Nor did they have a Paul Pierce.
You can start clearing a space on the wall in Springfield any day now. Pierce is going to retire with all the numbers and all the hardware that anyone will ever need. But last night, he hit some Hall Of Fame shots when the game was threatening to threatening to become competitive again, including one three-pointer from the left top that you could probably call the gamewinner.
He came here as a shooter and that was pretty much it. I saw him play twice in college, when a Kansas team with three pros in the starting lineup couldn't get past the first weekend of the tournament, and he looked like he played in a tuxedo. He couldn't have guarded your grandmother. He retires now as every bit the scorer Larry Bird was, every bit the clutch shooter that John Havlicek was, and every bit the tough guy that Dave Cowens was. He's now third -- behind Russell and Bird and, if the Celtics manage to beat whoever comes out of the West, he might not be done moving up yet.
Used to be all I had was Billy Pierce, the old pitcher. and Ricky Charles Pierce - you can look it up -- the terrific shooter out of Rice who once was the sixth man of the year. Some day, there will be a Pierce in the Hall of Fame.
Oh, yeah, there was this guy, too. RIP.
This video has been all over the Intertoobz today, showing the baseball players from the Citadel and Elon College failing to take to heart all those NCAA commercials about sportsmanship. It should be noted that, up until a decade ago, the Elon teams were known as The Fighting Christians. They are now known as The Phoenix but, clearly, the old habits die hard. Constantine would be proud.
The original Fighting Christian gets his orders.
One of my favorite movies is Bill Forsyth's Local Hero, in which a Texas oil man goes to Scotland in order to buy an entire fishing village so that his company can raze it to build a port for its tankers. The executive gradually falls in love with the place -- and with the local hotelier's wife, Stella -- so that his boss, played by Burt Lancaster, comes over to close the deal. Unfortunately, a vital piece of property belongs to an elderly beachcomber who won't sell and the deal falls through.
This is actually happening in Scotland right now, with the added bonus of its happening to Donald Trump, one of the least excusable Americans alive. Watching L'il Donny stamp his widdle feet and turn red in the face because he can't get his way is going to be a lot of fun going forward.
Have you tried a piano?
I hope it's dawned on the NBA that this really isn't the time to be indulging the incompetence of people like Joey Crawford and Ed F. Rush. Not simply because it's the playoffs, and the kind of half-mad bungling we saw Wednesday night has no place in the league's showcase games. But also because, unfortunately for the league, Tim Donaghy has made almost anything possible.
Basketball has been a marvelous environment for gambling paranoids almost from its berth. (If anyone still cared about boxing, it would be basketball's only real rival in this regard.) Outside of the Black Sox, the point-shaving scandals that recurred in basketball in almost every decade from the 1940s to the 1980s came closer actually to killing a major sport than did anything else. They also embedded in the sport a stubborn counternarrative -- almost a psycho-history -- in which almost nothing about the game is on the up and up. That's why Donaghy's revelations and accusations had so much resonance.
We're already hearing about how Crawford and Rush were so transparently awful the other night because the league doesn't want any sweeps in its conference finals. If the league is to maintain is credibility -- and what could go wrong with allowing a shadowy post-Soviet billionnaire to own the Nets, and a chronic gambler like Michael Jordan to front the Bobcats? -- it is very important that its referees do not stink this year. Simple competence should not be this hard to come by. Game Five was not encouraging in this regard.
To paraphrase Harry Doyle, in case you missed it -- and judging by the media coverage, you must have -- the United States swimming program has pretty much completely blown up in a sex scandal so grotesque and general that it's hard to believe Bernard Law had nothing to do with it. Thirty-six people, including a former national coach, get lifetime bans from one of this country's premier Olympic sports programs behind allegations that, as someone once said, would gag a maggot. And the story might as well have occurred on Neptune. No great outcry from those proud acolytes of The Olympic Movement. No public concern for What This All Means. No outraged "We're Having More Sexual Misconduct" pie charts from USA Today.
Good thing none of these kids was taking steroids, because then they'd be hell to pay.
Just a bit outside...
The only thing worse would be the Olympics.
Let's see. Whole season's on the line, right? Gotta win three straight or it's over, correct?
Coach pointlessly feuding with media superstar? Check.
Overpaid second-fiddle suddenly reveals disease as basis for even more loathsome performance? Check.
Delusions of grandeur from the cannon-fodder end of the starting five? Check.
(Editor's Note -- I wouldn't want to get inside Matt Barnes's skin lest someone mistake me for the outside of a subway train. Some day, I swear, the guys in the nursing home are going to sell tickets.)
Out-of-nowhere yokelism in the papers from former high-draft pick now d/b/a ballast at the end of the bench? Check.
Can we please get this over with and play against a real city now?
Also effective as overall civic metaphor.
Corey Pavin certainly is a brave little feller. This week, our Ryder Cup captain announced, bravely, that he wasn't going to treat Tiger Woods any differently than any other player when he puts his team together to go and battle for Our Country over in Wales later this year.
(Note to our sports-radio guys -- you know what's going to be hilarious? Listening to you rip the World Cup and then, in a couple of months, tell us all why we should all really, really care about the Ryder Cup. That's entertainment.)
Let's see what Captain Corey has to say about this in July, or in September, or whenever the first phone call comes from somebody richer than he is, suggesting that, you know, not to put any pressure on, but, geez, this Woods guy is good for television.
Putting a Super Bowl in New Jersey is an idea so toweringly stupid that you'd be forgiven if you thought the NHL had come up with it. This is true for a number of reasons, the most obvious of which is that every major US sporting event should be held in New Orleans, forever.
(And you've got to admire the brass clangers on Roger Goodell for enthusiastically dumping the big honking football game into a uncovered stadium during February in the upper latitudes not long after admonishing Tampa because its stadium didn't have a roof and the BHFG got itself rained on.)
However, the worst part of it is that you can almost hear the delusions of grandeur begin to rise down along Rte 1. "If New Jersey, then why not us?" Stop, I beg you. Please turn off the engine and step away from your egos. Even granting that the stadium is now part of the world's most opulent strip mall, the infrastructure simply cannot support an event of this size. Anyplace anybody would want to go, except to the game itself, is going to be 45 miles away through hellish traffic, and that's assuming the weather cooperates. The only thing worse would be the Olympics.
From where I sit -- which, at the moment, and for reasons too convoluted to explain here, is at a terminal in the Spencer Free Public Library -- the current reason for fretting seems to be Rajon Rondo's hand. Specifically, it was noted that, the other night, while waiting to return to the floor, he sat down with his fingers in a bag of ice, and that he seemed to be handling the ball rather gingerly throughout Game Four, most notably down the stretch.
That Rondo is currently playing with at least one chronic injury should surprise nobody. He plays with courage and with fire, and he regularly gets bodyslammed to the floor in ways that would have done Jimmy (Superfly) Snuka proud. Perhaps he even dinged his hand in that Now Iconic Play in Game Three when he went to the floor for the ball. Almost everyone playing in this series is now playing with some sort of injury or another. (And, not for nothing, but Steve Nash out in Phoenix is turning out to be quite the 15-round fighter, isn't he?) However, if Rondo is nursing a bad hand, and if he'll have to do that through the remainder of this series and the next, then the Celtics have a real problem, and one that would have been best solved by beating Orlando on Monday night and thereby getting a week off.
Gambling is, of course, sinful. This Blog does not encourage such things. Oh, dearie, no. However, as a public service, and as sociological proof that people will bet on anything, we present you the current opportunities for proposition wagering in our latest ecological disaster.
Having done so, we'd like to offer a wagering tip. You will note that the current favorite for extinction is our old friend, the Kemp's ridley sea turtle. Those of you who regularly read the Globe may recall our story the other day about how the New England Aquarium has had to hang onto the two-dozen Kemp's ridley turtles that have survived out of the 200-odd that were recovered off Cape Cod last winter. The turtles are staying here because the oil spill prevents them from being released into their native habitat -- or, for the moment, anywhere else in the oceans of the Western Hemisphere. This means that, even if all the wild members of the species die, there likely will still be surviving Kemp's ridley turtles here in Boston. I mean, that's got to shake up the odds, doesn't it?
Me? I'm waiting to bet on when oil companies will stop being greedy, planet-killing scum, but I can't get anyone to take it.
I got the horse right here...
"When ideas fail, words come in very handy...the referee is a bum!"
Gaze in awe, then, at L. Brent Bozell's latest effort. Political fans will know Bozell as the late William F. Buckley's son-in-law, which gave Bozell his wingnut-welfare legacy career in which he has enlisted generations of clammy unemployables to sniff out Liberal Bias, and (worse) Teh Sex (!) from wherever it was that our popular culture has been hiding it, from them in particular, one supposes. Anyway, Brent's troubled today by the fact that our major international sporting events have become magnets for a certain class of entrepreneurial young ladies who did not go to Baylor. I know. I know. It's hard to believe that anyone actually wrote an entire column about this subject, but there we are.
(Oh, and don't be fooled. Brent's not really worried about international sex-trafficking. He's worried that somebody, somewhere, is having fun without benefit of clergy. It keeps him up nights.)
Perhaps my favorite moment comes at the end when Brent, having finished both his typing about "out of town whores" and his post-typing encounter with a warm towel, talks about how "The Olympics were born in idealism," and summons up the ghost of that towering crackpot, Pierre de Coubertin, as his supporting argument. As we all know, there were no brothels in Paris in 1920, when the good baron made sure the Games came to town.
E6 -- This Blog incorrectly referred to Brent Bozell as the late William F. Buckley's son-in law. He is, in fact, WFB's nephew. Thanks to commenter thesplenda for catching the mistake, and extra Tommy Points for the snark, as basildan points out. In This Blog's defense, it should be pointed out that both "nephew" and "nepotism" are derived from the Latin, "nepos." Nevertheless, This Blog congratulates the self-correcting blogosphere and regrets the error.
Of all the stories that slipped under the radar, I think the one about the Field of Dreams farm being up for sale may be my favorite one, and not just because both Kevin Costner and Ray Liotta have declined to step up and buy it. It gives me a chance to mention, once again, that FOD remains one of the most execrable feature films in any genre anywhere, including every single one that has starred Adam Sandler. Let's leave aside the fact that, in general, it's nothing more than unusually stupid Our-Daddys-Are-Dying propaganda, and that its apparent nod to that mythical beast, The Sixties, is Amy Madigan's half-mad farm wife who spends the entire film in what is obviously a very bad acid flashback. That's just trolling for an easy box office. The biggest problem is that the movie is a complete fake.
This is supposed to be a film about fathers and son, and the connective generational tissue that is baseball. As such, it can't even get Shoeless Joe Jackson hitting from the correct side of the plate? Nobody thought to check? And, even if you buy the conversion of the novel's J.D. Salinger character into the reclusive black-activist played by James Earl Jones, having done so, do you think that character wouldn't have noticed that there didn't seem to be any room for Josh Gibson, or Cool Papa Bell, or Buck Leonard out there beyond the cornfield? Heaven, apparently, is as segregated as the 1939 St. Louis Browns. Do you further think that a guy who seems at one point to be halfway between James Baldwin and LeRoi Jones would deliver that ghastly paean to the days of segregated baseball to an all-white audience? This movie is as false as blue money to its most fundamental premise. And it's a weepy fake, besides. Anyone who promises to turn the place back into good, productive farmland again gets my vote.
(My friend Dave Kindred lists his favorite sports movies. Fight amongst yourselves.)
Good starting pitching is a wonderful anti-depressant.
Now comes Floyd Landis, to argue that his career, his subsequent lawsuits, his bold defense of his human rights, and one entire book on which he put his name, were all pretty much what my old journalism prof would call barefaced non-facts. Not only that but, Floyd argues, it is just because he was such an accomplished hogwash artist that we should believe what he's saying now about Lance Armstrong, and about pretty much everyone else who's ridden a bicycle since Butch Cassidy fell into the corral.
As I always point out, this is not my drug frenzy, but, even if it were, I'd need an offer of proof beyond the argumentum ad hogwash and, no, citing The Canseco Precedent is not it. The people who get their plumbing in a knot over this stuff are the people insisting on more, better, and more intrusive drug testing. You cannot do that, and then dismiss negative testing results just because you don't like them. And, in the absence of an admission and/or a positive test, you can't simply decide who's using and who's not based on who you like and who you don't.
Thinks he's above the law.
I suppose This Blog ought to weigh in on the whole Mike Lowell-David Ortiz business, since it seems to be what everybody is talking about -- or, at least, that portions of Everybody best described as Bob On A Car Phone, You're Next.
(An aside -- which radio consultant genius came up with the idea of having the hosts read text comments on the air, much less to describe them as being from The 508 or The 617? This is seriously retrograde radio, Fiorello LaGuardia reading the comics. Really, stop it.)
This was never going to be a tenable situation. Neither man was going to be helped much by the defenestration of Manny Ramirez, or by the team's curious disinclination seriously to replace him. Ortiz already had demonstrated that he was not going to handle his immiment obsolescence very well, and the team tried to trade Lowell for a rack of back ribs in the offseason. (There are also more than a lfew indications that relations between Lowell and Terry Francona have pretty much dissolved.) It was further complicated by the fact that the two of them were both well-liked, in and out of the clubhouse, and integral parts of the most important five-year span in the team's history. This was never going to be pretty.
However, as far as clubhouse controversies go, and especially as compared to the ongoing internal mess that's going to surround both men all season, Lowell's comments the other night are pretty small beer. Yeah, he laid out the traditional Play Me Or Trade Me case in the immediate aftermath of a pretty harsh loss to the Yankees, but you'd be awfully hard-pressed to make the case that it affected the team in anyway. The Sox haven't lost a game since. To hear tell from some quarters, however, Lowell spit into the sacristy, while Ortiz largely gets a pass for what has become incessant whining about the awful media and how it hurt his widdle feelings. Yeah, that's always been a successful tactic around this franchise.
Unless you happen to be one of those odd people who love baseball, but hate baseball players, and have embarked on a career as a professional contrarian oddball, this has been nothing more than one more week in a long season, signifying very little. The Red Sox set themselves up with an untenable DH situation. They have to live with it. On the other hand, good starting pitching is a wonderful anti-depressant.
When is the NBA going to crackdown on that unruly mob that goes to the Amway Center, is what I want to know.
Apparently, the father of Celtic Marquis Daniels was "causing" enough of "a disturbance" at Tuesday night's game that the local police found it necessary to remove him from the arena, take him to a secure room, attempt to handcuff him, and, of course, deploy their Tasers. It should be noted that hardly anyone noticed the original "disturbance" that precipitated the descent of law enforcement.
Elsewhere in the building, of course, there was this moneyed cluck, who rises from his seat, gets right in the referee's face, and tells him that he sucks at a volume that the referee, inexcusably, tosses the ball at him. Were I the board of directors of Wyndham Vacation Ownership, I might want to inquire what, if anything, and how much of it, my CEO had ingested prior to making a public jackass of himself on national television and, subsequently, all over the international Intertoobz. I would also point out that, while Daniels's father is an authentically bad actor -- and wasn't it a little miracle how fast his criminal record got itself released -- he wasn't doing anything more than Franz Hanning was, but he gets hauled away and tased while, for disrupting the actual referees in the actual game, Franz gets "escorted" to another seat in the arena, and the referee will probably get in trouble.
It is uncivil, of course, to speculate about the relative motives in the two cases here, so we won't.
UPDATE -- Remarkably, this came up on the Felger & Mazz Radio Program yesterday, where everyone involved found it quite hilarious. This was especially the case with the producer, who heard a cue to trot out the famous "Don't Tase me, bro" soundclip, complete with the subject's scream, which occasioned much giggling and laughing from the cast, and a comment from the producer about how great it was any time you could run that clip. Torture is fun! Talk radio is a marvelous career opportunity for sociopaths.
If there's one non-Celtic central to what is rapidly becoming a very anti-climactic Eastern Conference final series, it's probably Rashard Lewis, the Orlando forward who shows all the signs of becoming Rasheed before his time. Last year, when the Magic beat the Celtics in seven games, Lewis --- along with the departed Hedo Turkoglu -- was the wild card. He helped make up for the absence of point guard Jameer Nelson, too. This year, Nelson's back, Turkoglu's on vacation with the rest of the Toronto Raptors, and Lewis is the invisible man. The biggest reason the Celtics have taken a 2-0 lead is that Orlando has been far too easy to guard, and the biggest reason for that has been that they have swallowed Lewis up entirely.
It's become plain that the greatest defensive talent the Celtics have lies in taking the Other Guys out of the game. It was what they did against Cleveland; LeBron James, of course, did them the additional favor of taking himself out of play. They can deprive a team's superstar of scoring help and dare that one player to beat them. In the regular season, that doesn't matter. Orlando won three of the four games in the regular season against Boston, but it didn't score 100 points in any of them. In the playoffs, where every possession counts, this can tighten the throat considerably.
(And not to look too far ahead, but Kobe Bryant can light them up all he wants, this team can guard Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.)
That is the buzzsaw through which they're putting Lewis at the moment, challenging him on the perimeter, and taking advantage of his puzzling disinclination to drive. (Ibid: "Rasheed, ahead of his time.") In the first two games, Lewis is shooting four for 16, and nine of his 16 attempts have been three-point shots. He's managed to grab 11 total rebounds. He's not in the mix at all.
And, were I an Orlando fan, this smiling Dwight Howard from the team's website would concern me greatly. What, precisely, do you have to smile about, young man, either at this practice, or at that odd moment on Tuesday night, when your team finally got a one-point lead and, when we get back from commercials, you're grinning away and talking to your fans? Pro tip: look down at the other bench. Those people are not smiling.
Rand Paul -- who is, in my constitutionally-protected opinion, a crazy person and the son of a crazy person -- got enough crazy people to the polls last night to win himself a primary in Kentucky that apparently was otherwise conducted in the year 1848.
(He's already being made out to be The Future Of The Republican Party. Wait. Wasn't that our own Senator McDreamy, only a few months back? Does the GOP have multiple futures? What is this, an episode of Lost?)
Paul's faux populist message hit something of a bump, however, when he gave his victory party at an exclusive country club, which is not the place where you find many Men Of The People. This occasioned some backing and filling this morning that was just inches from being credible, but right dead in the middle of being hilarious. Ol' Rand went to the country club to establish his street cred' because Tiger Woods made golf dope, fresh and, one supposes, fly. Dude, this place isn't The Country Club, but it ain't Ponkapoag, either. And, you may not have noticed, but Tiger has come to represent a different sort of, ah, outreach recently. Oh, this guy's going to be a barrel of fun.
We seem to be revisiting David Ortiz and his use of Non-Establishment-Approved pharmaceuticals. Why this is, I have no idea but, as I always say when dealing with The Worst Scandal There Absolutely Ever Was (pant, wheeze): this is not my drug frenzy here.
Anyway, as you may recall from previous episodes, Ortiz's name was on the list of players who tested positive for one N-E-A drug or another back in 2003. When discussing this list, it is important to remember that every player who took part in that testing program did so with the assurance that their results would forever remain confidential. Like always. Like take-it-to-the-graveyard omerta. Of course, times being what they are, and hysteria being what it is always, that was a promise with about as much truth behind it as a number of Indian treaties I can name. Renegade investigators, ambitious journalists, and moralists of all stripes pried the thing loose, and there was Ortiz. Since then, the issue of who-knew-what-when seems to have engulfed a good piece of the Red Sox operation.
Me? The only lasting lesson I can take from this is that any athlete who depends on the "confidentiality" of testing for N-E-A pharmaceuticals is a fool.
The new Conrad Veidt Memorial Immigration Law in Arizona continues to be entangled in the business of sports. Most recently, Phil Jackson got into the act, opining to J.A. Adande of ESPN.com that, in his opinion, all that happened was that Arizona codified for itself existing federal immigration law and "put some teeth into it." Now, as is always the case with the Zen Master, this may be a ploy to blunt the force of the rallying point that Los Suns have made out of their opposition to the law.
(Might be the way to bet, actually, since, in the course of the interview, Jackson says he doesn't think teams should get involved with "political stuff," after involving himself in, you know, political stuff. He's messing with putting a wedge between the Suns and their fans, I guarantee you.)
But it was enough to get people planning to yell at the Staples Center from the sidewalk tonight. I welcome Phil to the debate, but his position as stated is pretty far from being right on what are likely to be the facts on the ground as this law gets enforced.
Hey, look who's on the lam again. If John Calipari's looking for another job, that may not be good news for the University of Kentucky, since taking a powder one step ahead of the NCAA posse is something The Skell of Amherst pretty much has raised to an art form. There is so much to marvel at in this story. For example, there is the presence of the delightful William (Worldwide Wes) Wesley, whose job apparently it is to arrange the kind of happy coincidences that seem to follow Calipari from job to job. (To call Wesley a bagman would be dreadfully unfair to bags.) Why the Chicago Bulls possibly want to involve themselves with this passel of cutpurses, even with LeBron James at stake, is utterly beyond me. Note: LeBron's "business manager" is a guy named Maverick? Really? Does everyone on his team have a "call sign," like fighter pilots or the guys on Entourage? Did the guy they call "Grifter" take a job with someone else?
What can possibly go wrong here?
"I feel the need...the need for GREED!"
In case you missed it, the rightwing saloons along the docks of Blogistan are dripping with env...er...boiling with outrage that Rima Fakhi, a Lebanese woman from Michigan, won the Miss USA title last night, despite tripping over her gown and being in favor of birth control. She also may have other problems as she begins her tour of America's shopping malls.
Me? I'm not feeling very threatened.
Also, if you consult this list of judges, you will see some prominent American sporting figures connived in delivering to our embattled Republic this begowned politically correct surrender to Sharia law. And I would also like to say that I would pay American cash money to know what in the hell Carmelo Anthony talked about with Johnny Weir.
It was a very strange weekend if, for no other reason, I haven't been able to get Motorhead's "Ace Of Spades" out of my head since I heard it on TV last Friday. If you want to maintain the respect of the neighbors, yelling "And don't forget the joker!" out loud at odd intervals is not the way to go at all. I'm glad there were sports there to distract me.
If you want a historical parallel to this year's Boston Celtics team, reach all the way back to 1969, and the last championship won in the Bill Russell Era. (And, yes, they played fewer games. Their shorts were also shorter and Chris Schenkel was still alive. Get over it.) That year, a Celtics team dependent almost entirely on aging and brittle veterans sandbagge...er....coaste...er...saved itself through most of the regular season so that it would have enough left to win in the playoffs. The Celtics actually finished fourth in the Eastern Conference, six full games behind the third-place New York Knicks. However, by the end of it, Russell was fresh enough to pull down 21 rebounds in Game Seven, utterly outplaying Wilt Chamberlain, who famously asked out of the deciding game.
The parallel is not exact, but the ways in which it is not all favor this year's team. The 1969 team had no young talent of caliber of Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, or Glen Davis. But what has become clear over the last two weeks is that Doc Rivers managed his roster masterfully over the course of the long regular season -- even while sustaining some comically horrid losses (Memphis at home?) along the way. Clearly, he knew more both about the individuals on his team, and about the collective personality that those individuals could form together, than anyone else did. (Not to rub salt in the wounds, but does anyone believe at this point that Claude Julien had any idea what kind of team he was coaching in the playoffs? Or that Mike Brown in Cleveland did?)
Rivers now has a fresh legs under Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and, especially, under Ray Allen. He's parceled out the time they deserve to both Davis and the resurgent Tony Allen. (Note to Tony Allen: you have found your place here. Appreciate it. You are not ever going to be The Man. Please don't go all the way to New Jersey or somewhere to find that out.) He's also got Rajon Rondo's patience at an all-time high; watch him wait just the right half-second for, say, Garnett to clear a defender before delivering the pass. Rondo's playing at his teammates' pace now. Orlando can still shoot its way past the Celtics, but it's clear that what the Magic was seeing on the court was not what it was seeing on the scouting films all season.
We have a new leader in the How-I-Flunked-A-Drug-Test international alibi contest. No sooner than we were finally done with AP and its voters making idiots of themselves over Brian Cushing and his silly award, we find ourselves dealing with Tong Wen, the Chinese judoka who's decided that she took one too many from Column A when she got home from Europe. I'll give Tong and her coaches credit for originality, although it looks like the Blame The Pork defense was used earlier by a Chinese swimmer. There seems little doubt to me that we must now start testing every high school athlete in America for moo shu. If that doesn't keep them going to McDonald's, nothing will.
DEA -- Schedule C.
Leave aside for a moment that, if the Bruins lose tonight, their collapse will be a resounding one, although it will be nothing compared to the fact that neither Washington nor Pittsburgh could win a Game Seven on their own rinks against the eighth-seeded team in the conference. After all, say what you will about how the Bruins have played, this series was a pick 'em even before David Krejici got hurt.
(And both Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin can thank their lucky stars that so many people don't care about hockey, or else they'd be sitting in deck chairs alongside of LeBron James on the beach of the Great You Know What.)
One thing I do know is that it is far too much to ask that Tuukka Rask be the difference in tonight's game. He has been splendid at times, and he's certainly solidified his spot as the Boston goaltender for the next 10 years. But he's brought them as far as he can be expected to take them. Give him a couple of goals to play behind, and he should be fine. But it's unrealistic in the extreme to expect him to backstop you in a 1-0 or 2-1 game at this point. Sooner or later, somebody with a bigger salary than his has to score some goals against, it should be noted, the second-string Flyer goaltender. That said, this might be the best night at Sullivan's since the year the Beanpot went dry. And, for luck, and in the hopes of a classic Original Six Eastern Conference Final, here is an old friend:
Is there a reason why people have decided that the story last night was I Told You So on the subject of LaBron James? (Skip Bayless was particularly insufferable this morning on whatever that ESPN2 version of The View is called.) I would remind people that these were exactly the same things that people said about Michael Jordan -- and you know who you were -- before he finally got past the Pistons and won a championship, and that James only this year passed over that six-year Jordan Meridian in his career.
That he was bizarrely invisible in Game Five is beyond dispute. That he turned the ball over too much last night is, as well. But he played hard last night and, by and large, did enough that his performance ought not to be seen to devalue his two MVP awards, both of which he deserved, and the fact that his team has been the best team in the league over 82 games for two seasons running now.
(And if there's anything funnier than watching TV pundits decry the effect of hype on an athlete, I don't know what it is.)
Very likely, he will be playing somewhere else next season. His supporting cast likely will be better. (In case it slipped your attention, Antawn Jamison is pretty much done, Anthony Parker's jump shot went to the zoo, and Anderson Varejao has hands like a hippo.) If he wins one or more championship playing somewhere else, will that be enough to get folks off his back? I mean, does he have to have won in Cleveland? Isn't that too much to ask of anyone? Nevertheless, because of Game Five, and because of those nine turnovers, before he starts choosing his next stop in the NBA, he'd best take a short sabbatical amid the cool breezes that stir the trees along...
....the great lake of Fail.
There is no way you can call yourself a hockey fan and not want a Bruins-Canadiens Eastern Conference final with the winner playing Chicago for the Cup. The one thing the NHL can sell about itself is its lore, and an orgy of Original Sixhood is exactly what these playoffs need.
There was something scary bad about how flat the Penguins were last night. As much as they've made me happy -- I've been a Canadiens fan since 1962. OK, so I didn't reckon on Bobby Orr's showing up here. The Bruins of my early youth were pretty horrid. -- these Canadiens are a very basic hockey team, but they've been playing very hard for a month and Pittsburgh came out so utterly dead-assed that Montreal looked like it was playing with four Guy LaFleurs, a Cournoyer, and a couple of Beliveaus in the middle. This is not the way you defend the Cup, Sidney. Not the way at all.
Keith Olbermann is a valued acquaintance -- "Friend" might be a little strong, but I'd be happy to say it -- of mine. Back when ESPN was launching ESPN2, they were trying to put together SportsNight, the new network's ill-fated night-time show. (And the show that I still believe could have been Anglo sports-television's answer to Sabado Gigante.) Anyway, I'd been asked to audition to be one of the show's regular talking-heads, and Olbermann was one of its three anchors. (ESPN2 being the "hip" alternative to the flagship network, they put Olbermann in a leather jacket behind the desk. Did I mention that the whole concept of the show was doomstruck from the start?) At one loose moment, we found ourselves lounging against a car outside on the campus in Bristol. "Is it just me," he asked me, "or does this whole thing not make a lot of sense?"
I like him. He's smart and funny, if occasionally a bit full of himself. (Now there's something rare in television.) He's also a stone baseball fanatic. He's one of Those People, the ones who see in baseball all sorts of things for which I am apparently congenitally blind. For a while now, he's been contributing a blog called "Baseball Nerd" to the MLB.com site. I pop by occasionally, but not too often, because, while I like Keith, his blog is about, you know, baseball.
However, his presence on the MLB site has drawn the ire of S.E. Cupp, a rising and frisky young conservative who seems to have borrowed Ann Coulter's persona and Nana Mouskouri's eyeglasses. (Ms. Cupp claims to be a conservative atheist who respects religion. She even wrote a book to that effect. Everybody needs to make a living, I guess.) There's also the miraculous -- and wholly spontaneous, I am sure -- appearance of a website that makes largely the same case, with bonus quotes from the largely unemployable Liz Cheney! The website, you may notice, looks like it was drawn in chalk on your monitor screen 10 minutes ago.
Baseball, it seems, makes Ms. Cupp feel really American:
"Nothing says "America" like our national pastime. For a few yawning hours, chronological time becomes primordial time, and within those walls of sacred stadiums, space becomes holy."
Good lord. I'm going to get Ken Burns one day for this. I swear to god, I am.
From this passage, we can conclude that Ms. Cupp has been around baseball players as much as she has been around most Sherpas, although I've seen things happen in baseball clubhouses that were pretty damned primordial. I'll give her that.
The whole kerfuffle has drawn a little attention today in the ginmills along the docks in Blogistan, largely because it once again posits the notion that Rush Limbaugh was a poor widdle victim of the socialist-Muslimo-Kenyan-leftocrats who run the National Football League. (I may never stop laughing at that one.) The parallelism here is, of course, threadbare. The bill of particulars against Limbaugh is long and getting longer. That the NFL and its broadcast partners might find it uncomfortable to associate themselves with a race-baiting yahoo who tells African American callers to get the bones out of their noses, and who recently seems to be heading towards notions best left to the ham-radio set in upper Michigan, is utterly unsurprising, unless of course you're fishing around for a cheap culture-war column to pass the time.
What Olbermann is doing for MLB is writing a blog, which does not mean that he has been given MLB's "imprimatur to speak for the game." It's a blog, toots. He speaks for himself. MLB gives him a platform for his opinions on baseball which are, I can assure you, deeply felt and utterly genuine -- as opposed to, say, your own.
I am particularly amused by Ms. Cupp's lining up Olbermann with the various other baseball villains like Chick Gandil, Pete Rose, and Jose Canseco. (This is truly funny because, on issues like Rose's going to the Hall of Fame, and the possible enshrinement of the stars of the steroid era, Olbermann's way to the right of, well, me.) Wikipedia can be a wonderful tool, I reckon. However, as she is new to sportswriting, I might point out that, if you're writing a column in which Rush Limbaugh is positioned as a victim, you might want to stay away from phrases like "long line of performance-enhancing abusers." Just sayin'.
Of course, there may have been a reason behind Lebron James's vacancy in last night's game that's eluded us all. The talk is that, if Cleveland doesn't win the championship this year, it's more likely that he will leave for some place like New York or Chicago. As to the former, the city's entrepreneurial spirit has taken over, and local merchants have decided to contribute what are called "recruiting inducements" in those smaller American towns where college football rules the day.
This reminds me a little of the golden passes handed out upon their return to the American diplomats who were held hostage in Iran with which they could attend any baseball game they wanted for the rest of their lives. Except, of course, that this offer involves New York and naked people. James may or may not take this club up on its offer but, if he doesn't, at the very least, it's a surefire way to get Tiger Woods to play Westchester.
For the runners-up, our exciting home game.
There is no question that Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Lebron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers will be the faces of their respective sports from now until the second Palin Administration. Interestingly, both of them currently are facing games that in some way will define them until long after that.
(And, yes, I am aware that Crosby already has a Stanley Cup championship and that James does not have the equivalent. That pushes Crosby a bit ahead, but the current parallel remains.)
Neither of them should be in the situation in which they both find themselves this afternoon. There is no way that Crosby and his Penguins should have been extended to seven games by a mediocre Montreal Canadiens team, especially since the Habs had to work so hard to send Alex Ovechkin and the perennially underachieving Washington Capitals packing in the last round. More to the point, Crosby has managed only one goal over the last five games. And, of course, James and the Cavaliers should be done with the Celtics by now. That they aren't is completely a function of their inability to play well in their own building. Last night, James seemed possessed by an almost stupefying vagueness. The loss was not his fault. The rout largely was.
They both have occasions now to which they can rise, if only to save their teams from desperate embarrassments and offseasons full of unpleasant questions. (James is already hearing the latter.) These are the games you have to win, if you are who these two players are said to be.
Do or do not. There is no try.
The last time I saw Bill was at the memorial service for the son of a mutual friend of ours. He was in obvious physical discomfort, but he stayed for the whole thing, including the reception after the service. He and his wife, Lori, talked with anyone who came and sat at the table. (We mentioned that my brother-in-law was interviewing for a job in San Diego not long after that, and the Waltons were quick to invite him to dinner. Thus, eventually, did meet the two tallest Deadheads in the Mars Hotel.) I was finishing a book right about then, and Walton was a vacuum cleaner for details -- and, actually, he was invaluable in clarifying one of the book's main themes, just by being an interested reader. That he showed up and stayed was a testimonial to his fundamental decency. That he continued to be great company was a testimonial to who he is -- a truly American original. Welcome back to the world, big guy. This one's for you.
Last week, we had the kid who deliberately knocked one out of bounds so another player could qualify for the next round. Now, courtesy of the Deadspinners, we have Annie Brophy of Notre Dame, who apparently gamed the on-course scoring system for laughs. I have watched almost no college golf in my life, so I could be wrong about this, but isn't this a really rinky-dink way to keep a running score tally in a major competition? Any present or former golfers out there can feel free to chime in here.
"...it's lahk watchin' Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes."
It's the 18 rebounds that is the stunning part. It's the 18 rebounds that -- for me, anyway -- puts Rajon Rondo past Deron Williams and Steve Nash, and puts him right on Chris Paul's heels as the best point guard in the NBA. Right now. Today. It's the 18 rebounds that marks him different from all the rest of them. They can all shoot better than he can and they can all pass just as well, although none of them have posterized Lebron James the way that Rondo did yesterday, selling a layup until the last possible moment and then slipping the ball behind his back to get Tony Allen a dunk. That's a defining play, but it's the 18 rebounds that make him special.
Rebounding is heart and desire and all those things, but it is also a talent, a gift for knowing the inherent geometry of basketball. At its best, rebounding can make a player seem clairvoyant, the way that passing used to make Larry Bird seem clairvoyant. A gifted rebounder -- especially one Rondo's size, of whom there have been very few -- is always a surprise. How'd he get there? How'd he know?
But it's also heart and desire and all those things, too. It's a statement of basketball purpose, a way to validate yourself among your teammates and your peers around the league, the way the willingness to play special teams in football is, or an enthusiasm for penalty-killing in the NHL. If you're willing to rebound, you're willing to sacrifice yourself. At this moment, with the series dead-level at two games apiece, and even closer emotionally, I'd like to take a moment to thank Danny Ainge for not screwing this one up.
He's always been a difficult player for fans to like. (Other players seem quite fond of him, and he can be genuinely flaky in an entertaining way. I have incorporated his theory of "Ball Don't Lie" into my basketball philosophizing, much to the distress of my children and that couple at the next table.) He goes vacant at bad times; this is not a function of age, either. The first time I saw it was when Wallace got absolutely undressed by Corliss Williamson in a Final Four game in 1995. But, if he somehow manages to find the player he was with the Pistons, then it is his presence that shifts the balance of favor in this series toward the Celtics.
He's a hard player for Cleveland to guard, especially if Rondo continues to be the best player on the floor for either team. The one aspect of the Cavaliers that has drawn little attention is that the team is a little old at certain positions, and that, physically, they are not suited to make the Celtics pay for the age of their roster, the way that Atlanta, Orlando, or even Milwaukee might. (Kevin Garnett can guard Antawn Jamison without exhausting himself.) They simply don't have anyone who can stay with Rondo and, if Wallace is smart, and I think he is, he has to know by now that all he really has to do is spot up, hit his shots, rebound more than occasionally, and play defense adequately. If he does, suddenly, the Celtics are deeper than the Cavaliers. At the very least, last night should have shut up at least temporarily those voices who decided that Rasheed Wallace is Randy Moss -- would that he were, BTW, at least for this week -- because it's easier than thinking.
Tasers have become a menace.
It is supposed to be a non-lethal option for police -- Let's not even get into why some security guard is packing one at the ballpark. -- to employ when they are threatened. Too often, however, they are being used simply as a method of control. When they are used as such, they become instruments of torture, pure and simple. The guard in Philadelphia wasn't being threatened. He just couldn't catch the kid. "Non-compliance," while inconvenient, is far too baggy a term to be very helpful, and it certainly is not a serious enough offense to warrant having a thousand-odd volts fired into your torso. Drunks at the ballpark are pains in the hindquarters. That's all they are. I thought for a while that the people who liked 24 were the only people who enjoyed being entertained by torture. Turns out I was wrong.
Not a word about vicodin. I checked.
Speaking of things that actually ran dry this weekend, the Red Sox roster continues to play as though it were put together in a blind draw among the slower members of a third-rate rotisserie league and the Celtics seem to be a great 36-minute team playing 48-minute games. Not many of these problems seem entirely solvable. Would it have made all that much of a difference if, instead of Jason Varitek's having been thrown out at the plate by 20 feet, it had been Bill Hall being thrown out by 10? What is a team with a $170M+ payroll doing at life and death anyway with the worst team in the American League. (For the record, Varitek stayed in the game because Terry Francona didn't want Victor Martinez behind the plate, possibly because Francona has plans for the Fourth of July.) To the outside observer, this is a team full of laughably obvious holes, especially in relation to its most immediate competition in the AL East. Of course, I haven't crunched all the numbers, so I'm sure there's some way the Sox are actually in first place.
The Celtics, on the other hand, are playing pretty well. That first half against Cleveland was about as well as this team can play that one. But this Celtics team breaks a little bit too easily. It cannot match Cleveland physically; even simply taking up room, Shaquille O'Neal is too much for anyone on the Celtics to handle. Only Rajon Rondo gives the Celtics an obvious mismatch at any position. However, there is no reason on earth why the Celtics cannot keep Anderson Varejao off the offensive boards; no matter how hard Sideshow Bob plays, he's still very raw. And there's nothing in the physical superiority of the Cavaliers that should keep the Celtics from closing out on three-point shooters better than they did when the game turned on Saturday night. Remember, this is a Cleveland team that gave it up to Orlando in the conference finals last season. They have a few rats running around inside their skulls, too. Steal one in Cleveland and get them thinking, and see what happens.
Which leaves us with the Bruins, who managed to scare everyone to death before winning. (Tuukka, son, no more of that stuff, OK?) The hockey community around here may just hug itself to death before this series is over. (The Sports Hub is now a 24-hour infomercial for the team. Give them this. They buy the rights, they stay bought.) That said, I think the story of Daniel Paille is going to be the one worth going along with as the playoffs continue. He scored 10 goals all season and, now, because of the bad-luck injury to Marco Sturm, he's going to get his chance as a first-line winger with Marc Savard. That's opportunity knocking upside your head, right there.
And, not for nothing, but 40 years ago, the late, great George V. Higgins wrote the greatest non-Melville opening line in the history of the English language:
"Jackie Brown at 26, with no expression on his face, said that he could get some guns."
Not only that, but you will also recall that a very important moment in The Friends Of Eddie Coyle occurs -- “Christ, No.4, Bobby Orr. What a future he’s got.” -- at a Bruins game.