Monthly Archives: July 26, 2021

NBA training camps opened this week and it’s a sign of weirdness on my part that I have already had an NBA dream. I live in Los Angeles, land of the dysfunctional Lakers. Who says that having a dysfunctional team to root for is a bad thing? I get to process my psyche through their woes.

The specter of Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson together again is bad enough. Jackson wrote a diary of his last season with the Lakers, the 2003-2004 season, called The Last Season: A Team In Search of Its Soul, in which he rips Kobe for being selfishness and uncoachabie. I was also trying to prepare myself for the possibility of having to cheer for a team playing Latrell Sprewell at the guard position. This is a the guy who tried to strangle his coach, P. J. Carlesimo, then sued his agent for signing him to a contract with a morals clause covering such things as, horrors, trying to strangle your coach. Luckily that possibility seems to have passed.

In my dream, Kobe had taken a tab of acid and was sitting on the top of a sixty-foot high cement column. I floated up there at one point to see what it was like. How did I get there? I don’t know. Maybe teleportation or astral travel. The column was swaying back and forth but I’m not sure why because everything was indoors, there was no wind. The motion terrified me so I immediately descended. Kobe has a fondness for living on the edge that I don’t share. After his conflict with teammate Shaquille O’Neal was dissolved because Shaq was traded to Miami, Kobe managed to get into a conflict with Karl Malone over Malone’s flirtacious remarks to his wife, Vanessa Bryant.

Kobe and I were scheduled to be married the next day, wife or not. All of our friends and family wanted us to get married so we decided we would. Everyone was milling around and gathering in corners, sitting on the floor strangely enough, kind of like basketball players who sit at the end of the court instead of on the bench. We were wondering what we should do to help Kobe. He either couldn’t or wouldn’t come down.

We were wondering what we should do to help Kobe. He either couldn’t or wouldn’t come down.

In my dreaming mind I was marrying someone of the same gender. The obvious explanation is that, in the dream, I was actually Phil Jackson. Jackson has re-submitted himself to an uncomfortable marriage with Kobe by signing a new three-year contract to coach the Lakers. In preparation, he has added a sixteen-page addendum to the paperback version of The Last Season that reads as an apology to Kobe. In addition to expressing sympathy for Kobe’s difficult legal trial in Colorado, he was accused of rape but the case was dropped because the accuser refused to testify, Jackson writes that “Kobe will be coachable and I think he’ll do what we have to get done to be competitive this year”.

Eventually, from somewhere, a set of L shaped structures appeared approximating a staircase that allowed Kobe a regal walk from the top of the tower to the ground. When he reached the bottom, I put my arm around him and told him, “It’s alright, we don’t have to marry”. He breathed out a sigh of relief and we walked off to celebrate.

Most Lakers fans were thrilled when Jackson decided to re-sign. Last year’s coach, Rudy Tomjanovich, was a disaster and who else is there? But the message of the dream is that this is a permanently uncomfortable relationship. Kobe, the notorious loner, will come down and join us but not join in. He’s not likely to be the leader of the team with his personal skills but he’s also not likely to let any other player be the leader because he needs to be the star. Jackson will soften his criticism of Kobe but the damage is done.

I know a number of relationships like this and I have even lived through a few myself. I just didn’t expect I’d have to live through one with my local basketball team.

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Whoa, nasty labor tactics in the usually civil world of international tennis.

The conflict started earlier this summer when the ATP announced that doubles matches will be played with no-ad games and five game sets starting in September. Also, beginning in 2008, only players in the singles main draw will be allowed to play doubles with two exceptions.

As you can imagine, doubles specialists are not happy about these changes. They are essentially being phased out of tournaments. At the US Open, a group of 45 doubles players announced that they have filed an antitrust suit against the ATP and the ATP’s board of directors.

The ATP Madrid Masters tournament has decided to retaliate by suspending the doubles competition until the suit is withdrawn or resolved. Since the tournament starts on October 17, the chances of the suit being resolved are close to nil. Therefore, unless the players drop the suit, they will lose out on a share of the $400, 000 prize money and an opportunity to earn computer points to qualify for the year-end championships in November.

The tournament’s website states that “it [the players’ suit] makes no sense and therefore it is not coherent” for the tournament to offer a doubles competition because the doubles players are suing the ATP and the tournament is a member of the ATP. This is an interesting approach. You sue me and I fire you. Surely Europe has labor laws to cover such tactics. You have to think that the ATP is supporting, if not applauding, Madrid’s move because otherwise they would protest and we haven’t heard anything yet. It is an ATP sanctioned tournament, after all.

The October issue of Inside Tennis reports that Bob Bryan, he and his brother Mike are the defending champions in Madrid, called Patrice Dominguez, an ATP board member representing tournament directors, a “Hitler”. It also reports that Wayne Bryan, Bob and Mike’s father, described a DVD of the 2005 year end ATP highlights as “scrubbed clean like Stalin used to scrub clean the people he assassinated” because it didn’t include any doubles highlights.

Come on now, this is ATP doubles tennis where free-roaming, good-looking players get to make a lot of money playing in sun-filled stadiums, not the Gulag.

Come on now, this is ATP doubles tennis where free-roaming, good-looking players get to make a lot of money playing in sun-filled stadiums, not the Gulag.

Neither side is looking very good at the moment. Madrid seems to have taken the players’ suit as an excuse to drop doubles altogether supporting the players’ suspicion that this is the long-term goal of the new changes. Tournament directors complain that they lose money on the doubles competition.

The players have a problem because the issue is not politics, it’s economics. If your product isn’t selling, you’re gonna go out of business. If the players don’t propose an alternative, increase the number of exceptions, for instance, or settle for reduced prize money, they could be history.

I’d like to say that I’d miss them but I can’t remember the last time I watched an entire doubles match.

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If you like tennis and you enjoy traveling, this might be a very good time to buy a ticket to Asia. Last week you could have taken in an ATP match in Ho Chi Minh City or Beijing then moved onto Guangzhou or Seoul to see the women play. This week you could go to the Japan Open or Tashkent and next week stop in Moscow for the Kremlin Open before flying to Europe for the rest of the season.

It’s the indoor season in tennis land; hard courts and carpets in faraway lands for those players trying to gobble up or hold onto enough computer points to be one of eight players to qualify for the year end championships.

The tennis world has followed the model of the NBA and other sports organizations by expanding its market to Asia. The ATP year-end championships will be held in a new stadium in Shanghai. Might as well look to the east, tennis isn’t increasing in popularity here in the US.

Rafael Nadal and Guillermo Coria met in the China Open final in Beijing this week on a hard court. For a minute there I thought I misread that. Shouldn’t it be clay court with those two in the final? I’m not covering this match but I did see something interesting: a new way to pick up a tennis ball. During the warmup, Nadal walked over to a ball and flicked the ball from his left foot to his right foot then flipped it up in the air with his right foot and caught it. Even with a hacky-sack that is not an easy move.

We are in Bangkok for the Thailand Open and we’re watching the final between Roger Federer and Scottish player Andy Murray. We’ve seen plenty of Federer this year and, though it is always a pleasure to watch him play, we’re going to focus on Murray’s game. Murray beat local favorite Paradorn Srichaphan and re-ascendant American Robby Ginepri to get here, as a wild card entry no less, and it’ll be interesting to measure his game against Federer’s.

Eighteen-year-old Murray is currently ranked number 101 though he will jump into the 70’s as a result of his run in this tournament. The Tennis Channel telecast, in a slight case of misspelling, says that Murray has to “sever well” to have a chance in this match. Murray may well want to sever something by the time he is finished here today. He’s playing an opponent who’s won twenty-three consecutive finals and four straight tournaments.

Murray has scruffy hair and a long body. His sideburns go down the side of his face in a soft fuzzy line. He looks like someone who is not easily ruffled. He’s even a bit hangdog. He’s long and loose and his mouth perpetually hangs slightly open. This is a good thing, it’s a sign of relaxation. He doesn’t run all over the place and jump up and down like the irrepressible Nadal. He just gently rocks then moves when he needs to. It’s more efficient that way.

Unlike a lot of younger players, he doesn’t focus on his two handed backhand and then throw in a backhand slice just to change things up. The slice is an integral part of his game. It could be a good sign. It might mean that he is actually interested in the skill of crafting a point instead of just hitting missiles at every opportunity.

Murray is not as relaxed as looks at the beginning of the match. A lot of first serves are going into the net, a sign of tightness. Early in the game, Federer draws Murray into the net with a short slice return then passes him after Murray gets himself out of position to hit a run-around forehand approach. Federer does it again in the same game but this time Murray stays back. Smart kid.

Murray can serve and volley, he has a great short swing two-handed backhand that he flicks down the line for passing shots and he covers the court well. Twice in the first set he gets to a short Federer drop shot and flicks it crosscourt for a winner.

We’d be missing out if we completely ignored Federer’s game. His matches seldom pass without a shot that makes us repeatedly hit the rewind button. It’s a bad habit, rewind. Now when I listen to the radio in the car, I often reflexively reach out to hit rewind so I can replay a song I’ve heard or rerun a play from a football broadcast. For better or worse, AM and FM don’t have rewind yet.

Now when I listen to the radio in the car, I often reflexively reach out to hit rewind so I can replay a song I’ve heard or rerun a play from a football broadcast.

With Murray serving at 1-4, Federer runs Murray wide to the ad court twice till Murray is completely out of the court. Federer then stops and waits till Murray commits to one side of the court before hitting it to the other side. It looks like a Saturday morning cartoon. The ball seems to freeze in midair while Federer waits till the very last second to hit it.

Murray never recovers from the early break and Federer wins the first set 6-3.

Murray hasn’t figured out when he should be aggressive and when he should be defensive. At times he lets Federer run him around, at other times he forces unsuccessful winner attempts too early in the point. He also might want to find a place between relaxation and intensity. He comes out unfocused in the first two games of the second set and is down a break early again.

Still, I can see why John McEnroe thinks he’s the real deal. With Federer serving at 15-30 in the fifth game, they play a twenty-six stroke rally with every stroke in the book. Federer hits cross court, down the line, slice and topspin while Murray runs down a wide shot to his backhand and follows up a very hard backhand down the line, probably his best shot, with a gentle but deep approach then hits an even softer backhand overhead at a sharp angle to win the point. Touch, power and tactical intelligence, Murray shows it all in this point. He didn’t try to overpower Federer by going for something too early, he took it out of the rhythm of the point. That’s that comfortable place between offense and defense. Murray gets the break and evens the second set at 3-3.

This is an interesting match because it has a different look than most tennis matches played today. These players can hit the ball hard but they can also change pace and win points with touch. Federer does his cartoon freeze thing again in the sixth game: Murray hits a passing shot that just makes it over the net and Federer turns as if to hit down the line, lets the ball drop and casually flicks it cross court instead. This is not a power tennis move. For a few moments here and there, we could be watching a match from the wooden racket era.

For a few moments here and there, we could be watching a match from the wooden racket era.

If Murray wants to know when he should attack, he could watch Federer. With Murray serving at 4-4, Federer starts taking balls out of the air and coming to the net. He has Murray on the defensive. Murray responds by throws his racket and audibly expressing himself with a few choice four-letter words but he manages to hang on and hold serve with an ace and a service winner.

Federer keeps applying pressure and Murray plays loosely again to get broken and let Federer serve for the match at 6-5. Federer holds and wins the set and match, 6-3, 7-5, to get his twenty-fourth consecutive final. Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe had the previous record at twelve. When will it be time to compare Federer’s finals record to other great records in sports?

Murray’s got game. He has good tactical skills and he seems mentally solid. He had a low first service percentage and took a few games off which killed his chances of winning this match but he made good adjustments in strategy and has all the shots he needs to keep climbing up the rankings.

He will need all of these things and more if he wants to survive a career under the watchful eyes of Fleet Street as the next great hope of Great Britain.

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