I feel myself circling the NBA, slowly getting drawn in like the wayward Voyageur 2 satellite, getting sucked into the orbit of a gas giant.
As I’ve written before, I admire and respect professional basketball players but I will always prefer hockey for cultural and historic reasons.
It’s not my fault. I’m Canadian. We’re raised with the history and social weight of hockey on our culture. We define ourselves by that sport.
I also think the NBA and the Raptors are hurt by the fact that I can remember when Toronto was first awarded a franchise. I was 12 and had just started a unit on basketball in gym class. It was hard to get into something when I was just getting the basics down myself.
I think that’s what basketball is up against in Canada – the NHL is a monolithic presence that was here before you and will be around for generations to come (Note: Not applicable in Quebec City).
Meanwhile, the NBA is still the new kid on the block and is batting .500 on retaining franchises in this country.
That and, let’s be honest, it’s hard to take a team seriously when it’s named after Jurassic Park.
But the last NBA season was awesome. Just about everyone I know was incensed by the way Lebron James and Chris Bosh joined the Miami Heat. Watching other teams give everything they had against the new villains of the league created drama from game-to-game.
The emergence of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the Oklahoma City Thunder as the baby faces of the NBA was also enjoyable. Here was a team that played the right way and was created through the draft, also “the right way”.
Then, of course, there was the triumph of Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks. A team of veterans who had always missed out on the playoffs, the Mavs finally won and – best of all – did it against the villainous Heat, who had loaded up on young superstars.
It was a thrilling post-season.
But the NBA’s labour lockout killed much of that momentum. As every sports fan has griped, it’s hard to put up with billionaires complaining about millionaires and vice versa. From a professional standpoint, it’s fucking boring sending out updates on labour negotiations.
It’s draining and lacks all the passion and drama of, y’know, actual games.
But here we are, less than two weeks before the opening tip off between the Boston Celtics and Knick in New York City at noon, Eastern time, on Christmas Day, and I’m getting excited.
It really started to hit me Friday. I picked out two keepers for the Canadian Press and Friends fantasy basketball league - Serge Ibaka and Jrue Holiday are the first members of the French Lick Hicks – and then went to Raptors training camp to do a story and shoot some video.
The pool will be having it’s live, in-person draft this Saturday and features sports writers or editors from the Canadian Press, the National Post and the Score’s Basketball Jones.
Between that fantasy league and seeing young teams like the Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers grow (or tank) and the continuing dog-and-pony show in South Beach, I’m finding myself getting sucked into the NBA for the first time ever.
Last Tuesday was the one-year anniversary of this blog's creation. For the past year this website has been a place to work on my writing, talk about things that interest me and show off my various professional projects.
I’ve been really pleased with this site and with how my career has developed over the past year. In particular, I’ve been touched by all the positive feedback I’ve received from people. I’m always surprised with how often friends or family mention that they love my writing here. It’s nice to see my hard work appreciated like that.
To me, the most incredible thing about this blog is all the people who’ve read my posts that I don’t know personally. According to my metrics, I’ve had 16,688 unique visits and counting. When I started this site a year ago I never thought I’d have that many visitors.
Thank you for all your support.
To celebrate this blog’s anniversary I thought I’d list the top five most popular articles on this website.
But before I do, I want to mention two in particular: "Bill Simmons’ Twitter idea might be a game-changer" and "Sandwich Review: KFC’s Double Down". These two posts are the two biggest spikes in readership I’ve had over the course of the year. In both cases my readership doubled or even tripled the day they were posted.
Here are the top five most read articles of JCH.com over the past 365 days, in ascending order:
5. "Bill Simmons’ Twitter idea might be a game-changer" – May 14th, 2010
As mentioned above, this article was one of the first big spikes in traffic this blog saw. Collecting a total of 202 unique page views since it was first published, this was my first serious stab at discussing the evolving role of media in sports.
“An interesting experiment occurred on Thursday night as the Boston Celtics eliminated the Cleveland Cavaliers from the National Basketball Association’s Eastern Conference semifinal with a 94-85 victory.
As league MVP LeBron James stepped up to the free throw line in the second half the Boston crowd began to chant “New-York-Knicks! New-York-Knicks!”, referring to one of the more moribund destinations that the soon-to-be free agent might head to in the offseason.
Later, the Celtic faithful began to chant “MSG! MSG!”, the acronym for Madison Square Gardens, the home of the Knicks.
This was all part of a grand scheme concocted by ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons, Boston’s most famous sports fan, and it may just revolutionize spectatordom.”
4. "Sandwich Review: KFC’s Double Down" – Oct. 19th 2010
I’ve reviewed a lot of things on this blog: comics, books, the occasional movie and even some baseball stadiums. But my look at the controversial Double Down sandwich at KFC was the first and last crack at being a foodie you’ll ever seen in this space. That review was particularly timely, earning some buzz and a spike in readership, eventually tallying 214 reads.
“It took months to make it possible, but yesterday I finally ate a Double Down from KFC.
Normally, reviewing a sandwich is not my bag. After all, my good friend and neighbour John already does a bang-up job over at In Search of a Sandwich. Why would I want to compete?
But the Double Down - KFC’s bacon, sauce and cheese sandwich that substitutes the bread for pieces of deep-fried chicken - transcends a normal sandwich. Just as the Double Down pushes the envelope of sandwich technology, I must expand my blogging horizons for this fast food delicacy.”
3. "Three ice dancing performances I’d like to see" – Feb. 23rd 2010
I blogged throughout the Vancouver Olympics, usually in response to a significant event at the games. By far, the most popular of these pieces was my suggestion for three ice dancing routines that would set the performers apart from the cliché-laden pack.
When I posted this link on Twitter it was quickly picked up and retweeted by many of my friends, making it as close to viral as this site has ever been. That buzz resulted in a total of 313 views to date.
Oddly, and somewhat creepily, “Princess Peach” is by far the most popular search on this website, all thanks to this article.
“Like many Canadians, I was thrilled by Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s gold medal ice dance performance on Monday night.
I would never call myself a figure skating or ice dancing fan – I find that too often the judge’s decisions are political – but I was impressed with the athleticism and technique of all the dancers in the competition.
What did not impress me was their lack of creativity or originality. Most of the performances bled together. Virtue and Moir stood above the rest of the competition because they didn’t rely on clichéd music like the themes from the Phantom of the Opera or Requiem for a Dream. They weren’t covered with sequins and feathers. Their performance truly distinguished them from the rest of the pack.”
2. "Toronto has two strikes against it for most professional athletes" – Mar. 9th 2010
I wrote this piece between Roy Halladay’s departure to the Philadelphia Phillies and the National Basketball Association’s free agency period that saw Chris Bosh take his talents to South Beach.
It’s a topic I’d like to revisit sometime, especially since one of my commenters pointed out that my math on the differences in taxes between the United States and Canada might be wrong. Despite the possible error, this post has been read 417 times.
“This summer could be particularly heart-breaking for fans of the Toronto Raptors as they face the prospect of forward Chris Bosh, arguably the best player the team has ever seen, leaving the city as a free agent.
Toronto Blue Jays fans can sympathize with their basketball neighbours – this summer they lost ace Roy Halladay in a lopsided trade with the Philadelphia Phillies and Seattle Mariners.
It’s a familiar story for Torontonians. One of their teams will draft a player who becomes a star, but the franchise player eventually begins to grumble and complain about greener pastures, eventually demanding a trade or letting their contract expire and moving on via free agency.”
1. "Book Review: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Wells" – Sept. 15th 2010
I try to review every book that I read, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with the general themes of this blog like sports and pop culture. But the incredible success of my review of the Glass Castle shows that maybe, just maybe, I should review literally every single thing I experience. Not just books, but music, food, furniture, public transportation, whatever. Although it is the second-most recent post on this list, it’s garnered far and away the most views at 1,106 and counting.
“I never thought that I’d enjoy Jeannette Walls’ "the Glass Castle", but I was wrong.
On the surface, it looked like it was more for stay-at-home moms. It was one of Heather’s Picks at Chapters-Indigo Bookstores and reeked of Oprah’s Book Club. But once I started reading it I appreciated Walls’ writing and was moved by her story.
Like Frank McCourt’s ultra-popular Angela’s Ashes, the Glass Castle is a dark memoir about a dysfunctional family crippled by the father’s alcoholism and the mother’s loose grip on reality.”
Whether it’s picking a champion before a season begins or presaging the outcome of a draft, there’s a good chance a sports writer is setting themselves up to fail when they make predictions.
It’s inherent in sports journalism. The predictable nature of a season naturally lends itself to playing oracle.
You know there will be a Most Valuable Player award and even at the start of the season you can narrow it down to three or four likely candidates. Guessing who it’s going to be is easy copy and it gets the consumers involved in the debate as well. It’s too tempting to pass up.
Of course, more often than not, those predictions are way off and then you have readers sending you crank emails lecturing you on how you’re the wrongest wrong who ever wronged.
Hindsight is 20-20 and those bold statements, predictions of future success (or struggles) and deep explanations embedded in an article can sour quickly, ruining an otherwise fine piece of work.
I touched on this before in my review of SI’s Great Baseball Writing. Throughout that collection there are passages or even entire articles from the late 1990s and early 2000s that try to explain the sudden power surge late in the careers of Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa.
This is at the heart of the Sports Illustrated or EA Sports cover curses – the subject is chosen because of what they’re expected to achieve and, more often than not, they disappoint because they’re being held up to more intense scrutiny or our expectations (raised by the hype of being on the cover) are unrealistic.
Right now I’m reading Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball and I’m making my way through his lengthy Pyramid section where he ranks the top 96 professional basketball players of all time.
It’s an entertaining and informative piece, until you get to the subchapter on Lebron James. Here’s a few paragraphs of the book that, in turn, were pulled from Simmons’ April 15, 2009 posting where he makes the case for James as NBA MVP.
“Not since Magic Johnson has a superstar doubled as such a galvanizing teammate. If there's an enduring image of the '08-09 season, it's the way LeBron stamped his personality on everyone around him. They orchestrate goofy pregame intros (my favorite: the team snapshot), trade countless chest bumps, giggle on the sidelines, hang out on road trips and support each other in every way. What's telling about LeBron's in-traffic dunks -- and he unleashes them more frequently than anyone since Dominique -- is how he seeks out his bench for feedback, and even better, how they give it to him. It makes the forced camaraderie of the Lakers seem glaring. If you want to watch a team that pulls for each other and follows the lead of its best player, watch Cleveland.
And if you're a Cavs fan trying to talk yourself into LeBron staying after 2010, your best chance is this: Through 24 years, LeBron has proven to be an inordinately devoted guy. When you're with him, you're with him. The upcoming documentary (supposedly superb) about his high school years bangs this point home. So does the fact that he jettisoned his agents and surrounded himself with high school buddies. So does everything that happened this season. He's as good of a teammate as a player. The more I watch him, the more I wonder if such an intensely loyal guy would ever say, "Thanks for the memories, everybody," dump his teammates, dump his hometown and start a fresh life elsewhere. Although he isn't surrounded by the most talented players right now, collectively, it's a team in the truest sense, with a devoted set of appreciative fans, and maybe that's all LeBron James will need in the end.
I thought he was a goner four months ago. I think he's staying now. Regardless, he's our Most Valuable Player for 2009. It won't be the last time.”
Although Simmons’ schtick is enthusiastic hyperbole, I do believe that he was very sincere in his belief that James is a loyal, team-oriented player and a true son of Ohio. And, credit where it's due, the Sports Guy was right that James would win NBA MVP in 2009 and that it wouldn't be his last.
But Simmons was wrong about Lebon's character. I think it's fair to say that the Decision, the hour-long ESPN special where Lebron announced that he was “taking his talents to South Beach” proved that as it ripped out the hearts of Cleveland Cavaliers’ fans and tarnished Lebon's image.
It turned out that James is not particularly loyal, that his high school friends/managers totally misread the impact of his television special and that the Lebron camp are so out of touch with his fanbase that they signed off on this ad for Nike, rubbing salt in the wound.
Yikes. Knowing what we know now, reading Simmons' glowing praise of Lebron makes me cringe.
In fairness to Simmons, he did change his mind as the free agency deadline loomed this past summer, backpedalling from his earlier belief that James was going to stay in Ohio as new information came to light.
And hey, it’s not like I haven’t made my own terrible calls. Long-time readers of this blog just need to think back to my March Madness predictions from this past spring, or my Canadian Hockey League playoff predictions from about the same time to see that I’m no seer myself.
I just want to underscore just how tricky this predictions game can be. It’s a wrinkle that makes sports journalism just a bit tougher, a little more unpredictable and definitely a lot more uncomfortable for columnists.
Blog posts, books, magazine covers, whatever, are all created in a particular moment but then stand forever.
Unfortunately, sports journalists are often called upon to make predictions, foresee the future and the incorrect guesses last much longer than the actual outcome ever does. It can turn good copy bad, real fast and it can also make me put down a book for a few minutes to reflect on how fleeting insight can be.
It’s been weeks and the National Basketball Association is still reeling from LeBron James’ hour-long ESPN special called the Decision where he announced that he was joining Dwyane Wade and former-Toronto Raptor Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat.
The fans of James’ former team, his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, went crazy. Pure guano. Owner Dan Gilbert wrote an open letter calling the former Ohio hero a coward and compared him to reviled American traitor Benedict Arnold.
Commentators around the Association thought that Gilbert had maybe gone too far, but they understood his position. No one could understand LeBron’s thinking.
Many basketball experts bemoaned the fact that Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson would have never done something like this. That era of superstars wanted to beat each other, not join forces. The competitive balance of the league had presumably been ruined with Wade, Bosh and James conspiring to move to South Beach.
I agree to an extent. James’ decision to announce on a nationally televised infomercial that he was leaving his hometown team – without first warning the Cavaliers – was a disaster. It was ham-handed and poorly considered. Although Gilbert’s rhetoric was over-the-top, I totally understand why he’s upset.
But this noise about the competitive balance of the league being ruined is ridiculous. Simply put, the NBA doesn’t nearly have the parity of other leagues.
The NBA is not like the National Football League where any team can stun the world and win the Super Bowl. It’s not like the National Hockey League where teams can fall prey to tougher, more determined clubs in the postseason.
A scenario like the 2010 Eastern Conference playoffs where the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins – arguably the two best teams in the East – were knocked off by the opportunistic Montreal Canadiens just would never happen in the NBA.
No, every year there are a maximum of four basketball teams that stand a realistic shot at winning the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. Look at this breakdown of picks from NBA.com’s experts for the 2009-10 season.
All 12 experts believed that the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers would win their divisions. Only Vince Thomas picked the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks to win their divisions. Otherwise, it was unanimous that the Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs would win the Southeast and Southwest.
The Northwest division was the only group to create any kind of controversy with three commentators picking the Denver Nuggets.
When it came to conference champions, the East was perfectly split between Boston and Cleveland, while the Lakers got 10 votes to San Antonio’s two in the West.
I’m a pretty casual basketball fan, and even I would have guessed at the Celtics or Cavaliers facing Los Angeles in the NBA Finals. The Spurs are a bit of a curveball, but they were still a pretty obvious pick.
Not surprisingly, the experts were right. The Lakers did play Boston, after the Celtics had eliminated Cleveland.
So for 2010, we have to assume that the Lakers and Boston are still going to be competitive clubs. Cleveland will be adrift without LeBron, but they will be easily replaced by the Heat as one of the new favourites in the East.
In other words, there are still three teams – and only three teams – that really have any kind of chance to win the championship.
You can say a lot about LeBron James’ move to the Miami Heat. In fact, a lot of people have. But it can’t be argued that it’s ruined the parity of the league.
Ultimately, the competitive balance will stay the same in the NBA, with only a few teams having any kind of legitimate chance at winning the title. It just so happens that now one of those teams are based in Miami and not in Cleveland.
Tonight is one of the most anticipated television events of the summer: the return of the Jersey Shore.
The cast of the mega-popular MTV reality show have been brought back for a second season, this time making like Lebron James and taking their talents to South Beach, Miami.
Just like James’ decision to join Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade on the Miami Heat, Jersey Shore is surrounded by controversy.
For those somehow unfamiliar with the Jersey Shore phenomenon, it’s a really simple concept: MTV put eight young people, primarily of Italian-American descent, into a house on the boardwalk of Seaside Heights, New Jersey.
All the cast had to do was work together at a local novelty t-shirt shop, go out together and, of course, allow the cameras to follow them wherever they went.
As young people are wont to do, they got drunk, hooked-up with each other or people at the local night spots and, above all else, got into fights, culminating in cast member Ronnie Ortiz-Magro being arrested for aggravated assault.
Many Italian groups protested the show, especially Unico National, who wrote a formal letter to MTV asking the network to cancel the show before its release on the grounds that Jersey Shore was a “direct, deliberate and disgraceful attack on Italian Americans.”
More negative publicity swirled around the program when previews showed petite cast member Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi taking a punch to the face from a drunken party-goer at a local club. Although Snooki was physically unharmed, the episode aired with the assault cut out and bookended with public service announcements about the dangers of domestic violence.
Despite these controversies, the show took off in popularity and phrases like “The Situation”, “Grenade” and “Fist Pump” have entered the popular lexicon. Although it has a loyal following, there are many who cannot stand the show.
Those critics are right. At its heart, Jersey Shore is trash television that appeals to the lowest common denominator.
But ask any archaeologist or anthropologist – a culture’s garbage can be incredibly revealing about society, and Jersey Shore is no different.
The show provides a glimpse into a world full of buff bodies and fragile egos, where a total lack of self-awareness meets with a hunger for fame with explosive results.
A close examination of Jersey Shore can serve as a launching pad for discussions of all kinds of serious issues. Topics can include the educational system in the United States after hearing the cast mangle the English language, the state of healthcare in North America as they spend an equal amount of time working out and destroying their skin with tanning beds or religion as Pauly “DJ Pauly D” DelVecchio tries to reconcile his Israeli girlfriend’s Judaism with his own Roman Catholic upbringing.
Most intriguing is the casts attitudes towards sexuality, gender roles and family.
For example, although all the cast members enjoy some level of sexual promiscuity, they also prize loyalty to one’s partner: Sammi "Sweetheart" Giancola is incredibly possessive of her boyfriend Ronnie, but offers no objection when Jennifer “JWoww” Farley cheats on her boyfriend with Pauly D.
Similarly, Angelina “Jolie” Pivarnick objects when her single male roommates bring home some young ladies to enjoy the house’s hot tub. However, it’s later revealed that her boyfriend is a married man and it’s implied that she had a fling with Michael "The Situation" Sorrentino on their first night in the house.
Angelina made a quick exit from the show after a fight with her boyfriend “forced” her to miss a shift at work, resulting in her eviction from the house. Relieved that she’d been ousted from the house, the remaining roommates declared that they were a family – having only lived together for approximately one week.
At one time or another all of the female castmates declare that they want to settle down and start a family with a good guy. Most desperate to find marital bliss is Snooki, who spent the entire season trying to bring men home from local clubs.
“My ideal man would be Italian,” Nicole said in the second episode of the series. “Dark, muscled ... juice-head guido.”
When Vinny Guadagnino’s family came to visit the Shore House, all the female roommates expressed their admiration for her as she cooked for them and cleaned their house, even cutting her son’s food for him. That’s how a proper woman acts, in their mind.
Yet they continued to do backflips in mini-skirts and thongs, make-out with random men (and sometimes women) and have one night stands with strangers.
Most fans of the show call Jersey Shore a car wreck – their morbid curiosity prevents them from changing the channel - but I think it’s the inherent hypocrisy in the actions of the cast that is fascinating.
Where do these people come from? How did they develop such a jaundiced view of the world? What do their parents think of the show? It’s a fountain of rhetorical questions.
It’s a stunning look at a segment of North American culture that is engrossing and depressing, educational and trashy, entertaining but dulling. The second season has big shoes to fill, but I expect it’ll be equally fascinating, at the very least to see how fame has altered the housemate’s already twisted perspective on reality.