Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Race, Genes, and Sports Performance: What do We Know?

Deadspin recently posted an article on an unfortunate snafu by Darren Rovell. He essentially argued that Meb Keflezighi's NYC Marathon win was not truly "American", because Meb was born elsewhere. Meb moved here when he was 12, however, so Darren sounded as if he only accepted "certain" Americans as fully American. He apologized, as he should have.

However, in taking Darren to the woodshed, Deadspin itself seemed to tread on dangerous ground in trying to insist that race is just one of many factors in top distance runners. There is no question that the Kenyans and other East Africans focus a lot more on distance running than many other countries do; cultural elements (and geography) have a big impact. However, in the last paragraph especially, Tommy Craggs seemed to veer away from solid ground in claiming that "It's not a debate. It's science and common sense on one side and on the other a handful of grumpy people who've decided that the genetic advantages that may or may not sort themselves according to race somehow matter more than the countless other genetic advantages all world-class athletes necessarily possess."

This is an attempt to state that runners are a mix of culture, circumstance, and geological phenomena...while trying to poo-poo race and genes as not a dominant factor. The expert in the New York Times story states
"Scientists have looked for — but not found — genes specific to East Africans that could account for their distance ability, said John Hoberman, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin who studies race and sports. But, he said, “there is a difference between saying we don’t have a scientifically respectable conclusion and the very broad and perhaps mistaken claim that there is no physiological phenomenon here whatsoever.”Regarding the question of whether East Africans have a genetic advantage, Hoberman said, “We don’t know.

Special cases and outliers are notoriously hard to measure. No, they haven't found that exact connection, but no, they aren't shutting the door to there being one either. So to argue that science and common sense is on any single side of measuring the impact of race on genes on sports performance is already debateable. I did some further research and found the BBC's article, written by a statistician. As Kenya was able to achieve the same level of training and coaching that the British runners had, thus leveling the playing field--suddenly, Kenyan runners were far superior. This seems to indicate that when other factors such as training are controlled, genetic (or geographic) differences are the difference between finishing first or fifth. Also, the BBC statistician says " Kenya's men are stronger in depth in the marathon than any other country in a single discipline in athletics." It's so marked a domination that 65 of the world's top 100 marathoners are Kenyan.

Look, race in sports is a very tricky issue. I cringe at blanket statements like "Whites are better in golf" or what have you. But East African runners may indeed be the only true example where one group has a provable genetic advantage over another that can't be explained by culture, nutrition, or, well, genetic bingo cards. Why is that such a scary thought for some to contemplate? I believe that some worry that pointing out racial differences lead to some nationalities being relegated to more menial tasks than others. However, open-minded people can still appreciate diversity even if it means that some of us may have pre-ordained genetic gifts, related to race, to be better than others in some limited, narrow areas. Unfortunately, in justifiably trying to point out what was wrong with Rovell, Deadspin seems to have fallen into its own trap. What do We Know about Race, Genes, and Sports Performance? Absolutely nothing, I fear--and I am sure I created my own mistake and fallacy in writing this blog. I don't think it should stop us from discussing these issues; but we should be well-aware that in correcting the mistakes of others, we tend to create our own.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Deadspin's Raging Sense of Entitlement--With Deleted Scenes!

After yesterday's uproar over Deadspin posting ESPN rumors, I couldn't help but laugh. So many bloggers tried to write the story as if this was just a random event--that the real Deadspin was nice, cuddly, and gave out piggyback rides to small children. Hey small bloggers--it's 2009! You don't have to kiss up to big blogs anymore! I suppose they missed the memo that Deadspin will be doing more original reporting now, so bye-bye to your links. Since I don't care (proved by the huge number of entries I've written this year), here's my take on AJ Daulerio's little excursion to crazytown. Better takes are here, here, and here.

There's nothing new about Deadspin's raging sense of entitlement when it comes to big stories. Throwing a fit because they didn't get what they wanted, when they wanted it, is standard practice at Deadspin. Just look at this classic from Tommy Craggs over the Josh Hamilton story. Craggs is furious that Johnny Narron, who was Josh Hamilton's accountability partner/counselor, wouldn't rat out Josh Hamilton in response to his clumsy, misinformed questions. Read the money quote here:

"The alternatives are that Narron — who did not return my call this morning — was either lying to me to give Hamilton a chance to respond in full (understandable, but damned un-Christian of him) or the whole thing had just slipped his mind, making him perhaps the worst accountability partner in the history of drug addiction. Whatever the case, Narron is probably not someone in whom we should put a lot faith."

You know, the worst accountability partner ever probably would be the guy who would give up his friend to a media site who didn't even have the right month for when the photos were taken. "Oh, it was January, not March! And you don't have all the photos right--here, let me send you the one where he's naked, holding a Bible! I would LOVE to help ruin my friend's reputation!" That's what he should have done, right, Tommy?

And so the ESPN fiasco just fits into a larger pattern of Deadspin demanding ridiculous access for stories, and then crying when they don't get it. Some PR departments and friends don't want to sell out their friends for free--earth-shattering, I know. Even Judas got 30 pieces of silver. But I was thinking--does Deadspin play by its own rules? Why don't I host a Deleted Scenes on Deadspin, myself? So here you go...something I've sat on for at least a year.

You know, maybe I should have gotten more angry when Will Leitch told me that AJ Daulerio wasn't replacing him at Deadspin Here, want the screenshot? Just 2.5 months before Will announced he was leaving Deadspin? (Click to enlarge)

Now if I did things the Deadspin way, I should have been a big baby too that my "exclusive" wasn't honored, that Will didn't get in touch with me and tell me the news first because I asked first. If I did things the Deadspin way, I should have called Will a two-faced liar trying to cover up his departure at Deadspin, instead of looking the other way and assuming the best about him. If I did things the Deadspin way, I'd speculate, with zero facts to support it (but a nice timeline of circumstantial evidence!) that a deal was done the day AJ came on board, and that those other applicants for the Deadspin editor job had as much a chance as the Browns do of wining this year's Super Bowl.

But that's not a fair look at that story. At worst, Will was a man trying to look for another job and not wanting to get fired from the first. That's why I sat on this then, even though I was furious at the time that I got played so easily. The story doesn't matter now, but it makes my point. Even Deadspin can't and won't play by Deadspin's own rules, its own sense of raging entitlement. And please, spare me the email, Deadspin. If I wanted your opinion on this blog, I would email you--it's no different than the way you treated ESPN yesterday, now is it?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Stephen Jackson and the NBA's Quiet Desperation

Stephen Jackson or "S-Jax" was fined $25000 for conduct "detrimental to the NBA." Several hoops sites already profiled this fine, such as Warrior blogger Tim Kawakami and Henry Abbott. They pointed out the hypocrisy of Stephen getting fined for making a trade demand while Kobe was not. But there was another point that I want to highlight.

Simply put, the fine shows you how desperate the NBA's economic situation truly is. The Golden State Warriors are at least in the top half of season ticket sales and attendance by most metrics I looked up. Just a few years ago, their fans had the most passionate play-off performance seen in the NBA since perhaps the heyday of the Jazz or Kings. And yet, they're coming off a bad year, in a state plagued by poor economic management. Stephen's trade demand is a sort of economic blackmail. He's their only marquee star right now that they can market for ticket renewals. (No, the casual fan can't appreciate that Randolph, Curry, and Ellis all may be future All-Stars). In my mind, the NBA fined him because they realized just how great an effect a trade demand can have on a team's ticket sales in this weak economy. And if that is truly why--that one average star in a passionate sports town can have that much effect on ticket renewals--the NBA is in a much more precarious position than they have admitted so far.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

MCBias Live: Cycling

I had a nice surprise earlier this summer; I finally got to meet one of my interviewees from this blog. I had previously interviewed Kathryn Bertine, who was working hard towards her dream to make the Olympics in 2008. ESPN was sponsoring her, and she wrote some very funny blogs on her quest to qualify in sports as diverse as fencing and cycling. She didn't make it in 2008, but she's continued competing in cycling since then. When I got her e-mail update, I decided to see a cycling race for myself.

What surprised me most about the experience is how effortless the women make racing look. They are working very hard to stay close to the pack, but they don't waste any energy doing so. I was talking to Kathryn after the race, and she explained that course curves also have a lot to do with the race outcome. Unlike, say, the Tour de France, the Chris Thater had laps, and so turning precisely was key. That unfortunately held Kathryn back from a great performance, but she was optimistic that it would make the time trials she's practicing for seem easy. Thanks to Kathryn for the time after the race--I know personally I'd be too tired to hold much of a conversation, but it was still a good chat. Best of luck in the time trials!

See below for my pictures and video from Chris Thater Women's Pro. They are fairly self-explanatory. You can see the riders after the race chatting with one another and checking to see how the equipment held up after the race. There was one accident. Thankfully the rider was ok, it happened before I arrived. Click any photo to get a larger picture.

I tried to take pictures of the cyclists as they sped around the track, but it was too quick for me! So I used video instead. This short clip gives you an idea of the speed.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bloggolalia: I Like the Cavs...and General Howe was a Sexually Reckless Fool who Lost the War

Weird beginning, right? You come here to read my takes on sports, and all of a sudden, you get a dose of my take on something totally different. But it's really not that unusual for sports bloggers to go on a tangent. By our very nature, we're sharing our perspective on the story. With luck, my perspective is a little different than yours in ways that amuse and intrigue, but also similar to yours in ways that reassure and lead to a common understanding. The goal is to be different from the reader and pique curiosity, but not in such a way that drives the reader away from the site.

However, sometimes, the problem is that when I write my story, my biases become the story. I write a post in such a way that it is uniquely for me, by me. Because I'm in a rush, I use shorthand, and just assume that everyone knows that Shaq is a childish bully (whoops, can't say that anymore, he's on the Cavs!), or that my views on, say, women, gays, or the Philadelphia Eagles are how my audience thinks. Problem is, that's probably not true. And at times, that can be quite unfair to my reader. I've certainly seen other bloggers quietly drive away audience segments with their ignorance about how other types of people think--whether it be city vs. country, Democrat vs. Republican, or even racism.

This brings me to the inspiration for this blog--a bit of a disagreement a post by Bethlehem Shoals of Free Darko and SportingNews. It's too bad I have to use this as an example, because other bloggers are much worse than Shoals. Quite honestly, it's because of the respect I have for his writing, perhaps, that I pick on his article. I bought his book and generally liked his stuff, although I haven't followed it too closely lately. While reading Twitter, I saw a tweet of his that said "Allan Houston among the Christ-killers?!". It pricked my interest, and I went over and read the article.

I'll spare you the specifics; you can read my serious, strained comments and Shoal's attempts at witty one-liners at your leisure. My objection was mainly how Shoals' writing seemed like a sneaky generalization.

The first part of Shoals' post was a recounting of a sad misunderstanding where, essentially, some Christians on the Knicks were embarrassingly aggressive in trying to convert a Jewish reporter. It was quite a mess, but settled down after Ward backed down. As one of the last articles on it, by Josh Ozersky, said,

"Language such as Ward used naturally gives Jewish people the willies, conjuring as it does historical memories of pogroms and massacres…But how many Jews can say that they really understand evangelical Christians?"

However, I was annoyed at Bethlehem's attempted comedic take on Allan Houston's visit to Israel. I felt that Shoals was being deliberately short with the truth to make Allan Houston and his visit look bad. Nothing Shoals said was quite false...but it wasn't the whole truth, either.

Shoals is Jewish. I understand that he no doubt has strong opinions on Christians based on common experiences and many years of often miserable, tragic evil that Christians have caused Jews. But I don't see why Allan Houston has to pay the price for the Spanish Inquisition, or the ranting pastor on 78th and Broadway who may have hollered at Shoals to repent when he was 7. I don't see why I, as a Christian reader who was a fan of Shoals, have to put up with random bias when all I'm looking for is a funny, interesting take on sports. It's funny how bloggers writing about bias inevitably end up including their own. The last words of Ozerky's article certainly apply to Shoals; he doesn't get evangelical Christians, and his attempt at witticism was insulting to me.

Yeah, I'm being a punk about this. I do my best never to play the "I'm offended" card on here about other bloggers, but I am getting annoyed. More and more, I'm seeing an assumption among sports bloggers that all their readers share their views, and that's just not true at all. I don't go to Deadspin to read up on Democratic politics. I don't visit The Big Lead's morning round-up to find out who the latest hot reality TV star is (ok, well maybe that one Tuesday, but I was bored!). And I don't read NBA blogs to breathlessly find out that you do/do not like Christianity (circle one). If you agree with my religion, sweet, but I hope you also can tell me how in the world Lebron is getting through the season without smacking Shaq upside his arrogant head. If you don't, that's fine, there's millions like you, and we can still get along...as long as you don't make it an issue. And if you can't deal with a known controversial topic like Christianity, or race, or homosexuality straight on, in a balanced, mature manner, then don't touch it at all, ok? The world can do without one more stereotype.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Was Charles Barkley Truly Short for a Power Forward?

Much of Charles Barkley's legacy has been built on him being an undersized power forward. For example, nba.com says "However, as a player he was the greatest anomaly in basketball history. Listed at 6-6, but probably actually closer to 6-4, he played power forward as well as anyone, often dominating players half a foot taller...an undersized power forward with rebounding as his only discernible basketball skill." You can also read a rather passionate debate on Barkley's true height, thought to be 6'4.75", here.

However, the problem with measuring height from head to toe to determine NBA skill is that it does not correlate well to basketball skills. For example, a guy with a long neck and long face will be several inches taller than a guy with a small face and no neck. What is most important is how high the shoulders are. For example, I am 6'0", but quite honestly, a lot of that is my giraffe neck, ha. When I was pressed into playing forward/center for some teams, it quickly became clear that I played much shorter than my height. But just who do you think has a small face and no neck?

For example, take a look at this photo of the 1992 dream team. Jordan, reported to be 6'6", and Barkley are side by side. But Barkley's shoulders are definitely higher than Jordan's.

I think Barkley was a great NBA player. But I always get annoyed at how head height is so overrated in the NBA. I believe Barkley's shoulder height was more in line with a 6'7" or 6'8" player. While that still makes him undersized for the typical power forward, it no longer makes him extraordinarily so. I'd like to read a Barkley profile without unnecessary gushing about how undersized he was, because it's just not true.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Doug Shackler and the Erin Andrews Hotel Tapes

At first I thought Deadspin's late Friday story that Erin Andrews may have been illegally taped in her room, was just filler, or that week's deleted scenes. However, turns out that Erin Andrews really was videotaped by a scheming pervert. What frustrates me about the situation is that Doug Sheckler, the owner of the site that posted the video, is a fellow sports blogger. He had the vision to help start Epic Carnival, which was a great chance for some smaller bloggers to write back when Fanhouse and Deadspin seemed to control everything. I knew him in passing only--he promoted and linked to a few of my stories here and there, which I really appreciated. I did know he was a hard worker. He always was tweeting more stories he had just posted. I in fact finally unfollowed him, as too many of the numerous tweets were NSFW links to some actress on one of his "other" blogs. Lots of good that did me while sitting in my office!

Yes, that "other" blog...let's be honest. Sports blogging gets some views, but it is nothing compared to porn. I've watched with equal parts disdain, irritation, and amusement as several colleagues decided to add more pictures of women with few or no clothes or ads to NSFW material in their blogs. I understand the rationale. If you're trying to make money off your blog, nothing brings viewers like women. But my views on ethics and posting photos of hot women are rather prudish...and yes, I'm proud of that now."

But unfortunately, Doug worked too hard. I found the following short e-mail from him in my folders. It's two years old, written after I had complained about his site's comment section in a comment on the site. He followed up with me (click to enlarge)

At first glance it's great--the editor of a big sports blog site was willing to hunt down a commenter just so he could improve his site. But no, "always looking to improve" was exactly the problem! Unfortunately, the path Doug followed in trying to improve made him commit a crime. The traffic and money from sports blogs apparently weren't enough for him. He kept branching out, going just a little farther with each new blog...and went way, way, too far. There's a lesson there for some of us sports bloggers. Ambition and hard work are not pure virtues.

The very mundane nature of the videos is what makes them so sad. Erin is curling her hair before work. Like many a woman, she's preparing herself for the harsh scrutiny of a world that tends to judge women on their looks first. And so, the violation seems more offensive because of it.

I'm ending this rambling with a few quotes from some old Erin Andrews interviews that seem sad now. Click to read the complete interviews.

Q: What about the attention you receive for being a sports personality when you're not an athlete?

E.A.: It's flattering...I know that there's a window of time where people think, "Oh, she's a big deal." You know that's going to run out. You kind of just look at it and laugh. I grew up in the media; my dad is in the industry as well. I know there's a time frame and this will all go away and I'll go, 'Wait a minute! What about me?' I know it's nothing to get freaked out over.

OMDQ: ...I think a lot of it is the sense that they’re waiting for a mistake, waiting for a slip-up somewhere.

EA: ...I remember one of the first times I ever saw something on the Internet that was written about me I ran out into my parents’ living room and I started to cry. Somebody had written about the size of my nose and that I needed a nose job. And my dad is in television, and I grew up in the industry, so I never found it weird to see my dad on the six o’clock news because that’s what he does, but when I came out crying - and this is when I first started - he just said, “Look, do you want to do this?” And I said, “Yeah.” And he’s like, “Suck it up, because this is what it’s about, and because you’re a female, people are gonna take notice more than anybody else,” so…it’s a fantastic job, it’s an amazing thing to be a part of, I have the best seats in the house, it’s what I want to do, so to me, those little things are worth it.

OMDQ: I think you’re right on in that because it seems like lately that there has been more focus on you. It’s like every blogger (including me) has to write something at some point.

EA: I can’t do anything on the sideline without somebody making a big deal out of it. So, you know what? At one point, I can look at it and be like, “Oh my gosh, why do people care?” But at the same time, it’s so flattering because who am I? I’m nobody...

I'm afraid that Erin Andrews is indeed crying tonight, over something much worse than a cruel comment about her nose. I feel bad. I can't really think of a good way to end this. I hope sports blogs won't be crucified for one man's sin. But I worry we may deserve some of that blame and shame. Eh, good night all, I'm done.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pick-up Chronicles: FEED ME!

On Sunday I tried out with a league volleyball team. I'm relatively new in town, and I was a free agent. They wanted to make sure I could play first, which I had no problem with. We played a weak team, and our setter told us "See that guy with the glasses? This is his fourth game ever--he's awful! I saw him play Wednesday. Try to aim at him if you can!"

We killed in the first game, but the second game was tight. It was about 20-19, us, and I was hitting strong side in the front row. I was antsy--the game was slipping away, and I knew it. If you've ever played pickup, you know the feeling of fear when you realize the other team wants it more than you do. Pickup ball isn't really about talent, to a certain extent. It's about the will to win, and which team is willing to eat sand, wood, or gravel to get the ball first.

Our weak side hitter was decent, but he was matched up against the other team's two strongest players on blocks. He got a weak spike off, and then got blocked on the next volley. I was seething with unusual rage. I made eye contact with our setter when she looked my way and half-hissed, half-growled "Feed me!"

I was embarrassed, quite honestly--here I am trying to make a good impression on this team, and I'm growling at our setter. The words came out before I could stop them. (I'm lucky a certain 5-letter word didn't follow; thank you, conservative upbringing!). I tried to correct myself by making a plaintive head nod towards my opponent on the other side of the net. It was the guy with the glasses. She set me the next two times, I scored, and we won.

Why did I tell this story? (It's not because intermediate volleyball is so fascinating, promise). Because it taught me a lesson. Whenever a Terrell Owens, Dwight Howard, or Shaq pops off in the media about wanting the ball more, I used to scoff. "Ooh, what a baby! Work hard and stop talking, and you'll get the rock!"But then I think of that game on Sunday...and how I was utterly helpless to take advantage of my matchup. My hopes for helping our team were completely on the shoulders of our short setter. I could jump out of the gym and be 7'0", but it made NO difference unless she decided she wanted to set me. I felt powerless. And I realized that it's exactly how a big strong guy like Shaq or TO must feel when their fate is in the hands of a short guard or scrawny QB. Next time some wide receiver or center complains about not getting the ball enough, I'm keeping my mouth shut. I've learned my lesson.

Monday, June 29, 2009

AJ Daulerio Follow-up to Deadspin Post

AJ was kind enough to follow up on Saturday's post about Deadspin and the Decline of Merit-Based Commenting. I had some open-ended hypothetical questions that he answered, and his take is below.

1. Where are these new commenters going to come from?
AJ: I don't know if it's actually a matter of adding new commenters to replace old ones.It may seem like that at first glance, but the whole "execution" postwas really a way to scatter the herd a little bit, shake things up,and give me a starting point. Once the new system goes into place (anyday now? next week? next month?) the starred commenters will have roles that are truly indicative of their star. I don't know when the original star system went into play. I don't think Leitch does either. It wasn't necessarily a system that either one of us fully supported-- and, frankly, didn't worry about -- but with this new system in place, it was absolutely necessary to take a look at who had stars,etc. It sucks, but sometimes corporatey things suck. We all deal.

2. Instead of (Deadspin) being so myopically focused on comments and commenters, why not take a truly broad look at its community of fans and find a way to increase fan support and monetize that fanaticism?
AJ: I don't know how anyone can really "monetize" fanatacism. That's not really the goal of this. All Gawker sites have always had a standard for comments on the site -- try outs, approvals, etc. -- and since all of the sites have grown that system kind of collapsed under its own weight. The new system will have two-tiers: the starred commenter comments will be the only ones available after the initial click-through button. The non-starred commenters will still be able to comment, but they'll be collapsed. (Readers can still see them if they click a "See all" button or something.) However, starred commenters will now be able to go through and move non-starred comments to the front page. Once everyone gets used to that system (including me and the comment moderators) I think we'll have a better idea of how to employ more comment-of-the-week/starred comment nominees and other ideas to better blend the editorial with the commenting community. Since the whole system hasn't even been launched yet, it's tough to conceptualize a concrete plan for how this will be executed a.) we don't know who will be left b.) who will be added. c.) if people will hate the system and not bother with it. But once it gets going, I do have a plan to rebuild the community. It'll be smaller, sure, but thegoal of this is also to recognize that some of the commenters do enhance a post -- or make a post, in some cases -- and give people a better idea of what we're looking for in a starred commenter.

3. How is Deadspin going to reward its best commenters?
AJ: This was kind of covered above, so that's still a work in progress. But rewards are nice. I like presents. Who doesn't like presents?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bloggolalia: Deadspin and the Decline of Merit-Based Commenting

I've been interested in discussing Deadspin's decision to trim its commenter ranks for a while, but have been overwhelmed by apathy and underwhelmed as to how many people would be interested in such a topic. However, a surprisingly dull Saturday has finally provided me with the impetus to happily babble.

First, the Deadspin fiasco was funny because of all the uncomfortable truths that no one seemed to want to discuss. A sampling:
1. DU!AN only worked because of the fanaticism of Deadspin's commenters. It was an awful format to have a conversation. I tried it a couple times, and couldn't stand having to wait 5-10 minutes to get a reply for each comment. AOL circa 98 laughs at that form of discussion. The only times DU!AN really worked is when there was a major evening sporting event that could be discussed. Now, if Deadspin had been clever enough to adopt CoveritLive or another form of fan discussion for DU!AN, it may have been able to duplicate the fan enthusiasm I saw on Twitter for chatting about big games. However, it never quite could pull off a decent format for game discussion. (I did like the energy of live-bloggers, but Deadspin seemed to go away from that in the last year, e.g., no live-blogs for the NBA play-offs).

2. If you were a funny commenter, you should have left Deadspin long ago to start your own blog. KSK, among others, were smart enough to realize this. An occasional "+1" from Internet strangers sucks compared to being able to control your own blog and show off all your skills. No one gets wealthy, noticed, or benefits solely on the basis of being a Deadspin commenter.

3. Based on 2, Deadspin had to eliminate some commenters eventually, because soon only mediocre commenters would be left. If you just allow everyone to sign up, over time the old commenters start to dominate. It creates a dead site, humor-wise, because the best leave, and the mediocre commenters keep trotting out the same type of humor repeatedly. If you remember the fiasco over Facebook commenters, it was difficult for any new voices to truly get a shot. I signed up with a fake Facebook name and was amused to see how people over-reacted and refused to give this "new" person a chance. AJ had to clean house eventually, one way or another. I give him props for waiting a little while to do it instead of making wrong moves when he first took over. However...that's about it for Deadspin praise on this post.

4. Merit-based commenting is dead, for now. When I first became a sports-blogger, I wasted a lot of time commenting on different sites and interacting with other commenters. However, I can't say that it ever did me much good. It took me an hour just to exchange two comments with another blogger. Perhaps Twitter offers a better way; one can be notified via cell-phone when there's been a comment response. But right now, I don't see sports bloggers being interested in the comment section any more. The trade-off between responding to 5 comments and writing a new post leans heavily towards writing a new post. And when was the last time you saw a site truly reward its hardest-working commenters? Which leads me to...

5. The gold-star idea on Gawker (and thus Deadspin) was breathtaking in its stupidity. Many sites get unpaid help from commenters, reviewers, and editers. Gawker should have done its homework on how other sites rewarded free labor. Eventually, commenters have to be rewarded or given some attention, lest they focus on other sites instead where they get more feedback or praise. Rather than come up with an interesting reward system like thumbs up/down (youtube style) or comment of the week, a lazy default mode was used to award stars. People of course took advantage of this method. Then, when Deadspin belatedly realized that the star method was being abused, people actually bewailed the loss of their star. Kindergarten-style rewards provoked kindergarten-style behavior.

6. Randomly removing people's Deadspin accounts seems like an arrogant bet that commenters can be easily replaced. They can't, and it appears that AJ's background in oddsmaking failed him here. See 4: I really believe any so-called "golden-age" of commenting is long-gone. It's too late to go back to some ideal of merit-based, survival of the fittest commenter. Those days are long gone; the blogging culture has changed since 2006. People aren't as excited about hitting the "Submit" button anymore in a major blog's comment section; they take it for granted.

It's too easy to start up your own blog or become a fan of your team's blog rather than wait for an hour for the latest Deadspin post to go up so you can make a feeble attempt at a witticism that MIGHT get a +1 if it's within the first 10 comments. Where are these new commenters going to come from? Deadspin seems to have trouble drawing in the college crowd in any large numbers for the comment section. It does gain 20-somethings bored at their first or second after-college job or grad school, but those commenters fade out after about 6 months of frenzied commenting. Kicking out mediocre commenters isn't going to bring good commenters back. Once they are gone, they are gone. Rarely do people return to their favorite web-site after the magic is gone--ask, Friendster, Xanga, or Myspace about that. Unless Deadspin truly has a plan to make commenting interesting again or to recruit talented commenters, I doubt that commenting will improve in the short term.

7. I think that in the long-term, no one will remember this decision. Deadspin will be a little more sterile, a little less user-friendly, but will still put up decent traffic numbers. Google is the true driver of hits and revenue, not comments. However, long-term I think that this creates a vacancy for sports blogs that can do a better job of managing community. For too long Deadspin has thought that comments define its fan community, instead of realizing that comments were the only way that the community could express itself. Instead of being so myopically focused on comments and commenters, why not take a truly broad look at its community of fans and find a way to increase fan support and monetize that fanaticism?

In conclusion, comments were closely connected with the start of the site. They don't necessarily have a place in the future of the site; there are many other ways to incorporate reader feedback and tips. But any site (or business) that ignores or mistreats a subset of its readers must be careful of its future. Deadspin kicked out some useless commenters, but it also unnecessarily annoyed people who consistently contributed decent content, and seems to have no plan to create something useful from the entire mess.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Social Networks: Paradigm Shift, or Overhyped Fad? Part 2.

Part 2 of my discussion with Brian of MadPropstoBakedPotatoes follows. Part 1 ended with me asking Brian to explain how social network relationships would result in actual purchases.

Brian: You're approaching it wrong - stop thinking in terms of monetizing your social network
MC: Ok, I'll keep it more to the level I know, then--friendizing it, if you will, ha.
Brian: Stop thinking in terms of real-world vs online-world, because they're becoming the same thing
MC: Hmm...the days of using social networks for escapism are over, then?
Brian: It's the same as walking into a cocktail party as far as I'm concerned
Go in, meet people, learn about them, become friends
Someone needs a freelance writer, and I'm like "Hey, I know so-and-so from this or that network - they'd be perfect"
MC: And so a large database of skills and personalities is assembled, that might not be available locally.
Brian: I mean those are the broad strokes of what this all is.
If you're a business there are certainly tools and techniques you want to use.
MC: But, when we talk about "making friends" in an on-line sense, there still is not the same level of legitimacy, trust, and reliability that there is in real life.
Brian: But in broad strokes, this is "you can now have a cocktail party with the entire world"
MC: And maybe if your vision is true that the two are merging, that will change.
Brian: That's part of what's happening - notice I'm no longer The Cavalier
MC: I see social networks as giving me MANY weak ties--but few strong ones.
Brian: You want to know who I am, you can search me out and find out
It's all what you make of them - you can be as transparent as you want
MC: one thing I appreciate about soc. net. is that credentials don't matter.
Brian: But I'll bet you find you make stronger ties with your real name than you do when you're MCBias
MC: I find the key is to put up real photos/video of myself. If people see a real image, they connect more.
Brian: I'll tell you what the next big thing is
And remember, I called online video a year before YouTube
What's next is Personal Branding
It's why Linkdin is growing so fast
MC: I initially was very high on social networks when I first got involved...I just find over time that I become more cynical on how far they will take you
I can shove my foot in a lot of doors I never could have gotten into before
and having a few friends opens the door to more friends in a nice golden spiral of sorts
But the true pay-offs seem to be beyond social networking--you still can't make a frog into a prince or what not.
MC: I think that looking at social networks as a paradigm instead of a tool may be mistaken, but I am surprised by how many inroads Facebook has made in the older set.
Brian: Well the term social networks is like the fetus of what this will all be eventually
MC: I think that there will be a sharp demarcation in the end
between the daylight, which will be personal branding, somewhat sanitized social networks
like linkedin and facebook
and very obscure, escapist, no one uses their real name communities
But I wonder, what's our capacity to be involved with social networks? Are we all going to be sitting in our houses drinking beer and chatting with each other instead of going out locally?
Brian: Sure, but everyone will have a foot in the former - you'll have to
That's where mobile comes in
MC: I think I may have said this, but I think Twitter's popularity is 90% due to being first mobile social network.
Brian: Sitting at a desk working at a traditional computer will be for people who need that type of hardcore hardware and processing power
(had discussion on American vs. European/Japanese innovation and tools, omitted)
I'm talking like ten years from now - you might be having a party in your house, and you've got essentially a massive screen on your entire wall
Brian: You hop on Twitter2020, and want to find a party in Tokyo to "party-connect" with - their party is on your wall and vice versa
MC: And I've seen some of this already in the blogtv communities
Brian: You can do some Minority Report action, call up the profile on the hot blond in the dress, and see her name, what she does, etc
MC: capabilities are there. But people are holding back.
Brian: and you talk to her. And she'll need for that profile - her personal brand well established
Brian: If I had to sum up the entire thing of what I'm trying to say, it's that social networks are the beginning of "The ability to easily and genuinely connect with real people worldwide".
Brian: How you use that ability is the same as how you use the ability to connect with your immediate world right now.
MC: I agree with easily. I strongly disagree with genuinely and worldwide to this point, given my previous experiences.
But perhaps I should stop being such a cynic--I mean, I just came back from NYC where I did a sports blogger meetup
Brian: That's why it's a paradigm shift - we're only just beginning.
MC: and I've been doing stuff like that easily in 2009, where it never would work well pre-2009.
Brian: Right - I mean the stigma of "meeting someone online" has only begun to wear off in the last 2 years or so!
MC: Hmm...I'll keep paying attention to social networks. They fit my skills well. The last thing I want to do is climb off the bandwagon just as my work is about to pay off
Brian: Soon there will be no difference - the online world will just be a different platform of the real world.
MC: But, I don't have the "this will turn water to wine" look in my eyes I first had
Brian: And there will be dangers, just like in the real world.
MC: when I went through my first two Internet community experiences
Yes, and perhaps personal branding and more transparency is the answer to those dangers...or at least a start.
I guess, count me as a doubtful fan of social networks. Maybe my excitement about them was just premature, and the world will catch up.
I still think that people will be surprised just how hard it is to match real and on-line worlds, though.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Social Networks: Paradigm Shift, or Overhyped Fad?

Recently I decided to argue with, err, talk to Brian of MadPropstoBakedPotatoes about his enduring enthusiasm for social networks. While I've had lots of fun playing around on various forumboards, blogs, and social networks, I don't think that social networks will truly transform our world. I thought it would be a good time to discuss this, as Twitter/Facebook's recent popularity may represent the moment where social networks truly become mainstream. Part 1 of our edited chat is here.

Brian: I'm here - hit the wrong window and nav'd away
MC: See, problem #1 with social networks, ha
when someone doesn't reply, you don't know if they hate you or if its tech problems
But ok, explain to me how social networks represent a paradigm shift.
Brian: What's the best way to get more business, attention, connections?
IN the real world?
MC: What I do is look for powerful people I can relate to and have some sort of possible in with
or just befriend as many people who are slightly higher on the ladder than me
and hope it pays off.
If you're a company, you search for a snazzy marketing campaign.
MC: How does the world of social networking change this?
Brian: Well, I would answer my own question differently.
Brian: OKay, best ways to get business:
In order of importance:
1) Word of mouth, personal referral
2) Personal connection or attachment to product or service
3) Advertising
Would you agree with this?
MC: I would say that yes, 1) is the best place to start early on, but pretty soon you run out of new fans and word of mouth runs out
it's like telephone, eventually the message starts getting misheard as it's being transferred
But I definitely agree with the order for new companies/starting out.
Brian: Well that's my entire point - you now have the ability to connect on a personal level with as many people as you want to - there's no reason word of mouth has to ever run out
I'm surprised you don't see this frankly
MC: Ah, but see, to keep up those relationships requires quite a bit of effort
once you cross the 500 fan mark
it's very difficult to continue growing and adding to your network
Brian: OMG you mean it's not EASY lol
MC: LOL yes, sometimes I have to write the pretty girls first before they write me back
this makes me sad
But the ads make it seem so easy!
err, never mind
Brian: We are about the same age, right?
MC: close-ish, I'm 29
Brian: I don't know about you, but I can't be sold to
As soon as I feel you're trying to sell me something I'm tuning you out
MC: true
Brian: But be my friend, and I'll do anything for you (without reason har har)
Best Buy is a great example - I would read up on what they're doing
You don't need to be best friends with everyone
MC: But see, all of this is only succeeding because social networks are new. Let me give a quick example
First blogger to write a book? I rush to buy his book, go to two of his signings
Second blogger? I pick it up when I next go to the bookstore
Third? I skim it at the bookstore, decide he sucks, ha
I mean, do you really think we're talking about lasting value here? The novelty factor is high.
Brian: I don't understand the correlation - you're talking about a product, I'm talking about a platform of interaction
This isn't new - none of it. On a conceptual level it's not any different from how things have always been.
MC: Ok, good, at least we agree there.
Brian: Since the beginning of time, one of the primary rules of marketing is to make a personal connection between product and consumer
You quite literally have an ability to do that on a massive and real scale
The tools are one part. The other part is the transparency that social networks are giving us.
The days of "hotbabe453" are leaving.
MC: I feel that social networks have two advantages: (1) speed and (2) rapid search capabilities for the exact type of person you're looking for.
Thank goodness, hotbabe453 would never return my messages anyway.
Err, I mean...
Brian: Let me give you some examples:
MC: But what I'm not seeing is true follow-through from social networks.
Brian: 1) Joe writes a book with a very narrow target audience. Let's say only 10,000 people on earth would like Joe's book. Joe now has the capability to go find those 10,000 people, connect with them on a real level, and eventually they may read his book.
Does this make sense?
MC: Yes, Wired went crazy about this--saying that this enables people to design products for the long tail
Brian: So scale that concept out 50 different ways - it makes sense.
MC: But my counter-argument is, are those people really going to rush to buy Joe's book in the real world? They may think Joe is cool, and makes funny jokes.
But when push comes to shove, will they break out their wallets? open their homes? etc.
I have real doubts about this. Any time actual dollars are stated, and people seriously want commitment from their social network, I see no follow-through.
And I'd love to hear your experience on this--perhaps you have mastered it.

Part 2, including Brian's response and an interesting discussion of personal branding, will be posted tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tony Dungy, Meet Jimmy Carter and Jesse Jackson?

Recently it was published that former dog-killer Michael Vick sat down with Tony Dungy for a meeting. It was portrayed as a feel-good story; the now-repentant criminal sitting down with the NFL's closest contact to the Man Upstairs. And certainly, it seems as if Tony Dungy would have some good things to say to Michael Vick. Who knows? Maybe this will help Vick grow in many ways. Vick was said to be a rather shy man, not ready to deal with all the pressures of fame. Perhaps this is just what he needs.

However, I'm more worried about Tony Dungy than Michael Vick. Tony, are you sure you know what you're getting into? How did the news media find out about this? At first, helping troubled players that the system has failed sounds like a very noble pursuit. What does a white-collar worker like Roger Goodell know about the unique pressures of being an athlete in football-mad America?

But in reality, this is a slippery slope. It's just like what has happened with Jimmy Carter and Jesse Jackson. Once, both were respected politicians and community leaders. If they decided to help someone, it was seen as a great honor. "Jimmy's going to help the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the Middle East!" or "Jesse will draw attention to racism in our town!"

But over time, both became relentless publicity seekers. It no longer seemed to be as much about the cause as it did about the brand. Carter ended up supporting dictators and being rumored to be overly influenced by Saudi donations. Jackson ended up in various scandals, both confirmed and unconfirmed. They both still are respected in some circles, but they've lost the national-level respect and support they once held. And it's entirely because they overstretched their boundaries and tried to do too much.

I do believe Dungy truly wants to help athletes. But I can't help but be concerned that we'll see athletes using the "Dungy walk of shame" as a photo op.
(Scene opens)
Joe Athlete walks up to Dungy's house in Tampa as cameras roll, surrounded by two members of his posse and smiling to the press.
(2 hours later)
Joe Athlete walks back, alone, crying into a handkerchief. He promises he'll change his evil ways. Goodell drops two games off his suspension. Endorsements roll in again.
(6 weeks later)

I wish Tony the best in his efforts. But I still can't help but worry that this will have unintended consequences.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dwight Howard and the League of (T)Hugs

This year's All-Star weekend seemed to mark a new era in the NBA. It seems as if every decade, the game reinvents itself. You had the Bird/Johnson era in the 80's; Jordan in the 90's; and then, well, whatever it was in the 00's. Players like Iverson and Marbury were recognized as the face of the NBA. Fairly or not, the NBA was perceived as the home of thugs and gangsters parading around the court with their big tattoos and poor fundamentals. But at the ASG, Iverson shaved off his cornrows, and Stephon Marbury wasn't even playing. Instead, the stage belonged to smiling, goofy Dwight Howard and his little buddy Nate Robinson. Dwyane Wade was busily trying to market his new band-aid (or whatever that monstrosity under his eye was). Chris Bosh was trying to establish an account on every Web 2.0 site known to man. The NBA had transitioned from surly thugs trying to keep it real and "street" to hugable, loveable stars who knew how to work the media and connect to an audience, right? Three cheers for the League of Hugs!

Not so fast! Just as the perception of the NBA as a shelter for thugs was wildly overblown (and racist, ahem), so today's perception of Lebron, Dwight, and Company as friendly giants is terribly mistaken. By any standard, Dwight Howard had a great play-off performance last night. He scored 24 points, grabbed 24 rebounds...and dished out one elbow right to the head of Samuel Dalembert, early in the game when the refs would be too intimidated by his star power to throw him out. Just look at this beauty:

A star has the right to dish out punishment as well as take it, and that's exactly what Dwight did. Dalembert was trying to send a physical message by pushing Dwight out of his established position. Dwight knew he could get away with an elbow, and did. It's not the type of footage that wins endorsements. It won't be used in the NBA Cares campaign, and the League of Hugs isn't proud of that moment. But as a fan, I'm frankly happy to see that some things never change, and that the play-offs still matter no matter how many marketing opportunities are available for a smile and a little camera showboating. I don't condone injuring other players, and quite honestly, if it was Dalembert doing it to Howard, he would have been ejected. But as a Cavs fan, I hope another friendly giant in Northeast Ohio was watching the game...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What if Greg Oden Breaks Out Now?

Trying something new:

It's a pretentious-sounding voice in very unpretentious surroundings, ha. Just having some fun with the new camera.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Love Is a Game: Does She Look Better in Your Favorite Team's Jersey?

I'd talk about the play-offs, but last night was a bit of a yawn-fest. It's not surprising that Utah got their league-ordained win at home, or that the Celtics pounded the Bulls after Bill Simmons' column tried to tell us that Rose, Noah, and Thomas were all peaking at once. I do have to admit, I'm surprised by the way the Mavs have pounded the Spurs, but it's a classic Spurs move to lose games big that they were going to have a tough time winning anyway. The Spurs will be back for Game 4, and are not done. That is a smart team.

So over at my Twitter account, I asked the men if they would want their girl to get dressed up wearing the outfit/jersey of their favorite team. I also asked the ladies if they felt they got more attention wearing their favorite team's outfit. When mentioning women in sports outfits, most people probably think of Mariah Carey's serenading of MJ in an NBA jersey dress:

On the one hand, it sounds like a dream come true for a guy, right? Sports and women combined, what could be better?! And it's better than them cheering for a rival team right?! (SFW, it's a commercial).

But on the other hand, isn't it kind of creepy to have her wearing the jersey of your favorite player? I like Lebron James because he's a great player for my favorite team. The last thing I want to think about when he's soaring to the hoop is "Ooh, Kelly looked SO amazing wearing his jersey last night!" Wouldn't it mess with your head after a while? And it seems the NBA agrees with me, to a certain extent. Looking at the Cavs Women's store, it looks like most of the clothes are rather sensible, like this:

On the other hand, the first three words of the ad are "You'll look cute", so perhaps sexiness and being desirable really is the goal for women wearing outfits representing their favorite team. What do you think? Men, would you want your girlfriend/wife wearing the outfits of your favorite team, or do you keep your sports and women separate? Women, do you feel you get more favorable attention when the shirt says "Cavs" instead of "Hollister"? Let me know.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Who's the Next Play-off Surprise Star?

Every year, some bench players suddenly explode in a series for several games in a row. Sometimes, this is a young player who has a good match-up in the series; other times, we get to watch the true unveiling of a star. Some of my favorites over the years are how rookies Tayshaun Prince and Raja Bell turned out to be the keys to vital play-off wins for their teams.

This year, we have Glen Davis averaging 22 ppg (?!) in two games and Courtney Lee averaging 21 ppg to keep the Magic in the series against the surging Sixers. It's probable that those numbers will go down as both teams go on the road, but I think that those two players do indeed have match-up advantages in this series.

So who else do you think might make the jump? I have my eye on three players:
1. Roger Mason. He's hit some key shots this year already, and is averaging slightly higher than his regular season average in the play-offs. Look for him to become a weapon as Tony Parker's drives to the basket free him up for shots.
2. Rudy Fernandez. He closed the regular season on a hot streak, shooting over 50% from the field in 5 of his last 6 games and benefiting from extended minutes as Coach Nate rested his starters. After an awful Game 1 (3 points in 20 minutes), he had 11 points and 2 steals in Game 2. If he has a good series, I think the Blazers win.
3. Daequan Cook. After a hideous Game 1 (along with the rest of the Heat), he earned 34 minutes off the bench, and responded with 20 points, going 6-9 from 3-point land. The Hawks do not have good guards coming off the bench: Cook can take full advantage of this match-up if he stays patient and works to open spots on the floor.

Anyone I missed?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mount Mutombo is Dormant, but not Forgotten

Forty-two years. 42, and still playing in the NBA. Truly, Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo was already something special just for his longevity. However, it looks like his career is finally over after a first-quarter collision with Greg Oden in Game 2 of the Rockets-Blazers series. (Yes, there's a certain comedy in the oldest NBA center being injured by the oldest-looking NBA center).

But sportfan, do you realize how many great moments Dikembe gave us? If his career is truly over, it's time to give thanks. Here's a count-down of my five favorite stories about Mutombo:
5. "Who Wants to Sex Mutombo?" There's an anecdote that claims that "Dikembe walked into a Georgetown bar one night [in the early '90s], and the entire place stopped to look at him. In response, Mutombo just yelled out, "WHO WANTS TO SEX MUTOMBO?!"
4. The Finger-Wag:

Dikembe's finger wag made blocking shots cool. Of course, it also was the first thing MJ and Shaq did after they dunked on Mutombo:

3. The Charity Work. How many NBA players can say they were invited to the State of the Union address? He took other NBA players with him to Africa, and built a hospital there. Remember, Dikembe originally went to Georgetown to study medicine. You can see the emotional impact the trip had on Jim Jackson and Marcus Camby early in this video.

2. The Sonics series. Who can forget this photo of Mutombo rolling around in joy after the Nuggets pulled the upset? It was the first upset of a #1 seed by a #8 seed in the play-offs.

1. The voice. Ah, that voice. Even if Dikembe is just bowling or eating, he's hilarious.

So hilarious, in fact, that his own teammates try to imitate him:

Dikembe Mutombo was a unique character in NBA history. He never quite got himself to the acclaim of a Shaq or Olajuwon, but he's the second-best shot-blocker of all time and played on winning team after winning team (Nuggets, Sonics, Sixers, and Rockets). I'll miss his intensity, his sense of humor, and his charitable nature. Thanks Dikembe! Here's a video that Youtube user thekurtman31 posted to say good-bye to Dikembe:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Glen Davis and Tyrus Thomas: Unlikely Keys to Victory?

There's an interesting subplot to the Bulls-Celtics series I haven't heard discussed yet. Namely, former LSU teammates Glen Davis and Tyrus Thomas are matched up against each other. And both players, who have been much maligned throughout their NBA careers, may actually be their team's key to victory.

First, let's talk about Glen Davis. Here's a guy who got lots of attention in college but seemed destined to flop in the pros. Most people most remember him for the nickname "Big Baby" or his crying on the bench when KG yelled at him. Type "Glen Davis" into Google Image Search, and the FIRST result you get is crying! What a terrible legacy to have. He also leads the league in awkward photos, like this one:

Not much of a legacy, right? But would you believe his scoring numbers in this series so far? 18 points in Game 1, 26 points in Game 2. Yes, I expect those numbers to fall once he leaves Boston, but I'm not so sure that 26 points in Game 2 was a complete coincidence. Be careful: it may not be over in Boston until the fat man sings.

Next, let's talk about Tyrus Thomas:

He'll forever be known as the guy who was traded for LaMarcus Aldridge. LaMarcus is a star in Portland, and Tyrus is...um...not a star, to say the least. But his 16 points in Game 1 were crucial in stealing a game in Boston. His athleticism could give Davis and Perkins fits, and the penetration of Derek Rose should leave him open for some easy lay-ups and jams. But is he up to the challenge? The Bulls are not very well-equipped to take advantage of the absence of KG unless Tyrus has a big series. There'll be no nets to cut down without him.
Tyrus Thomas and me

Monday, April 20, 2009


Andre Igoudala's game-winning shot reminded me of one of my biggest pro basketball peeves. It's true that most of us block shots better with our dominant hand, our right. But when a baller is driving to his LEFT and is RIGHT-handed, it's very unlikely that he will fade to his left while shooting. So why, why does Hedo start by putting up his right hand to defend Iggy's shot? By the time he realizes he should be reaching with his left, it's too late. I see this happen at least once every year in the play-offs. Match your hand to the guy's dominant shooting hand already! You may lose some length, but you will be properly lined up to affect the shot.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

NBA Playoffs: Would Allen Iverson Make a Difference?

I unfortunately did not get to watch all of yesterday's Cavs-Pistons game. But I have to ask the obvious question to start things off. Would the presence of a healthy, motivated Allen Iverson matter in this series?

During last year's play-offs, Detroit finally appeared to have compensated for a major weakness. I've stated for a long time that Detroit was most hampered by their lack of guards. Chauncey and Rip used to get worn down late in the play-offs, and this cost the Pistons several times. Finally, last year they had Rodney Stuckey starting to blossom in the play-offs.

However, Dumars saw fit to trade Chauncey away in the hopes of...well, I'm not sure, but I would guess salary cap flexibility and better developing Stuckey. Now, with AI's mysterious "back" ailment (or, perhaps more likely, lack of gastronomical fortitude and acute absence of his much ballyhooed heart, ahem), the Pistons are right back where they were in the last 5 years.

I look at that Pistons bench, and wonder where the scoring is going to come from now. Bynum, perhaps, but otherwise most of those bench players need help creating their shot. However, I'm not counting these Pistons out yet. Allen Iverson is a great player, but it seems like he disturbed that close-knit Pistons locker room. Sometimes teams will rally when they have fewer resources or have something to prove.

One more comment; WHAT HAPPENED TO TAYSHAUN?! Last year, he fell apart in the Boston series after two great series. He appears to be ready to repeat this year. He seems to have problems with physical scorers like James and Wade...that's to be expected when he's defending, but if he can't score either, the Pistons are in serious trouble.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Pickup Chronicles: Is Pickup Dead?

I wanted to start a series on pickup basketball as the weather warms up and more of us find ourselves wanting to replicate NCAA heroics on our local courts. It's called the "Pickup Chronicles" as a wordplay on the Chronicles of Narnia. Pickup ball is its own world at times, and I find that world fascinating and quirky. Here you have a situation where strangers from all walks of life come in, compete vigorously for hours, and then leave, often without even having spoken a word to each other except "Pick" and "Ball." If you take any time to study the dynamics, it's actually rather bizarre, and yet it works just fine for most of us. Here's one clip on pickup ball (language warning) from a documentary called "Ballin at the Graveyard":

I truly discovered pickup ball when I was a college student. I lived in a large city, and there were three different courts with decent games that were about 5 minutes from my apartment. I spent a lot of time hanging out at different courts and learned to really love the game. I learned the different styles of play as well; I played one style on the Italian court, another on the Black court, and another on the Asian court. While it wasn't quite "White people play like this, Asian people play like that" type differences, I definitely think culture leads to some differences in style.

However, as I've moved recently, and re-visited some of my favorite courts, I'm starting to wonder if pickup is dead. There are fewer tournaments than there used to be, and I find myself driving to parks at 5, 6, or 7 and finding no one there. I've gone to stylish suburban parks where the court is fenced in and the backboards are glass, and to inner-city parks where not all the hoops have nets, and in both areas it seems that the number of players is declining. What has happened to pickup basketball? The NBA definitely seems to be increasing in popularity. Yet it seems like people don't want to play anymore, or that they're more interested in shooting by themselves rather than playing with others. Is it just me, or have the rest of you noticed this as well? And what does it mean, if anything, that pickup basketball is breaking down? Was pickup basketball just a fad when kids had nothing better to do and Jordan flew the friendly skies?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

NCAA/NBA show Thursday on Blogtv

In a moment of youthful indiscretion, I decided to hold a live video broadcast on Blogtv.com for the NCAA/NBA games tomorrow. I'll be on camera here discussing the NBA and NCAA games with fellow chatters. Yes, this does mean you get to see the ugly mug behind the fist in my profile pic.

We'll see how this will work. I welcome your participation, support, and scorn as I stride bravely forward into the technology frontier (ouch!). No registration needed to chat. See you there!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Is Orlando Flying to the Finals?

Brett & Dwight Howard
Back when I was still writing for Sports on My Mind, I did several NBA preview columns. I picked Orlando as my dark horse to reach the Eastern Conference Finals. However, I was much more optimistic about Phoenix at the time.
DWIGHT HOWARD!!! I met him at the mavericks magic game!!
(Photos of Orlando's frontcourt (Rashard, Hedo, and Dwight) with fans is today's theme).
However, the last few weeks have changed my mind. I now believe Orlando can WIN the NBA championship, this year. What changed my mind?
month of may-2007 168 (Quick FYI: these guys met Dwight Howard at the bowling alley.)
The deceiving effect of Jameer Nelson's injury on Orlando's record. For the seven games during which Jameer was injured, Orlando was only 3-4. They lost to Dallas, Denver, Indiana, and New Orleans. I think a Magic team at full strength loses two of those games, at worst. If they went 6-1, they would be tied with Cleveland right now for the #1 seed in the East.
month of may-2007 165
Orlando's excellent road record They are a small-market team with no built-in fan base on the road ala Los Angeles or Boston. They are located in one of the corners of the country, which results in many annoying road trips. Yet the Magic are 22-9 on the road, only slightly behind Boston (23-9) and Los Angeles (21-8). That statistic surprised me. I thought a team built on perimeter shooting should struggle on the road at times because of the way each arena's rims and lighting are slightly different and fatigue. But it makes no difference to the Magic. Even if Jameer's injury costs them the #1 seed in the East, they could still have a chance at winning in Boston or Cleveland. I don't buy the logic anymore that the Magic aren't playoff-tested enough to make an impact in June. Which leads me to...
dwight howard, and grant hill ( in the back)
The 2007 Cleveland Cavaliers. Much like Orlando, most considered the 2007 Cavaliers to be inferior in comparison to the previous champion (Miami) and the playoff-tested veterans (Detroit). But when Miami faltered due to injuries, fatigue, and lethargy, and Detroit proved weaker than anticipated, the Cavaliers took full advantage. Losing in the second round the year before to Detroit was enough preparation for the Cavaliers to get to the Finals in 2007. I see no reason why Orlando can't duplicate that success.

Injuries to the best low-post defenders of other top squads. Bynum? Ben Wallace? Garnett? All of them could give Orlando's talented frontcourt problems in the play-offs--and all are now injured. Sure, Garnett and Wallace will be back for the play-offs, but both are older and may not be at full strength. I think Orlando's play-off chances have improved significantly due to all its main competitors having frontcourt injuries.
Acquisition of Alston
The Magic are 7-2 since acquiring Alston. He isn't a full replacement for Jameer, but it's rare for any team to do so well after changing their starting point guard via trade in the middle of the year. Meanwhile, Boston, Cleveland, and Los Angeles did next to nothing at the trade deadline, although I do think Marbury helps the Celtics match up better in the play-offs.
Hedo Turkoglu (6' 11") and us - Aug 02
Struggles of Detroit. Ian Thomsenpointed out that the Magic are 3-16 against the Pistons since 2006. Unfortunately, Orlando is now slotted to play Detroit in Round 1 of the play-offs, and plays them again today. But if Detroit keeps struggling, or improves, Orlando will be able to dodge that matchup and beat nearly anyone else. And I've saved my best evidence for last...
Rashard Lewis & Damon Jones
Orlando's dominance against the other Top 4 teams.
Go ahead, guess Orlando's record against the Lakers, Boston, Cleveland, and San Antonio in the 8 games they've played them this season. 2-6? 4-4? No, Orlando is 6-2 against the other 4 teams, losing only to Boston! That's right, they've swept both LA and SA this year. Still don't think Orlando can win a championship this year?
andrew & i w/ the basketball guy

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Roberto Alomar and the Sexual Abuse of Athletes

Many of you have probably already seen the article covering the claim that Roberto Alomar had AIDS. I first learned about it from Deadspin's coverage. But a less salacious, more depressing detail was also tucked into the lawsuit. Roberto's ex-girlfriend said that Roberto had once been raped by two men when he was a minor playing ball in the Southwestern United States.

In addition, TheBigLead and WithLeather have linked to stories over the years where various coaches/teachers have sexually abused their players. Just today, Matt of WL ran a headline that yawned at how ubiquitous these stories have become. A high school coach seducing a student is nowhere near as scandalous as it once was--it's sadly become commonplace.

I really didn't want to write about this issue. But what spurred me to talk about this is an acquaintance who played sports at the college level who mentioned in passing that a coach was physically abusive to some of the players. It's amazing what schools will let coaches and other authority figures get away with. The problem is that athletes are so vulnerable to abuse in their pursuit of an athletic career. Take just 3 examples, which I tried to write as PG-ish as possible while still making my point. Who does an athlete turn to if they are taken advantage of in these situations?

Scenario 1: A teen hockey player is approached by a fan after a road game. "Kid, great job in that game! Come up and see me in room 325 tonight, I got beer for you and a couple of your friends. We'll celebrate! Did I mention my cousin helps scout for the Maple Leafs?".

Scenario 2: A college volleyball player is struggling to transition to the college game and doesn't seem to be ready to compete at the Division I level. She needs the scholarship, else she can't pay for school. Her coach has been threatening her with taking away her scholarship.

Scenario 3: A high school basketball player from Indiana accompanies his team to one of the highly regarded big time tournaments in Vegas. He's excited because he met a girl on-line from Vegas, and she's promised that they can meet in person. She told him where she lives, and says to sneak out after curfew and see her after tonight's game. Problem is, he can't find her name on Google, and now that he's at the house, it looks abandoned...

An abused athlete unfortunately has two additional problems in reporting what happened. If it's a guy, he faces embarrassment either way, whether it was a man or woman who abused him. Also, many times those athletes are abused by people who seem to have power over their athletic futures. What does a financially disadvantaged player hundreds of miles from home do without their scholarship? Worst, how can they prove what happened? Many sports are conducted in isolation, and practice takes place in a closed gym with no witnesses around.

Anyway, let me get to the root of why I wrote this. Maybe you're an athlete, and this happened to you. You found this post via Google Search late at night as you're struggling to understand what happened to you. I just want to encourage you that you don't have to be silent. You can always play sports somewhere else. You can always get new friends. You can always find people who do understand and who will counsel you and help you get through this. I am not a trained counselor, nor do I play one on the Internet. But there are certainly many qualified people out there who you can confide in. And I hope you will do so. Yes, you may have consented, but if it was with someone who had power over you or threatened you, the person is still at fault.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

New Blogs You Should Read

Well, after my Conspiracy Theorist Monday moment, I thought I'd simmer down and take a look at some new blogs.

Because I'm a relentless narcissist and want to meet women, I started a Twitter account. Err, wait, maybe that New Year's resolution about being more honest was a bad idea. Anyway, I'm at http://www.twitter.com/mcbias . Help my feeble dreams of world domination via my Messianic complex by becoming my follower (apparently Twitter thought "disciple" and "minion" had a bad connotation. How very Web 1.0 of them!).

http://www.onthemarqueeblog.com/ is a blog specializing in old movies and the people who made them happen. Many of you may remember Kristine, who has blogged at several places including the Fanhouse. Read her entertaining post about how Marilyn Monroe was the original sex symbol here.

is a new sports blog written by Jen, who's new to sports blogging as well. I'd really appreciate it if you'd go over there and leave a comment or two--those of you who have started sports blogs know how tough it is to get those first few readers and comments.

Finally, who could forget the Cavalier, now at madpropstobakedpotatoes.com? I deliberately avoided mentioning the site as long as I could, lest he steal all my blog groupies. After realizing that I have no blog groupies, I have decided to promote him after all. His new book is available at http://superairplane.com/, and I am eagerly awaiting my copy so that I can doodle little, non-super airplanes on all the pages.