Friday, August 27, 2010 The Rexpendables

If you dig theories of psychology, motivational speaking and the National Football League (and who doesn't?) then there is a post over at the Jets Fan Blog at that you should probably check out. And here is the NSFW footage of the Rex Ryan speech mentioned in the story.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Monday Mudita

A.K.A. The WWOD? Footie Roundup

One staple of the weekend's fixtures was penalty kicks. There weren't any particularly egregious (to an impartial observer) dives leading to spot kicks, even if a few of the infractions could possibly have been met with a play-on wave from the official. It reminded me of the first few weeks of the NBA season when referees call carries, three-second violations, and traveling in ways that seem unthinkable as the season progresses.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Last Chance Saloon

Mets Face Phillies In Latest Must-Win Situation

Although each late reaction by Jose Reyes on a groundball, each sidearmed and errant throw by David Wright at third, each three-pitch strikeout by Jeff Franceour and every last inscrutable and self-contradictory pitching move by Jerry Manuel kills a little bit more of the part of me that loved baseball so very much in the summers of 2005 and 2006, the Mets find themselves, largely thanks to the understated dominance of Johan Santana in last night's four-hit shutout of Colorado, with another chance to suck me back into their 2010 season. I'm not sure if that's quite the same as actually getting back into the pennant race. But for my television viewing habits it's about the same. And since I could be duped into buying more tickets, I'd imagine it's all the same to ownership as well.

Oh, and did I mention the jailing of a player for third-degree assault in the bowels of our home ballpark as one of the occurrences that has sapped some of my rooting spirit? No? Well, that too. Yet, the Mets are a .500 team with nearly two months to play in the regular season. For all the embarrassment and infamy they may have heaped upon themselves they could still re-write the end of this season, changing it from traditional horror a la Friday the 13th to horror-comedy with a happy ending, like Shaun of the Dead. They could also, perhaps more predictably, opt for straight up screwball comedy. Although, I must admit that I don't remember Clark Gable's character slamming the father of Claudette Colbert's character into a wall in It Happened One Night.

The Mets trail the Braves by 9 games heading into today's action. They trail Philly by 7 games. The Braves just lost Chipper Jones and there are plenty of games left against the Phillies, who have yet to score a run at Citi Field in 2010. Our local National League nine is not as out of the NL East race as AM talk radio and most of my fellow fans would say I gotta believe. With the Fightins in town for three in Queens and visits to the woeful Astros and Pirates on tap after that, it's not entirely impossible that the Mets find themselves back from the dead in a little over a week. And after next weekend's 3-game series at Houston, the Mets get the Marlins and Astros (again) at home for three games apiece.

If R.A. Dickey, whoever starts on Saturday and whomever takes the hill on Sunday can get the Mets 2 wins in 3 tries against the Philles then they will have four series against teams not likely for October. It may be no coincidence that this stretch begins on Friday the 13th. Like Jason Voorhees, perhaps the 2010 Mets could prove impervious to fire, shooting, stabbing and in-laws. Of course, that could just mean we're in for a sequel of collapses past and paster. Either way, this is the Mets latest last chance. Perhaps their last last chance. But perhaps not. The National League offers ample time to locate one's bootstraps and begin pulling. And, it seems like nearly every year someone makes a late-season charge to get into the postseason. Of course, it may just seems like that to a Mets fan because usually our team is the one being overtaken by such charges.

Back when frontiers involved sage brush and scoundrels with scars running across their faces instead of space and syndicated television, the were numerous roadhouses and bars with "last chance" worked into the name. The phrase could refer to the fact that there wasn't another whiskeying hole or watering hole or much of anything for a long ways or that travelers who kept on keeping on the trail where about to enter a dry township or county. These sorts of places proliferated across the country. Just like a National League pennant race in the 2000s, there were last chances around every bend in the road. Beginning with these three home games against the Phillies, the Mets are bellied up to the bar at their own Last Chance Saloon. The drinks are cheap. The water is warm. And the beer ain't much better off. But if they don't drink their fill now it might not be until next April that they get a chance to play a meaningful game. The first round is on R.A., a fella who seems like he might have fit in just fine in Caldwell, Kansas in the late 1800s.

For Love of the Game

What if the Velvet Underground had been more interested in the hit and run than intravenous drug use or had felt more at home in the Polo Grounds than on the Bowery? Or if Bob Dylan had written about Ray Chapman instead of Davey Moore? Of if the Gashouse Gang had been a New Wave band instead of a bluegrass outfit?

Then there would have already been something like the Baseball Project. But those things never happened. Like Harvey Haddix's perfect game. So this group featuring Steve Wynn (from the Dream Syndicate), Peter Buck and/or Mike Mills (from REM), Scott McCaughey (from the Fresh Young Fellows and the Minus 5) and Linda Pitmon (from my dreams) is the first All-Star band singing songs about Big League All-Stars.

I'd read an article in some MLB-produced publication about this group at least a year ago and thought that it was a fun novelty project for some musicians accomplished enough to pull it off. And then I heard a few of the songs and thought they were clever novelty tunes befitting the talents of those involved. So when I scored a free pair of tickets to the show last night I assumed it would be a light-hearted diversion on a Thursday night. But nothing more. Certainly not. I mean, how many rock songs about baseball could I listen to in a row? I thought I'd pedal over to Maxwell's, chain up my girlfriend's bike and head in to check out some live music for an hour and then pedal back home to catch Seinfeld at 11:30. Even if I wasn't planning on staying for the duration, it was tough to pass on seeing a band singing tunes about baseball in the town that claims to have hosted the first organized game in the sport's history.

I wasn't expecting to find a bigger crowd - especially one that included at least two guys sporting Clemente shirts - than I've seen at the Hoboken venue for the last few shows I've been to (although the familial atmosphere the makes the place so special was still in full effect with bandmembers greeting family and friends before, during and after the show). Nor was I expecting for the bona fides of these performers to make these songs really seem genuine and poignant. But all of the above happened. They had Maxwell's rocking like Shea in '86, Forbes Field in '60 and Fenway after Game 6 in the '75 Series. And, I stayed throughout the long set, not only missing Seinfeld but also the episode of The Simpsons that followed it. Because The Baseball Project was [forced baseball metaphor] rocking and rollicking through their entire catalog as well as a few tunes from the musician's day jobs.

Whether it was Mills impersonating the late Yankees announcer Bob Sheppard introducing Manny Mota as a pinch hitter in the Bronx, Wynn add-libbing references to Armando Galarraga in a song about perfect games, McCaughey expressing thanks for players like K-Rod that screw up just enough to keep the game and its participants from seeming too corporate, there was no doubt that this foursome knows there hardball nearly as well as their hard rock.

Without any t-shirts or commemorative beer cozies being sold at the back of the room and the band's latest tunes being given away for free online, there was also no question that they play these songs with each other because they enjoy the hell out of it. Whether talking about sports or music this sort passion and spirit seems like a relic from the sepia-toned age that so many of the songs engage. Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson and Ted Fucking Williams populate the group's lyrics, song by Wynn and McCaughey.

Ted Fucking Williams
People say it’s hard to like a man who doesn’t fail and show he’s a human.
But failure’s not a sign of grace. It only means you don’t know what you’re
doing. And everyone says “hey Mick!” Mantle this, Mantle that—it makes
me sick. It’s just so hard to see. Why do they like him better than me? I’m
Ted Fucking Williams!

Although they are happy to sing about Curt Flood and Willie Mays, the group's members do make an appearance in "The Yankee Flipper," which chronicles the night when Mills and McCaughey were out for a night in the Big Apple with former pitcher Jack McDowell when he playing for the Yankees. A night of boozing and covering The Replacements led to "Black Jack" passing out in a bathroom and ultimately flipping off the crowd at Yankee Stadium the next afternoon as he left the field after getting shelled in the second game of a doubleheader on July 18, 1995.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Happy Birthday John Starks

The Knicks' birthday blitz continues with longtime New York shooting guard and forever fan favorite John Starks celebrating his 45th birthday. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Aug. 10, 1965, Starks grew up in a city losing it's status as one America's booming oil towns. Being born and raised in Tulsa didn't mean what it used to by the time that Starks was out of grade school.

Starks attended Tulsa Central, the oldest high school in town, and starred on the basketball court. But standing around 6 foot 3 with only a streaky jumpshot and lacking the demeanor to run the point there weren't a lot of Division 1 colleges knocking down his door. Instead of heading to a blue-blood program like so many of his eventual peers, Starks bagged groceries and got some run at a string of community colleges.

It's hard to say whether Starks, at that time, believed deep in his heart that there was a future for him playing ball or whether he was just had no other idea about what to do with his life. Regardless, he worked at his game with the same ferocity that would make him a star on the game's brightest stage. He worked. He hustled. And, probably, pissed off a lot of Okies playing weeknight games at the local YMCA. All of this earned him a spot on the Oklahoma State hoops squad in his senior year. Playing under coach Leonard Hamilton just before the dawning of the Eddie Sutton era, Starks showed up on campus for the '87-'88 season and led the team in minutes per game at 32.8 per contest. Second on the team in minutes per was Richard Dumas, who shined so briefly and brightly for the Phoenix Suns in the early 1990s before succumbing to addiction and drugging himself out of the Association. Starks averaged 15.4 points and 4.7 boards per game while shooting better than 80% from the line in his lone season at OSU. He led the club in assists, steals and made three pointers. And, then, within a few months he was gone. To the NBA. Sort of.

After being predictably overlooked in the NBA draft, Starks tried to latch on with Golden State Warriors and got some intermittent run in the CBA over the next few seasons before landing a tryout with the New York Knicks before the 1990 season. As the legend goes, Starks' chances of sticking with the team seemed slim. Then the indomitable Starks went up to dunk on the team's incumbent superstar in the pivot, Patrick Ewing, in practice. The 6 foot 3 inch Starks didn't manage to scale the 7 footer but he did manage to secure a spot on the roster. By injuring himself. By twisting his knee in the dunk attempt, Starks found himself protected from release. This wouldn't be the first time that a complete disregard for his own well-being and for the established pecking order on an NBA court would be his saving graces.

Befitting a kid born in "Tornado Alley," Starks tore a haphazard, full-force path through the NBA. He played 82 games for the first time in 1991-92 and started more the 50 contests the following year. Starks didn't back down from anyone. Especially the game's biggest stars. He defended Michael Jordan as well as anyone this side of Joe Dumars and did so with a lot less size and physical strength to rely on. Although nobody was stopping Jordan in the early to mid 1990s there may not have been anyone making it harder to get his customary 28 to 35 per game in the postseason.

And while Indiana Pacers shooting guard Reggie Miller may have built a cult following on a few big moments against the Knicks, there was no doubt that ferocity with which Starks attacked the long distance marksman made it all possible. Starks went at Miller, sometimes too literally, in each playoff matchup between the two Eastern Conference aspirants. And, to his credit, Miller responded in kind. But for all Miller's heroics, there was no relationship between a player and a fanbase like the one between Starks and the Knicks faithful. It was different than the way that teams felt about their preternaturally gifted stars. It wasn't the same way that we felt about Patrick. Or that Pacers fans felt about Miller.

Part of the reason that so many casual fans around the country may have rallied around Miller, despite his being a spotlight-loving prima dona from UCLA, is that those from outside the New York metropolitan area tend to harbor some nebulous resentment against those of us who were raised and/or make our homes in the orbit of the Apple. Perhaps it's an inferiority complex. Perhaps it's that they assumed that our lives and apartments and jobs are as pampered and frivolous as those belonging to the characters from Friends. Which really was based out of LA. Like Reggie Miller. But, I digress. There were a lot of fans around the country rooting for the Pacers in their battles with the Knicks simply because they wanted New York to lose. And they wanted this because they imagined New Yorkers to be rich, corporate, greedy, violent, godless and without loyalty. But enough about Pat Riley. Ba dum cha! Rubes from the provinces project all their false and founded fears and prejudices about city folk on anyone wearing the "NY." They see white-collar crime. They see dark-skinned minorities. They see opulence that makes them envious. They see poverty that disgusts them. They see hustlers with cardboard laid over stacked milk crates for three-card monty and hustlers with Brooks Brothers suits working down on Wall Street. This is, in part, why they loved Reggie and loathed Starks.

Now when the home fans in the Garden saw No. 3, we also saw an exemplar of New York City. But we saw an underdog getting by on heart while others may be coasting on skill. We saw grit and passion and anger and righteous rage. We saw someone with goals not circumscribed by humble beginnings. We saw someone who was never going to stop working, even if the face of ultimate failure. We saw someone who wouldn't give up and who, like Han Solo flying into an asteroid field, didn't want to know the odds were against him. We saw everything that makes New York and New Yorkers resilient and tough. And sometimes great.

So, we also saw New York in John Starks. But we saw the flip side. The side that makes this the most dynamic city in the world. We saw the guy whose effort and talent raised him from bagging groceries to playing in the NBA Finals. It was the American Dream. And it looked like it was coming true. The fact that someone like Starks existed was enough to get a thousands of kids out of bed to practice each morning. Because he wasn't handed anything. He wasn't born to be 6 foot 7 like Miller and to have such a natural shooting stroke. He wasn't ready for advertising and broadcasting from day one, having to battle a prominent stutter early in his career. When Starks slammed home "The Dunk" in the waning moments Game 2 of the 1993 Eastern Conference against the Bulls that was the closest that most of us Knicks fans ever came to feeling like we had dunked. Starks rose up along the baseline and, with this left hand, rattled it home over Horace Grant and an incoming Jordan. It was like watching Tiny Tim throw down over Mr. Scrooge while Jacob Marley was trying to take a charge in the restricted area. It was a metaphor wrapped in an Ahmad Rashad-narrated NBA Inside Stuff highlight. I've still got the souvenir shirt that I bought shortly thereafter. It means so much to me that I rarely wear it.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Arcade Fire: Fuck 'Em

For those of you out there in the Knicks-related blogosphere not up to date on the latest happenings in grandiose chamber pop, Arcade Fire played a pair of shows at Madison Square Garden last week.
The indie darlings of high-brow publications throughout North America just released their third album, The Suburbs, to much acclaim. During their first night at MSG on Thursday, just past the midway point in the setlist, lead singer Win Butler paused before launching into Neighborhoods #3 to address the crowd.

"This is my favorite part of the Garden, right here," he said. "Because it's right here where Hakeem Olajuwon blocked John Starks' shot so the Rockets could beat the Knicks in the 1994 Finals!"

What? Wait. Really? Did you just pause in the middle of a show to taunt fans of the local sports team? About something that happened more than 15 years ago? You did? Oh, OK. I see. That seems to be just about the worst way to engage the audience by including CITY NAME into your on-stage prattling. But perhaps you felt like saying it because you're a super die-hard Rockets fan? And assumed that's a fact that you have made people sufficiently aware of so as not to seem like a jerk. Maybe. Because you wouldn't act like a dicknose to your fans just because you know you can? Would you? Did you say something bad about Ernie Banks at your next show in Chicago? Or will you perhaps wear a Michael Vick jersey when you take the stage in Atlanta?

Mitigating the sting of the seemingly needless antagonism is, of course, the fact that Game 6 of the 1994 NBA Finals when Olajuwon blocked Starks' potential series-winning shot took place not in the Garden but in Houston and that the Rockets didn't win the championship thanks to that block. There was another game to be played. Which also took place in Houston. Which is where "Win" was raised. Or, should I say where Edwin was raised. Because his name is Edwin, which most people would shorten to Ed, while a handful of folks (as well as characters in coming of age novels written between 1948 and 1966) would opt for Win. Because, you know, it needs to be made explicitly clear that he is a winner. And, you are not. Neither is Starks or any of the Knickerbockers. Are we clear?

Forgetting the location of Game 6, who asks to be called "Win'? For starters, both types of pubescent bad guys from '80s teen movies: the blond toughs who wear weight lifting gloves to English class and the sons of rich real estate developers who sneer at their father's side as the hero's parents receive an eviction notice. Also, this guy. It seems a stretch to call yourself Win and then want me to take your poetry seriously.

Well, Win, Game 6 was in your backyard. If you're going to go out of your way to lob a sports grenade into a crowd of paying customers, putting aside that it's potentially one of the more painful fan memories for those in the age group that buy your records, then at least be sure to get your facts straight. Such a glaring oversight would seem to torpedo the theory that Butler is some sort of crazed sports enthusiast, wagering on college water polo matches from the tour bus and incapable of controlling such outbursts. And if he's not particularly knowledgeable about the '94 Finals then that sure makes it seem like he was just making such a remark to remind himself that he could say whatever he wanted to those who'd paid to see him sing and that nobody could really talk back as long as he launched into the next song soon enough. And, the groans and boos elicited by the Knicks jab did turn to cheers as the next song got underway.

This wasn't Flea, a staple at the Staples Center, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who had a song entitled "Magic Johnson" on Mothers Milk, sharing some light-hearted onstage banter about the Los Angeles Lakers during a show in Boston. In that situation, the band is thoroughly identified with California as well as known for having a sense of humor. This was, on the other hand, the lead singer of a self-righteous band from Montreal that is full of poetry students, who go out of their way to signal to us that they make IMPORTANT and MATURE music, who more or less said "Oh, hey, do you guys remember when that thing happened a while ago that sucked for people from your state who care about the civic institution most associated with the venue that you are standing in? Remember? Good. I thought that was awesome."

Now, it's possible that I'm taking all of this out of context. That Win was making a joke at the expense of a local staffer or a friend standing on the side of the stage. And that everyone who has encountered this guy thinks he's just the cat's pajamas. Or not. Because when asked about Arcade Fire by someone from Rolling Stone, Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne opened up about how he thinks that the band regularly behaves in a way that is unnecessarily mean-spirited toward those who work for them and/or buy their records.

For those of you not familiar with Wayne, just know that while he may ramble between songs during a concert their may not be anyone alive this side of the Lama's place in Mcleod Ganj who more wants everyone to be experience joy, freedom and beauty in their lives. Literally and metaphorically, he wants to free all the animals at the zoo. The interwebs are littered with two kinds of pictures of Wayne. In the first, he is in this clear, inflatable man-sized hamster ball rolling around over elated crowds at Lips shows. In the other, he is giving the peace symbol. It's important to note that he really, really, really means all those peace signs. You might find that endearing or sappy depending on how you feel about the band's music. But please realize that he means it. That's just how he rolls. Except, of course, when he is literally rolling around over your head.

“I’m a fan of them on one level, but on another level I get really tired of their pompousness … We’ve played some shows with them and they really treat people like shit. Whenever I’ve been around them, I’ve found that they not only treated their crew like shit, they treated the audience like shit. They treated everybody in their vicinity like shit. I thought, ‘Who do they think they are?’ I don’t know why people put up with it. I wouldn’t put up with it. I don’t care if it’s Arcade Fire or Brian Eno. If either of them walked into a room and treated people like shit I’d be like, ‘Fuck you, get outta here.’

… People treat Arcade Fire like they’re the greatest thing ever and they get away with it. Those sort of opinions change my view of their music. They have good tunes, but they’re pricks, so fuck ‘em. Who does Arcade Fire think they are? I’ve been around groups. I’ve been around the Edge from U2 and he’s the fucking sweetest guy ever. I was around Justin Timberlake when he was young and he was just a normal, nice, kind person. Anyone can be polite and kind and people who have the privilege and money and attention should understand that. If they don’t, then fuck ‘em.”
-Wayne Coyne to Rolling Stone

Although the Flaming Lips make music about death, madness, isolation, and track-mark abscesses masquerading as spider bites, they do so in an inclusive way that assumes those themes are part of our shared human condition. By the Lips' logic, since we are all mad and alone and doomed by vice and searching for transcendence and going to die then we are actually all together. Which may explain why being at a Flaming Lips show is one of the most jubilant experiences that I have ever had. It's the rare concert where you really lose yourself in the moment. Even without drugs. Probably. There is so much light and confetti and balloons. Perhaps even a few furries up on stage. And most importantly, Wayne loves playing his music for all of us. And he loves that we love it. Sharing songs and the few hours of each show with other human beings is something that the entire group revels in. Everything that Wayne says and does during a show is meant to help connect him with the fans and the fans with one another.

The Flaming Lips consider themselves lucky to have that opportunity as opposed to thinking that the ticket holders are lucky to be there. The idea of an artist feeling just as lucky as the audience seems novel when thinking about the random Starks-related remark of Win from Arcade Fire or the Byzantine demands that other headlining performers make at each tour stop. But the possibility of such a symbiotic dynamic feels so natural when a few thousand people are singing "Do You Realize?" at the close of Lips show. The band sings to the crowd. And the crowd sings to the band.

While the Arcade Fire's first three albums owe a debt to The Soft Bulletin and the anthemic-era Flaming Lips, the two bands couldn't be more dissimilar in the feelings they foster in person. The Lips want everyone to feel the joy they feel in making their music while they want to feel the joy that you feel in hearing it. Joy is the operative words here. On the other hand, Arcade Fire seem more intent on making it clear that they are smarter and more talented than you. On making you admit that they're pretty darn good. Which they are. Arcade Fire seems to be a band composed of the kids who gravitated toward music because they disliked everyone else and were perchance disliked in return. Now, I admit that I don't know these guys and gals and am just dealing in broadly-drawn types, but that is how they seem based on the information I have available. They seem like they don't want to play at your party and only agreed to because you're paying handsomely.

It also seems that while Wayne and the Lips were out in the wilds of Oklahoma City (their hometown, where they still reside) eating mushrooms and working day jobs at Chinese restaurants and dreaming up mad parking lot boombox experiments (go check out Zaireeka) the members of Arcade Fire were in grad-student populated coffee shops drinking overpriced lattes dreaming up song cycles that would allow them to regularly use roman numerals in their setlists, thereby impressing the judgemental MFA kids at the literary review. Perhaps. But who knows? And who cares? Not me. Because I have a sports blog that bi-annually compares NBA playoff teams to works by Shakespeare. And if I'm all for navel-gazing, hyper-literate sportswriting then it would be hypocritical of me to have a problem with self-consciously intellectual pop songs. Their studious posturing never bothered me (even if it never really piqued my interest). And I didn't care that they seemed to want to be the smart band for people who aren't that clever. Sort of like a rock and roll equivalent of Crash. Or, at least I didn't care until they came into the Garden and took a shot at Starks and any Knicks fans in the crowd like a prep-school educated in-law from Connecticut who wishes that his sister had never started dating you.

All of that aside, I still think that Rebellion (Lies) from Funeral is a kickass song.

It's probably unfair to compare the demeanor and range of Arcade Fire to the Flaming Lips, a band with whom they have not chosen to identify themselves. Perhaps it would be more fair to look at an artist that they have acknowledged being an influence. Someone like Bruce Springsteen. Aside from the obvious way in which each artist gave in to the trends and included accordion players in the band, there may be an epic quality to Arcade Fire's brand of mostly melancholy rock, that recalls some of Springsteen's work but with them it seems born of a persecution complex and the narcissistic notion that their experiences are weightier and more fraught with drama than anyone else's. Heavy hang the heads that wear the delusions of grandeur, I guess. The first-person narrators of Arcade Fire lyrics are being chased or otherwise singled out. They are being picked on, probably because they're so special, or are very self-consciously imparting lessons to children. On a song by song basis it works but over the course of an album I find myself getting bored.

The Boss wrote songs about characters from his working-class neighborhood in New Jersey and he never looked down on the subjects of his songs regardless of their station in life. In fact, he went out of his way to give them dignity For him, there was an opera out on the turnpike. And in the auto plant. And in the neighborhood dive bar. And in the audience. He wanted everyone to feel that their lives were as epic as anyone elses. Win, however, seems to think that his life is an opera and that we should count ourselves lucky to be able to view it and that if his chaufered car ever happens to come up behind us on the turnpike then we'd best move to the right lane and let him pass by. After he passes I can only assume that we'd notice that he has vanity license plates.

There may be notions of small town malaise and expressed desires to escape a mundane life shared by Arcade Fire and Springsteen but the huge difference is that Springsteen imbued these impulses, fears and dilemmas in coarse, everyman characters. In highway patrolmen and dock workers, in guys laid off from factories and old-before-their-time teenagers one mistake past the point of no return, whereas Butler gives these feelings to himself. And, even worse, he seems to want to escape from the rough-hewn townspeople that populated Springsteen's work. He thinks they are violent and uncouth and will ultimately ruin what is so special about him. And he may be right about those folks. They may be less sophisticated than him. But that doesn't make him better. And it certainly doesn't make him Springsteen.

For all the sonic and substance (abuse) differences between the two acts, there may actually be more in common between Springsteen and the Flaming Lips. Empathy is at the heart of so much of what each band does. Especially in their intense live shows (that critics deride as being too reliant on schtick of one sort or another). And empathy is just the sort of benevolent impulse that would keep either of those artists from taking the stage at Madison Square Garden and taking a (factually incorrect) dig at the crowd and John Starks.

Having risen from bagging groceries in Tulsa to being an All-Star and fan favorite at Madison Square Garden in New York City only to fail in what should have been his finest moment, Starks is the sort of tragic hero that Springsteen might construct a song around. And Starks' 2-for-18 nightmare performance in Game 7 could be the entry point to a feedback-drenched Lips' meditation on the futility of intention and the randomness of results. For Win, though, Starks just presented a chance to kick someone who was down and not present in front of the only crowd likely to care about him. Had Win referenced Sam Cassell's huge effort (outscored Knicks 7-1) in the final minute of Game 3, which actually took place at the Garden instead of incorrectly referring to Game 6 then this is a whole new ballgame. Either way, though, the Arcade Fire frontman would have been revealing something of himself. Had he made an informed, Knicks-Rockets reference then he would have shown himself to be a genuine sports fan and worthy of some grudging respect regardless of how much he would have rubbed me the wrong way. Instead, he showed himself to be a prick.

As per usual, Wayne said it better than I will. He concluded his comments to Rolling Stone by saying that "Anyone can be polite and kind and people who have the privilege and money and attention should understand that. If they don’t, then fuck ‘em.”

Agreed. Fuck 'em.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Braylon Edwards is Rocking the "Full Set"

When folks in ancient Greece saw a fellow with a full beard, like the one sported at pre-season training camp by Jets wide receiver Braylon Edwards, they assumed this was a virile, masculine man. Romans felt the same way. In ancient India, a long flowing beard symbolized wisdom. The handling and holding of another man's beard was considered an act of disrespect and an invitation to a duel in the Middle Ages. You shouldn't mess with another man's beard. I wonder if Edwards freed the follicles of his face because he heard that cornerbacks in the NFL abide by similar customs.

Beards have historically been such a signifier of badassery that royalty in ancient Egypt would sometimes wear false metal beards just to impress their minions. And, I don't mean metal beard as in a heavy metal beard like guitarist Kim Thayil from Soundgarden but something actually forged from metal and attached to the chin. It was called a postiche and most sarcophagus depict Pharaohs as rocking them.

And, while Alexander the Great and the Macedonians went clean shaven, which sort of squares with what we've all heard about him all and his pretty boy pals, there has been an association with beards and might straight through the from the knights of the Middle Ages to generals in the American Civil War, like Union skipper Ulysses S. Grant, to Baron Davis of the National Basketball Association.

Alexander wanted a clean shaven military to keep enemies from grabbing onto the beards of his men in combat. He felt that such a beardhold could put his soldiers in jeopardy. Same could go for a wide receiver, I guess. However, that did not mean that fierce facial hair was barred from future military ranks. Aside from the proliferation of flowing face locks in the Civil War, the British Navy, for example, allows beards provided they are part of a "full set," meaning a beard with a mustache. Not just one or the other. Should this ball catching thing not work out for Braylon (and, to be fair, the results have been mixed) perhaps there is a future at sea in her Majesty's Navy.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Happy Birthday Big Fella

It was 48 years ago today that Patrick Aloysius was born to Dorothy and Carl Ewing in Kingston, Jamaica. As a young boy he took to cricket and soccer, where played in the net. First his mother and later his father emigrated to the United States when he was 11 years old. They settled in Cambridge.

At this point, Patrick had yet to touch a basketball. Yet within 10 years he had taken his high school team to the state championship and his college team to the national championship. At Georgetown, he would be the most dominant collegiate player in the country, leading the Hoyas to the Final Four three times. He won a Gold Medal in 1984. In 1985, he was drafted by the Knicks. By 1988, he was my hero. In 1992, he won another Gold Medal as the starting center of the "Dream Team" In 1997, he was announced as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history. Through it all he played with fire and dignity, whether on mediocre teams or when being targeted by the media for failing to deliver on the promises they made for him when he arrived in the Big Apple. Today he is an assistant coach of the Orlando Magic and still busts his tail by all accounts as he tutors Dwight Howard and works toward a head coaching gig.

Whereas most athletes are, to borrow from a contemporary of Patrick's, not meant to be role models, I'd like to think that the Big Fella's integrity and effort, the way that he never left any game having given anything less than his best effort, did make me a better person. Watching him vie for a title year after year, as the injuries mounted and the naysayers gathered taught me that there are rewards to be gotten and pride to be taken from the manner in which one makes their journey regardless of the final destination.

Happy Birthday to you, Big Fella.