All Kidding Aside (posted 6/5/03 2:14 a.m.)
The ABA Finals got off to an expected start, San Antonio asserting is superiority to pull ahead of New Joisey in the second half of game one. The miracle is that the game included no coaching changes, either at half time, at the end of the third quarter, or during the postgame. By NBA standards, that's a sign that each team wants to win the whole thing.
Nonetheless, there was one odd audition: by NJ superstar Jason Kidd, a free agent when the series ends who has long been rumored to be San Antonio's next signing. He didn't have cork in the ball when he shot it on Wednesday, but you'd never know by how off his attempts were. So did he pass or fail his trial? That's a tricky call. On the one hand, he was badly outplayed by SA's Tony Parker, the finest 21-year-old starting NBA point guard since Isiah Thomas. Indeed, his spinning moves to the basket are a carbon copy of ol' Zeke's. Clearly, with a rising multinational star like Parker, San Antonio doesn't need Kidd. But then it's also possible that Kidd may lack incentive to beat the team he may sign with. A few more bad games like last nights and it won't seem as if I'm making this up. You'll hear it straight from NJ's Kenyon Martin, who plays like an F-16 on a mission.
In the runup to the Finals, some nine NBA coaching changes were in the works. Since the league long ago cornered the market on musical chairs, some of the changes will appear not much different from a player switching teams. Paul Silas gets fired by New Orleans, and is quickly scooped up by Cleveland. Larry Brown quits Philadelphia and a week later is hired by Detroit. Maurice Cheeks wants to leave Portland to coach Philadelphia (which would create a tenth opening). Average former coaches like Mike Fratello and Jeff Van Gundy are suddenly in great demand. Even Mike Dunleavy, a lousy former coach, is in line to be hired for one of the new jobs. Go figure.
But above all, go figure what happened to Rick Carlisle. An overachieving player out of Virginia and the Boston Celtics, where he fit the mold of the sort of Celtic that franchise used to win with year after year after year, he coached with Larry Bird in Indiana. Then two years ago he took over the Detroit Pistons and turned a woeful team into a 50-game winner this season and the one before. Last year Carlisle was named the NBA's coach of the year. For his troubles Carlisle was not only fired for a repeat performance, but vilified and smeared.
Naturally, there's a New York Times connection. A William Rhoden column headlined "As Pistons Show, There Is More to Coaching Than Winning Games," said it all. Based on no evidence, Rhoden proceeded to write:
"Coaching is about building relationships, managing egos and people, fostering mutual respect. When you look beneath the surface in Detroit, you see that Carlisle has not yet learned those lessons."
Or this: "The lesson for Carlisle, if he chooses to learn it, is that there is more to winning than winning. There is humility and decorum."
It's all guff. There have never been any such complaints against the gentlemanly Carlisle -- at least not until someone decided to can him. Rhoden gave the game away early on when he noted that "I was initially part of that stunned choir of voice" shocked by Carlisle's firing -- "but as I've learned more I've changed my tune." Talking to one or two people with something up their sleeve was all it took to bring out the smear artist in Rhoden.
Even when the man who did the public firing, Joe Dumars, praised Carlisle as "a class guy," Rhoden, relying on an unnamed Detroit "official," moved to undercut that very characterization, relying on that "official" to describe Carlisle as "abrasive, combative and often disrespectful to players, team employees and even the Pistons' owner." (A coach "disrespectful to players"? Or not a lap dog of the owner? Shoot him at dawn!)
Of course, it's entirely possible that Rhoden's "official" is none other than Dumars himself, who, in his own vague way, explained the firing by telling Rhoden on the record that "without going into details, there is more to winning." Knowing the whole story without having any of the details, Rhoden proudly adds: "I agree with Dumars that there is more to winning than simply winning."
Absolutely. The thing is, the Pistons signed Larry Brown a day or two later. He was in the wings the entire time, in short. To hire someone of his overblown reputation required that a successful if undersung young coach be drawn and quartered to set the stage. These are PR geniuses.
Prediction: the only team to win 50 games next year in Detroit will be the Tigers. Meanwhile, Carlisle, who has kept his mouth shut because he hopes to be hired by another team, will get his revenge the old-fashioned way. He'll beat the pants off the bums who did this to him. Rhoden may emerge unscathed, but who cares? He works for the New York Times, which is punishment enough in this world.
One for the Ageless (posted 5/30/03 2:26 a.m.)
In sports, as in politics, what goes around comes around. On Tuesday nights ago Dallas humiliated San Antonio in the fourth quarter on the road. On Thursday night it was San Antonio on the road in Dallas that blew away the home team for good in the final period. But this game will be remembered for one reason only.
With his team at least a dozen points behind, a 37-year-old veteran who had barely played in these playoffs came off the bench midway in the final half to score 12 points in 13 minutes, including the tying and go-ahead baskets. What will likely be overlooked is that before he went on his scoring binge he'd already made his presence felt, playing bumper to bumper defense against whoever he was covering (which included drawing an offensive elbowing foul from a player half a foot taller) and sparking a defensive revival that stifled Dallas for good. The points were just gravy. It was a championship stretch worthy of a Michael Jordan in his prime, and all of it by the only active NBA player to have been born in Beirut, Lebanon.
He is of course Steve Kerr, whose entire career has been played under a melancholy cloud owing to his place of birth. It was where in 1983 his father, the president of the American University of Beirut, was gunned down by terrorists. We like to think of sports as a great escape, but the world is always with us, even in the arena.
Santa Annika (posted 5/28/03 2:42 a.m.)
The odds against Dallas making the cut Tuesday night had to be worse than those Annika Sorenstam faced. Here the depleted Mavericks were, trailing 3-1, coming into San Antonio, the finest team in the NBA, and missing their best player and two other "big" men. In the second quarter they already trailed by 19 points. Yet they fought back and against all expectations won by 12 points. They will live to see another day, and someday they'll tell their grandchildren about how they escaped elimination. The best sports is always when someone or some team does the unexpected, and does so brilliantly. It's the real performance art.
Annika Sorenstam's two days with the men ranked up there as well. Clearly she had her audience swooning, even if at the end of Friday she trailed by the equivalent of 19 points. No matter. All the reviewed seemed unanimous, as summed up by Newsweek's "Conventional Wisdom": "Smooth-swinging Swede misses the cut but proves she can play with the big boys."
But is that logical? If you haven't qualified for the second half, how have you proved you can play with the big boys? They're the ones who'll still be playing.
Others found consolation in the fact that Sorenstam didn't finish dead last, proving that she could at least outscore some men. Well, woop-dee-doo. It's likely that Sorenstam plays better golf that 99.99+ percent of American men. The test was whether she, by far the best female professional golfer, could hold her own against a field of top male professionals.
Over two days she could not, especially not according to her standards. A number of people, including Tiger Woods, argued that she would need to compete against men more often to get a better sense of her possibilities. But Sorenstam says she's not inclined to try this experiment again. From an athlete who said she wanted to challenge herself in a new way, that amounts to a concession that she knows her limits.
Her defenders insists she was simply under too much pressure from being watched by the largest audience ever to tune in to a female golfer. That's a bit melodramatic, given that on the golf course she wouldn't have known how many television sets were actually tuned in to her round. The gallery, of course, was unusually large, but it couldn't have hurt Sorenstam to know everyone was cheering for her.
The key question is why she doesn't feel confident that she could improve her short game enough to try again. All along she's also known that on other PGA courses she'd be at a greater length disadvantage than she was at the Colonial. Perhaps in those conditions her putting would be the least of her worries.
As good as she is, the amazing thing is how good the elite men are. That's the real story that most everyone takes for granted, if they even care at all.
From Blair to Dowd (posted 5/21/03 1:20 a.m.)
By New York Times standards, or maybe just Maureen Dowd's, it was another day in the life. On May 14, the columnist offered up the usual criticism of Bush with these words:
Busy chasing off Saddam, the president and vice president had told us that Al Qaeda was spent. "Al Qaeda is on the run," President Bush said last week. "That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated... They're not a problem anymore."
But as Andrew Sullivan noticed, that's a classic distortion of what Bush said. (Sullivan is being too kind: I'd say it's a firing offense no less so than anything Blair tried to pull off.) Here are the president's actual words:
Al Qaeda is on the run. That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly, but surely being decimated. Right now, about half of all the top al Qaeda operatives are either jailed or dead. In either case, they're not a problem anymore.
As Sullivan explains, still too politely: "It's perfectly clear that the president is referring, sardonically, only to those members of al Qaeda who are 'either jailed or dead,' not to the group as a whole. Everything we know about this president tells us that he has always warned of the permanent danger of groups like al Qaeda, has always talked of a long war, and would never say the words that Dowd puts in his mouth. So this is a wilful fabrication. Will [the Times] run a correction? Don't count on it."
It's been a week, and I'm starting to run out of fingers. Not a peep from the Corrections department. Then again, it's not in the business of correcting disinformation. Walter Duranty lives!
Speaking of the Times' prototypical disinformationist, he turns out to a useful tool in the hands of a liberal critic of the Jayson Blair affair. In the current New Yorker, the gifted creative writer Hendrik Hertzberg renews his commitment to moral equivalence, noting that Blair's crimes pale in comparison to "the harm done by the Pulitzer Prize-winning whitewash of Stalin's terror perpetrated by Walter Duranty, the paper's longtime Moscow correspondent, or, for that matter, the more recent harm done by its obtuse, petty, and wrongheaded obsession with the Clinton non-scandal known as Whitewater." For that matter, I always said it was a mistake for anyone to call Clinton a kulak. After all, not even Hillary wanted forced collectivization on the Whitewater estates.
(UPDATE, 5/22/03): Spinsanity.org columnist columnist Brendan Nyhan, no conservative, has now reacted strongly to Dowd's big lie. His opening paragraph:
"An outrageous new falsehood is circulating about President Bush. Last week, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd misrepresented a Bush statement to imply that he said the Al Qaeda terrorist network is 'not a problem anymore,' and the distorted quotation has since been repeated by MSNBC 'Buchanan and Press' co-host Bill Press, CNN's Miles O'Brien and others, including numerous foreign press outlets. At a time when the New York Times is under fire for its conduct in the Jayson Blair scandal, Dowd's creation of an exploding media myth is cause for serious concern." Read more.)
(UPDATE (5/28/03). There is new progress on the Dowd front: The New York Daily News's Zev Chafets has closed in on her with a devastating column. Her misrepresentation isn't going away.)
Singh Song (posted 5/21/03 1:20 a.m.)
It's interesting that one larger outcome of implosion at the Times is further erosion of public trust in the media. We can be grateful for small favors. If not for Blairomania, can you imagine how the Times would be carrying on about Annika Sorenstam?
Not that others didn't try to pick up the slack, going after male golfers Vijay Singh and Nick Price last week as if the pair had tried to keep Ms. Sorenstam out of Augusta. All concerned received their just deserts when Singh and Price went on to finish one-two in the Byron Nelson tournament. In the media's view, that's as if Rick Santorum had been promoted to majority leader or John Rocker won the Cy Young Award.
How had Singh and Price sinned? Early in the week Singh had told an AP reporter that he hoped Sorenstam misses the cut in the Colonial and that if he were paired with her, "I won't play." Price said nothing much worse than that the Sorenstam appearance at the upcoming tournament "reeks of publicity." He added it would be tough for some guys if they lost to a woman.
That was enough for a seasoned sportswriter like Thomas Boswell to self-destruct. In a single column he proceeded to call Singh and Price troglodytes, cavemen, dimpleheads, over-the-hill, jealous, tacky, and jerks. All this from a guy who writes from Washington, not Boston. For good measure he compared the two golfers to racist bench jockeys who hounded Jackie Robinson in 1947.
It was enough to make one think of Singh and Price as the second coming of Arnie and Jack. Then while Singh was putting the last touches on his solid win last Sunday, CBS's announcer quickly reviewed the recent controversy before noting that Singh's full quote had never been heard, that what he'd really said was that if he missed the cut at the Colonial he hoped that Sorenstam would as well. Was this another case of some Maureen Dowd doctoring a quote?
There was no video tape to roll, just past newspaper entries. CBS evidently had gotten the story a bit wrong -- in favor of the PC forces' target.
Singh never complained that he'd been misquoted. Initially he did indeed say, "I hope she misses the cut. Why? Because she doesn't belong out here." This was on May 12. It was only on the next day, after all hell had broken out, that he revised his remarks by giving them a more gentlemanly, if Clintonian touch: "I actually said if I miss the cut, I'd rather she miss the cut as well," he told reporters on May 13. Evidently, that was good enough for CBS and its advertisers. More evidence still of growing conservative bias in the media.
Nixon's the One (posted 5/21/03 1:20 a.m.)
If the media continue to fall in public esteem, it's only because most Americans don't bring high expectations to their newspaper reading and TV viewing in the first place. To add insult to injury, the nation's sports pages seem to reflect the lowest standards. Recall that Jayson Blair almost wound up at the Times sports section when dismayed editors didn't know quite else what to do with him.
Even if classy writers like Tom Boswell aren't going ballistic, or other columnists aren't thumping for some NOW-related cause, the sports news too often comes up short, and for reasons having nothing to do with politics, even if a subject's name is Nixon. It just seems that not much thought is put into telling the whole story.
Consider the uncharacteristic recent botch committed by the Red Sox right-fielder Trot Nixon in the top of the ninth of a close game with two men on base. He caught a flyball for out number two but, mistaking it for the third out, proceeded to toss the ball to a friendly fan in the right field stands of Fenway Park, setting up three gift runs for the visiting California Angels, who ended up winning 6-2.
Now, how could a dependable player commit such an error? The wire-service writeup of the game -- which played up Nixon's mistake as its lead item -- gave no clue. Here, thanks to ESPN, we can go to the video tape. The replay shows that just before hitting the fly ball to Nixon, Angel hitter David Eckstein had hit a popup that the Red Sox third-baseman dropped in foul ground. That should have been out number two. And if it's true that half of baseball is 90 percent mental, one could imagine what clicked in Nixon's mind in distant right field. By the time the fly ball was reaching him, he was no doubt remembering the previous popup as an out. In a long season, players' thinking is set on cruise control, and something as flukey as a dropped popup may not have registered as anything more than an automatic out. In any case, after the drop someone in the infield, flashing an index finger, should have reminded the outfielders that there was still only one out. Did anyone? We'll never know, will we. The journalists on the spot didn't care enough to find out.