In case you were busy finally figuring out the trick to seeing the hidden image in those Magic Eye posters, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
LeBron James became the first player in NBA history to score 30 points on better than 60 percent shooting from the field in six consecutive games as the Miami Heat beat the Portland Trail Blazers, 117-104, at home. "What's with these newfangled statistics?" asked elderly Miami resident Saul Zinman. "Points? Shooting percentage? When I played, we only had two statistics in netball — bouncy passes and bloody noses, and I led the Staten Island Pantaloons in both. Also, all the teams used to be named for types of pants: The San Francisco Denim Men, the Columbus Corduroys, the Weehawken Torn Trousers. I bet you three nickels there's not a single team left named after a type of pants."
In Part II of Bill Simmons's mega Olympics mailbag, a reader named Scott Stone proposed the reintroduction of tug-of-war to the Olympic Games. So passionate was the response from Bill and others to this proposal, we wanted to give Scott a forum to dive deeper into the wonderful, hypothetical world of Olympic ToW. Take it away, Scott.
The thing about tug-of-war is that it doesn’t really measure strength — it measures effort. Once you reach some minimum level of muscle (just enough to avoid getting pulled off your feet at the bell), the winning side is the side that gives up last.
Take the tug-of-war on Battle of the Network Stars. I don’t know how much time is on the “Fuck It!” meter of a Telly Savalas or a Penny Marshall, but I’m pretty sure it can be measured in seconds. I’m not even sure Telly is pulling — he’s just sorta leaning against the rope. By contrast, Robert Hegyes (Epstein from Welcome Back, Kotter) practically suffers a full-body hemorrhage leading his team to victory. He also has a good “pull face.” Like a closer’s facial hair, this cannot be discounted.
So I took a second look at Simmons's tug-of-war team. And I realized someone was missing. Someone he hates. Someone who, even though this is probably impossible, would be able to demonstrate what the tug-of-war equivalent of “demanding the ball” might look like. Someone who is named after a city in Japan and a legume, but refers to himself in the third person as a deadly, venomous snake. Someone who lately seems unable to refrain from unnecessarily cussing when asked basketball-related questions by the media.
Another Olympics has come to a close, and we've had the usual barrage of doping controversies to mull over, varying from scurrilous insinuations about 16-year-old girls to justified concern over rehabilitated (and unrepentant) ex-dopers winning medals. So, what else is new? Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of this Olympics is how comfortable we’ve become with drug use in sport. It’s reached the stage where news of an athletics gold medalist testing positive for steroids barely merits the jaded raise of an eyebrow. Yet Nadzeya Ostapchuk is the only Olympian (so far) to have been stripped of a medal in 2012, which compares favorably with five medalists in Beijing, nine in Athens, and eight in Sydney. This has either been the cleanest Olympics this century, or, if you’re of a more suspicious frame of mind, the one with the least effective drug testing. Some people certainly suspect the latter; witness this extraordinary article on Ye Shiwen from the host nation’s most popular non-tabloid newspaper. But let’s put talk of genetically modified swimbots aside, and look at what’s actually happened in the world of swimming, because it’s certainly been noteworthy.
The long podless summer of your discontent has officially come to an end. Yes, the Blazers are back — freshly cleaned and pressed just in time for the start of the 2012-13 English Premier League season. But where to begin in this introductory Men in Blazers podcast? There’s really no other choice than to quickly consider the 2012 Olympic Games, hosted by motherland Great Britain. To the great surprise of the Blazered Men, there’s still life in the Old Dog yet.
But back to the football. In this week’s pod, the Men in Blazers delve into a thorough and mostly fabricated preview of the coming campaign, going team-by-team before looking deep into their crystal ball to offer bold predictions. Spoiler alert: It’s going to be a weird one.
Here in the U.K., everybody’s going crazy over Britain’s Olympic Heroes, and with good reason. But Team GB’s performance wasn’t that surprising; they won slightly more golds than predicted, but a few fewer medals overall. A tremendous performance, but not an unexpected one.
So, which nations did pull off a shock? Who exceeded their supposed limitations, and more important, who completely screwed up? We jammed three sets of predictions (from Sports Illustrated, USA Today, and Sports Myriad) into a spreadsheet, worked out the averages, then compared them to COLD, HARD REALITY. Each nation was then assigned a Grantland Scientific Prediction Versus Reality Score (or GSPVRS). You can see the results here. As is right and proper, gold medals carry twice the weight of lesser baubles.
The Beijing Olympics are avenged! Breathe easy and enjoy the conclusion. This weekend is a walk up the 18th fairway at Augusta with a five-shot lead, a triumphant kneel-down on the last play of the Super Bowl, and the leisurely last stage of the Tour de France all rolled into one. Enjoy it, and thanks for following along. Today's guide will be reduced in scope since I'm about to undertake a one-man drive from North Carolina to Maine (estimated 97 hours), so think of this as a collective group jog around the stadium with the flag draped around our shoulders. I couldn't be more thrilled about the Great London Triumph. Good Olympics, good patriotism, good job.
I, Rembert Browne, have nothing to offer an Olympian with regard to the holding of hands, the making of love, the walking of aisles, or the having of children. Please do not waste time trying to convince me otherwise; I know it to be true and I am slowly coming to grips with that as fact. It's OK, though, because for the sake of the Human Race, I firmly believe Olympians need to mate with other Olympians, if for no other reason than to create super-offspring that will protect our kind against the Unknown when they attack Earth in 36 years.
Alexey Shved has shown during these Olympics that he is an interesting prospect, one who should make the Timberwolves even more exciting to watch. Throughout the men's basketball competition, we've seen the good Shved — a 16-point, 13-assist game against Great Britain — and the bad — getting benched in the fourth quarter of Russia's game against Australia for talking during a timeout. Shved, who is known a little too well for his off-the-court antics, is starting to make a name for himself in the Olympics with his play, especially with his shooting. This has led many Timberwolves fans to ask: What can he do for us next year?
There’s a craze sweeping men’s football at the moment. Its name is tiki-taka, a tactical system devised to help skillful teams cope with physically dominant opponents. There are those who will tell you that it is nothing less than an evolutionary step for football. These people have seen the tremendous success of the principal exponents of the style (the all-conquering Spanish national side, and Lionel Messi’s Barcelona), and they’ve reached the conclusion that tiki-taka isn’t just another tactical approach to the game; it’s progress.
It’s not progress. It’s actually an old idea, for tiki-taka was invented in 1997 by Matt Groening (or one of his many scriptwriters) in the "Cartridge Family" episode of The Simpsons. In the episode, Mexico and Portugal play an exhibition match in Springfield that is so stultifyingly boring, a riot breaks out between supporters desperate to be the first to leave the stadium. Meanwhile, Kent Brockman calls the on-field action, in what always used to strike me as a wildly inaccurate parody of football, but now seems like an act of eerily prophetic soothsaying.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings won their third-straight gold medal in beach volleyball, beating fellow Americans April Ross and Jen Kessy in two sets. "And with that, it's time to hang up the ole bikini," said May-Treanor, who plans to retire from the sport. "Figuratively," she clarified, when a crowd of men quickly rushed over. "Jesus, it's an expression."
Today, at the end of the men's basketball quarterfinal between France and Spain (which Spain won, 66-59), French forward Nicolas Batum landed the nut shot heard round the world on Spain's Juan-Carlos Navarro. After the game, Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski asked Batum, who makes his money playing for Portland, why he went south of the border on the Spanish guard. Batum responded, "I wanted to give him a good reason to flop." No wonder David Kahn likes this guy so much. Batum would later apologize for the shot, on Twitter: "I want to apologize for my stupid act at the end, I showed a bad image of France and myself, Congrats to team Spain." Good on him, though you would have to say the damage, both on Franco-Spanish relations and Navarro's family tree, has already been done.
Anyway, while we wait for the fallout from this grave international incident, let's take a trip through some basketball ball crimes past.
I don’t remember how it came up — probably because I thought it’d come up before — but at some point yesterday in the office, I started in about my love of indoor volleyball. My co-workers were surprised, and in turn, so was I. There are people who don’t love indoor volleyball?
I started watching in high school. My friend made the varsity team as a freshman, and because we all thought that was pretty cool, a few of us started hitting every home game. By our junior year, we had one of the best men’s (and women’s, actually) high school teams in the state, and groups of us started traveling for games. Our volleyball crowds were bigger than the ones most schools fielded for basketball.
The interest hung around through college. My friend went on to one of the nation’s best volleyball programs, and I caught enough games — including their national championship win — to remember why I loved watching in the first place. So when I was asked yesterday to catch some Olympic indoor volleyball and make my case for why it’s so great, I happily accepted. Conveniently, the U.S. was set to play Italy this morning in the start of the men’s quarterfinals.
It was a joke: Martin Short and Harry Shearer were two male synchronized swimmers who had given up everything in their quest for Olympic gold.
It was made all the more ridiculous by the fact that (a) Martin Short couldn't swim and (b) there was no men's event even in the Olympics. And the premise for this Saturday Night Live sketch was so well executed that, almost 30 years later, few people have even bothered to revisit the subject.
But 30 years later men's synchronized swimming is also no longer a joke, which is to say there are men who do it, and they take it seriously. Honest. And, in a bizarre instance of art imitating future life, they want to go to the Olympics.
Reader Daniel G. has invented Saber-Medal-Trics, which takes Sports Illustrated's overall medal predictions and reviews results to date in order to project a final count. After Tuesday's events, Daniel reports that the U.S. is on pace to equal their projected SI gold-medal count, and beat the projected overall medal number by five., while China is on pace to win one more gold and six fewer medals total. With that knowledge, here are the projected final tallies:
So, so close. Speaking of China, it's worth congratulating Chen Yibing, a.k.a. "the king of rings," on his composure after getting absolutely jobbed in the event final. Chen won gold in Beijing, and it appeared he had done the same in London when the last competitor, Brazil's Arthur Zanetti, finished his routine. But the judges gave Zanetti a 15.9, and Chen (15.8) was relegated to silver. I challenge anyone with even rudimentary gymnastics knowledge to watch both routines (Chen at 6:15 mark, Zanetti at 25:30) and argue that Zanetti deserved gold. My friend Spike put it best: "One was art, and the other one was very good. And the very good one had a step on the landing." But Chen, though he professed to feeling bitter, stayed completely calm, congratulated his opponent, and didn't let his disbelief show. Total class act from a guy who had every right to be furious.