Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Clothes Make the Man Money

For sheer grossness, weather has little to equal a real hot, humid day in midtown Manhattan. It was over 90 with air composed of equal parts moisture, hydrocarbons and dirt particles last Friday, so the swarms of tourists were dressed for comfort and decidedly not style.

I was therefore not taken aback when a spied an early teenage boy sporting an NBA replica jersey at the Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection. Van Gogh, Matisse and Jasper Johns had nothing against staying cool or trying to look cool, after all.

Nor was I too surprised that the kid sported a Warriors jersey. He might've been from the Bay Area. He might have been from the Upper East Side. It's a frontrunner's universe, baby.

But I was not prepared for what I saw as I got a little closer to the kid. He wore jersey number 35, and the name atop the number was, of course, Durant.

Kevin Durant himself hasn't put on the real thing yet, and won't for another couple of months. Yet I'd guess the busy beavers at the NBA merchandise department have had those things on sale since about six seconds after Durant announced he was joining Golden State in early July. I can't say how well they're selling, but I know they've put points on the board.

That kid, avidly taking in great works of Western civilization, stood at the epicenter of SportsWorld 2016. He was engaging in ADVANCE frontrunning, the anticipation of rooting for an invincible juggernaut (if he was just a fan of Durant the player, he could've bought a replica Team USA jersey during the Olympics). And he was also proof positive that sports themselves now exist as a wholly owned subsidiary of a particularly weird branch of the men's clothing industry. It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you move the merch.

It was crowded at the MOMA, it always is, so I soon lost sight of the boy and his jersey. I stopped thinking about him altogether. But about an hour later, walking down Sixth Avenue back to my hotel, I was struck by another, more horrible thought.

Which village in El Salvador, Senegal or Somalia has all its male children now wearing replica Kevin Durant Celtics jerseys?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Hangover, Part XXIXth Olympiad.

After every Olympic Games, I am just sportsed out. Two and a half weeks of intensely watching and enjoying non-stop athletic activity takes a toll. In this case, the toll is a complete inability to bounce back into the "normal" cavalcade of sports in this here US of A.

Can't watch the Red Sox. Can't begin to think about upcoming fantasy drafts. Can't even conceive of the college football season starting. Am actively appalled by the Little League World Series. Am so far gone that I'm actually participating in a New York City Broadway theater excursion this weekend because I just can't get myself together to watch the initial FedEx Cup playoff tournament, whatever it is.

Coming down off a sports OD takes time, an unpredictable amount of time. There have been occasions where two nights of restful sleep do the trick. Then again, when I returned from Sydney in 2000, I was unable to function in sports world for over a week. The mind just has to reset at its own pace.

Just before I awoke this morning, I was deep into a vivid, detailed and horrifying dream in which not only were St. John's and Villanova about to join the Big 12 Conference, but I was a sportswriter again and had to cover the story. So I suppose my sports hangover is cured and I'm back.

Is "cured" really the right word there?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Proust Might Have Been on to Something

Mowed the lawn today. Drought and all, it was needed. This time of year, it's more than a chore. It's a mind-altering experience.

Memory is the most powerful drug known to man. It's been 50 years now, half a damn century, and the smell of fresh-cut grass in August, especially if it's grass that's a little dry as it is now, takes me back to the same place every time.

It's preseason high school football practice. A new season is getting ready to go. It's a part of me that's long gone, but will never perish.

Also They'd Be a Great Name for a Rock Band

If the Mongolian wrestling coaches aren't named Co-Sportsmen of the Year come December, I'm going to be very disappointed in Sports Illustrated.

Top that Bob Knight! In your faces, Earl Weaver and Billy Martin!! Maybe you can get the silver medal, Hubie Brown. In the long history of coaches/managers losing their shit over officiating, we have never and may never see a display to match that of the two worthies who earned Internet immortality last Sunday.

Stripping down to one's skivvies to protest a call!! That earns maximum style points for originality with a triple maximum points bonus for insanity. I've seen Alvin Dark pick up third base and throw it into stands. I saw Gene Mauch take a baseball he suspected Gaylord Perry of doctoring and stomp on it to get it (and him), tossed from a game. They're just honorable mention rhubarbs now.

True comedy in sports comes when the principals are most serious. I'm sure that back home in Mongolia stripping off one's shirt in an argument is a mortal insult that leads to clan blood feuds which last for centuries. So what? I'm never going there. Anyone who didn't laugh loud and long at the video of this wrestling match has no sporting soul.

People are always saying, not incorrectly, that sports is entertainment. The weird thing is, the people who run sports disagree. Fans and casual spectators LOVE to see coaches/managers arguing with officials, especially when it's the home team coach/manager. All sports organizations take every step they can to outlaw the practice. It offends them.

In Adam Silver's NBA, coach Red Auerbach would get a season-long suspension by the third exhibition game. There will never be another John McEnroe in tennis, thanks to the eagle eye system.
And instant replay has just about killed the manager-ump argument.

Baseball had no need for replay, except for its incurable envy of pro football. If the NFL jumped off a cliff, MLB would be right behind. No business that really thought its goal was to entertain the public would replace the sight of two grown men screaming at each other like preschoolers with the sight of four grown men waiting to hear what a fifth grown man saw on television.

So the Mongolian wrestling coaches (who were of course deplored by Olympic poohbahs) are my sports heroes of the week. Years from now, they'll be the folks I remember from the Rio Games when I draw a blank on Katie Ledecky's name. No offense meant to Ms. Ledecky. Excellence is fun to watch too.

It's just not as much fun for me as watching sports turn adults into little kids -- poorly behaved little kids.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Cross-Sport Thought

For decades now, baseball fans and journalists have engaged in a fierce debate about the efficacy of sliding headlong into first base in the effort to beat out a hit off an infield grounder. The majority opinion, often backed up by claims of scientific evidence, is that doing so not only carries an obvious risk of injury, but actually slows the runner down. It's quicker just to keep digging out past the bag.

Well, maybe. But in Rio last night, we were afforded visible evidence for the opposing view. Shaunae Miller won the gold medal in the 400 meter run as a result. The players who still do dive for first ought to put her picture up in their lockers.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Donald's Road Not Traveled

Sometime in one of the warm months of 1988, myself and maybe 10 other Patriots beat reporters were in a stuffy room in the Norfolk County Courthouse, watching top=shelf attorneys Joel Kozol, representing the Sullivan family, and Robert Popeo, for Philadelphia entrepreneur Fran Murray, argue about who really owned the New England Patriots.

Really sharp lawyers can make the most arcane case entertaining to the audience, and there was nobody sharper than these two. It was a pretty good show -- and show is the operative word here.

Unbeknownst to us, Kozol and Popeo had each made a horrifying discovery. Their clients not only didn't have enough money to own an NFL franchise, they didn't have enough to pay THEM. So while fighting for their clients in court, the two were also acting as brokers, seeking a third party with sufficient liquidity to satisfy their clients' urgent need for cash on hand, own and operate the Pats, and last but not least, assume all legal costs.

After a few days of courtroom scuffling, the two lawyers began a morning session by approaching the bench and informing the judge they'd found such a paragon who'd expressed interest in buying the Pats. In the reverent tones used by art critics naming Renoir, they said that if court recessed, they and the Sullivans would be in Manhattan later that morning to meet with Donald Trump.

Recess granted. Frantic scramble by reporters for pay phones right out of an old movie. I was ordered to fly the shuttle to LaGuardia ASAP and get to Trump Tower by any means possible.

(Those were the days! A newspaper beat guy of 2016 would be told to hitchhike, tweeting all the way.)

The plebian press was confined to the questionable taste and superb acoustics of the Trump Tower lobby while negotiations went on upstairs in Trump's office, or bedroom, or bathroom, who knows?
After more than a few hours, the Patriot supplicants descended and their palpably false optimism let us know that while Trump may have listened, he had not made anything that could be defined as a commitment. No sale.

At the time, we reporters felt this was an example of Trump's business acumen. Why would any sane billionaire get involved in the legal and financial chaos of the Patriots' sideshow? As even the best reporters can, we let the present blind us to the future. It was only years later that Bob Kraft showed us how business acumen, sufficient capital and persistent hard work could turn the NFL's orphan franchise into a gold mine, then an artistic success that was a gold and uranium mine underneath an oil gusher.

As the years passed, I came to a different conclusion as to why Trump passed on the chance to join the most exclusive rich man's club on earth. It wasn't his style. Owning an NFL franchise that both wins and makes money is a full time job. Real estate development is a gypsy calling. Find the project, make the deal, move on. Owning a USFL franchise had convinced Trump sports were a bad fit for him.

Lately, however, I've started to entertain a third possible reason why that 1988 meeting ended without a deal, a deal that would have created an alternative history timeline it's a delight to contemplate (Mine ends with Bill Belichick's trial for murdering his owner). My reason has the ultimate virtue of simplicity.

Donald Trump didn't buy the New England Patriots in 1988 because he didn't have the money either.