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.