Thursday, September 27, 2007

David Stern vs. Oklahoma City

David Stern fascinates me. As a commissioner of a league that isn't the NFL, his job has a lot of challenges. The NBA has been haunted over the last few years by the perception that it's filled with out of control thugs. The fairness of this opinion could be debated at length. Granted, there are issues like, well, Ron Artest that don't do a whole lot to dispel this belief. On the other hand, football is home to professional dog fighters that bring garbage bags of cash into strip clubs. But, citing leaps of logic like this is ultimately pointless. Fairness doesn't matter: either the public wants to buy your product or it doesn't. David Stern understands this, and has never taken a 'woe is me' approach to his duties. He's been a strong and assertive leader with the ultimate motive of preserving the long term health of the game. The fact that Bud Selig still has a job shows that this isn't a universal standard.

I can't really say that I agree with every decision he's made. Over the last few years, there have been things such as the dress code and the ball that have made me question how much he understands both his audience and his players. But, the arc of his career and the the bent of his choices has been towards basketball being a viable and profitable league. So, that makes me respect him. That, and his willingness to be an absolutely brutal and ruthless decision maker. Have you ever heard this guy give a press conference? The man has balls of steel. When he becomes convinced he needs to do something, his heart instantly becomes made of stone.

This fact makes me think that Clay Bennett and his redneck contemporaries are pretty much screwed. The ownership group out of Oklahoma City got a taste of the NBA experience, and decided that was something they wanted long term. So, they bought the Sonics and immediately started coming up with pretext to move them down south. You know Stern is way too smart to not have perceived this coming, but as long as it was implied, there was not a whole lot he could do. But when Bennett began publicly discussing it, he swiftly fined him, icily telling him that Seattle would at the very least be playing out their lease at Key Arena. Now that OKC has filed arbitration to be released from that obligation, Seattle has in turn filed a lawsuit to keep them there. Maybe this will be sufficient to stop the move. But if it isn't, you'd better believe David Stern is getting involved.

Basketball has been dysfunctional in Seattle, but it doesn't mean that the city deserves to get screwed out of their team. And, as enthusiastic as the fanbase might be, there just isn't enough money in Oklahoma for a relocation to make sense for the NBA. So, you want a battle? Bring it, OKC. Stern isn't scared. He may look like an elf, but he'll mess you up. You should have picked a bitch commissioner to cross. Maybe there's a baseball team available.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Wonderlic Test is Really Accurate.

The New Orleans Saints had a great season last year, and the Houston Texans appear to be a team finally headed in the right direction. Still, you have to think it can't be easy to watch Vince Young play for the Titans. Yes, the man proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to be mentally handicapped has shockingly ended up being a competent quarterback. I'm not sure who could have anticipated that he'd rise above his disability. After all, this is the first time in his career he's proven doubters wrong and become a success.

In all seriousness, watching VY shred defenses and improve with every game makes the media's assessment of players appear even more haphazard than usual. This is a guy who has succeeded on every level; he's shown leadership, determination, and an absolutely terrifying sense of internal calm under pressure. On Monday night in New Orleans, he made some early mistakes. But, he played under control, and by the the time the 4th quarter rolled around, the game belonged to him. The defining play of the game had to be a 3rd and short. The defense blitzed and he bounced outside, stepping across the 1st down marker, and then back again to avoid a hit. A Saints corner, obviously frustrated, grabbed onto his jersey and rode him out of bounds. Vince returned the courtesy by smacking him in the mouth and staring him down on the way back to the huddle.

By contrast, His Exalted Holiness St. Reggie Bush is struggling. His success in the NFL was all but guaranteed by everybody with a microphone or a keyboard. But, his free form playing style seems to be holding him back, and the bruising back that allowed him his success last season is now gone for the year. His former teammate, LenDale White, described by pundits pre-draft as "fat" and "risky" was clearly enjoying playing alongside Vince Young, and strangely seems to run well despite that fact that he doesn't dance around to avoid tackles. Which is weird: I mean, the guy never scored a touchdown at USC, right? That's the Titans: the team that has no right to succeed but seems to do so anyway. Who would've thought that a national champion QB, a proven bruiser of a running back, and a coach who's been to the Super Bowl could do well. They're like that disabled kid who shot all those three pointers. What was he, artistic or something?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ryan $heckler is Getting Rich.

Almost ten years ago, I started to hear about skateboarding's next child prodigy. His name was Ryan Sheckler, and at age 8 he was already turning heads. He quickly started collecting sponsors, winning contests, and getting coverage. Despite this early success, there was a lot of cause to worry about his future. It can be difficult for people who succeed at a young age in a lot of different arenas, and skateboarding is no exception. Plenty of people have started strong, then burned out. So, as I watched Ryan's star rise, there were question marks. Could he handle the pressure? Was this really what he wanted? When he became professional at age 13, it made me wonder again: was he headed for a spectacular collapse?

Well, the good news is he's not a drug addict or a has been. The bad news is that he's about as greedy as you can possibly get. It's not enough for him to have many lucrative contracts, a shoe with his name on it, his face on video games, and to travel around the world skateboarding. No, he and the brains behind his 'brand' decided that it wasn't enough, and they've gotten him his own MTV show. Yes, we the lucky viewing public now get to watch Ryan do things like plan for Winter Formal, whine and moan about his family, show off his wicked back tattoo, and search for that elusive girl who's interested in a 17 year old with too much money and a pro skateboarding career.

If it's not obvious, I find this to be extremely aggravating. Skateboarding has been associated with its fair share of lame things over the years, and a reality show is a huge step backwards. I'm not faulting Ryan for being an annoying teenager, because god only knows, I was one of those too. I'm not complaining about his tanned jock meathead approach to a part of my life that has symbolized the exact opposite to, well, tanned jock meatheads. Not everyone is going to see it the way I do, and he's got just as much right to pick up a skateboard as everyone else. I'm not even faulting him for wanting to make money while he has an opportunity. A career can be capricious, and he or anyone else is wise to try to strike while the iron's hot. What bothers me is the best thing he could think to do is make skateboarding into a second-tier Laguna Beach.

People have done lame things in the name of turning a profit off of skateboarding before. Tony Hawk did a loop for McDonalds, sold Bagel Bites, and pretended like Tom Green was cool. But even then, nobody could claim that he took more than he put in. Tony stuck with skateboarding and helped it grow through the lean years. He ate Taco Bell and did van tours for tiny crowds. He put together a team of unknowns that are now some of the top pros in the culture. Yes, I will always feel ambivalent that he chose to give some legitimacy to ESPN's interpretation of skateboarding. But, ultimately, he put in the work. He was involved when there was no money to be made and stuck with it. Ryan has never known a fallow period. Skateboarding has made him a millionaire before he's 18 years old, and all he can think to do is find another way to milk it dry. What a little creep.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Charlie Weis Might Get Fired.

In a wonderfully entertaining turn of events, Notre Dame is horrible. I mean, granted, I was convinced they were horrible for a while now, but they've taken it to another level. For the first time in their 119 year history, the Irish are 0 and 4. It was wildly speculated that there'd be some rebuilding after Brady Quinn and, um, those other guys left, but nobody, even me, dared to dream this big. They stink. This week, they scored two offensive touchdowns, and that was cause for celebration: even though they lost by 17.

Rumblings about big ol' Charlie losing his job have already begun. This, a couple years after South Bend tripped over themselves to give him a ten year extension. I'm giddy. It infuriated me to no end to see Ty Willingham shown the door the way he was. Then, it drove me up the wall hearing the calls for Brady's sainthood when he'd yet to win a meaningful game. I'd get a lot of satisfaction watching them get walloped in every bowl game they play. But now, it's a question whether they'll even make it to a bowl game. And, it feels so good.

I don't dislike Notre Dame on principle. I'd be fine with them if they belonged to an actual conference, didn't pad out their schedule with cupcake opponents, and didn't expect a bowl game slot on principle. A couple more seasons like this one, and maybe that will happen. Maybe.