Tag Archives: basketball

In Defense of Tiger Woods

Yesterday, Tiger Woods shot a 61 to give him a seven-stroke lead in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. He will now almost certainly win the tournament, which would give him four PGA Tour victories this year ahead of next week’s PGA Championship. Even though it isn’t finished, Tiger’s year is already one worthy of yet another Player of the Year award.

But despite his high level of play this year, most of the discourse surrounding him has focused on his failure to win a major tournament since 2008. Some columnists (e.g., Rick Reilly earlier this summer on ESPN.com) wonder what Tiger’s legacy will be if he never wins another major and thus fails to break Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major victories.

While I understand that this is a compelling storyline, it is also a ridiculous one. Whether Woods wins another major or not (and I think he will, and if he does win another major and gets that load off of his back, he will definitely break Nicklaus’s record), the way he has been playing this year makes it clear that he still has a number of prime years left and will obliterate the all-time record for PGA Tour wins, and maybe even become the first player to reach 100 wins. He is the greatest golfer of all time, and it is time the media started treating him as such the way they crowned Michael Jordan the best basketball player ever while he was still playing.

But, of course, there are extenuating circumstances. Aside from Woods’s highly-publicized womanizing and subsequent messy divorce, he is, apparently (just like Jordan!), not the most pleasant guy to be around. So of course many in the media focus on his failures instead of his continuing success. I think especially here of Curtis Strange’s commentary on Woods during the final round of this year’s British Open, which made me want to turn off the television. Strange acted like no one before Woods had ever had a bad final round to fall out of contention at a major at the same time Lee Westwood was doing the exact same thing! (The narrative there was simply “Poor Lee Westwood, will he ever win a major?”)

While I do not condone Woods’s personal behavior during his marriage (I have no problem with him sleeping with multiple women [let’s be honest, ninety percent of heterosexual American men would have done the same thing if they were in his position], but he should have been honest and asked for a divorce before doing so instead of trying to hide it from his wife), I do think it is unfair that the media keeps harping on it. Just compare the way the media treats Woods to how they treat Michael Vick’s story, which is presented as a narrative of redemption. Woods made mistakes, he paid for them both financially and in terms of trying to “get better” by going to rehab, and it is time to move on, which many in the media refuse to do.

It is thus difficult not to read a racist element in the media’s treatment of Woods. He is a black man succeeding in a white sport, and not only did he cheat on his wife, but he was guilty of that most punishable of sins throughout American history, having sex with a white woman. I suppose that, this being America, I shouldn’t be surprised about how Woods gets treated, that he gets judged for things other than his performance on the golf course, but it angers me nonetheless. This is why I continue to root for Woods. He is the one more sinned against than sinning.

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Random Friday Thoughts

I taught my final class of the school year on Wednesday, and for the past two days have just been relaxing and letting my mind wander. It hasn’t hit me on a visceral level yet that I don’t have to teach another class until late August, but my brain is already going on all sorts of tangents. Here are a few that are rattling around this afternoon:

Sometimes I have dreams that people have statistics for their lives just like athletes have sports statistics. Usually these dreams center around me having a low “life average” (akin to a baseball batting average), somewhere below .250. I’m always very worried about this in the dream until I realize that there’s no such thing as life averages. But it would be kind of interesting if there were. It would be fascinating to compare oneself to other people numerically like it is possible to compare one athlete to another. For instance, basketball-reference.com has something called “Similarity Scores” on each player’s page (scroll down to the bottom to see Patrick Ewing’s) that compares the player to other players (past and present) with similar statistics. If it were possible to do this in real life, it would be helpful because then one could see if one’s life was headed in a good direction or not based on those with similar life arcs.

I bought a regular-sized candy bar at the college bookstore this afternoon that cost $1.25. I realize that the bookstore is not the cheapest place to buy such an item, but even so, it points to how candy bar prices have exploded over the past decade or so. For all of my teens and into my twenties it was common to be able to find candy bars on sale for $0.50, and sometimes even less. Nowadays it is hard to find one for less than $0.75 even at stores that claim to have “low prices” (at least in Salt Lake City, and this was the case when I lived in Illinois, too).

Conversely, I also bought a pack of two Bic red pens for $0.99. What a deal! A pleasing quality product for under a dollar. Good office supplies are always exciting. The way things are going, though, they are an endangered species.

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A Hilarious Photograph of the Harvard Band

Photograph © copyright by George Frey for the Associated Press.

Photograph © copyright by George Frey for the Associated Press.

Jay Caspian Kang has a hilarious column on grantland.com about this photograph of the Harvard band here. My favorite one is “Judith Butler.” I would love to know the bandmembers’ reactions to this.

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Requiem for the Big East

Tonight is the final of the last Big East men’s basketball tournament. Yes, there will be a conference called the “Big East” next year that will include original Big East teams such as St. John’s and Georgetown, but the original Big East, the true Big East, dies tonight as a victim of the crazily shifting college sports landscape. It makes me happy that there is an original conference member, Syracuse, in the title game, and it feels just that there is also one of the newer members involved.

I no longer follow college sports because, as the recent Penn State football scandal showed, they have become “too big to fail” no matter what the consequences of keeping them afloat, and thus are detrimental to the educational mission of colleges and universities. But I will be watching the Syracuse-Louisville game tonight to pay homage to the Big East and the important role it played in my life. Some of my earliest sports memories are of hard-fought games between Syracuse, Georgetown, and St. John’s (Alas! Remember when St. John’s used to be good?) in the mid- to late-1980s on CBS, and I remember watching Big East tournament games on WWOR. As a teenager, I would rush home from school to watch early rounds of the tournament on ESPN with Sean McDonough and, especially, Bill Raftery announcing (“Sean McDonough, Syracuse comes out playing mantoman!” Of course Syracuse always plays a 2-3 zone, but I’ve heard Raftery use his tagline on the Orange anyway, and I would be disappointed if he didn’t.).

I was a Syracuse fan, but I always rooted for the conference, as well. It was a matter of regional pride. Yes, I hate Georgetown, but I’d root for them against an ACC team any day (The same with UConn. It kills me that Syracuse will be in the ACC next year.). It is sad to see an institution that has always felt like home to me go away.

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My Grandfather’s Diary

My maternal grandfather died peacefully two weeks ago, and going through his things the family discovered that he had kept a diary for much of his life. It is surprising that he lived to be 96 and no one knew that he engaged in this practice. He wasn’t being secretive about it; he was just a humble man who didn’t realize that other people would be interested.

Last night I read through the volume which describes his time living in Boston while he completed his Master’s degree in Public Relations at Boston University in the late 1950s. Reading this document was fascinating not only because I learned more about his life, but also because it was interesting to hear about what life as a graduate student was like fifty years ago.

His wife and children were living in Virginia while he studied up north during his sabbaticals from Eastern Mennonite College (now University), so to make money for his living expenses in Boston he worked various odd jobs. These included typing up other students’ dissertations (he was an excellent typist and typed everything, including the check he gave me for my high school graduation), packing boxes of Christmas ornaments, and selling his blood. He got paid between $15.00-$30.00 for this last activity—an excellent rate when one takes inflation into account. For a while he lived at the YMCA, and later rented a room in a boarding house. He also rented a typewriter instead of bringing his own from home, which I found puzzling considering that it was such an important machine for him. He admits to skipping a class every once in a while in order to get a paper or project done for another class. I guess that bad student habits are timeless!

My favorite detail from his time in Boston is that he planned to go to a Celtics game against Philadelphia during the 1959-60 season just for something to do even though he was not a sports fan. I love that he tried to take full advantage of all of the experiences that living in a big city offered him when he had the chance (up to that point he had only lived in small rural communities: Greencastle, Pennsylvania, a brief time in rural Kentucky, and Harrisonburg, Virginia). If he had attended the game, he would have seen two of the greatest players of all time, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, engaging in one of the best one-on-one rivalries of all time during the season in which Wilt (one of the first NBA stars to achieve “first name only” status: Wilt, Oscar, Kareem, Magic, Shaq, Kobe, LeBron…) averaged over 37 points per game as a rookie. My grandfather almost certainly did not realize the importance of the matchup, but it is neat to think about him going to the game, anyway.

However, in looking up the game in question, it appears from evidence in the diary that he did not actually attend the game. The entry for “Thursday, December 3 [1959]” states that he “Got ticket for Boston Celtics-Philadelphia basketball game next week.” The only time the two teams played the following week was on December 9 (here is the boxscore). The entry for that day reads in part that he “Got telegram saying Papa was seriously ill. Called Gladys [his sister who was still living on the family farm] in evening. Worked part of evening. Sent card to Papa and took a walk.” So apparently the news that his father was ill (he died on January 17, 1960) concerned my grandfather enough that he did not use his ticket. This decision is, of course, understandable, and it was special to read his entries from the time of his father’s illness and death while I spend time with my mother as she continues to grieve his death.

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Marv Albert!

There’s a fantastic story by Bryan Curtis on grantland.com about Marv Albert’s childhood preparations to become a sports announcer here. It’s essential reading for anyone who cares about sports media. I knew that Albert was quite young when he began calling Knicks games, but I didn’t realize he began when he was only 21! I grew up watching him as the studio host for NBC’s baseball Game of the Week and listening to him announce football on NBC and the Knicks on WFAN. I remember him returning to announce game seven of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals on the radio even though by that point Howie Rose was the Rangers’ normal play-by-play man. Albert is a national treasure, and Curtis’s article gives him the honor that he deserves.

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Rooting for the Knicks

With the latest news (it keeps changing! by the time I finish writing this post everything I say might be completely outdated) that the New York Knicks are going to let Jeremy Lin join the Houston Rockets, some people, most notably Bill Simmons, have asked whether it is justifiable for Knicks fans to switch their allegiance to the Nets since they are moving to Brooklyn. Simmons argues that it is justifiable because James Dolan is such an incompetent owner. In response, there is a discussion on grantland.com about the issue:

http://www.grantland.com/blog/the-triangle/post/_/id/32174/dumb-office-arguments-are-knicks-fans-allowed-to-become-nets-fans

As a Knicks fan, I must say that it is RIDICULOUS to even consider becoming a Nets fan at this juncture. Sal Iacono writes in his part of the article that if you live in Brooklyn (i.e., if the Nets are now your “local” team rather than the Knicks), it is justified to switch to the Nets, and I agree,  but this is the only circumstance in which it would be justifiable to switch. Being a fan of a team is about loyalty and history–the team’s, your own, and how they intersect–it’s not about throwing a temper tantrum about a decision you don’t agree with. Lin is an exciting player, but he hasn’t even performed at a consistent level for a year. He is far from a known quantity; it’s not the end of the world that he’ll be with another team.

Katie Baker puts it best in the piece (though her pessimism is a bit hyperbolic), and her words should be heeded by all Knicks fans: “Maybe I’m stubborn, or stupid, or both. But I’m sticking around. I’m going down with the ship, playing “Go New York, Go New York, Go” on a waterlogged and out-of-tune violin. I may be a bitter old biddy by the time the Knicks finally win a post-‘70s title; more likely, I’ll be dead. But I just truly don’t think I could ever imagine it any other way.”

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