Monthly Archives: February 2005

minor league basketball

The collective minds of NBA basketball are much smarter than the NHL. They will agree on a new collective bargaining agreement before the start of next season. The players’ union and David Stern disagree on two important issues. Stern wants a twenty-year-old age limit for NBA players – it’ll never happen – and he wants to expand the NBA development league so players can be sent down to the developmental league just as baseball players can be sent to the minor league – it should happen.

I’ve talked about his before. A true basketball minor league, a league whose players are under contract to NBA teams, should help crumble the pretense of college basketball. College basketball is based on the idea that the players are amateurs, that they don’t get paid. You might not pay much attention if Maurice Clarett says he received $3,000 a week for a no-show job but you better believe that Chris Webber received $280,000 from a booster while he was one of the fab five at Michigan because it’s there in the court records.

Basketball players could choose to be true student-athletes instead of taking courses called “Playing Basketball” and “Officiating” to meet eligibility requirements. Boosters won’t need to pay for no-show jobs because a player coming out of high school could actually make a living in minor league ball. Players will have somewhere they can mentally and physically develop instead of sitting at the end of the Portland bench for four years as Jermaine O’Neal did. Speaking of the bench, it might stop the practice of assigning the last person on the bench a phantom injury when a better player comes off the injured list. Send them down so they can play.

It also gives teams more options. The next time a rookie refuses to go back into a game, as Carmelo Anthony did last year, threaten him with a minor league assignment. If Darius Miles has a fit and drops the “N” word on coach Maurice Cheeks over twenty times, what can Portland do? They can suspend him for a few games but so what?

Here we get we get into the third contentious issue in the collective bargaining agreement: shortening maximum guaranteed contracts from seven years to four. Probably a good idea. Miles has a six year, $48 million contract, guaranteed.

It’s a funny thing. I was looking for all the evidence that colleges make money hand over fist from sports and I kept finding research that says it isn’t so. One third of Division 1A athletic programs are losing money. And if schools were forced to include capital expenses – upkeep, new facilities – in their costs, every Division 1A program loses money.

The only one who isn’t losing money is the NCAA. The television contract for March Madness is $6 billion over 11 years. After spreading the money around to member teams, they have $20 million left over this year for administrations costs.

A basketball minor league could help universities help themselves. Academic institutions could return to educating students instead of trying to educate athletes who don’t want to be there. Colleges might begin to rein in sport program budgets. Schools would not bankrupt themselves by becoming Division 1A program without the necessary millions.

…if schools were forced to include capital expenses – upkeep, new facilities – in their costs, every Division 1A program loses money

And I would have enough money to go to a professional basketball game because I could see my local minor league team play. It’s a good thing.

why baseball is so popular

Spring training is here. The posturing has started up where it left off – Schilling calling out Alex Rodriguez for slapping the ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove has turned into the Red Sox piling on Rodriguez as soon as camp opened. Lots of fans call up radio shows to talk about football and basketball but it’s nothing compared to baseball talk.

I can’t count how many new friends I’ve taken to a baseball game who have refused to ever go again. “Jeez, it’s so boring. I don’t know what you see in it.” I’m jabbering their ear off about an upcoming pitching change and the left handed pinch hitter, the available setup men and the player they’re showcasing because the trade deadline is near. And they are not getting it. Half of baseball is the undercurrent, all the things that could possibly happen and all the talk that leads to more talk that could, just might, turn into a defining moment on the field. Teams know that only a handful of players would ever run out to the mound and start a fight with a pitcher who throws at their head. Most players posture and yell but don’t stray more than two feet from the plate. Jason Varitek has a toughness that Rodriguez doesn’t and their fight helped define the Red Sox last year.

This year, though, it’s been laughably over the top. A newspaper reports a Red Sox player saying that Rodriguez is not a Yankee – in other words he’s not a winner. Another player called him a deadbeat dad because he was running steps at 6am instead of attending to his newborn baby girl. Rodriguez’ teammates don’t have his back. How silly does all that sound? Before I could get around to weighing in on the silliness, Harvey Araton’s column in the New York Times shows how the media misrepresented the Red Sox players’ comments and says that reporters repeatedly asked questions about Rodriguez when they’d already been given an answer that wasn’t negative enough for them. Araton calls it “one of the most distasteful instances I have witnessed in 45 years of covering baseball,” which is a bit much. Where has he been? What does he think sells newspapers?

Half of baseball is the undercurrent, all the things that could possibly happen and all the talk that leads to more talk that could, just might, turn into a defining moment on the field.

Still, I’m happy that he set things straight. It does point out the place of posturing and jabber in the undercurrent. Coming back from 0-3 to win a playoff series is thrilling and winning the world series is thrilling. Talking about it, though, that supports entire radio stations and a year round season of newspapers.

Practice and Competition Report: practiced for and hour and a half and played three sets with T, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2
Solutions Analysis:
1. Looking for a solution to trying to hard. Three times I approached the net with the intention of smashing the ball instead of just getting it into my opponent’s court. Three times I hit an unforced error.
Success Analysis:
1. As I’m warming up my serve, I use a very relaxed service stroke. Instead of trying to crush the ball, I used the relaxed stroke throughout the match and my first serve percentage was very high. Watch Federer, relaxation incarnate.
2. At the beginning of the match, T was hitting the ball short to get me to the net and then lobbing me. I kep hitting my overhead into the net. I hung in there, though, and started getting the overheads over the net and started to win points at the net. Rather than get upset after hitting the ball into the net a few times, I persisted in focusing on getting the ball across the net and eventually that’s what I did.
3. I returned serve very well.

scandal, mules and the future of local sports radio

I was riding home from the theater a few weeks ago when I noticed a big sign on the side of the road that read “Avenue of the Athletes”. I’ve driven from downtown Los Angeles to Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard many times but I never noticed the sign before. It turns out that there is a section of Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park with plaques of sports figures embedded in the sidewalk. We like that kind of thing here. We have the Hollywood Walk of Fame, stars for famous entertainers, and RockWalk, handprints of famous rock musicians at The Guitar Center. You do not, however, see many tourists wandering around the Avenue of the Athletes taking pictures of plaques. I have lived here seven years and never knew it existed. A customer in an Echo Park pet store had to direct me to the plaques.

Avenue of the Athletes was erected for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. I suppose it is in Echo Park because Dodger Stadium is nearby. I assume that the athletes all have a connection to Los Angeles. Tommy Lasorda is obvious but I’m not too sure about Ralph Guldahl. There are plaques for a number of Olympic athletes. Sammy Lee won gold medals in diving at the 1948 and 1952 Olympics. He grew up in a Korean American family in Los Angeles. At one point his family tried to move onto Sunset Boulevard adjacent to the block where his plaque now lies but the family was asked to leave one week later. People did not want Asian Americans neighbors, “no chinks, no Japs.” Lee is also known for mentoring the young Greg Louganis.

I was driving from downtown because I had seen School for Scandal, a play by Richard Sheridan first performed in 1774. There are two brothers in the play named Joseph and Charles Surface, presumably for the depth of their sincerity. Charles is a wastrel. He spends all day at the local pub and sells off his belongings, including the family silver and portraits, to support his lifestyle. His saving grace is that he is a very honest and open guy. Joseph is seemingly a paragon of virtue but is, in reality, a lying schemer. Errol Morris recently wrote an editorial in the New York Times explaining that John Kerry lost the election because he tried to fudge his opposition to the Vietnam War. People do not like to vote for fudgers. Kerry really did oppose the Vietnam War. Bush made no bones about it. He didn’t go to war. Instead, he hid out in the National Guard. He should thank his lucky stars he isn’t serving in the Guard during his current war. Not only that, but Bush said he was a drinker and a carouser and a ne’er-do-well until he became a born-again Christian and turned his life around. You could say that the recent election featured one candidate who was a self-admitted wastrel and another who was a lying schemer.

Do you know what mules are? Not the animals, silly. I’ve been reading a book called The Surrender by Toni Bentley. It’s the memoir of a woman’s search for faith through anal sex, a version of sex only recently deemed legal in this backward country of ours. Bentley writes that during sex she wore high-heeled mules and, evidently, kept them on as long as she could. The point at which the mules fell off was an indication that she had reached a full state of ecstasy. I was at the theater with my friend Barbara who had no idea what mules were either. So, during intermission of School for Scandal, we surfed the internet on her cell phone and found a website explaining that mules are bareback shoes.

I’ve never surfed the web on a cellphone before and it got me thinking. If I had an iPod-like machine and it ran an iTunes-like program, and if the machine was wireless and could connect to Sprint, Verizon, or AT&T just like a cellphone, then I could have my little iPod thingy with me and my ear buds and wherever I roamed I could listen to any sports radio station in the world that streams on the internet. I could listen to the Two Live Stews in Atlanta or Pardon the Interruption on ESPN. I could listen to a cricket match at the Adelaide Oval in Australia. And I could probably use it as a radio TiVo to automatically record any radio program I choose.

There would be no more local sports radio. Every radio show would be not only national but international. Why do I care about this? It might be the only way to improve local sports radio. I’m an inveterate sports radio channel-flipping listener. Of course I change the channel every time another ad for male private parts comes on the air. How many Viagra and Cialis ads am I expected to listen to? But I also flip channels to get away from the incessant, infantile name-calling and juvenile homophobia.

Until Rudy Tomjanovich got ill and resigned from coaching the Los Angeles Lakers, Dave Smith repeatedly called him Coach Gump and played sound clips from Forrest Gump every time the subject came up. He has similarly negative names for players on the team. If you persist in calling a player or coach by such a name, you cannot possibly present an objective opinion about that team. Some times it’s their fellow workers. A few weeks ago Joe McDonnell called one of his assistants an idiot on air because a promised interview turned into a probable interview. And that’s not unusual for him. You can have your man card taken away. You can hear jokes about sexual activities in prison. Sportscasters accuse each other, while nervously laughing, of being light in the loafers. Definitely enough to make me change the channel extremely quickly.

There would be no more local sports radio. Every radio show would be not only national but international. Why do I care about this? It might be the only way to improve local sports radio.

My theory is that exposure to a greater audience should bring greater tolerance and a more enlightened view of the human experience, sports being one of those experiences. The more worldly one’s exposure, often the more tolerant and open minded a person becomes. There are examples that disprove this theory. Jim Rome’s show airs nationally. He spent part of a recent show discussing the record for sailing around the world set by the British sailor Ellen MacArthur. Rome wondered why she didn’t just take an airplane. They get around the world in a number of hours not days. He didn’t seem too concerned that Nascar drivers take so long to get around a racetrack. Clearly his reach does not extend very far beyond our borders.

You could say that there are so many local sports radio shows streaming already that the moment is already here and where is the improvement? But I’d guess that a very high percentage of listeners are on their radio, not their computer. Philadelphia is considering turning the entire ity into a wifi hotspot. You won’t have to go to Starbucks to get wireless DSL, you’ll be able to get it anywhere in the city limits. It can only help.

pressure drop

I was supposed to play an opponent who is ranked below me in my league match this week. I was sure I could pick up some games and get my winning percentage up to 50% by beating him. I hoped to win by at least 6-3 but it rained hard the day before the match and I was concerned that I might not get to play. If a match is rained out, there’s no makeup and next week I have a much harder match. I have to play a guy who toys with his opponents by running them all over the place even though he limps and wears a brace on one knee and is likely over fifty.

The sun came up in the morning, thank heavens, and I got to the court early for practice. We were the third match on our court and the sky was clouding up. I ran around trying to find an empty court so we could start earlier but I couldn’t find one. Luckily the weather held and we started our match. Oh no, I got an attack of nerves. I won the match 6-4 because I played consistently and he didn’t, but my ground strokes were all landing short and I was nervous on my serve. What happened?

I was so anxious to pick up more wins that I forgot the task at hand. This is called trying too hard, putting pressure on yourself, getting tight. Whatever you want to call it, it’s not a good thing. If you’re the New York Yankees and you get to the World Series, you’re expected to win. If you’re the Florida Marlins, it’s a huge surprise if you win. Who’s gonna feel looser and play better? It’s bad enough if others put pressure on you to perform well but it’s really unnecessary if you do it yourself. I don’t see anyone lining up to see me play.

Anyone who thinks we play sports for fun isn’t paying attention. Watch people routinely berate themselves and throw their racket and scream when they make an error. While I was playing my opponent today, his teammate kept applauding his winning shots and cheering him on. That bugged me so I looked over at him and gave him a dirty look. He left. Heaven knows what I’d do if I had to play in front of a hostile crowd. The point is that all the insecurities and doubts that plague my everyday life are also front and center at a tennis match.

If I wanted to have fun I’d have taken up bingo. No, I want to learn how to compete and do it well and I want to chase away the demons that drown out a much larger part of the day than they should. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a happy highly functioning human being but a lot of the internal messages I generate are negative or critical. If I wrote them down they’d look absurd. No one would admit to having thoughts like that. Houses have burned down, whole families are dead and cities have crumbled before I’ve woken up from some daydreams.

I’m working under the assumption that I can use tennis to slowly decrease the volume of those inner voices. If I can play tennis and focus on the task at hand, getting the ball back over the net, then I’m not thinking about anything else. If I can develop that skill in tennis, I can develop it in other parts of my life. Actually, the volume of the voices probably won’t decrease at all, it’s just that I won’t be paying attention because I’ll be thinking about something else.

Practice and Competition Report: played league matches, one set of doubles and one set of singles: 3-6, 6-4.
Solutions Analysis: looking for a solution to the problem of getting nervous. Possible solution: use an affirmation that deals with playing under pressure.
Success Analysis:
1. Won my singles match. Got the ball back over the net consistently.
2. Returned serve well.
3. My serving is starting to feel automatic.

relativity, completeness and Jose the bull

Since I switched my approach from trying to hit winners to just getting the ball over the net, I’ve won more matches. But, jeez, sometimes the points go on forever. Thirty or forty stroke rallies at times. I was thinking about this as I read an article in today’s newspaper about injuries in tennis. There are, of course, those bone jarring rackets that propel balls off them as if they were rocket launchers, and there are those corkscrew pretzel strokes on the forehand side that generate tremendous torque. Watch Federer hit a forehand some time. But there are also slower surfaces to lengthen the points and increase the popularity of the game. Combine that with the shortest off season of any major sport and you have lots of injuries.

Since I’ve already talked about injuries so much and since I’ve already told you more than enough times that you have to work your core and butt muscles because the power in your stroke comes from your trunk and butt, not your arm, I’ll go on to the rest of the newspaper.

I was very interested in the latest “victory” by bloggers. The chief news executive at CNN resigned after making off the record comments at the World Economic Forum accusing the American military of shooting at and killing journalists in Iraq. High volume activities by bloggers contributed to the resignation. If a blogger had unearthed proof that Jose Canseco really did inject Mark McGwire’s toches with steroids in an Oakland Athletics locker room bathroom stall, I could see that. The blogger would be adding some badly needed truth to a story that could desperately use it. But I’m a little horrified that bloggers are forcing the resignation of a journalist with twenty three years of experience when they likely have very little journalistic experience at all.

This segues very nicely into another article. A professor emeritus at Princeton has written a book titled, no lie, On Bullshit. He makes a distinction between liars and honest people and one full of bull. A liar and an honest person are concerned about the truth. One attempts to uphold it while the other attempts to get around it. If you’re full of bull, though, you don’t care about the truth at all. You just want people to fall for your spiel or version of the events.

Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa and even Jose Canseco, at times, having been setting major league records for bull. It’s not just lying because a liar would not have told the grand jury the truth. It’s a new category that could possibly be explained by yet another article in today’s paper.

This article discusses a book about the relationship between Albert Einstein and Kurt Godel. Einstein is famous for, of course, the theory of relativity. Godel is famous for the incompleteness theorem. I’m sure major league baseball players never thought they were carrying out two of the most important discoveries of modern science. Relativity theory states that a clock traveling near the speed of light will appear to keep time slower to someone standing still. They might not have been hitting balls at the speed of light but steroid users certainly managed to slow time down and extend their careers. The incompleteness theorem says that, within a given system, there will always be propositions that cannot be proven to be true or false. Who was watching McGwire and Canseco go into that bathroom stall? How can you prove that you didn’t do something?

Someone should create a charter school called The Jose Canseco High School of Sports. The entire curriculum – science, history, politics and literature – would be studied through the world of sports. Biology will include the pitfalls and benefits of steroids. It’s kind of like sex education, the more you know, the better off you are.

Practice and Competition Report: played two and a half sets with M, 6-2, 6-1, 3-3
Solutions Analysis: looking for a solution to the problem of wanting to win. I beat M handily in the first two sets (a weekend fueled by psychoactive chocolate and sex on the part of my opponent may have contributed to my win but I’ll take it). When we started the third set I worried about not playing well because I didn’t want my opponent to regain any momentum. Instead of thinking about getting the ball across the net I was thinking about how badly I wanted to win. Therefore, I lost momentum.
Success Analysis: I focused on getting the ball over the net and won both sets. I have not beaten M in both sets for a long time.