The Mets fight back! But who cares?
Moral wins don't count.
Even a fool knows;
Jerry, don't pitch to Pujols!
Time for heads to roll.
A season slipping away;
Bring on the G-Men.
Unlike the later "Matrix" movies, this isn't a complex story whose complexity comes from the fact that there isn't actually a definitive story. (replace "Matrix" movies with "Lost" TV show.)and also
"Lost" was considered a smart TV show but part of the reason that smart people couldn't solve it was because there really wasn't something to solve. We could've taken Stephen Hawking off of his current workload and had him devote the past six years to trying to figure out why Libby and Hurley were in the same mental institution -- and he would've failed, because there was no answer.Here's the best summary I can give about my feelings on Lost. Basically every individual episode was engaging, interesting, worth watching, and most importantly entertaining. And for most shows you would say that as long as you were entertained by those 125 hours, then you got your money's worth. I wasn't expecting meta-answers from Full House, I just liked to hear Uncle Jesse say "have mercy" and watch Dave Coulier do Bullwinkle impressions. But this show was different. Full house was a walk around the block and we made it every time. This show was a plane flight across the Pacific and we.....well, you see where I'm going here. On the whole it fell short. Like way short. To the extent that there simply is no feasible solution to a lot of the things I found most interesting.
In keeping with our recent theme (to wit: professional sports that no one gives a shit about), I wanted to share my thoughts on the World Cup. Well, I actually wanted to share my thoughts on the World Cup several weeks ago, but I just didn't get around to it. If I had written this post a few weeks ago, it would have gone something like this:
Wow. The World Cup is really great. It is so fun and exciting to watch, and it is encouraging to see Americans really get behind the sport. Each match is quick (compared to say, a baseball game), lively, and totally action-packed. Unicorns, rainbows and hope. Hugs.
And I think I would have been justified in writing that post at the outset of the World Cup. People were excited about the American team, the games are a bit swifter than most U.S. sports, and they are punctuated with moments of incredible drama. The U.S. win over Algeria in extra time was incredibly exciting, and it really felt like all of NYC (at least where I was watching) had taken time out of the day to root for the team. Ergo, World Cup was great. The U.S. team's loss to Ghana was disappointing, but there was still plenty of great soccer left to watch.
But even then, there were some cracks in this happy facade. A U.S. goal against Slovenia was disallowed on a phantom call. And as frustrating as that was, it was compounded by the fact that the referee (note the singular - because there is only one fucking referee who is responsible for covering the entire match) was not required to identify the nature of the penalty, or the player who committed it.
And the flops. Oh those god-damned flops. How many times have we seen players lose their footing when they engage a defender, go flying through the air, and land on the ground writhing in agony, only to have a television replay reveal that there was absolutely no contact whatsoever? A good clue to this nonsense is often that the gie who looks like he is about to pass out from the pain one minute is happily trotting down the field the next. It has become so much a part of the game that it takes over the game; a good slide with no contact earns a yellow card, while a kick to the chest is overlooked by the referees. I think most U.S. fans find this incredibly unsatisfying -- refs miss penalties or calls in our sports all the time (just ask that gie for the Tigers) -- but it is very, very difficult to get used to the level of inconsistency on yellow cards, and the frequency with which these gies dive and just beg for penalties.
There is also the matter of "stoppage time." The concept makes perfect sense: the clock is not stopped during each 45-minute regulation half, so the referee has discretion to add a few extra minutes to the half to to account for any stoppage of play due to injuries, etc. But in practice, the clock is so loosely enforced as to make it laughable. There has never been a single World Cup game that has ended on a breakaway, or just before a corner kick could be taken, etc. Stoppage time always ends when the ball settles in the middle of the field, or rolls out of bounds, or there is some other natural break in play. It is almost as if the ref looks at his watch and thinks, "man, time is up, but I gotta see how this thing ends." The lack of precision with timekeeping is completely foreign in U.S. sports that play off of a clock.
But there is more. Because there is only one ref, he tends to miss really, really important things. Like goals. Like goals being scored against Germany by England. Like the one everyone in the world saw (even me, because Jet Blue is awesome) except the one guy who needed to see it. And yet, despite the incredible consequences a single goal can have on the match (though, in fairness, perhaps not that particular Germany-England match), FIFA has long maintained that they won't introduce instant replay (though that might finally, finally be changing). Even baseball uses instant replay now to determine whether or not a ball was hit for a home run. There are no good arguments left to allow goals to stand that were not goals, and to fail to award a goal when one was scored.
And there is still more. Remember those yellow cards? The ones that sometimes are given out when a player commits a penalty, but other times are given out for no particular reason at all. Well, if you get two of those in consecutive matches, you do not get to play in the next match. This is the equivalent of benching an NFL player in week six who was flagged for personal fouls in weeks four and five (Jeremy Shockey would have missed all of 2006 under this regime). It would be one thing if the yellow cards actually meant something, and were only handed out in response to truly dangerous play, or blatant rule violations. But as it stands, they are handed out so wantonly as to make the punishment (missing an entire game) completely out of whack with the crime. Just ask Thomas Mueller of Germany, who was benched against Spain because of a yellow card issued after an alleged handball. There can be little doubt that Mueller - the top scorer in the tournament and winner of the "Golden Boot" - might have helped Germany alter the outcome against the eventual champions.
The most frustrating aspect of this is how easy it would be to change most of it. Add another ref. Introduce instant reply on balls that may or may not have gone in the net. And, if a player gets two yellow cards in successive matches, review both yellow cards (after the games but before the next one) to determine whether a game suspension is warranted (the NBA does this now when a player is suspended for getting too many technicals).
Referees will always have an impact on sports, but the extent of that impact, and the extent to which the human element can just completely ruin a game and a tournament, can be minimized with little to no impact on the game itself.
I am not the biggest NBA fan (though I might have become one if LeBron had opted to sign with the Knicks), so my reaction to the whole thing was somewhat muted. But I do keep coming back to two sentiments that run together, and I guess they form my reaction to this whole episode. First, I feel kind of badly for LeBron (calm down, keep reading). Second, this really could not have played out any worse for the NBA.
The frustration of Cavs' fans, the disappointment of Knicks' fans and Bulls' fans, and the general discontent of sports' fans with LeBron's decision is understandable. But it is also not fair. Whatever he did, LeBron could not win. No matter what decision he made, someone was going to be disappointed (a point he made to Jim Gray last night, almost defensively). If he signed with anyone other than the Cavaliers, he was going to be a sell out. A hometown star who deserted his friends and family for a bigger stage. But signing in Cleveland would have made it tougher for him to win a championship (because he was unable to lure other free agents to his team). It also would have increased his overall take, opening him up to criticism that he was really making a purely economical decision. So in making his choice, as he explained it to Jim Gray, he had to at least make sure that he himself would not be disappointed, and the way to do that was to go to the team that was most likely to win a championship, his ultimate goal. With both Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh committed to Miami, the decision had to be an easy one once it was viewed through that lens. And if winning a championship was your ultimate goal, I am not sure any of us would have done anything differently.
Sports figures are routinely criticized, if not worse, for their absolute and myopic pursuit of the highest dollars they can get. There is no loyalty, there is no concept of team, just an all-penetrating desire to maximize cash. LeBron took a different approach. And while he will hardly be on welfare, I have yet to hear anyone talk about the fact that he is putting team and collective excellence ahead of the maximum possible salary. That is an atypical approach for modern-day superstar athletes; perhaps it should be celebrated, not vilified.
Watching LeBron last night, he looked every bit the part of a guy who showed up at his coronation only to regret having to wear the crown. I honestly would not have traded places with him at that moment. He hardly smiled, seemed almost apologetic to Jim Gray for his decision, and copped out behind the fact that his mom had blessed his decision (insert Delonte West joke here), as if that would be enough for the rest of us, too. ESPN's woefully inadequate production didn't help either. This broadcast was thrown together at the last minute, and when James actually announced his decision --- the moment ESPN tells us we have all been waiting for --- you could barely hear him, and there was no reaction from the audience at all. The entire hour ended up being awkward, uncomfortable, and just plain weird. Again, LeBron shoulders some of the blame for this: Kevin Durant didn't agree to a prime time special to announce his signing with Oklahoma City. But LeBron was trying to do something good, i.e., capitalize on ESPN's fascination with this whole saga to sell some airtime for the benefit of one of his charities. But instead it just came off as a self-promoting PR stunt.
I know there are people in the world who deserve a lot more sympathy than a 25 year-old who is already a millionaire many times over. But that's just it. He is only 25 years old. I am not sure I could have handled this level of media scrutiny any better than he did, and I am not sure I would have made a different decision. ESPN and other media outlets made this the biggest sports story of the year because, well because that's what they do, they promote and sell interest in sports. So accusations that LeBron "carefully constructed" this whole process are tongue-in-cheek at best; LeBron could have crawled under a rock for the last two weeks and this still would have been a huge story (he just about did).
Given the money he is guaranteed to make, LeBron really couldn't lose here. But given the microscope he was under, and the millions of people who were going to criticize whatever decision he made, he couldn't really win, either. I think he knew that, and I think that is why he made his decision.
In addition to my (mild) sympathy for LeBron, I cannot see how this whole thing could have played out any worse for the NBA. Three of the league's best players are now concentrated in one market, and on one team. There are only so many times that TNT can make the Heat-Lakers the game of the week. The timing was off too: once Bosh and Wade made their decision, LeBron almost seemed to be falling in line, not leading the charge. The build-up to this whole summer was all about LeBron. But the way it played out made his decision feel a little bit like an afterthought.
The comparisons to the "evil empire" are already underway. And LeBron's near perfect image now has at least a few smudges on it. The Heat will no doubt sell tickets wherever they go, but LeBron was going to sell out arenas wherever he played. I just cannot understand how it helps the NBA to send Team USA out 82 times a year to beat up on lesser teams (I suppose Kobe could take issue with that last sentence, but few others could).
I would have liked to see LeBron in New York (of course), but failing that I really wanted him to stay in Cleveland. It felt like the ending we would have expected out of a cheesy movie. But instead he chose the team that he (rightly) thinks gives him the best chance to win a championship, rather than the team that could and would pay him the most money. Stripping away all the hype that accompanied this whole saga - some of which he created or encouraged, but most of which he did not - I am just not convinced (as many people seem to be) that his decision is worthy of contempt and scorn.