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.
Fans of the Toronto Raptors and Chris Bosh, the former star of the team, have been on a collision course since the National Basketball Association’s schedule was released two months ago.
Ever since Bosh announced he was signing with the Miami Heat, fans have been chomping at the bit to heckle and jeer him when he returns to Toronto. The wait is finally over, as Bosh’s Miami Heat will be at the Air Canada Centre tonight.
“I’m on another team,’’ he said to the Toronto Sun on Tuesday. “I would like it (to be liked) because that’s like a fairy tale ending or beginning, but that might not be the case.
“I’ll be ready for anything.”
Bosh can hope all he want, but he is going to be booed and heckled every time he steps in Toronto for the rest of his career. He will be subjected to as much vitriol as Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady are even though they’re years removed from their time on the Raptors.
Sadly, Bosh will probably never understand why he’s now the target of so much scorn in Toronto.
Ironically, the reason for the hatred is the same reason why he left: he doesn’t understand the character of the city.
He doesn’t understand that, ultimately, Toronto is a conservative place.
I don’t mean conservative in the modern, Glenn Beck, Republican sense, but the classical, small-c libertarian way, with an emphasis on individuality, entrepreneurship and, above all else, work ethic.
Founded by Governor John Graves Simcoe in 1793, the city historically stood in contrast to its Gallic cousin to the east, Montreal.
Largely inhabited by Protestants of British decent until the 1950s, Toronto’s early civic life focused on being loyal citizens to the crown, devoted members of their church and especially constructive members of the business world.
Those three characteristics earned Toronto nicknames likes “the Queen City” and “Toronto the Good”. Jokes about being able to shoot a cannon down Yonge Street on a Saturday night without hitting anyone were common. It was a staid, serious place.
Over time, monarchism and religiousness have faded and Toronto has become a more cosmopolitan, multicultural place with a vibrant nightlife. But that dedication to working hard and getting things done has remained at the core of the city.
The serious, stoic demeanour of Torontonians is often interpreted amongst other Canadians, perhaps fairly, as aloofness or even arrogance. There’s a coldness to how people carry themselves in Toronto, although defenders of the city would probably call it “walking with purpose”.
That indifference translates to the business world: It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, as long as you put your nose to the grindstone and work hard, there’s a place for you in Toronto.
It’s that businesslike attitude has made Toronto the most multicultural city on Earth. It’s what makes Ontario’s capital the home of North America’s oldest continuously running Orangeman’s parade, but also allows Toronto to host one of the world’s largest LGBT Pride festivals every summer – the two seemingly contradictory events are held just weeks apart.
That spirit of efficiency and industriousness is what inspired Peter Ustinov to say “Toronto is New York run by the Swiss.”
Toronto’s workmanlike approach to, well, everything, has influenced the city’s sporting culture as well.
Like most things in Toronto’s sporting history it all starts with Conn Smythe.
The founder and long-time owner of the Maple Leafs favoured players who played a tough, relentless style of hockey. His motto of “If you can’t beat ‘em in the alley you won’t beat them on the ice” shaped the identity of the franchise, and set it apart from the free-wheeling finesse play of the rival Montreal Canadiens.
Smythe also set the tone for fan behaviour in Toronto, enforcing a strict dress code for fans at Leafs games. There’s a famous story that a wealthy couple rewarded their maid with their seasons tickets for the night. The morning after the game Smythe called the couple’s home, threatening to revoke their passes if anyone in their seats wasn’t wearing a shirt and tie or a proper Sunday dress, because the maid and her date hadn’t met Smythe’s high standards.
As a result, Torontonians have little interest in flashy athletes or raucous crowd behaviour. They want to quietly cheer on their teams and reward the players who work the hardest, not necessarily the ones with the best numbers.
Take the current roster of the Blue Jays as an example.
The most enduringly popular baseball player in Toronto this past decade is utility infielder John McDonald, despite his career .239 batting average.
I promise you that when the team’s line up is announced on opening day this spring the crowd reaction for perennial bench warmer McDonald will rival that of reigning home run king Jose Bautista.
Why? Because when McDonald does play, he puts his heart out on the field. A terrible batter, the 36-year-old veteran has won the love of Jays fans by never quitting on a play, and happily volunteering to do whatever the team needs him to do, including pitch relief or help out as the bullpen catcher.
Similarly, the Leafs have had a lengthy list of players renowned for their intensely physical style of play that has earned them the adoration of fans, even though their offensive numbers are far inferior to their contemporaries.
Players like Darcy Tucker, Tie Domi, Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour will forever be deified in Toronto not for any goals they scored or any particularly outstanding play, but for the way they punished anyone who dared step on the ice against the Leafs.
Even when a truly gifted and talented player suits up for a Toronto franchise, it takes that same kind of hard-working, detail-oriented approach to win the fans’ devotion. Fortunately for sports fans in the city, the two best players to play in Toronto in the past 20 years are Roy Halladay and Mats Sundin, the quietest and most stoic athletes you can imagine.
This brings us to the Raptors and why poor Bosh is going to have hate, and possibly garbage, poured on him at the Air Canada Centre tonight.
It has little to do with loyalty – after all, both Halladay and Sundin left Toronto for greener pastures and they’re still beloved – and everything to do with how he left.
Whether they can articulate it or not, Torontonians are incensed by Bosh’s apparent rejection of their values.
Like Vince Carter before him, Bosh has left the Raptors to seek fame and fortune, to be flashy and find the spotlight of endorsement deals and American media attention. He left the cold, hard streets of Toronto for the glitzy nightlife of South Beach.
Worse yet, Bosh spent his last games with the Raptors sitting on the bench, nursing an injury. That is a cardinal sin to Torontonians: he was lazy.
Torontonians can understand, even appreciate, Halladay and Sundin leaving to win championships with better clubs - being rewarded for your hard work makes perfect sense to the city. But leaving for nightclubs and the easy life of sunny Florida? That is anathema.
It’s a shame, too. Bosh had showed so much promise when he was first drafted by the Raptors. Feature stories and interviews with the young rookie talked about how much work he was planning on doing in the off season. He openly discussed how he had to consume thousands of calories a day to bulk up for the more physical play of the NBA. Bosh liked to read. He was a computer science major in university.
In other words, he was perfect for Toronto.
Particularly after the disaster that was Carter’s time with the Raptors.
After all, Carter was a flashy style-over-substance player who briefly won the hearts of Raptors fans with the franchise’s deepest playoff run to date, only to blow it all by going to his university’s graduation ceremony instead of – that’s right – focussing on the task at hand and giving 100% to his team.
But slowly, the love affair between Bosh and Toronto soured. His charming videos of him working out became more self-aggrandizing and egocentric. It was less about industry and more about creating a brand.
Bosh had the negative example of Carter to try and avoid, but was also surrounded by positive role models like Matt Bonner, Jerome Williams, Morris Peterson and Jose Calderon. They’re all players who aren’t nearly as talented as Bosh, but who work hard on and off the court and were rewarded with the love and appreciation of the fans.
Instead, Bosh has opted to make a cameo on Entourage, film navel-gazing documentaries on getting his first tattoo and make over-the-top appearances with James and Dwyane Wade announcing how many championships they’re going to win with the Heat.
Bosh left because he felt like Toronto wasn't the place for him to reach the level, not just on the court, but off of it. He was right. It's no place for someone seeking fame, because they'll never find it here. The city spurns superstars.
Raptors fans, the supporters of any sports team in this city, will always favour the quiet, hard-working bench warmer over the flashy star with all the merchandise. Bosh's vision just couldn't line up with what the city demands of its sports heroes. That's not his fault, or Toronto's, it's just the way it's meant to be.
Unfortunately for Bosh, all this adds up to one thing: Toronto is going to show him no mercy. Not necessarily because he betrayed the city’s trust or because he is a bad player or because Raptors fans are particularly spiteful, but because he’s turned his back on the values the city holds most dear. Effort. Hustle. Hard work.
Chris Bosh is going to be booed tonight and for the rest of his career because he rejected the core value that governs behaviour in Toronto. He unknowingly struck at the city’s core principle, and Raptors fans will be unable to forgive him for that.
Well, okay, there isn’t really a National Football League team here, but the Buffalo Bills play two games a season at the Rogers Centre and there are the Toronto Argonauts, historically the Canadian Football League’s most successful team. Football is definitely covered in Canada's largest city.
But I digress. Toronto has eight professional sports teams, on a par with, or better than, the 14 American cities that have teams in the NFL, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League.
Unfortunately, this creates a weird competition amongst the teams as they vie for fans attention. I was reminded of this weeks ago when a friend of mine from senior school posted on Facebook “So glad the Leafs suck more than the Raps. At least the Raps have upside”.
Of course, this was before the Raptors embarked on a Cavaliers-esque 13-game losing streak, but the comment got me wondering: what is the best team in Toronto? Which team does the best job of representing a city spoiled for choice?
Here are all of the city’s professional sports franchises, in order of winning percentage over the past two years.
|Team||This season||Last season||Cumulative|
|Rock||.667 (4-2)*||.562 (9-7)†||.615|
|Blue Jays||.525 (85-77)||.463 (75-87)||.494|
|Marlies||.470 (24-20-7)*||.413 (33-35-12)||.442|
|Nationals‡||.250 (3-9)||.583 (7-9) †¥||.417|
|Maple Leafs||.426 (23-26-5)*||.366 (30-38-14)||.396|
|Raptors||.269 (14-38)*||.488 (40-42)||.379|
|Argonauts||.500 (9-9-0) †||.167 (3-15-0)||.336|
|Toronto FC||.300 (9-13-8)||.333 (10-11-9)||.317|
Notes: * - Season currently underway.
† - Made the playoffs.
¥ - Won championship.
‡ - It was announced in the offseason that the Toronto Nationals have moved to the bustling metropolis of Hamilton, Ont., for 2011.
What’s most apparent in this chart is that it’s good to be a fan of lacrosse in Toronto. Especially if you live in the western part of the Greater Toronto Area, since Major League Lacrosse’s Toronto Nationals – the most recent champions in the city – are moving to nearby Hamilton.
But if you want to see a Toronto-based team do well in the regular season and go deep in to the postseason, you’d better pick up the nuances of lacrosse. The Rock are the best team in the NLL this year after losing a close game in the league championship last season.
Further, six of Toronto’s last nine championships have come from lacrosse teams, with the Rock contributing five and the Nationals bringing home the Steinfeld Cup two summers ago. The other three are all thanks to the Toronto Argonauts winning the Grey Cup in 1996, 1997 and 2004.
It’s also worth noting that attendance is seemingly unaffected by a team’s success.
Most Torontonians would immediately twig to the fact that the Maple Leafs, the city’s fifth best team, remain the most popular franchise while the Blue Jays – ranked second – had serious attendance problems last summer.
But what I find most striking is that Toronto FC, the team with the most passionate fans, has the worst record of Hogtown’s professional sports franchises.
In any event, I think this is an interesting exercise that would test perceptions of Toronto’s sports teams. Tell me: were there any surprises on this chart for you?
But Bill Simmons’ magnum opus, although entertaining and somewhat informative, fell short of my expectations.
You see, like most Canadians, I don’t know a lot about basketball. Sure, I watch maybe a game per week, I know the big name players and I certainly respect their athleticism and the skill necessary to play in the National Basketball Association.
But that level of interest pales in comparison to my obsession with hockey. That’s just the sad truth: In Canada, basketball always plays second fiddle to hockey. From an early age we’re all ingrained with an understanding of hockey that fuels our fascination.
It’s hard for any sport, especially one that runs at roughly the same time as the National Hockey League, to gain any kind of popular traction amongst Canadians.
What it boils down to for me is this: if you gave me a TV with only two channels, one broadcasting the classic 1986 NBA Finals with Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers facing Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics and the other showing a pre-2004 lockout game between the New Jersey Devils and Minnesota Wild, I’d probably end up watching the hockey.
However, I’m always trying to broaden my horizons, especially when it comes to sports and writing, and so I want to expand my basketball knowledge base.
Further, Simmons has always impressed me as an imaginative writer who can inform and amuse. Anyone who’s read his blog or followed him on Twitter knows he has a deep and abiding passion for basketball, so it seemed like reading his tome would be the perfect way to familiarize myself with the game.
There’s no denying that I learned a lot from Simmons’ 736 page treatise on every imaginable detail of professional basketball. His meticulously researched book does a lot to explain the evolving styles of play as well as the different personalities that have made up the NBA and American Basketball Association.
His lengthy footnotes and parenthetical asides made me laugh out loud and his pop-culture references are always on point. He’s got a gift for keeping sections that would otherwise be deathly boring fun and fresh. Unfortunately, they also add about an extra 100 pages to an already lengthy book.
That’s just one symptom of this book’s fatal flaw: it is poorly edited. Simmons should’ve been reined in to try and keep the book and more manageable length.
Further, a more consistent naming protocol should have been used. Player’s first names, last names and nicknames are used interchangeably from paragraph to paragraph, sometimes sentence to sentence. Although it can lead to some echoes in the writing, sticking to a standard would have lowered the word count - and in a book this big that could end up cutting some pages – and would have made the book more accessible.
This is where the book ultimately failed me.
As a survey of the history and players of professional basketball, the Book of Basketball seemed like the ideal entryway for a novice fan trying to learn about the sport. But it seems as though Simmons never really decided who his target audience was going to be, and so his narrative swings from being explanatory and appropriate for the new fan, to detailed and filled with in jokes only a long-time NBA fan would get.
Writing a book for the sophisticated fan is fine, but it should be advertised as such and be consistent in its level of accessibility. Unfortunately, the Book of Basketball is all over the map in comprehension, making it a frustrating read.
Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball is funny and smart, but could’ve used a more firm editorial hand to rein in some of the author’s lengthier footnotes and asides to make a slightly more concise book that is accessible for all readers.
During the final day of the World Hockey Summit it became abundantly clear that Hockey Canada, USA Hockey and especially the National Hockey League need to become more proactive in the growth of women’s hockey.
It’s something that has been at the back of my mind since the Winter Olympics in Vancouver last February – how can an exciting game like women’s hockey only really be seen on TV every four years? What can be done?
Outside of the collegiate game in the United States and Canada there is no forum for elite women’s hockey. Even at the amateur level there are many municipalities that don’t have leagues for female players, and at the World Hockey Summit there were stories of towns that won’t let women use the arenas, period.
Further, there is no junior hockey for ladies - although women are allowed to play in the three leagues that comprise the Canadian Hockey League.
At the professional level there have been several attempts at running leagues, including the Canadian Women’s Hockey League that has teams in Montreal, Mississauga, Burlington, Brampton, Vaughn and Ottawa.
The CWHL competes for the Clarkson Cup against teams from the Western Women’s Hockey League. The WWHL has franchises in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Strathmore and Minnesota.
Although I admire these leagues ambitions, they’re unstable with teams folding or relocating constantly. Other leagues like them have collapsed under the financial and administrative strains of running a professional association.
This is where the NHL needs to step in, and form a WNHL, much like the National Basketball Association’s WNBA, to market and promote a high-calibre female version of hockey.
Like the WNBA model, all the teams could be owned by the NHL or its franchises at first, and as they become more solvent be sold to third parties. Every team would be associated with an NHL or American Hockey League franchise to guarantee cheaper access to facilities and to enable cross promotion.
It would be an easy sell to have a NHL/WNHL double-bill in several traditional hockey markets like the Original Six, in the six Canadian NHL cities and a few other hotbeds like Minneapolis.
Further, when I threw it out to my Twitter followers last week, reader @katylalonde pointed out that there are several locations begging for hockey like Winnipeg, Kitchener, Hamilton and Quebec City. It would be a smart move for all four municipalities to invite a WNHL franchise to their rinks and prove that their arenas are viable venues for professional hockey.
Of course, such an initiative would have to be supported at the amateur level. Hockey Canada, USA Hockey and regional associations would need to do more to promote the women’s game at the amateur level. But with professionals serving as role models, it shouldn’t be too hard.
This is the kind of program that is prime for implementation - all it would takes is a motivated NHL willing to capture the interest of a whole new market of hockey fans.
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.
Earlier today the Associated Press reported that George Steinbrenner, the long-time owner of the New York Yankees, died at the age of 80 after suffering a massive heart attack.
Steinbrenner’s passing was confirmed by the Yankees organization, as well as his family who issued a statement.
“He was an incredible and charitable man,” the Steinbrenners said in their release. “He was a visionary and a giant in the world of sports. He took a great but struggling franchise and turned it into a champion again.”
I wholeheartedly agree with those sentiments. George Steinbrenner was the best owner in baseball, and arguably, in all of professional sports.
Consider the Yankees without the seven World Series championships (2009, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1996, 1978, 1977) they won under his direction. It’s hard to do.
That means no Mr. October, Reggie Jackson.
Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettite and Jorge Posada wouldn’t have been the Core Four of the dynasty of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The New York Yankees, the Evil Empire as we know it, would not have existed without the leadership of the Boss.
Now some may argue that Steinbrenner’s influence damaged the game. As a season ticket holder of the Toronto Blue Jays, I can sympathize. The war of attrition with the Boston Red Sox in the American League East with both teams stockpiling arms like Cold War superpowers has basically ruined any chance of my hometown team winning a pennant.
But that’s a situation that can’t be entirely blamed on Steinbrenner. Major League Baseball made the luxury tax rules, he merely played within their bounds. I can’t say that I blame him. Any owner – any person, for that matter – should pursue success to the fullest extent of their resources.
There’s no point in hating Steinbrenner simply because he had more resources than everyone else.
I’m sure that one of my colleagues in the media is going to write a similar eulogy about how Steinbrenner is the last of a dying breed. How we’ll never see another person make such an impact as the owner of a professional sports team.
Although George Steinbrenner was a unique character, there will be more owners like him. Already in the National Basketball Association we have Mark Cuban and Mikhail Prokhorov, the owners of the Dallas Mavericks and New Jersey Nets respectively, both cast very much in the Steinbrenner mould.
No, I think that Steinbrenner serves as the prototype of what the owner of a professional sports team can be. An ideal example that other owners should model themselves after. He was one of the greats, and although his New York Yankees are often hated, his is a legacy that should be admired.
But since I was waiting on some editorial turnaround, I decided to go on a baseball pilgrimage of the northeastern United States, touring the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., the new Yankee Stadium and Citifield in New York City and then on to the oldest stadium in the majors, Boston’s Fenway Park.
It was at the home of the Red Sox that I proposed to my fiancé Katy, capping off an amazing vacation.
But I owe you, my readers, an apology. I was so busy planning my trip and proposal that I didn’t do my due diligence and post links to my most recent writing before leaving for the U.S. I’m sorry because I like to keep you all updated on my various projects.
Even worse, my holiday matched up with one of the craziest fortnights in sports history. Let’s recap with a few quick hits.
Only Japanese officials from now on – Yes, early favourite Spain did win the World Cup on Sunday. But their victory, along with the results of many other games, was tainted by terrible officiating.
What was particularly galling in the championship game was that Spanish forward Andrés Iniesta’s winning goal was made possible by an undeserved goal kick - the ball had clearly been deflected out of bounds by a Spanish defender.
By my eyes, the only consistently strong officials hailed from Japan, odd for a nation that has only recently taken to soccer. The 2010 was a huge opportunity for FIFA to expand its brand to North America, a chance that was blown by the officials.
Iroquois Nationals might not make FIL World Championship – In a completely bizarre situation, the Iroquois Nationals team is currently unable to attend the lacrosse world championship in Manchester, England later this week.
Inside Lacrosse editor-in-chief John Jiloty explains:
“The issue centers around the Nationals (a group of 42, all members of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy) traveling on their Haudenosaunee passports. For more than 20 years, they’ve traveled on these passports with no problem. But the United Kingdom will only allow them into their country if the United States will let them back in. And as of Friday, the Iroquois did not have that assurance from the U.S.”
This is totally nuts. Yes, they’re travelling on a very specialized kind of passport, but the Iroquois are all Canadian and American citizens and upstanding ones at that.
The idea that they might miss out on playing a sport they invented because they can’t return to a continent that they’re indigenous to is pure lunacy.
The Decision LeBacle – I know, I know. Everyone and their aunt has already talked about LeBron James’ one-hour ESPN special where he callously announced his move to the Miami Heat. But how can I not talk about it? It will undoubtedly become one of the turning points of sport in the past 50 years, not just because that hour of television was a public relations disaster, but because it’s going to change the face of free agency in the National Basketball Association, and probably other major league sports as well.
I’ve got a lot more to say on all these topics, but I’ll leave you on that note. Blogging on weekdays has returned! Brap-brap.
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.
Earlier in the week, Simmons created a Twitter account called CelticsChants for the express purpose of organizing chants for the decisive Game 6 of the Cleveland-Boston series in an attempt to get under the skin of James and affect the outcome of the game.
“Even if 500 people at the game were following that account, wouldn't that be enough fans to get those chants rolling so everyone in the stadium joined in?” said Simmons in an article posted on Tuesday. “Just for fun, I'm trying this for Game 6 in Boston.”
It seemed to work.
Although James led Cleveland with an impressive triple-double (27 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists), he seemed distracted by the taunts. He was an inefficient shooter, making just eight of 21 field goal attempts and sinking nine of 12 from the free throw line.
Worse yet, the rest of the Cavaliers seemed rattled by the crowd and the thought that this might be James’ last game with the team. Cleveland shot .384 from the floor and .681 on foul shots.
By the final minute of play the Cavs looked listless and totally uninterested in playing. There’s no doubt that they were out-played by the Celtics, but the stinging heckles from the crowd was driving them to distraction.
Simmons certainly seemed pleased with himself as the game wound down.
“Mission accomplished - the last chant was deafening. Thanks so much to everyone who participated + spread the word,” he said via the CelticsChants Twitter account. “Next up: Orlando.”
Perhaps more than anyone else in journalism, Simmons understands new media like blogs, podcasts and Twitter. It’s not surprising that he’s come up with such an ingenious way of employing cell phones to influence games.
It’s the most organized a crowd has been since the 1980s when hooligan supporters of Chelsea F.C. used walkie-talkies and binoculars to direct their attacks against the supporter mobs of other teams.
Obviously, it’s much less malevolent and hopefully more likely to catch on than the English ploy. With sports fans increasingly tech savvy, it’s easy to imagine that this innovation catching on with other teams.
There’s no doubt that Game 6 of the Cleveland-Boston series was an exciting game. LeBron James may have played his last game with the Cavaliers and the Celtics are in the midst of a surprising playoff run. But in the long run, the most interesting development may be that Bill Simmons has added a new wrinkle to the NBA that might outlast the results of the game itself.
As a budding sports journalist I am supposed to shed all my personal biases. It’s one of the key sayings in the business – No cheering in the press box. You stand for the anthem, you might clap if an injured played is able to rise to their feet, but that’s it.
The reason behind this anti-fandom is obvious: we don’t want to betray any sort of favourite because the relationship between journalists and their audience relies heavily on the media remaining impartial. Readers need to know that our articles or reports aren’t filtered by any agendas.
That said – I’m glad I’m not covering the Orlando Magic during the National Basketball Association playoffs because I sure am conflicted about them.
Like most Torontonians, I have a deep-seeded loathing of Vince Carter. It runs deeper and longer than my career as a sports journalist, so it's difficult to shrug off.
The animosity toward Carter stems from the 2004 season – his last with the Raptors – when there was a noticeable drop in his production on the court. He was traded to the New Jersey Nets that December for what amounted to spare parts, damaging the team for the next few years.
In early January 2005, TNT's John Thompson asked Carter if he always played hard.
“In years past, no,” he replied. “I was fortunate to have the talent. You get spoiled when you're able to do a lot of things. You see that you don't have to work at it.”
As you can imagine, this flew as well as a lead balloon in Raptor-land.
Now Carter is with the Orlando Magic, one of the three best teams in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, and playing against the over-matched Atlanta Hawks.
Orlando is seemingly destined to move on to the next round of the post-season after beating the Hawks 112-98 on Thursday night to take a 2-0 series lead.
Worse yet, there is a lot to like about the Magic. They’ve got a cast of young players that have an up-tempo style of play. Their success has lead to a nice rivalry with LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers, a possible opponent in the Conference Final. Most basketball fans would agree that if the Cavs and Magic meet in the playoffs, as they did last season, it'd be one of the most exciting pairings of the post-season.
In particular, centre Dwight Howard is one of the most charming players in the league. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year has thrilled at Slam Dunk competitions and always remains playful with interviewers and fans.
He’s the kind of player that you want to see succeed. But his progress will drag Carter along, putting many Torontonians, myself included, in a difficult position. We want Howard and the Magic to thrive, but is it too late for Orlando to trade away Carter?
Thank God I don’t have to report on this series. It’d be too hard to stay objective.