Thursday, April 05, 2007

In hindsight, I probably should not have reminded the universe of the remarkable coincidence on Monday afternoon. After today's victory against the Royals, the Red Sox are in first place in the AL East. It is true that the Yankees are playing at the moment, and technically have yet to lose a game, but Major League Baseball will announce at any moment that the aberration on Monday evening will not count against the Red Sox in the standings.

Plus Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched seven strong innings struck out ten Royals and allowed only one earned run. That ought to be enough to offset minor inconveniences like a loss here or there. I think most teams are simply going to give up the ghost now that John Buck, Royals catcher and keen baseball mind, has decreed that Matsuzaka has ace-type stuff.

As much as Daisuke's stellar regular season debut is a blow to Sedition in Red Sox Nation, it's just one game against a team that has managed to lose quite a few games over the last two decades or so. It reminds me of another highly touted prospect who made a debut almost twelve years ago for a team I do not hate. I don't know if you remember the Ron Powlus era at Notre Dame. I do. He came in as the most highly recruited player of the year, he was going to join the Pantheon of greats at Notre Dame and a funny thing happened on the way to immortality.

It turned out he was overrated. After a nice debut against a very bad Northwestern team, things just kept getting worse for Ron. Now, he's back at Notre Dame as quarterbacks coach, preparing touted recruit Jimmy Clausen to replace Brady Quinn. That is not making me happy to be a Notre Dame fan next season, but what can you do? Just something to think about, there's a lot of room for regression after today's performance by Daisuke.

This piece by the CHB on the hype leading up to Daisuke's debut isn't worth reading, but it is worth taking a look at him in that video that accompanies it. Holy crap, he looks like Kramer from that episode of Seinfeld where he turned his apartment into a smoking lounge and hyperaged himself in a couple of days. He's kind of like the Picture of Dorian Grey, and not just in the sense that he's unreadably pretentious. Finally the man on the surface matches the madness within.

Not only did the hated Red Sox prevail, but ESPN interrupted its regular lineup to bring us the breaking story about the fate of the Florida junior class following their repeat performance this week (also part of the payback for me celebrating the Red Sox defeat and TMC showing Cromwell). Who cares? This draft is about Oden and Durant.

And this Florida team isn't a top 5 or 10 all time team. Remember, these guys only came to college because they weren't good enough to go pro right from jump street. College basketball was better this year because people had to go for at least a year after high school under the new age limit rule. But imagine if no one went pro straight from high school for the four or five consecutive drafts? Only then would it be fair to measure this generation against the past.

Finally, there is the Miami-Cleveland game tonight. I was looking forward to watching it, because it is an increasingly rare occurrence that a sporting event should take place where I actually like both teams. However, the universe could not allow me to enjoy it after the indecent enthusiasm with which I celebrated the bone the universe threw me on Monday. No matter how the game shapes up on the floor, Turner Broadcasting is continuing the universe's campaign against me.

Reggie Miller, Doug Collins and Kevin Harlan are calling the game. Things are being taken away from the table at an alarming rate. Early in the first quarter, Shaq hit Haslem with a no-look pass. Perhaps jarred by the fact that Udonis "Hand of Stone" Haslem caught said pass, Miller went on a mini-tangent about the pass. In his ecstasy, Miller giddily narrated the replay and marvelled at the fact that Shaq's eyes didn't stray in Haslem's direction, after telling the viewers that a no-look pass was coming.

Now I didn't attend that celebrated disco with books that is the University of California in Los Angeles. But it seems to me that the fact that Shaq did not look at Udonis Haslem whilst passing the basketball to him is what makes it a no-look pass. Of course, I may be wrong. But redundancy in engineering complicated systems is a good thing, and redundancy in broadcasting is a bad thing. Reggie Miller is not helping fans enjoy the game.

TNT would be better served to let Barkley and Kenny Smith call the games. Even better, throw Tommy Heinshon in the mix. Maybe a fourth guy like Ernie Johnson as a referee/moderator. These are intelligent guys who love basketball and know the game better than anyone. More importantly, they're honest, they have integrity and they aren't afraid to speak their mind.

I'm sick to death of announcers trying to pretend that a bad game is interesting, exciting and/or intrinsically watchable simply because it's basketball. Also, keeping abreast of current events would be helpful. And by that I don't mean world news, arts, literature, politics and so on. I mean what happens in the game. For instance, Kevin Harlan just announced that Antoine Walker made his first appearance of the game at the 11:11 mark of the second quarter. Toine was on the floor in the first, I know it for a fact. I saw him. Wearing number 8.

Good broadcasters would now something like that before they said it, or they wouldn't bring it up. A team like Barkley, Smith, Heinshon and the moderator might make a mistake like that from time to time, but they'd call one another on it. They'd make a bad game watchable because they have personalities. They'd tell you it was a bad game, start talking about other things and telling stories about a bygone age when basketball was basketball and players passed, played defense and we were as kings.

I know every broadcaster tries to do some or all of those things, but 95% of people in the world can't tell a story to save their life. It's a natural gift. Something you can't be taught. A good storyteller has a rhythm. A certain vocabulary, maybe a patois (as much as I hate pretentious, foreign words like that, but there isn't a good English alternative). It's not about using big words or small, complicated words but about using the words that come naturally to you from your environment and experience.

Guys like Barkley and Heinshon can be offensive because they speak their mind extemporaneously. I remember an All Star Weekend event (I think it was a celebrity game), Barkley was calling it with Ainge and a couple of other people. Two WNBA players were on the floor and Ainge said that we were seeing two of the best point guards in the world. And Barkley cut across his point and said, slightly derisively: "You mean for girls, right."

Now that was a little bit sexist (or a lot sexist). But he said what a majority of the audience was thinking. Men are better basketball players than women. Fundamentals are important, but they take a back seat to the ability to play above the rim. I complain a lot about the way basketball is played in the NBA, but I flat out refuse to watch the WNBA. The fundamentals are so good in women's basketball because they aren't athletic enough to get away with anything else.

Barkley wasn't excessively hostile toward the idea of women's basketball, and he wasn't saying that the two women didn't belong on the court in general. But he was right to point out that the two women could play in the All Star Weekend exhibition against retired players and celebrities, but they weren't talented enough to play top flight pros from the NBA in a genuine, honest to goodness, no fooling NBA game. That's the truth, more to the point it's one man's honest opinion, untainted by fear.

A certain amount of sensitivity is important, but not more than honesty. In that celebrity game several years ago, Ainge was right in the sense that the two WBNA players of whom he spoke are among the best point guards in the world because they can play better than the vast majority of human beings on the planet. But the two of them were not better than even the worst point guard in the NBA at the time, so in that sense they were not two of the best point guards in the world.

Barkley just said during the halftime show that Dallas needs to pick up their intensity or they might lose to Utah in a potential second round playoff matchup. There are a lot of reasons to dismiss this out of hand, Dallas has won 62 games this season. They've won 9 out of their last ten. But Barkley says Dallas has not been as focused on its defense lately, and now is not the time to sleep on Utah.

He may be wrong, I hope he's right. But then I may be attracted to that line of reasoning because I hate Dallas. But he's obviously thought about it, he didn't shout that prediction the way a lot of commentators do these days. He didn't say it to take the other side of the trade the way a lot of talking heads do. It's something he thinks, and he threw it out for people to take or leave. If he's wrong, he'll admit it, and if he's right he'll throw an "I told you so" or two at us, but he won't be a tool about it. That's why he should be calling games.

For his part, Tommy Heinshon is no stranger to saying some things that aren't tremendously sensitive. There was the Dikembe Mutumbo comment about hunting lions. And the Yao Ming chopsticks comment. His sensitivity could improve, but he has a gentleness about him that leads people to overlook his comments, which are very few and far between. People will always forgive a guy they like for minor transgressions.

That's the difference between the insensitivity from Barkley and Heinshon going largely unnoticed and the firestorm that greeted the Billy Packer "fag out" comment. It's not just that the audience in Heinshon's case is fairly small, because there could not have been more than 100 people watching that particular Charlie Rose. After all, you can't tell me you know more than three people who watch him.

It seems that hating Billy Packer is the one thing that makes us all Americans at heart. And unlike TO or Tank Johnson who are widely criticized but defended here and Ozzie Guillen who called a sportswriter I loathe a fag and was defended in this space, I will not defend Billy Packer. I really don't care if he called Charlie Rose a fag, or implied that Rose is a fag. While I would like to see him retire, I am not going to attack him for this.

I want CBS to show him the door because he's a bitter old man who seems to hate what he does. He has no sense of timing. It seems like there are moments when a small aside comparing a contemporary team or player to one or more from the past works and then there are moments when Packer does it. And never the twain shall meet. Plus, it's never a short aside. It seems like 15 minutes of game time elapse while he's talking about what Dr. Naismith told him about throwing the spheroid into the peach basket.

Maybe I would hate him less if he didn't work with Jim Nantz. Jim Nantz with his voice stuffed full of fake sincerity and fake emotion and fake gravitas will exercise his formidable talent at turning what should be a legitimately dramatic moment into an artificial, saccharine schmaltz fest as fake as Natntz' own claymation character hairline. He's the only reason not to look forward to the Masters.

Hearing him say "Amen Corner" or azaleas or "What a moment" or "the Masters on CBS" in his phoney "I alone understand the full signifigance of this moment" voice makes me wish that the tree the course owners would not remove for Eishenhower would fulfill its destiny and fall on Nantz' head. It's going to be a long weekend.

PS- Antoine Walker had 20 points in Miami's win tonight. Danny AInge would be rolling over in his grave, if he'd only drop dead.


Anonymous said...

The link to the CHB article points to the article about Powlus.

Anonymous said...

A. Walker came in the for the first time at the start of the 2nd qtr. vs. Cleveland. I watched the game, too. You were wrong. If you want us to read your comments-be accurate and not a smart ass.

thecincinattikid said...

I could swear I saw him on the floor covering some one at the top of the key around the 1:30 mark of the 1st