On Wednesday night, HBO aired State of Play: Trophy Kids, a documentary about overzealous parents and the extreme lengths to which they push their children in sports. We follow four different parents and five kids playing tennis, basketball, golf, and football. As you can imagine, some of the behavior is unintentionally funny, and most of it is pretty harrowing — there are confrontations and parents admitting openly that they are vicariously living through their children, investing in them hopes for a future payout, or simply robbing them of a chance to be a kid. Most of all, though, the documentary was nostalgic. Anybody who played sports when they were young remembers a parent like that; maybe they even had one of their own. Here, Rafe Bartholomew, Chris Ryan, and Corban Goble talk about Trophy Kids and their own memories of when parents went too far on the field. The film is currently available on HBOGO.
Rafe Bartholomew: I'm pretty comfortable with a fair amount of aggression from sports parents. In Little League baseball, even though there were no balks, fathers of kids on opposing teams would yell "BALK! BALK!" while I went through my unusual pitching motion. One boy's father chased me around the field threatening to "knock my fucking teeth out" because of the time I swung my glove blindly across my body to make a tag on a double play and ended up smacking his son in the face. My team took pride in the time our coach instigated a shoving match with a parent on the Expos, the team with all the kids who had really nice batting gloves.
There’s not much to say here. Almost two weeks ago, Super Typhoon Haiyan — called Yolanda in the Philippines — made landfall, laying waste to coastal areas in Eastern Samar and Leyte provinces and leveling much of Tacloban City, a regional hub where more than 200,000 people lived before the storm. It was one of the most powerful — possibly the strongest — storms to make landfall since weather satellites became capable of measuring hurricane-force winds. Thousands are confirmed dead; thousands more are missing. The images and stories of the storm’s aftermath stretched our imagination — it was the kind of devastation the CGI masters behind science-fiction films strive to imagine, only it was harrowing and gut-wrenching and real.
Connoisseurs of basketball misery, pour out a sip of your MD 20/20: For the first time in history, Grantland’s Fate Worse than Death column will not open a new NBA season with a Washington Wizards game. This year, Randy Wittman and the Verizon Center posse decided not to be the last team in the NBA to win a game, so we were forced to abandon the tradition of writing about the Wizards’ firstvictory of an NBA season. Also, Washington’s 2-4 record is just good enough to fend off inclusion in a series that looks to feature the true dregs of American professional basketball, especially on a night that features the 0-7 Utah Jazz hosting the 1-4 Denver Nuggets. Don’t worry, Coach Wittman — I’m confident that I, you, John Wall, and Marcin Gortat will get to dance the Dougie of despair before season’s end.
The scene at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night for WBA middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin’s title defense against Curtis Stevens was a far cry from the atmosphere at Golovkin’s first fight on U.S. soil, just 14 months ago at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona, New York.
That night, Golovkin’s opponent had a name even harder to spell and pronounce than the champ’s — Grzegorz Proksa, from Poland. Press row was not a row. It was five or so reporters sitting at a ringside picnic table. The crowd was sparse enough for me to spot a married couple I’d sat next to earlier that evening at the Season’s Harvest buffet. Few in attendance had a rooting interest — or really, any idea what to expect — because hardly anyone knew who these guys were.
Saturday at the Garden, Golovkin’s challenger wasn’t a marquee name in the middleweight division, but at least the Brooklyn-born Stevens was more familiar than Proksa. The real contrast could be seen in the Theater. The media section was five rows deep. The near sellout crowd was packed with fans waving the sky blue–and-gold flag of Golovkin’s native Kazakhstan, and it included celebrities like Louis C.K., Steve Buscemi, Rosie Perez, and (WTF?) Susan Sarandon. The promoters had even shelled out for boxing’s ultimate hood ornament, Michael Buffer (on his 69th birthday, no less!), to confer status on the bout with his trademarked “Let’s get ready to rumble!"
At its best, boxing is beautiful to watch. Graceful and savage at the same time, it can force fighters to reach back and discover reserves of strength and desire that seem beyond human. If we’re lucky, we might see some of that Saturday night, when Floyd Mayweather faces Canelo Alvarez in the biggest boxing event since Mayweather’s fight against Oscar De La Hoya in 2007.
What we hope not to see is this — or anything similar to it:
The bogeymen of Philippine basketball are mostly South Korean.
It started with Shin Dong Pa, a shooter for the South Korean national team in the 1960s and early '70s. The Filipino old-timers who competed against him utter Shin's name with the same mixture of terror and regard as characters in The Usual Suspects say "Keyser Söze." To hear them tell it, Shin was a 6-foot-3 marksman with range out to 30 feet who could catch and shoot with ruthless, mechanical efficiency. It wouldn't matter if he had Shane Battier palming his face and tickling his armpits, Shin would drain shots as if nobody were guarding him. There's surely a hint of exaggeration here, but for hard evidence of Shin's greatness, look at his stats from the 1970 World Championships — he averaged 32.6 points per game and was the tournament's leading scorer.
The first minute of Saturday’s middleweight title fight between champion Gennady Golovkin and challenger Matthew Macklin was uneventful. Macklin pushed his jab out, usually an inch or so short of Golovkin’s face, and Golovkin mostly kept his distance, springing forward at one point but holding back any punches when Macklin retreated. When Golovkin started to move his hands, he did so almost gingerly — a jab here, a left hook to keep Macklin from rushing in, a few more jabs. It was light work by boxing standards, just a champion feeling out his opponent. Then, a brief exchange in the corner: It was difficult to see from press row, but Golovkin sent a looping right down at a cornered, crouching Macklin, and it landed. When Macklin pivoted out of the corner and straightened out, he no longer looked the part of the confident, experienced challenger who was billed before the fight as the most dangerous opponent in Golovkin’s undefeated professional career. Now, Macklin’s hair was mussed down over his forehead, his lips were twisted in some frantic mixture of hurt and alarm, and the left side of his face was suddenly flush with a deep redness.
Your first impulse might be to put your face in your hands and weep. That’s not far from how I felt upon seeing Allen Iverson’s cameo in About Billions, a web documentary series on the life of Cincinnati boxer Adrien Broner, who beat Paulie Malignaggi for a welterweight championship last Saturday. Broner’s show is self-aggrandizing, self-produced, and ultimately self-defeating. It shows him traipsing around Atlanta and Miami clubs, pouring champagne onto the ground from golden bottles, and posing with giant stacks of cash. In other words, if you’ve seen a hip-hop music video in the past 15 years, it’s pretty unremarkable.
But for about 50 seconds, when Broner and his crew encounter Iverson outside of an Atlanta club (at about 1:50 in the clip above), the show is harrowing. Iverson is never introduced, so it took me a few seconds to realize Broner was talking to the 2001 NBA MVP. When I recognized that gravelly voice as Iverson’s, it was hard not to feel crestfallen. The scene is portrayed as an unplanned meeting — two athletes bumping into each other in the parking lot — only these two athletes could not be at more different points in their careers. Broner is 23 and a regular subject in discussions of the future of boxing, even if his win over Malignaggi failed to impress many fans and journalists. Iverson is 38, was last seen in the NBA three years ago, and is a regular subject of newspaper reports about child custody disputes, alcohol problems, and financial ruin.
When we call the New York Times the “paper of record,” we’re usually referring to its coverage of elections and international affairs, or ambitious Pulitzer bait like the “How Race Is Lived in America” series. In recent years, however, the Times "Sports" section has also marked its territory as a go-to publication for reporting on shattered hoop dreams, especially “Where is he now?” stories about gifted amateur players whose NBA futures have gone kaput thanks to bad luck and catastrophic decision-making. The photographs that accompanied these articles — Victor Page in his eye patch, Jonathan Hargett in prison blues — felt like they tapped into the vein of basketball heartbreak, and no image affected me quite like the one that ran with Harvey Araton’s 2012 profile of Lenny Cooke.
Unlike Page, Cooke hadn’t been shot, and unlike Hargett, he wasn’t incarcerated, so in very plain terms, things could have worked out worse for Cooke. But the sight of Cooke, 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, sitting with his elbows on his knees and rolls of flesh spilling out of his black tank top, shook me in a way the others didn’t. His plaintive gaze was searching for something — maybe his past, maybe his future — and coming up empty. It wasn’t just that Cooke, who went from being the no. 1–ranked high school player in the country to being passed over in both rounds of the 2002 NBA draft, had lost the muscle tone in a physique that had once allowed him to dominate high school competition as a man among boys. Also missing from Cooke was that New York– and Brooklyn-bred look of stubborn, unrelenting confidence, that sense that the world was his to take, that he didn’t even know how to feel fear. Instead, his expression looked heavy and forlorn, like he was one setback away from losing all hope.
Jay Caspian Kang: It’s only early March and the big fights of the fall haven’t been lined up yet, but should we go ahead and proclaim Saturday’s brutal 12-round welterweight battle the Fight of the Year? For those rightfully rolling their eyes right now, let me clarify the question. Given the ongoing feud between Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank, the age of some of the top fighters in the sport (Sergio Martinez, Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, and Juan Manuel Marquez are all at least 34 years old), and the general putridity we’ve seen so far in 2013, are there any potential matchups that could possibly match the skill, power, and heart we saw on display Saturday night in Carson, California? Great fights often come out of nowhere, with Bradley vs. Provodnikov being the most recent example of that truth. But given the protection of some of the top young contenders via their promoters’ matchmaking, will we really see a fight where a top-flight fighter like Bradley gets seriously tested by a guy who has absolutely nothing to lose? What would that fight even be?
The smart money lies with Canelo Alvarez’s upcoming bout against Austin Trout in San Antonio. I suppose there’s a chance that Trout’s speed and the sheer volume of his punches slows down the unstoppable Canelo machine, but count me as maybe the only boxing writer out there who doesn’t really buy all the talk that has circulated about Canelo taking the fight against the wishes of his handlers and Golden Boy Promotions. Someone sees a real weakness in Trout that the rest of us who watched him beat Miguel Cotto do not. If Trout’s as dangerous as he seems, there’s no way Golden Boy would risk their big golden Canelo baby at the tender age of 22.
When David Stern’s magnanimous grin flashed across an LED jumbotron in metro Manila Monday afternoon to announce that “the NBA will play its first preseason game in the Philippines this October,” a pulse of enthusiasm shot through Filipino communities from Mandaluyong City to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to Daly City, California. Basketball has been the most popular team sport in the Philippines for generations, and it’s one of a handful of nations, alongside Lithuania and a few others, where the game is part of the bedrock of local culture. Yet even though the Philippines is a place where commuters regularly ride in multicabs and jeepneys decorated with NBA team logos and Jerry West’s iconic silhouette, the league has never brought its product there. For many Filipinos, the news that the Houston Rockets and Indiana Pacers will play a preseason game October 10 at Metro Manila’s Mall of Asia Arena was a proud moment. Finally, the NBA — the league that served as a model for the Philippines’ 38-year-old PBA — will recognize Filipinos’ love for the game. For the first time since eight players from the 1979 Washington Bullets visited Manila to play a PBA all-star selection (and Dave Corzine almost got into a fistfight with a local legend, 6-foot-1 shooting guard Atoy “the Fortune Cookie” Co), real NBA teams would be playing on Philippine soil.
Gennady Golovkin, the middleweight champion boxer from Kazakhstan, has entered a strange stage in his career. He is still largely unknown to the American audience, but he has been so wildly hyped within the boxing community that one almost expects him to punch a hole clear through his opponent’s head whenever he fights. Anything less is a letdown.
By the end of Golovkin’s seven-round TKO victory Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, he had won every round. He’d made his opponent, Gabriel Rosado, look like he’d just starred in a reenactment of the blood shower scene from Carrie. Golovkin’s punches had opened a deep gash above Rosado’s left eye and had more or less exploded whatever soft tissue had been inside Rosado’s nose. His blows had spattered blood onto the ropes, onto the lenses of HBO’s ringside TV cameras, and onto the side of Rosado’s trainer’s face. Golovkin had handed out so much punishment that moments before the end of the fight, Rosado’s trainer turned to the fighter’s father and said, “I gotta stop it. Your son’s gonna die, man!”
A theory: If you found someone who had never watched a round of boxing, and you made him watch the recent fights of Andre Ward, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Manny Pacquiao, Sergio Martinez, Juan Manuel Marquez, Nonito Donaire, Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko, and anyone else you think might deserve consideration as one of the best fighters alive, that person would choose Ward as the finest boxer on the planet. Of course, several factors go into pound-for-pound designations — a fighter's body of work, the strength of his opponents, and his status in the sport, among others. Because of this, it seems unlikely that Oakland's Andre Ward will be recognized as no. 1 before Mayweather retires, but based on the eye test alone, it's hard to imagine anyone looking better than Ward.
Why? Quality. I admit this is strange, but after I watched Ward dominate light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson on Saturday night, I started thinking about the philosopher-mechanic Robert M. Pirsig and his discussion of "Quality" in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Quality, Pirsig says, cannot be defined. "[It] cannot be broken down into subjects and predicates. This is not because Quality is so mysterious but because Quality is so simple, immediate and direct." Basically, you know Quality when you see it, but your attempts to explain it won't quite add up to a full picture of "Quality."
Over the weekend, news broke that the New York Knicks were dragging their feet in matching the Houston Rockets' $25 million contract offer to point guard Jeremy Lin. As the nervous laughter of Knicks fans ("Ha, this is hilarious ... can you imagine? No, but really, guys. Sign him") turned into acts of hair-pulling and fist-shaking and full-blown Twitter meltdowns, our fearless leader, Bill Simmons, posed the question: If the Knicks, following the apparent financial advice of Carmelo Anthony, turn their backs on the most exciting, well-liked player to rock blue and orange since [insert beloved Knicks player Sprewell, Starks, Ewing ... Renaldo Balkman], would New York fans be wise to turn their backs on the team and become fans of the other New York franchise, the Brooklyn Nets? Simmons certainly thought so. We asked several members of the Grantland family, some of whom count themselves as Knicks supporters, for a verdict.