Monthly Archives: May 2012
SACO, Maine — Playoff games, by definition, mean more than regular season contests. First, in the sense that there are less of them (duh), which adds to the anxiety in the building; two, there’s a sense of urgency, at least among the fans, because the end could come at any moment; and finally, if those involved fail to win, they lose their jobs.
The playoffs are a BFD*.
It’s also important to remember all sporting events mean more to “us” than it does to “them.” “Them,” of course, being the athletes (see Beckett, Josh). Coaches probably care as much as we do, at least it appears so, but since I am neither a professional athlete or coach, it was just straight up pretty cool to attend NBA playoff games in both Los Angeles and Boston in the span of a week, recently.
The Celtics and Clippers. The complete opposite of the basketball spectrum. Seventeen championship banners hang in the Boston Garden; Los Angeles’s second basketball team has eight playoff appearances in 42-year history in three different cities. On the drive back to Maine after the 76ers’ 82-81 win I thought about the differences between the two venues, the crowds, the styles of the games themselves and, of course, the teams involved.
I had a parter in crime for each game and how we came to attend both started the same way: a simple IM/text which more or less read “game tonight?” For the Clippers, my buddy Eric and I decided to go at 10 a.m. the day of. It didn’t take much convincing on my part to get him on board. Once we got to downtown Los Angeles, we were full-fledged members of Clippers Nation.
I’ll let @TheGhostMo take it from here:
Walking into the men’s bathroom at Staples Center, minutes before tip-off, I almost collided with three Orthodox Jewish men. These weren’t your Larry David-esque Jewish men. I’m talking real orthodox, complete with long curly side burns, yarmulkes, and formal suits. I would have thought I was on the corner of Beverly and Hauser, except for one thing: all three wore bright red “LAC RISEN” t-shirts over their suits. 4,000 years of religion couldn’t beat out Clipper fever on this night.
These three gentlemen weren’t the only ones wearing the complimentary garb. The entire men’s room bled red to the point that it wouldn’t look out of place on The Game’s album cover. There was only one person who wasn’t wearing the shirt, who instead had it slung over his shoulder, trying to look cool. That person was me.
I’m from Milwaukee. I grew up thinking it was commonplace to tailgate before every baseball game. I remember seeing a woman wear a Green Bay Packers Mark Chmura jersey…to the courtroom for his sexual assault trial. Every stadium in Wisconsin reeks of barley and hops and that’s the way we like it.
Since moving to LA, I’ve seen the Lakers play at home for every round of the playoffs, save the Finals. For the most part I’ve been disappointed. Everyone at Lakers games wishes (or incorrectly thinks) they’re part of the spotlight, that they’re on par with Jack Nicholson. People dress like they’re going to a club and stay hunkered on their cellphones like Obama is sexting them.
That’s why I hadn’t put on my shirt on yet. Because I figured the Clippers’ playoff scene would be more of the same. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
As I exited the bathroom, an almost certainly intoxicated man grabbed my shoulder. “You’re putting the shirt on, right???” At that exact moment, I felt something hit my shoe. I looked down and saw an empty plastic bottle of tequila rolling past. Smiling, I threw the shirt on with glee and gave the stranger a massive high five. I’ve never felt more at home in this city. #LobCityBaby
That the Clippers won in overtime only added to the hysteria. It almost felt like we were back in the 315, head-to-toe in blue and orange; it was that type of crowd, which hasn’t been said for a Clippers game in, I’m guessing, ever. Sadly, there were no more LA games for us. Baby Brother edged the Grizzlies in 7 games only to be swept at the Spurs’ hand in the next round. Oh to what next year will bring, and if Chris Paul and Blake Griffin stay with the team beyond then, there could be many more years of postseason chances for the Lobbers.
A week later, in Boston, on the other hand, I expected 19,000 Sullys, Tommys and extras from “The Town” to be drunk, loud and drunk. I also didn’t expect to get a free T-shirt upon arrival. Matt, whom I called upon to attend the day before (along with my bro-in-law, who I convinced to call out sick from work) and is as just a big of a Celtics fan as me, said we’d get towels. He was correct. We also got placards with a gigantic “3” on it, presumably to hold up after someone on our team hit a 3-pointer. Fans are such sheep. I grabbed two of each.
It didn’t matter that we were sitting in the upper deck behind the basket, just being part of a legendary Celtics playoff crowd was something to behold. From the “Dee-Fence” chants on big possessions, to “Let’s Go Celtics!” on others, it was beyond loud at times and abrasive at others. A hot start by the home team became a faded memory by the third quarter when the 76ers took the lead. By the time the 4th quarter rolled around there wasn’t a butt in a seat and the roar when Avery Bradley hit a 3 with just over two minutes left to put the Celtics up 1 could be heard all the way in Worcester.
But, in the end, the sea of green couldn’t will the home chaps to victory, as the 76ers eeked out the one-point win — Kevin Garnett drained a meaningless 3 with no time left that surely only the gamblers cared about. I always enjoy the scene after games in Boston; everyone bitching about this and that, and the T-shirt vendors selling rubes at LeBron James, the Heat and my favorite, an homage to Greg Steimsma, the Celtics enthusiastic backup center. They’re cheap, and I’ve bought some in the past after Red Sox games. Matt got a couple and we made our way home.
The 90-minute or so drive back home after game in Boston, especially after a loss, is a lot like driving home from Las Vegas. You and your buddies usually just sit in silence, maybe make a Dunkin stop and it isn’t until you hit the Maine border before someone speaks up. Usually it’s an expletive about the game; kinda like how you curse the tables in Vegas by the time you hit Barstow.
Back in Los Angeles, the games start three hours earlier and those wearing Green are few and far between. With Game 7 vs. Philadelphia set for Saturday, and the Lakers car flags replaced by finger pointing for their early exit, I’ll take solace that we have at least one more game.
I’ll be there in spirit.
* – Big. Fu^king. Deal.
LOS ANGELES — It has the two things you want in a season-ending press conference: a memorable line and one of the toughest athletes of all-time. On top of it all, Allen Iverson is wearing a Red Sox cap while repeatedly “talkin’ bout’ practice.” Not the game. Not the game. Not the game that he went out there and died for. But practice.
Has it been 10 years already? What’s funny is that just the other day I was thinking to myself about this very memorable moment in sports history. I was wondering if we’d passed the 10th anniversary, and since I couldn’t remember it being discussed in the last year or so, that I must have missed it. But lo and behold, it’s today; May 7.
Ten years ago, the 76ers were just bounced from the Eastern Conference playoffs by the Boston Celtics. Iverson averaged 30 ppg for the series but much of the talk was how he hadn’t been practicing between games or much of the latter part of the year. He had a meeting with Larry Brown, and then, it happened.
The end of Iverson’s career has been a sad exhibition of an athlete hanging on too long. We’ve seen it before and No. 3 won’t be the last. Stops in Denver, Memphis, back to Philadelphia and even the Dominican Republic; rumors of alcoholism and gambling dwindling his amassed roundball fortune, a terrible way for it all to end for him.
Personally, I’ll always remember A.I. as the skinny kid at Georgetown with a flat top and one tattoo, who would cross over and then dunk on everyone. This after thinking he shouldn’t even be on the same court as these “real players.” His 1995 Big East title game vs. UConn and Ray Allen is beyond epic and I still have on VHS tape the 1996 Georgetown/UMass East Regional Final which featured Marcus Camby.
With the 76ers, who could forget Iverson single-handedly willing a Game 1 win over the Lakers in the 2001 Finals, capped by him hitting a 3 in the corner and then stepping over Tyrone Lue. The NBA All-Star Game MVPs, the fearless drives the basket and, of course, the cornrows, Iverson was the face of the hip-hop generation of NBA players (for better or worse) and along with a few others, ushered in a new era in the NBA.
So, please, pay your proper respects to not only one of the transcendent basketball players of our time, but to the soundbite that will live in our hearts forever.
LOS ANGELES — What is it about villains that piques our interest as people? Think about your favorite movies or TV shows; all the most complex, interesting and really, best characters are the antagonists. You wouldn’t love “The Godfather” if Michael Corleone didn’t take the family business’ reigns by killing off his competition, and later, even his brother; Sonny sure wasn’t going to do it. Same with “The Sopranos.” Tony Soprano is literally one of the worst persons ever; deceiving, muderous, philandering, but did we want him to go to jail? Did we want him to die at the end. I know I didn’t.
Don Draper, Walter White, The Joker, Eric Cartman, J.R. Ewing, David Caruso in Jade; all evil and deplorable as people, yet we root for them, and if you’re honest, feel sad when they come upon bad things even though they deserve it. At its core, there’s something fun about rooting for the bad guy; the rebel dressed in black. He always walks under cool music, delivers the most memorable lines, and even if he dies in the end, we want to be them. Except Scrooge McDuck, he was just mean and had a tail.
In sports, rooting for the bad guy isn’t as easy — in fact, the easiest thing to do to HATE the bad guy — except when he’s on your team; then you see past what makes him so unlikeable (I’m looking at you, Pistons/Alex Rodriguez/Sean Avery/James Harrison fans). You don his jersey, feed his hype and make excuses for his jerkdom. Admittedly, it’s harder to be a true villain in team sports (I still contend LeBron James should’ve become the ultimate NBA villain, and in a way he sort of did but not on purpose; he still thinks he’s a good guy and wonders why he’s so disliked), but individually both being a villain and rooting for a villain is much easier.
I’ll never forgive Tiger Woods after the scandal for wanting to be liked again; being the villain on the golf course would’ve been 100-times cooler. Think about it. If you’re looking for pub, magazine covers and the ire of the crowd, nothing beats being the villain. It’s why it’s much more fun to cheer against the heel in professional wrestling.
I’ll again be rooting for the bad guy Saturday when Floyd Mayweather, Jr. steps into the ring to fight Miguel Cotto in the latest boxing “mega-fight” in Las Vegas. The two 150-pounders are set to duke it out in yet another match which doesn’t feature Manny Pacquiao and Mayweather squaring off and will probably disappointment the million-plus who purchase it for $70 on pay-per-view.
If you’ve watched any of HBO’s outstanding “24/7” leading up to the fight, or any of the program’s featuring Mayweather in recent years, or follow him on Twitter, or have read anything about him, you know what the 42-0 fighter is all about. On the show alone he’s bought $300,000 Rolls Royces, closed amusement parks for his family and friends, made six-figure sports bets, referenced dog fighting, went shopping with a backback full of cash, and unapologetically and openly taunted his opponents. He’s traded verbal assaults with his father, talked about his upcoming 90-day jail sentence, his legacy (he thinks he’s the greatest of all-time; shocking, I know), Manny Pacquaio, lit 100-dollar bills on fire, partied with Ray-J and 50 Cent and on and on. It’s amazing TV and completely unscripted. He’s selling himself and his “Money May” brand and he does it better than any athlete alive right now; he’s guaranteed $32 million from his fight vs. Cotto and possibly more.
Here’s the thing, though: I like Floyd Mayweather. I like him despite on the surface he stands for everything I’m against as a person. But as an athlete, he’s what I admire. He’s brash, unafraid (sort of, since he hasn’t yet agreed to fight Pacquiao, though the converse is true as well), extremely confident and performs on gameday with an unmatched gusto. He believes he’s never going to lose. And he hasn’t.
I want him to keep winning, too. The more Mayweather wins the more he can keep living his lifestyle and building this “Money May” persona, which means the more people will hate him, and when both he and Pacquiao finally agree to fight each other, more people will care and will shill out the cash for the pay-per-view, only making him richer. Boxing might be dying as a sport (name one heavyweight champ other an a Klitchko or big fight that didn’t include Mayweather) and if you put retired NFL players and boxers in a police lineup you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart; not to mention boxing’s concussion and brain problems leading most young Americans to choose a different sports path, but you have to respect what Mayweather has done and is doing both in and out of the ring.
He’s the last true villain and he knows it. And see him ride in on the black horse Saturday and continue to fabricate his dark legend. Don’t be afraid to cheer him. He’d rather you boo, of course, but doing so on either side will only fuel him to continue on his path away from our hearts. All part of the villain script.
LOS ANGELES — When athletes and celebrities die I’m always conflicted. Most often, the news is tragic (see Houston, Whitney), as it is when any life ends too soon, but in nearly all cases I didn’t know the person. I sympathize for their families, but their loss only affects me on a superficial level, as I can no longer enjoy what it is that made their family member famous in the first place. If it’s someone in the sports world, it’s the joy I get in watching them play, reading their perspectives or listening their commentary. If it’s an entertainer, it’s enjoying their movies, music or prose.
Superficial relationships. Their death hardly impacts my daily ongoings aside from pausing to reflect on what their life meant in mine. When Michael Jackson died in June of 2009, my buddy VA and I did a podcast about his music and how he’d be remembered, same when the wrestler “Macho Man” Randy Savage passed nearly a year ago. They were important to us at one time, so we stopped to think back.
Wednesday’s news was different. I learned of the death of NFL legend Junior Seau stopped at a red light, scrolling Twitter. I found it strange he was the top trending topic in Los Angeles because he hasn’t been in the news for a while now, but I guess I should’ve known what I was about to find out; Twitter’s killed more people than polio.
TMZ, our nation’s leading breaking-news source (for better or worse), said that Seau had died in an apparent suicide; a gunshot would to the chest, in his Oceanside, Calif. home Wednesday morning. The website, which has enjoyed remarkable success in the last four years (since it was the first to report the death of Michael Jackson) publishing literally anything you can think of regarding the ultra-famous and self-glossed so, was first to report the news. It said Seau sent text messages to his ex-wife and three children Tuesday night and they responded as they would without concern. Police later said he was found by his girlfriend and that reviving efforts were unsuccessful.
NFL Network and ESPN held off on reporting the news until they had confirmation, which came later in a statement from the San Diego Chargers. Getting it right is more important than being first. I applaud them. Putting Seau’s crying mother on live television, however, was irresponsible and classless. No rating could ever justify taking advantage of her grief.
But the death of Seau is troubling and sad for so many reasons. He played 20 years in the NFL, made 12 straight Pro Bowls, led the Chargers to the Super Bowl and will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Being “Junior Seau, NFL linebacker” defined who he was. He was a warrior. He was the leader of his men. He was the best. Being away from that world was not easy for him, I’m guessing. Though he never appeared on the injury report as suffering from one, I’d assume he suffered numerous concussions as well as injuries, and undoubtedly, depression.
We’ll never know if that led to him taking his own life, but he’s part of a troubling trend in recent years. Seau becomes the third former player to commit suicide in the last year-plus, and the eighth member of the 1994 Chargers to have passed away unexpectedly. This post-playing depression is real and needs to be addressed. I’d venture to say that’s why Roger Goodell came down as hard as he did in the Saints Bounty scandal — four players were suspended Wednesday for their part, including Jonathan Vilma for the entire 2012 season, joining Saints coach Sean Payton on the outside looking in this year — and will continue to push for player safety, much to the dismay of James Harrison.
I had a text conversation with a friend of mine this afternoon and it was pretty telling for this day and age. He’s two years older than I and we’re both fanatics of all sports. “Sad day to be a sports fan man. Things need to change,” he said. I responded in agreement but he went on. “Never imagined myself feeling or saying it, but maybe it’s not worth it. Supposed to be entertainment. Maybe I’m getting old, but doesn’t seem worth it, knowing the degrees of damage it causes. Crazy.” I wrote, “I may never let my kid play football,” to which he said, “Nope.”
None of us want to see this game reduced to aggressive flag football, but we can’t have any more days like Wednesday. If it can happen to a consummate pro like Junior Seau, Number 55, then it’s happening to many, many more and that’s a problem. A major one. I played football growing up and in four years of high school I only remember blacking out once after a hit – it was scary and on film you can see me stumble back to the huddle. I had the chance to play Division III but didn’t want to; the potential wear and tear on my body wasn’t worth it, and I was realistic in that I’d be little more than a tackling dummy for a couple years. I’m glad I made the choice I did.
My lasting image of Seau will be a big smile, a haircut I always found strange and that enormous, exuberant, fist punch into the air he would make in the backfield after a punishing hit on a would-be play maker. Not only was he an incredible player but he did so much for the San Diego community with his charitable causes. It was touching to read the accounts of Mike Silver and Jim Trotter, national sports writers who knew him well through their years covering the league.
He never won a Super Bowl title, coming oh-so close with the Patriots in 2007 and we can only hope that he’ll be a champion in death, this being a wake-up call for the entire NFL family.
That’s something I wouldn’t feel conflicted about.