into his mindset. A few days after his son’s funeral, some of his friends asked him about lending them money, at which point he took out a sizable roll of bills and promptly set them all aflame.

I often joke about lighting my money on fire living in the cash-inhaling vortex that is New York City, but Odom’s gesture clearly gives new thought-provoking meaning to the phrase, and sends a clear signal that the Lakers’ forward will be playing with a purpose in 2006-07.

9) And a little further upstate, Baron Davis will have the best season of his career.

Okay, so I know that just about everyone on the planet is predicting this, which would make it pretty easy to contradict, but the fact is, this just feels right. Le Baron is by all accounts in great shape, still only 27 years old and will be playing for the man (Don Nelson) who not only recently re-popularized the rejuvenative powers of circumcision, but has also mentored some of the elite PG’s in NBA history (Tim Hardaway and Steve Nash included).

And of course all of the skeptics will point out that BDizzle has been about as healthy as a man suffering from amebic dysentery while living in a nuclear fallout zone the past several years, but please keep in mind that for each of the first three years of his career (when he was playing under Paul Silas, the last coach he says commanded his respect), Baron played in all 82 games. So has he been fragile or disinterested the past few years? Might be a moot point now. This year he’ll be neither.

8) Memphis will challenge for the League’s worst record at least through the New Year.

You know how I said a moment ago about Baron Davis that some things just feel right? Well, there are other things that just feel wrong, and counting on Stromile Swift is one of them.

For years now I’ve touted Stromile as a man ready to bust out and put up huge stats, but like the annoying friend you invite to a classy party only to have him drink too many cocktails and defecate on the leather sofa, Swift has made a cuckold of me time and again. And now the Grizzlies are counting on him to hold down the PF spot and do a respectable Pau Gasol imitation until Gasol – the only legit star on an aging roster – returns from a foot injury in January? Sorry, can’t see it happening.

Which is of course exactly why it most likely will happen. Stro always finds a way to dump on the proverbial sofa just to make me look bad.

7) The Knicks won’t be as bad as you think.

First off let me just say that this is based on the assumption that you think the Knicks are going to be absolutely and completely dreadful. And if that’s what you’re thinking, I’m here to tell you it won’t be the case.

The main reason? From what I can tell, Isiah Thomas doesn’t plan to run a rigorous offense as much as he intends to turn Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis loose and let them do whatever the hell they want. Which, as skeptical as this might make you, is exactly what this team needs. Larry Brown’s offense choked the life out of this squad last year, and with a little freedom – if they’re just allowed to play hoops without thinking about it so much – they’ll be significantly better. How much better? I think there’s a chance they could win 35 games.

(And yes, I do fully intend to choke on that number come mid-March.)

6) You’ll be sorry you hated on the Hawks.

One of the reasons you’ll be sorry is that I’m not going to shut up about them.

But hopefully that won’t be the primary reason. You heard it first right here: The Hawks are going to win 35 or more games this year, and more importantly (also more likely) they’ll become a nationwide League Pass favorite.

Why? Two words for you: J Smoove. Translation: Josh Smith, a.k.a. Atlanta’s answer to Andrei Kirilenko, with more offensive upside, a far more explosive repertoire of dunks and less nagging injury concerns. In fact, the only thing that Josh Smith doesn’t have that Kirilenko can claim (other than a pretty radical mohawk) is a deal with his hot Russian rock star wife allowing him to strap a jimmy hat on Little Andrei and make a night of it with a random woman one night per year.

Still skeptical? Consider these nuggets removed straight from the Hawks' 2006-07 Media Guide (which I do not have, nor have I ever read):

  • Fact: Josh Smith is one of the five most exciting players in the NBA.
  • Fact: Josh Smith will be a first-round pick in your fantasy draft next year.
  • Fact: Josh Smith has never raced a cheetah before but if he did he would most likely win.
  • Fact: You know how sometimes you hear about people who can dunk a tennis ball on an 11-foot goal or pull a quarter off the top of the backboard, or whatever people tell you to impress upon you how good someone’s leaping ability is? Well, Josh Smith can 360 windmill dunk a bowling ball and pull a shot of whiskey off the top of the backboard without spilling a single drop.
  • Fact: Josh Smith can not only block shots at an alarming rate, he can also block out your negative thoughts about the Hawks so that they don’t bother him.

5) This is the year Carmelo Anthony legitimately makes it a “Big Three.”

Have any of you kind of had the feeling all along that Carmelo has pretty clearly been a tad bit below his peers and recent SI covermates LeBron and D-Wade?

As good as Carmelo has been, haven’t LeBron and Wade deserved the accolades a little bit more if for no other reason than the fact that they’re just more complete all-around players? (Oh yes, and there’s also the small fact that Wade led Miami to the NBA title.)

Well, if you watched any of the World Championships this summer, there’s reason to think that Carmelo might be ready to finally legitimize his place in this ballyhooed hoops triumvirate. In Japan, Melo was playing not just like a man possessed, but like a man possessed by an army of relentless mind-altering gnomes whose only instruction was: Score at will.

Most impressive about Carmelo’s showing at the World Championships was his shooting from behind the 3-point arc, something he has yet to master in the NBA. And it might have had to do with the fact that the international 3-point line is closer, but regardless, there was something about the way he played overseas that makes you think a dominant, 30 ppg year is on the way.

4) Through a stunning series of confessions from his friends and associates, we will learn that although Sebastian Telfair was not involved in the shooting of the rapper Fabolous, he did play an integral role in the shootings of Biggie, 2Pac, President Lincoln, the dude Dick Cheney capped, Stringer Bell and may have fired the shots that hit Siegfried and Roy’s house.

Did that just blow your mind?

3) In one of the truly great stories of the season, Grant Hill will stay on his feet for more than 70 games and return to form by scoring 18+ ppg and legitimately schooling a bunch of young fellas along the way with a repertoire so smooth and textbook that it has no room for a 7-step travel move to the basket or a ridiculously illegal crossover.

Wow, I hope this one comes true.

(As a side note, have you noticed that the predictions themselves have started to become longer than the explanations? Not sure exactly what that means.)

2) Amare Stoudemire will have his nights where he dominates like it’s ’04-'05, but there will be far less of them than any of us would hope to see.

And this leads me to a question: What’s the deal with microfracture surgery? Seeing how difficult it’s been for guys like Kenyon Martin and Chris Webber or the now-retired Allan Houston and Jamal Mashburn to fully regain their athleticism, it’s hard not to wonder if there might be a better way. Sure, Jason Kidd still looks pretty good these days, but it’s tough to reconcile guys getting a procedure so risky unless it’s absolutely 100 percent necessary and their career will be over if they don’t do it. Especially for someone like Amare, who’s still a few weeks shy of his 24th birthday.

Granted, I’m no doctor – I wouldn’t know a cleft pallet from a severed limb if you threw me into a set of scrubs and put me in the midst of an operating room. But something about this procedure seems more self-destructive than recuperative.

(Please note the first-ever use of the word “recuperative” on this site.)

1) San Antonio will win the NBA title. Or Dallas will. Or it will be Miami.

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. And I say this in hopes of illustrating an idea – that if you really want to enjoy the NBA these days, watch the games for two reasons:

1) To cheer on your hometown team, but more importantly...
2) Do it for the spectacle of the whole thing.

The point is this: If you’re following the season just to keep up with the best teams once or twice a week and to see who ultimately prevails in the NBA Finals, you’re going to get bored. Because the fact is, some of the elite teams in the league (Detroit, San Antonio, Miami to name a few) are all capable of playing rather boring basketball at times.

But if you watch the games to see the individual players at work – guys like Josh Smith, Vince Carter, Gilbert Arenas, Steve Nash to even lesser-knowns like Shaun Livingston and Jameer Nelson – the fact is, there are some incredibly entertaining individual moments on a nightly basis.

And sure, that probably goes against all you’ve been brought up to believe as an old school, traditional sports fan – it’s first and foremost a team sport and you don’t care about these selfish guys and blah blah blah. Well, consider this a long overdue lobotomy for your dormant basketball brain. It’s time to wake up, quit depriving yourself based on stubborn, outdated principles and watch the NBA for the great spectacle that it is.

You see, new beginnings happen all the time. And tonight, everyone gets a clean slate. Here’s to the first day of the rest of your basketball life.

October 27, 2006

The 13 Million Dollar Crime

There are things in this world – injustices – that I and we cannot collectively stand for. And when we hear about them, the call must come down from on high to rise up and retaliate. Together we shall grab our bull horns or conch shells (or whatever makes an incredibly loud noise), sound the battle cry from the mountain top and yell out from on high:

This injustice will NOT stand!

Now rise up…and FIGHT!!!

Today friends, I heard of such a crime against humanity. And if you’ve seen today’s headlines, you might have noticed it too:

The Yankees are planning to pick up Gary Sheffield’s $13 million option for 2007.

And Sheffield is incensed. Said Gary:

“This will not work, this will not work at all. I don’t want to play first base a year for them. I will not do that.”

Sheff, we have your back! Down with the tyrannical Yankees and their oppressive monetary payments! Together we will make a stand!!!

Okay, all sarcasm aside, this has to rank as one of the most egregious examples of greediness in modern sports history, right up there with Latrell Sprewell’s infamous “I’ve got my family to feed” comment after receiving a contract offer for $21 million.

Seriously, how many times in sports history, or any history for that matter, have the words “This will not work” been used by an individual to describe a payment of 13 million dollars that he will receive? How does 13 million not work, especially if you’re 38 years old, exceedingly injury prone, and just kind of a surly dickhead in general? 13 million always works. It’s one of the four things we definitely know for sure about the universe:

1) The Earth is round;

2) There are other planets in our solar system;

3) When people break wind it is often smelly;

4) 13 million dollars is plenty of money.

So I don’t know what you’re trying to do, Gary (if that is your real name). But we the people of Earth cannot be bothered wasting our time with your crazed egomaniacal blatherings and delusions of persecution.

Frankly, we’re far too busy trying to see if we can find a more supportive baseball environment for Alex Rodriguez. Did you know that he still has 4 years left on his $252 million contract, which means that he could be stuck here in New York constantly hearing boos from these belligerent, heartless fans through 2010 at only $25 million per year? Now that’s a crime!

October 25, 2006

Wow, You Look Terrific. Were You Recently Circumcised?

Check out the following gem from an interview that took place on KNBR 680 AM in San Francisco Wednesday morning between the local radio hosts and Warriors’ head coach Don Nelson (thanks to The Bird for alerting us to this):

When the radio broadcasters asked Nelson how Troy Murphy looked with his broken nose and mentioned that it’s a shame Murphy’s nose is broken, Nellie responded (please note that the quote is not quite verbatim but very close):

“Are you kidding? He looks better now. He’s like the guy who walks into the locker room after getting a circumcision and everyone says, ‘You look ten years younger.’”

Wow. It doesn’t look like KNBR has put up the audio of this interview on its website yet, but rest assured I’ll be on the lookout for it. This quote of course begs a couple of questions:

1) Who actually gets a circumcision after, say, the age of zero?

2) And if such a practice does take place, is it commonplace among pro athletes, who then generally walk into the locker room stark naked, only to be told by teammates that they (the recently circumcised) look tremendous?

3) And since when has getting one’s foreskin lopped off become synonymous with finding the fountain of youth?

Words I never expected to write today: #1) Foreskin.

Thank You, Don Nelson.

My, What a Lovely Mallet You Have

Five random thoughts composed while wondering why we no longer pass around the conch shell to indicate whose turn it is to talk:

1) Perhaps you've heard the news by now: Sacramento Kings’ guard Mike Bibby is expected to miss the first two weeks of the regular season with a gruesome-sounding condition known as “mallet thumb.” Does anyone know what this means? Don’t know about all of you, but this inevitably makes me picture Bibby’s thumb swollen about 15 times its normal size and shaped like a giant hammer as though it were straight out of a Popeye cartoon. (Didn’t Popeye used to do stuff like that with his various limbs and appendages, or did I make that up?)

In any case, from its name alone, mallet thumb sounds like it could be quite an asset on the basketball court. You’d think one might really be able to pad his steal and block stats if wielding a sizable hammer-shaped thumb. And you could have great catch phrases for every time he swatted a ball into the stands like, “And Mallet Thumb strikes again!” or “It’s Hammer Time!” at which point M.C. Hammer would start blaring over the loudspeakers and all the fans (many of them wearing bright-colored, super baggy pants) would rise up out of their seats and do the Hammer Dance. And there would be great rejoicing.

2) A tell tale indication that this World Series truly has America riveted: Last night I returned home at about 9:45 p.m., flipped on ESPN and watched the World Series of Poker for a full 15 minutes before it somehow crossed my mind that a baseball game was on and I then (only out of some sense of obligation, mind you) switched the channel. And if I had to guess the only difference for many other people out there is that a lot of you didn’t even bother to flip to the baseball game. If you’re not a Cardinals or Tigers fan and you’re not so deeply offended by the Kenny Rogers incident so as to root against Detroit at all costs, I just don’t know how you can possibly care.

3) If there’s one thing that could make the subject of child pornography seem comical, it’s the image of Shaq taking part in a sheriff’s office raid on a suspected offender, the Big Fella strapped from head to toe in grenades, knives, kevlar and machine guns, flying through the living room window, doing a barrel roll and then popping up and yelling “FREEZE!”

And then having it be the wrong house.

(Of course we have no proof that Shaq really was wearing all that gear during the raid, but can you imagine him taking part in a raid suited up any other way? It's tough to see him half-assing it.)

4) From today’s NY Times feature on the Barber twins, Tiki and Ronde:

“The two were indistinguishable for much of their lives, and even at 31, they sometimes confuse even themselves…Even girlfriends looked to their earrings to tell them apart: a hoop for Tiki, a round stud for Ronde.”

So does this make anyone else wonder if, somewhere along the way, during a particularly mischievous time in their lives, Tiki and Ronde might have, you know…pulled the old switcheroo? Come on, admit it – it crossed your mind too.

Not so fast, though. Not only is Tiki 20 pounds heavier, but Ronde has five “mostly hidden” tattoos. So if Tiki ever had tried to pose as Ronde with his brother’s girlfriend (or vice versa), there likely would have been some problems.

And while we’re treading down this dark path, another question: What exactly is a “mostly hidden” tattoo? Is this a tattoo that is more often than not hidden when a person is clothed, such as a tat on the lower neck, shoulder blade or forearm? Or is this a tattoo that is mostly hidden all the time, even when a person is naked, such as a tattoo on the…Well, never mind. Wherever that was going, it wasn’t going to end well.

5) In the latest installment of “Comments from Coaches that Inadvertently Border on Homoerotic,” the Spurs’ Greg Popovich recently said of Tim Duncan when discussing the star big man’s off season conditioning: “His body is just beautiful.

I hate to be so immature about this (actually, no, I love it), but I just find it funny that so many coaches insist on saying things that beg to be taken out of context. To refresh your memory, in the past two months, we’ve had Joe Torre say of Angels’ infielder Howie Kendrick “He’s a very good-looking young man,” we’ve heard Rangers’ manager Buck Showalter say that outfielder Nelson Cruz has “a good face,” and we’ve had the privilege of listening to Vikings’ coach Brad Childress opine, “In a perfect world, that’s what you do; you lather a guy up.”

And I don’t doubt that Tim Duncan is in fabulous shape this year. Nor do I doubt that his body probably looks quite impressive. But nonetheless, there are very few things more comical or flabbergasting than when head coaches – often retired or sub-par athletes themselves who often deep down want more than anything to just be one of the guys – say things to the press that none of their players would ever dare say in the locker room for fear of being ostracized.

And what makes it even better is that when the coaches make these remarks, they're actually trying to pay a compliment to one of their players, but somehow they can't do it without making a remark that must make every player on the team laugh and cringe simultaneously. It's tragic, really. And now we know why Bill Shakespeare said, "Tragedy is comedy." Or whatever he said. You get the idea.

October 23, 2006

Weird, Wild Scuff: Thoughts on Kenny Rogers and His Dirty Baseball Tactics

About a year ago, after months and months of dodging the authorities at every devious turn, yours truly was apprehended by the local government and forced to serve a stint on jury duty.

In general I have no problem with this particular civic duty, but the timing of this jury stint was particularly rotten. Work was busy, my kids (who do not exist) were about to begin preschool…life was just altogether a handful, and the last thing I needed was to have my schedule thrown into even further disarray.

So I decided then and there that I was going to escape. Not the kind of escape in which I would leap up from the juror’s seat, throw a smoke pellet into the ground, fire a grappling hook into the ceiling and pulley myself up and away to safety (sorry, just recently re-watched Batman Begins).

No, this escape would be simpler and slightly more underhanded. While the prospective lawyers were asking us questions to size us up as unbiased jurors, I would showcase bias at every opportunity. Ignorance would ooze out of my pores like sweat from a hippo's back.

Or at least this was my intention. Once the process actually started, it was far more difficult than I thought to do anything other than answer the questions honestly. But I did have one signature “Wow, that guy is one close-minded bastard” moment, regarding a case where the defendant was accused of possessing with intention to sell a certain amount of crack cocaine.

When asked if I could be unbiased in such a case, I found myself standing up before the court and saying (not quite word for word but close), “I believe that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And it’s hard for me to look past that. In a case like this, I believe that if someone is being accused of selling crack, odds are that he did something wrong.”

Needless to say I wasn’t selected to serve on that case. But in some sort of cosmic (or local government) punishment I was eventually chosen to serve on a jury, and you’ll be glad to know that I very nearly pulled a Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men to try to get my fellow jurors to consider the defendant’s innocence. (Though as it happened, he was unbelievably guilty and there was really no denying it.)

Thinking about it since then, I can’t really believe that I stood up and said “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” in a court of law, because as someone who comes from a family of liberal-minded attorneys, it goes completely against what I’ve been taught to believe. And the fact is, normally I’m not a "Where there's smoke, there's fire" kind of guy, unless I’m desperately trying to get out of jury duty at all costs.

Or unless the topic of conversation is Kenny Rogers and the mysterious substance on his pitching hand.

Because this is one case where I’m ready to convict even if I don’t hear one more shred of evidence. Consider what we already know:

  • Here’s a pitcher who had a consistently good season, though not a dominant one, who is suddenly dominating to the point of being essentially unhittable at the most important time of the year. Is that a coincidence?
  • Don’t know about you, but multiple people I know (particularly some Tigers fans) were absolutely raving about how incredible Kenny Rogers’ curveball looked against the Yankees in the Division Series. Have you ever known people to talk about Kenny Rogers’ repertoire in that way before?
  • Of course, the most damning evidence is photographic. Rogers claims he had dirt on his hand, but if you look at these pictures, does that look anything like dirt to you? Absolutely not. I’d sooner believe that it’s aloe spouted from an extinct breed of space cactus only found on the dark side of Jupiter than to think it's dirt. What that stuff looks like to any reasonably trained baseball eye is pine tar.

So why is this such a big deal? Doesn’t baseball have a long history of cheating that has over the years almost become comical? Memories of Gaylord Perry frothing saliva on the ball like a rabid hedgehog or Joe Niekro’s famous manicure moment when he was caught with a nail file on the pitching mound are at least partially humorous to think about today.

But in the case of Kenny Rogers, there seems to be something downright sinister going on. And it’s not just the lingering bad memory of Rogers bludgeoning a cameraman into submission, it’s more that with the man pitching better than he ever has before at age 41 on baseball’s biggest stage, you already get a “This guy must have sold his soul to the devil” kind of vibe, even without the photographic evidence we’ve all now seen.

So in my mind, we can skip the jury trial on this one, Your Honor. He may have washed his hands, but at this precise moment Kenny Rogers reeks of guilt more than ever.

20-Second Timeout

A thousand apologies for the lack of a new post thus far, readers. It's been a hectic morning at OCC HQ as a pack of unruly badgers somehow made their way into the company swimming pool and we've had to spend the past several hours trying to fish them out.

I assure you that new material is coming later on today (Monday). In the meantime, if you're bored, go check out this site, which has nothing to do with sports, but frankly you've been focusing too much of your time on sports anyways.

More to come shortly. Thank you for your patience.

October 19, 2006

The Devil Walks Among Us, and His Name is Greg Anthony

Here’s what you have to love about the Knicks: The regular season has yet to start and the franchise is already producing entertainment at an extremely high level. And it’s not just limited to the broadcast booth, where Walt Frazier recently created what must have been an unpleasant conversation between Malik Rose and his new wife, but it has also extended (not surprisingly) to the sideline, where Isiah Thomas has begun throwing verbal daggers like that tiny kid/little man in Starsky and Hutch.

Isiah’s target? Former Knick and current ESPN analyst Greg Anthony, who ripped Isiah (rightfully so in most of our minds) for his then-preposterous selection of Renaldo Balkman with the #20 pick of this year’s draft. But now that Balkman has legitimately flashed some skills this preseason, Isiah has come out guns blazing, letting loose several unexpected remarks in his quest to smear Greg Anthony’s name. Consider some of Isiah’s comments to the press (excerpted from a recent SI.com article):

“I’m just glad that all of New York doesn’t think like Greg Anthony.”

This seems a little extreme – an indictment of the man’s entire thought process and viewpoint based on one statement. (And for the record, I’m pretty sure most of New York did think like Greg Anthony when that pick was first announced.)

“Greg Anthony should never be in a position to question myself on anything about basketball. I do remember the kind of player he was. I’ll leave it at that.”

Interesting. Now we’ve moved on into vague accusations alleging that Greg Anthony was a cheater or a dirty player who somehow lacked integrity, yet there’s really no proof to back it up.

“The things he said on draft night…I thought he was way way way out of bounds.”

One of the few instances in which Isiah is actually just simply stating an opinion. Can’t really call him out on this one, even if I do disagree with the statement.

“…for a guy who claims to have been a Knick, to treat the Knicks the way he treated us that night…I know a Piston would never do that. A Celtic would never do that. A Laker would never do that.”

This is great, because it’s where we really begin to see how Isiah is skewing the truth. Note the use of the phrase “claims to have been a Knick,” as if Greg Anthony, in some kind of delusional mind state, thinks he played for the Knicks when actually, in Isiah’s reality, he did not.

And from the absurd, Isiah seamlessly transitions to the personal. When reporters inquired about the team’s awful season last year, Isiah replied,

“We were all in a funk last year…Greg Anthony was in a funk.”

So, according to Isiah, Greg Anthony didn’t just make a comment about a draft pick, he legitimately had a bad year because he made that comment. And if you read into this quote a little closer, somehow Anthony’s bad year may have been connected to the Knicks’ struggles. In fact, if you want to reach a little further (which I do), you could infer that Anthony may have even been a cause of the Knicks struggles. Very serious stuff.

Then, asked by reporters about the prospect of Balkman guarding some of the league’s elite players, Isiah responded,

“Wait a minute, hold on now…you can run him out there but he’ll probably get stepped on a little bit…Unlike Greg Anthony, I do have respect for others.”

So now Isiah has made Greg Anthony’s disagreement with the pick synonymous with a great disrespect for his fellow humans.

Do you see what Isiah’s done here? He’s taken the smallest thing and through a series of comments has subtly levied some rather serious accusations at a man’s character. With a series of carefully-chosen words, he has made Greg Anthony out to be some kind of monster.

And with that in mind, I decided to take the logical next step, searching far and wide for the words that Isiah most likely would have said about his newfound arch-nemesis if he only could have thought of them himself:

There is an idea of a Greg Anthony; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real him: only an entity, something illusory. And though he can hide his cold gaze, and you can shake his hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense your lifestyles are probably comparable…he simply is not there.”

There is no Greg Anthony, Only Zool.

You think there’s a chance that he could be, I don’t know, an Al-Qaeda? Something like that?

Some folks call it a sling blade. Greg Anthony calls it a kaiser blade.

Do not touch the glass. Do not approach the glass. You pass him nothing but soft paper – no pencils, no pens. No paper clips or staples in his paper. Use the sliding food carrier only, no exceptions. If he attempts to pass you anything, do not accept it. Do you understand?”

All work and no play makes Greg Anthony a dull boy.

In a way, each of us has a Greg Anthony to face. For some, shyness might be their Greg Anthony. For others, a lack of education might be their Greg Anthony. For us, Greg Anthony is a big, dangerous man who wants to kill us. But as sure as my name is Isiah Thomas, the people of New York can conquer their own personal Greg Anthony, who also happens to be the actual Greg Anthony!”

Who is Greg Anthony? He is supposed to be Turkish. Some say his father was German. Nobody believed he was real. Nobody ever saw him or knew anybody that worked directly for him, but to hear Kobayashi tell it, anybody could have worked for Greg Anthony. You never knew. That was his power. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And poof. Just like that, he’s gone.”

October 17, 2006

Now That You're Married, Can You Introduce Walt Frazier to Your Lady Friends?

Overheard the following exchange between TV commentators Mike Breen and Walt "Clyde" Frazier during Tuesday night's Knicks-Celtics exhibition game:

Clyde [picking up an already running conversation on injuries]: "Same with Malik Rose, who's also been injured. He's an older player and that's really going to hurt him missing this valuable preseason action."

Breen: "He's got a hamstring problem and has been wearing the suit for the first three games. Malik Rose, who got married in September..."

Clyde: "I need to get his black book. I saw a couple of nice ladies with Malik."

Breen [realizing something needs to be said to smooth this over immediately, responds in his most earnest tone]: "We don't know if he has a black book." [He then adds suggestively, as if to say, Clyde you better agree with this]: "Course this was many years ago, I'm sure."

Clyde [taking the cue, not altogether convincingly]: "Yeah, when he was with the Spurs." [Then quickly and blatantly changing the subject, he continues]: "Malik also an entrepreneur. He has his restaurant down in San Antonio."

Breen: "Philly cheesesteaks…"

I'm sure Malik's wife was thrilled by this exchange. Poor bastard is going to have to spend the next week trying to explain to her that he doesn't really have a black book, and that the “nice ladies” must have just been autograph seekers and were not in any way, shape or form members of any still-existing harem of women pertaining to the entity that is Malik Rose.

In other news, did you hear about Clyde Frazier’s new book, The Game Within the Game? He was promoting it on air rather extensively. Apparently the original title was The Game Within the Game: How to Swiftly and Effectively Cause Domestic Strife During Live NBA Broadcasts, but the publishing company decided it was too unwieldy.

I Like You, But You're Crazy: The Life and Times of Gilbert Arenas

As a person blessed (or perhaps cursed) with the ability to spew free-flowing sports-related rants at regularly-timed intervals, it's rare that I find a subject so perplexing, flabbergasting and fascinating that it leaves me at once at a loss for words yet at the same time unable to stop discussing it.

Such is the case with the recent Esquire magazine piece on Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas. Like Arenas himself, the article is completely crazy and somewhat disjointed yet wildly entertaining. And since there's no way I can say something coherent about such an insane subject but can't resist discussing the madness I've witnessed, here are my scattershot observations on perhaps the most delightfully loopy man in all of sports:

1) At one point in the article, while Arenas is sharing some of his dreams and having their meanings analyzed, he says, "The other dream I've been having is my teeth falling out. But that just means someone is stabbing me in the back. So I know that one."

Come again, Gilbert? Personally I've never heard "that one" before. Have any of you? Why would dreaming that your teeth are falling out mean that someone's betraying you? Couldn't it just as easily mean that you're afraid you're suffering from gum disease or gingivitis? Part of me hopes that Arenas just definitively came to the conclusion that losing his teeth means betrayal, because that would just be such a completely creepy thing to decide. And part of me hopes he didn't come to that conclusion for the exact same reason.

2) On the subject of his late-night TV watching habits, Arenas says, "I'll watch infomercials. The last thing I bought was this colon cleanser. I just got talked into it. I'm like, Man, he makes it sound so good."

For some reason this made me think of that scene in L.A. Story where Sarah Jessica Parker's character talks Steve Martin into going to get an enema with her, and then I started thinking about Steve Martin and Gilbert Arenas going to get an enema together…and, it's probably best that I stop talking about this right now and just let the fact that Gilbert Arenas bought a colon cleanser speak for itself, which it is more than capable of doing.

3) Gilbert Arenas purchases excessive amounts of DVDs that he probably will never watch, for no apparent reason other than the fact that he likes buying them.

This is okay for him because he's filthy rich, but can someone please explain why some of us who don't share his stellar financial portfolio engage in the same ridiculous practice?

4) In what is one of the most bizarre exchanges in the entire article (you really have to read it to understand, or not understand as it were), Washington's point guard explains to his interviewer that he has trained himself to sleep on the couch, because, "I don't like women all up on me, touching me. So I get up and go."

He then proceeds to explain how he tells the women to "Stay there" and "Wait for me behind that door," when it's not clear at all what door he's talking about or what in the frozen tundra of hell he means by any of this. He then adds, "I discovered that women don't like that much."

Which part don't they like – when you get up out of bed because you don't like them touching you or when you tell them to go stand behind some mythical door that apparently doesn't exist? Perhaps we should just move on.

5) A little later in the article Arenas goes Lloyd Christmas and totally redeems himself by confessing that he loves to wrestle (or “wrastle,” as Arenas puts it) with teammate Awvee Storey. And wrastling – at least when Arenas and Storey are involved – includes biting, stomach punching, and one instance in which Storey pinched Arenas’ nose until it was bruised purple and called him "Rudolph." Methinks this would be a rather entertaining video to watch if such a video existed.

And while we're on the subject, let me remind you of a little "storey" about Awvee: He was the guy whom Arenas was defending several months ago when he got in trouble with Johnny Law for disobeying police officers. If you'll recall, the incident apparently originated because Storey was blocking traffic. Wouldn’t it be great if traffic was actually stalled because the two of them were wrastling in the middle of the street?

6) Another episode in this long dissertation on Arenas includes a video game confrontation in which Arenas is playing against one of his friends in NBA 2K6 and is attempting to beat said friend by 200 points. And he ends up winning by 199 when his friend hits a buzzer beater. Which makes me think that either Arenas is one of the great unheralded video game players of our generation…or his friend just really sucks. In any case, 199 points is a lot to win by.

7) You know how it’s really en vogue these days for athletes to hire personal trainers and eat really boring meals about three times a day, not limited to what always seems to be steamed vegetables and grilled fish for dinner? Well, our friend Gilbert is decidedly not on board with this trend. He may have one of the best motors of any pro athlete, but it has nothing to do with his diet. On the road, he says he only eats burgers, and he once ate 12 in one day from a place in Canada he really likes, which is kind of like winning a game of NBA 2K6 by 199 points, except worse for your health.

8) You may have already heard about this particular tidbit because it seems to be more well-traveled than some of these other pieces of information, but as soon as Arenas gets a new phone, he proceeds to call it from a land line and leave meaningless little messages like “It’s me,” and “This is Gilbert” to fill up his voicemail so that no one can leave him messages on the phone. Which is actually a pretty wise way to go about business if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t want people to be able to reach you.

9) Arenas is in possession of a list of the 30 players in the 2001 NBA Draft who were selected ahead of him. When he finds out one of them is no longer in the league, he crosses said player off the list. The example used in the Esquire article: “I got to get the pencil out. Utah. Raul Lopez? Ain’t seen him much lately.”

Of course thinking of Arenas crossing people off a list immediately calls to mind the scene in Billy Madison in which the psychotic Steve Buscemi character crosses Billy off his list of “People to Kill” after Billy places an apologetic phone call, at which point Buscemi’s character proceeds to smear lipstick all over his face. This of course made me think of Gilbert Arenas putting on lipstick…and maybe we should just move on.

10) At the close of the Esquire article, Arenas reveals an idea he had for a shoe commercial. Since I can’t possibly do it justice by paraphrasing, I’m going to include that idea in its entirety as it appears in the magazine (in Arenas’ words):

You know how I always throw my jersey into the stands after a game? In Washington, they just go crazy for it. So in this commercial, that's what I'm gonna do with my shoes. I've just hit a game winner, and I throw these shoes. Everyone starts to react, and you see everything in slow motion. Everyone's pushing, shoving, doing whatever it takes to try to get to these shoes. People from the 400 level, they're jumping off the ledge, they're missing the pile, hitting nothing but chairs, and you can just see in people's faces like, Ooooh, that hurt. While all this stuff's going on, one of the shoes pops out of the crowd, and a little girl gets it and she takes off. A couple of people see she has it, and they start chasing her, and she's looking back running—and then she gets clotheslined by a kid in a wheelchair. So he picks the shoe up and says—he's gonna have the only line in there—"They said I couldn't get it. Heh. Impossible is nothing." And then he rolls off.

Remember how at the beginning of this recap I said I didn’t think there was any way I could comment on this subject coherently? Well, in the process of writing this, I came to one clear, coherent thought: Gilbert Arenas just might be the most fascinating character in all of pro sports.

October 16, 2006

A Brief Note on Brawling Etiquette

Safe to say that by now we’ve all most likely seen footage of Saturday night’s throwdown between University of Miami and FIU. And here the term “throwdown” is not used lightly – this was no half-hearted, "let’s shove each other around for a few minutes to prove that we’re tough" skirmish. These two teams got after it.

And usually, that’s a good thing. Nothing quite like a hearty round of fisticuffs to liven up a sporting event (assuming of course that no one ends up severely injured, dismembered, or gets a trident thrown into his chest by an confused, overzealous and perhaps mentally retarded weatherman).

But on Saturday night, the respective brawling factions clearly crossed a couple of lines, and the specific infractions needs to be addressed here and now so that we’re all on the same page for the next time a group of athletes decides to entertain us with a large-scale melee.

Infraction #1 – The Helmet Swing: In case you missed it, at one point during the fight Miami safety Anthony Reddick came running into a pile of brawling individuals and, as though he were a butcher attempting to cleave a particularly chewy slab of rump steak, swung his helmet down to strike an unsuspecting FIU player.

Pretty gruesome moment, right? Well, not exactly.

You know the old routine where one sports commentator says, “On paper these two teams were pretty evenly matched,” and then the other guy says, “Well that’s why they don’t play the games on paper!” and then looks really quite pleased with himself?

Well, on paper Reddick’s helmet swing sounds pretty awful, and on some level it clearly was. But when I first saw the video, it was hard to stifle a laugh, and I know the other people in the room with me at the time shared the same impulse. (I know this because most of them immediately started cackling out loud.)

And I think the reason behind our amusement was primarily because it was so blatantly a questionable move on Reddick’s part. This was as cheap of a cheap shot as you can possibly take. Not only did he swing at a man who wasn’t looking at him, but he escalated the rules of the fight by adding in a new piece of equipment/weaponry that no one else was using. I already alluded to the scene in Anchorman where Brick Tamland is suddenly and without warning chucking a trident at another individual in the fight, and though Reddick wasn’t hoisting up a four-pronged death spear normally used by Lucifer himself, he pretty much crossed all lines by taking off his helmet and opting to use it as a bludgeon.

So why was this funny again?

Two reasons:

1) It was one of those cheap shots that just looked lame. You know how some cheap shots make you cringe and others make you feel strangely sorry for the pathetic bastard who attempted it? This falls into the latter category. It was a lame, desperate move by a guy who clearly wanted to get involved in the fight but before having that ingenious idea couldn’t figure out how to do so.

2) The moment after he swung the helmet, Reddick immediately popped up off the pile and assumed a defensive stance, helmet still in hand. He was either thinking, “Okay, who else can I crack with this helmet,” or perhaps more likely he knew that after such an incredibly uncalled for maneuver he’d better watch his ass because someone was going to take him down.

Infraction #2 – Stomping: Okay, so if there was anything remotely amusing about the helmet swing, even if it is just a product of my disturbed sense of humor, it goes without saying that there was absolutely nothing even remotely comical about seeing multiple players getting stomped while on the ground, including some instances where it appeared that one player was getting stomped on by multiple people at the same time.

This is where it turns from, Hey, this is great, these two teams are really knocking the piss out of each other to Oh my God I think they’re actually trying to kill people. There’s a clear-cut moment where this fight goes from edgy to scary, and it’s precisely when you can see that people are getting stomped.

My take on it is this: Things happen in the heat of a fight. Adrenaline, fear and desperation make you do stupid things. You scratch, you spit, you claw, slap, sometimes even take off something you’re wearing (such as a helmet) and start clubbing people with it.

But there’s something about stomping on another person on the ground that’s disturbingly premeditated if not downright evil. It’s sick and flat-out 100 percent wrong, and just like I can’t believe Albert Haynesworth of the Titans didn’t get suspended for the full season for stomping on Andre Gurode of the Cowboys, I can almost guarantee that anyone who stomped on someone else during the Miami-FIU fight will not get an appropriately harsh punishment.

A couple other thoughts to add before I start to sound like an attorney, at which point I shall have to request that one of you club me about the dome with a replica helmet purchased from the University of Miami gift shop:

  • It’s pretty amusing at the very start of the fight, right when things are really starting to escalate, to see the referees from all over the field start to throw their penalty flags. How well-trained are these guys? I mean, here’s a full-on fight breaking out and all these guys can think is (cue nerdy voice): “Umm…wait a second…that’s an infraction! You’ll be penalized for that! I’m throwing my flag!” Are they cyborgs? I understand that it’s their job to throw the flag when they see something wrong, but the sight of several of them chucking their flags at once highlights the absurdity of the whole situation and primarily the fact that they have no idea what to do in such a circumstance other than throw their yellow ribbons like pre-programmed drones.
  • I know I’ve already mentioned the famous brawl scene in Anchorman twice now, but did anyone else see the clear-cut underdog FIU players mixing it up with the bigger, stronger Miami players, wonder how they got the inspiration to do so and think of the Tim Robbins character’s memorable rallying cry before the Anchorman brawl: “Not so fast, you ingrates. Public News Team is taking a break from its pledge drive to kick some ass. No commercials, no mercy!”
By the way, if you have any objections whatsoever to anything I’ve said in this post, I will fight you.

October 13, 2006

Keep Your Eyes on the Ball

There are things that feel awful in sports -- blowing a wide-open lay-up, popping up a pitch you should have crushed, dropping a slant pass that would have gone for a clear TD, when you're slidin' into home and your pants are filled with foam... -- but this very well might be the worst feeling of them all: Completely 100 percent whiffing on a back pass from a defender for an own goal.

This was British goalkeeper Paul Robinson Wednesday night in a qualifying match for the 2008 European Championships against Croatia, and people are not happy with him. Though it should be noted that England was trailing 1-0 at the time and ended up losing 2-0, so it's not like this was really the difference in the game. Nonetheless, there have been some pretty harsh headlines in the British media. Consider:

England killed off by Robinson's howler

Shambolic England pay the price

Soccer-Media poor scorn on England while Croatia crow

Come to think of it, what the hell does all of this mean? Shambolic? I've never heard of such a word (though I did go ahead and look it up). And what exactly is a "howler"? I know that a "growler" is a big smelly dump, but the term howler I'm not familiar with, and it's appeared in multiple headlines. Is it a term used to describe a giant figurative doodie laid on the soccer pitch? Sometimes our friends across the ocean write very strange things.

A couple other things to note:

  • First off, a big thanks to reader Bakley for passing along this video, and for having the incredible soccer wisdom and tech savvy to track down a version of the video with Chinese announcers. Not sure exactly what good it does to watch the thing with Chinese announcers, but they clearly have no idea what is going on when the incident first happens. Almost dead silence on the airwaves.
  • Look closely around the edge of the field during the multiple replays (particularly on the English language version). Notice anything? JAGSHEMASH! That's right, we have an electronic Borat banner scrolling around the edge of the field. Which tells us one thing definitively: This qualifying match most certainly did not take place in Kazakhstan (in case you haven't heard, their government isn't too fond of Borat). I like you, do you like me?

October 12, 2006

Fight and Flight

Early yesterday evening I was riding the subway downtown when I ran into a friend of mine. He was on his way back from Shea Stadium, the Mets game already having been called due to weather.

After a minute of talking about his disappointment about the rainout, I cut in and said, “Hey, did you hear about Cory Lidle?”

Indeed, he had already heard the day’s bizarre news: Yankees’ right hander Cory Lidle had been aboard the small plane that crashed into an apartment building on East 72nd Street in Manhattan yesterday.

We talked for a minute about just how spooky the whole thing was – a Major League pitcher crashing a tiny jet on the Upper East Side. And then, a second later, my friend said, “Did you know that people are already making jokes about this?”

“Are you serious?” I asked.

And apparently he was, because right on cue, a guy sitting across the train who had overheard our conversation blurted out, “I heard that Lidle thought he was crashing his plane into A-Rod’s apartment.” (Another variation of this joke that’s been going around: Too bad A-Rod wasn’t on the plane or it wouldn’t have hit anything.)

Later, when I was thinking about what this stranger had said, my first impulse was to call him out as a tasteless, classless bastard. There are things you just don’t do for a laugh, and one of them is to make cheap jokes about a dead person within mere hours of his death.

But then I got to thinking about it some more, and I realized that there was a reason people were making jokes: Because like me, they have no idea what to make of Cory Lidle’s demise.

As far as sports-related deaths go, few I can recall have been more eerie or hard to comprehend. Sure there was the strange disappearance of Bison Dele several years back, and there are others I’m probably forgetting, but Lidle’s death has been flat-out bone chilling from the moment it was first reported yesterday, from the fact that it inevitably and unfortunately calls to mind 9/11 to the unanswered question of what exactly caused Lidle’s plane to hit that building.

After we stopped talking about the Lidle jokes on the subway yesterday, I said to my friend that the whole thing made me wonder what had really happened. I had been thinking about the fact that the Yankees had just lost in the first round, and how Lidle, demoted to the bullpen, had been rocked in his one playoff appearance…

And it crossed my mind that maybe Cory Lidle had committed suicide.

My friend thought I was crazy when I told him this theory, and maybe you’ll agree that I’m way off, but I’m clearly not the only one who’s at least had the thought. And how can you not wonder? Do planes really crash into buildings in the heart of Manhattan by accident?

As one reader told me today, when Lidle was interviewed on Mike and the Mad Dog just three days ago after the Yankees’ loss, he sounded like a truly broken man. (That interview has apparently been removed from WFAN’s online archives.) So isn’t it possible that this broken man made a successful attempt on his life?

Ultimately, I guess it doesn’t really matter. Cory Lidle died yesterday under mind-boggingly strange and surreal circumstances. What more can you say? Quite honestly, this is all I can think of:

Cory Lidle – previously an above average journeyman pitcher – became a national story in just about the most disturbing way imaginable yesterday. And if people are joking about it, or theorizing about what might have happened as I did moments ago, it’s only because collectively, we don’t know what the hell else to say.


In what must be proof that this Cory Lidle thing has thrown me for somewhat of a logic-altering loop, I have to admit for the briefest of moments today I found myself empathizing with gun-toting Indiana Pacer Stephen Jackson. Think about it: As a pro athlete who has an (admittedly deserved) reputation as a hothead, Jackson can’t go out on the town and have a good time without someone trying to start a brawl with him. That would suck, right?

But then I thought about it some more and realized that I’m a complete idiot. The fact is, Stephen Jackson can’t go out on the town and have a good time without someone trying to start a brawl with him because he’s the kind of guy who simply can’t avoid getting into brawls.

I mean, for all that Ron Artest was vilified after the infamous melee at Auburn Hills, wasn’t Stephen Jackson clearly the scariest guy involved in the whole fight? Artest and Jermaine O’Neal were both, to some extent, provoked, but it sure looked like Jackson lunged into the stands to take swings at fans because it seemed like a good opportunity to beat up a couple civilians.

And did you know that in this most recent incident outside the strip club on October 6th, it’s been alleged that Jackson kicked a dude who has a deformed arm? Who does that? (Okay, I’ll admit, for all I know the guy with the deformed arm was some kind of bad-ass street fighter whom, if not kicked, might have used his weathered arm to bludgeon S-Jax into submission, but when I read about Stephen Jackson kicking a guy with a deformed arm I absolutely could not avoid mentioning it.)

All tasteless comments about malformed limbs aside, has it ever occurred to anyone else that Stephen Jackson might be the worst guy in all of pro sports who rarely gets accused of being the worst guy in all of pro sports? For all the talk of Terrell Owens being such a bad guy, what’s he really done other than be a giant asshole to his teammates? He’s not out firing off his gatt outside a strip club, slugging fans in the stands at Auburn Hills or going Kung Fu style on a cripple.

There are jerks, and then there are people who should probably be heavily medicated and regularly receiving therapy instead of heavily intoxicated and regularly toting glocks. Nine out of 10 pro athletes, if I saw them on the street, I'd stop to point and gawk. If I saw Stephen Jackson, I'm pretty sure I'd run away. Dude is like Omar from The Wire. You just don't want to be around when he's coming through.

Is Stephen Jackson currently the most unsavory character in all of pro sports?

Or here's a better question: Can you think of anyone worse?

October 10, 2006

Tucker: A Man at a Party

At the outset of each of the past several weeks, it’s been a ritual to talk football on this site, but this week, circumstances have dictated that we flip the script. Frankly, Week 5 of the NFL season wasn’t all that compelling, and at the same time there’s too much going on in the world of baseball to possibly be able to turn away and ignore it.

And it’s not just that the League Championship series are about to begin, or all of the speculation that Joe Torre could be out as Yankees manager after another first round playoff exit, or even the revelation that a certain Atlanta Brave got his offseason off to a strong start by throwing back a drink with our friends at whynatte.com.

All of that merits discussion, but being that this was Columbus Day weekend, it only seems fitting that we make it our first priority to discuss the Columbus Day party that yours truly attended Sunday evening, because…well, you’ll see. Here’s how things unfolded:

Word of a party came down late Sunday night when an associate mentioned he was going to be attending a Columbus Day get together at the W Hotel, a prestigious if not completely over the top trendy spot in midtown Manhattan.

And with this invite came an added bonus – at least one New York Met was expected to be in attendance.

So round about 11 p.m. we high tailed it over to the W at 49th Street and Lexington, walked past a handful of cyborg-like human beauty drones in the lobby and arrived at the front desk. We told the staff members at the desk that we were going to the Columbus Day party on the 17th floor.

“What’s the password?” they asked.

“Columbus Day,” responded my associate, without missing a beat.

We were in.

A slick-looking gentleman escorted us to the elevator and swiped us up to floor 17 with his keycard before saying “Thanks” as he walked away, making me wonder if we were supposed to tip him and hadn’t. Don’t you just love moments like that?

Soon afterwards the man and any lingering guilt about not tipping him had vanished, and we were whisked up to 17. Upon exiting the elevator, we rounded a corner to head to the suite, and suddenly we saw him:

There in front of us, leaning against a wall outside the suite talking to a woman, was Michael Tucker.

Okay, okay. So I know you were probably hoping for Jose Reyes or David Wright or Carlos Delgado, and now you’re probably all disappointed, like that spoiled kid on Seinfeld who demanded that Kramer get Paul O’Neill to hit two home runs for him in a game but then complained when the second one (which appeared to be an inside-the-parker) was actually ruled to be a triple and an error. But seriously, what do you expect? This was a Columbus Day party, for God’s sake, not a New Year’s Eve bash at the 40/40 Club. So please don’t be that annoying kid from Seinfeld. Thank you for your understanding. Now back to the story…

Not wanting to be overzealous, nerdy baseball fans (at least not yet), we walked past Michael Tucker as though we had no idea who he was, briefly detecting an unspoken thought of “What the hell are these guys doing here?” passing through his mind as we moved past, and entered the suite.

As this was the Presidential Suite at the W hotel, it was an impressive layout to say the least, including a full wraparound balcony on the outside. And it was on that same balcony about 10 minutes later that Michael Tucker suddenly stood alone, and myself and one of my friends opted to make our move. As he’s a diehard Mets fan and I’m a Braves fan (and Tucker used to play for the Braves), we figured we’d have plenty to talk to him about.

We were mistaken. Though he was perfectly friendly and responded to all of our comments as best he could, the conversation just didn’t have legs. My friend started out by talking about the Mets, making all the reasonable banter one would expect (Congratulations…Which team would you rather have played in the NLCS? etc.), and at that point things were going okay. But after a couple minutes, that kind of died out, and I sensed it was my turn to jump in.

“Hey man, I’m a big Braves fan so I used to watch you play in Atlanta,” I said. (Nerdiness factor: 72.)

“Oh man, that was a long time ago – ‘97, ‘98,” he responded. “That was when they used to be good.”

Thud. I could feel the aura of boringness seeping out of my pores, hovering around me and violently strangling anything resembling a humorous comment before I could even ponder saying it. At one point I attempted to spice things up by asking Michael, “Hey, how’s Julio [Franco] doing?” I was sure this would get things going. It’s hard not to have a mildly amusing conversation about Julio Franco, right? Umm, well…

“Julio’s alright,” Michael responded. And perhaps sensing that he hadn’t quite given me everything I had hoped for with his response, he went on to add that no one really has any idea how old Julio is, and he’s probably 50 or something.

A minute or so later, realizing we were going to suck the few remaining ounces of lifeblood from his veins if he stayed and talked to us any longer, Michael announced that he was going to go inside but would be right back. This was code for: I will not be coming back, and do not wish to speak with you any more.

Later in the evening, the party showed signs of getting strange. Remember that scene in Boogie Nights where Dirk and Reed and Todd are at the rich guy’s house planning to rob him and there’s a small scantily-clad boy running around throwing firecrackers and everyone’s freaking out and getting paranoid while the egomaniac guy they’re planning to rob is walking around in his bathrobe making bizarre comments and generally acting like the creepiest guy in the world?

Well, we didn’t quite approach that level of strangeness, but it should be noted that I mentioned this scene early in the evening after observing our host behaving in a semi-bizarre manner, and then, later in the night, the song “Jesse’s Girl” played on the stereo, and if you’ll recall, it was that very same song that played in the aforementioned scene in Boogie Nights. Coincidence? Probably so. But I’d just like to say that I was one sighting of a small boy throwing firecrackers away from running out of that party screaming.

Other things to note:

  • Michael Tucker ordered up a bottle of Grey Goose which I believe he intended primarily to indulge in himself and share with the ladies at the party, but I took some when he wasn’t looking.
  • Michael was wearing a brown suit that may or may not have been made of linen and was noteworthy because the suit jacket was also the suit shirt. Which is to say that it was a jacket-like garment but clearly there was no shirt on underneath it. Fortunately the collar came up higher than most suit jackets because otherwise it would have made him look like a gigolo.
  • Michael Tucker doesn’t look like a very big dude on TV, but he is surprisingly large. Probably 6-2 and pretty thick. Which makes you realize what absolute monsters guys like Albert Pujols are, because they actually do look big on TV. Kind of frightening.
  • At one point in the evening I and some friends became involved in a conversation with a man whose nose was actively bleeding, apparently unbeknownst to him. This man also bared a strange resemblance to actor Stephen Dorff, who played a vampire named Frost in the Wesley Snipes classic Blade. I opted not to make any “Hey you look like an actor who played a vampire and your nose is bleeding” jokes because frankly I was mildly afraid the man was going to attempt to knife me at any moment and I just wanted to keep him complacent.

Michael Tucker was in and out of the party for much of the night, shuttling back and forth between his own hotel suite (which was apparently right next door) and the Presidential Suite. I wish I could say that he did something completely outrageous late in the evening like rip off his brown jacketshirt, pick up the bottle of Grey Goose, smash it against the wall and challenge everyone in the room to a brawl, but the simple fact is he didn’t. He was more or less just an exceedingly normal dude who just so happened to have about 15 million dollars, 125 Major League homers and two fat diamond earrings more than everyone else in the room.

As I walked home sometime after 3 a.m., I crossed West 52nd Street and went past a slew of people spilled all over the sidewalk and street in the aftermath of what appeared to be a Ludacris album release party. And at that precise moment, as someone who had zero percent chance of getting invited to such a party, I felt disoriented and out of place. And then I thought about how Michael Tucker, as a guy who gets invited just about everywhere yet is always having to deal with strangers like myself asking him for details about his life and job, probably feels a different kind of disorientation on a daily basis.

And then, for whatever reason as I turned off 52nd Street to head home, I suddenly had a different, somewhat unexpected thought. It was: Man, I have really got to get me one of those brown jacketshirts.

October 05, 2006

Who's Winning the Match?

A few things you might have learned yesterday during a 90-minute stint watching playoff baseball coverage on the Worldwide Leader in Sports:

Piece of Knowledge: The Mets beat the Dodgers by a score of 6-4 (courtesy of the sideline reporter – possibly Bob Holtzman, but not certain – who interviewed Carlos Delgado after the game).

Actual fact: The Mets beat the Dodgers 6-5.

Piece of Knowledge: The Mets beat the Dodgers 8-7 (courtesy of the entertaining if wildly inaccurate Eric Byrnes during his stint as an ESPN studio commentator).

Actual Fact: The Mets beat the Dodgers 6-5.

Piece of Knowledge: The Mets beat the Dodgers 7-6 (courtesy once again of Byrnes, who immediately realized his 8-7 score was wrong and decided to hedge his bets by throwing another one-run result out there, which, as it just so happens, was also wrong).

Actual Fact: The Mets beat the Dodgers 6-5.

[It should be noted at this point that all three of these mistakes involving the score of the Mets-Dodgers game took place within about a 30-minute time period. I have yet to check the obituaries in the Bristol newspaper, but if you gave me good odds I’d be willing to wager that right around that 30-minute window yesterday whoever was producing that coverage for ESPN most likely suffered a Scanners-style head combustion and died instantly.]

Piece of Knowledge: The Tigers’ scheduled Game 2 starting pitcher is named Jason Verlander (courtesy of Joe Morgan).

Actual Fact: His name is Justin Verlander.

Of all the gaffes that went down yesterday, this one is by far the hardest to excuse. If you saw Joe Morgan’s face when he was saying “Jason Verlander” (and Morgan was on camera at the time), he had this look of guilt, like a little kid who’s in the process of taking a dump in his pants right in front of you even though he knows he’s supposed to go do his business on the potty. Joe Morgan knew he was saying the name wrong – you could see it on his face and you could hear it in his voice as it wavered with uncertainty.

But that doesn’t make it okay. Some things in the world of sports broadcasting are unforgivable, and this mistake is one of those things. Flat-out – if you’re in Joe Morgan’s position as the lead analyst for ESPN’s playoff coverage, you have to know Justin Verlander’s name beyond any shred of doubt. Verlander won 17 games this year! He might be the AL Rookie of the Year. This is not like messing up John Maine (the relatively unknown rookie who started for the Mets yesterday). There’s a certain baseline level of knowledge you’ve got to have to maintain credibility, and all indications are that Joe Morgan has lost it. If he ever had it in the first place.

To quote Morgan’s ESPN colleague Stuart Scott, “Joe, you ain’t got to go home, but you got to get the heck up out of here.”