Friday, August 29, 2014

Gator Nation's Best and Worst of Times

Something I heard Greg Schiano say once that has always stayed with me: you’re never as good as your best game, nor are you as bad as your worst game.

Nothing exemplifies this statement more than the Florida Gators football team of the past two years. Will Muschamp’s best year, in 2012, saw the Gators go 11-2. His worst year, 2013, saw UF finish 4-8.

So which is it? What team is the real Florida Gators? Are they the 11-2 squad that was a national championship contender, or the 4-8 team that saw many calling for Muschamp to be fired? If we look at the team from the vantage point of Schiano’s statement, we’ll see that the answer is, in fact, neither.

For all the good Urban Meyer did for Florida – two national championships are nothing to sneeze at – what he didn’t do is still affecting the team to this day; namely, to bring in depth and talent on the offensive side of the ball, especially in the receiving corps. In 2012, Florida tight ends had 63 receptions – or 18 fewer than the top three wide receivers combined.

So how did the Gators go 11-2? Well, Meyer left the cupboard completely full on the defensive side of the ball, and Muschamp, a defensive coach, took full advantage. The Gators basically scratched out points on offense and then sat back and let the defense do the rest. But when they came up on opponents whose offense was as good (or better) as the Gators’ D, UF’s O couldn’t rise to the occasion. Thus, losses to Georgia and Louisville, the first one keeping Florida out of the SEC Championship and the second a preview of the season to follow. (The latter game saw the Gators trailing 24-3 late in the first half before eventually losing, 33-23.)

Unfortunately for Florida, even a sound defeat by Louisville to end the 2012 season couldn’t tamper expectations for the 2013 campaign. This was an 11-2 team, remember? They were thisclose to playing in the SEC Championship! That means they were thisclose to possibly being this close to maybe playing for the National Championship!

What happens when an 11-2 team that wasn’t really an 11-2 team loses 28 players, including 20 starters (a number that includes those backups who became starters after the original starter was injured), including its first-, second- and third-string quarterbacks? Well, 4-8 happens. A loss to FCS team Georgia Southern* (a game that I attended, much to my chagrin) happens. No bowl game happens. And calls for Muschamp to be fired happens.

But give me one program that would survive with its third-string quarterback starting a significant amount of the season. Most fans would say that if a team is on its third-string quarterback, its season is already over. It’s very easy to blame the coach, but what I saw from these Gators is guys playing hard even while losing badly. That, to me, is the mark of a good coach.

Pundits far and wide have said that the Gators will be better this year, which isn’t really stepping out on a limb after their 4-8 campaign. This is a team that isn’t 11-2, but also isn’t 4-8, so somewhere in the middle is going to be an improvement from last season. Bringing in Kurt Roper will improve the offense; Andre DeBose will stay healthy and the Gators’ receivers will be more productive; the defense will remain solid; the team will (hopefully) stay (mostly) healthy; I foresee it will play in a January bowl.

I like Muschamp. I like that he’s a Gainesville native. I like that, unlike Meyer, the Florida gig really is a dream job for Muschamp. I love when he gave Meyer crap by saying “we appreciated our friends from Ohio making sure we're compliant with NCAA rules. They certainly know a little bit about that subject.” I’m proud to call him coach of the team that I love.

But I also at one point loved Ron Zook. Don’t be Ron Zook, Coach Muschamp. For all of our sakes.

*Post was changed to say that the Gators lost to Georgia Southern, not Georgia State. In my defense, I'd like to forget everything about that loss, but all I managed to forget was the second part of the team's name.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Putting the M and E in Emmys.

You can’t spell the Emmy’s with out M E.

No industry does a better job of patting itself on the back than entertainment. From the Grammy’s to the Emmy’s to the Oscars and everything in between, entertainers LOVE to tell us how wonderful they are, how wonderful their friends are, what amazing work they all do and why we should all watch everything they do ever.

But you know what? Even if we’re watching to make fun of them, we’re watching, we’re being entertained (either by them or my ourselves), so everyone’s happy.

I for one am excited about the Emmy’s. Among other things, I’m looking forward to seeing what Seth Meyers will do with the opening monologue. He helped write Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s opener for last year’s Golden Globes, which was amazing. That said, after last night’s VMA’s, I’m gonna be ticked if Seth doesn’t show any skin. I think we deserve it.

8:03pm: Nice job by Seth acknowledging the writers that make the shows happen. Too bad they were too busy doing their job to be around to hear him.

8:06pm: What’s a VCR?

8:08pm: TV > Movies.

8:10pm: I’m probably not the only one who is surprised that Tony Hale didn’t win. I would have expected Ty Burrell and Jesse Tyler Ferguson to split the Modern Family votes so that neither one earned the award.

8:11pm: Ty Burrell stealing a bit from Steve Carrell. Well, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best.

8:18pm: Louis CK is short and to the point. I like it.

8:21pm: CJ Craig!

8:21pm: I love Allison Janney. From Private Parts to West Wing to everything she’s ever done ever, I love her.

8:25pm: My wife and I just had a conversation about what Julia Louis-Dreyfus will do this year if she wins an Emmy. Last year she brought up Tony Hale, earlier this year at another awards show she brought up Matt Walsh

8:28pm: Crazy Eyes doesn't sound or look so crazy. I'm beginning to think that she may be a tremendous actor.

8:30pm: Modern Family cleaning up so far. Which is funny, because everything the one article I read said that the voters are tired of Modern Family. So nice job prognosticating, folks!

8:32pm: Gail Mancuso is just as funny as any of the Modern Family actors.

8:33pm: Billy on the Street appearance!

8:34pm: Seth MacFarlane?! I don’t think the internet is ready for him to host another show.

8:35pm: I love Billy on the Street, and I loved that bit, and my wife was skeptical at first but at the end she was crying laughing so there.

8:36pm: Julia Louis-Dreyfus gets hotter every year. That is all.

8:38pm: How did Katherine Heigl get Jim Parsons-area seats? I mean, what I’m trying to say is, HOW DID KATHERINE HEIGL GET IN THE SAME SEATING AREA AS JIM PARSONS??!?!

8:40pm: I can't knock Parsons winning again, even though I was pulling for Louis CK. I mean, someone has to show CBS that they made the right move by paying Parsons approximately 7 bajillion dollars an episode.

8:45pm: Brilliant job by JLD – we’re all expecting someone from Veep to come up with her, and she went and kept the Seinfeld bit with Bryan Cranston going. Brilliant Brilliant Brilliant.

8:49pm: Reality show blah blah blah “reality” blah blah blah "nothing real about it" blah blah blah.

8:49pm: “Julia Roberts began her career in television.” Way to explain to us why she’s here, Emmy’s.

8:55pm: I like the idea of the Q&A, but I dunno if it quite worked. Jon Hamm and Juliana Marguiles were funny, the Andre Braugher-Josh Charles bathroom key was humorous, but the rest of it was meh.

8:58pm: Sherlock is amazing, and if you haven’t watched it yet you haven’t been living.

9:00pm: Pretty funny that there’s a TV actress named Julia Roberts. The real Julia Roberts is going to be a little ticked.

9:01pm: I’ll bet Kathy Bates isn’t feeling any Misery tonight!

9:01pm: Seriously, I’ll bet she’s pretty stoked.

9:06pm: You all should watch About a Boy. It’s really funny. No joke, it’s a really good show.

9:08pm: I love Colbert, but that one fell flat.

9:08pm: The Normal Heart had four out of the six nominations in that category and still lost. To one of the stars of Love, Actually. I’m just saying, Martin Freeman was in Love, Actually. Along with the star of 12 Years A Slave. And the star of Taken.

9:15pm: Bad Judge makes me think that someone was a bad judge of what is funny. And that someone is NBC.

9:18pm: We got the plagiarism joke, Matty. We all read the internet. But the joke was funny, all right all right all right?

9:21pm: I am way more excited than I should be that Benedict Cumberbatch won an Emmy. And way more bummed than I should be that Sherlock isn’t coming back for like five years.

9:25pm: Lemme get this straight – Weird Al makes no appearance on the VMAs, but he has a whole segment on the Emmys.

9:25pm: On second thought, I wasn’t planning to watch the VMAs, so this worked perfectly for me.

9:31pm: While I don't think the bit was great, it was an awesome idea and I love Weird Al and that will never change.

9:33pm: Fargo is cleaning up the dramas so far. I really should watch that. I’ll add it to my list.

9:41pm: Ricky Gervais just killed it. I know people haven’t liked him when he’s hosted, but I thought he was funny, and I thought he was tremendous while presenting. The fact that Sarah Silverman won, kicked off her shoes and ran up the stairs only added to my enjoyment of that segment. And I really need to add Dexter to my list.

9:51pm: “Two things that can happen to your car, Key and Peele!” BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA

9:53pm: As always, Key and Peele crushed. Just crushed. Those guys should really have their own TV show.

9:54pm: Hardwick had me until he said “let’s give out a fancy award to a deserving human.” THEY'RE ALL DESERVING HUMANS, OK? EVEN THE ONES WHO DON'T WIN.

9:55pm: The guy who won had a shocked face, which would have been much more believable if the trophy wasn’t basically already in his hands when the announcement was made.

9:57pm: The one thing I’m going to miss when Colbert moves to CBS is his banter with Jimmy Fallon. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that won’t happen when they are competing against each other.

10:04pm: The grand poobah of the academy is now up, and he’s put Sophia Vergara on a pedastal. Literally. And I have no idea what he said after that.

10:09pm: Peter Dinklage slow clapping for three seconds was like watching a dramatic, angry monologue. I need a gif of that posthaste.

10:20pm: I never thought there was a right or a wrong way to do the In Memoriam, segment, until now. I think the Emmy’s did it brilliantly.

10:26pm: A great acceptance speech always follows “I should have written something.”

10:27pm: At least it was short.

10:33pm: Katherine Heigl is in a new show on NBC. THAT’S why she gets seating in Jim Parsons area. The Truth Is Out There. As is she, if we are to believe the stories.

10:39pm: I am thrilled that Juliana Marguiles won, because I LOVE the Good Wife, and she totally deserves it, but I find it…unsettling, for lack of a better word…that the woman who is skinny like no woman I know in real life opens her acceptance with “what a great time in TV for women.” It is a great time in TV for women, because there are so many great roles, and they're all doing such amazing jobs, but I just wish more of those women didn’t have to look like they never eat.

10:46pm: Are we going to get another “I love my life” here from movie star Roberts?

10:47pm: We’re not! And Bryan Cranston won. I really gotta check out Breaking Bad. Adding it to the list!

10:50pm: Anna Gunn got music'ed out. Bryan Cranston is still going. That's messed up, Emmy’s.

10:50pm: Jay Leno comes on, and immediately tells a tired joke about how long these award shows are. You know, he used to be comedian*.

*Joke stolen from Jimmy Kimmel.

But seriously, Jay Leno used to be HILARIOUS. Then he got the Tonight Show and went completely vanilla.

10:52pm: The Emmys is playing off the cast of Modern Family. I don’t understand their music-off policies and procedures.

10:57pm: And now Vince Gilligan and Breaking Bad are getting musiced off!

10:58pm: So yeah, I guess I gotta move Breaking Bad up on my list.

10:58pm: The show ends! Two minutes early! I guess that means they’ll get permission to do it again next year.

11:00pm: Let the Tuesday morning quarterbacking begin. I thought Seth Meyers did a fine job. Perhaps not as good as Fey/Poehler (but really, that's an impossible bar to reach), but still pretty good. His Billy on the Street bit was outstanding. Key and Peele were tremendous, and I really hope they get to host an awards show soon. Congratulations to all the winners, congratulations to all the losers nominees, and I look forward to seeing what this year will bring in television.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Perfect from Start to Finish

I walked into the dimly lit building. Music was playing in the background. I looked around, and locked eyes with one of the women standing there. She beckoned me to come sit by her. 

When I got to her, she said "hi" and I said "hello." She asked me what I wanted, and I told her. She nodded her head in acquiescence and began following my instructions.

Neither of us said a word from that point on, until she was done and I thanked her, paid and left.

That is how getting a haircut should be every time.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pay to Play, NFL-Style

The NFL is apparently strapped for cash.

The League that brings in more than $9.5 BILLION (with a B) per year is hurting, and it is asking for help from some super duper mega stars.

That is the assumption I’m making based on these repots from the Wall Street Journal that the NFL wants its Super Bowl Halftime performersto pay in order to play. According to the WSJ, the NFL has asked the three contenders for this year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show (Katy Perry, Rihanna and Coldplay) to give some of their post-Super Bowl income back to the NFL, or to “make some other type of financial contribution.”

The three artists listed above are not keen on the idea. Which isn’t surprising, considering it’s a ridiculous request. Here are two reasons why:

1) Artists who do the Super Bowl Halftime Show are not paid. Not a dime, not a nickel. The NFL gets to promote them to get people to tune in to the halftime show, the NFL gets to promote them to advertisers to get the halftime show sponsored, the NFL makes money from the advertisers who are paying because of all the people who are tuning in, but the artist doesn’t make a buck. The artist is already paying the NFL by not getting paid.

2) The NFL makes a boatload of money every year. The NFL does not need to ask these artists – who again, are NOT GETTING PAID TO PERFORM – to pay to play. It just comes across as greedy. You want more money, NFL? Raise your advertising rates. Sure, it’s still greedy, but at least it doesn’t seem as greedy as asking someone who is doing something for you FOR FREE to pay YOU.

But fine. If the NFL wants the artists to pay in order to play the halftime show, I would suggest that the artists merely put in two stipulations in the contract.

1) I (the artist) get a percentage of the advertising for the Super Bowl. Not just the halftime show – the entire Super Bowl. Since you are going to promote my halftime appearance as a reason for people to tune in to the game, and since advertisers are paying you because of all the people who are going to tune in to the game, I should get a cut.
2) I (the artist) am going to be giving up a lot of my time to prepare for this halftime show, so you’re going to reimburse me for all the concerts I wasn’t able to do. And I was going to do a lot of concerts. Like, one per day.

The argument I’ve heard in favor of the NFL’s request is that these musical acts become stars and make a lot of money following their Super Bowl Halftime appearance because of all the exposure they get. The premise is that the NFL is much more popular than these super stars, so the financial windfall they receive post-Super Bowl more than makes up for whatever percentage they give to the NFL. And I’m sure that these artists do see a spike in their popularity because of their halftime show appearance – which is why they agree to do the show FOR FREE. But I would like to frame my counterpoint to this argument as a question: how many songs, albums or concert tickets have you purchased from a Super Bowl Halftime show performer based on their Super Bowl Halftime Show performance?

It’s not like the NFL is getting up-and-coming stars whom no one has ever heard of before they signed on to do the Halftime Show. Bruno Mars and Red Hot Chili Peppers last year, Beyonce the year before that, Madonna before that…these are all HUGE stars who don’t need the NFL to boost their careers. The NFL needs them much more than they need the NFL, because the NFL is trying to bring in eyeballs who normally don’t watch football.

The NFL books super stars for its Super Bowl Halftime show so that it can promote the beejesus out of its Super Bowl Halftime show so that it can draw many more eyeballs than would normally watch a football game so that it can bring in a lot more advertising revenue. If the NFL felt confident that everyone would watch the game regardless of who was performing at halftime, it would simply promote the game itself and not even mention the halftime show. Or it would simply say that the halftime show will feature a special guest.

But hey, the NFL has a right to ask for whatever money it wants, because it’s a business and the primary goal of any business is to make as much money as it possibly can.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tony Dungy Clarifies His Michael Sam Comments...By Repeating His Michael Sam Comments

I wasn’t going to say anything about Tony Dungy’s commentson Michael Sam, because people smarter than I said what I was thinking much better (or at least snarkier) than I could have myself.

But then Tony Dungy clarified his comments by saying, well by saying his original comments all over again. “My philosophy of drafting, a philosophy that was developed over the years…was to minimize distractions for my teams.”

Let's be clear: the only “distractions” Michael Sam is causing is when people like Tony Dungy make a big deal of how distracting Michael Sam is.

Plus, and this has been asked multiple times by many people but it’s worth repeating, was Dungy’s philosophy really about “minimizing distractions”? Let’s go to the highlights!

Keyshawn Johnson, who at the time was merely a talented headcase who had just “written” (with ESPN’s Shelley Smith) the book, “Just Give Me The Damn Ball,” was traded for by Tampa Bay, with Dungy as its head coach. A few years later (after Dungy was fired), Key would be deactivated for the season by the Bucs because he was considered…wait for it…a distraction.

Michael Vick, who at the time had just gotten out of prison for his role in the dog fighting ring, was signed by the Eagles thanks in large part to Dungy, who was instrumental in helping Vick and all of his baggage find an NFL home. Vick was such a lightning rod that the debate of whether or not he should be allowed to play in the NFL continues today. 

Johnny Manziel, who in 2012 was arrested, who in 2013 left the Manning Passing Academy early (allegedly for oversleeping), who later that year was investigated by the NCAA for accepting money for autographs, whose off-the-field exploits has led to media asking coaches and teammates about them over and over again – you know, Johnny Football – was lauded by Dungy not once, but twice, about how good a football player and what a great teammate he was going to be. Just for fun, you should google “Johnny Manziel” and “off the field” and scan through the first few pages of the over two million results.

But sure, having Keyshawn, Vick and Manziel on your team would totally work with a philosophy of “minimizing distractions.”

If Tony Dungy had just left his comments as “if you can play, you can play,” (which coincidentally is an organization Dungy doesn't seem to agree with), he would have been (mostly) in the clear. We could have looked past his previous anti-gay stance because he’s just so gosh-darn likeable on TV. But he had to throw that little bit of himself in there, that part of him that still looks at Michael Sam the gay man first and Michael Sam the football player second.

Dungy is certainly free to voice his opinion, and unfortunately he is not alone in that opinion. But there is hope that change is on the way. Not too many years ago, people still thought that having a black quarterback would negatively affect the locker room (read: be a distraction). In February, Russell Wilson led the Seahawks to the Super Bowl with very little reporting on his race. I hope coverage of gay football players goes the same way.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Why Anti-Soccer People Are Wrong (And Trolls)

Every four years, an event takes place that divides our great country. We know it’s coming; we talk about it ad nauseam before, during and after; people choose sides and yell across the aisles about how wrong the opposition is.

I’m referring, of course, to the World Cup. It comes around every four years. Soccer fans in America –


– get excited for the two months of world class soccer, sometimes even rearranging their sleep schedule to watch the games.

Unfortunately, the growth of soccer fans in America has also led to an outbreak of soccer haters (henceforth known as “trolls). Trolls gonna troll, and when the World Cup comes around those trolls take to the airwaves and the twitters and the facebooks to discount everything soccer.

I’ve noticed a few anti-soccer points that the trolls raise time and time again, so I thought now would be a good time to answer some of those arguments.

1) Soccer is boring

This is an easy argument for anti-soccer people to make, and usually their reasoning centers around the dearth of scoring. But here’s the thing – ALL sports are boring. In fact, turn on any game in any sport on TV, and the odds are it will be boring.  

The NBA Finals are, theoretically, the most exciting time in the [professional] basketball season. But in 2007, when the Cavaliers were swept by the Spurs, most people wrote it off as one of the most boring Finals ever. Moreover, the majority of NBA fans will readily admit that regular season games are pretty boring unless it’s between two top teams, and they generally don’t start actually watching games until the playoffs.

College football – one of the most popular sports in America – had a national championship in 2012 between Alabama and LSU that was roundly criticized for being incredibly boring. In fact, most college football games are pretty boring, unless you’re a fan of the team that’s beating the other team by a gazillion points. The college basketball tournament is usually pretty exciting, but the regular season? Sure, some games are fun, but by and large most are 50-40 slugfests.

The NFL – another one of the most popular sports in America – has boring games every Sunday. Don’t believe me? Do you have any interest in watching Oakland at Cleveland on Oct. 26? I thought so.

Here’s another key point about football: in a 60 minute game, there is only about 11 minutes of actual action. Read that sentence again, I’ll wait. Now that you’ve read it again, you might ask, what is “action”? Good question, glad you asked. Action is the time between when the ball is snapped until the play is whistled dead. The Wall Street Journal did a study in 2010 and found that during the three real-time hours of the game, with 60 minutes of gametime, only 11 minutes are actual football action. Which means, during a college or pro football game, you watch more commercials than you do actual football action. Soccer, on the other hand, has no commercials during actual soccer action.

(On an aside, maybe that’s one of the reasons Americans have been so slow to gravitate to soccer – you don’t have built in breaks for your ADHD or bathroom trips or snack grabs once the action begins.)

NASCAR – usually No. 2 behind the NFL in the popularity contest – has seen its ratings drop significantly this season. I can’t really speak to this one, because I literally have never watched more than 30 seconds of a NASCAR broadcast.

Baseball…is incredibly boring, especially on TV. You will never convince me otherwise. One guy went to a Colorado Rockies game high as akite and had the best baseball viewing experience of his life. Granted, he hates baseball and doesn’t go to games often, but still.

My point is this: with all the boring games from all these other sports, why hasn’t anyone ever written about how the offending sport should be done away with? After the 2007 NBA Finals, did people ridicule fans of the NBA? No. After the 2012 college football championship, was there ever talk about how stupid and boring and non-sensical college football is? Nope. Was the system changed to implement a playoff to appease the fans who were upset about that one boring game? Ok, yes. That did happen. Bad example.

But here’s the thing about soccer that makes it more palatable than the other sports: it’s relatively short. When you watch a game, you know it’s going to be two hours. Even if it’s part of a tournament and goes to extra time or even penalty kicks, it still won’t go past three hours. When was the last time a college football, NBA, NFL or baseball game went two hours? Plus, and it’s worth repeating, watching soccer means you actually get to watch soccer – there are no commercial breaks during the first or second half (or extra sessions).

2) You’re Not A Fan Of Something If You Only Watch Every Four Years

Another easy argument to make, even if it’s wrong. Yes, the World Cup happens every four years. Yes, international soccer doesn’t have a “season” per se. But World Cup fans are generally watching games leading into the World Cup. We’ll watch international friendlies, or the qualifying matches, or EPL on NBC, or Champions League on FOX, or even MLS. But besides that, how many people watch Olympic sports during non-Olympic years? Some sports people will tune in for, sure, but the majority…not so much. For example, I love watching curling, but I’m not even sure it exists outside of the Olympics.

3) Growing Interest In Soccer Can Only Be A Sign Of The Nation’s Moral Decay

Ok, that one is true. I can’t dispute it. Sorry, America.

4) Any Sport In Which You Can’t Use Your Hands Is Stupid

This one I really don’t understand. In track and field, most of the running events don’t include the use of one’s hands. Besides, who cares what body parts you use to play a sport? A sport is just a game, for crying out loud. For that matter, calling a sport a name that actually is just 3% of that sport is stupid. American football is called football…why, exactly? Because the players use their feet to run around? If so, then why isn’t basketball also called football?

Let’s be clear – the only players in American Football who really use their feet are kickers, and they are the generally viewed as the least footbally members of any football team. At least football (read: soccer) is a name that actually makes sense. Players use their FOOT…to kick a BALL.

5) Penalty Kicks Is A Stupid Way To End A Game

I won’t entirely disagree with this argument, because it’s valid. Games that go to penalty kicks are basically decided by the kicker putting the ball on goal and the goalie guessing right on which direction he should go to stop the ball. Now, I do think that another overtime session wouldn’t make sense – in professional soccer you can only make three substitutions per game, which means that after 120 minute of action the players will be absolutely gassed. They’ve just run between 7-10 miles, for crying out loud. My guess is that more time will not lead to a gamewinning goal, since everyone on the field will be exhausted.

So what could be done to make penalty kicks a better way to end a game? A friend of mine made a suggestion on facebook that I think is brilliant in its simplicity – just move the kicker back. Right now penalty kicks are taken from 12 yards away from goal. If you move the ball to the 18-yard mark, it makes it a little more difficult for the kicker and gives the goalie a chance to be reactive to the shot rather than making an educated guess about where he thinks the shot is going. This way both participants in the penalty are relying on their athletic ability.


The point of all of this is to say: your arguments against soccer are mostly dumb, and the only reason you’re making them is because you know it will get a rise out of soccer fans. Which is actually the best indication of how far we have come as a soccer-loving society. People are now trolling U.S. soccer fans. Rihanna went out of her way to tweet her support for EVERY TEAM EXCEPT THE USA. There was that silly troll (as Ken Tremendous called her), who wrote a ridiculously silly troll piece, trolling American soccer fans. There were countless tweets and facebook posts using the five talking points I listed above.

But beyond all that, the ratings for the World Cup were amazing. The US games averaged approximately 25 million viewers between ESPN/ABC, WatchESPN and Univision. Not just that, but the championship between Germany and Argentina – two teams that are decidedly NOT America – set a record with more than 26 million viewers, becoming the most-watched soccer match in American history.

All of which means…soccer is here to stay. Trolls don’t troll unless they know there is something to gain by trolling. Soccer fans in America are passionate and we are tuning into games in record numbers. If you’re not on board yet, I suggest you give soccer a shot. It’s fun to watch, it’s only two hours, and you get to be trolled by trolls.

But you don’t have to call it “futbol.” Even I draw the line there.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Beautiful Game

The NBA news of the week of the decade of the millennium is that LeBron and Carmelo have both opted out of their contracts with the Heat and Knicks, respectively. If you’ll all think back to a few months ago, when the Knicks didn’t make the playoffs, or a few weeks ago, when the Heat lost to the Spurs in the NBA Finals, you’ll understand why I have a hard time caring about two of the best players in the NBA both becoming free agents at the same time.

Because it doesn’t matter where LeBron goes, or where Carmelo goes, or if they become the Big Two and make a Decision to play together in [insert city here]. Put together all the great players you want, NBA owner looking to make a splash. Players don’t win championships – teams do. And as long as the Spurs are run by Gregg Popovich and RC Buford, they’ll always have the best team.

The Spurs should be the two-time defending NBA champions. They were a crazy Ray Allen three-pointer away from winning in six games last season (covered perfectly by Grantland grand poo bah Bill Simmons), and this year they took apart the Heat and its Big Three, winning in five games.

Did you know, that on the same day LeBron opted out of his contract, Tim Duncan exercised his 10.3M option with the Spurs? See if you can find the story on ESPN’s front page.

It’s in the headlines, eight stories down. Why isn’t it getting the same coverage as LeBron? Because just like the Spurs, it’s not flashy or attention grabbing. It’s just a good old fashioned team-first basketball mentality.

It’s fitting that the Spurs won the NBA Championship in 2014, the same year as the World Cup. No one comes as close to the Beautiful Game on the basketball court as San Antonio. A friend and I were talking about this the other day (well, texting about it, but that’s basically talking now): San Antonio is America’s version of a top-class futbol – yeah, I said it – program. Their roster is filled with players from different countries; those players all had essentially professional play experience by the time they got to the Spurs; the players are coached to play fluidly and think and not drilled to follow each play step by step; they are coached to do one-touch passing until they find the open player; the players are all team first.

Who are these players, and what is it about them that they are able to maintain this team first mentality through thick and thin? Let’s take a look at the Spurs roster, focusing on the players who saw extensive playing time during the playoffs.

Tony Parker – from Belgium, played minor league basketball in France from 1997-1999 and professionally in France from 1999-2001, 28th overall pick (2001)
Kawhi Leonard – from USA, played two years at San Diego State, 15th overall pick (2011)
Danny Green – from USA, played all four years at UNC, 46th overall pick (2009)
Boris Diaw – from France, played professionally in France 2000-03, 21st overall pick (2003)
Tim Duncan – from US Virgin Islands, played all four years at Wake Forest, 1st overall pick (1997)

Key Reserves:
Marco Belinelli – from Italy, played professional basketball in Italy from 2002-2007, 18th overall pick (2007)
Matt Bonner – from USA, played all four years at Florida, played professional basketball in Italy in 2003-04, 45th overall pick (2003)
Manu Ginobli – from Argentina, played professional basketball in Argentina from 1995-98, played professional basketball in Italy from 1998-2002, 57th overall pick (1999)
Patty Mills – from Australia, played two years at St. Mary’s (Calif.), played two games in the NBDL, professionally in Australia and China during the NBA lockout in 2011-12, 55th overall pick (2009)
Tiago Splitter – from Brazil, played professionally in Spain from 2000-10, 28th overall pick (2007)

Here’s what I notice from this group: players born in the USA are outnumbered, 7-3 (I’m including Duncan in the non-USA group). All 10 players had a minimum of two years playing basketball at least at a semi-pro (i.e. college) level, with the international players averaging approximately 3.0 years of playing in a professional league before reaching the NBA. The only player drafted in the top-10 in that entire group is Duncan (which makes the Spurs’ dynasty even more incredible, considering they are always going late in the NBA Draft).

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the players from overseas also played soccer growing up. I think that helps with the team first mentality. You’re not going to win in soccer if you play 1 v 11. In basketball, playing 1 v 5 is not advisable, yet it probably happens more often than not for those high school kids who are good enough to go right to the NBA. Then they go to college for that one year of “where will they go in the NBA Draft,” and then it’s off to the NBA. The biggest reason that you are seeing the Mercers and Lehighs beating big name schools in the NCAA Tournament is that they are teams, going against players.

Certainly LeBron and KD are exceptions (and exceptional), players who went straight to the NBA or played just one year in college and became superstars right out of the gate. Perhaps Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker will have the same kind of immediate success. I have my doubts, but I’ve been wrong before. Regardless, I’m already looking forward to watching the Spurs play. As Chris Bosh put it after the Spurs dominated the Heat in game four of the Finals, “They're playing beautiful basketball.”