Tuesday, October 21, 2014

the last book I ever read (The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons, excerpt four)

from The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy by Bill Simmons:

Of course, Kobe’s diva routine happened out of weakness: he couldn’t figure out his own identity and settled on a slightly creepy Jordan impression, pursuing that goal by trying to excel on both ends (did it), win a few rings (did it), score as many points as possible (did it), mimic Jordan’s celebratory fist pump (did it) and lead his own team to the title (finally did it). Everything about Kobe’s handling of the inevitable transition from “the Robin to Shaq’s Batman” to “Batman” was clumsy. Jordan always knew who he was. He had to win at everything. He studied up on opponents and searched for any signs of weakness, even pumping beat writers and broadcasters for insider information. He soaked teammates in poke on team flights so brutally that coaches warned rookies to stay away. He lost in Ping-Pong to teammate Rod Higgins once, bought a table and became the best Ping-Pong player on the team. He dunked on Utah’s John Stockton once, heard Utah owner Larry Miller scream, “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” then dunked on center Mel Turpin and hissed at Miller afterward, “He big enough for you?” He bribed airport baggage guys to put out his suitcase first once, then wagered teammates that his bag would be the first one on the conveyor belt. He stormed out of a Bulls scrimmage once like a little kid because he thought Doug Collins screwed up the score. When a team of college All-Stars outscored the Dream Team in a half-assed scrimmage and made the mistake of puffin their chests out, Jordan started out the next day’s scrimmage by pointing at Allan Houston and simply saying, “I got him” … and Houston didn’t touch the ball for two hours.

Monday, October 20, 2014

the last book I ever read (The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons, excerpt three)

from The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy by Bill Simmons:

Back in February 2008, I was killing time in an airline club waiting for my delayed flight to board. Sitting only twenty feet away? NBA legend Oscar Robertson. Did I jump at the chance to make small talk with one of the ten greatest players who ever lived? Did I say to myself, “This is a gift from God, I can introduce myself to Oscar, tell him about my book, maybe even have him help me figure some Pyramid stuff out”? Did I even say, “Screw it, I gotta shake his hand”?

Nope. I never approached him.

Had I heard too many stories about Oscar being a miserable crank? Was I still scarred from finishing his 2003 autobiography, The Big O: My Life, My Times, My Game, maybe the angriest, most self-congratulatory basketball book ever written by anyone not named “Wilt”? Did I feel bad because Oscar was a profoundly bitter product of everything that happened to him? I don’t know. But he may as well have been wearing a BEWARE OF OSCAR sign. And so we killed time just twenty feet apart for the next three hours. I never said a word to him.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

the last book I ever read (The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons, excerpt two)

from The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy by Bill Simmons:

Of course, Kobe spent the summer of 2010 like he always did: killing himself in workouts and figuring out ways to stave off Father Time. LeBron? Heading into his first Miami season, he still lacks a fallaway jumper, spin move or effective jump hook (a shame because his passing would make him a beast from the low post). It’s not that his priorities were out of whack, just that he had too many … or maybe that he wasn’t cut out for this in the first place. After his final Cleveland game, I wrote that LeBron faced one of the greatest sports decisions ever: “winning (Chicago), loyalty (Cleveland) or a chance at immortality (New York).” I never thought he would pick “Help!!!!!!” There’s a chance LeBron was miscast all along, that God intended him to be Magic 2.0—an unselfish facilitator, the ultimate teammate, a walking triple double every night, someone capable of playing four positions and filling in any blank, someone just as happy setting up the game-winning shot as making it—and those seven Cleveland seasons pushed him in a direction that he never wanted. There’s a chance The Decision was really about embracing The Secret: someone sacrificing individual glory because Miami gave him the best chance to win, and because nobody knows how to push that button better than Pat Riley. There’s a chance I will feel differently about this five years from now.

But today? August 2010? I feel like LeBron James copped out. In pickup basketball, there’s an unwritten rule to keep teams relatively equal to maximize competitiveness of the games. If two players are noticeably better than the rest and have any pride at all—especially if they play similar positions—then beating each other trumps any other scenario. They want that test. Otherwise, hat’s the point? If two alpha dogs land on the same team by coincidence—like Kareem and Magic, or Shaq and Kobe—that’s one thing. That’s sports. Shit happens. But two perimeter players willingly deciding that it would be easier to join forces than compete against each other? There’s no “secret” to that. When I handed in my hardcover manuscript, I thought LeBron might surpass Jordan and Russell for the top pyramid spot some day. He took himself out of the running within twelve months. Then again, we’re the one who wanted it for him. Maybe he never wanted it. The most telling moment was the decision itself, when LeBron said, “I’ve decided to take my talents to South Beach.” Not the Miami Heat, or even Miami itself. South Beach. A place that, as far as I can tell, doesn’t have a basketball arena. A place where stars can act like stars, where life is easy, where the sun is always shining, where appearance matters more than anything else, where gorgeous women practically get churned off an assembly line. It’s beautiful there, and easy. If you’re looking for Bizarro Cleveland, look no further than South Beach.

That was the choice LeBron James made in the end: not Miami, not the Heat, but South Beach. That’s what he said. As someone who was twenty-five once, I can’t blame him. As someone who loves basketball, I can’t forgive him.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

the last book I ever read (The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons, excerpt one)

from The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy by Bill Simmons:

Here’s where the perception that the NBA was in trouble took hold, thanks to tape-delayed playoff games, declining attendance, star players mailing in games, Walton’s continued absence, Buffalo’s move to San Diego, Erving’s disappointing play in Philly, a 75:25 black-to-white ratio and something of a smear campaign from various newspaper columnists and even Sports Illustrated. Since sports fans in 1978 and 1979 took their cue from SI, everyone was thinking the same thing: “The NBA is in trouble.” Even if it wasn’t necessarily true. With Boston already owning Bird’s draft rights, Indiana State’s undefeated ’79 season assumed greater significance for NBA fans as it unfolded. Bird loomed as the potential savior of a floundering Celtics franchise, and when Bird battled Magic’s Michigan State squad in the 1979 NCAA Finals, that boosted Magic’s profile to savior status as well. By sheer coincidence, two of the league’s three biggest markets (L.A. and Chicago) controlled the first two picks in the ’79 draft. The Lakers won the coin toss and Magic, while Chicago’s ensuing tailspin ended with Jordan saving them five years later. Throw in Boston signing Bird and everyone wins! Within a year, Bird saved the Celtics, Magic gave Kareem a pulse for the first time in five years, Philly finally built the right cast of role players around Doc, all three teams on 60-plus games and made the Conference Finals, and Magic put himself on the map with the clinching game of the Finals.

A bigger savior was coming that summer: cable. Just weeks after the NBA signed a three-year, $1.5 million deal with the USA Network for Thursday night doubleheaders and early round playoff games, ESPN launched the first-ever twenty-four-hour sports network on September 7, 1979, paving the way for SportsCenter, fun-to-watch highlights, and an eventual competitor for the league’s cable rights. You couldn’t find better advertising than slickly packaged game summaries that featured every exciting dunk, pass, and big shot and left out all the unseemly stuff. (You know, like fistfights, empty seats, utter indifference and players jog around and looking spent for the wrong reasons.) David Stern believe the arrival of ESPN and cable TV had more to do with saving the NBA than Bird and Magic, although he feels like the whole “saving” part has been totally overblown. Which it probably was. Remember, the Dallas Mavericks joined in 1980-81 for a cool expansion fee of $12 million, finishing 15-67 that season and spawning countless “Yeesh, maybe they should have had J. R. Ewing coach the team” jokes that were hysterically funny twenty-nine years ago. How bad could things have been if rich guys were throwing out $12 million checks to join the NBA?

Friday, October 17, 2014

the last book I ever read (Elizabeth McCracken's Thunderstruck & Other Stories, excerpt eight)

from Thunderstruck & Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken:

He took the train back into the city, to move his suitcase into M. Petit’s apartment. The furniture was ancient, fringed, balding. The windows looked onto the courtyard, not the street. It felt like the depressed cousin of the apartment where they’d been so happy. The right place to be, in other words. The bathroom had a slipper tub, deep and short, with a step to sit on. How had M. Petit climbed into it? The bed was in a loft. No octogenarian should have to use a ladder to go to sleep. Everything in the world now looked like something to fall from. He decided he would sleep on the little L-shaped couch, in case M. Petit had died in the bed. He put the sea-serpent lampshade in the middle of the coffee table and fell asleep. He surprised himself by sleeping through the night. He checked the phone: a text from Laura, Arrived will call in my morning/your afternoon. He went, for the third day, to the hospital.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

the last book I ever read (Elizabeth McCracken's Thunderstruck & Other Stories, excerpt seven)

from Thunderstruck & Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken:

The plan was to disrupt their lives, a jolt to Helen’s system before school started again in the fall. The city would be strange and beautiful, as Helen herself was strange and beautiful. Perhaps they’d understand her there. Perhaps the problem all this time was that her soul had been written in French.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

the last book I ever read (Elizabeth McCracken's Thunderstruck & Other Stories, excerpt six)

from Thunderstruck & Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken:

Look here: Karen Blackbird is standing on the front porch before she disappears. The house itself is a wreck, the brown asbestos tile weathered in teary streaks. A lawnmower skulks up to its alligatorish eyebrows in the yard. Half the teeth in the porch railing have been punched out, and Karen Blackbird puts the toe of her shoe through a gap in the railing and pivots her foot back and forth, as though it’s a switch that might work a decision. Her loopy hair shifts in the wind. Her lips are chapped, as usual. She has the kind of face that makes old women say, “Dear, if you just took a little care, you’d be so pretty.” Those old women are wrong. Her bare calves are thick and muscular, but her hands are bony. She’s still too young to carry that nose with any authority. Her oversized coat is missing half its buttons, always has been.

The lives of the missing begin Last seen, and for a moment, or a week, or a day—who knows how long—she’s here. This isn’t the last time. She’s about to go but not right now. Only in magic shows does anyone announce the imminent disappearance of a woman. Even then you don’t know what you’ll find in her place.