Friday, June 23, 2017

Hey, look! It's a draft!

The NBA draft was in Brooklyn last night, and, no, the Blob was not taken again for the 44th straight year. Apparently there is no market these days for a 6-foot-1 62-year-old whose jumper is more a hopper these days, and in any case departed the premises quite awhile ago.

Some other guys did get the call, though, and so here are a few brief thoughts on the whole business:

1. The Suns got a better pick at 4 than the Celtics did at 3.

This is because I like Josh Jackson of Kansas more than I do Jayson Tatum from Duke. Sorry. I just do.

2. The Trail Blazers had a hell of a draft.

They got, let's see, Justin Jackson from North Carolina, Harry Giles from Duke and Caleb Swanigan from Purdue.

That's a strong draft. It's especially strong when you consider how in love everyone was with Giles before he got hurt and lost some of his explosiveness. Word is that's coming back now. So maybe he winds up being the steal of this draft.

And Swanigan?

Poor man's Draymond Green on the top end, solid bench help on the bottom end. Think he'll be better than some draftniks project.

3. The "OG" in OG Anunoby stands for either "Oh, gee!" or "Oh. Gee."

Listen, NBA teams draft potential, and Anunoby is the gold-card example of that. Two seasons ago, when he was an understudy in the IU system, he came on like the next Victor Olapido. This past winter, as a far more prominent part of the equation, he wasn't remotely the same player -- even before he got hurt.

So the Raptors rolled the dice at 23 with him. Either he's the guy everyone saw in 2015-16, or he's the guy everyone saw last season. Time will tell.

4. Paul George is still a Pacer, and Jimmy Butler is not a Cav.

The Blob's response to the first: No, I don't know why.

The Blob's response to the second: The Timberwolves should send Dan Gilbert, the Cavs' idiot owner, a decorative fruit basket. With a card that reads, "Thanks, knucklehead, for getting rid of your GM while he was working on his own deal with Butler. We appreciate the gesture."

5. Watching LaVar Ball walk around New York running his mouth was, I can't help it, fun.

New Yorkers, generally immune to celebrity, were acting like a bunch of star-struck gomers from Keokuk -- stopping him on the street to say hi, shaking his hand, the whole bit. And of course LaVar was eating it up. If ever a city and a personality were made for each other ...

6.  The Celtics picked a guy named Bird. Naturally.

OK, so it wasn't Larry this time. It was Jabari Bird, a shooting guard from California. And Boston took him with its last pick in the second round.

Still.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Felony rooting

There are rules to this sports deal, you know.

If you live in Indiana, you can cheer for Purdue or you can cheer for Indiana, but you can't cheer for both unless you have kids going to both schools.

Also, even if you're not a Colts fan, at least don't be a jackass and root for the Patriots.

Also, do not -- DO NOT -- wear opposing team gear to an NFL game in Philadelphia, Oakland, New England, probably Cleveland and probably Pittsburgh (especially if you're wearing Browns gear in Pittsburgh or Steelers gear in Cleveland). This is especially true if you're sitting in the nosebleeds, aka, the People's Republic of Drunk.

Violating these rules could get you beat up. It could get beer thrown on you. It might even land you in jail if you get caught up in a drunken melee, which is sort of the unofficial national pastime in the aforementioned Republic of Drunk.

It's unlikely you'll go to prison for life, however.

This apparently can happen in India, it seems, if you get caught cheering for Pakistan's cricket team. (Yes, that's right, cricket. Wicked googlies, silly mid-offs, incomprehensible scoring. All that.) Fifteen people were arrested the other day in central Madhya Pradesh because they were cheering and throwing firecrackers to celebrate Pakistan's victory over India in the Champions Trophy cricket final. That this was largely a product of age-old religious strife -- the fans, like much of Pakistan itself, were Muslim, and the people who turned them in were, like much of India, Hindu -- doesn't change the fact they now face sedition and criminal conspiracy charges because they cheered for the wrong team.

This seems a tad over the top, to say the least. But again, we're not seeing it through the prism of people who've been at each other's throats over religion since the partitioning of India 70 years ago. Enough blood has been spilled since by both sides to render any appeal to rationality fruitless.

It does, however, give Americans who think we take sports too seriously some vital context.

I mean, come on. Joe Iggles Fan in Philly gets drunk and starts pounding on the poor dope in the Eli Manning jersey, he gets thrown in the slam to dry out, and maybe faces an assault beef. He doesn't get charged with sedition and criminal conspiracy.

Although the next time the USC band desecrates the Cathedral of Football -- aka Notre Dame Stadium -- with their annoying fight song, the many lawyers among the Domeheads might be tempted to give it a whirl.

Bleeping Trojans, anyway.

Today in decorum news

... the Blob presents Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who whizzed all over baseball's unwritten rules by lingering at homeplate to admire his three-run homer in an 8-2 victory over the Mets, who weren't happy with his breach of decorum.

Seems he "disrespected" the game and the Mets, according to first baseman Wilmer Flores.

The Blob has three reactions to that:

1. Waaaah.

2. If you don't want guys "disrespecting" the game on you, Wilmer, tell your pitcher to make a better throw next time.

3. Waaaah.

That is all.

Well, except for this: As the Blob has said before, those unwritten rules are unwritten for a reason.

'Cause they're dumb.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The NBA daft

And now for the Blob's latest wacky theory, one which will fit neatly alongside Tom Brady Is A Cyborg Sent From The Future By Skynet To Kill Us All, and Donald Trump Was Sent To Us After The Gods Got Drunk One Night And Said "Watch This!"

Today's theory is The NBA Draft Makes People Crazy.

Which is the only explanation that works for what's happening in Cleveland and New York this week, except that there's demonstrable evidence the two main players, Dan Gilbert and Phil Jackson, were already crazy. The upcoming draft, though, does seem to have led to elevated levels of crazy for both.

Let's take Gilbert first.

The Cleveland Cavaliers' owner had a perfectly good GM in David Griffin, one who's been around for the last three years, when the Cavs only made the NBA Finals three straight years and won a title last year. Plus, LeBron James likes the guy, and keeping LeBron happy would just seem to be smart business given that he's going to be a free agent next summer and will be wooed by practically everybody.

So what did Gilbert do, three days before draft?

He basically pushed Griffin out the door.

Griffin wanted more money and a contract extension, which he'd surely earned, but Gilbert has this weird thing about not extending his GM's contracts. He's never done it before, so why start now? So he said "No."

And Griffin resigned, quite understandably. And LeBron ain't happy about it. And now the Cavs go into the draft without a GM, and whatever shot they might have had at the Bulls' Jimmy Butler -- a deal Griffin was reportedly working on -- is in the wind.

Smooth move, Ex-Lax, as someone once said.

And speaking of smooth moves, let's move on to Phil Jackson, architect of the demolition site that is the New York Knicks. He's already done crazy stuff like re-sign Carmelo Anthony and then proceed to trash him at every opportunity. Now comes the news that the Knicks, though not actively looking to trade him, are listening to offers for 21-year-old phenom Kristaps Porzingis, a ridiculously skilled 7-foot-3 freak who's the future of the franchise.

Porzingis was already disgruntled by the circus Jackson has created in New York. Now he's sitting over there in Latvia reading that the Knicks are taking phone calls from other teams about him. How thrilled must he be about that?

One working theory here is that Jackson actually wants to get fired, and this is his Phil-like passive-aggressive way of making it happen. Maybe. But if he's that sick of the Knicks, why not just quit? He is, after all, deep into retirement age. So why play games? Why not just ride off into the sunset?

Only Phil knows. In any case ...

Smooth move. Part Deux.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Today in not-really-news

Funny thing about bombshells. Sometimes you drop 'em and they don't go off.

Sometimes you drop 'em and they just go poof, because they're not really bombshells, they're common knowledge dressed as bombshells. The metaphoric newsboy shouting "Extra, extra, read all about it!" loses his voice because we've already read all about it.

As in, "Extra, extra, existence of gravity confirmed!"

As in, "Extra, extra, dog eats child's homework!"

As in, "Extra, extra, Paul George decides to ditch Pacers!"

Because, come on, we all knew that was coming.

We all knew George was going to play out his deal and head elsewhere, preferably the Lakers because that's basically his hometown team. He wasn't popping up on the late-night shows out on the West Coast by accident, after all. And, really, what's he got to stay in Indianapolis for at this point, even if the Pacers were prepared to throw a significant pile of dough at him? The shrimp cocktail at St. Elmo's?

You can wish he'd stick around and be the centerpiece around which the Pacers build a contender, but he's already been there and done that in Indy. The Pacers did build a contender, but, like so much else in professional sports, it didn't last. For a myriad of reasons and circumstance -- not all of which was within the Pacers' control, because it never is -- they dismantled it. Or it got dismantled. Either way, it works out the same.

Which is, at the same time the Pacers were erasing the blackboard and starting over (or sort of starting over), George was emerging as a perennial All-Star and one of the game's most attractive two-way players. Last season he averaged 23.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.6 steals to help drag the Pacers into the playoffs; then, in the first-round loss to the Cavaliers, he stepped up his game the way superstars are supposed to, averaging 28 points, 8.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 1.8 steals.

And now he's going to leave for brighter lights, because that's what players in his position do. You can be angry at him for the timing of his announcement -- days before the NBA draft -- but not for the announcement itself.

Because, again, you knew it was coming. And because it's the way of things not just now but forever.

The talking heads can sound all the alarms they want about the NBA becoming a league where the superstars all gravitate to the big markets and most successful franchises, but in a sense that's always been the case. And it's not like there aren't stars in other markets just like there's always been.

Russell Westbrook is still in Oklahoma City. Anthony Davis is still in New Orleans. Bradley Beal and John Wall are still with the Wizards, Gordon Hayward's still with the Jazz, Damian Lillard's still with the Trail Blazers.

Sure, they may not be there forever. But that's been true since the advent of free agency. And when they go, other rising stars will emerge to take their place. Thus has it ever been.

Paul George dumping Indy for wherever?

No worries. The next Paul George is coming.

Things passed along

It is Father's Day, and so I will refrain from writing about LaVar Ball and all other Sports Dads From Hell. I'm sure they meant/mean well. I'm sure I am grateful every day I A) was lousy at pretty much everything that involved moving, and B) had a dad who didn't try to build an apparel line around me, didn't hog the spotlight on "my" behalf and didn't use me to vindicate his own pale athletic legacy.

No, sir. My dad -- an electrician by trade and skilled woodworker who, in his encore career as an employee of the Mackinac State Parks Commission, once oversaw the building of a barn using only 18th century tools -- taught me other things. The importance of doing things right. The value of keeping your word. A love of history that produced a confirmed Civil War nerd who now has a telling photo hanging in his office at Manchester University: Two ancient Gettysburg veterans, one Confederate and one Union, shaking hands over the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge.

Sports?

Weirdly, considering I grew up to be a sportswriter for 38 years, we never bonded over it the way some fathers and sons do. The pinnacle of my dad's Sports Dad history was watching his son get his butt kicked by a strong headwind running the 2-mile at Bishop Dwenger one day, and telling my mother (who was sure I was going to quit) that I wasn't going to quit.

And I didn't. They might have timed me that day with a sundial, but there was no way on God's green earth I was going to get beat by the bleeping WIND. Stupid Mother Nature.

It's a story I've told before, and it's one I told in detail here a year ago, Except for the part about the Cavs, the Warriors and Game 7 -- which the Cavs won, vindicating what a lot of Cleveland dads, and dads everywhere,  told their sons about never giving up -- everything I wrote then still applies.

Love you, Dad. Whatever small success I've had in my life, I owe to all those Dad lessons you taught me all those years ago. You're the best man I ever knew.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Wax on. Wax off. RIP.

And now, to honor the memory of John Avildsen, who directed "The Karate Kid" and "Rocky" and who just succumbed to cancer at 81, this.

Also this.

Also this.

May he eat lightning, crap thunder and nail The Crane for all eternity.



Friday, June 16, 2017

Punishment fazed

Here comes this photograph at you this morning, and there is something wrong with it. It's an eyeblink of time, captured during a news conference. It's the news conference in which the University of Louisville addressed the sanctions handed down against its basketball program by the NCAA, which some people seem to think were unduly harsh and a lot of other people seem to think was an appropriate  hammerstroke.

In the photo, left to right, basketball coach Rick Pitino, interim president Dr. Greg Postel and athletic director Tom Jurich are sitting at a table.

What's wrong with it is not their posture or their expression or their aspect.

It's that Pitino is in it at all.

In a world that makes sense, Pitino wouldn't be in that photo, because Louisville would have fired him by now. And the reason it would have fired him is he presided over a program that turned an athletic dorm into a de facto whorehouse that serviced its basketball players, some of whom were underage.

And yet, there Rick Pitino still sits.

And, yes, sure, the NCAA landed on Louisville with both booted feet. It handed Pitino a five-game suspension, and it stripped the Cardinals of their 2013 national title, an unprecedented event. The NCAA has never before vacated a national title.

Of course, it's never before had a school come before it that was offering sex for sale in its basketball facility.

And yet ... there Rick Pitino sits.

The notion that what was going on at Louisville was going on without his knowledge has been his saving grace, but it is a notion reserved for those who believe in fairy dust and unicorns. That the head basketball coach would not have at least an inkling that hookers were plying their trade right under his nose, in a building he frequented, strains credulity to the breaking point. There is no plausible deniability here -- although the Blob can say from personal experience that Pitino can be very convincing when it comes to denying stuff.

(Fort Wayne ... 1996 ... Pitino at a book-signing looking a certain reporter dead in the eye and denying he was leaving Kentucky for the Boston Celtics. The next day, he left Kentucky for the Boston Celtics.)

And yet ...

There Rick Pitino sits.

The architect of that national title.

The man who, because of that, has made the Louisville athletic program goo-gobs of money.

The man who is still employed today.

You connect the dots.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The hype of the century

So Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor are going to throw down in a boxing ring come August, and let the carnival barking begin. Two champions! Two disciplines! Two, two, two mints in one!

Or, you know, something like that.

Americans love their bread and circuses, and this one will be doughier and more circus-y than most. Certainly the dough part is going to live up to the billing; a circus like this could not happen unless liberally greased with wads of cash, and this one will be. It will be McGregor's greatest payday by a factor of ten or so (because boxing, eclipsed these days by McGregor's MMA, still commands the big money), and a gold mine for Vegas, which will make piles of greenery from the easy marks who bet on these sorts of spectacles.

And it will be a spectacle. If not much else.

When the news came down this deal was done, see, the Blob didn't see it as Two Mints In One. It saw Bobby Riggs instead. It saw Evel Knievel at Snake River Canyon. It saw a gladiator doing battle with a tiger in the Colosseum, to go back to the original bread and circus.

Like all of the above, Mayweather-McGregor is a novelty act, not an authentic athletic contest. To imagine that McGregor, a non-boxer, is going to somehow beat the greatest pound-for-pound boxer in the world in a boxing match is like imagining unicorns are real. If he can't tackle Mayweather and slap a submission hold on him, what chance does he really have?

Sure, he can throw a punch, which gives him a puncher's chance. So maybe he gets in the one-in-a-million lucky shot. But when he doesn't, and he punches himself out in the first couple of rounds, what happens next?

The glorified street fighting that is MMA won't be much good to him then.

And so this likely will be the Battle of the Sexes all over again, or Evel jumping that canyon. No serious tennis aficionado ever believed tired old Bobby Riggs was going to beat Billie Jean King in her prime, and so of course she dispatched him easily in straight sets. And Evel went up and came right back down. He got no closer to the other side of the Snake River than a well-thrown rock.

McGregor can only hope he gets as close to beating Mayweather in a legitimate boxing match. But we'll watch, just as we watched Evel and Billie Jean.

And why is that?

Because P.T. Barnum was right.

There's a you-know-what born every minute.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A fescue kerfuffle

It's U.S. Open time again, and so let us restate its essential truth: The Geneva Convention does not apply.

Which is to say, torture is perfectly legal there, and the USGA, which runs the event, is a willing and (some would say) sadistic participant. Every year it tricks up its Open courses -- a landmine or two here, a few rolls of barbed wire there -- to the point where the best golfers in the world frequently wind up looking like a bunch of weekend hackers, only with better wardrobes.

This is apparently the desired goal, for reasons that elude explanation. The Blob puts it down to the general weirdness of golf in, um, general.

Which brings us to Erin Hills in Wisconsin, where the 2017 U.S. Open tees off tomorrow. Apparently the rough is extremely rough there, and extremely  long, and pretty much all over the golf course. It's also composed of a wispy grass called fescue that tends to lie flat when it gets extremely long, which means if your golf ball sails into it -- and it will, because, again, it's pretty much everywhere -- you'll play hell finding it. As PGA golfer Kevin Na demonstrated earlier this week.

Even by U.S. Open standards (remember: landmines, barbed wire), it's apparently beyond ridiculous. And so the sadists at the USGA actually relented and had it cut down a tad. This apparently worked up a few old-school golfer types, who grumbled that today's golfers are a bunch of crybabies who, if they don't want to deal with the fescue, should just hit the ball straighter.

That's true, of course.

But so is something else.

Does the USGA really think U.S. Open viewers want to watch guys thrashing about in the fescue looking for their balls for four days like Stanley thrashing about in the jungle looking for Livingston?

Maybe there's some universe I'm not aware of, but the USGA is, where the average golf fan would rave about Rory McIlroy or Dustin Johnson shooting 72-73-72-73. Maybe the USGA thinks we'll all be talking forever about that memorable minus-1 Buddy Bill Logo Cap put up to win the U.S. Open in Twenty Something Something. An outbreak of 65s or 66s? Who wants to see that?

Other than pretty much everybody, that is?

Look. I can't speak for Joe Average Golf Fan. But if I want to watch some guy shoot  74 and lose a pile of golf balls, I'll just go to any local muni track on any random Saturday morning. Sorry if I expect a little more when I tune in one of the four majors.

After all, I can go out in my backyard and weed-whack anytime. I don't need to spend four days watching Charl Schwartzel do it. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Golden era

So go ahead, hate on Kevin Durant this morning. Heap scorn upon the Golden State Warriors. Grind your molars and declare you are sick to death of them, that "superteams" are bad for the sport, that parity makes everything better because it gives more teams a clear and realistic chance to lay hands on the big trophy.

Now take a deep breath, and answer this question.

Who won the NBA title in 2004?

Unless you are a dedicated NBA nerd or hail from Detroit, you're probably drawing a blank. That's because the Pistons won that year, and only dedicated NBA nerds and people from Detroit can name more than three players from that team on a bet. And that's because they were no superteam, but a forgettable bunch that won 54 games in the regular season, were coached by Larry Brown and were led by Rasheed Wallace, Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups.

And, yes, I had to look all that up.

But these Warriors?

Thirteen years from now, I will not have to look up the fact they were led by Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. This is because they are led by Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. It is also because they won 73 games last year, and have won two of the last three NBA titles, and are a budding dynasty doubly blessed because they have, in LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the perfect foil all budding dynasties need to be truly memorable.

Bad for the sport?

Wrong. Great for the sport.

Twenty years from now, we'll look back on these Warriors the way we look at the Russell Celtics, the Bird Celtics, the Magic Lakers, the Jordan Bulls. We'll see this era as one of the more memorable eras in NBA history. No one will be fretting that there wasn't enough competitive balance, because no one was fretting about it when the Russell Celtics were winning 10 NBA titles and playing the Lakers in the finals in seven of those years in the '50s and '60s.

No. Instead, people were tuning in to see if this was the year West and Baylor finally got Russell 'n' them. Just as people tuned in this year to see who would win the rubber match between the Warriors and Cavs.

Bad for the sport?

So why was this the most anticipated NBA Finals in recent memory?

And why, moving forward, will we be waiting eagerly to see if the Cavs can even the score again next year, or if someone else rises up in the East to challenge the champs, or if the Spurs can re-tool and knock them off in the West?

The bare-wood truth is, superteams have always defined the greatest eras in any sport, because they evoke the sort of passion parity never will. When the Yankees were winning nine World Series and 14 of 16 American League pennants in the '50s and '60s, no one was abandoning baseball. They were tuning into the World Series to see if the Dodgers could finally beat those bleeping pinstriped devils, or if the Giants could, or if the Braves could.

Would that have been true if those Yankees weren't winning all those pennants and World Series? If parity existed, and a different pair of 88-win baseball teams were playing in the Series every year, would the general public have cared so much?

Of course not. Just as the general public wouldn't have cared so much had a couple of 54-win NBA teams squared off in the Finals.

Yes, that might have indicated there was more parity in the league. And the Finals might have gone seven games. And the first-round series might have been more competitive.

And we all would have yawned.

Because, frankly, no one cares if a first-round series is competitive. No one cares if a series goes seven games if, like those 2004 Pistons, it's two eminently forgettable teams playing.

No. What we want, as fans, are immortals. What we want, whether we want to admit it or not, is Warriors-Cavs IV.

Grind those molars all you want.    

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The most awesome quote maybe ever

So now that the Golden State Warriors are on the verge of winning their second title in three years, maybe going 16-1 in the playoffs on the way, a lot of old walked-to-school-ten-miles-uphill-both-ways guys are saying they really aren't that good, that their teams could have beaten these Warriors.

Magic has said it about his 1980s Lakers. Julius Erving has said it about his 1983 Sixers. A lot of people, notable and otherwise, have said it about the Michael Jordan Bulls of 20 years ago.

Know what Warriors' coach Steve Kerr's response was to that?

Only tremendous.

They're right, Kerr told  NBA.com the other day.

"They would all kill us," he said, masterfully maintaining a straight face. "The game gets worse as time goes on. Players are less talented than they used to be. The guys in the '50s would've destroyed everybody. Its weird how human evolution goes in reverse in sports. Players get weaker, smaller, less skilled. I don't know. I can't explain it."

Now that, folks, is some nuclear-option snark right there.

Well played, Coach. Well played, indeed.

Glory's sorrow

My two kids graduated from two different high schools this weekend, 16 1/2 hours apart, and so there was joy and laughter and a houseful of friends and family in our small corner of the earth. There were balloons and gifts and old-guy talk on the back deck about what meds we were on (thanks, cousin Mike, for that hilarious observation), and of course, you know, cake.

There was also much time-worn talk about the future and the boundless possibilities it could hold, and how on this day every new crop of bright hopes sees their lives spread out before them like a limitless feast.

And here is where the Blob takes you somewhere else today.

Here, against that giddy backdrop, is where it takes you to a darker place, a place where that limitless feast sometimes finds the saddest of limits. That place this past week was in a logjam in the Maumee River. That's where they found James Hardy's body, and where his future stopped in the most heartbreaking way possible.

An audible gasp rose up around the city when the body pulled from the river was identified as Hardy, because the world of games confers an outsized notoriety in our society, and Hardy's was more outsized than most. A transcendent two-sport athlete, one of the best ever produced in this town, he took Elmhurst High School to the state finals as a basketball player, finished runnerup as Mr. Basketball, and left as the city's alltime leading scorer.

And as a football player?

Everyone wanted him. Everyone.

He was a 6-foot-7 wide receiver with speed and hands and crazy athleticism, and so the colleges beat a path to his door even though Elmhurst was the polar opposite of a football power. Indiana eventually got him, and Hardy rewarded the Hoosiers by writing his name all over Indiana's record book as one of the nation's top receivers.

And again, everyone wanted him.

And again, everyone regarded him as a singular talent, a can't-miss prospect, a young man who seemed a mortal lock to add to Fort Wayne's already rich pro football lineage.

And then ...

And then he missed.

The Buffalo Bills took him in the second round, and he played a little for them, and then he got hurt. And then, suddenly, his football career -- this day in the sun that once seemed it would never end -- was over.

His time as Fort Wayne's alltime leading scorer in basketball lasted only six years before Deshaun Thomas came along and supplanted him. Other receivers came along at IU to put their names alongside his. Even his high school became a memory when Fort Wayne Community Schools closed Elmhurst.

It must have seemed as if he were being erased, slowly but surely. Or some in Hardy's position might have thought.

Whether Hardy himself ever thought that is, of course, mere speculation. It leads to further speculation, and further speculation beyond that, and it ends with us making all sorts of assumptions about how James Hardy wound up in that river. The Blob will not play that game. It is unfair to Hardy and unfair to those who loved him and who survive him.

And so all I'll say is that, at 31, how James Hardy's life ended was a damn shame. Every life that ends too soon is that, of course, but when you are an athletic god in America and you wind up in a logjam in some rain-swollen stream, the loss is magnified. It is the classic Greek tragedy of a man who never knew defeat losing everything because of either human frailty, or the cosmic inevitability of Stuff Happens.

Stuff happened to James Hardy, athletic god. Stuff that should never happen to either gods or mortals. Stuff that in fact happens too often in a world that seems to take cruel delight in pulling down those who shine too brightly for too long.

A damn shame. Such a damn shame.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A really brief thought on Game 4

Because I don't have a lot of time today.

But Cavs 137, Warriors 116 does merit a comment.

The comment is about how much the Blob hugely enjoys prisoner-of-the-moment memes like the one we've been hearing this week, which is that "the torch has been passed" from LeBron James to Kevin Durant as the best basketball player on the planet. 

The comment is this: Stop it, fools. You're killin' me.

I mean, seriously. Three basketball games go the Warriors' way simply because they're a better team, so Kevin Durant is now the best player in the game? Even though LeBron averaged a triple-double in those three games?

Stop it, fools.

Because what do you say now that the Cavs crushed it in Game 4 and LeBron put up another trip-dub?

Um, remember all that stuff we said about KD surpassing LeBron because KD didn't pass to a WIDE OPEN Kyle Korver in the fourth quarter like LeBron did the other night, proving ... uh, proving ... oh, I don't remember, exactly ...

Never mind.

Stop it, fools. Just stop it.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Exit strategy

Bob Stoops walked away on his own hook, healthy, still young, with a legacy that rings to the touch at a school whose football history rings to the touch.

Thad Matta was fired, abruptly and oddly, at a school whose basketball legacy also rings to the touch, and to which Matta added very few discordant notes.

Two coaching icons, two very different final acts. And yet in their way they both speak volumes about high-dollar college athletics and the forces that rule them here in the second decade of the 21st century.

That college football and basketball on the Power 5 level operate independently of  the academic institutions they allegedly represent is below-the-fold news now, a fact of nature as irrefutable as gravity or the orientation of the morning sun. They are purely corporate entities, their construct as industrial as an auto plant except for the fiction that their workforce is not really a workforce. It is, and the demands on the coaches who oversee it are indistinguishable from the demands placed on the CEO of General Motors: Generate revenue or else.

And so Matta, the winningest basketball coach in school history, is out at Ohio State. His firing this week was bizarre for its timing and remarkable for its clumsiness; athletic director Gene Smith botched this as badly as you can botch a thing. After telling Matta he was good to go in March, he suddenly decided in June that Matta had to go after two more players bailed on the program.

They weren't the first to leave or de-commit on Matta recently. Yet three months ago this apparently wasn't an issue, nor was the fact Ohio State had just had a rare losing season under Matta. But now, at the worst possible time to do so, Smith changed his mind.

Part of this might have had to do with Matta's health issues, a bad back and a nerve issue with one of his feet -- stark evidence at how physically ruinous are the day-in, day-out demands on a Power 5 head coach. But part of it, clearly, was the perception that the Ohio State program was beginning to fray around the edges.

A fraying program, eventually, is a revenue-losing program. And so out Matta went.

And Stoops?

His exit was dramatically different, and yet it also illustrated the priorities that dictate corporate college athletics. At 56, Stoops got out before the mental and physical toll caught up with him, and also because his successor, 33-year-old offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, was well in place. Whether he also decided, with the future of the program secure, to jump before he was pushed is rank conjecture. But no one who's been around the culture as long as Stoops has could fail to understand how quickly precarious a coach's circumstance can get -- even the winningest football coach in the history of a school with Oklahoma's rich football tradition.

And so if that was a consideration, it's understandable. Certainly it is for me. In an admittedly much smaller universe, I left daily sportswriting when I was 59 years old. I'd been doing it for 38 years, and mainly I just decided it was time to do something different. But part of me also understood I was working in a struggling profession that increasingly was eating its most experienced people.  In short, I was as expendable as I'd ever been.

And so, like Stoops, I jumped before I was pushed. I didn't consciously think of it that way at the time. The notion that's what I accidentally might have done came later.

In any case, the point pertains: In corporate college athletics, you're as valuable as your last win.

Or your last recruiting class. Or the last tallying of gate receipts. Or the last alumni phone call to the AD. And so on, and so on.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Hooligans to the rescue

Forget Glorious Leader and his cherished travel ban, which would only make us more intolerant and (for a certain segment of society) less free, but no safer.  The obvious solution to combating international terror is right here.

Sure, English soccer hooligans are largely just drunken louts with liver transplants in their futures. But when gibbering lunatics try to burn down civilization itself, who better to deal with the ensuing chaos than a bunch of boozed-up mayhem junkies who mainline chaos?

Money line here: "I'd had four or five pints, nothing major."

Hell, yeah!    

So you say there's still a chance

I suppose the Desperately Seeking A Series crowd could be right.  If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a merry Game 7, or something like that.

You know, the Cavaliers were down 2-0 last year, too ...

LeBron, Kyrie and K-Love are showing up. All the Cavs need is for Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith to do ANYTHING ...

... and they will, because those guys always play better at home ...

... so this could easily be 2-2 going back to Cali ...

OK. Stop. Enough.

I don't care if the Cavs were down 2-0 going to Cleveland last year, too.

I don't care if Tristan and J.R. can't possibly be as invisible at home as they were on the road.

I don't even care if the Cavs win Game 3 tonight, which I fully expect them to do, because that's how these things tend to go.

The Warriors are still going to win this, and easier than anyone who cares about the NBA would like. They're going to do that because they have Kevin Durant now on top of Steph and Draymond and everyone they had last year, and the Cavaliers have essentially the same guys, minus a transcendent add-on like KD.

KD makes everyone else on the Warriors even deadlier than they already were, because he's this huge presence you have to account for on both ends while you're still trying to account for Steph 'n' them. The Cavaliers, no stellar defensive team anyway, can't do it. Hell, they barely beat this team when it didn't have Kevin Durant. How are they going to do it now? And especially when Durant is so clearly in full beast mode?

The first two games pretty much answered that. They're not.

A disturbing factoid, if you're Cleveland: The Cavaliers lost by 22 and 19 in Games 1 and 2, even though LeBron averaged a triple-double. And even though Kyrie averaged 21.5 points and 4.5 assists. And even though Kevin Love averaged 21 points and 14 rebounds.

In other words, the Big Three did what the Big Three are supposed to do. And they still got smoked.

So, yeah, OK.  Maybe there's still a chance this could turn into a series.

But unless Draymond Green gets suspended again, or gamblers kidnap KD?

I doubt it.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Dumb People Do Dumb Stuff. Film at 11

And now this from the great and apparently dopey state of Nebraska, where a bunch of youth soccer ninnies just proved that, if it's true there are lies and also damn lies, there is stupidity and also damn stupidity.

The latter applying here most liberally, of course.

Bad enough that an 8-year-old girl would be banned from a girls soccer tournament because officials claimed she "looked like a boy". That's a decision none of the perpetrators could possibly explain without sounding like drunks on a bender, or perhaps Glorious Leader at his 3 a.m. looniest. It's an injustice that defies any explanation, rational or otherwise -- especially when the father of the girl in question, Milli Hernandez, presented her insurance card as proof.

But in a world where young girls' images of themselves are under constant attack from any number of angles, punishing her because she "looked like a boy" is as scarring as it gets. Like she's not going to be subjected to body shaming already by the fashion world's bizarre notion of what the ideal woman should look like, or subjected to other indignities down the road by those who have a certain concept of a woman's role in society. Now some grownups who should know better question her very gender?

Especially when, as it turns out, the kid was one of the best players on her team?

Not much of a stretch to think "looked like a boy" in this case was code for "played too much like a boy." Because, you know, they're just girls.

Yeesh. What is this, the 1950s?

Because, listen, telling an 8-year-old girl who wears her hair short she looks like a boy is the kind of juvenile thing 8-year-old boys say on the playground. It's not what alleged grownups say -- especially not in 2017, and especially when the alleged grownups have been put in charge of overseeing girls sports.

Saying shame on them seems tame. But it's the best the Blob can do and still remain a PG Blob.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Priority One

So maybe your first instinct is to look at it cynically, because this is what we do now in America. Phil Mickelson giving the U.S. Open a miss to attend his daughter's high school graduation?

Why, that's just Phil's way of saying, "Ah, screw it. I never win that thing anyway."

Which is true, because he never has. But please, people. Please. Put your cynicism back in its vat of acid for a minute. Assume this isn't about Lefty and golf, but about his daughter, and life. Assume this is the father vetoing the golfer, which is exactly the way it should be if you're living a life that halfway has a sense of proportion to it.

And as for the U.S. Open ... well, if you don't want guys like Lefty skipping to attend their kids' graduations, don't schedule it during graduation season.

Which is pretty much how I feel about the folks running the Indiana-Kentucky All-Star game right now.

Once upon a time, when it actually mattered, they wisely played it the last week or so of June. Then they got dumb about it and scheduled it for this weekend, when half the high schools in Indiana are conducting graduation.

I know. We've got two kids graduating this weekend ourselves, from different schools. Don't ask. It's too long a story, and not nearly as dramatic as you're probably imagining.

Anyway, a couple of local Indiana All-Stars, Jaylen Butz of North Side and Malik Williams of Snider, are giving the actual games a miss, and graduation was listed as one of the reasons. The others are about getting themselves ready for college -- completely understandable, because at Manchester University, where I work, we've already begun the freshman orientation process. And I suspect we're not alone.

And so, good for Butz and Williams for having their priorities straight. Yes, it's an honor to be named to the Indiana All-Stars, and it's an honor to uphold the honor of Indiana against Kentucky, and blah-blah-blah. But there are things more important, especially in 2017.

That's because the idea that Indiana and Kentucky were somehow playing for bragging rights in the All-Star series long ago went the way of laces on basketballs. You might as well lobby to bring back the peach baskets if you're still banging on that drum.

Truth is, Kentucky hasn't cared about this series in 30 years. Truth is, nobody really cares about it anymore. In fact I'm more than a little surprised they're still playing it.

So skipping the games for yours or your friends' high school graduation, or to make sure you're as prepared as possible for college?

That doesn't sound like anyone dissing a proud tradition to me.

It sounds like being a grownup.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Right feat, wrong stage

Albert Pujols hit a grand slam for his 600th career home run last night, and the sound of crickets was loose upon the land.

You might have heard about it. I might have heard about it. But the guy down the street?

He was watching the Predators lump up the Penguins in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.

So why the comparative lack of hoo-ha and hullabaloo over Pujols' feat?

The Blob has a theory. Actually two.

One, 600 is still a milestone, but it's no longer a Milestone. Once upon a time, you could count the number of players who'd hit 600 home runs on one hand; now it takes two. Pujols is the ninth player in baseball history to reach 600. If baseball worships at the altar of its numbers, that's the relevant number here.

And the other theory?

He did it in the wrong uniform.

If Pujols were still wearing Cardinals' colors, see, the city of St. Louis would have been turning itself inside out in celebration of all things 600. This is because St. Louis, as it obsessively and pain-in-the-ass-edly reminds us, is one America's great baseball cities.  So Pujols closing in on 600 would have been a huge, stop-traffic kind of deal.

But Pujols chose money over substance when he signed with the Angels, and last night we saw the cost. The Angels, after all, are no one's idea of an iconic baseball franchise. Their fan base hardly counts as one when compared to that of the Cardinals. And their place in the universe of baseball, consequently, is pretty much no place at all -- even in California.

The Angels, after all, aren't the Dodgers or the Giants. They're just the Angels.

So, yes, of course, Pujols would have gotten goo-gobs more pub for No. 600 if he were still in St. Louis. His paycheck got fatter when he went to the Angels, but the tradeoff was to vanish almost completely from the national radar. Seriously, when was the last time you thought about Albert Pujols? How many of you were even aware he was still playing? And do you think that would be the case if he were still a Cardinal?

Of course it wouldn't.

And so congratulations on No. 600, Albert. Too bad its sense of occasion went flying off with the Angels.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Spell check

Look, I have no particular issue with the Scripps National Spelling Bee, or even that it gets the full-body ESPN treatment is if it were a major sporting event, which it isn't.

ESPN has tried to sell non-sports as sports before, like when it tried to push high-stakes poker on us. High-stakes poker is no more a sport than high-stakes Monopoly, and it's a boring watch besides. How long can you watch four guys in sunglasses sitting motionless with a fan of cards in their mitts before you nod off?

Much more intriguing is the spelling bee, which is not a sport either but at least contains moments of high drama. What completely made-up word will trip up the plucky upstart from Groin Pull, South Dakota?  What other completely made-up word will carry the unflappable 12-year-old to victory over her equally unflappable opponent?

In this case, that would be Ananya Vinay, who outlasted Rohan Rajeev to win the 90th running of the Bee. Vinay won by correctly spelling "gifblaar" and "marocain" after Rajeev stubbed his toe on "marram." All of these were alleged actual words. The Blob maintains they were either Klingonese or Rigelian, which technically should have disqualified them on account of the Bee is supposed to be confined to Earth words only.

And, yes, OK, so "gifblaar" supposedly is the name for a poisonous shrub of southern Africa, and "marocain" is a type of dress fabric. Whatever. I heard Worf bellow "Gifblaar!" on too many episodes of TNG to buy those groceries.

"Marram," on the other hand, is something I heard some drunk guy in a bar say when he was addressing an elderly lady who'd dropped her purse. Uh, marram, I b'lieve this yer pursh.

Bee officials, however, insist it actually means "a kind of beach grass."

Yeah, OK. You go with that.

Friday, June 2, 2017

It's over! OK, so not over!

And now a few brief thoughts on Game 1 of the NBA Finals, which is not exactly what we all hoped Game 1 of this particular NBA Finals would look like:

1. It's Game 1.

2. With all the talk about how motivated LeBron James is to secure his legacy for good and all, we kinda all forgot about how motivated Kevin Durant is.

3. It's Game 1.

4. Kevin Durant is a lot better than Harrison Barnes was last year for the Warriors. This does not bode well for the Cavaliers, who had to come from 3-1 back last year to beat, among others, Harrison Barnes. But not Kevin Durant.

5. It's Game 1.

6. LeBron James (28 points) showed up. Kyrie Irving (24) showed up. Kevin Love (15 points, 21 rebounds) showed up. And still the Cavs lost by 22, because, you know, Kevin Durant.

7. It's Game 1.

8. Kevin Durant.

9. It's Game 1.

10. Kevin. Durant.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Your mascot moment for today

And now, because the Blob is a confirmed mascot appreciation zone ... it's Mascots Gone Wild!

Or, in this case, Mascot Gone Wild.

And not exactly wild, but you know, kind of inappropriate, because mascots exist in this world to bring joy and fun to our world of games, and to commune with the fans, especially kids.

Dropping the bird on them probably doesn't count as "communing."

Shame on you, Mr. Met. You have violated the prime directive of the Mascot Code.

Plus your head looks really big and stupid.

Update: The Mets have fired Mr. Met. It's the end of an era.

Final(s) argument

It's a shame what's happened to the NBA. All the teams stink except two (or maybe three or four). There's no, zero, nada competitive balance. Every year, almost, it's the same two teams in the Finals.

I mean, come on. Who isn't sick to death of the Lakers and the Celtics?

Oh, wait. You thought I was talking about the Cavs and the Warriors?

Silly you. I wasn't talking about LeBron and Kyrie vs. Steph and KD 'n' them. I was talking about West and Baylor vs. Russell and Havlicek 'n' them. They met in the Finals seven times between 1959 and 1969. The Celtics won 10 titles in that time. Everyone pretty much agrees it was one of the worst eras in NBA history.

OK, OK. So it was actually one of the storied eras in NBA history.

Which brings us to tonight, and Game 1 of Cavs-Warriors III. It comes against the backdrop of a lot of griping that the NBA's "competitive balance" is gone because of all those first-round blowouts. And we all know how important first-round playoff series are to the health of your league.

OK, OK.

So no one knows how important they are.  That's because they're not. No one cares about the first round of the NBA playoffs. No one.

What they care about are the Finals, and by that measure, the NBA is in fine fettle. No one, after all, is sick to death of the Cavs and Warriors. To the contrary, we can't wait for it. We've been talking about it for a week (or weeks, or months).  The biggest names in basketball are colliding on the loftiest stage for the third straight time. At stake are reputations, legacies, the upper hand in the most compelling NBA rivalry since the Bird Celtics and the Magic Lakers in the 1980s.

Yet we're supposed to judge the health of the NBA by who beats whom, and by how much, in the preliminary rounds?

It's like judging the Thrilla in Manila by the undercard. It's like lamenting the state of women's tennis because Chrissie and Martina crushed everyone on the way to yet another epic Wimbledon final.

Yes, the Warriors are hogging all the stars. Yes, the Cavs are hogging the stars the Warriors didn't hog.  So what? When, in every legendary rivalry, has that not been true?

Truth is, what we're living in now is one of the great eras in NBA history. That's because, as in every great era in every sport, a transcendent team has found its perfect transcendent foil.

For the Warriors, that's the Cavs. Or for the Cavs, that's the Warriors.

Either way, it's glorious. And rare.

Enjoy it.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Proportional response

Faithful reader(s) of the Blob know its position on baseball's unwritten rules, because it's written about them on more than one occasion.

Basically, they're unwritten for a reason. Because they're stooo-pid.

Which brings us to that little dust-up between the Nats' Bryce Harper and Giants reliever Hunter Strickland, and the ensuing punishment meted out by Major League Baseball.

What happened, if you haven't seen it, is Strickland threw a baseball at considerable velocity at Harper, hitting him in the body. Harper, God love him, took exception. He rushed the mound, flinging his batting helmet aside like a hockey player dropping the gloves. Punches were exchanged, and Harper tagged Strickland in the schnozz with what looked to be a decent straight right.

Then of course the benches emptied, because that's they do in baseball. I know, it's weird. But baseball's a weird game sometimes. See: unwritten rules.

The unwritten rules dictate that if a guy has the effrontery to take you deep, and then isn't properly deferential about it, the pitcher has every right to retaliate by doing what Strickland did. It is, again, stooo-pid. Not to mention potentially lethal.

I don't know if this is why MLB tagged Strickland with a six-game suspension and Harper with just a four-game sitdown. But I applaud it, because finally baseball handed down a proportional punishment in one of these situations -- even though you wonder if Strickland would have been suspended at all had Harper not charged the mound.

(By the way, didn't you love Giants' catcher Buster Posey's response? He basically whizzed all over the unwritten rules by simply choosing to spectate. It was as if he were telling Strickland "Hey, you threw at the guy, you deal with it." Because why should Posey risk injury because his pitcher wants to be stooo-pid?)

My guess is Strickland wouldn't have been suspended at all, because, again, baseball is weird that way. It'll watch a pitcher throw a 98-mph fastball at a guy's head and give him a nominal suspension. But if a batter retaliated by returning fire with his bat? He'd be Charles Manson.

You don't just throw your bat at a guy in baseball. Somebody could get seriously hurt, after all.

Here's the great part about what happened the other day: The fact that it was Harper. See, he's been exceptionally vocal about the need for baseball to break with its unwritten rules. If he hits a home run, Harper says, damn straight he's going to dance around the bases and celebrate. If you don't like it, throw a better pitch next time -- and if you do, and you strike him out, Harper will be the first one to applaud you.

I like that attitude.

Now if we can just get everyone else in the game to like it, too.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A worthy winner

Some day not long from now, the sculptor will go to work on the Borg-Warner Trophy. A new likeness will be added to it. It will be unlike any likeness added to it before in 101 years.

That's because, to start with, Takuma Sato is one hell of a race car driver. Better than you knew, probably, because he never had the ride before to make you notice just how good he is.

Now he's an Indianapolis 500 winner. He's also Japanese, which is why his likeness will be unlike any other that's ever gone on the Borg-Warner.

No Japanese has ever won the 500, until now. No Asian ever has. Most people think that's an historic deal but not necessarily a big deal, because most people realize the Indianapolis 500 has always been an international event -- drivers from 10 nations outside the U.S. have won it over the years -- and because the world we live in today is a global village.

Notice I said "most people."

A few others, however, are still trying to get their arms around the fact that a Japanese won the 500. On Memorial Day weekend. As if this were still 1945 and not 2017. As if the world as it was then still existed -- even if though it hasn't for decades and never will again.

And so here was a columnist from the Denver Post, tweeting he had a problem with a Japanese driver winning the 500, then trying to defend his racist impulse by saying it was because his father was a World War II veteran. And here were various other people saying they had an issue with Sato displaying the Japanese flag on his post-race ride-around.

Of the first, the Blob would say the columnist doesn't get to use his father's service as an excuse to feel uneasy about the Japanese. Only his father has earned that right, even if it's inexplicable to most of us. Sadly, this what war does, particularly one as brutal as the Pacific war. It leaves scars you can't see and that no amount of time can heal. And it turns otherwise fair-minded men against one another forever, unless they are extraordinarily lucky.

And as for Sato displaying the Japanese flag on his ride-around?

Well, why wouldn't he? He's a proud citizen of Japan, and he'd just done something no other of his countrymen had ever done. Maybe the current fever that infects our body politic has made us blind to it, but patriotism is not a wholly owned American subsidiary. Other peoples in other countries get to be patriotic, too.

And to be thrilled to win the most celebrated event in their chosen profession.

That's the great irony of this, you see. If a few in America looked at Sato and saw him winning the 500 through some jingoist's prism, they missed the essential point: That the Japanese man understood the significance of the American event he'd won as well as anyone ever has.

It started with him screaming into the radio as the checkers fell, and continued in Victory Lane, where he was so delirious with joy that when he tried to dump the bottle of milk over his head, he missed and dumped most of it squarely in his face. It was a stark contrast from last year, when the American who won, Alexander Rossi, seemed almost at a loss for how he was supposed to react.

But then, Rossi grew up chasing a Formula One career in Europe, where the Indianapolis 500 was mostly a distant echo. Sato, on the other hand, had been trying to win the 500 for eight years and understood what a pinnacle it represented.  The Japanese guy, in other words, got it more than the American guy did.

"It's such a privilege to win here," Sato said Sunday. "So whether it was the first attempt or eighth attempt or you had a drama in the past, it doesn't really matter. You're winning today. It's just superb."

No matter where you're from.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The changelessness of Indy

INDIANAPOLIS -- And greetings, Blobophile(s), from Race Day, where light is just starting to bleed into the sky off to the east, and there is hot coffee at my elbow, and, yes, I am at the track already, six hours before Gentlemen And Lady, Start Your Engines.

It's an Indy thing. Or at least a Me thing, Indy version. You wouldn't understand.

Anyway ... on to other matters.

Which is to say, I forgive Lewis Hamilton.

I forgive the British Formula One driver for what he told a London newspaper the other day. I forgive him for suggesting the regulars who race at Indy are steerage-class pikers, because one of F1's own, Fernando Alonso, went over there and -- right out of the box -- qualified in the middle of Row 2 for the 500.

"'Fernando, in his first qualifying, came fifth," Hamilton all but sneered to the Daily Mail. "Does that say something about [the level] of IndyCar? Great drivers, if they can't succeed in Formula One, look for titles in other races, but to see him come fifth against drivers who do this all year round is... interesting."

Ah, Lewis. You're too young. Because you know something?

It's not interesting at all. Or even anything new.

Roll back the calendar 54 years, and pretty much the same thing happened. The F1 presence then was Jimmy Clark, bringing with him a (for the time) revolutionary rear-engine Lotus-Ford. Like Alonso, he qualified fifth, too. And went on to finish second behind Parnelli Jones.

Two years later, he led 190 laps and won easily. A year after that, Graham Hill won, Clark finished second and Jackie Stewart finished sixth.

Did that say something about the level of IndyCar?

I don't know. Were A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, the Unsers et al steerage-class pikers, too?

No serious person would seriously suggest that. What they might suggest, then and now, is that if you're as accomplished as most F1 drivers are, and have the kind of juice they have, a couple of things are going to be true.

One, to begin with, you're not just another rookie.

Two, you're not coming to Indy in some back-marker cheesebox, but (in Clark's case) a state-of-the-art ride, or (in Alonso's case) a ride with one of the premier teams in IndyCar, Andretti Autosport.

That gives you a huge advantage over the average rookie. It also doesn't hurt that you're being tutored by people like 2003 500 winner Gil de Ferran and, no doubt, the great Mario Andretti himself. And, of course, you're a former F1 champion yourself, not just a guy who came here from Indy Lights.

So, "interesting," Lewis Hamilton?

Nah. Just history doing what it does in this place: Repeating itself.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The cost

The Blob will put aside the usual sporty business today, because it's Memorial Day weekend and time to do something else. It's time to take you on a little trip.

Nine or so hours east of Indiana, you see, there's a peaceful hilltop in Pennsylvania, where echoes that stretch back 144 years reverberate forever. It is one of my favorite places on earth, especially when the sun is just up and the ground is dew-wet, and the laden tour buses haven't begun growling up the long, snaking ribbon of blacktop at the base of the hill.

There are no moms and dads huffing and puffing up the path to the summit, at this hour. There are no kids hopping among the boulders strewn about as if by a giant's hand. Little Round Top is quiet.

And so I sit there and I sip my coffee and I look out over the wide valley below, and I remember what happened there on July 2, 1863. I remember how this howling gray host came swarming out of the woods and fields to my left in the late afternoon, clambering over the Flintstone rocks of Devil's Den, mad to get at the place where I sit. I remember how they died down there, how their bodies were strewn among those rocks and in those fields and along a weedy trickle named Plum Run.

And I remember, too, the men who died to stop them.

Off to my left and down the hill a ways is where a Harvard man named Strong Vincent died. Just to my right was where an Irish New Yorker named Patrick O'Rorke took a fatal bullet; there's a statue there now with his face on it in bas relief, the patina worn off its nose where generations of tourists have rubbed it for good luck. Just up the hill, where two mute cannon sit today, a couple of officers named Charles Hazlett and Stephen Weed died, taken out by a Confederate sniper down there in Devil's Den.

I feel all of them around me, in these quiet moments before Gettysburg National Military Park stirs to life. And if we're doing it right this weekend, we all feel them, them and the thousands upon thousands more who have died and now lie in the earth behind neat rows of white crosses from Arlington National Cemetery to Belleau Wood.

As anyone who ever survived the awfulness of war will tell you, it's those men behind the crosses who are the real heroes in this piece. They went off to war and they didn't come back. And today I can sit on this peaceful hilltop and sense their presence because of it.

There's not much more to add to that. But here's a clip from the HBO series "The Pacific." I've posted it before, but it seems an especially good reminder  now of who we are and what we have, and how it all has been made possible.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Dressed for success

So the Cubs are stirring at last, if you haven't been paying attention. They just ripped through a successful homestand, and now -- hey, look! -- they're in first place in the NL Central, after starting the season mucking about in second or third class.

In other words: They're still gonna win the division. Wanna know why?

Because of stuff like this.

An "Anchorman" themed roadie. How's that for keepin' the boys loose?

A loose team is a happy team. A happy team is a winning team. And a winning team, especially this team, is gonna eventually make everyone else in the National League do this.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The curse of the superteam

Or, you know, not.

Listening to a bit of the Mikes on the commute this morning, and here was Doofus Mike (aka, Greenberg) lamenting the dominance of the Golden State Warriors, saying he hates what Kevin Durant did by using his leverage to sign with them because it hurts the competitive balance of the NBA, and blah-blah-blah, yada-yada-yada.

What do I think?

I think he really must have hated what the New York Yankees did to Major League Baseball in the 1950s and early '60s.

Because, honestly, if you're going to hate the Warriors for being so much better than everyone else (and hogging all the superstars), how can you not feel the same way about those Yankees?

In the 16 years between 1949 and 1964, after all, they dominated baseball the way no other team in any other American sport (with the possible exception of the 1950s Montreal Canadiens and 1960s Celtics) has before or since. They won 14 American League pennants in that span. They won nine World Series. They won 96 or more games 14 times.

And yet they went down in history not as the ruin of baseball, but as one of the great dynasties of all time.

They achieved this not because of any particular genius, but because ownership and management had leverage and used it. They used the reserve clause system, which made indentured servants of players, to full advantage, cherry-picking stars or potential stars at will. For many years, they basically used the cash-strapped Kansas City Athletics as a de facto farm team.

And yet no one, or almost no one, wrung their hands and moaned that they were destroying baseball. They were just being good capitalists. Using their status as The Yankees to gain what some might see as an unfair advantage? Hey, that was the American way.

But a player doing that, the way Durant did?

Oh, heavens. Get thee to thy fainting bed.

And yet what Durant did, or what LeBron James did in Miami, is no different than what the Yankees did in the '50s. They had leverage and they used it. They were good capitalists. But somehow, suddenly, that was a bad thing.

The chess pieces, after all, aren't supposed to move themselves. That's just not how it's supposed to work.

But free agency turned over the chess board, so now superteams are bad. And never mind that this runs counter to the long-held notion that superteams are actually good, that they give your sport a public face and a juicy target for everyone else. No one, after all, remembers the kinda good teams. They remember the '50s Yankees.

Or the Warriors. Or the LeBron Heat or LeBron Cavs. Or, for that matter, the Larry Bird/Kevin McHale Celtics -- who, as they rose to dominance, added superstar point guard Dennis Johnson, even though they'd already won a title without him.

Gee. Sounds familiar.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Gentlemen, start your fashion faux pas

I have seen some things, in 40 years hanging around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May.

I have a seen a woman playing football in the Original And Only Real Snakepit on one of the gray days -- rain coming down like God left the tap on, the woman wearing mud from head-to-toe like some sort of Earth Mother Walter Payton.

I have seen a drunk sleeping one off in the noon sun in the back of a pickup truck, covered from head-to-toe in a  mound of his buddies' empties.

I have seen another drunk, at the end of a long day, lying under the front of his car as if he started to change the oil and then fell asleep.

I have seen A.J. Foyt cuss at a radio reporter who looked as if he were 12. Seen Roberto Guerrero, the polesitter, emerge from his garage at 11:14 on race morning, having crashed on the parade lap. Seen Emerson Fittipaldi drink orange juice instead of milk in Victory Lane, an etiquette faux pas of no small proportion.

And speaking of faux pas ...

Here's something I've never seen. And hope never to again.

Maybe you've heard about the new/perhaps not new fashion craze, the RompHim, which essentially is a onesie for men who've decided a man card is something they no longer require. Now comes this, a onesie designed especially for Race Day.

I can't imagine who would wear it. OK, so I can, this being Race Day at Indianapolis. I mean, I've seen people wear, un-ironically, Dr. Jack Miller the Racing Dentist T-shirts. So maybe someone shows up in an Indy 500 RompHim on Sunday.

It'll be 7 o'clock in the morning. He'll be sitting in front of his camper in the Coke lot along 25th Street, working on his fourth Bud Light of the day. Three or four of his buddies will be there, too, also wearing Indy RompHims, also working on their fourth Bud Lights of the day.

People stuck in traffic will wave. The lads will wave back. Young women will whistle and shout "Show us your checkered flag!"

Hours later, in Victory Lane, Helio Castroneves (or Scott Dixon or Will Power or Fernando Alonso or Ryan Hunter-Reay) will take a slug of milk, unzip his driving suit and reveal that, underneath, he's wearing ... an Indy RompHim.

OK, so no.

Please, God. No. 

Dance to the music

Bad news this day for fans of corporate football as bland as a boardroom table: The NFL has decided to loosen its tie.

A little. Kinda.

After years of fruitlessly trying to legislate every morsel of fun out of their game, Roger Goodell 'n' them have decided to (a little, kinda) party on, dudes. New rules have down from the great gray edifice that is the league office, rules that seem to indicate the owners (a little, kinda) understand that football is, hey, what do you know, a game, and not just a slick vehicle for lining their pockets.

And so the celebration rules are being eased. You can choreograph now. You can use the football as a prop. Heck, you and your buddies can celebrate together, if you like.

"OK, you can have fun now," Goodell and Co. seem to be saying.

And even if that sounds a bit like Judge Smails' out-of-touch wife trying to sound hip at the boat christening ("All right, children .. you can shake your booties on the dock"), at least they're making a semblance of an effort. Oh, twerking is still banned, and the throat slash, and the bow-and-arrow because it looks too weapon-y. But it will be interesting to see how the younger players in particular try to turn this particular inch into a mile.

JERRY JONES: Good, lord! What the heck are those guys doing!

A JERRY JONES MINION:  I believe they're pretending to fly in formation, sir.

JONES: Well, tell them to stop! It disrespects the troops!

(A bit later)

JONES: Now what are they doing?

MINION: I think they're rolling the football like dice, sir.

JONES: Good lord! Gambling? You know we don't allow gambling in our league! What will America think?

MINION: I don't know, sir. But ... well, we are playing the Las Vegas Raiders today.

And so on.       


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Your conspiracy theory for today, Part Deux

In which we examine whether LeBron James mysteriously not showing up for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals was A) a convoluted response to being snubbed in the MVP voting by showing what the Cavaliers look like when he doesn't show up; B)  a desperate attempt by the NBA to inject at least a little drama in its snoozefest playoffs by inducing LeBron and the Cavs to lay down for a night; or C) just one of those things that happens sometimes.

Much as it pains the Blob to have to do so, it votes "C."

I love me some conspiracy theories, but sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and you have to suck it up and admit as much. And so the Blob suspects Game 3 was just the Cavaliers deciding they could crank it down to idle and still whip the helpless Celtics -- and then finding out too late they couldn't.

LeBron trying to make a point about who's the real MVP?

Yeah, maybe, but it pretty hard to conceive someone as competitive as he is deliberately tanking a game to make some sort of nebulous point. Besides, the Cavs were still up 21 with 19 minutes to play. Seems like an odd way to go about tanking.

The same point applies to "B." First of all, it's impossible to imagine Adam Silver doing something as irresponsible and potentially ruinous to his league as handing LeBron and the Cavs a little under-the-table cash to throw a conference finals game. Yeah, the dreary parade of non-competitiveness in the playoffs so far isn't the sort of thing you build an ad campaign around (The NBA! It's fan-tastic for, you know, a quarter or two!), but it beats the calamity that would ensue if America discovered the whole deal was rigged.

Just look at NASCAR, which has been accused more than once of rigging races to fit a certain storyline, and has paid the price for it. Mind you, there's not an iota of evidence NASCAR has ever actually done that, but perception is frequently stronger than reality and far more difficult to alter once it gets some legs. And so there's this whole screwy notion out there that it's become a faster, louder version of pro wrestling -- and more than a few diehards have started turning it off because of that.

So, no, you can throw "B" out the window here, too.

Which leaves us with "C." Boring, I know.

Not as boring as these playoffs, mind you. But pretty boring.


       


Monday, May 22, 2017

The myth, revisited

And so, once again, momentum stands revealed as the phantom it is. It is the Easter Bunny. It is Santa Claus. It is the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

Remember all that jawboning about how LeBron James, the best basketball player in the solar system and several  adjoining solar systems, was on a mission? Remember Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, a 44-point embarrassment LeBron and the Cavaliers laid on the Celtics, in Boston?

Surely they were going to win Game 4 by 45, right? Especially facing a Celtics team with no Isaiah Thomas, in Cleveland?

Uhhh ... no.

In Thomas' absence, Avery Bradley hit the big shot, the Celtics rallied from 21 points down with 19 minutes to play, and the Celtics swiped Game 4 (in Cleveland!) 111-108. Imagine the shock for all those bloodthirsty Clevelanders who came to see a ritual sacrifice, and got instead a pie in the face.

But ... but ... I thought the Celtics were dead! Why is the corpse moving?

That sort of thing.

In any case, LeBron's mission was scrubbed, at least for this night. Likely he and the Cavs figured the Celtics were dead, too, especially without Thomas. Likely what happened in Games 1 and 2, when LeBron looked like Dad playing in the driveway with his 6-year-old, lulled them into thinking all they had to do was show up and the Celtics would run screaming.

Alas, that doesn't happen very often in the NBA, and especially at the conference finals level. The Celtics did not earn the top seed in the East by lying down in the road. And after getting ball-peened by 44, I imagine head coach Brad Stevens rather emphatically reminded them of that.

And Game 5?

Killer LeBron, fully awake again, will likely show up again. And everyone again will be talking about how he's on a mission.

Or not.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

That moment

I wasn't at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway yesterday when this happened. But I have been there enough to guess what the reaction was when Sebastien Bourdais' car went to pieces against the Turn 2 wall in a hailstorm of flame and shredding metal.

It was probably not what casual observers of auto racing, or its detractors, think it was.

Despite the mythology, no one lives for these sorts of moments. No one comes to or covers a motorsports event to see crashes, and especially these sorts of crashes. And so I imagine a gasp or two rose up in the media center when Bourdais hit the wall head-on at 231 mph. I imagine more than one person muttered, "This looks bad." And I imagine a few others, under their breath, perhaps, whispered "Oh, Jesus."

And then began thinking about how much their workday was going to change if it indeed was as bad as it looked.

Thankfully, it wasn't, though it was bad enough. Bourdais came out of the deal with a broken right hip and a smashed pelvis, but he'll live. Whether he races again, and how soon, is a question for the gods.

What isn't in question is what a crash like Bourdais' summons for those of us who've been doing this awhile. I've been covering the Indianapolis 500 for 40 years, and drivers have died on that watch. It's nothing you ever want to see. It's nothing you ever want to have to write about. You hate what you do for a living for awhile when you're compelled to do it, and for awhile you feel like a ghoul.

So, no, no one wants to see drivers crash hard. What we do instead is watch the replays, and thank God it's 2017 and not, say, 1957. Because if once again this ancient place's notorious caprice  was on full display --  one microsecond Bourdais was the fastest guy in the joint, and the next he, well, wasn't -- what was also on display was the everything that has made the sport as safe as it's possible to be.

The car itself, designed to fly apart in a way that dissipates the energy of a hard hit. The SAFER barrier, which has been around since the late '90s and which unquestionably is why more than one driver is still walking around breathing air.

I'd have written about that, maybe, had I been there. And I know exactly what I'd have been thinking as I did.

Beats the hell out of the alternative.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Cut to the chase

Or to put it another way, can't we just go ahead and start the NBA Finals tomorrow, so we're not still watching basketball in the shadow of the Fourth of July?

I mean, we all know it's going to be the Cavaliers and the Warriors again. I know it. You know it. President William Henry Harrison knows it, and he's been dead for 170-some years.

So do we really need to slog through two more games each of the Warriors beating the goo out of the Kawhi Leonard-less Spurs, and the Cavs beating both the goo and the delicious creamy filling out of the poor defenseless Celtics? Can't we just dispense with the formalities?

Which, you know, don't look all that formal to me.

I don't know what that was last night in Boston, but it sure wasn't an Eastern Conference finals game. Looked more like the Cavs vs. the Warren G. Harding Elementary School Bobcats. The Celtics are hopelessly overmatched in this series, and last night they played like they knew they were hopelessly overmatched. The result was a 44-point defenestration that had you wondering what sort of things might have been overheard in the Garden ...

"Now, LeBron, you let your little brother score once in awhile!" (LeBron's mom, calling out the backdoor)

"I don't wanna guard him. You guard him." (Unidentified Celtic)

"Well, I sure don't wanna guard him. You guard him." (Second unidentified Celtic)

"No way!" (First unidentified Celtic)

"Yes way!" (Second unidentified Celtic)

"Hey, no fair! Moooom!" (Many unidentified Celtics)

And so on.

And on. And on.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Getting down to head cases

A few brief observations now upon the news that Tom Brady's wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, told "Today" her husband suffered a concussion last year, even though it was never reported to the league by the Patriots:

1. I must have missed the part where Gisele became Dr. Gisele Bundchen.

(Although, given that Brady's been a quarterback in the NFL for close to 20 years, he's surely had several concussions. Don't see how it's possible he hasn't.)

2. You're saying the Patriots might have been up to some shenanigans with their injury reports? Shocker.

3. You're saying Brady might have been less than forthcoming about the state of his noggin, giving rise to the perception the Patriots might have been up to some shenanigans with their injury reports? Double shocker.

And last but not least ...

4. Brady says he wants to play until he's 45. Gisele letting slip he had a concussion last year (or not) sounds like code for "Not so fast, buster."

That is all.

Argument time

LeBron James handled the Celtics last night like you used to handle your little brother in the driveway, doing what he wanted when he wanted on the way to a ridiculously easy 117-104 win in Boston in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.

So this seems like as good a time as any to rev up the debate again.

Which is: Who are the best five players in NBA history?

Right now I'm inclined to say LeBron is at least 1A to Michael Jordan's 1, for a number of reasons. He's down 6-3 in titles, but he's won his against tougher competition (the current Warriors; the Tim Duncan/Manu Ginobilli/Tony Parker Spurs). He's a better rebounder. And he might be the best passer the game has seen since Larry Bird, a skill which frequently gets downplayed.

And the other three?

3. Wilt.

4. Kareem.

5. Bird (with either Magic or Oscar 5A).

OK, your turn. Go.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The hangover is real

And now another episode of the Blob Answers The Great Questions Of The Universe, a largely failed experiment unless you're one of those people who, like Glorious Leader, believes everything you read as long as it says what you want it to say.

Today's question: What's wrong with the Cubs?

Other than, you know, their destiny will always be to raise your hopes and then dash them, World Series champions or not.

When last we looked, after all, they weren't behaving very champion-y. They were 19-19, 2 1/2 games behind the hated Cardinals and two games behind the Brewers, for pity's sake.  Guys who weren't supposed to struggle at the plate -- Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell and Ben Zobrist -- are struggling. Schwarber in particular looks completely lost in the leadoff hole. The defense is uncharacteristically un-defensive, and Jake Arrieta's stash of  magic beans is apparently exhausted; he's gone from virtually unhittable to just another guy in the rotation.

So what's wrong with the Cubs?

Simple. They're hung over.

They're still feeling the effects of the social whirl that engulfed them after winning the World Series. It tends to be a bit intense and distracting no matter who you are, but if you haven't won the World Series in 108 years, that gets magnified by a factor of 50 or so. The business of baseball takes a backseat to the business of celebrity, and it takes awhile to reverse that seating arrangement.

That's what's going on now, in the Blob's humble opinion. It won't last forever. The Cubs are too good for that to happen. They'll find their mojo eventually. Heck, they might even still win the division.

But beyond that?

Smart money, and history, says they won't repeat. Look what happened to the Red Sox after they broke their own 86-year drought in 2004. It took them three years to win another Series.

On the other hand, then-Red Sox mastermind Theo Epstein no doubt remembers that. And filed it away for future reference.

So, you see? There's still hope.

Sorry. Poor choice of words.

When a plan comes together

Something must be wrong with me. I'm starting to think LaVar Ball has magical powers.

I'm starting to think Lonzo Ball's ridiculous dad might actually (No! Don't say it!) know what he's talking about. I'm starting to think there will be a market for Lonzo's $500 shoe, that the kid will be the second coming of Jason Kidd (because, yes, some people are saying that), that LaVar isn't just some delusional loose-wingnut dreamer when he says if you say something often enough ands emphatically enough, it will come true.

Didja see what happened in the NBA draft lottery last night?

The Celtics, who got the Nets' lottery spot in a 2013 trade deal, drew the No. 1 pick.

The Lakers drew the No. 2 pick.

The Lakers are the team LaVar Ball has been saying all along will be the team Lonzo winds up playing for. They're also a team that had to draw a top-three pingpong ball or they'd lose their pick to the 76ers. And if they lost their pick to the Sixers, they'd either have to make some kind of deal or likely lose out on Lonzo.

And so of course they drew the No. 2 pick. And of course the Celtics are reportedly interested in either picking guard Markelle Fultz of Washington with the top pick or trading it, neither of which would affect the Lakers' taking Lonzo.

Which would mean another piece of LaVar Ball's crazy master plan would fall neatly into place.

Eerie, I tell you. Eerie.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Zero perspective

So Yankee Stadium poured its love down on the Captain last night, and Derek Jeter's No. 2 officially went off to the posterity it so richly deserves. That means every single-digit number has now been retired by the Yankees, except for one.

Which raises this interesting question.

I mean, really. Why not zero?

It's not like we've never seen it before, after all. Heck, pro football Hall of Fame lineman Jim Otto wore double zero back in his salad days with the Oakland Raiders. So did Kenny Burrough, the old Oilers wide receiver. So, for a season each, did baseball players Jack Clark and Bobby Bonds.

And zero itself?

One of the greatest Pittsburgh Pirates of all time, Al Oliver, wear the Big Nothing. And the NBA is stuffed with zeroes, so to speak.

The soon-to-be MVP of the league, Russell Westbrook, wears it. So do Kevin Love of the Cavs and Damian Lillard of the Blazers, following in the footsteps of Orlando Wooldridge, Gilbert Arenas, Olden Polynice and Mike Bibby, among others.

Shoot. There's so many zeroes out there, it's almost mainstream. And yet still cool in a minimalist sort of way.

So how about it, Yankees? Who wants to be a zero?

So to speak.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Hey, Mom, it's me. Again.

Timeout now for a Mother's Day note or two from the Blob, which expects sports can take care of itself for one day just as moms expect we can take care of ourselves for one day.

(A risky assumption, but, hey, Mom. Go big or go home).

Anyway ... I wrote this last Mother's Day. Except for the rain, and a different, less lunatic fringe-y governor, everything still holds true as true. Miss you, Mom.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Curses, and whatnot

Glad tidings today for all those who are either heartily sick of the New England Patriots, or who think they are the all-time champs in Got Away With It, or who think Bill Belichick is a humorless son-of-a-bleep who'd run over his own grandmother to win a game, then back up and run over her again:

Did you see who's on the cover of Madden 2017?

Yes, boys and girls, it's Tom Brady, GOAT (maybe) and generally sleazy dude, husband of that supermodel and the guy who drives the getaway car in all those scenarios in which the Patriots either do or don't pull another fast one.

This means he's now squarely in the gunsights of the fabled Madden Curse, which may or may not exist. Certainly it can be documented that the NFL player who winds up on the cover of this NFL video game has been struck with woeful misfortune many more times than once. It's struck the Patriots before -- last year, in fact, when year tight end Rob Gronkowski was the Madden cover boy and then wound up with a season-ending injury.

Of course, the Patriots did go on to win the Super Bowl without him, overcoming an historic 25-point deficit to beat the Falcons. So there's that.

In the meantime, we can all enjoy the angst of Patriots fans -- who, being the paranoid loonies they are, surely think Roger Goodell is behind two Patriots in a row winding up on the cover of Madden.

"Always trying to bring us down!" they must be saying.

Or maybe it's that guy in the Oval Office saying that. I forget.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Your conspiracy theory for today

Because, you know, conspiracy kooks and various other wackadoodles kinda run the country now.

And so the Blob will saddle right up with the zeitgeist, and offer one of its own. No, it doesn't have anything to do with Hillary's e-mails or shadowy plots by evil purveyors of Fake News to bring down our Glorious Leader. This being generally a sports Blob, it is of a sportsy nature.

To wit: Was the fix in for Game 6 of the Spurs-Rockets series last night?

This being the NBA, an enterprise run by at least marginally competent people, I would say no. But it's not completely crazy to think something smelled mildly fishy. I mean, if that wasn't a blatant laydown by the Rockets, it sure could pass for one in a photo array.

Losing by 39 at home in an elimination game? Seriously? To a Spurs team that was playing without Kawhi Leonard, its one transcendent talent, and that had already been beaten in this series by 21 and 27 with Leonard?

And then there was this: What are we to make of the complete disappearance of James Harden -- your NBA MVP any other year except this one, when Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double for the entire season?

Harden took 11 shots in this one. He made two. He scored 10 points.

This from a man who'd scored 33, 28, 43 and 20 in four previous games of the series.

This from a man who'd taken no fewer than 13 shots in any previous game -- Game 1 of the series, when the Rockets won big and didn't need him to take any more shots than that.

Last night they did. And he was a no-show.

At home.

In an elimination game.

One might be inclined to say "Hmmm." And also, "Interesting."

Thursday, May 11, 2017

How it's supposed to work

I work at a university now, here in the second act of my professional life. And every morning, when I get out of my car and walk across our tranquil, oak-shaded campus, I never fail to wonder how I won whatever crazy lottery rules the cosmos.

First I got to be a sportswriter for parts of five decades, covering Super Bowls and Final Fours and a million high school football and basketball games that got at the essence of things more than the big stuff ever could. Now I get to work at Manchester University in northeast Indiana, a small liberal arts school where the passion for learning, and its application toward making the world a better place, is not just a rote homily. It's a mission.

"The world needs more Manchester graduates," our president, Dave McFadden, is fond of saying. And he ain't just whistlin' Dixie.

He'll likely say it again on May 20, when the class of 2017 turns its tassels. Among them will be a lot of young people I've talked to in my job as a marketing writer, and a lot I haven't. And to the usual suspects who rant (as they have since time immemorial) that These Kids Today are self-absorbed "snowflakes" who've had everything handed to them and are soft as Charmin, I can only say this: I haven't met any of those yet.

Instead, I've met a lot of committed young people who are far more engaged than I ever was in college, and who share a curiosity about the world and how they can make difference in it.  In other words, I've met a lot of kids like Nigel Hayes.

You might have heard the name. He's a Division I basketball player at the University of Wisconsin, but that description sells him short. He's also a student. And as flawed as the model is for D-I athletes -- as much as we like to sneer at the term "student-athlete," because too often not even the people who call them that regard them as such -- sometimes it fits exactly right. Sometimes, in spite of itself, the system actually works.

Kids go to school. They play sports (and, yes, are exploited like crazy by the corporate entity that is big-time college athletics). And they get themselves educated.

They go to class. They learn to question, to think critically, to develop an abiding curiosity about the world and their place in it. And, after four years, they leave as fully developed grownups who've discovered their own true selves.

Read this. And tell me that's not what's happened to Nigel Hayes.

"My challenge to the class of 2017 is this," he writes at the end. "Never accept it when someone says, 'Just shut up and play.' Or whatever the equivalent is in your field.

"Don't accept it when they say, 'Stay in your lane.'

"Let’s use all possible lanes. Let’s create new lanes. Each of us is more than just the job we do for a few hours a day.
 
"Whether we play basketball or not."

I don't know about you. But it sounds to me like that kid's learned a few things.