Tag Archives: Basketball

Why I Love Sports, But Don’t Watch The Olympics

Abolish the Olympics

I love sports. I think I’ve made that abundantly clear on this site. During certain times of the year I build a good chunk of my weekend around a six pack of beer and whatever sports happen to be on. Since I was a kid watching ball games with my dad, it’s one of my favorite things to do.

However, as much as I love sports, I don’t watch the Olympics.

Even when the Olympics were held in America cities and during primetime TV, I didn’t care to watch. I usually stuck to baseball games and preseason football.

That’s not to say I don’t respect the Olympics or the athletes who dedicate years of their lives to training for them. Those athletes are remarkable individuals. I don’t doubt that for a second. Their stories are certainly worth telling. I’ll gladly cheer for those stories.

I just don’t care to watch. That’s just my personal preference.

As for why I feel this way, I promise it has nothing to do with the politics that often get caught up in the Olympics. I understand that has always been an issue. This year has been no exception, especially with the pandemic.

Politics in sports has never bothered me. I honestly think people make way too big a deal out of it, so much so that it basically becomes a virtue signaling contest for both sides. However, I won’t get into that.

The underlying reason why I just don’t care for the Olympics is that it’s just so hard to follow. That’s somewhat unavoidable. Unlike football, baseball, or basketball season, the Olympics only happen every four years. Each time, the athletes change and unless they do something incredible, you never know their names.

It’s hard to have a favorite athlete.

It’s also hard to have a favorite team.

Since the Olympics are divided by country, you’re pretty much set into who you’re rooting for, unless you want to make things awkward to your fellow countrymen. There’s no regional drama like there is in other sports. With the end of the Cold War, there aren’t many rivalries either.

It’s just the best athletes from one country competing for another. The only competitive force driving them has to do with their nationality. It’s rarely something they chose. It’s just a matter of circumstance. Honestly, where’s the drama in that?

The reason why other professional sports are so compelling is because there’s a story behind a franchise. There’s a legacy and a history behind a team or an identity. Whether it’s a football team, a soccer team, or a baseball team, there’s a underlying narrative behind the game.

With the Olympics, that story is restricted to each individual athlete. While those stories can be compelling, those athletes usually only compete once and never again. That means their story is over quickly and there’s nothing worth following after that.

For me, sports without a larger story is like cake without frosting. You can still eat it, but it’s going to be bland. Again, this isn’t me knocking the Olympics or what they stand for. This is just my reason for not watching or following it, despite my love of sports. Then, there are many scandals and controversy, but that’s another story altogether.

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The Supreme Court Rules Against NCAA: An (Overdue) First Step For “Student” Athletes

House members add new elements to NCAA name, image, likneess bill

Certain kinds of progress are so overdue that when it finally happens, even in part, we’re just frustrated that it took so long. That’s certainly how many people felt when it took until 2017 to get a proper “Wonder Woman” movie. Those sentiments aside, we should still celebrate such progress. Overdue or not, it’s still progress.

For the “student” athletes who have been playing under the NCAA for over a century, progress has been harder to come by than most. I put “student” in quotes because in many cases, a “student athlete” is an empty term.

These are not student athletes in the literal sense of the word. These are athletes who go to certain schools to play a sport. They’re just called “students” so they can be compensated with a scholarship rather than actual money. Even if you value higher education, that scholarship rarely translates into a proper study.

See the 2014 UNC scandal that exposed just how little energy is put into the student part of student athlete. Keep in mind, that’s just the scandal that got exposed. There’s a good chance there are far more egregious cases that were better hidden.

I also have some personal experience with student athletes. I went to a college that had a nationally ranked football and basketball program. I met some of these student athletes. I can attest that they were not there for class. They were there to play their sport and that scholarship was the only thing they were getting in return.

I vividly recall classes in which basketball players slept in the back of a lecture hall.

I recall classes that had football players enrolled, but they rarely showed up for any classes.

This is not a fair system. These young athletes are generating millions for the school, but getting little in return beyond their scholarship. On top of that, the value of that scholarship is questionable when you consider some of the classes that athletes take.

That’s why I’m very much in favor of reforming this system, if not completely tossing it aside. It’s basically a quasi-plantation system that’s meant to compensate athletes as little as possible so that their efforts can generate the most amount of money for the schools and the NCAA. There have been past efforts to change this, but they rarely result in anything substantive.

Now, after a long string of legal battles, that might finally change. Recently, the Supreme Court of the United States made a ruling that opens the door for NCAA athletes to seek greater compensation. It’s not a massive overhaul of the system, but it is a very overdue first step.

NPR: The Supreme Court Sides With NCAA Athletes In A Narrow Ruling

Faced with the prospect of reshaping college athletics, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a narrow but potentially transformative ruling Monday in a case that pitted college athletes against the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

At issue in the case were NCAA rules that limit educational benefits for college players as part of their scholarships.

The athletes maintained that the NCAA has, in effect, been operating a system that is a classic restraint of competition — in short, a system that violates the nation’s antitrust laws. The NCAA countered that its rules are largely exempt from antitrust laws because they are aimed at preserving amateurism in college sports and because the rules “widen choices for consumers by distinguishing college sports from professional sports.”

On Monday, however, a unanimous court ruled that the NCAA rules are not reasonably necessary to distinguish between college and professional sports.

Writing for the court, Justice Neil Gorsuch said that the NCAA “seeks immunity from the normal operation of the antitrust laws,” an immunity which Gorsuch said is justified neither by the antitrust law nor the previous opinions of the Supreme Court. Noting that big-time NCAA sports have turned into a multibillion-dollar business, Gorsuch said that a couple of sentences from a 1984 opinion did not declare then or now that there is some sort of immunity based on the concept of amateurism.

Without getting too heavy into the legalistic elements of this case, the court finally told the NCAA that they cannot operate as the sole arbiter of college supports. Doing so puts them at odds with anti-trust laws. Unless they change their practices, those laws will be applied and there’s nothing they can do to avoid them.

Again, it’s frustrating that it took this long for someone to sanction the NCAA in a meaningful way, but it still counts as progress. You don’t have to do much digging to see how the NCAA exploits student athletes. It’s such an open secret that South Park even did a parody of it.

There’s just no getting around it anymore. College sports are making billions off of branding and TV deals every year, but very little of that ever gets to the athletes. They’re the ones putting their bodies on the line to produce the spectacles. They’re more than deserving of fair compensation and a scholarship just isn’t enough.

I don’t claim to know how to structure a better system. Plenty of people far smarter than me have offered some ideas. We won’t know which actually work until we start trying. Until this ruling, the NCAA never had a reason to try. Now, they have to do something.

I sincerely hope that whatever they do benefits these young athletes. Having known more than a few, I can attest that these are wonderful, talented young people. They have a rare gift that allows them to compete at a high level. They should be able to get compensated for that gift in a manner that helps them, as well as their families.

It may take time and any subsequent reforms will also be frustratingly overdue. That still counts as progress and that’s something that college sports desperately needs.

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My (Early) Thoughts On Pandemic-Era Live Sports

This past weekend felt like a turning point for the world of sports. For sports lovers like me, it was a weekend we thought might never come. This past year and the global pandemic that has consumed it has ruined so many things, canceling so much of what we love. It got to a point where some of us seriously wondered if sports would go the way of concerns, indoor restaurants, and strip clubs.

As a lifelong lover sports who builds spring and summer afternoons around watching baseball games, this was a terrifying thought. I was already bracing myself for the worst, thinking that 2020 might become a year without sports. For once, the worst didn’t entirely come to pass. Baseball, hockey, and basketball all made a comeback and sports fans everywhere could breathe a bittersweet sigh of relief.

Having spent the past few days watching a little of everything, from late night ball games to the new NBA playoffs, I certainly share that relief. I am very happy to see sports return. It feels like a real sign that we’re navigating this pandemic. We’re making a genuine effort to get our lives back. That said, the experience of watching sports is very different during a pandemic.

The most jarring thing, at least for me, was watching a Red Sox vs. Yankees game with no fans. Even though the broadcast tried to pump in crowd noise, it just felt so off. This is one of the most heated rivalry in the history of sports. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the playoffs or the regular season. When these two teams play, it has real dramatic stakes.

You can hear it in the crowd.

You can feel it with every home run, lead change, and scoring opportunity.

It’s part of the experience, even if you’re watching from home. Without real fans and real visceral crowd noise, it just felt incomplete.

Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoyed watching the game. After several months with no sports outside of Korean Baseball, it was incredibly cathartic. You could just tell that this is an incomplete product, but for very good reasons. The subsequent outbreaks that followed opening day were proof of that. I have a feeling that won’t be the last outbreak before the season is done.

That season might even get cancelled. That’s a real possibility and one that doesn’t bode well for football season, which is just a month away.

It seems basketball and hockey are faring somewhat better. They still had the benefit of nearly being done with their season by the time the pandemic hit. I managed to watch a few basketball and hockey games. It wasn’t quite as jarring as baseball, but it still felt very incomplete.

If you’ve ever seen how the Las Vegas Golden Knights put together an opening show, you know why. It also changes the stakes, somewhat. When the both the NBA and NHL seasons were put on hold, teams were still fighting for playoff positions. Those positions matter because higher ranking means a chance at home field advantage.

Well, since both leagues are playing in a bubble in limited locations with no fans, there’s no such thing as home field advantage. There’s no crowd energy. There’s no real sense that any team has an advantage, besides the record they earned before all this happened. For some, that’s disappointing. At the same time, this might be the most level playing field these teams have ever had.

In those circumstances, how do we treat the team that ultimately wins it all? How can you judge any team that wins a championship when an entire season got disrupted by a global pandemic? Does that championship deserve an asterisk? Will people and players alike see it as legitimate? Will the fans even be able to celebrate it? It’s not like parades are conducive to social distancing.

These are sentiments I still find myself contemplating as I celebrate a return of sports. I’m sure those sentiments will change as the rest of the year unfolds. If baseball gets cancelled or football season gets delayed, that’ll be another sign of just how bad this pandemic is and how terrible we’ve been at dealing with it.

Again, I’m still bracing for the worst. For me, the worst-case scenario is the NFL season getting canceled or cut short, due to an outbreak. I suspect, with billions of dollars on the line, everyone involves will try to avoid that. However, if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the unthinkable is more possible than we care to admit.

I don’t know how it’s going to play out. I’m just glad sports are back, in some capacity. I just worry about what the end results will be when all is said and done.

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Michael Jordan, Intensity, And Championships (With References To Glengarry Glen Ross)

There has been an ongoing, and at times insufferable, debate in the world of basketball. Who is the greatest of all time? ESPN recently released their ranking. The top five are as follows:

  1. Michael Jordan
  2. LeBron James
  3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  4. Bill Russell
  5. Magic Johnson

Do you agree with this list? How do you even go about determining who is the greatest player, given how much the sport has changed over the decades? That’s not an easy question to answer, especially for a sport like basketball. Unlike football or baseball, it is possible for one player to make a huge difference on a team’s chances of winning. Just ask the Cleveland Cavilers.

That question has gotten more scrutiny lately and not just because there are no sports to distract us. A comprehensive documentary entitled “The Last Dance” has added some rhetoric to the greatest of all time conversation. This documentary covers the career of the number one player on ESPN’s list, Michael Jordan.

If you haven’t seen this documentary and are marginally interested in sports, I highly recommend checking it out. Even if you’re not a basketball fan, it’s worth seeing for reasons beyond the sport it covers. It offers an unprecedented insight into the life, drive, and mindset of a player that many believe to be the greatest. That insight is also something that has inspired some mixed feelings.

Now, I’m old enough to remember the second half of the Michael Jordan era for the Chicago Bulls. I remember seeing his team win those last three championships and being in awe. To say he was an iconic athlete would be an understatement. In the same way it’s impossible to describe how big Michael Jackson was in the 1980s, it’s impossible to articulate how big Michael Jordan to the sports world in the 1990s.

Being like Mike wasn’t just a marketing slogan. It was a testament to just how much Michael Jordan dominated at everything he did. I know there’s an entire generation of basketball fans who only know the greatness of Steph Curry, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James, but in terms of sheer star power, Michael Jordan was bigger.

There’s always caveats about whether he would dominate as much in today’s game. I’m of the opinion that he would. Like I said, I grew up watching him in his prime. He’s one of those rare athletes who would have found a way to dominate in any era. However, that’s just my opinion. We’ll never truly know if Michael Jordan is better than Lebron James or Bill Russell.

However, Jordan’s greatness isn’t the only thing on display in The Last Dance.” In some sense, it exposes the dark side of being great. In public, Michael Jordan is that smiling, friendly guy who tries to sell them overpriced sneakers. In private, and during games, he was not that. He was incredibly intense. Some even call him a bully.

While that may surprise others who only know Jordan through his marketing team, it really shouldn’t. You don’t win six NBA championships, multiple MVPs, and a nickname like “Air Jordan” by being overly nice. In the world of professional sports, you can’t be Mr. Rogers. You have to be intense, sometimes to an extreme.

Michael Jordan was the epitome of extreme. Even as a kid, I saw it in the games. The man looked like he was ready to run through a wall and over people to win. The way he played the game with such intensity almost made him seem superhuman. That makes for amazing television, but on the court and in the heat of the game, it makes him something else.

That intensity reminds me of another famous insight into what it takes to succeed. It’s not nearly as iconic as Michael Jordan making the winning shot in the NBA Finals, but it’s close. It’s Alec Baldwin’s legendary speech about closing in “Glengerry Glenn Ross.” In case you need a reminder or some brutally honest motivation, here it is.

Look at Baldwin’s demeanor. Listen to the intensity of his voice. He sounds like a bully. He doesn’t sound at all likable. He sounds like the kind of guy you wish you could punch. Unfortunately, he also sounds like the guy who succeeds at what he does.

He’s intense.

He’s abrasive.

He demands greatness from others and has no sympathy for those not willing to put in the effort.

That won’t make him many friends, but it will make champions. That’s the kind of intensity that athletes like Michael Jordan channel. It’s not something that just anyone can do. It’s not even something you can entirely fake. You can try, but it only goes so far. You either have it or you don’t.

Being intense, competitive, and a little abrasive is often unpleasant, but it’s critical in pursuing success. Whether it’s selling real estate or winning six NBA championships, you need that kind of intensity to raise your game and those around you. You can have all the talent and charisma in the world, but it’ll only get you so far if you don’t have the drive to push yourself.

Michael Jordan had that drive. He pushed himself and those around him. He stepped on a few toes. He made plenty of enemies. He strained himself and his teammates. He also made mistakes, but that only fueled his intensity.

That’s why, in my opinion, he’s the greatest of all time.

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Filed under human nature, outrage culture, political correctness, psychology, sports

RIP Kobe Bryant

I’m not a big basketball fan. I’m not a big NBA fan. I haven’t followed it closely since Michael Jordan retired. However, the news of Kobe Bryant’s death is just plain tragic.

Behind the championships, the accolades, and the celebrity, he was still a man. He had friend, family, and a life to live. Then, it was tragically cut short, along with his daughter. Some stories are just too tragic to put into words. This is one of them.

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