On Thursday night, Barry Derr was reminded in stark metaphorical terms of his place in the entertainment pecking order. Thousands had come to downtown Los Angeles to see the big matchup: Candice versus Kree on American Idol. Barry and a few dissidents had come for Kings versus Sharks, a second-round NHL playoff game. The idols were greeted by a wide red carpet outside the Nokia Theatre, where teleprompters spit out inane questions (“What’s going on down there on the red carpet?”), and entertainment correspondents wore heavy makeup. The Kings had a deejay playing “Sweet Home Alabama.” Someone had strung up balloons. “If you’re born in L.A.,” Barry said, “you gotta fight to see a hockey game.”
You could forgive Kings fans for feeling like members of an out-of-the-way cult. This is partly because their team plays at Staples Center, which is nestled in a vast entertainment complex called L.A. Live and is just steps from the Nokia Theatre. L.A. Live is a place where TV shows are filmed so they can be shown to the West Coast on tape delay. It is also a favored site of movie premieres and VIP visits. Thus, a Kings fan leaving Staples often finds himself encountering Twilight fans who have bivouacked for the premiere, or emissaries from the South Korean presidential delegation. The two groups stare at one another as in a first-contact moment on Star Trek.
Most of the objections to Jason Collins’s announcement last week can be placed into neat categories. Religion. Politics. Francesa. But Tim Brando, the host of CBS’s College Football Today, the nerve center of SEC football, took to Twitter with an eye on leaving his competition in the dust:
I'm hearing Collins is a HERO because he made history! Okas a Sports Commentator if I make a SEX tape is that history?The word matters ok
The tweet confirmed my theory that the most important men in SEC history were Bear Bryant, Billy Cannon, and Sigmund Freud.
Some introductions are in order. Brando is 57 years old and a resident of Shreveport, Louisiana. On TV, talk radio, and Twitter, he doesn’t play a soothing, imperturbable studio host like James Brown or Curt Menefee. Brando is a brawler, an SEC tastemaker, and, occasionally, a producer of great howlers. One way to think about his Collins tweets (there were more) is that we non-SEC fans are eavesdropping on a conversation Brando has been having for years. That someone like Brando could become the SEC’s voice is a testament to both the rise of the conference and of a certain form of media culture.
Sunday was a happy/depressing day in the happy/depressing history of the New York Islanders, a franchise that’s set to move to Brooklyn (a happy/depressing borough) in 2015. The Islanders were playing the Penguins in a first-round playoff game at Nassau Coliseum, their first postseason appearance in Uniondale since 2007. I thought I ought to go and make notes on the fan base while it was still in its natural habitat.
Shortly after 10 a.m., about two hours before the opening faceoff, Jason Coyne and his friend Michael Decotis were sipping Jack and Cokes in the parking lot. “I’ve been an Islanders fan since I was 2 years old,” Jason said. “Now, I’m 35.”
“Thirty-seven,” Michael corrected him.
“Thirty-seven,” Jason said. He added apologetically, “Jack Daniel’s.”
If Brian Kenny has a tell, it’s his eyebrows. Flip over to MLB Network — where Kenny is a studio host, talking head, and defender of sabermetricians — and you’ll see his eyebrows shoot up until they form twin quotation marks on his forehead. This means Kenny is about to blow his top. Like Fox News's Shep Smith or ex-CNNer Jack Cafferty, Kenny is a guy you can count on to get angry when the world stops making sense. Watching him stew is just about the most wonderful thing on sports TV.
Why would we want to go to the NFL draft? Why does an event that consists of Roger Goodell reading names into a mic and then hugging a few prospects appear on our sports bucket lists?
I get the draftnik thing. I am one. As I headed to Radio City Music Hall on Wednesday morning, I packed the new (maybe final) edition of the royal-blue Mel Kiper guide, with Luke Joeckel and Geno Smith on the cover. I Instapapered a bunch of articles about Jerry Jones’s master plan to trade down and control the seventh round.
But why see it live? Later that day, I asked Mike Burton, a Browns fan who’d come all the way from Regina, Saskatchewan. Burton said, “It’s part of football lore, football cultu—” And then he broke into a run across a midtown Manhattan street at rush hour to get in the ticket line for the draft.
I was running after him when I thought, Who cares about why? So today, let’s focus on how. This is how you get into the NFL draft.
We asked some of our writers to tell us what they're expecting from the upcoming NBA playoffs.
Jay Caspian Kang: Miami will go 16-3 in the playoffs, and one of the losses will come to the Bucks. They'll also lose a game to the Knicks and the last one to the Thunder in the Finals. They're the first team since the first Ubuntu Celtics that's going to legitimately intimidate their opponents. The Nets vs. Bulls first-round series will be unwatchable. In the Western Conference, I think we'll see more than 10 different games in which a player scores more than 40 points. Steph Curry, Tony Parker, James Harden, Durant, and Westbrook will all turn in memorable performances. Oh, and this Western Conference playoffs, as a whole, will trend on Twitter every single night. Just so many great matchups and players there. Every series in the Western Conference will go at least six games, but all the top seeds will advance.
Brian Phillips: At some point during the White Hyperspace portion of the proceedings — between, say, Spike Albrecht's 19th consecutive falling-away 30-footer and the moment when Luke Hancock actually turned into a flock of doves — it hit me that life would be easier if this game weren't so much fun. If you hate the NCAA (and you do), then March Madness is always a time of intense cognitive dissonance. You love the product and despise the factory. You want to smash the whole corrupt system, but first maybe you'll just spend 90 straight couch-hours mainlining the event that makes the system possible. You're like an anti-cockfighting advocate who happened to walk past a cockfight one day and felt your brain go, "Yyyyeessssssss!"
So it's always kind of validating when the NCAA tournament ends with a clunker, or at least a game that's exciting but badly played. You get to cheer for some bumbly-heroic mid-major, and then after their floppy-haired 5-foot-11 shooting guard spends 40 minutes getting slaughtered by a basic zone defense, you get to think, "Well, it's just the NCAA." Last night, though? Last night doesn't leave you any outs. Last night was amazing, full stop, end of paragraph, fade to Northwestern Mutual commercial. Last night, watching the comebacks and the refusals to die, watching Trey Burke hurl himself around with the entire Upper Peninsula on his shoulders, watching about 900 high-pressure makes, you couldn't not wind up all-in. Which means the NCAA won again. At least the officiating sucked.
Stan Isaacs, a compact little sportswriter with an impish grin, once decided he’d heard too many press conferences. The reporters’ questions were moronic, the athletes’ answers nearly as bad. So Isaacs sat down and started imagining. This is what Isaacs did. It’s what made him a strange rebel of the sports page. Isaacs finally decided to have David — the biblical David — endure a post-gamer with the reporters:
Scribe: Congratulations, David.
David: Thank you. But I’d like to point out that I couldn’t have done it without the help of all the Israelites. It was a team victory.
Scribe: When did you first think you had it won?
David: When I had Goliath down on the ground, pulled sword out of its sheath and cut off his head.
Scribe: What went on in your mind when you were doing it?
David: When the Philistine arose and drew near to me, I figured the best defense was a good offense. So I ran to meet him. The old element of surprise you know.
That was Stan Isaacs, the Newsday columnist, who died Tuesday at 83. Isaacs was a fierce opponent of whatever he was “supposed” to be writing, an insurrectionist with a smile. In the end, he did to conventional sportswriting what David did to the giant.
The unthinkable has happened: Jason Giambi has become a grand old man of baseball. There was a time when Cleveland's designated hitter seemed like he’d remain frozen in the early 2000s, the relic of a goofier, more exuberant time. Giambi was an OBP warrior (praised in Moneyball), a confessed steroids user (unmasked in Juiced), and the recipient of a $120 million free-agent deal back when the Yankees were still passing them out.
But here is Giambi standing at his locker at age 42. He is graying. He uses “tutelage” as a verb to describe his role as a mentor. After a close call in Colorado last season, he's intent on becoming a manager. Herewith, Giambi talks about becoming old and respectable.
By now, you’ve seen the Facebook photos of Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn. In the Tiger meta-scandal, the release of these pictures is an important milestone. This is the moment when the narrative of Woods’s love life passed from our hands back into his.
Congrats to Eric Montross, who — along with Christian Laettner, Rick Fox, and Tyler Hansbrough — advances to the Final Four of our Most Hated College Basketball Player bracket. If only CBS would give us the rights, we'd remix a ragey "One Shining Moment.”
As happy as Montross’s “win” is for me — I, too, sort of hate the guy — it's also a little sad. Because I'm not sure I’m going to hate a college basketball player the same way again.
First, here's why you picked Montross. He checked a ton of boxes.
Behold a video catalogue of the most hated players in college basketball. Some were generational hate-figures found in our Most Hated College Basketball Players bracket. Some were just guys who pissed off our writers at some point or another.
Joe House: There is scientific evidence that suggests the neurological root of hatred follows an activation pattern in the brain that bears certain striking similarities to the pattern for love.
Which happens to provide a perfect explanation for what I'm about to say:
I hated Michael Jordan.
I grew up two miles from College Park, Maryland. While my formative hoops years were populated with heroes on the Washington Bullets and the still-unrivaled highs they delivered (35 years and counting … ), my hoops heart really belonged to the guys playing in Cole Field House. I loved Ernest Graham and Greg Manning and Adrian Branch and Albert King and Dutch Morley and Buck Williams and, of course, Len Bias. Because I could — and did — see those guys play. Not only were the ACC games broadcast on a predictable schedule that was mostly OK for a middle schooler, but I could go to the games (my elementary school had a hookup). And I went to a lot of them. Maryland's coach during this era was Lefty Driesell, who was the perfect underdog coach for a team that never quite got a regular seat at the ACC adults table, and who had a particular skill when it came to fomenting grievances with Dean Smith.
So of course I intensely disliked Michael Jordan. He was an underclassman and he was skinny and it wasn't eyeball-clear why he could play guard and forward so effectively (he used to KILL Maryland on the boards), but more than anything — he was stealing headlines that belonged to Len Bias. Above is the showboater Michael Jordan unnecessarily unveiling the cradle-dunk (10:33 mark) in Cole Field House at the end of a 1984 game Carolina had in the bag.
"He’s a guy who likes to communicate,” Nolan Ryan once said of C.J. Wilson. That's reason no. 1 why Wilson, the Angels lefty, is my favorite working baseball player. Reason no. 2 is even more important. C.J. Wilson is a guy who likes to think.
Wilson and I met two years ago at spring training. I told him I'd like to talk to him about writing (Wilson had a well-known writing interest) and a day later we spent an hour and a half at a Starbucks, talking about novels and screenplays and magazine articles and how they came together. I felt inspired. I really did. It was like attending Robert McKee’s Story Seminar with Jim Bouton.
I got ahold of Wilson after he'd made his first exhibition start. We said our hellos. And then, with the utmost sincerity, he asked, “So, what do you want to talk about?”
On any given Sunday (or Monday or Thursday), your NFL Run & Shootaround crew will be gathered around multiple televisions, making inappropriate jokes and generally regressing to the mean. Catch up on all the NFL action right here.
Anquan Boldin: Hall of Famer?
Anquan Boldin has not made a Pro Bowl since leaving the Arizona Cardinals at the end of the 2009 season. He has not had a 1,000-yard season in Baltimore, and the beast who caught 11 touchdowns in 2008 has been limited to a total of seven touchdowns in his past two seasons. Up until these playoffs, Boldin had mostly fallen off the casual fan's radar — if your interactions with the NFL come mostly from highlights, fantasy, and Red Zone, you might have even forgotten that Anquan Boldin was still in the league.
Ray Lewis has described many things as “awesome.” He dieted and exercised before this season and showed up to camp at his lightest weight in some 15 years: “It’s awesome,” he said, “I feel great.” Earlier this season he described Joe Flacco and the Ravens' much-improved offense as “awesome.” Last week, as he took a victory lap around the Ravens’ stadium one last time, he described it as “the most awesome thing you could ever ask for in any professional career.” After Baltimore’s twist-filled victory over Denver on Saturday, Lewis began doing that postgame proselytizing thing that’s common in such contexts. Maybe it’s the awareness that Lewis is nearing the end or maybe it was the delirium of the game, but there was something wildly moving and strange about his incantations. He said some cold-blooded shit about “weapons,” just as the tool that had been forged for his demise, Peyton Manning, walked up to hug him. Then his eyes got gone and serene as he admired his team’s mile-high handiwork: “Man … it’s just awesome,” he said, all blissful and blessed, clouds of mist surrounding his face, as though the Creator had taken a highlighter to him. There’ve been few players over the past decade as intense and absorbing as Lewis. For those of us who remember when “Ray Lewis weapons” turned up a different kind of search-engine result, there hasn’t been another athlete whose path to righteousness has felt so visceral and extreme.