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!

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[Recommended] Reading

Okay, let’s just start with what we’ve all been thinking: Venus’ romper (duh). Is it worth talking about?
Wimbledon 2011: Venus Williams’ Romper Outfit Making Headlines, Again
SB Nation // Holly Anderson

We need to talk about this romper thing. Forgive me, but nobody looks good in a romper. Nobody. There is a reason they are the sartorial stuff of toddlers, and this is not something grown people should seek to emulate.

Or is it misguided to want to? (dated, yes, but it’s relevant… again)
Are Venus Williams’ “Risque and Revealing” Outfits Fair Game?
Feministing // Lori

Attention: sportscasters John McEnroe and Dick Enberg, mainstream media outlets like the Huffington Post, non-mainstream media outlets, internet commentors, sports aficionados, coercive nazi-stylistas, Nsenga Burton, and all you other haters out there!!!!

Stop STOP Stop commenting excessively on the outfit choices of Venus Williams, one of the most talented professional athletes of all time.

And speaking of Wimbledon…
Wimbledon Likes Their Female Tennis Players Hot and Grunt-Free
Feministing // Lori

Really, Wimbledon, really? You couldn’t think of a better way to honor the top female tennis athletes in the world than to subject them to a glorified “hot or not” contest?

Sugar Ray Leonard just published his autobiography, with some really great stories, and some really ground-breaking confessions, but he’s been facing criticism for making them as a publicity stunt, and a hook for his book.
In Book, Sugar Ray Leonard Says Coach Sexually Abused Him
New York Times // Harvey Araton

…when he first decided to discuss the incident in the book, which is written with Michael Arkush, he offered a version in which the abuser stopped before there was actual contact.

“That was painful enough,” Leonard writes. “But last year, after watching the actor Todd Bridges bare his soul on Oprah’s show about how he was sexually abused as a kid, I realized I would never be free unless I revealed the whole truth, no matter how much it hurt.”

And Vancouver!
Understanding Vancouver’s ‘Hockey Riot’
Edge of Sports // Dave Zirin

The fans on the whole were actually in fine form after the game. They gave Conn Smythe winner, Bruin goalie Tim Thomas, a standing ovation and also rose and cheered for every Bruin from Vancouver British Columbia. Of the millions of Canuck supporters, this was a miniscule mob.

In the spirit of the NBA Draft…
What’s Your Deal? with Bismack Biyombo
Grantland // Davy Rothbart

Suddenly a lot of people want to know something about me. I go back home and sit down with my parents, and Igor calls me and gives to me some news. He says people are talking about me and NBA teams are interested in me for the draft. I was like, “WOW! That’s really tight!” Yeah, I was really surprised. And it’s been fun. All of these guys I’ve been looking up to, I’ll be playing against them now.

And because LeBron is still news…
NBA Finals Recap, as Told by LeBron James’ Facial Expressions
The Atlantic // Eleanor Barkhorn

The clearest way to see the arc of the series is to watch how Heat superstar LeBron James’s facial expressions evolved from start to finish. He went into the Finals full of confidence and swagger, and ended the series looking chastened and distressed.

Required Reading: One More Link

Airless
Slate // Josh Levin
Lebron James’ Michael Jordan problem.

Why do we keep on believing that we’ll see the arc of LeBron James’ career just around the next corner? It’s all Michael Jordan’s fault.

His Airness isn’t just the best player in NBA history. He also had the least ambiguous career trajectory—early defeats followed by unending success—of any athlete in the history of pro sports. Yes, LeBron James has (as of yet) not won an NBA title. But the reason his path seems so troubling is that it’s been the exact opposite of Jordan-esque—less of an arc than a flat line, one that’s missing both Jordan’s formative struggles and subsequent triumphs.

See also: Air Sick, an amazing compilation of the moments we forget when we compare Lebron to Jordan.

Required Reading: The NBA Finals

Every Thursday, we’ll be showcasing the best sports writing from around the web. Here’s our first installment, starring the NBA Finals.

The Mystery Guest Has Arrived
ESPN // Kevin Arnovitz
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra has risen from “The Dungeon” to the NBA spotlight

Spoelstra doesn’t know jack about video: coordinating video, editing video, or the coordination of video editing. All he knows is that he wants to be around basketball. He has applied everywhere for a college coaching gig, but has come up empty. If the Heat are interested in having him stick around, then he’ll gladly take on whatever tasks they have for him.


It’s Time for Lebrondown, Part II
Grantland // Bill Simmons
Jordan would never do that: Lebron’s playoff irrelevancy

In pressure moments, he comes and goes … and when it goes, it’s gone. He starts throwing hot-potato passes, stops driving to the basket, shies away from open 3s, stands in the corner, hides as much as someone that gifted can hide on a basketball court. It started happening in Game 3, then fully manifested itself in Game 4’s stunning collapse, when he wouldn’t even consider beating DeShawn Stevenson off the dribble. Afterward, one of my closest basketball friends — someone who has been defending LeBron’s ceiling for years — finally threw up his hands and gave up. “It’s over,” he said. “Jordan never would have done THAT.”

[…]

Who are you, Lebron James? What’s inside you? And why do I care so much?

Dirk, Lebron, And Why They Seem To Take Turns Letting Us Down
GQ // Bethlehem Shoals

James still has the capacity to astound us, but it’s also turned into a burden. We never quite knew what to make of Dirk, which made it okay to stop, stare and wonder. He was an imaginary number in action. LeBron seems like the perfect basketball player, or at least a being stamped hot by Perfection herself. It’s excruciating to be reminded that he’s mortal, or realize that a man built to play basketball couldn’t possibly do everything.

Lebron James’ Passive Pick and Roll Play
NBA Playbook // Sebastian Prusti

For whatever reason in game 4, he just stopped attacking coming off of ballscreens. This wasn’t even him being a facilitator, either. Being a facilitator means hitting teammates and putting them in a position to score, and James wasn’t doing that. His passing was a result of not wanting to attack (especially in pick and roll situations).

On Jason Kidd, Hall-of-Fame Groundhog
GQ // Brian Phillips

The paradox of Kidd’s style, in other words, is that he makes being a visionary look less like liberation and more like doin’ work. Maybe for that reason, I can’t really imagine him winning a championship. That’s not because he’s not good enough, but because deep down (which is where his game lives, after all) he strikes me as a player whose style can only be validated by losing.

Kidd’s presence invaluable to Mavs’ title run
The Point Forward // Zach Lowe

Once those feet are set, though, Kidd can fight an opponent. Watch film of his pick-and-roll defense in this series, and one thing jumps out: He is never, ever out of position. He’s not a lockdown pick-and-roll defender; he falls behind Wade and James while chasing them over screens, just like everyone else does. He needs Tyson Chandler’s help in jumping off the screener and containing the ball-handler for a few seconds to recover from the pick.

5 things NBA TV should be showing during the Finals
The Basketball Jones // Andrew Unterberger

They should have been marathoning the 2006 Finals games for days straight before the series started, and now they should still be showing at least one of them a day. Maybe get some experts from both teams in the studio to compare the teams across the years, and talk about how Devin Harris in ‘06 stacks up against JJ Barea in ‘11, or whether Dwyane Wade was getting fairer foul calls then or now, or if Adrian Griffin is an even bigger “That guy started for a team that made the FINALS??” headfuck than DeShawn Stevenson.

GILBERT

Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. 

Thomas Jefferson in a letter to his adolescent nephew, 1785

It would be anachronistic to hold this one against ol’ Teej. He couldn’t have known about Dr. Naismith’s daring experiment or the rife subculture, literary tradition and generations of edified young folks it has nourished for twelve decades; it’s an epistemological limit for which we’ll have to grant him a pass. Yet, in the same breath, he was able to prefigure so exactly a different strain of then-nascent American life that has remained salient to this day:

As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. […] While this gives but moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind.

Oh, the perspicacity!

This nifty little letter to a 15-year-old Peter Carr — rumored in the margins to be the real father of Sally Hemings’ Jeffersonian offspring — has been anthologized (included in the abstemious selection of letters in The Portable Thomas Jefferson), idolized (by 2nd Amendment fetishists) and psychoanalyzed (I wrote about it in my diary the other day) but compared to his remarkable, lengthy epistolary exchanges with, say, atheist patriot Thomas Paine or Revolutionary financier/soldier/printmaker Dr. Benjamin Rush it’s really kind of a throw-away. So what keeps it so germane, so ripe for re-reading across the centuries? The answer is, naturally, Gilbert Arenas.

Mmmm mmmm.

Anyone who watched the Magic after the big trade, and therefore any number of scrub guards evade Gil like he was Al Capone’s taxes, knows that basketball has certainly done much violence to our protagonist’s body. I swear sometimes I can hear his knees creaking. But anyone who saw him play his way from second-rounder to All-Star with the Wizards (née Bullets) or listened to him speak almost ever knows that he has “character” for days.

He sports his own sneaks during games these days, abjuring an endorsement deal that might cramp his style. For years he kookily sported the number 0 on his jersey, as if in some semiotic gesture which argued that he’s not just signified – no – he signifies. His award-winning blog often took on a confessional (read: actual person-esque) tone. Bethlehem Shoals once characterized his demeanor during the post-“finger guns”/Javaris Crittenton debacle press conferences as resembling “somewhere between a suicide note and the grizzled drop-out who could’ve been a contender.” He once said the following in response to allegations that he was cheating in Halo 3:

“It’s a glitch,” he explained. “It’s a glitch in the game. I seen some kids that were like 600s, they won 600 Halo games and we only had that game for two weeks. And all the kids go to school.”

Weeeeeird.

But the fact remains that Gilbert, despite his erratic shot selection and ¡Ole! style of defense, is one of the most belovable players on the Orlando squad and [due to contract constraints] looks like he will be for some time. For an explanation as to why, perhaps Jefferson’s letter might again be instructive. I’ll leave you with my favorite passage.

Though you cannot see, when you take one step, what will be the next, yet follow truth, justice, and plain dealing, and never fear their leading you out of the labyrinth, in the easiest manner possible. The knot which you thought a Gordian one, will untie itself before you. Nothing is so mistaken as the supposition, that a person is to extricate himself from a difficulty, by intrigue, by chicanery, by dissimulation, by trimming, by an untruth, by an injustice. This increases the difficulties ten fold; and those who pursue these methods, get themselves so involved at length, that they can turn no way but their infamy becomes more exposed.

It is of great importance to set a resolution, not to be shaken, never to tell an untruth. There is no vice so mean, so pitiful, so contemptible; and he who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world’s believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions.

And of course, this: