John Chidley A blog about reading, writing, pop culture and sports.


Los Suns are a team anyone can admire

Grant Hill and Steve Nash celebrate as the Phoenix Suns down the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night.

The Phoenix Suns honoured their Latino fan base in the best possible way Wednesday night – they beat the San Antonio Spurs 110-102 and took a 2-0 lead in their Western Conference semifinal series.

However, news stories leading up to the game didn’t focus on the outcome of the series, but on the Suns’ choice of uniform.

At the behest of owner Robert Sarver they wore orange jerseys with Los Suns emblazoned across the front as a nod to the Arizona Hispanic community’s celebration of Cinco di Mayo and to protest a new state law that will require all immigrants to prove their American citizenship.

It serves as another example of why the Suns are the most likeable team in the National Basketball Association.

When the defensively-minded Spurs and Detroit Pistons were dominating the league, boring fans to tears, Phoenix stepped up to make the league exciting again.

Under former head coach Mike D’Antoni, the Suns developed a fast-paced high octane style of play that emphasized speed. “Eight seconds or less” was their credo, pushing to get a shot off less than 10 seconds after they’d inbounded the ball.

Although its express train offence was briefly derailed by the addition of centre Shaquille O’Neal, Phoenix regained their high-speed attack this season under coach Alvin Gentry.

They’re anchored by Canadian point guard Steve Nash who is renowned for his good nature and charitable spirit.

“I’m proud of our owner for making this stand but we’re not out there to alienate,” Nash said. “We want this to be all about love in our community. People, regardless of whether they agree with me or not, we have love for everybody.”

Nash was joined in 2007 by Grant Hill, who had regained some semblance of his all-star form after losing several seasons in the prime of his career to nagging ankle injury problems. His perseverance and sincere personality has endeared him to many fans.

“Grant Hill never ceases to amaze me,” says Gentry. “There’s a 37-year-old—he hates when I say that. Here’s a guy who plays on our team that’s been in the league for a long, long time. He just does a good job.”

“Everything we ask him to do, never complains. He’s always on the best perimeter player. He never complains. He just plays. He’ll forever be my favorite player. He really will.”

Phoenix is one of those special teams that everyone can get behind. The Suns work hard on the court. They are exciting and a breath of fresh air in the NBA. Off the court, their players are approachable and considerate. They are genuinely nice people.

And now, Sarver has found a way to tastefully protest to a law that has offended many people. It’s a classy move, and one entirely reasonable for a team that is captained by a foreign national and relies upon the play of Latino players like Robin Lopez and Leandro Barbosa.

The Phoenix Suns are the feel-good team of the playoffs. Hopefully they’ll triumph over San Antonio and continue on to the NBA Final.


Athletes and coaches need to step up to prevent violence towards women

University of Virginia President John T. Casteen III spoke at a vigil held in memory of Yeardley Love.

Field lacrosse is supposed to be a gentleman's game. Referees can hand out penalties for swearing or, if they’re particularly strict, if anyone other than a team captain speaks to them.

In fact, one of the senior lacrosse referees in Ontario regularly admonishes athletes for swearing on the field by saying “Watch your language, I’m carrying a picture of my mother in my pocket.” He’s not afraid to hand out fouls for anything he deems to hurt the image of the game.

Sportsmanship toward opponents, officials and teammates is considered a prized characteristic in lacrosse players.

Unfortunately, this respect for the game doesn’t always translate to respectful or even legal behaviour off the field.

On Monday University of Virginia senior lacrosse player George Huguely was arrested and charged with first degree murder of Yeardley Love, a member of the school’s women’s lacrosse team.

According to news reports, the two had a relationship that recently ended. Huguely admitted in a search warrant affidavitissued to Charlottesville, Va., police that he and Love had an altercation and that he “shook Love and her head repeatedly hit the wall.”

It’s a shocking tragedy that has upset the community surrounding UVA. A young life has been snuffed out before it even really began.

This isn’t the first time that NCAA lacrosse has been rocked by controversy. In 2006 three members of Duke University’s team were accused of raping a black student from North Carolina Central University who was hired as a stripper at a party held at the house of one of the captains of the Blue Devils.

Although all charges were dropped against the three athletes, the messy affair created a firestorm around Duke’s campus and ignited racial tensions in North Carolina. The lives and reputations of many of the parties involved were ruined.

Obviously, the Duke scandal and the murder in Virginia are unrelated crimes that took place years apart and involve independent parties.

Still, they offer a sad commentary on the behaviour of varsity lacrosse players. Both incidents underscore the fact that many young men involved in athletics are violent, often towards women.

It’s not limited to lacrosse at the university level either. There have been many famous professional athletes accused of sexual assault including NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and, more recently, Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Coaches, captains, athletic directors and anyone else in a position of authority on these teams have to start stepping up and teaching their athletes the importance of respect and discipline on and off the field.

The emphasis placed on sportsmanship and good conduct when playing lacrosse should also be applied to real life beyond the confines of competition. Yes, winning is important. Drive and determination are too. But being able to succeed on the field is even sweeter if it’s accomplished by a classy, respectful person off the field.

I’m not saying that coaches can control their athletes or single-handedly stop domestic abuse. Everyone involved with sports, at all levels, should re-double their efforts to breed a healthier attitude toward women.

That Ontario Lacrosse Association referee has the right idea - banning swearing may seem quaint, but encouraging a gentlemanly attitude in all facets of life is a worthwhile pursuit.

Sadly, there will likely always be violence in society. It will never be completely eradicated. But in an atmosphere like a varsity team where young athletes are being shaped into men, role models like coaches or senior players should still do their best to encourage healthy and respectful interactions.

None of this can reverse the tragic fate of Yeardley Love, but her memory can be honoured by the athletic community as it addresses this issue.


Free Comic Book Day 2010

As comic book fans across North America know, last Saturday was the annual Free Comic Book Day.

FCBD is an ingenious promotion that publishers and stores across the continent have developed to encourage new readers to try out comics and graphic novels.

It’s a simple concept: on the first Saturday in May most major comic book publishers release free copies of comics which the stores hand out to any and all customers. The idea is to get new patrons into the stores and to introduce older fans to new titles or creators.

Although I’m a big-time comic book nerd, this was my first experience with FCBD. I went to Paradise Comics, my Local Comic Store, and dragged my girlfriend Katy along.

Between the two of us we picked up six comics:

Boom! Studios – Irredeemable/Incorruptible double-sided: This was actually the last comic I picked from the spread. It just so happened that the Incorruptible cover was the one facing up on the table, and that’s what drew me in. Of course, Mark Waid’s story is great and as these are reprints of both series’ first issues, this was a perfect jump-on for new readers.

I’d read Irredeemable before, and think its concept of superhero-turned-ultimate-villain is fine. Certainly, Waid does an excellent job of building a sense of dread and terror as Superman-analog the Plutonian rampages around the world.

The only problem is that it’s been done before. Watchmen, the Dark Knight Returns, Rising Stars and the Squadron Supreme, amongst others, have broached these themes before. It’s not that Waid does it better or worse than these other titles, it’s just well-tred territory.

Incorruptible, however, is brilliant. It chronicles the reaction of supervillain Max Damage to the Plutonian’s berserker rage and his decision to prepare to fight the hero. I am hooked. I want more, and that’s what Free Comic Book Day is all about.

IDW – G.I. Joe #155 ½: I’m definitely a fan of G.I. Joe but this comic did nothing for me. The Joes themselves are only mentioned in one panel of the comic. Although there’s a great deal of action, the plot relies heavily on past storylines from earlier G.I. Joe comics.

I can see that some people might be intrigued by Cobra Commander’s scheme to take over the United States, but it seems like a very continuity-heavy book that could turn off new fans drawn in by the recent live-action movie.

 Maerkle Press – Love and Capes #13: I’d heard good things about this comic from the Invincible Super-Blog and an interview with creator Thom Zahler on an episode of the War Rocket Ajax podcast.

As usual, Chris Sims and Eugene Ahn didn’t lead me astray. It was a fun, light-hearted read about the newly-married Crusader and his wife Abby as they adjust to their new life together.

The humorous vignettes of what it’d be like to be a married superhero were good for some laughs and Zahler’s artwork is clean and expressive.

Archie Comics - Archie’s Summer Splash #1: Written and illustrated by Dan Parent, this comic is exactly what you’d expect from the good folks at Archie. It’s a fun, one-and-done book centred around a minor social conflict between average American teenagers.

I appreciate that Archie Comics put out a brand new story for FCBD and one that can be easily understood by any new reader. I’m just sorry that it doesn’t really focus on the main four Riverdalians (Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica). Sure, they’re there, but they could have been anyone.

That said, that’s my only complaint. Parent strikes again, doing a solid job of writing and illustrating this story.

Marvel Comics - Iron Man/Nova: Along with the Incorruptible half of Boom’s efforts, this was the best comic I read on Saturday.

Specifically labelled as “Great for all ages”, this book is fun and easy for any fan to understand. Craig Rousseau’s artwork is very detailed while remaining light and easy on the eyes. Writer Paul Tobin squeezes a lot of exposition into the dialogue between Nova, Iron Man and Kate McMillan but manages to keep the plot moving.

I like the choice of heroes as well. Obviously, Iron Man’s inclusion serves as a tie-in to Iron Man 2 which comes out in just one week. Nova is an odder choice as he’s got a lower profile than most characters, but since he is going to be a member of the new Secret Avengers book coming out this month his inclusion also makes sense. Nova is also more accessible for younger readers, since he’s a college student, an everyman in the vein of Spider-Man.

Also, it features monkeys and apes. Who doesn’t love simians?

Marvel Comics - Iron Man/Thor: Inversely, this is the worst comic I picked up on Saturday.

In theory, it should’ve been great. As mentioned above, Iron Man has starred in a wildly popular movie with another one coming out in a few days. Thor’s movie is in production and is a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe. There’s a lot of buzz surrounding the characters.

Matt Fraction is one of the hottest scribes in the industry right now, writing the monthly Iron Man and Thor titles. Penciler John Romita Jr. is one of the best comic book artists ever, and a mainstay of Marvel comics.  Again, you’d think a creative team like that would be a slam dunk.

Unfortunately, this story is confusing as all hell. Both characters are kind of jerks, not just to the villains but to each other as well. It’s hard to place when in continuity this happens and it ends on a puzzling note with Thor flying over a wrecked supertanker in the green fields surrounding Ayer’s Rock in Australia and Iron Man standing on the moon before a bunch of wreckage that includes a sign for Stark technology.

Not the kind of gateway to two monthly titles that Marvel was probably hoping for and a disappointment to fans familiar with the characters or creators of this issue.


My weekend in junior hockey, April 30th – May 2nd

Taylor Hall

Taylor Hall and the Windsor Spitfires have a commanding 3-0 series lead over the Barrie Colts.

In any playoff final there is the expectation that the teams will be pretty evenly matched. After all, they’ve survived the regular season and the first few rounds of the post-season.

This year though, the Canadian Hockey League finals across the nation are all well in hand. In fact, they could all end up as four-game sweeps.

Here in Ontario, the focus has been on the Windsor Spitfires’ dominance of the Barrie Colts.

The defending Memorial Cup champions looked to be dead in the water after falling behind the Mississauga  St. Michael’s Majors 3-0 in their Ontario Hockey League semifinal match-up. But the Spitfires rallied to win that series 4-3 and now they are up on the Colts 3-0.

I covered the second game of that series for the Canadian Press and it was clear from the action what the problem is: Windsor absolutely owns the neutral zone. Several of their goals came from turnovers between the blue-lines and Barrie could barely get the puck over half.

Out in New Brunswick, the Moncton Wildcats have also quickly established a 2-0 lead over the Saint John Sea Dogs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League final, including a 9-3 thumping in Game 2.

Things are even more lopsided in the Western Hockey League, as the Calgary Hitmen opened their series against the Tri-City Americans with a resounding 7-0 victory. They followed that up with a 4-1 victory to take a two-game lead in the series.

As a fan, I’m disappointed that these series are going by so quickly. Ideally, all series would be close with lots of back-and-forth between the two teams.

That said, good for the Moncton Wildcats, Windsor Spitfires and Calgary Hitmen. They should be proud of themselves for coming out so strong in the crucial step to the Memorial Cup. It's too bad that it comes at the expense of some high drama.