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O Captain! My Captain!: a David Stern joint

Our coffee-addled Commish - clearly a mug only a mother could trust.

This week, The Nation magazine is running a special double issue about sports. It contains this pretty good piece by author of the classic What’s My Name, Fool?, Dave Zirin, an all-time great of lefty sportswriting and one of the broader field’s few big shots who know/care much about good old-fashioned political economy. A representative passage:

It’s obvious to me that what stands in the way of a logical financial agreement is Stern himself. His intransigence is the logical extension of a decade of dress-code dictates, bullying officials, and even changing the material on the basketball […] He has created a logic that no one dares stand up to and say, “This guy has to go.” He has become like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s dictator in the novel Autumn of the Patriarch.

You might want to just go buy the whole issue, since those good people are losing about as much money every year as the NJ/bk/USSR Nets pretend to.

D-$tern in a publicity photo from the last lockout

While I’m at it, I may as well make this a full-on Required Reading entry, since we’ve been going all derelict on ya lately. Check out this dutiful – if not quite beautiful – overview of the coming FIBA/Olympic men’s basketball qualifying season from the seriously considerate, wonky yet nourishing blog The Painted Area. It’s the post from July 29th, fyi; I couldn’t find a permalink. Writes blogger jay aych:

It’s past due that this [Oceania] “zone” should just be absorbed into the Asian zone. And ideally an Olympic berth would be transferred over to Europe to give them three auto bids. Australia would arguably be the top team in this reformed Asian zone, but at least they would have to go through a full tournament to earn their title.

In EuroBasket for example, a team has to go through a gauntlet of quality teams and has to slog through a brutal schedule of 11 games in 19 days to win the title. By contrast, giving an Olympic bid to a zone with two teams is laughable.

That’s what I’m sayin’!

Our good friends over at Negative Dunkalectics – your Other home for theoretically-informed b-ball vignettes – recently had this to say about another of our good friends, Metta World Peace.  Truly a tour de force of athletic realism. David Hill bequeaths to us this lapidary anecdote:

Some drunk fan standing behind him was going at him. “You suck Ron. I’m glad we didn’t draft you. You sucked at St. Johns and you suck now.”

Ron held the ball. He turned around and stood face to face with the heckler, staring him down with the meanest of mugs. Hypnotized, the fan slowly sat down in his chair. Everyone erupted in laughter. My friend and I were incredulous. We stood up and screamed. “Don’t let him punk you! He can’t do shit! He can’t do shit!” Ron looked over at us with that same icy stare. Slowly he curled up the edges of his mouth in a wry little grin. He turned and inbounded the ball.

Perhaps even in his rookie season Ron Artest knew that one day he was going to have to whip a fan’s ass.

That’s all for now I think. Peace be upon you, Metta!

Getting High

This lovely new piece from ESPN’s Page 2 examines the origins of the modern-day high five and its surprising roots in sports history. The most surprising revelation perhaps is that the celebratory hand slap is dated so recently: the late 1970s. But many other revelations abound as the writer weaves us through the genealogy of the now-ubiquitous gesture – a path that winds through the dugout of the Los Angeles Dodgers, West Hollywood’s gay scene, the ’77-’78 Louisville basketball team, and one unfortunate practical joke.

The best line naturally comes right at the end, from the five’s purported inventor, and underscores the cultural impact of this one simple hand motion:

“You think about the feeling you get when you give someone the high five. I had that feeling before everybody else.”

-Glenn Burke, former Los Angeles Dodger, first openly gay MLB player, and possible inventor of the high five

Required Reading: Downer Edition

Evaluating overpaid players is a difficult pastime. Outside of a few obvious mistakes (Joe Johnson, Dan Gadzuric, etc.), it’s always an argument to determine who is being paid more than they are worth to a team. Econ Professor and cult leader David Berri weighs in.

Speaking of wildly overpaid players: Gilbert Arenas’ explanation of the NBA lockout.

The first true sign of the NBA apocalypse: Scalabrine’s off to Europe.

Just in case: The NBA Fan’s Guide to the Euroleague

On a lighter note, Shane Battier is treating the NBA lockout like a particularly jarring breakup.

Foul Play: This American Life on Flopping

This American Life’s piece on flopping in the NBA, and the story fans tell themselves about its origins. It’s one act in an excellent episode about crybabies, which you can hear in its entirety here.

Ira Glass: Sports, of course, is a place where there are some of the biggest crybabies. And in professional basketball, in the NBA, there’s a kind of institutionalized crybabying called “the flop,” which has not always been part of the game. One of our producers, Alex Blumburg started to wonder if the story that basketball fans tell themselves about the origins of the flop is even true.

Alex Blumberg: This story is almost hardened conventional wisdom among NBA fans. If you search on the internet, you’ll find all sorts of versions of this story. It’s best summed up by Bill Simmons. He wrote, “The single most disgusting NBA development of the past few years: the flopping. Slowly, regretfully, inexplicably, the sport is morphing into soccer.” And that’s because, if you watched the World Cup, you would see regularly in game after game a guy dribbling the ball, and all of a sudden he would crash to the ground, throw up his arms, roll around grabbing his ankle, writhing in pain. And then they’d show the replay and you’d see that nobody touched the guy. He’d just fall over. And that happened every single game.

Ira: And in soccer there are players known as being great floppers. The word flop really comes from there.

Alex: It’s clearly part of the game in soccer. And so the story goes that as more and more Europeans started playing NBA basketball – Europeans had been raised in the culture of soccer, they all embraced the culture of the flop, and when they started playing basketball, they brought it with them to the NBA.

Ira: So if this convetional wisdom were true, it means that somewhere there’s a patient zero, who is carrying the virus from European soccer into American basketball. Do we know who that patient zero is?

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