Land-o-Links for 5/19/2009

Michael Jordan Larry Bird McDonalds

It’s been a very long time since a Land-o-Links post, so here you go:

1.  What If I Don’t Want a Big Mac? (Blog-a-Bull) – An entertaining comparison of all of the current Bulls with various McDonald’s menu items.  Truer words have never been spoken about the McRib.  On a related note, there have been some suggestions out there that the Bulls ought to go after Carlos Boozer.  Now, is Boozer a better low post player than anyone else in Chicago at this time?  Yes.  However, is it worth crushing the Bulls’ salary cap space for Boozer and give up the chance to go after either Amare Stoudemire or Chris Bosh? NO, NO, NO, NO, NOOOOOOOO!!!  (If you ask politely, I’ll tell you how I really feel.)

2.  It’s Not You, It’s Jazz and the NBA (ESPN.com) – Paul Shirley examines why some of his friends haven’t been paying attention to the NBA (as judged by a survey of his poker buddies where only 3 of 8 knew all of the teams that had made the playoffs) by presenting an interesting corrollary between pro basketball and jazz, where the improvisation involved in both the game and style of music, making them relatively abstract, might make it difficult to be appreciated by those that haven’t played either.  As someone that did spend most of the first part of my life playing both organized basketball and trombone in jazz bands, I completely understand where he’s coming from, where both forms deal with a base structure but require a lot of improv within them.  There are two problems that I have with Shirley’s argument, though.  First, Shirley implies that part of the issue is that people need to have played basketball and jazz to be fully appreciative of each, but the thing is that a whole lot more people have played basketball in America compared to football and baseball.  Case in point, when was the last time that you’ve seen a pick-up baseball game in the park?  That never happens, yet you’ll find basketball hoops on urban playgrounds, suburban driveways, and rural farmhouses – if anything, it’s the most widely played sport across socioeconomic lines by a significant margin.  Second, I think that the fact that Shirley lives in Kansas City, which doesn’t have an NBA team, has much to do with his friends’ supposed ignorance of the NBA.  If you went to Portland or Salt Lake City, the average sports fan in those places would likely be more hardpressed to name the teams that make the baseball playoffs in any given year simply because they aren’t following baseball all season without having a hometown team to follow.  Frankly, the NFL is probably the only sport where you can use a standard where you can assume that the average sports fan knows where every team might be in the standings.

If I were to apply the “abstract jazz” issue to any sport, it would definitely be hockey.  In basketball, even if a casual sports fan or someone that never watches sports at all doesn’t understand how to run a pick-and-roll or properly box out an opposing player, that person can ultimately watch LeBron James and realize that he’s able to get the ball into a basket at a higher level than the other players on the court.  However, if you watch a hockey game that involves Sidney Crosby, he will make amazing moves that no one else in the world can do yet he’ll fail to score on such moves 9 out of 10 times.  So, it’s very difficult for someone that hasn’t played hockey (please note that everything that I know about hockey moves and formations is based on the 3000 hours that I spent playing EA Sports NHL ’98 back in college) to understand why a certain move or play is impressive or not – the relative lack of scoring in hockey almost de facto makes it abstract.

3. NHL’s Story a Regional One (Sports Media Watch) – Digging a little deeper into hockey, Sports Media Watch notes what most people know already, which is that the NHL has shown an ability to draw fans within its local markets but continues to struggle on the national level.  What drives me insane about Gary Bettman and the NHL’s leadership is that they know that they face a stacked deck compared to the other sports leagues yet make decisions that compound the league’s problems.  Case in point was last Thursday night, where the NHL had two game 7s (Detroit-Anaheim and Boston-Carolina), with each of them featuring a large market Original Six team.  This should have been one of those magical nights of hockey (particularly when the Bruins-Hurricanes game went into overtime) that would have drawn in a plethora of casual fans.  However, in the infinite wisdom of the NHL, the nation would only see the Red Wings-Ducks game in its entirety on Versus and if you wanted to see all of the Bruins-Hurricanes game, you had to shell out $79 for a pay-per-view feed.  If the part of the purpose of the NHL moving to Versus was that the network had a commitment to show more hockey, WTF is the league doing scheduling two game 7s at the same time?!  Meanwhile, the NBA had two game 6s going on that same evening and those games had staggered start times so that they could be a featured doubleheader on ESPN.  Say what you will about David Stern and the NBA, but that entity knows what it’s supposed to be doing on the television front in order to maximize its audience better than anyone else in sports.  It would be great if the NHL could get someone that would take into account the lessons of the NBA… wait a second… Bettman was David Stern’s right-hand man for over a decade prior to being named NHL commissioner?  Jeez – it’s not a good sign if a league would consider Bug Selig to be an upgrade.

4.  Lost, “The Incident”: The Men Behind the Curtain (What’s Alan Watching) – I’ll be putting up a Lost season finale post eventually (since the premiere of its final season won’t be coming until January 2010, meaning there’s time to mull everything over and with all the various storylines, we may need every moment to process it all), but in the meantime, please go over to Alan Sepinwell’s Lost analysis.  It’s a shame that I only stumbled onto Sepinwall’s blog this year since it’s now the first place that I turn to after each Lost episode – he puts up extremely well-written posts even with a short time constraint while the numerous commenters are generally pretty good (which is tough to find with respect to Lost blogs, where one segment of people get way too technical on one end and the other group on the opposite end consists of complete dolts).

And finally…

5.  Annals of Innovation: How David Beats Goliath (The New Yorker) –  While Paul Shirley compares basketball to jazz, Malcolm Gladwell draws a line between how lesser talented basketball teams’ use of the press provides insight into how underdogs are able to win wars.  Fascinating reading as always from Gladwell, who might be unparalleled at this time in terms of non-fiction writing, although I’ll quibble at a technical level with the long-term effectiveness of the press through an entire 48 minute game.  I understand the argument that it’s a disruptive tool that can shake the opposing team.  However, the press is by far the most tiring type of play that you can employ in the game, meaning that a team would need incredibly in-shape athletes to execute it over an entire contest.  Of course, if you had such in-shape athletes, that would mean that you’re a “Goliath” instead of a “David”, which eliminates the efficacy of using that strategy in the first place.  At the same time, once you get to the higher levels of organized basketball, any decent coach can draw up a press break that can often result in a wide-open layup on the other end of the court (since the press, which uses double-teams, will always end up leaving at least one player open).  Still, Gladwell sets forth a great game plan for how an underdog in any walk of life can beat the favorite: disrupt the opponent and take it out of its comfort zone.  The reason why not everyone does this?  Well, that disruption almost always takes a whole lot more hard work than just going through “conventional warfare”.  So, it really does come down to effort.

On tonight’s agenda: Game 2 of Hawks-Wings, Game 1 of Lakers-Nuggets, and, one of my favorite not-on-the-field sports events of the year, the NBA Draft Lottery.  Frank the Tank’s couch is definitely where amazing happens.

(Image from Cavalcade of Awesome)

If the Lions Are On the Clock, It Must Be NFL Draft Day

joey-harrington-matt-millen-detroit-lions-nfl-draft

A couple of quick thoughts on today’s NFL Draft:

(1) With the Bulls and Blackhawks in the playoffs, both the White Sox and Cubs not yet knocked out of the postseason race two weeks into the baseball season, and the fact that the Bears essentially have had their draft already with the Jay Cutler trade, it’s been nice to not have to deal with several weeks of babble of who the Bears will take in the NFL Draft.  In past years, the Chicago sports media would have been in all-draft mode for days on end with supposed life or death questions of the Bears’ future.  Sure, the Bears still need an arsenal of wide receivers for Jay Cutler to actually throw to and I’m very interested to see where various Illini players such as Vontae Davis will end up, yet these concerns pale in comparison to everything else that’s happening on the Chicago sports scene.  Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy draft talk as much as anyone, but I really love watching my favorite NBA team being competitive in the playoffs (notwithstanding this past Thursday evening) a whole lot more.  It’s great to have actual games on the field dominate the sports discussion in Chicago in April as opposed to the war room at Halas Hall.

(2) The NFL has compounded its mistake of moving the draft start time from its long-time slot at 11:00 am CT on the first day to 2:00 pm CT last year by pushing this year’s start time back another hour to 3:00 pm CT.  I understand that this move was made to draw in more viewers in prime time.  However, it takes away a lot of the allure of the NFL Draft as a television event in the first place.  To me, it’s a perfect “have the TV on in the background event” and an excuse to get together with your buddies to hang out for a whole morning and afternoon in a low-key manner while you invent creations such as bacon tacos (as Minneapolis Red Sox and I did the year that the Vikings forgot to get their draft pick in on time).  However, it’s far from a prime time edge-of-your-seat event (particularly when playoff basketball and hockey games are alternative options).  So, instead of the draft having already started in the late morning as a write this post, ESPN and ESPN News are in the midst of an 8-hour marathon of punditry (featuring the legendary hair of Mel Kiper, Jr.) on draft prospects, even though the world already knows that Matthew Stafford of Georgia is going to be picked first by the Detroit Lions.  (Let’s see if that pick works better than, well, every Lions pick since Barry Sanders.)  The NFL had a great all-day format for the draft, but its belief that this is somehow a compelling prime time event is misguided and, as a result, this will be the second year in a row where I’ll watch little, if any, of what was once one of my favorite not-on-the-field sports events of the year (next to NCAA Tournament Selection Sunday, the NBA Draft, and the NBA Draft Lottery) as someone that has always wanted to run a sports team.

(Image from The Nasty Boys)

Lottery Ball Miracle

I have been prepping for an entire summer of posts about how the Chicago Bulls organization has been in disarray and aloof over the past two years, ranging from misfiring on legitimate opportunities to obtain Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and/or Paul Gasol (all of whom are still leading their teams today in conference finals round) to having such a wacky power structure that Mike D’Antoni didn’t even wait for the team to make him a coaching job offer to go off to the Knicks. Let’s face it – I don’t care how convincing Donnie Walsh might be. After all that’s happened to Knicks management (not to mention their pitiful roster), how awful is Jerry Reinsdorf face-to-face that D’Antoni would rather hang out with Jim Dolan for the foreseeable future?

Two years ago, the Bulls were set up to get back into the NBA’s upper echelon for the first time since Michael Jordan made his last shot to clinch the franchise’s second three-peat ten years ago (I’ll remind you again that my brain’s internal hard drive has erased all memories of the NBA from 2001 to 2003). The team had a young and rapidly improving team, plenty of salary cap room and trade possibilities, and a large market locale that could attract a marquee player or two. John Paxson, who I do believe did a good job drafting players overall considering the positions where he was making picks, was able to parlay all of that into… Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden??? With the lack of a superstar in a league where you need at least one superstar at a minimum to be a legitimate contender to win the NBA Finals, it should not have been a surprise that the Bulls faded in miserable fashion this past season after three straight overachieving years. Last fall, there were a number of Jim Jones Kool-Aid drinking Chicagoans that were actually arguing that giving up a combination of Luol Deng, Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich in exchange for Kobe Bryant would have (a) been too much in terms of talent and (b) upset the chemistry of the team. (For once, I ended up on the right side of a sports debate – I’ve always known that you can’t pass up on Kobe.) By the time this year had concluded, I doubt that Paxson could have traded all of three of those players for even Gasol, much less someone of the caliber of Kobe Bryant.

Every once in awhile, though, the Sports Gods will throw you a bone. Look at the Celtics, who were a smoldering carcass of a franchise a year ago at this time after getting whacked in the Oden/Durant sweepstakes despite having all of the statistics on their side. As Celtics fans stared into the proverbial abyss (or it could have just been the Big Dig), that team subsequently pulled off trades in summer to nab Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen that transformed themselves from one of the worst teams in the NBA to the top record in the league.

Likewise, just a few hours ago, I was resigned to the fact that the Bulls were going to get another solid-but-not-great draft pick in the NBA Draft Lottery to add to their collection of undersized shooting guards and power forwards, with the best case scenario being a sacrificial lamb in the first round of the playoffs. But then, amazing actually happened (just as the NBA has told me roughly over 800 times over past few weeks with somewhat-creepy half-head split-screen shots). With only a 1.7% chance, after years of getting top draft picks in the wrong drafts (or top draft picks with motorcycles), the Bulls freaking got the first pick in a draft where they could get that legitimate superstar – in the form of Michael Beasley or Derrick Rose – that I’ve been screaming about from the very beginning of this blog nearly three years ago. This has come after a decade where the Bulls went from being six-time champions and the most famous team in any sport in the entire world to a close-to-irrelevant franchise that just got passed over by a very good coach in order to go to the human cesspool known as the Knicks organization. It is way too soon to tell whether this day will go down in Chicago sports history as a stroke of luck on par with the Portland Trailblazers thinking that Sam Bowie was a better fit for their system than Michael Jordan in the 1984 draft, yet the Bulls have finally got the burst of energy, regardless of whether that player is Beasley or Rose, that can give this franchise a legitimate chance to get back to where it was ten years ago.

(Image from Bulls.com)