Monday, June 29, 2009

Welcome to the Terror Drone

That noise! What is it? Are there bees in my television? Are the stands filled with raging angry Africanized honey bees? Is my living room? Or, is it tinnitus? Am I listening to the death cries of the hearing cells in my ears?

These questions buzzed through my brain while watching US Men's soccer team in the Confederations Cup. As I watched the beautiful game I was forced to listen to a relentless buzzing noise. It was mildly distracting like a not-so-bad toothache. I would go stretches without noticing it. But there it would be ever few minutes.

It was the vuvuzelas of South Africa. The vuvuzela is a small plastic horn (although they were originally tin) blown by futbol fans in South Africa. The horn is usually a bit longer than arm's length and brightly colored. And it is annoying, in my opinion, when heard while watching a game on television. Very annoying. Unfortunately, the South Africans seem quite attached to the horn. Especially if some European (or, I would assume, American) tells them where to stick them.

There are conflicting opinions on the origin of the horn. Those who defend it may claim that it is the descendent of the horn used centuries ago to call clans to meetings or that it recalls the call of the elephant. Those who decry the tone may point out that it didn't become popular until less than 20 years ago and that it produces noise but not music, unlike the drums and songs that fill the air during matches in other nations.

During the Confed Cup, a Dutch coach and a Spanish midfielder spoke out against the horn and there was talk that it could be banned by FIFA for the upcoming World Cup. Native South Africans didn't take kindly to this. For them these horns are a symbol of their nation and the blowing of them is a matter of pride. They will fight tooth and nail to keep the vuvuzelas in the stands. So, get used to it.

(The cartoon above is borrowed from cartoonist Natalie Dee, who is a part of my daily routine)

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Conversation

Jordan Hill Edition
(This exchange took place a few hours before the draft)

WWOD?: i don't think I want him on the knicks. do i?

Hoopcat Counsel: You might. He's a pretty good athlete for his size, so he'll probably fit in with D'Antoni's style. But, he's not physically dominant and he's inconsistent. I feel like he's a stronger, better-rebounding version of Channing Frye. Which I guess isn't really saying much.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Images from the NBA Draft

March showers (of tournament hoops) have brought June flowers (blooming bank accounts) for generations of talented young basketball players. For the NBA's member clubs, upside springs eternal in the annual NBA Draft. It is the special day of the year when the Los Angeles Clippers and the various expansion franchises usually take center stage and the prime-time clubs like the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers are barely heard from. Fans convince themselves that titles can be won in June. Oh, wait. They are. But not today. Reams of fabric are used to produce unlikely and unforgettable seven-foot tall suits. Experimental team logo hats are unveiled to the horror of merchandise buying fans across the nation. Teenagers and twenty-somethings have their dreams come true before our eyes. Tears trickle down the plump cheeks of proud mothers in the green room. Beer trickles down the chin of drunk and disapointed fans at Madison Square Garden. Fortunes are made. Busts are born. And, most importantly, longtime NBA commissioner David Stern presides over each affair like a father over a son's bar mitzvah, greeting each top selection with a "mazel tov." Or something like that.

No. 1 pick Akeen Olajuwon greets a mustachioed David Stern at the 1984 draft

The Chicago Bulls tapped UNC scorer (and second-fiddle to James Worthy) with the No. 3 pick in '84.

Years later, Jordan, as GM of the Washington Wizards, would select high school center Kwame Brown with the top pick in the draft. Even Brown thought it was hilarious.

Sir Charles, another member of the heralded 1984 draft class, looked splendid on draft night.

The modern draft lottery had to be instituted in 1985 to keep teams from tanking in order to select Georgetown center Patrick Ewing.

Never known for his humility, a teenaged Kobe Bryant triumphantly takes the stage after being selected by the Charlotte Hornets with the 13th pick of the 1996 draft.

Lottery picks in 2006 and their clubs met in the 2009 Finals, but it's not what you think.

Jalen Rose in 1994. This fashion-forward forward has been credited with pioneering the long shorts trend.

Draft night can be an overwhelming but lonely occassion for foreign-born players like Yi Jianlian.

Or not.

After starring at UNLV, Larry Johnson was ready for prime time in 1991.

Be careful what you wish for.

This gentleman was drafted ahead of Loy Vaught, Dee Brown, Jayson Williams, Elden Campbell, Toni Kukoc, Antonio Davis and Cedric Ceballos in 1990.

From shaking hands with David Stern to trading cliches with Stewart Scott. It's sort of like going from a top college program to being selected by the Clippers. Booyah!

Less than 48 hours after being selected with the second pick in the 1986 draft by the Celtics, Len Bias died. Cocaine is a hell of a drug.

This suit is the most memorable aspect of Samaki Walker's NBA career.

And, the hits keep on coming...

In other white suit news, Lebron James went tops in 2003 and has not let anyone down.

The Kandi Man, on the other hand, let down many, many people after being the No. 1 selection in 1998.

Thumbs down

Kenny "Sky" Walker (left) and the top picks in the 1986 draft.

Members of the Class of 2008

The 15th pick in the 1996 draft, Steve Nash would go on to win two MVP awards.

This jacket was Penny Hardaway's size.

Although this mop-topped Serbian was selected 14th in the 1996 draft (just ahead of Steve Nash), he played in Europe for two more years.

Shaq, the star of the 1992 NBA Draft, has managed to become the center of attention on draft day in 2009 when a trade sent him to the Lebronaliers.

Coming out of Louisiana Tech in 1985, Karl Malone was not projected to be a superstar. Or deliver mail. But he sure looked nice.

No. 2 pick Kevin Durant brought his great-uncle Cyrus to New York for the Draft in 2007.

Craziest. National Handshake Day. Ever.

Aside from the fact that my sixth favorite June observance (after Bloomsday, National Sauntering Day, National Old-Time Fiddler's Week, 6/22 and the NBA Draft) is ruined by my fears of swine and pirate flu, today is the most topsy-turvy NHS Day in recent memory, to be sure. Like right up there with that unforgetabble NHS Day in 1876 when Georgie Custer and his boys were upset by Sitting Bull at Little Big Horn.

How, you ask, is this the craziest National Handshake Day (which is not to be confused with World Handshake Day observed separately)?

First of all, we all awoke in a world where the US Men's National Soccer Team had toppled top-ranked Spain, 2-0, in the semifinals of the Confederation Cup in South Africa. And they did it by outplaying a full-strength Spanish side. I followed the minute-by-minutes reports on and while at work but I was still surprised by quality of the US side when I watched a replay of the game late last night. From the opening whistle, Uncle Sam's boys were getting after the Spaniards. They closed down in all three thirds of the field and weren't giving an inch without a fight. And whenever Torres or Villa or Fabregras or Xavi (or any of the bold-type names in the Spanish lineup) managed to find an inch, the US came through in waves to keep them from taking a mile. The tenacity and optimism of the outfield players was backed by superb goaltending from Tim Howard and the US won convincingly. And by "convincingly" I mean that the held of an opponent that clearly was going all out for the win in the second half. Spain didn't roll over. The upset win ends Spain's record-setting 15-match winning streak and record-tying 35-match unbeaten run. Spain had not lost since 2006. The same year that the US finished last in it's group at the World Cup. This win isn't the Miracle on Ice. I know. But it's something.

Secondly, Shaq has reportedly been traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Thirdly, Jamal Crawford has reportedly been traded to the Atlanta Hawks.

Fourthly, the Knicks may close the day having traded for Darko Milic.

Fifthly, the NBA Draft takes place tonight at Madison Square Garden.

Sixthly, Johan Santana and Chris Carpenter square off in a matinee at Citi Field.

Seventhly, Farrah Fawcett died.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

This Is Your Life

“Most people think life sucks, and then you die. Not me. I beg to differ. I think life sucks, then you get cancer, then your dog dies, your wife leaves you, the cancer goes into remission, you get a new dog, you get remarried, you owe ten million dollars in medical bills but you work hard for thirty-five years and you pay it back and then -- one day -- you have a massive stroke, your whole right side is paralyzed, you have to limp along the streets and speak out of the left side of your mouth and drool but you go into rehabilitation and regain the power to walk and the power to talk and then -- one day -- you step off a curb at Sixty-seventh Street, and BANG you get hit by a city bus and then you die. Maybe.”-Dennis Leary

What Leary forgot was this error is committed by a player on your favorite team somewhere between your divorce and the death of your second dog.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

J. J. Putz Has E.D.

Mets Set-Up Man Has Eighth Inning Dysfunction

Watching any sporting event on cable means sitting through a seemingly endless number of advertisements for sexual enhancers and pills to make older men stop urinating all the time. Or is it medicines so that they can urinate whenever they want to? I'm not sure. Either way, watching a sporting event is a virtual priapism of awkward pharmaceutical pitches. It's uncomfortable in certain company and it seems to last about four hours.

But being bombarded with such commercials did help me diagnose Mets set-up man J.J. Putz with a form of ED. And, I don't mean erectile dysfunction. Because that is apparently easy to cure. Provided you don't mind nosebleeds, loss of vision, restless leg syndrome, ear-wax buildup and sudden and uncontrollable body hair loss. What Putz has is eighth-inning dysfunction. He can't seem to get it up unless it's the ninth inning and a save situation. And, by "it" I mean his velocity.

Last night, Putz entered the game in the eighth inning. The Mets led the Pirates, 5-3, when he came in from the bullpen. By the time the 6-5 redhead trudged towards the dugout, the Mets were trailing, 8-5. Putz allowed an inherited runner to score and then saw another four cross home plate. It was his fourth loss of the season.

Before arriving in Queens during the offseason, Putz was the closer for the Seattle Mariners. In 2007, he saved 40 games for the Mariners and was an All-Star. In his three seasons as the first-choice closer in the Emerald City (which included an injury-marred 2008), Putz had an ERA of 2.34. In the three seasons before that when he was not the ninth-inning beverage of choice, Putz managed a 4.19 ERA. Pitching in the ninth inning this year, Putz is holding batters to a .063 batting average. Not too shabby. In the eighth inning, though, the former All-Star closer is allowing hitters to rake at a .294 clip. That's not good. Especially since the Mets brought him to New York to pitch in the eighth inning ahead of Francisco Rodriguez.

I would say it's pretty clear that this guy has ED. It happens to lots of relievers, I'm sure. According to Metsblog, Putz spent time before last night's debacle working on his delivery and trying to fine tune his mechanics. Because he's basically admitted the other day on WFAN that he's having a hard time performing in the eighth:

“I’m still trying to get used to pitching in the eighth inning, and find some adrenaline, because it’s not like pitching in the ninth, I’ll tell you that… It’s a weird mentality… You just don’t have that heart-pounding sensation, I think that’s where those two-or-three miles-per-hour are.”

Someone should tell him that they've got medicine for this.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Monday Mudita