It was a crash course in how to create a narrative.
Arriving in Washington, D.C., on the evening of June 26, I knew only three things about what the following day had in store. One, the trip was in the name Kevin Durant; two, he was unleashing his newest Nike basketball shoes, the KD 6s; and three, time would be spent with him in his hometown.
That last fact is what spurred a completely out-of-the-way, 900-miles-in-two-days detour from Memphis to the nation's capital.
The meeting place was Washington, D.C., but that isn't Durant's hometown. He's from a place called Seat Pleasant, Maryland.
The Big Ten Road Trip, with all its local comforts, is over, and now it's time to plunge back into the chaos of the national scene. A huge part of college basketball analysis is projecting what will happen in the postseason. It makes sense, because the sport is defined by a few crazy days in March, but I always get a fleeting sense of regret around this time of year. I wish conference tournaments meant more, and I especially wish regular-season conference championships meant more.
I love March Madness as much as anyone, but the truth is it's one of the worst postseasons in terms of crowning the actual best team. That's why it's great; you have to win on a given day, and the small sample size allows for the upsets and anomalies that give the tournament its character. In fact, of the six major American professional and college sports, I'd argue that college hoops is at the bottom of the postseason reliability spectrum. Here are my rankings, from most to least reliable:
In case you were busy making a fool of yourself mixing up the accomplishments of Franklin Pierce and James K. Polk, here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
The NBA All-Star Game pitted the best players in the game against each other in Houston this weekend, with the West coming out on top, 143-138. L.A. Clippers guard Chris Paul, who was named the game's MVP after getting 20 points and 15 assists, said, "I'm just so excited to help secure home court in the Finals for the West, because this time it counts!" When told that the game in no way counted, Paul went on to say, "Really? Is that why no one else was passing or playing defense until the end? Damn, I could have scored so many more points if I had known that."
Toronto Raptors rookie Terrence Ross won this year's NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest with his throwback tribute to former Raptor Vince Carter. First, he amazed the crowd with a display of world-class dunks. Then he limped off the court, petulantly burning bridges with his teammates and the people of Toronto. He plans on returning to next year's competition to complete his performance by not competing at all. "I can't believe it," said runner-up Jeremy Evans, who dunked over a painting of himself dunking over a painting of himself. "How the hell did I got out-meta-ed?"
In case you were busy deleting everything interesting from your Facebook account before Graph Search goes live, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
LeBron James reached a major milestone Wednesday night, becoming the youngest NBA player to reach 20,000 points in a 92-75 Heat win over the Golden State Warriors. James broke Kobe Bryant's previous record scoring pace by over a year. "I'm just trying to secure my legacy," James said, "and I'm very fortunate that Kobe doesn't have a chance to put this record further out of reach."
This is a very, very special Monday in Shuffle-land. When we started this column a couple of weeks ago, I joked that "The Hardcourt Shuffle" sounded like a dance crazy from the 1920s, and I encouraged readers to write lyrics for the imaginary song. Today, I'm beyond thrilled to announce that reader Drew Bollinger did me one better; he wrote the lyrics, and then he wrote the damn song!
It's hard to explain how far my jaw dropped when I first opened Drew's e-mail and listened to the mp3. I'll let you judge it for yourself, but let me just say that Mr. Bollinger is now a charter member of the Hardcourt Shuffle Hall of Fame, which is a thing I just invented. And it's going to be a really exclusive club; so far, it's just Drew and Mason Plumlee. But man, does he deserve it. Enjoy the brand-new Hardcourt Shuffle theme song:
I've had ridiculously good luck appealing to readers so far, so why not press my advantage? My next request is for someone to invent the dance to the Hardcourt Shuffle song, and make a YouTube of yourself performing it to the music. I won't promise instant fame for the first person who follows through, buttttt … actually, screw it, I promise instant fame.
So thanks again to Drew, and now let's get to the hoops.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns as the 49ers trounced the Bears 32-7. "Not bad for an intellectual," sneered Randy Moss, just before snapping Kaepernick with a towel. Kaepernick seethed with pain and anger, but he knew from experience that it was useless to explain the difference between himself and the 16th-century Polish astronomer Copernicus.
Let’s overlook the dearth of tremendous, season-altering upsets and what is almost certainly the least-compelling batch of Heisman candidates of the past several years. College football has seasonal affective disorder. Just something about the sun going down at damn near 5 p.m. causes a profound sadness that nothing can cure, not even the ability to buy five pounds of fun-size Clark Bars at rock-bottom, post-Halloween discounts at Ralphs. As a result, the CFMI doesn’t get out much these days, and the past two weeks has resulted in some awful hermit-like behavior. Which is why our cultural framework to discuss the most downtrodden, distraught, and depressed teams in college football is limited to the only things CFMI really can bring itself to do these days. Which is to say, snooping around 7-Eleven’s magazine rack and watch Netflix. Hey, we never said we were about uplifting the human spirit here.
"The ACC tournament doesn't start until Friday," is a phrase I heard more than once Thursday, the day on which the ACC tournament actually started.
I was especially prone to hearing that sentiment, considering my penchant for complaining about the lack of quality basketball. Still, all good drama needs a setup; those first two establishing acts that make us care about the climax. Even a joke needs a foundation, and it remains to be seen which path this tournament will take.
Before we take a tour of the notable events from Thursday, here are the basics you need to know.
"Mason Plumlee is a man!" I shouted at my girlfriend. She rolled her eyes, but I felt like it was something that needed to be said.
A year, ago, I couldn't have conceived that I'd be complimenting the tow-headed giant. This was the second coming of the hated Miles, the middle of the Flying Plumblebee trio, the guy who was bound to let you down just when he'd fooled you into believing. It was normal to spend entire games thinking up derogatory nicknames for him. (“Plumblef*** the Younger” and “Mason Clumslee” are two that come to mind.)
But now? Now, Mason is having the best season of his life, a coming-out party of epic proportions. He's the best Duke player on the court game in and game out, and on Wednesday night, he refused to buckle in a hostile road contest against the hated Maryland Terrapins. The dark days are over. Mason Plumlee is a big manly son of a bitch, and shall henceforth be known only as "Plumdog Billionaire." Jai ho, you crazy Devil.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
The Lakers used 12 fourth quarter points from Kobe Bryant to rally for a 96-91 win over the Clippers. After the final whistle, scuffles broke out on the floor when Pau Gasol patted Chris Paul on the head. "I don't know if Pau's got kids, but don't touch my head like I'm one of your kids," said an angry Paul. "I don't have kids," responded Gasol. "Yet." Then he winked at the camera, and held up a placard with his phone number and a picture of a rose.
Rafael Nadal continued his Grand Slam dominance over Roger Federer, winning in four sets to advance to the Australian Open final. Rafa is now 8-2 over his rival in the Grand Slams, and 18-9 overall, leading to the odd situation where Federer is the greatest player of all-time, and yet only the second-greatest of his own era. "It's a historian's nightmare!" shouted a frantic historian, fumbling with his glasses and tripping over a pile of history books.
The 12 schools of the Atlantic Coast Conference came into league play in various states of ripening or disrepair. Virginia was riding one of the best starts in team history and had surprised everyone by cracking the Top 25. North Carolina had survived a shaky start and was finally starting to look like the national title hopeful we'd imagined in November. Duke had gone the opposite direction, as the luster of early wins faded in the face of recent humiliations. Florida State spent its first 14 games learning that great defense might not quite be enough this year, while others, such as Maryland and Wake Forest and NC State, made strides that will either prove to be omens of rebirth or ignes fatui, false lights in the dark.
When the first six games had passed, most of the questions still lingered. Here are some quick (and not so quick) thoughts on each.
In advance of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, which begins tonight, Shane Ryan and Mark Titus exchanged e-mails discussing Duke, Ohio State, the nature of the Challenge, and a few odds and ends, including a new game called Azerbaijan. And after much fanfare, picks were made.
Across the college football landscape Saturday, undefeated heads were rolling. Georgia Tech lost, Illinois lost, Michigan lost, and for a while, it looked like that unlucky group would welcome a fourth member. Humility and history beckoned in College Park, as no. 8 Clemson trailed Maryland 35-17 in the third quarter. The usual spark was missing. Quarterback Tajh Boyd had a terrible first quarter, highlighted by an interception return for a touchdown, and the Tigers defense showed no signs of making a stop. In situations like these, there are two choices for the favorite: go quietly into the night, or
The genesis of this feature is simple: The editor in chief of this website, having fallen into a deep funk over the now-irreversible cancellation of a Raptors-Pistons preseason game, and having deemed himself too slothful to do the legwork required to consult his television listings as the college football season nears its apex, has ordered me to do the work for him. Under veiled threat of expulsion from various wagering pools, I have complied. The (completely arbitrary) results have been collated into time slots (EDT) and tiers: One for mainstream populists (The Bo), and one for contrarians and indie-rockers (The Dudek).