Saturday, June 28, 2014

If Not Now, When? We Don't Know!

Last year the Philadelphia 76ers traded their best player for the right to draft Nehlens Noel, who was injured and who they knew couldn't play in the 2013-2014 season. He didn't and the Sixers were very bad. That's how they wound up with the third and 10th picks in the 2014 draft.

So last week Philadelphia drafted Joel Embiid, who's injured and might not be able to play, and also wound up with a European player who's still under contract and won't play in the U.S. next season. That's why I didn't look up his name right now. As far as the NBA goes, this guy doesn't exist yet.

Many commentators say that the Sixers had one of the best drafts of any NBA team. The thinking goes that they've insured they'll suck next season, too, and get still another high lottery pick. Then some fine come-and-get-it-day, maybe in 2015 but more likely after the next presidential election, Noel and Embiid will be healthy, the European will be an American, and that 2015 lottery pick will be a star, too. Presto! LeBron James will be sorry he didn't take his talents to Broad Street this summer.

Maybe so. Teams do need to bottom out to get better. Happens all the time in every sport. Perhaps Sixer fans actually are happy their team has a plan for victory, even if involves a couple of hundred defeats along the way.

But I'm sure glad I'm not making a living selling 2014-2015 76ers season tickets on commission.

Schedule Note

Posting has been sporadic on this blog even by its author's past slipshod standards. No apologies, a series of real-life events is responsible. There's one coming up in a few hours, too. I am headed for a vacation spot where except for hi-def TV, I'm off the grid. Back after the holiday, when another real-life event may lead to more regular posting.

In a Sport With Little Scoring, Some Americans Can't Keep Score.

Were you a sports troll this week? It's not a very nice thing to be, but apparently there's a good living in it. So if you were one of the nitwits who complained about how it just didn't feel right that the U.S. soccer team advanced in the World Cup after losing its game to Germany last Thursday, maybe you should compensate for being shunned by your more aware and decent peer group by filing that application to the Connecticut School of Broadcasting.

Not that the nitwits were confined to the lowbrow likes of semipro talk show callers. At the very snootiest level of sports commentary, Janet Macur of the New York Times wrote a snarky column about the U.S. advancing, too. Or it wanted to be snarky, but was held back by the essential humorlessness of the columnist.

The people who found the U.S. celebration after a loss confusing or disturbing must not have covered or watched much baseball in their lives -- like none, really. It is utterly commonplace for a pennant race for a division title or playoff berth to end with both contenders losing a single game, but one being eliminated through the harsh arithmetic of the sport. The winners celebrate the accomplishment of their season anyway, and they should. It's the victories of the past they're commemorating, not tonight's now meaningless loss.

So it is with the World Cup. I will be kind and assume that only unfamiliarity with soccer rather than the desire to get ahead through trolling was the source of the confusion here, but the opening rounds of the World Cup aren't really a tournament in the commonly understood U.S. sense of the word. They're a weird little three game regular season for 32 teams in eight divisions. The idea is to make the real playoffs. If you do, which is hard to do, then hip-hip-hooray and who cares how it looked. Or, as was once said by a coach of a sport Americans claim to understand, survive and advance.

Fans who cheered at the end of the Germany game are blessedly normal. Making the knockout round of the World Cup is an accomplishment worth shouting about. It means the U.S. team has reached the place where the big, fast kids play, and although it might not play there long next week, inevitable loss will be disappointing, but it shouldn't mean as much as the fact of the competition itself.

In my adult life, U.S. soccer has gone from an international bad joke to a respectable mid-major. We are Butler or Boise State. That's a phenomenal change, one of the most noteworthy sports events of said adult life. The cheerers have history on their side as well as patriotism and common sense.

The fretters need some regrooving, not that they'll get it. What I don't get is what becomes clearer and clearer to me day by ever more dismayed day.

The best path to the top in my former trade of sports commentary seems to be to deny that sports can provide anyone any happiness at all.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Great Seats, Huh, Buddy!

Business columnist Shirley Leung of the Globe took some time off from talking up real estate development this morning to wistfully wonder why there isn't more enthusiasm in these parts for making a bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games. Makes one wonder just how long she's lived here. Is some civic event possibly fun for large numbers of people? Boston's against it!

The front page of the paper informed us Boston is on the "short list" of candidate host cities of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Left out of the headline was the fact the list got shorter due to a lack of volunteers, New York and Philadelphia having recently withdrawn their applications. Those fine burgs were acting prudently. An Olympics is years and years of hard work and extraordinary costs for no tangible economic reward and more likely very tangible debt interest payments for eons afterwards.

Leung stressed the "where is our civic pride?" angle in her column. Without meaning to be cruel, it must be said she could not have chosen a more pathetic and futile argument. Our city's chronic naysaying stems from an excess of civic pride, not a deficit. By and large, we think we're fine and dandy just the ways things are.

But I have come not to mock Leung, but to add a timid voice stating there are benefits to an Olympics. They're just not ones that turn up on a balance sheet.

Economics research is clear on this point. As many citizens of Brazil are kind of upset about, there are no trickle-down effects to the public good of hosting big time sports events. The biggest sports event in the U.S., the Super Bowl, offers one weekend where hotel owners make more money than usual, and that's it. Otherwise, it comes and goes in a city with no impact whatsoever.

 One thing's for sure. The average resident isn't getting a ticket. He or she will watch the game on TV just as if it was taking place 3000 miles away. That's pretty much the way it goes for the World Cup, too. A nosebleed seat in Brazil goes for about a month's pay for the average worker. It WAS possible to get tickets when the 1994 Cup came to Foxboro, but FIFA has added many extra layers of greed on the tournament since then.

But the Olympics are different, because there are so much of them. This is the one big sports event,where the average host city sports fan CAN get a ticket and participate in the fun. No, you won't get into the opening ceremonies, the basketball and women's gymnastics finals or track and field the night of the 100 meter dash. But that leaves more events than I feel like mentioning where a small amount of foresight will get a fan into what is, after all, a world championship of whatever sport he or she is watching.

Think archery, badminton and field hockey are silly? You just haven't gotten around enough. Anybody who goes to a Games and checks them out ought to realize that there are countless fans in Seoul, Bangkok and Karachi who'd do anything to change places with them.

The fan will never watch of those sports again. That's the whole point. The Olympics are a once in a lifetime sports experience that it's actually possible to experience. Ask the good people of Atlanta. There were many issues with the 1996 Games, but by God those Southerners turned out in droves for every sport on the card and had a damn good time doing it.

I wouldn't bet a Confederate war bond on Boston ever getting a Games. That's because of geography, not civic spirit or the lack thereof. A Games would require the construction of large sports venues, and there's just enough space to build new stuff in our metropolitan area -- at least stuff that's not another luxury tower for rich people to live in.

But if perchance a series of miracles longer than Cal Ripken's games played streak came to pass and the 2024 Games were to be held in Boston, it'd be a miracle Bostonians could look at in person.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

All Those Pucks Go Off the Ice And None Ever Hits Him? There Is No God

The most devout hockey fan on the planet couldn't be that unhappy if the Kings close the Rangers out tonight. No more Pierre McGuire until the leaves turn.

The Runner-Up Runners-Up

The Golf Channel isn't so bad with the sound off. On the graphics crawl line this evening, I was actually taught something.

Many golf fans know, and God knows ESPN will try to make sure everyone knows this weekend, that Phil Mickelson holds a painful record of having been second more times in the U.S. Open than any golfer in history, having earned place money six times. Less well-known, I'm betting, are the identities of the other multiple second bananas in Open history.

It's a tie. There are four Peyton Manning-type can't win the big one losers who Phil has eclipsed for being just good enough to have the haters' tongues wagging. We all know there's only first place and the rest is Failureville right? Talk radio philosophy is sports' true philosophy. Sycophancy for the winners, spite and scorn for the rest.

The four losers in question are, in chronological order: Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

I'll faint dead away if Mickelson wins the 2014 Open. He's got putting issues, the worst fate a golfer of any level of ability can endure. But if by chance he finishes second, don't dare call it losing.

He'll just have extended his lead on one hell of a list to be atop.

Thursday, June 05, 2014


Don Zimmer died today at the age of 83. He will be remembered in these parts as the manager of a Red Sox team that should have won some titles and didn't, which sort of ignores the role of the New York Yankees in the transaction.

Zimmer was a good manager with a flaw, a huge flaw. He had problems related to pitchers. This is absolutely understandable as pitchers almost killed him. Twice. Beanings turned him from baseball's hottest prospect in the early 1950s to a career utility player.

First, a personal note. I first met Zimmer in 1980, when I was George Kimball's successor at the Phoenix. Zimmer and Kimball were sworn enemies due to sociocultural events of the mid 20th century and because Kimball and pitcher Bill Lee were friends. I was their friend, too. Zimmer knew all that. He could not have been more pleasant, gracious and open to me, at a time when the Boston media was roasting him over a print and electronic spit. He had a strong and austere code of life. And he lived it.

Now for the macro. When I think of Don Zimmer, I remember he got his first job as a teenager, and died on the job as an octogenarian, and never, ever, made a nickel outside of baseball. He spent his whole life doing what he loved doing, in the place he was meant to be.

As obits go, I can't top that.