Thursday, June 30, 2016

A (somewhat) belated moment of silence

 ... for, you know, dear old merry England, which apparently has been delivered a mortal blow by Brexit The Sequel, aka, Iceland 2, England 1 in Euro2016.

Iceland, for heaven's sake! The tiniest nation in the history of international soccer, taking down mighty John Bull!

(Which, if you're impartial or hail from Reykjavik, is the continuation of the best soccer story of this or almost any year. That a nation the size of Kentucky has reached the quarterfinals of Euro2016 in the first international tournament in its history is pure Hollywood. Expect this tale to hit the big screen before long, with Chris Hemsworth starring as the Thor of Soccer, Birkir Bjarnason, and the guy who plays Ragnar Lothbrok in "Vikings" portraying, who else, Iceland's star defender Ragnar Sigurdsson. And of course Jimmy Chitwood as himself).

Meanwhile, on the English side, the Brits' team manager quit on the spot in the wake of the Iceland loss. Commentators were commentating (aka, "foaming at the mouth"), saying it was England's worst defeat since those pesky Americans threw them out on their pommy ears, comparing it to the Miracle On Ice. Saying, well, it's a fine day when even Wales can lord it over you, when even the scruffy Welsh are better at kicking a ball around than the framers of the Magna Carta.

And they couldn't even blame it on those bloody immigrants, like the Brexit The First people did. What an awful fate!

Lost in this great national clutching of pearls is an even more uncomfortable reality: That England fell to Tiny Iceland not because of any defect in the management, but because England is just not very good at soccer. The last time it won the World Cup, after all, Churchill was barely cold. That was 1966, and it's been a long stretch of beige since.

In that context, England was merely the England it's been for 50 years: A side that's good at failing. And so comparing this to the Miracle on Ice is completely absurd.

Team USA, after all, beat the best hockey team in the world, not, say, Belgium. And the Americans were pretty good in their own right, just as the Icelanders are.

Which likely doesn't make this any better a week in England. First they "take back their country" from imaginary usurpers; then they lose to a glorified ice floe. Where's Wellington when you need him?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Going viral

So Jason Day has decided to opt out of the Rio Olympics, claiming fears about the Zika virus as his reason for staying away.

That makes him the sixth golfer to cite Zika in deciding to give Rio pass, following Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace and Marc Leishman.  The Blob suspects at least one of them -- Leishman -- is telling the truth, given that his wife's immune system remains weak after a near-fatal episode of toxic shock syndrome last year.

The others?

I think they just don't want to go. And I don't blame them.

Rio begins a week after the PGA Championships, for one thing, and, for another, it's shaping up to be the colossal cluster of all clusters. That the IOC, because of its greed and addiction to graft, is so callously putting its athletes at risk in so many ways -- Zika, dangerously contaminated venues, serious security issues -- is damn near criminal. That its members have the gall to criticize any athlete for staying away from this mess is equally so.

Set aside for a moment the Blob's contention that golf (or tennis, for that matter) is no more an Olympic sport than NASCAR or the NFL, and therefore shouldn't be included in the Games, anyway. If an Olympic medal isn't the pinnacle of your sport -- or at least close to it -- it shouldn't be an Olympic sport. Nor should any sport that doesn't have at least some traditional tie to the Games.

That definitely excludes golf and tennis, whose traditional ties include the British Open, the Masters and Wimbledon. The Olympics? What's that except something to watch on TV every four years between rounds at St. Andrews or sets on Centre Court?

So it's perfectly understandable why the Olympics aren't a priority for Day and McIlroy and the others, and I don't know why they just don't come out and say so. After all, who would they offend by doing so, except a bunch of corrupt bureaucrats who line their pockets in a rigged game that rewards the Games to sites that have no business hosting them?

If the IOC was remotely on the level as an organization, it would assign the Games to a revolving slate of four or five sites fully capable of hosting them. But that would take away the bribery aspect, and I'm sure the IOC would find that unacceptable. So don't hold your breath waiting for it to happen.

In the meantime, Jason Day's staying home. Good for him. I think there's a whole bunch of IOC officials who should follow his lead and stay home, too.

"Home," in their case, meaning "house arrest."

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The passing of giants

The hits keep coming, one after another. Mortality never loses, sadly. It conquers even the unconquerable.

And so, a month ago, we said goodbye to Muhammad Ali, the most famous man of his time. And today we say goodbye to Buddy Ryan, who built the most fearsome defense in NFL history, and Pat Summitt, who in large part made it OK for women to sweat and strive and stand as tall and as proud as men.

That two such indomitable personalities should pass at roughly the same time has an odd, sorrowful symmetry to it, because neither ever gave any quarter. Ryan, bluff and gruff and unrepentantly insubordinate both personally and strategically, put together a Bears defense that flouted convention by recklessly attacking rather than waiting to be attacked. The Bears won their only Super Bowl because of it, and the players made famous by it -- Mike Singletary and Richard Dent and Dan Hampton; Otis Wilson and Doug Plank and Gary Fencik -- loved him unreservedly for it.

And Summitt?

She died peacefully this morning at the age of 64, family and those she loved and who loved her close around her. It came as no surprise, really. This day had been coming since 2011, when she announced she had early-onset Alzheimer's. In that form, this unutterably cruel disease takes you down fast. Pat Summitt -- steely-eyed, unconquerable Pat Summitt -- lasted five years against it.

In passing she leaves more than just sterile numbers, the 1,098 career victories and eight national titles and 38 seasons on the sideline at Tennessee. She leaves a breathing legacy that will live as long as women play basketball, because it was Pat Summitt who opened the door for them, Pat Summitt whose uncompromising toughness and demand for excellence built a culture that insisted the women's game should adhere to the same rigid standards as the men's game.

If the men could do it, the women could, too. And should. Without apology and without deference.

Certainly Summitt never deferred to anyone. She had a presence about her that transcended gender, as commanding as any and all of her male counterparts. When she walked into a room, people stopped in their tracks as readily as they did when Bob Knight or Mike Krzyzewski or Dean Smith walked into a room. When she showed up at a prospect's high school game, the awe was as palpable ("Oh my God, it's Pat Summitt!"), the sense of occasion as pronounced.

She was a giant among giants, a Mount Rushmore figure, and she made it possible for her contemporaries -- the Muffett McGraws, Kim Mulkeys, the Geno Auriemmas -- to be regarded as giants as well. Because of her, they are regarded as great basketball coaches, not great women's basketball coaches. Because of her, the women's game is a companion piece to the men's game that nonetheless stands on its own, that has its own distinct and wholly legitimate merit.

No greater monument to her -- not even the statue of her that stands in Knoxville -- could possibly exist.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Tiger at sunset

So, yeah, OK, Tiger Woods may not be finished. But he sure can see it from here.

This upon the news that, at a news conference last week, he was asked if he saw himself playing any PGA Tour events this year. His answer, pretty much, was an unequivocal "Beats me."

"I'm just playing it week to week, and I keep getting better," he said. "I keep getting physically better. I just hope that everything clicks in and I can do it sooner rather than later.''

Which means, if we haven't the last of him, we've seen all but the last of him. He's a 40-year-old man who's had three back surgeries in two years. This does not bode well for future Tiger-like exploits on the golf course. And it certainly closes the book on his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' 18  majors, which in truth has been over for awhile now.

What we'll get instead from Tiger, if we get anything, is a wistful auld lang syne, one last walk up a metaphoric 18th fairway as the sun sets and the gallery's applause washes over him. No matter how carefully he's managing his preparation to play again, after all, the likelihood he'll eventually have more back issues is much greater than the likelihood he won't. Golf, especially championship golf, is hell on a lot of the body's moving parts, but it's especially hell on the back. And so it's no surprise that golfers who experience back issues continue to experience them.

Which raises the question: Have we seen the last of Tiger as a PGA Tour winner?

My money's on "yes." And that's OK, because, despite the continuing media obsession with him, the Tour has moved on without him. His era is so thoroughly and demonstrably over that it's not even like he's a ghost haunting the place. He's just some guy with a bad back hoping to get well enough to take that aforementioned sunset walk. The game belongs to others now, to Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler and Lee Westwood.

Time waits for no man. Stop the presses.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Boxing Day

A vanished America came out last night, in case you weren't paying attention. Two men of whom you've likely never heard -- two American kids, friends from their teenage days -- climbed into a boxing ring and threw leather for 10 sizzling rounds, and one of them won a unanimous decision to keep his welterweight title. Everyone agreed it was a great thing.

And why is this worthy of mention, considering it's boxing and boxing hasn't mattered in America since the sport voluntarily took itself out of the public consciousness?

Because this was boxing putting itself back into the public consciousness.

Keith Thurman successfully defending his title against childhood buddy Shawn Porter, see, was aired in primetime on CBS. No pay-per-view. No hiding the product. Put it right out there where Mr. and Mrs. America can see it.

It was the first main event televised by CBS in prime time since Feb. 15, 1978, when Muhammad Ali lost a split decision to Leon Spinks in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. And if this wasn't Ali, it was at least an attempt by boxing to regain a piece of the audience it's lost due to its own greed and the emergence of MMA, whose popularity has put boxing in the shade.

"To have a fight with that kind of anticipation, the best against the best, and you wind up with that kind of fight?" said promoter Lou DiBella. "A fight that lived up to the expectations, and you didn't have to pay 75 bucks for it? I love boxing tonight."

But did America love boxing back?

Hard to say. That Thurman and Porter put on exactly the kind of show the sport was counting on -- a rollicking slugfest straight out of the Friday Night Fights days --  was one thing. That most of America had never heard of either was, of course, another. This wasn't Ali or Sugar Ray Leonard,  after all. It was two fighters who've unfortunately come up in an era in which America doesn't know its fighters anymore. There are almost no household names in boxing these days, precisely because the sport has abandoned those households.

Instead it charges absurd pay-per-view fees and severely restricts ticket sales to the public for its marquee events, something we saw in the extreme for the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight.  And so Porter-Thurman didn't have the appeal it could have had, and which it deserved.

 I know. I watched it.

But I only watched it because I happened to stumble onto it while channel-surfing. And, no, I'd never heard of either fighter, either. Or of any of the alleged big-name boxers who attended and showed up on the set to be interviewed about what a great night it was for their sport.

"I love boxing tonight," DiBella said.

If only they all loved it enough.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Name that team

So now that Las Vegas officially has an entry in the NHL, it's time for the fun part: Name the team!

A few suggestions:

1. The Las Vegas Ice Diamonds (aka, the Ice Ice).

2. The Las Vegas Flush.

3. The Las Vegas Escorts.

4. The Last Vegas Counters.

5. The Las Vegas Counter Hitmen,

6. The Las Vegas Flying Elvises.

7. The Las Vegas Fear and Loathing (because, Hunter S. Thompson)

8. The Las Vegas Mo Green's Eye (because, "The Godfather II")

9. The Las Vegas Trashcan Men (because, "The Stand")

And last but not least ...

10. The Las Vegas Yella (because, this)

Hey, look, it's the NBA draft!

The NBA draft happened last night, which you would know only if you really, really care about the NBA draft, which most people don't except to find out where their favorite player off their favorite college team is headed next.

Which, for most of those favorite players, is nowhere. See: IU's Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams, neither of whom was drafted.

That's the thing about the NBA draft. It's only two rounds, so only a handful of players get drafted. And only a handful of the handful are the guys you watched in the NCAA Tournament in March, because so many teams choose to pass on the college guys these days to draft players from overseas.

Players from Croatia, Serbia, Australia, China, Germany, Turkey, Spain, Greece and France were selected last night. The only unusual thing about that, at least to rank laypersons such as myself, is that five French players -- or at least players with French nationality -- were taken. When did we all fall asleep and miss France's emergence as an incubator of NBA talent?

Beats me. But I do know this: Someday, one or several of those French guys we all said "Who's that?" about last night will become as familiar to us as, say, Tony Parker, the only NBA star from France I can think of offhand.

So come on down, Guerschon Yabusele. Or Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. Or David Michineau.

See you in the League.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Your thrilling soccer moment for today

Which, I know, is a bit of an oxymoron. Especially when the USMNT is playing.

(Really, a 4-0 loss to Argentina? And, yeah, OK, I know Argentina has this guy and we don't, but ... 4-0? This is like 56-0 on the Adjusted NFL Scale. And what's with failing to record a single shot? Really, not one? You have be trying not to score to do that, don't you?)

Where was I again?

Oh, yeah. Your thrilling soccer moment for today.

It comes not from Copa America (Translation: "America can't cope"), but from Euro2016, where the most significant thing that happened yesterday was Iceland (aka "Tiny Iceland") beating Austria 2-1 to reach the knockout round in its first-ever major international tournament.  Seriously, Tiny Iceland! Who knew they even played soccer there?  Isn't the national sport reindeer polo?

This is like, I don't know, Tahiti beating LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals or something. Reykjavik, the capital of Tiny Iceland, hasn't seen anything this exciting since Bobby Fischer decided he didn't like the shape of the table and walked away from Boris Spassky. And the players who scored the historic goals for Tiny Iceland?

One was named Jon Dadi Bodvarsson. The other was named Arnor Traustason. You can't get more Iceland-y than that, amiright?

At any rate, it's on to the knockout round, where Tiny Iceland gets England next. Ordinarily,this would no doubt inspire the usual drunken English soccer goons to spew the usual vile racist/xenophobic insults. But these aren't the French or the Germans or the Russians. It's Iceland. Iceland.

You can already smell the bewilderment, can't you?.

Drunken English Soccer Goon: GO BACK TO ... wait, who are we playing again?

Second Drunken English Soccer Goon: Uhh ... Iceland, I think?

Soccer Goon One: Iceland? What the (bleep), is that really a country?

Soccer Goon Two: Uhhh ... yeah, I think so. It's way up north somewhere. Lots of polar bears and icebergs and crap like that. I think there's a city. Wreckyourjack, Rakeyourcheck, something like that.

(Long silence as Soccer Goon One tries to think of an appropriate vile racist/xenophobic insult).

Soccer Goon One: Ah, screw it. Let's go pick a fight with the Italians.

Homecoming scheme

So maybe Larry Bird does have enough sense to come in out of the rain. Opinions have varied.

Opinions definitely varied when he sent Frank Vogel packing, saying he wanted a "new voice," and then gave Vogel's old job to one of his assistants, Nate McMillan, who'd been around for three years and was demonstrably not a new voice. Was this Larry's backdoor way of coaching the team from the shadows, ala Pat Riley in Miami (or so some used to claim)? Was it just that there was a dearth of quality candidates out there at the time (which there was)? Or had Larry commenced leaking marbles?

Opinions varied.


Not so much.

Not so much, because Larry and the Pacers just swung a deal that makes all kinds of sense, from both a basketball and an esthetic standpoint. Basketball-wise, swapping George Hill for Jeff Teague in a three-way deal with Atlanta and Utah brings to town a player who averaged 15.7 points last year playing with, Teague claims, a torn patellar tendon in his knee; a year earlier, minus the injury, he averaged 15.9 points, 7.0 assists and 1.7 steals for a Hawks team that went 60-22 and reached the Eastern Conference finals.

The Pacers figure they'll get that Jeff Teague, once the knee heals. Which is a good thing.

And then there's this: He's an Indiana guy coming back to Indiana. A hometown guy, in fact.

He played his high school ball at Pike over on the west side of Indianapolis, and his Indiana hoops bonafides run deep. His dad, Shawn, is an Anderson Indian from the golden days of Indiana high school buckets; long ago and far away, I spent more than a few cold winter nights in the Wigwam watching Shawn Teague run the show for the Tribe against Marion and Muncie Central and Madison Heights.

Shawn could play. His son can play, too.

Opinions don't vary there at all.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Rio Disasterneiro

So when last we left the looming catastrophe that is the Rio Olympics, the sailing venues were still an open sewer. There was a blooming Zika virus that had prospective Olympic athletes freezing their sperm just in case. And, oh, yeah, there was some sort of coup going on, because the government is broke and the biggest reason is government officials have been stealing money with both hands.

But now that we're less than two months out from the opening ceremonies? Things are better, right?

Um ... not really.

In this episode of Rio Disasterneiro, athletes and/or their coaches are being tossed from the upcoming Games like it's the Tour de France on steroids (which, in retrospect, is probably a redundancy). The entire Russian track-and-field team, one of the strongest in the world, has been banned for rampant PED abuses. A former rowing world champ from Italy, Vincent Abagnale, has been banned as a drug cheat. And, on Monday, the coach of world 1,500-meter track champion Genzebe Dibaba was arrested after Spanish police raided his hotel room and found stashes of EPO and other banned substances.

So, you know, that's perfect.

But at least the financial crisis has eased, right?

Uh ... no.

In fact, last week, the acting governor of Rio de Janeiro state declared a state of financial disaster. This is designed to give him more leeway to manage resources ravaged by an ongoing economic recession. Which means the Rio Games aren't just virus-,  bacteria- and PED-infested, they're also in a state of severe financial distress.

On the other hand, Kevin Durant confirmed Monday that he would, in fact, be playing for Team USA in Rio. So the Rio Games have that going for them.

If there are a Rio Games, of course.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Sweat equity

And now our latest episode of Southern Justice, aka, Them Boys Can Play Football, So We Can Afford To Be Some Lenient With 'Em:

Remember the two Alabama football players who got dinged last month with possession and stolen firearm charges?

Well, it seems the district attorney in Louisiana where left tackle Cam Robinson and safety Laurence "Hootie" Jones were arrested has declined to prosecute. The reason: They've done a pile of sweating growing up, and the rest of us haven't.

No, really. Serious as a heart attack here.

"I want to emphasize once again that the main reason I'm doing this is that I refuse to ruin the lives of two young men who have spent their adolescence and teenage years working and sweating, while we were all in the air conditioning," district attorney Jerry Jones told KNOE-TV.

Well, now. Isn't that special.

Makes you wonder if Mr. Jones is buds with the judge in California who didn't want to ruin the Stanford swimmer/rapist's life. Or, you know, the DA in Tallahassee who didn't want to pursue the allegations of sexual assault against then-Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who was (entirely coincidentally, of course) trying to win the Seminoles a national title.

Justice is blind, we're told. But apparently it peeks sometimes.

How else would it know when to cheer?

Karma, baby

Nearly a continent apart, they got what was coming to them. At long last.

In suburban Pittsburgh, on a course bisected by the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the golf gods at last decided they were not going to show Dustin Johnson the road.

In Oakland, Calif., in an arena where visitors rarely win, a strong man wept tears of joy, and his entire beaten-down city at last got to see what the right side of impossible looked like.

Karma is frequently a mother, as better minds than this one have often noted. So maybe it figured that on Father's Day, it would finally reward rather than punish.

On a fabled track called Oakmont, it rewarded a good man who has been about to win a major for some time. But something always happens to Dustin Johnson. A few years back, in another U.S. Open, his ball landed in a bunker no rational person would have recognized as a bunker -- it was full of grass and there were spectators were standing in it, for God's sake -- and he grounded his club, which cost him two strokes and likely the title. And who could forget last year, when he three-putted from 12 feet on the 72nd hole and lost by a stroke to Jordan Spieth?
Johnson made a lot of fans that day for the way he stoically scooped up his young son and marched off without an angry word or gesture. And so no wonder they were chanting "DJ! DJ!" as he marched up 18 with the setting sun painting everything in light and shadow, his lead at four strokes and his ball resting inches away from a close-the-book birdie.

He scooped up his son again, after jarring the putt. Only the circumstances were yea different.

Hours later in Oakland the circumstances were different, too, in ways you couldn't get your head around. Perspective vanishes when the last time an American city celebrated a title in any sport, Lyndon Johnson was in the White House. That was the Cleveland Browns in 1964, and it had been one long heartache since. A certain mythology had grown up around it, oral history passed along mournfully in smoky shot-and-a-beer bars: The Drive and The Fumble. The Shot and The Blown Save. The Decision.

And then came one more, and it will be passed along, too, but in a way that expunges all the others. Where were you when The Block happened, and karma finally smiled on Cleveland, Ohio?

The Block was the signature moment in a signature piece of history, and if it didn't decide Game 7, it at least signaled that something fundamental had changed. When LeBron James came out of nowhere to pin Andre Iguodala's fastbreak layup to the backboard with 1:51 left and the score tied, a half-century of sourness seemed to slide away. And then Kyrie Irving hit The Shot II over Steph Curry, and the horn sounded, and LeBron, the native son, was face-down on the floor, one hand covering his eyes, sobbing as if he would never stop.

It wasn't just that he'd done what he came back to northeast Ohio to do, after all. It was how it happened. The Cavaliers not only won, delivering Cleveland from its 52 years in the wilderness, they did the virtually impossible, becoming the first team in NBA history to successfully overcome a 3-1 deficit in the Finals. And did it against a team that won a record 73 games in the regular season ... in its barn ... in a Game 7.

It reminded you of the 2004 Red Sox, who erased 86 years of their own sour history by doing the virtually impossible, too. Remember the comeback from 0-3 down to the Yankees in the ALCS?

Maybe that's the just the way it has to go in these deals. Maybe, after so many years of having the impossible done to you, the only way to break the spell is by doing the virtually impossible yourself.

Karma plus irony equals redemption. Works every time.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Father's Day, and lessons

Some days my dad is removed from us, in these waning years. Wheelchair-bound for the most part since breaking his hip in March, he retreats to some shadowland where dreams and memories get all jumbled together, and he mumbles and points and calls out to people who are not there, and to a time that is long past.

The most decent, competent, meticulous man I've ever known is long gone, in those moments. What's left is this hollow place where Lewy-Body dementia and Parkinson's have delivered him, and it makes you hate those twin assassins as much as you've ever hated anything.

My dad is a far, far better man than his son will ever be. So on the bad days, I despise the disease that takes the living proof of that away.

He was never the kind of dad who played catch with me for hours as twilight came on, ala "Field of Dreams." This is partly because he recognized early on it was hopeless. And it's partly because, although he raised a sportswriter son,  he was always only a cursory sports fan himself.

What he did teach me is how to believe.

Back in my laughable athlete's days -- which peaked, if you can call it that, in middle school --  I was a distance runner. Well, sort of. I had no speed, but at least I had no stamina. I was also less a Blob in those days than a Blip; I weighed about 12 pounds and had the aerodynamic properties of a hotdog wrapper. Distance, suffice it to say, retired unbeaten against me.

And so here came this one day at Bishop Dwenger, where I was entered in the 2-mile only because there wasn't an event called Go Sit On The Bus.  It was spring, and there was one of those brutish, muscular winds blowing, barreling straight up the backstretch out of the north. These were not optimum conditions for the Hotdog Wrapper, and so as one lap became two became four became six, I kept falling farther and farther behind.

Watching from the car not far away, my mom fretted. "Oh, he's gonna quit," she said.

My dad instantly set her straight.

"He's not gonna quit," he replied.

I don't know how he knew that, but I didn't. I finished. Magellan circumnavigated the globe faster, but I finished. Bullheadedness, it turned out, was my one athletic skill.

And now it's Father's Day again, and we'll go see Dad. Over in Cleveland, meanwhile, it is not just Father's Day but also Judgment Day, with Game 7 of the NBA Finals tonight out in Oakland. And so it will be a father's duty there today to sit his children down and have the Talk.

Which involves belief, yes, but also reality: You see, this is Cleveland, home of The Drive and The Shot and The Fumble and The Decision. It is the home office of heartbreak. It is the place where belief goes, not to die, but to be crushed flat only to re-generate like some sort of Rust Belt Terminator, because that is part of what Cleveland is, too. It's the Screw You, Fate, capital of the universe. It's a place where you believe even if belief is oh-for-your-lifetime, because some day -- maybe THIS day -- it's finally going to win one.

A certain dad in a different Midwestern city, watching from a car on a certain vanished spring afternoon, could second that.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Aaaaand ... wrong again

Well, of course. Just when you think counter-intuitive is the way to go, the intuitive itself becomes counter-intuitive (or something), and there you are again, as wrong as mustard on ice cream.

In other words: We're getting a Game 7 in the NBA Finals.

We're getting a Game 7 because the Cavaliers did, in fact, come home and win Game 6, which everyone kind of figured would happen after they won Game 5 on the road to stay alive. And which therefore was what everyone should have expected not to happen, because if we've learned anything from this series it's that the unexpected should always be expected.

Well ... not this time.

This time LeBron James put on the cape and tights again and shifted into Hero Mode, and the Cavs won to force a Game 7 Sunday back in Oakland. Don't even ask if the Blob is going to predict that one. The Blob officially surrenders.

Oh, sure, the Warriors should win a Game 7 at home, but they should have won Game 5 at home, too, and didn't. On the other hand, the Cavs should have won Game 6 at home, and did. So basically nobody knows nuttin' about how this goes now.

The only thing we do know is the notion that LeBron is not clutch (an annoyingly recurring meme, somehow) needs to go the way of all misbegotten notions. No matter what happens in Game 7, he has buried it for keeps. Last night he put up 41 points for the second game in a row to keep the Cavs alive, to go with 11 assists. That means he accounted for 27 of the Cavs' 40 field goals. If that isn't putting a team on his back, nothing will ever be.

So please, haters. Shut up. You just sound silly now. And you'll really sound silly when he has another huge game on Sunday, whether or not the Cavs win or not.

That, the Blob will predict. And so of course ...

Well. You can finish that sentence.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Hitting the mark. Or not.

Ichiro Suzuki collected a couple more hits last night, putting him one up on Pete Rose lifetime. And so now, this being baseball and all, the debate begins.

Is Ichiro or is he not the new Hit King?

If he is, Pete's gonna have to find a new home for all his Hit King hats and such, and maybe he can't hustle his name as lucratively as he's been doing it all these years. And if he's not, well, no worries, then. Go on with your lives, citizens.

At issue are the 1,275 hits Ichiro collected in Japan before coming to the U.S. Pete says they don't count, on account of, you know, Japan. Not the same as the Major Leagues, he says. Says the next thing you know, they'll be counting Ichiro's high school hits.

Here's what I think: I think there's a lot of evidence to suggest baseball in Japan isn't much different than baseball here, at least in this day and age. I also think baseball in Japan in this day and age maybe isn't what it was when Ichiro played there.

Pete is right when he points out that guys who weren't stars in the majors have gone to Japan and become stars. But it's equally true that guys who were stars in Japan have come to the majors and continued to be stars.

Ichiro, for instance. Hideki Matsui. Yu Darvish. Others.

And so the Blob's opinion is that, while Japanese professional baseball might not be the same as the Show (or at least didn't used to be), it's not high school ball, either.  And I don't recall seeing anything that stipulates that all of a player's professional hits have to come in MLB or they don't count. So, yes, Ichiro is the new Hit King.

At least, you know, technically.

Confused yet?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Your towering sports icon for today

His name is Birkir Bjarnason.

And, look, it's OK if you don't know him, because before yesterday, no one outside of Reykjavik knew him, either. But you should know he has the most awesome nickname in sports -- come on, who else is the Thor of Soccer? -- and yesterday he scored the biggest goal in the history of Iceland. Which, admittedly, probably didn't have a lot of competition.

The goal Thor scored, after all, was not only the first major tournament goal in his nation's history. It also enabled tiny Iceland, in its first Euro 2016 game ever, to earn a 1-1 draw with mighty Portugal, which happens to be led by the best player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo.

Suffice it to say Birkir Bjarnason is as big in Iceland today as, I don't know, Derek Jeter is in New York. Or Tom Brady or David Ortiz in Boston. Or Michael Jordan in Chicago, or Peyton Manning in Denver (and possibly Indianapolis).

In other words, expect an appropriately heroic statue to go up any day now.  And lots of male newborns named "Birkir."

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


So you're still wondering how a major university -- a Baptist university, no less -- can lose its moral compass as thoroughly as Baylor did in apparently becoming apologists/enablers for sexual predators and assorted other miscreants in its football program?

This is how.

I mean, it's football. It's Texas, where affluent school districts with their sense of mission completely out of whack do stuff like this. And so of course there's a cadre of rich alumni who want the guy back (Art Briles) who oversaw (or didn't) the prison yard that is Baylor football. Because, dammit, he's a winner! And with a little luck (and some more determined looking the other way) ol' Art could deliver us a national championship!

I mean, it's all about how badly you want it.

And how much you're willing to ignore.

A few brief thoughts about Game 5

And now a special edition of In So Many Words, the Blob feature of which critics have said, "Aieee! Get it off me!" and "I thought he was done with this until September!":

No way, peasants. Welcome to Game 5 Of The NBA Finals In So Many Words:

1. Cavaliers 112, Warriors 97.

2. You know what means.

3. No, not the Cavs returning home to thump the Warriors in Game 6, silly.

4. It means confetti and net-cutting for the Warriors in Game 6, 'cause that's just how these Finals roll.

5. Hey, look, it's Good Kyrie!

6. Hey, look, it's Bad Kyrie over there in the wings, waiting for his cue!

7.   Draymond. C'mon, man, pick up.

8. We forgive you. But no more hitting people in the jollies, OK?

9. LeBron James' numbers, with Cleveland facing elimination: 41 points, 16 boards, 7 assists, 23 Cavaliers buckets accounted for.

10. Too bad he's not clutch.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Faith and madness

So now I go back to Friday, in the wake of 50 dead. I go back to what the world could be, and should be, and sometimes is when sanity prevails and men and women of substance stand together and refuse to let hatred tear them apart.

I go back to Muhammad Ali's memorial service in Louisville, less than 36 hours ahead of the madness in Orlando, less than 36 hours before a young man all twisted up by hatred and ideological manipulation decided to shoot gay people simply for the crime of existing.

I go back to Ali's memorial because there were Muslims there and Christians and Jews, gays and straights and men and women and former presidents. I go back to it because there was no division among them that day, no impulse other than to honor a man who embodied the true tenets of his faith as surely as a madman would embody how far from those tenets he and the other madmen have strayed.

The tenets of Muhammad Ali's Muslim faith made him over time a man of peace who hated no one.  The perversion of that faith made the madman seemingly hate everyone; his ex-wife describes him as a man angry at everyone and everything to the point of mental instability. And so he did what mad people do in America, which is grab his guns and go on a killing spree.

And now 50 people are dead and more than 50 others wounded, and the madman went out in a blaze of glory that has undoubtedly already delivered to him a rude awakening in the afterlife. Because the devotees of radical Islamism are not children of any God, let alone Allah. They are, in fact, as far from being Muslim as the hooded cowards who used to string up African-Americans in Jesus' name are from Christianity.

I go back to Friday to remember that. And it would do all of us well to do the same thing, because inevitably there will be forces out there who will attempt to exploit this abomination, who will confuse faith with fanaticism and, out of fear and ignorance, indict an entire religious community for the actions of criminals who have nothing to do with that community.

Radical Islamism is not a religion but a global scourge that targets people of all faiths indiscriminately, and it must be opposed with every weapon at our disposal. But in the opposing, we must not lose who we are as a nation. We must not make Muslims the enemy, anymore than we made Christianity the enemy when Timothy McVeigh did his dark work. That won't make us safer. It won't make us stronger. It won't make us more American. It will, in fact, remake us into something fundamentally un-American -- and it will only deliver more angry souls into the hands of the Islamic State or whatever comes after it.

So what do we do to protect ourselves from the madmen?

I don't know. I don't think there's any definitive answer. Terrorism has always been with us; it always will be with us. So will madmen. The madman in Orlando was American born and bred. He was a security guard carrying not one but two concealed carry permits, and he had never been charged with a crime. And although he had been questioned twice by the FBI for alleged radical statements, he'd done nothing for which he could be held -- unless you want to make America a country where expressing an opinion can get you locked up without due process for an indeterminate period of time.

There is a country like that. It's called North Korea.

Look. The things that make America the nation it is are also the things that make it vulnerable to madmen. That will always be so, even if we build walls and indict entire faiths and in myriad other ways decide not to be America anymore. All we can do is fight the madmen wherever we can fight them and foil whatever bloody work they plan.

As we mostly have, in the years since 9/11. As we are in the Middle East, where IS is losing on all fronts. And as we did in Los Angeles, later on the same day of the slaughter in Orlando, when police discovered a man sitting in a car loaded with weapons and bomb-making materials who was reportedly on his way to L.A.'s Gay Pride parade.

The man was from Indiana. And he was apparently no radical Islamist.

Madness comes in all forms. Something worth holding onto today, and every day.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Draymond on the couch

When last we left the Golden State Warriors, they were knocking around momentum again (Lost by 30 in Game 3 of the NBA Finals? No problem! We'll win by double digits in Game 4!) and fretting that, with the series headed back to Oakland, they might be without Draymond Green, who once again did that thing he likes to do.

In other words, hit guys in the junk.

Had a run-in with LeBron James the other night, during which Draymond went to his signature move. LeBron stepped over him as he lay on the floor, and the D-Man punched him in the heirlooms for his trouble.

If it's ruled a Flagrant 1, Green will sit out Game 5, because he's already drawn a Flagrant 1 in this series. And if it's ruled a Flagrant 2, he'll sit out Games 5 and 6.

Which, frankly, is not as big a deal as it would be for other teams, since the Warriors seem to have an inexhaustible supply of capable bodies they can plug into the breach. Oh, they'll lose something, sure, but maybe not enough to turn the series in the Cavaliers' favor.

The bigger question is, what's the deal with Draymond and hitting people in That Place?

First he kicked Steven Adams of Oklahoma City right between the wickets; now he slugs LeBron in the same place. Is this just Draymond's way of playing the eternal rebel, by continually administering what polite society considers the lowest of low blows? Is this transference of some sort for some phallic issues of his own? Or is there another explanation not rooted in the Freudian?

Like, maybe the guy's just a gaping jackhole?

I mean, sometimes the simplest explanation is the best. Truth.

Update: NBA has suspended Green for Game 5.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Mr. Hockey forever

The only time I saw Gordie Howe play hockey, he and the game were down to nightcaps.

It was long after midnight in Gordie's seemingly endless hockey revels, and last call was beckoning. The year was 1974, maybe 1975. Gordie was 30 years deep in a career that would know few if any equals. And he was playing with his boys, Marty and Mark, for some outfit called the Houston Aeros, in some charming fantasy called the World Hockey Association.

The WHA would not outlast the '70s, though it would leave some great stories. One of them was Gordie Howe playing with his sons in Houston, including one particular night when they came to play the fledgling Indianapolis Racers in Market Square Arena.

The Racers had hockey's last bare-faced goalie, Andy Brown, and not a whole lot else. The Aeros blistered 'em 10-0 that night, and my roomie and I drove down from Ball State to watch.

What we saw was Old Gordie, but still Gordie for all that. The legs weren't there anymore, but the brain and the skill still were. Every time he got the puck it went exactly where it needed to go, with an economy of motion that was partly a function of age but also the product of a peerless talent who had buffed his craft to a high shine years before.

I walked away that night knowing I'd seen greatness, even if by then it was mostly an echo of greatness.

And of course it all comes back with the news that Gordie has left us, passing yesterday at the age of 88 on the day Louisville buried Muhammad Ali. It was one of those odd confluences of history that happen on occasion, and there was a rightness to it, a sense of completion. One day; two farewells to two Greatests. Well, sure.

If Ali was the transcendent boxer of his age -- and of course far more than that, as a towering historical figure who was the embodiment of an entire era of awakening justice -- Gordie was the transcendent hockey player of every age. Wayne Gretzky will go down as the greatest offensive talent in the history of the game, but he was not the Greatest. That was Gordie, for his skill, his toughness, his command of every facet, every nuance.

Nothing made that more evident than the fact he's the father and namesake of the Gordie Howe Hat Trick: A goal, an assist and a fight. He scored 975 professional goals across more than 30 winters, 801 in the NHL and 174 in the WHA. No one has played more regular-season NHL games than Gordie's 1,767.No one has played in more All-Star games than his 23. And he was named the NHL's MVP six times.

He was, as indisputably as Ali, the Greatest. Or as his sport anointed him, Mr. Hockey.

That's as weighty a title as a kid from Saskatchewan will ever carry. And it's a testament to everything Gordie Howe is, was and will always be that it could have never fit anyone else half so well.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Your Moment of Mascot-ery*

*-- NSFW, or probably any other place where decorum is valued.

This upon the news that the mascot of Euro 2016 is a small boy with a big head named Super Victor. Which doesn't sound scandalous at all, until  you discover that Super Victor is also the brand name of ... well ... um ...

A sex toy.

Deadspin has pictures of both here. Again, if it doesn't offend your sense of decorum.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Crime vs. time

So maybe two years isn't a life sentence. Anything's possible, I guess.

But when you're talking professional tennis and you're talking someone who stands in the shadow of 30, like Maria Sharapova, a life sentence is what a two-year ban might amount to. She'll be 31 or 32 when she comes back, off a two-year layoff imposed by the tennis poobahs this week. Does she regain her form? Or does she decide, during her time away, that it's time to hang it up, anyway?

Decisions, decisions, now that she's been tagged for being a drug cheat. And no doubt her age and the magnifying effect a two-year sitdown will have because of that is a factor in why Sharapova is appealing her suspension for using meldonium, a substance that joined tennis' list of banned substances on January 1.


 I think she should appeal it on the grounds that the punishment doesn't fit the crime.

Media tends to be knee-jerk about these things, and so the prevailing opinion is that Sharapova really is a drug cheat, caught red-handed in a deliberate act. Maybe so, but the Blob has been contrarian about this from the start. Yes, she should have checked her e-mails better, because everyone was warned that meldonium was going on the list. Yes, she continued to use it even on the sly after she left the doctor who initially prescribed it a decade ago because of irregular electrocardiograms and some dodgy family medical history.

But that was in 2013, before meldonium was deemed a banned substance by tennis. And so I'm having a hard time trying to figure out what was heinous about her continuing to use it -- even if, as the investigators claimed, she was doing so for performance enhancing purposes. Pardon me, but so what? It wasn't a banned substance yet. So why make an issue over why she was using it?

Maybe there's something I'm not getting here, but I find it more than a little amusing that, up until midnight on January 1, Sharapova was not a cheater. One second later, suddenly, she was.

Even though she was the same player using the same substance to the same arguable effect. Even though, from where the Blob sits, she's guilty mostly of  inattention.

Two years for not checking your e-mail? And with so few years left in your career, anyway?

Seems harsh.

See? See??

And now we go to Cleveland, where, last night, in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers won by 30 after losing Games 1 and 2 by a combined 48 points.

LeBron James went for 32 points. Kyrie Irving went for 30. J.R. Smith went for 20, and, on the other side of things, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson continued to go mostly missing, combining for 29 points but also for eight turnovers.

So much for the notion, widely held across the last three days, that the Cavaliers simply couldn't play with the Warriors, that no one could play with them, that they were in a completely different stratosphere than anyone else.

But that was in Oakland. This was in Cleveland. And once again, a home truth came, um, home to roost: Momentum in sports is a mirage.

As seen here on the Blob.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The defiant ones. Or one.

So when last we left the impending cluster that is the Rio Olympics, a British athlete (long jumper Greg Ruthorford) was freezing his sperm because he didn't want to infect his partner with the Zika virus, and a pregnant "Today" anchor (Savannah Guthrie) was saying she would give the Games a pass because of the Zika virus, and NBA players were bailing left and right because of the Zika virus.

Oh, sure, none of them said that, preferring "I have an owie," instead. But you can't fool the Blob. "I have an owie" is just baller-speak for "I ain't messin' with no damn Zika virus."  You just know it.

In any case, it appears a lot of folks are pretty concerned about the damn Zika virus. Also the open sewer that will be the venue for some of the watersports. Also the fact some of the venues are only going to be about half-finished ... and the fact the government is in turmoil right now ... on and on and on.

But you know what?

Some people don't care about any of that.

One of them is American gymnast Gabby Douglas, who was asked the other day about the Zika thing. She all but sneered.

“It’s the Olympics,” Douglas told the AP. “Mosquitoes? Like, whatever. I’m going. This is my shot. I don’t care about no stupid bugs.”

Douglas, it should be pointed out, is 20 years old.

Ah, to be young and bulletproof.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Not dead. Yet.

No, no, no, America. The Cleveland Cavaliers are not finished.

Yes, they lost Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals at Golden State by a combined 48 points.

Yes, they got washed away by 33 in Game 2, and appeared to quit, besides, an unforgivable breach of competitive etiquette.

Yes, Kyrie Irving has played like a goof for the most part, and Kevin Love hasn't done much, and the Warriors smoked them with one hand tied behind their backs -- i.e., they did it with their bench and not with the Splash Brothers, who were pretty much supporting actors in the first two games.

Never mind all that. The Cavs are not finished. And the reason the Blob knows this is because of everything that's happened to date in these NBA playoffs.

What's happened has borne out a universal truth in sports, which is there's no such thing as momentum. Momentum is the next game, quarter, possession, shot. It's what happens between Marcus Paige of Kentucky hitting a circus jumper with five seconds left in the NCAA championship game to tie the game, and Kris Jenkins hitting the game-winner for Villanova five seconds later.

It's the Cavaliers getting whipped twice in Toronto in the Eastern Conference finals, then coming home to beat the Raptors by 38.

So ... no. They're not finished.

No matter how hopeless and overmatched they looked in Oakland, five will get you ten they come home and win Game 3. And maybe (probably?) Game 4. And we go back the Oracle with the series tied 2-2 and everyone saying the Warriors are in trouble, and what's wrong with them, anyway?

Pretty much, you know, what they're saying right now about the Cavaliers.

Look. Golden State's bench was, well, golden in the first two games, but does anyone expect them to keep being that good? Does anyone expect the Cavaliers to look as lost and pathetic at home as they did on the road? And does anyone think for a second that a team that shot 3s as well as the Cavs have most of the year won't eventually find the stroke again, if only for a game or two?

Remember: These are the same Cavs who looked lost in Toronto and then destroyed the Raptors in Cleveland. And these are the same Warriors who got obliterated twice in Oklahoma City in the West finals, then won three straight to get back to the Finals.

Momentum is a mirage. Both the Cavs and Warriors have proved it.

Don't be shocked if they prove it again.  

Monday, June 6, 2016

Return to irrelevance

There was a college baseball game on one screen Sunday at Buffalo Wild Wings, Wright State vs. Louisville. The Cubs were losing to the Diamondbacks on another. College softball was on two more screens; drag racing on another; motocross on yet another.

So many TVs. So little IndyCar.

Actually, no IndyCar.

A week after its most momentous occasion in decades -- the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 -- the participants were running the streets up in Detroit, and you couldn't find them on a bet. Seven days before, a record crowd of 350,000 and a huge national television audience watched the IndyCar boys (and girl; hi, there, Pippa Mann) swap the lead 54 times at Indy. Thirteen drivers took turns running up front. In the end, it was rookie Alexander Rossi who took the historic checkers, coasting home on dry tanks as runnerup Carlos Munoz desperately tried to run him down.

And seven days later?


"Hey, could I get the IndyCar race on one of these?" I finally asked.

The bartender shrugged. Sure. And a few minutes later, there was Will Power holding off Simon Pagenaud for the win, ending a season-long slump for the Australian driver.

That was the good news, at least for Power. The bad news, for Power and everyone else in IndyCar, is I had to ask to see it.

In a sports bar. In America. On a June afternoon when so little was going on they were putting the same college softball game on two screens.

 Nothing more starkly illuminates IndyCar's problem, which is that it can't get America interested in its product. This despite the alleged bump it was supposed to get from all that 100th 500 exposure. This despite the fact it's consistently the best show in American motorsports. This despite the fact that, if there seems to be a lot of Aussies and Brazilians and Colombians out there these days, IndyCar has always had an international presence, even when A.J. and Mario and the rest of  'em were running.

The difference is there isn't an A.J. or Mario or Lone Star JR waving from the winner's podium every week, and that's why IndyCar vanishes off the radar every month of the year except May. There simply isn't a dominant American driver on the circuit right now -- Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal probably come closest, but not nearly close enough -- and that diminished American presence translates to diminished American interest.

Racing fans in America are, after all, a provincial lot. Always have been. And so until an American emerges who can move the needle, IndyCar will always run a poor second to NASCAR, despite the fact it's now putting a superior product out there.

The evidence is right up there on those TV screens. Or, actually, not.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Logo speaks

Few people in America can speak with fuller credit about anything than Jerry West can about professional basketball.

He is, after all, literally the NBA's logo. His silhouette, rail-thin and frozen forever in that distinctive lean, is as familiar as a Michael Jordan dunk or a Kareem skyhook. So he is the NBA, in a far more fundamental sense than MJ was or LeBron James is.

And so when he says something about the latter, we'd all do well to listen. And not just because of the logo thing.

Although he's working for the team trying to beat LeBron and the Cavaliers in these NBA Finals, West shares a kinship with James, because both have failed so often and so blamelessly on the big stage. Like LeBron in the new millennium, West carried the Los Angeles Lakers on his back in the 1960s, bashing his head time after time against the un-breachable wall that was Red Auerbach's Boston Celtics. Every year he would bravely try, and every year he would bravely fail.

Before finally breaking through with Wilt Chamberlain in 1972, West lost in the NBA Finals seven times -- even in 1969, when he was so resplendent he was named the only Finals MVP ever to play for the losing team. His alltime Finals record: 1-8.

And so to LeBron, 2-4 in NBA Finals so far, looking as if he's about to become 2-5 after the Warriors used their depthless bench to batter the Cavs into submission in Game 1. And of course the rumblings have already begun about what losing again will do to LeBron's legacy.

The Logo, whose legacy so clearly survived a similar career trajectory, is having none of it.

"That's the most ridiculous thing," he said the other day of the incessant LeBron carping. "If I were him, I'd probably want to strangle [detractors]. He's carried teams on his shoulders. He's been to the Finals six straight times. How many times has he been the favorite? None. Zero. Grossly unfair to him.

"I don't want to sound like Donald Trump, but it's hard for me to believe someone doesn't recognize his greatness. This guy does everything, and he's competitive as hell. Frankly, I wish people would leave him alone."

Spoken as one who knows whereof he speaks. And who knows whereof he speaks like no one else.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Float, butterfly

Once upon a time I walked away from a movie because of Muhammad Ali.

It was called "When We Were Kings," and it was a documentary about Ali's fight with George Foreman in the sweltering heat of Zaire, starkly mortal man going into the ring against a fearsome engine of destruction. I rented it at the video store one night, and when I popped it into the player there was Ali in full flower, eyes bright and darting, talking and talking, giving us the Greatest of All Times schtick that always, but not completely, obscured the thoughtful man.

I had to shut it off for a bit. It was too painful.

Painful, because it was too much the reminder of what we had lost as the generation that grew up in the 1960s, and of what he had lost as a man too brave for his own good. The man who climbed into the ring with Foreman that night in Zaire was perhaps the only human on the premises who didn't fear for that man's life; the man who climbed into the ring with Joe Frazier three times was perhaps the only human who could have stood in front of that seething threshing machine and emerged unbowed.

If nothing else, he proved for all time there was more to him than just mouth, that there was a lion's heart beating inside the man so many called a coward because he refused to participate in the crapshow that was Vietnam. But in the proving, he sacrificed much of what made him who he was; the last apocalyptic fight with Frazier in Manila ruined both of them, and before long Ali was slipping away from us into the lingering twilight of Parkinson's, the voice largely stilled if not the whimsy, passion and compassion behind it.

And now it is all gone, of course, with his passing at the age of 74. And there is a void no other athlete's death could possibly leave for those of us of a certain age.

That void is there because, when Ali refused induction to the military in 1967, he became something larger than simply a fast-talking heavyweight of transcendent skills, something larger even than a man who had abandoned his Christian roots to follow a strange religion. The two acts will always be intertwined, because had Ali not converted to Islam much of his persecution for refusing to kill Vietnamese would not have happened. Had he remained a Christian, and said he couldn't take up arms on religious grounds, it's unlikely he would have been stripped of his title and his right to make a living in boxing.

But Islam was then and remains today wrongly viewed with suspicion, a suspicion sustained and exploited in 2016 by unscrupulous politicians who care little for whom they hurt. And so Ali was stripped of his title and license to box, and subjected to disdain in the media even by those whose fair-mindedness had never before been questioned.

Eventually, of course, Ali's right to earn a living in his chosen profession was restored; eventually, as time and infirmity rendered him mortal, he became the iconic and beloved figured he was at his death. And now it is virtually impossible, from 50 years distance, to convey just what a polarizing figure he was -- and how he therefore became a symbol for a polarizing time.

I remember, for instance, that first fight against Frazier, how I rooted for Smokin' Joe and cheered when he put Ali on his back, the festive red tassels on Ali's white shoes dancing in the smoky Madison Square Garden air. By the time of their third fight, however, I was rooting for Ali, because by then I recognized he had become something greater than himself. He had become a world figure -- a voice of conscience who stood with King and Mandela, and a symbol of hope for those who made the Zaire night ring with "Ali, bomaye."

Once upon a time I walked away from a movie because of Muhammad Ali.

But later I came back to it, and watched, and remembered. Remembered the most famous man of my time, and how floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee was only a small part of that. Remembered the night he came to Fort Wayne for a Komets game, how he sat in a room upstairs holding children battling cancer on his lap, how even reduced to a shell of what he was by Parkinson's you were drawn to him.

At one point, though the media had been strictly warned to keep its distance, a young TV reporter actually cut the line to pose for a photo with Ali. It was an appalling breach of decorum and decency, some TV lacquerhead figuratively elbowing sick kids aside to get his moment with the Greatest. The rest of us were appropriately disgusted.

But some of us understood, deep down. It was, after all, Ali.

Float, butterfly. Float on forever.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Um, wrong city, dude

And now today's edition of Dumb Stuff Politicians Say, the latest in a long-running series, longer even than "Law&Order", which predates the John Quincy Adams administration.

It seems the Game Show Host was campaigning in the Bay Area yesterday, wearing his dopey red Made in China hat, and of course, being the Game Show Host, he did what the Blob has repeatedly said politicians should never, ever, ever to infinity do: Make an off-the-cuff comment about the local sports scene.

As the Blob has noted to infinity before, politicians don't know macaroni about sports. That's especially true of the Game Show Host, who decided some years ago he was going to use some of the millions his dad left  him to buy a football team, on account of he's one of those rich guys who thinks money makes him an instant expert on everything.

Well, we know what happened: Within a couple of years he spent not just his own team but an entire professional football league (the USFL) into oblivion. Nicely done.

So, the Game Show Host, like 99 percent of politicians, knows nothing about sports. Which means it probably wasn't a surprise that he told a crowd in San Jose he was going to wrap this up fast so all the basketball fans in attendance could get home and watch "San Francisco" play.

Only problem: The Golden State Warriors don't play in San Francisco. They play in Oakland.

Which is a different city, even if the geographically challenged tend to think of the two as one.


Thursday, June 2, 2016

Sorry about, you know, that

So Art Briles is the latest to come clean about that apparent serial sexual assault deal they had going on at Baylor University (paging "Law&Order: SVU" ... paging "Law&Order: SVU" ...). Except he didn't come clean.

No surprise there. Non-specific regret, it seems, is all the rage these days down in Waco.

It started with that Board of Regents report that began the cascade of resignations/demotions/demotions-that-became-resignations, and that was itself a masterpiece of non-specificity. Bad stuff happened, the report reported, but apparently no one was to blame for any of it. Names were not named. Responsible parties were not identified. The bad stuff that happened just happened organically, apparently, without anyone's actions or inactions either setting it in motion or contributing to it.

The report reported that at least one alleged victim was intimidated by university officials into remaining silent, but it didn't say who did the intimidating or how it happened. Who signed off on letting football staff members interview alleged victims? Who looked the other way when, how and under whose orders?

Beats them. But, you know, they're all sorry, real sorry.

Ousted BU president Ken Starr says he's real sorry, even as he declares women on the BU campus were safe, perfectly safe, because none of the alleged assaults happened on campus (even though a whole pile of them did). And now Briles, the deposed football coach, says he's real sorry, too, even though he can't get into any specifics about what exactly he's sorry about.

He is, he said in a statement, "contractually obligated to remain silent".

Which he probably is. And which everyone else probably is. And which probably was a factor in the maddening non-revelatory revelations included in the regents'  report.

Here's the thing about that: Without details, without specifics, everything -- from the report to the various apologies -- comes off smelling more like a coverup than a university trying to get right with God and the law.  Lots of culpa, no mea.

And no reason to believe anything has changed, no matter how much housecleaning Baylor does.

Mutually self-interested

Alabama football coach Nick Saban says this "isn't about" Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, says he doesn't care what Harbaugh thinks or tweets, says Harbaugh can go you-know-what up a long rope as far as he's concerned.

OK, OK. So he didn't actually say that last part.

The rest he did say, though, in this highly entertaining mini-spat between the two coaches over satellite camps -- aka, "opportunities to recruit without actually recruiting, thereby dodging the rules governing same." In other words, they're as unregulated as the AAU basketball swamp, and just as fertile ground for the sort of scuzzy back-room shenanigans that give the lie to the NCAA's claim it runs a clean show here, pure in thought and word and deed.

That, of course, is ridiculous. But you know what else is ridiculous?

Saban and Harbaugh both claiming this is all about the kids, albeit from opposite sides of the fence.

Harbaugh champions satellite camps, he says, because it gives more kids more opportunities to be seen, and therefore more opportunities to land a scholly. Saban decries them, he says, because he thinks their lack of regulation makes them a breeding ground for unscrupulous street agents and corner-cutting programs to exploit those same kids.

They may both be right. But that's not what this is about for either of them.

This is about self-interest pure and simple, and don't kid yourself that it isn't. Harbaugh likes the camps because it gives him entrĂ©e into the deep southern talent pool Alabama and other SEC schools have long regarded as a private fiefdom. And Saban dislikes them for the same reason.

In other words, this is about money: Bowl money, gate money, money to build ever-larger facilities to grow the gate money. Because college football at the level of the SEC and Big Ten isn't about dear old Whatsamatta U. It's about Where Can We Get Some, Too.

Big shocker there.       

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

LeBron's time

LeBron James probably didn't see it as him piling on himself. Someone asked a question, he answered it.

"We're better built to start the Finals than we were last year," LBJ said the other day. "Doesn't matter who it's against. I mean, that's not a headline. It's obvious."

He's right. It is obvious.

It's also why there's more pressure on him to deliver now than there's ever been.

That's saying something when the subject is LeBron, perhaps the most scrutinized/deconstructed/psychoanalyzed player in NBA history. He is at once the greatest player of his generation, and (to some) an abject failure. And if he fails again to win in the Finals that begin tomorrow night -- and his Cavaliers are heavy underdogs to the defending-champion, 73-win Warriors -- he'll have both damaged the first part of his reputation and solidified the second.

There'll be no other way to play it if he goes to 2-5 lifetime in NBA Finals. Even if only once in his six previous Finals appearances you can legitimately say he failed.

All the other times -- including last year, when LeBron took on the Warriors virtually by himself -- he lost because there was no realistic way he was going to win. Not true this time.

That's because, again, he's right: This team was not only built to win in the Finals, it was built specifically to beat the Warriors. It's a team that was deliberately constructed to match the Splash Brothers 3-pointer for 3-pointer. It was deliberately constructed to be athletic enough and quick enough to hang with Golden State for 48 minutes. And LeBron deliberately paced himself this year to arrive at the Finals with fresh legs.

With Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love both healthy this year, and Channing Frye added late in the season to fatten the Cavaliers' cache of outside shooters, it's almost impossible not to think that if LeBron is ever going to get it done in Cleveland, now's the time. The stars are absolutely aligned.

A few things about that:

1. The Warriors are still better, particularly on the defensive end on the floor. And the best defensive teams, historically, are the ones that win the titles.

2. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are still better than Kyrie and whomever in the backcourt.

3. The Warriors, if it comes to that, still get Game 7 in the Oracle, where they lost only once in the regular season.

And last but not least:

4.  In their one regular-season meeting, the Warriors crushed the Cavaliers by 34 in January.
The Cavaliers scoff at that last, saying they're not only a different team than they were a year ago, they're a different team than they were in January. They also go into the Finals knowing they pushed the Warriors to six games last year with LeBron and basically no one else. So they've got that going for them.


I think LeBron's right. But I also think nothing ever remains static anywhere, which means the Warriors aren't the team they were a year ago, either. They're better.

And so: Warriors in seven.

The Blob is now open for rebuttal and/or ridicule.