Tuesday, August 30, 2011

We're not ready for a gay professional athlete

I have over 7,000 words on my utter disdain for New England sports fans that I'm not finished with because I haven't spewed enough bile that best exemplifies my hate. I wish we could call this blog CURSE OF THE GREAT MAMBINO. Every time Paul Pierce goes down, I hope that he needs a wheelchair...for life. I couldn't tell you all the positions in hockey, but I still wanted the Bruins to lose, and lose BIG. Anyone who supports the Clippers helps to sully my city, as I consider that team to be a scab on the otherwise pristine, Julianne Hough-level skin of the Los Angeles hoops scene. I went to Boston College and rightfully look down on other Massachusetts schools as MIT, Harvard and Tufts look down on us.

Despite all of this, I love Bill Simmons. I think he's a genius. He is my inspiration for my writing style, the direction of this blog and why I love sports literature and journalism as much as I do. I would even go so far as to say that he's the most influential sports writer of my generation. I read his 700-page Book of Basketball in 10 days, and even with all the differences we have in sporting allegiances, I tend to agree with almost everything he says.

Almost everything.

A few months ago, I heard Bill go on a 10-minute tangent on his BS Report podcast about how he thought that this was a perfect time for an athlete to come out of the closet. Phoenix Suns President Rick Welts had just revealed in a short press release that he was gay, and that he wanted to out himself as a way to help people across the country that might be struggling with their identity.

Bill thought that the social climate in America was right for it, that the support systems existed within the organizations, and that it could even be something that helps a marginally skilled athlete's career (in the case of a superstar, it might be more harmful than helpful, he admitted).

As much as I want to say that Bill's right, he's not. He's just not. In my opinion, I think that there are very few ways that a locker room in the NBA, NHL, MLB or NFL could ever handle one of their teammates coming out. In a vast majority of situations, this absolutely could not happen.

Now as a disclaimer, I love me some gay peoples. One of my best friends is gay. I think I might like his boyfriend more than I like him. My favorite activity at the bar I used to work was flirting with gay guys so they'd give me bigger tips (just a hint for anyone out there considering bartending: Asian face + gay customers = big tips. Just sayin'). I voted no on Prop. 8, I want equality of marriage, the whole nine.

My instant reaction towards hearing Bill's opinion was "...didn't Joakim Noah just get fined for hurling a gay slur at a fan? And then didn't Kobe Bryant, arguably the league's most famous international player next to Yao, get fined for looking directly at a ref and calling the guy a 'fucking faggot?'" No sooner did I start to formulate this post in my mind, did Gordon Beckham of the Chicago White Sox tweet "GETZ IS GAY," in reference to his teammate Chris Getz. DeSean Jackson chided a caller on a radio show for not saying "no homo" after a comment relating to DeSean's weiner. Oh yeah, and then he branded the caller a faggot.

I just re-read that paragraph and laughed out loud. This was the chain of events as they actually happened! It was as if Gordon Beckham and DeSean Jackson heard that BS Report, disagree,d and covertly decided to tell Bill that it's not quite the time. The whole situation is just absurd.

For all of you that are still hanging on and reading at this point, I know that this post is a departure from our usual jargon about Frank McCrook or Derek Jeter or statistical relevance of NBA Finals teams. We're getting deep here. We're going to talk about things that matter. I mean, Kobe matters. But besides Kobe, we hardly talk about things that really really matter. So buckle up.

The country isn't ready.

If I recall correctly, Kobe got called for something by a ref that he didn't particularly agree with. And by "particularly agree with," I meant "think any person could possibly do, and such a violation was punishable by disembowelment." So Kobe looked at that ref, waited until he got his attention and yelled (in clear view of all the national television cameras) "you fucking faggot!" Wow Kobester. Now is referee Bennie Adams gay? Not to my or anyone else's knowledge. It's not like Kobe turned around into the Los Angeles crowd, spotted Nathan Lane and yelled at him. If I may translate into proper English for the Mamba, he meant "Excuse me, referee? Yes, you sir. You in the black and white striped shirt. Yes, well, I vehemently disagree with your call. Honestly, I thought that was an absolutely dreadful call you made just right now. I imagine that perhaps you left your glasses at home on this road trip you are on right now (oh by the way, how nice is that new Ritz right next to the arena? Posh, no? Vanessa says the sheets are to DIE for), you ran out of contact lenses and thus, your vision was impaired. That is the only rational explanation for the horrible refereeing decision you just made. Awful." Unfortunately, it came out much cruder.

That's the standard in our society in 2011. In a lot of places, words like "gay", "homo," and "faggot" are used as synonyms for "bad", "stupid," and "idiot." Those values are equal. Now I'm not saying that every single person that says "Oh, that was so gay!" is a homophobe or a bigot. A lot of times, this is just a product of the terminology for the times we live in. And certainly not a great sign for bringing a gay athlete to the forefront of America.

An NBA locker room cannot handle it

I'm going to sidestep some of the trickier and controversial ideas here - not so much because I think it will upset our dozens...AND DOZENS of readers, but because I'm just not sure that I'm right about it. However, I am going to take the NBA as a microcosm of America. It's fair to say that at least a majority of this country is biased against the gay community to some degree. I'm not sure how specific or how much evidence that I need to prove that, but I don't care. I don't think I'm wrong. And by biased against, I'm covering an entire range of emotion, from hardcore hate-crime perpetrators to people who would prefer not to drive down Santa Monica Blvd because it's "icky."

An NBA locker room could not handle this. Mind you, I don't have personal relationships with any active NBA player. I'm not a beat writer, I don't know any beat writers, and I certainly don't have any inside knowledge myself. But I do read a lot of interviews and see enough twitter feeds to know how professional athletes are - and to be honest, they're not that much different that the athletes with whom I had personal relationships in high school and in college. They are meatheads. They are guys who largely rely on sheer physicality as their occupation of competing with other human beings. It's a career full of testosterone and machismo. Maybe I'm stereotyping (I'm not), but the meatheads I knew aren't exactly the most tolerant people I've ever met.

Sticking with this stereotype, how would guys deal with this on a day-to-day basis? Basketball, baseball, football, whatever...they are all games based on routine actions. Guys like to get to the arena or ballpark at the same time, get in their swings or shots and get into a flow that is best conducive for them to get into the flow of their games. By now, "baseball is a game of inches" is an incredibly cliché statement to make; but that doesn't make it less true. Incremental changes in a guy's swing or throw could be the difference between being cut from a team in spring training and being an MVP-caliber player. I am of the belief that this goes for most athletes no matter what the sport. If a guy only gets in 5 swings before a game instead of his usual 25, I wouldn't be surprised if he went hitless for the next week. If a guy doesn't tape up his wrist exactly right, I can see him going 2 for 12 shooting that night.

Now let's say that being around gay people bothered a player. Would that distraction be enough for a 2 for 12 night? Or a hitless week? Or would that make for an 0-for-July? He starts to get inside his own head and poof! The season is gone and so is his job.

This goes far beyond a simple question of "does it bother you if you are around a homosexual?" Physical sports involve a lot of chest bumping, high fives, and butt pats. How is that going to go over when a player's gay teammate gives his teammate a congratulatory slap on the behind? Or a James Posey-esque uncomfortably-long-hug-seriously-it-always-makes-me-way-uncomfortable-hug. What if you shared a locker room with that guy, filled with naked men? These are just a couple of examples I threw out from the top of my head. I am positive there are a hundred instances that happen like this in any professional athlete's work day. A hundred instances and incidents for any player to second-guess every action his gay teammate makes and think "...wait, what did he mean by that?" or "I can't do this, I have a gay teammate." Just a hundred more chances for any player to form a mental kink in his mind while playing a highly mental game.

Beyond the individual, there's the team component as well. The Dallas Mavericks constantly talked this year about the "insane chemistry" they had, and it was their trust in each other that was the key component that led to their first ever title. Any great baseball team has to trust that their defense will make plays and their offense will pick everyone up. Aaron Rodgers has to know that his guys are going to make catches and throw down those blocks. Every guy has to trust one another, be confident in each other's abilities and be totally at ease with each other. I don't think that I have to delve too deep into this, but if even one guy has a problem with his gay teammate, this could absolutely destroy the team's chemistry. Maybe a locker room would have enough leadership to overcome any one person's distraction, but more than a handful of uncomfortable guys will make for a most certainly unmanageable situation. This could change a locker room from harmonious to toxic in an incredibly short period of time.

But let's move past that. Let's just say that NBA players can deal with having a gay teammate, just as long as "his gay doesn't spill into my world. Do what you wanna do, but just keep that separate from the locker room." How would that happen? The entire media world would be focused on that team. Every question for months would revolve around that player being gay, regardless of box scores or division standings. More importantly, won't a revelation like this bring out an armada of gay rights organizations coming out in support of the player? Coming to games, waiting outside the locker room, cheering him at hotels? What about anti-gay rights and religious groups coming out and publicly condemning the team? How does that effect the psyche of religious players in the locker room? This would be one of the biggest stories of the year, decade and century. Though not exactly the same, this would be a Jackie Robinson-caliber moment. I don't mean to be hyperbolic here, but I truly believe that this would be one of the most significant moments in the history of American sports. That is the level of distraction I envision, in a profession already filled with them.

It's not worth the potential loss in revenue to the player

Let's be honest: a player of the caliber of LeBron, Kobe, Dwight or Dwyane is not going to come out of the closet. We already know the intense hatred and scrutiny that everybody has regarding LeBron James now - but can you imagine if he were to come out of the closet? The microscope would be on him that much more. There's so much to lose. I'm not just talking about potential marketing deals being cancelled, but this would affect his performance. We've established that this would be a distraction. But for these players, being distracted and playing at less than an elite level could be devastating to their NBA contracts.

But let's set our sights lower. Let's go beneath the Carlos Boozers, Paul Pierces and Danny Grangers of the world. Let's go to, say, Kyle Korver.

Kyle Korver is a fine player. He's got one job (to shoot) and isn't really a presence on the national scene, both in marketing nor performance. Let's say Kyle comes out of the closet. He's definitely going from an Ashton Kutcher look-a-like role player to the cover of Sports Illustrated. He's actually got a lot to gain from this in terms of national exposure, even though local marketing revenue could be drastically cut. What do I mean by this? Let's say the dude plays in a conservative market like OKC, Utah or Indianapolis. No more commercials for Herb's car dealership or signings at the town Wal-Mart.

So he gets his mag covers and talk show spots. Despite that, would Korver be able to withstand the intense pressure and anxiety of dealing with a gigantic magnifying glass on his back? Not only is he a one-man media circus and a distraction to the team, but he's also not doing his ONE job. I think that Korver gets cut and slowly fades into obscurity. Truthfully, is any team going to sign a guy who may or may not perform AND brings a lot of baggage with him? Furthermore, is having a gay player on the team going to be a deciding factor for potential free agents? All things even, if a player has a problem with a gay teammate, then maybe that makes him sign with another team. He could say that it has nothing to do with homophobia, just that the other team has a better chance at winning. So for a guy on Kyle Korver's level (and just to be clear, I'm not saying that Kyle Korver is gay, or sets off my gaydar - I just like picking on him and his stupid haircut), I think the risk for a guy making a (relatively) low salary of $5 million a year is insurmountable.

The only way this works is...

IF the player AND team can be psychologically sound enough to handle the pressures and scrutiny of the media and keeps on performing. Simple as that. Well, maybe not "simple," but you get the idea. If this doesn't affect the team, and the guys can compartmentalize their one teammate to a lifestyle choice, then it's only a boon for the ownership. They'll get put on more national games, have more people buy their merchandise and become something of a national brand.

I just don't think that's possible. There are too many hurdles for this to happen. There are too many "ifs" and too many variables that have to go right for a team to handle this. But it all starts with locker room leadership. Let's look at this practically:

Could the 2011 Boston Bruins have handled this? Well, I'm not going to pretend to know anything about hockey. I don't really know the personalities of the Bruin players, but I do know the personality of Boston, and I'm not sure it would go over really well in Massachusetts, especially in the surrounding towns and cities. I couldn't see them handling this.

Could the 2011 Green Bay Packers have handled this? Like hockey, I am light on my NFL knowledge. I do think that Green Bay, Wisconsin might be a hard place to pitch a gay player. On the flip side, football might be the most conducive to having a gay player. There's enough guys on the roster for a singular player to get lost in the shuffle (or as much as he could be), and with all the contact, he would be much more of a distraction for the other team that has to cover him or is getting tackled by him. I truly don't know enough about the Packers personnel to have an informed decision, but I still see this as a problem.

Could the 2011 Dallas Mavericks have handled this? I'm not sure. If Dirk, J Kidd and Jason Terry wrangled everyone up and told them that "this will NOT be a problem" and personally notified the boneheads on the team that they are not to step out of line, maybe it could have worked. But even the respect that Dirk, Kidd and Terry all carry from their teammates wouldn't be enough to stop a guy from being shaken if he was really bothered by a gay teammate. I see it being a problem, but could feasibly see the vets keeping everyone focused.

Could the 2010 San Francisco Giants have handled this? I think out of all the championship sports teams from the last year, this would have been the most apt to deal with the incredible distraction having a gay teammate would bring. This team is and was comprised of a bunch of guys who were just happy to have jobs. Also, those players aren't exactly the cookie-cutter stereotype for your run of the mill jock. More importantly, the local community would most likely embrace them (I'm just guessing here). A lot of hurdles would still be there, but at least in the locker room and at AT&T Park, life would be much easier than most places. I can see the Giants succeeding with a gay teammate more easily than the other 3 championship teams, but I still think it would be a struggle.

I want this to happen. This country needs this to happen. But despite my hopeful positivity, I can't see a scenario where any player feels this is a viable option. We're just not ready.

That all being said, Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron got spit on in every city they went to, quite literally. They got hate mail from people around the country and were condemned their entire careers. Someone's got to be the first. I just hope whoever it is has the foresight to see how important this is and how difficult it will be. I hope that the locker room is full of open minded dudes that will accept this as a natural evolution of the game.

I hope America surprises me.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Challenge: Rivals Finale

In keeping with the NBA Lockout version of this blog, this post is about what Simmons (correctly) calls America's 5th professional sport, The Challenge. Go ahead and laugh, but I've already got your pageview. Joke's on you.

From its early stages, the game seemed quite demure. The "athletes" would basically get to extend their TV characters for a month or two. They would show up out of shape, smile for the cameras, and take one more shot at the boy/girl they missed out on in their Real World/Road Rules season.

Now? Whole new ballgame. The dudes show up ready to go. Ripped, jacked, whatever you wanna call it. TJ Lavin, Challenge Host Extraordinaire, even admitted on a BS Report that there is prevalent use of performance-enhancing drugs. (See, now it HAS to be a sport!) The girls, as a whole, are less athletically-inclined, but they arguably take this even more seriously than the guys do.

Simmons has recently clamored for two changes: 1) The show should be extended to 90 minutes, and 2) MTV should air more of the in-house drama. I obviously agree with the first request, but I don't need any more of the blabber going on in the house. Sure, it's hard to pass up more video clips involving the MTV trifecta (CT, alcohol, another human being). But the reason why this show has become the 5th sport is because the challenges themselves are downright ridiculous. Jumping off of cliffs, racing up mountains, 2v2 sumo wrestling...it's the best part of the show, and hence, the reason I will cling to when KOBEsh asks me why I'm writing about something other than the NBA.

There are 12 competitors left in The Final Challenge. Predictions are at the end, but to entertain you, I have ranked them in order of how much the participants entertain me.

12. Tyler Duckworth: He's gay. That's it. Relax, he's not at #12 because he's gay. He's at #12 because I can't think of anything to say about him.
NBA comparison: John Amaechi (please don't kill me for that one)

11. Mandi Moyer: She's the most attractive girl on Rivals. But as for her place in all-time Challenge hotties? No shot, Mandi. She showed a glimpse of being entertaining when she admitted to CT that she likes to be choked in the bedroom, but after CT moved on, he went Shang Tsung on her, and took her soul with him.
NBA comparison: Damon Jones (think post-LeBron)

10. Cara Maria Sorbello: On her best day, she's better-than-average hot. Problem? She almost never has a best day. She wears weird clothes, presumably buys makeup in bulk, and cries a lot. Crying on reality shows are so played out. They're entertaining only if the event that caused the tears was entertaining itself. Cara Maria cries because she doesn't have a friend in the house other than her teammate. She brought her boyfriend's clothes from home and dressed up a pillow with them. Sound like 6th grade? It is.
NBA comparison: Chris Andersen

9. Mike Ross: I stopped watching The Real World a while ago, but I had heard good things about the most recent one in Vegas, so I gave it a chance. I ended up not hating it, and Mike was a big reason for it. MTV did a good job placing a total nerd in Sin City, and his bromance with one of the other housemates had a funny ebony-ivory feel to it. But extending that into The Challenge has gotten a little weird. That and other factors led to the other players re-living high school, as they enjoyed picking on him for his ability to read. Gets boring after a while.
NBA comparison: Chris Dudley

8. LeRoy Garrett: LeRoy is the aforementioned ebony to Mike's ivory. He gets points for being the only human being, male or female, to not shake when CT enters the room. He also gets points for befriending a complete dork and being chill as eff when people question him. Other than that, there isn't much to it. He's just a garbage man (dead serious) who looks for trim 24/7.
NBA comparison: Joel Anthony

7. Johnny "Bananas" Devenanzio: He's probably the smartest player to grace The Challenge. (I'll pass on making a joke here because that would be too easy.) Even though he is certainly a meathead, he plows through challenges based on weasel-ness alone. Gotta respect a man who's good at his craft, but Tim Duncan isn't exactly a top-selling NBA jersey either.
NBA comparison: Duncan

6. Evelyn Smith: Beastly. She's the best female athlete in Challenge history. She makes the other girls crap their pants (just kidding, girls never do #2). But like Johnny, all she cares about is winning, so the personality takes a small hit.
NBA comparison: Scottie Pippen (boring + awesome)

5. Laurel Stucky: She could play in the WNBA right now. Super tall and athletic to boot. She even surprised me this season by being sneaky makeup-hot (face only). Even though she's relatively new to the dance, she's not afraid to mix it up with the veterans. Actually seems a little normal, too: she didn't drop trow for CT on sight alone.
NBA comparison: Dirk Nowitzki

4. Jenn Grijalva: Usually when you take sports very seriously, you're at least decent at them. Jenn will cut you in a dark alley if you question her toughness and dedication, but when gametime comes, she's always a step below her fellow girls. However, because I'm being completely honest about Jenn cutting you in an alley, she's ranked pretty high. She will go toe-to-toe with anybody...for anything.
NBA comparison: Ron Artest

3. Kenny Santucci: Nicknamed Mr. Beautiful, Kenny has questionable choices in friends, but he brings the heat when it comes to ripping people. There is no way that MTV doesn't call him for every single Challenge in the next 3 years.
NBA comparison: Ray Allen (ambassador for the game)

2. Wes Bergmann: You know how everyone knows somebody that thinks that he/she is better than everyone? Wes is that guy. Normally that would slot you pretty low on this list, but he is sly enough to win challenges where alliances are established specifically to eliminate him. Major underdog points.
NBA comparison: Dwyane Wade

1. Paula "Walnuts" Meronek: Paula Walnuts is fascinating. This is her 8th challenge. In the previous 7, not only has she lost, she has lost in pretty humiliating ways. In one of them she had a solid alliance, but she threw it away when she inexplicably went against them. In another one, she was granted a "key" as part of a 4-member alliance that played Goliath on their way to winning; only problem was that she was stabbed in the back when her teammates chose to partner with the enemy at her expense. Both times she cried. Before, I said crying isn't entertaining, but Walnuts gets the exception. Her crying is of the type where the act of crying somehow restricts you from breathing. Every sound coming out of Paula-at-rock-bottom is this pathetic whimper as if she's gasping for air. Great stuff.
NBA comparison: Adam Morrison

Finale Predictions
Winners: Johnny-Tyler; Evelyn-Paula
Runners-Up: Wes-Kenny; Laurel-Cara Maria
Going home with no cash: LeRoy-Mike; Jenn-Mandi

Tonight, Wednesday, 10pm MTV.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Kobe Bryant could be the Yao Ming of China

Dwight Howard could be the Yao Ming of China. I still believe that. If any one NBA player has the most to gain from playing overseas during this Segregation Part Deux (it's not segregation, but it's the worst thing since segregation....too soon?), it has to be Dwight Howard.


Dwight going over to China wouldn't be the biggest news story. That would be Kobe Bryant.

Yes, both Wade and LeBron has surpassed Kobe in the conversation for "Greatest Player Living on Planet Earth" (typing that sentence hurt my heart in ways you cannot possibly comprehend). He's not even the best player in the Western Conference right now. But he would have the most impact. Dwight has the most to gain, but Kobe is the athlete that could reach the highest stratosphere of international popularity.

Kobe is an international brand. He is known the world over, through language barriers and cultural divides. It is not only his transcendent play and physical dominance; it is that he is a champion, five times over. No matter how your government is run, what God you worship or if you have clean, running water, everyone understands winning. Everyone gets what it means to be the last man standing. Kobe established this early in his career. In fact, in 2006, when the Lakers were winning 45 games a season and getting bounced by Phoenix in the first round, I wandered into a bootleg market in Beijing. There were wall to wall Armani suits, Chanel bags and Nike shoes that were perhaps questionable in quality, but always assuredly questionable in origin. Amongst the plethora of knockoff garments were, yes, Kobe branded Nike gear and shoes clad in purple and gold. Even with his team in the doldrums of their glorious history, Kobe's brand of WINNING was shining through. While LeBron and Wade were reaching the peak of their still cresting popularity, Kobe kept his with the rings he garnered early in his career. Having an already strong foothold overseas, Kobe putting his game on display before (literally) a billion people would be a nearly invaluable asset to the Kobe Bryant brand. Everyone talks about Kobe chasing Michael Jordan in both championships and legacy. What better way to do this than to become the next great international superstar?

Kobe's expressed interest in going to the Chinese Basketball Assocation a few times. And while I have disagreed that he should play elsewhere if he thinks the lockout will end in-season, it seems that that is not going to be the case. China isn't the best option competition-wise (what league would be compared to the NBA), but it certainly is the best marketing-wise.

I suppose that all of the above reasoning is why China ruled today that no NBA players currently under contract will be able to join the CBA. Maybe the logic is that they don't want to serve as a vehicle for American players to expand their economic reach in China, or maybe it's just a broader way of keeping out players that could leave mid-season if the lockout were to end. Maybe this has broader social or political implications beyond what could be covered on this simultaneously groundbreaking and yet feeble blog. Either way, it doesn't matter that Dwight, Kobe or Wade are intrigued by the idea of coming and playing in the world's largest emerging market.

I don't really understand the CBA's logic here. As far as I've read, with the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China is pouring more money than they ever have into becoming more competitive in the international athletic scene. They want to compete with the Western nations not just in the economic and political scene, but also culturally, which has to include professional sports.

The bottom line (because Stone Cold STILL says so) is that bringing guys like Wade, Kobe and Earl Clarke over from the US is just going to make their players better. Of course they can watch tape and follow some instructional videos, but learning from the best players in the world day in and day out at practice would serve as the best possible learning tool towards the Chinese players getting better.

(I was just joking in that last paragraph; Earl Clarke has never made anyone better, professionally or personally)

I understand that no league wants to have a major exodus of talent in season, such as the one that would occur if the NBA were to end the lockout in December or January. It would be detrimental to the image of the CBA, lending to a "minor league" image that they understandably want to shed. But if that is the case, why not let in NBA players that are under contract IF they agree to not leave until the CBA season is over? Why not give them that option? Maybe that will exclude elite players from joining the league, but maybe the Kevin Martins, Jared Dudleys and Rip Hamiltons of the NBA will still agree to that payday. The Chinese basketball players don't have to learn from the best to get better; learning from even the mid-level NBA star is better than nearly every player they have in the league right now.

If China wants to play with the big boys of the world basketball scene, they have to allow it on their soil first. Step it up Mao.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Truth Shall Set You Free

When I was a young lad, my father would give me money for every "A" that I received. As you may have guessed, I'm too awesome to need a financial incentive to do well in school. However, it sure didn't hurt. Every quarter I'd happily place my report card on the fridge and think about which Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figure to buy. So I guess the incentive concept worked.

Last Thursday, Pat Smith bought raffle tickets for his twin boys at a local Minnesota All-Star hockey game. The winner of the contest would receive a chance to shoot the puck from center ice into a miniature "goal" that was a mere half inch wider than the puck itself. Nate Smith decided to not put his name down because he was suffering from an arm injury (dumb). He instructed Dad to put the name of his twin brother, Nick, on the tickets. Thinking that it was impossible to win, Nick decided to leave his seat shortly before halftime (dumbER). Of course, Nick was then announced as the contest winner. Nate, arm injury be damned, made his way to center ice. The kid calmly wristed (oh snap! hockey term!) an 89-foot shot into the mini-goal, winning FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS.

The next day, Dad got cold feet. He called the event's organizers and admitted that Nate posed as his twin brother Nick. As I write this, the powers-that-be still have not made a decision. And to make matters worse, this money was supposed to be donated by an insurance company. I can already hear them laughing about how flippin sweet this is. Not only do they have a ready-made contract exclusion that allows them not to pay up, but the potential beneficiary of the funds brought it to their attention. Can't make that stuff up! Of course, they might end up paying the money anyway to avoid bad PR, but who knows? It's been five days (aka an eternity) since the kid got his fifteen minutes of fame. During that time, the company has failed to return calls from several news outlets, including bigwigs like ABC News.

If the company doesn't pay up, or if local hero and event attendee Zach Parise doesn't sub in, the real issue is how this affects the kids going forward. An incentive only truly works if there isn't any backlash to performing the desired event. What possible backlash could there be for getting good grades? You could say that some kids made fun of me for being smart (relatively), but they're probably the same dudes who bag my groceries, pump my gas (NJ only!), and try to sell me stuff over the phone at dinner time. I think I won that war.

Honesty is a great thing. I know that because I used to lie about everything. But none of those lies cost me 50 large. I hope that the Smith twins grow up to be successful human beings. God forbid they go to college, graduate with 200K+ debt, and drive the Zamboni at the same All-Star game in 10-15 years. Pat Smith, you might have effed this one up.

UPDATE: The aforementioned insurance company, due to "contractual breaches and legal implications," will not be paying Nate or Nick the $50,000. It will, however, donate 20Gs to Minnesota youth hockey. This couldn't have been more predictable.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

God Bless[es] the Los Angeles Lakers

I haven’t been to church very much. Save for a wedding here or there, I’ve actually never really been to a church on Sunday. The only possible exception is the time I went to a Southern Baptist church for a R&B class I took in college. To hear some gospel music. I wish I made that up. Yes kids, being a music major is very difficult.

I went to a Catholic college and took biblical religion despite being not being Catholic, let alone religious. I’m not sure what I believed in before those four years in Boston, but I don’t think it was God. God just wasn’t…cool. Well, the Christian God, anyway. And I don’t mean to say that judgmentally, that’s just the facts. I went to 30 Bar and Bat Mitzvahs when I was in 7th grade. Obviously this is a byproduct of me being INCREDIBLY popular as a 13 year old, but I suppose if you brush aside my massive ego that shrouds my burning fires of self-doubt, you could surmise the root cause would be that I grew up amongst a lot of Jewish families. If I was going to believe in God, I’m not sure it’d be the one whose son got his ass kicked for all of us about 2000 years ago.

Is this a confession? I am being born again before your very eyes? The answer is of course not. This is a sports blog. Don’t be ridiculous.

After four years of bible study and living with 11 Catholic kids and their guilt, I think I believe in God now. I’m pretty sure I do anyway (peer pressure is cool, you definitely should do it!). And over this time, I’ve learned that if God loves you, He’s going to bless you and your lineage for years and decades to come. So obviously God loves the Los Angeles Lakers

I’ll say it before you do – that opening set of paragraphs there seems only tangentially related to the subject of this article. In life, we call that “a reach”. In writing, we call that a “hook”. On this blog, we call that "an attempt at legitimate journalism". But the truth is, 7 years ago, I never would have written something like this, because I don’t think I would have truly believed it.

I’ve combed through the extensive history of the Lakers, as one does when he’s a) a fantatic and b) has had a spotty employment history over the past two years. I’ve uncovered that the sustained success and winning tradition of the Lakers is second to almost no one in the history of North American professional sports. The miraculous and consistent resurrections of the “nearly dead” Lakers have happened so many times in the past 60 years that they’re incredibly difficult to count, unless you are temping as a receptionist at a technological consulting company for two weeks and you really don’t have anything better to do (if that sounded really specific, it is because I am poor and I did not want to slang drugs to pay my rent. Also, I do not know how to slang anything, or where to get said drugs). Everything about the history of the Lakers goes beyond simple “luck” and intelligent decision-making. Something else has to be there. And I think it might be God.


The Los Angeles Lakers are one of the premier franchises not only in the National Basketball Association, but also in North American professional sports. They boast 16 championships, which less than only the New York Yankees (27 World titles), the Montreal Canadiens (24 titles) and that stupid team from Boston. According to Forbes magazine, the Lakers are one of the most valuable NBA franchises, at over $601 million. The purple and gold jersey is recognized the world over, as are former Lakers icons Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal and of course, Kobe Bryant.

So obviously the Lakers are successful. Obviously they turn a profit and obviously they are one of the most popular franchises in the world. If you listen to any interview with Pau Gasol, he'll use the word "obviously" at least 7 times. But what differentiates them from say, the Dallas Cowboys? Or the Pittsburgh Penguins, home to Canadian superstar Sidney Crosby? Or even the hated Boston Celtics with their rich history and 17 championship banners? What makes the Lakers stand out from the rest of these mere mortal teams is that an endless line of lucky draft picks, excellent free agent signings and one-sided trades seem to fall into their laps . Except lets trade the words "lucky", "excellent" and "one-sided", with "Heaven sent".


On with the facts:

In the past 60 years, the Los Angeles Lakers have drafted, in order:

George Mikan
Elgin Baylor
Jerry West
Magic Johnson
James Worthy

In the past 60 years, the Los Angeles Lakers have traded for:

Wilt Chamberlain
Gail Goodrich
Kareem Abdul-Jabaar
Kobe Bryant
Pau Gasol

In the past 60 years, the Los Angeles Lakers have signed from free agency:

Shaquille O'Neal

Oh, those guys? This list looks like a who’s who of NBA history. This collection of men have combined for 8 MVPs, 12 Finals MVPs, 57 1st Team All-NBA appearances and 16 NBA championships. And 8 of them are Hall of Famers, not including Shaquille's or Kobe's or possibly Pau's future introductions. In fact, you could look at almost Mikan, Baylor, West, Chamberlain, Kareem, Magic and Kobe, and say that they were one of, if not the most influential and important player of his generation. Even for the most jaded of NBA-head, that’s pretty incredible.

While all these names and figures are very impressive, it is not so much that the Lakers collect titles, individual accolades and Hall of Famers like Wilt collected harems - it's the sustained manner in which they have done so for over 60 years now. Looking at an overview of their history, it just seems as though every time the Lakers are “dead”, another "lucky" incident will happen - an impossible trade, an acquired draft pick turns into a top-5 selection - and all of the sudden, the Lakers are contending for yet another title. Let's lock-in for a little history lesson and examine how all these events miraculously happened.


The franchise was started in 1947 in beautiful (I'm told...I'm never going there) Minneapolis, MN. The Lakers won their first title in 1949, which turned out to be the first of 5 in the span of 6 years. This was all done under the leadership of George Mikan, the league’s best player at the time, and now regarded as the game's first true superstar (though the guy, Saint Mamba rest his soul, resembles my sister's physics teacher from 11th grade).

As Mikan retired early from injuries, the club finished last in 1958 and ended up with the first overall pick in the draft - which ended up being Elgin Baylor, future 10-time 1st Team All-NBA small forward and Hall of Famer. Despite Elgin's future promise, the team ended up with at 25-50 record and landed the no. 2 pick in the very next year’s draft. That pick ended up being Jerry West. He is otherwise known as first Finals MVP, an NBA Champion, 19th on the NBA's all-time scoring list. Hall-of-Famer. If you still don't know who is he, just look at the NBA logo. That's his silhouette. That guy was a Laker.

So just to recap, by the beginning of the 1960-61 season, we have 3 of the game's greatest players and 5 titles. We have cratered twice, and both times we drafted one of the greatest players ever. Not too bad for the first dozen or so years of the league’s existence.

In the summer of 1960, Lakers owner moved the franchise from Minneapolis to Los Angeles and the team benefited financially and on the court - they made the playoffs each of the next 8 years and the finals 5 of those times.

Unfortunately for Elgin, Jerry and the Lakers, the Boston Celtics stood in their way- beating Los Angeles in all five of those Finals matchups. Just when they thought they would not be able to get over the hump, the Lakers made their first of many great-future-Hall-of-Fame-NBA-big-man-getting-traded-for-a-bunch-of-guys-whose-names-don't-matter-because-they-amounted-to-nothing trades; getting the immortal Wilt Chamberlain from Philly.

With Jerry and Wilt (Elgin retired in the beginning of the 1971 season), the Lakers won the 1971-72 title, their first in LA. The Logo retired two years later and the Lakers missed the playoffs for two seasons in a row. For many teams, this is business as usual, the cost of keeping (and winning with) aging stars. For the Lakers, this would be the longest such streak they would ever have in LA. Then, after the 1974-75 season, they would make their second great-future-Hall-of-Fame-NBA-big-man-getting-traded-for-a-bunch-of-guys-whose-names-don't-matter-because-they-amounted-to-nothing trade, getting the Captain, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar from Milwaukee. For those keeping score, in a 10 year span they traded for two of the greatest 5 players of all time, each time after they thought they were screwed. JESUS. And I'm not just saying that for emphasis...I really think this was the work of Jesus.

Despite Kareem's excellence, the team couldn't quite get to the Finals. However, during this time, the Lakers had already traded for, and subsequently traded future HOFer Gail Goodrich. Who did they trade him out for? A few draft picks from Utah, one of which turned out to be a future #1 pick in the 1979 draft. They used that to choose a guy from Michigan State University. His name is Earvin Johnson. Some people call him Magic.

From there the story is well known - 9 Finals appearances in 12 years, with 5 of those resulting in championships. Magic carved out a place for him amongst the games greats, and until Michael Jordan's reign in the 90's, was considered the greatest player ever to live. And by the way, in the midst of all that winning, they somehow traded a guy named Don Ford (averaged 6.4 points per game in his distinguished NBA career) for the future draft rights to future NBA champion, future Finals MVP and future Hall of Famer "Big Game" James Worthy. GOD. LOVES. THE LAKERS.

As the 90s began, the stars of the 80s made their way out of the NBA; Kareem after the 89' season, Magic before the 91-92 season and James Worthy 12 games into the 1994-95 season. Pat Riley, Showtime and all of their accompanying accomplishments were gone. The squad missed the playoffs for the first time in 20 years and did not win more than 48 games (though, by comparison, the Los Angeles Clippers have never won 48 games....ever) until the 1995-1996 season.

During those few years of futility, General Manager Jerry West managed to keep pieces moving, in order to clear cap room for the summer of 1995. Shaquille O'Neal, who in only his fourth year in the league was named as one of the 50 greatest players of all-time, had somehow managed to become a free agent. West wasted no time, signing Shaquille to a 7-year deal, simultaneously resurrecting the thought-dead Lakers and sinking the upstart Orlando Magic (thank God no one would ever let a free-agent fiasco like that ever happen again! Good thing the league learned its lesson). A few weeks before, West had made a much more under-the-radar move, trading starting center Vlade Divac for some 17 year-old kid from Philly named Kobe Bryant. At the time, it was a bold move, given that Divac was a 27 year-old center and just averaged 13 ppg and 8.6 rpg, to go along with some of the best passing that the league had ever seen from a big man. But looking back on it, I think the trade ended up being worth it. The combination of Shaquille, Kobe and coach Phil Jackson went on to 4 finals, 3 titles and 812 articles by Bill Plaschke.

After a tumultuous 2004 offseason which saw Shaq and Phil acrimoniously depart Los Angeles, the team nosedived to a 34-48 record with Kobe, missing the playoffs for the third time in 30 years (dios Mamba!). Though this enabled them to draft Andrew Bynum, now regarded as one of the best young centers in the game, the Lakers looked like Job. God had forsaken them. They had no cap room to speak of, and Kobe was flanked with guys like Smush Parker, Brian Grant, Jumaine Jones and Luke Walton. They were in no man’s land. Kobe was too good for them to be a lottery team, but they weren’t good enough to compete for a title.

After slugging their way through two 45 and 42 win seasons (albeit seasons where Kobe averaged 34 ppg, scored 81 in a single contest and was the single best player on the planet), GM Mitch Kupchak pulled off an astonishing coup, as he made the latest great-future-Hall-of-Fame-NBA-big-man-getting-traded-for-a-bunch-of-guys-whose-names-don't-matter-because-they-amounted-to-nothing trade in team history, getting Spanish forward Pau Gasol. Pau and Kobe have teamed for 3 Finals appearances in four seasons, winning two titles, and counting.

By the way, Chick Hearn called Lakers games for 50 years.


In summary, the Lakers have gone through this chain of players, with a 2 year gap or less in between them:

George Mikan (1947-1956) - Elgin Baylor (1958-1971) - Jerry West (1960-1974)- Wilt Chamberlain (1968-1973) - Kareem Abdul-Jabaar (1975-1989) - Magic Johnson (1979-1991) - James Worthy (1982-1994) - Shaquille O'Neal (1996-2004) - Kobe Bryant (1996-Current) - Pau Gasol (2008-Current)

I haven’t always been a man of faith. I am a logical person, sometimes to a logical fault. To be honest, the most illogical thing that I consistently do is cheer for groups of large men I have no relationship with to succeed in an organized competition of somewhat arbitrary goals and movements. But as I pored over the history of this team and how seamlessly the eras of legends, championships and success overlapped one another, I couldn’t help but explain it with anything but incredible luck and faith.

Let me clarify. This is not to disparage the incredible work that GM Jerry West, Mitch Kupchak , Pat Riley or anyone before did. It's not like they were buffoons whose success was just a bi-product of a free-spending owner and his millions. I mean, this isn’t an examination of Brian Cashman or anything (oh, ka-pow!). Both Jack Kent Cooke and Dr. Jerry Buss has been incredibly shrewd with their front-office personnel choices, and their general managers have, more often than not, been able to put themselves into places where if the perfect opportunity were to present itself, they would be ready to strike. That has nothing to do with divine intervention or luck. That is just a very smart owner wisely choosing the right people to run his business. However, it is the fact that these perfect opportunities to continually fall into the laps of the Lakers is what makes me think that God has something to do with it. A lot of teams are in great position to make great trades or draft great players. But that home run ball just isn’t coming across the plate at the right time. Luckily for the Lakers, they've been Albert Pujols staring down a fastball dead red down the middle.

One more note - It would be one thing is this happened for one or two decades, but this has been going on for six. As in sixty years. Absolutely astonishing. And with all the incessant chatter and rumors of Dwight Howard to the Lakers, I wouldn't at all be surprised if this continues for another 10.

In his "Book of Basketball", NBA writer Bill Simmons refers to the Lakers' string of success and simply says "[they've] gotten really lucky. But one day, their luck will run out". If history has taught us anything, I don’t think so Bill. And I know Someone else that agrees with me.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Some examples from my Facebook News Feed recently:
"Absolutely nothing to do at work for the next 1.5 weeks."
"Craving something delicious!"
"still obsessing over setting the apartment just right :) gosh I love Ikea"
Today's world allows us to say whatever we want, whenever we want. Even if nobody gives a crap. I couldn't care less about how little work you have to do, about how hungry you are, or that you are so happy that you must display said happiness by juxtaposing a colon and a closed parenthesis. But I don't even blame the parties responsible for such meaningless status updates. Partly because I am sometimes guilty of the same infraction, but mostly because we have become desensitized to so many of them...so much so that this stuff is rather normal. But while Facebook or Twitter is one thing, saying actual words to speak your mind is another.
This past weekend, Tiger Woods returned to golf after missing numerous tournaments due to injury. He didn't win. A duder by the name of Adam Scott won. The link between them? Eldrick's former caddie now carries clubs for Scott. And when Scott clinched a win on Sunday, the caddie, Steve Williams, decided it was appropriate to say actual words.
"I've been caddying for 33 years and I've never had a bigger win. It's the greatest week of my life caddying and I sincerely mean that."
(On Tiger firing him) "I've been incredibly loyal to the guy and I got short shrifted. Very disappointed."
Is there a more obvious alpha-beta relationship in sports than golfer-caddie? (Allow me to use the word "sports" liberally. Golf is not a sport. It is one of the most difficult games in the world, but it is just that. A game. If John Daly can look like John Daly and be moderately successful, golf is just a game.) A caddie is a golfer's bitch. He carries the golfer's clubs, wipes golf balls down, has a towel on hand for the golfer to wipe sweat. A caddie even looks like a freaking crossing guard. Or on other occasions, he looks like the limo dudes who wait at the airport with a name placard. Sure, Mr. Caddie makes shot recommendations. But he's still just a bitch.
Count how many times Steve Williams used a first-person pronoun in those quotes. Really, Steve? This was your win? How many birdie putts did you sink, bro? How many fairways did you reach? You have no business uttering a single word. You should be seen and not heard.
You were an employee of Tiger Woods. You were never his friend. If you were his friend, then he would never have hired you in the first place. There's a reason why you were completely oblivious when news broke that Tiger was slaying pornstars and strippers. It's because golfers don't rage with the dude who carries their clubs. If Adam Scott told you that he wanted a fresh glass of iced tea to cool down mid-round, don't tell me you're not doing a full sprint to the clubhouse. It's part of your job description.
Now, if you hadn't said anything, ESPN-heads would have written glory stories about you switching jobs. It'd be about how you left the scandalous, overbearing, fallen angel to work for the clean-cut white dude with two first names. But you ruined it. No worries, though. People can say whatever they want these days, and Zuckerberg's got an account waiting for you if you're feeling chatty. It'd just be a lot cooler if you kept quiet. Nobody cares about what you think.
If you really wanted to lame out your life and spout meaningless opinions, Mambino does guest posts.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Three Tiers of Professional Wrestling Entrances

I get to work, just like any other Friday. I fire up the old computer at my desk, go fetch my coffee that I think might be 60% actually coffee grinds, 15% sawdust, 10% natural Colombian dirt and 15% guano and hit up all my morning news. I go to espn.com, and one of the prime inspirations of THE GREAT MAMBINO, Bill Simmons, has his latest article up about WWE entrance music, and the emergence of CM Punk as one of the hottest properties in entertainment right now. Is this a joke? Did someone hack into my computer and photoshop these headlines? Why is ESPN covering professional wrestling?

I have 4 primary interests, in this order: music, sports, comic books and professional wrestling. The first two are very easy, relatable topics. Everyone likes music. If you say you “don’t really listen to music”, then do me a favor; find the nearest window and consider your options. Get with it. This isn’t 1890, where only 1% of the population owns phonographs. Everyone likes music, you fucking robot. Sports are easy too; I know a little bit about most teams so that I can relate to most sports fans (even say, Mily-walk-kay, or as it’s known in Algonquin, “The Good Land”).

My admiration and love for Bill Simmons goes a long way. I devour his podcasts and consume his articles like they were news that actually mattered. I wouldn’t say he’s an “expert” on basketball, baseball or anything, really. That’s reserved for players, coaches or other students of the game that actually have an idea of what it’s like to be in that competitive environment. Bill is a pundit, just like Mike Wilbon, Adrian Wojnarowski, me or you. He’s got an opinion, but unlike me, he gets paid to put it on the internets. That all being said, he’s one of the best and most well-read pundits writing today. I might not agree with him all the time but you bet your ass that he's got evidence and support for everything he writes. That’s why reading this article was so strange for me.

Simmons wrote some 5,000 words on professional wrestling introductions and their accompanying music. Wow. How could I even remotely dislike this? It combines nearly everything I’ve ever had interest in for my whole life. It’s my favorite sports writer counting down his favorite wrestling theme music? I should have had to change my pants. But I...didn't. I didn’t love it. It’s not that he didn’t know what he was talking about. The article was, as I have come to expect, extraordinarily well-written and researched. He reached back into the vault and pulled out some excellent old-school references and mixed them with what he knew of the current wrestling scene. But he just didn’t know enough. And I really have come to expect the opposite from a guy whose 700 page book on basketball I read in 10 days.

I can’t come out and say that an entrance is as important to professional wrestling as the look of the performer, his skills on the microphone, and of course, the goods in the middle of that…very…ring. But would CM Punk’s match with Cena at Money in the Bank be quite as good if not for Punk’s epic entrance? Probably not. It would have taken something away from the entire art (yeah, I said it) of the match. It’s a crucial part of the performance – I’d argue that’s it’s just as important as the finishing sequence of the match itself.

Simmons was right on this count; every entrance has to have a few key ingredients.

The opening hook:
The audience has to know who you are, and within a few notes. I have to know your identity immediately, whether you're the asshole that is interrupting that interview or you're the hero that's going to stop this jerkoff from telling me how much he hates my city. In a perfect world, I also agree that the music has to reach a dramatic apex either 1 or 2 minutes into the song, long enough for the wrestler to get in the ring and pose during it.

A music theme that matches with his character: Hulk Hogan's theme wouldn't work quite as well if you played "Back in the USSR" by the Beatles, would it? Still a kick ass song with a recognizable hook, with a solid song structure and great tempo. But it wouldn't make sense for the All-American Hulkster to walk down to the ring with 6 year-olds singing those lyrics, would it?

A professional wrestler's theme music is an incredibly difficult science to master. The song has to work on several different tiers; it's got to match the wrestler's gimmick, but at the same time work within the constraints of what is popular in American music at the time (for example, Alberto del Rio's gimmick is that of a rich Mexican aristocrat, so you'd expect that his theme would sound like Mexican classical music. Instead, it sounds like a Shakira backing track. You get the picture). It has got to have great dynamics and tempo, yet be concise enough that it doesn't lose anyone's attention. It's got to be good enough where you remember it the first time you hear it. Jim Johnston, the writer of 99% of wrestling themes you've ever heard and/or loved since 1985, could be one of the greatest musical minds of our era.

Theatrics that match the performer: Just make sure whatever you do matches the tone of who you're supposed to be. I don't want the supposedly spooky and ominous Kane throwing his arms up and down and motioning to the crowd. Don't swing for the fences when you're a leadoff hitter, kids.

You don't necessarily have to hit all of the above criteria to have an awesome professional wrestling entrance. Yes, to get that 5-star rating you should have all those elements rigged to perfection. But you can't just lump in every entrance and compare it against one another - it wouldn't be fair to measure Stone Cold Steve Austin's against the Undertaker's. Their characters are so completely different that they deserve completely different entrances. In fact, I’ve boiled it down into three categories. Well, four actually. The fourth would be that the entrance just sucks. The Big Show, I'm looking in your direction.

1) The entrance itself isn’t great by any means, nor does the music or theatrics particularly fit the performer, but the entrance becomes great as an extension of that wrestler’s excellence

2) The entrance isn’t spectacular or eye-popping, but fits within the character and tenor of the character himself

3) Everything about the entrance fits the wrestler; the theatrics, the music, the pyro, everything. A perfect extension of the character that man has created


1). I also call this the Mo Williams 2009 All-Star selection entrance. Mo Williams made the All-Star team 2 years ago because the Cavs were good enough to "deserve" a 2nd All-Star. Was Mo having an All-Star caliber year? Probably not, but he made the team anyway as a gift of LeBron's regular season greatness. (Was this an completely unsolicited shot at Mo Williams? Maybe). And thus the Mo Williams 2009 All-Star selection entrance.

The perfect example: Bret "The Hitman" Hart

Don't get me wrong; the Hitman is my favorite wrestler of all-time. One of, if not the best technical wrestler ever. He took the belt in a time where the WWF was not making money and when wrestling was at it's "anti-cool" apex, pasted right in between the departure of Hulkamania and Macho Madness, but right before the anti-authority of the nWo, D-Generation X and Stone Cold Steve Austin. He always delivered in the ring, stood up for what was right and was invincible, yet beatable all at the same time. AND, he got me to put aside my rampant homophobia and wear hot pink at age 10.

That all being said, outside of the squared circle Bret was never the best on the microphone, nor was he overly flashy or bombastic. He didn't make nonsensical promos, or engage in theatrics like Hogan, Ric Flair or the Ultimate Warrior. He looked like a nice guy. His entrance had pretty much nothing to do with his character, nor was it particularly earth-shattering. He came in to this strange 80's metal rip-off backing track; it sounds like the type of guitar loop you hear on a Nintendo video game while the computer is waiting for you to pick what character you're going to fight with.

Bret marched down to the ring, wearing these wrap-around pink reflective sunglasses, with a pink and black admiral's jacket. He'd then give the glasses to a kid at ringside (which, as BockerKnocker points out, was the coolest part of the intro because EVERY kid dreamed of the Hitman putting those glasses on YOU), hit the ring and motioned to the crowd. And that was it.

Putting my nostalgia away, the entrance wasn't great. Aside from giving the glasses to a kid at ringside, there's nothing about the 80's metal ring theme and flashy attire that matched with Bret's character. I feel like I'm slapping my grandfather in the face right now, but the whole thing is just kind of...blah.

But then the bell sounded. And Bret BROUGHT it. It didn't matter who he was fighting - Bam Bam Bigelow, Curt Hennig, Owen Hart, Kevin Nash, Stone Cold, whoever...Bret made that the best match on the card. So when I see his entrance, I think it's awesome. The cheesy metal guitar-riff loops turn into marching music. The pink and black looks less gaudy and more like something I WANT to wear. I still want to be the kid who gets the plastic glasses at ringside. That entrance has become great, because of Bret's greatness in the ring.

The other contenders:

The Rock: This might be heresy in talking about the Great One in such terms. He had that great opening line to the theme music, but ultimately, it's this strange, somewhat plodding reject 80's metal guitar solo, with a pretty blase percussive backing track. A couple lights go off, he walks straight to the ring with intensity and does a short pose on the turnbuckle. People go absolutely crazy, but again, it's only because of the Rock's brilliance in every other facet of his game.

Mankind: Excellent theme music (crunchy, 90's blues-metal, with car-crashing sounds; it's fun and somewhat brutal all at the same time. It's Mick), but ultimately Foley just stumbled down to the ring and raised his fist to the crowd. Not exactly what you'd expect from the Hardcore Legend.

The Macho Man Randy Savage: For as dynamic as he was, Savage's whole entrance was shockingly tame. He didn't sprint down the aisle or bounce around like the maniac that he was. He didn't do any acrobatics to get into to the ring nor when he was inside it. His music was "Pomp and Circumstance". That's the music you graduate to. From high school. But combine that with his legendary performances, wide-eyed, coked-out interviews and attire that he stole from Elton John's closet, you look back on his pre-match hoopla and smile. And may he snap into a Slim Jim in peace.

2) These are for the men whose entrances are understated in their production, but perfect in their simplicity. They said so much about the performer without tons of explosions or mist rising from the stage.

The perfect example: Stone Cold Steve Austin

Even if it's a terrible, sorry, bootleg of a shattering-glass sound effect, when you hear that thing...you know it's on. The 6-time champ came marching out with all the swag in the world. The guitar lines gnarl back and forth, with the bass pulsing in the background. Austin is all business walking down the ramp; he doesn't slap anyone's hand or even look anyone in the eye. He doesn't really interact with the crowd. He just stares at the ring and marches straight for it. By the time he's in the squared circle, the music has already hit it's apex - a "Psycho"-style stabbing guitar lick, as if Hitchcock hired Ted Nugent to write score for his films. Stone Cold marches right for the corner, climbs up to the middle turnbuckle, raises both his fists, puts those middle fingers up and looks at the crowd saying "you're godDAMN right". And everyone's fired up.

No pyro, no fireworks, nothing explodes. The music has no lyrics, just the business of the guitars. All of that would be completely antithetical to who Stone Cold Steve Austin is. He doesn't care who you are, or what you want; he has come to the arena tonight to whup your ass and that's it. Straight to the point and with intensity (the only man in modern WWF history that can really hold a candle to that stare is Jake "The Snake" Roberts). In two minutes, you know who the character of Stone Cold Steve Austin is and what's happening tonight.

The other contenders:

The Ultimate Warrior: Oh boy. That muted, quick strum of the guitar with the heavy kick drum and those crashing cymbals. The lights flicker and all of the sudden this completely roided out, met-head comic book character of a human comes sprinting to the ring. He jumps on to the apron, and shakes the ropes so violently it seems that he might rip them straight off of their hooks. You don't know if whether he's going to throw a punch through his opponents chest or just keep on running laps around the arena. Or maybe both. At the same time. One of the most underrated entrances of all time.

Hulk Hogan: (go to a 1:30 in the video) At it's root, it's just the music, the slow shirt ripping and some pointing. But the music is "Real American", the shirt ripping is iconic and the pointing gives me goosebumps 20 years later. Hulkamania baby.

HHH: This one teeters between category 2 and 3. I keep it at 2 because other than the lighting and the water, there's really no production that goes into it. HHH just keeps that taught, crazy intensity, as if he's just about to snap; and then after a minute of standing at the top of the ramp...SNAP, and the music reflects his every move. The Motorhead tune appropriately fits him (it should; they wrote it specifically for WWE purposes), his intensity and drive. It's amazing how HHH morphed from a "Greenwich blueblood" to Shawn Michael's sidekick in DX all the way to the point where his character's toughness without mercy identifies him with the voice of Lemmy from Motorhead. His body makes him look like a guy that can rough you up, but his entrance lets you know how he's going to do it.

CM Punk: His new Living Colour theme is great, and still totally works ("Cult of Personality" has that opening guitar rip that you can instantly identify, and the lyrics seem like they are written by Punk himself), but nothing can hold a candle to his former music by Killswitch Engage. Killswitch is a veteran hardcore punk band who has existed just below the public eye, teetering on the edge of the mainstream for years with their mix of pop metal sensibilities and DC hardcore know-how. They are popular within their own genre, but yet are constricted by the popularity of the genre itself. They are talented and underrated, but in the end, they seem to be happy with who they are and what they do. However, at any given moment, I wouldn't be surprised if they made a top 10 single. Sound familiar?

3) The whole package. The Undertaker award. Let's just call it like it is.

The perfect example: The Undertaker

Does this even need any explanation? Even people that aren't wrestling fans know this. The gong, the lights go down, the mist, the fire, the slow walk down the aisle, the lights go up, taking off the hat, the lightning and thunder effects and of course the eye roll - the best entrance in the history of professional wrestling. It's dynamic, it has a dramatic crescendo and the ominous organ music fits perfectly. Sure it's cheesy as hell and the theatrics are incredibly over the top - but if you're not down with that, then you shouldn't be watching professional wrestling.

The other contenders

Kane: (Hop ahead to 3:00) This gets some demerits because it echoes the Undertaker's, but is excusable seeing as their characters are so closely related to one another's. On the other hand, Kane gets points here for the production of it all (the exploding fire, the red lighting), that makes you immediately know that a giant, ugly, bald guy coming down to do the same move set you've seen for 14 years. A brilliant thing that Jim Johnston does is put small instrumental devices into otherwise slow moving entrance themes to give them a little more juice; the melodies may be slow moving, but there's always a guitar line or drum loop that propels the music moving forward. That is why you don't think a giant, ugly, bald guy walking slowly to the tune of organ music isn't boring - because it subtly pushes you forward. And the explosions don't hurt either.

Batista: Simmons got this down perfectly. Batista's entrance may be the only reason why it is acceptable for the band Saliva to exist.

Goldust: THE forgotten gem of wrestling entrances. Genuinely one of the most unique bits of theatrics and production I've ever seen. After the camera was set to letterbox view (how many times do they adjust the picture filter for a wrestler?), gold confetti or pyro streamed down from the rafters. Then that music hit; an absolutely perplexing mix of low-rent porn, Cirque du Soleil and Phil Collins. On an aside, I really love how in the mid-nineties, Vince McMahon wasn't afraid to play up against America's general homophobia to make someone a "bad guy". Goldust came down to the ring in these bizarre cat suits, and in most matches would massage the wrestler he was facing, sometimes even kissing or licking his opponents after they had been knocked out. Of course the crowds HATED him with a passion. Note to wrestlers today - if you really want to get over with a crowd and create a response, just summon up the biggest flamer you can muster.

Gangrel: Just because you suck doesn't mean you can't have a kick-ass entrance (true story: Gangrel always came down to the ring wearing these weird, Seinfeld-esque puffy shirts. He wrestled with it in every match; one of the very few wrestlers not to go shirtless. But a few years following his debut, it accidentally got ripped off in the ring, revealing a huge pot belly. He was exposed for what he was; a marginally talented, overweight professional wrestler who masqueraded as a vampire. He got fired about 2 weeks after that match. Coincidence? You be the judge).

Edge: I often try to forget the fact that Edge's latest theme song was by a band called Alter Bridge, who was the remnants of Creed, sans lead singer Scott Stapp. If you have to ask who Creed is, they're the band you heard on modern rock radio 5 years ago and HATED.

Regardless, Edge's entrance was fire. As you as you hear "you think you know me", followed by those double kick drum metal riffs, everyone in the arena knows who it is. Edge channels his inner Warrior here; running around the stage like a mad man, diving into the ring was exploding and yelling at the crowd like they needed to be fired up even more. Predictably and stupidly enough, the song is called "Metalingus", but has great pace, dramatic apexes and attitude. All of which fit Edge.


I've been watching wrestling for nearly 20 years. It's not a subject I bring up at dinner parties, nor would it be the first point of conversation I'd bring up with my girlfriend's father upon meeting him. But just because it's not socially acceptable on the tier of, well, subjects that matter, doesn't mean that it's an industry that's without it's levels of complexity. Ring entrances are just a microcosm of the intricate structure that is professional wrestling.

Ultimately, the wrestlers many times don't get to choose what their gimmick is and how they are presented to the world. Sometimes it's the choice of promotion's creative team, or born out of a man's natural look (do you think that the Big Show could get over being a Mexican aristocrat? Or a former high school teacher turned wrestler?). The only thing a guy can control is the excellence of his matches and the charisma he projects to the audience. Sure it's great to have a ring entrance like the Undertaker's, but most people aren't going to be undead wrestler whose look necessitates mist and lightning. Bring it in the ring and on the mic. If the creative team saddles you with a lame entrance, it won't matter. Just ask the Hitman.

Man, it's still so weird to discuss professional wrestling in public. Well, if anyone read this, it'd be weird. Womp womp.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Derek Fisher - The Informant

Look - I know the economy is important. I know that I should know more about the debt crisis and that I shouldn't snicker everytime I hear the words "House Leader Boehner". I fill my thoughts with meaningless statistics and championship matchups, rather than why the United States is facing a multi-trillion dollar deficit, and exactly how many millions make a trillion. I should care. I should learn how to be an adult.

But if you've followed this blog or you've followed my life, you know that this isn't going to happen. The foremost issue topping my noggin this summer is the current player lockout taking place in the National Basketball Association.

In this NBA purgatory that we all slug through day in and day out, one of the few bits of basketball news that filters through to the front page is Kobe potentially playing professional ball in Turkey for the Beskitas club.

At first, I didn't pay any attention or credence to it. It just seemed like another bit of player posturing to me. Could you possibly be more vague than saying you might be interested in playing in Europe? Well why say anything at all then? Kobe is a marketing machine. He's like the hype man before the concert, but then will actually play a full set afterwards. He's the whole show. He's 1994 Puffy and Biggie. He knows the worth of throwing out hypotheticals of him playing Euroball, and what that would mean for his brand over on the other side of the pond. But even with all that in mind, I couldn't believe that Kobe would consider this. This is a guy who practiced maybe 5 times last year in order to preserve his once-sturdy body from the wear and tear of being Kobe Bryant. He has gone on record as saying that his knees are practically "bone on bone" at this point. Why would he risk injury playing for a relatively low amount of money, competing against lesser basketball players? Don't misunderstand Kobe here - the risk isn't that he'll get hurt and miss out on his eventually forthcoming NBA player contract millions. The risk is not being able to compete for that 6th title. Kobe's has got more gold than China at this point - all he is competing for now is championships.

Turkey is not a controlled NBA situation. This is a league of guys that when they see international superstar Kobe Bryant, are going to play their hardest against him and try to make a name for themselves. They are going to foul him hard going to the rack, and try to recklessly dunk on him every time he is in the paint in hopes of making Sportscenter that night. The crowds will be rowdy and uncontrollable. This can't be for competition's sake either; this is the same league that it was a big deal when Sasha Vujacic signed a contract to play there. Nothing here makes sense. Why would Kobe do this?

The only thing that makes sense is that Kobe knows something we don't. The only way he signs with Beskitas is because knows that we're not having an NBA season.

Kobe's not without his sources - he's one of the 5 best basketball players in the world. He is one of the faces of the league. He's got his sources in the office. But most importantly, Derek Fisher, his teammate for 12 seasons and one true peer on the Lakers, is the president of the NBA Players Union. If your boy was on the inside of all the negotiations, wouldn't you just be able to call him up and say "Hey - what's the deal about this season? Do you think we're having it?". Fisher might not be able to tell him everything, but if that were my friend, he'd certainly give me his best opinion for how to conduct the next year of my life. Kobe would do this because a year off with no basketball is worse for his game than a year with just some, albeit far less competitive and passionate basketball. This is the most telling thing here. That a guy like Kobe, with all his resources and intel, would make a decision like this.

If Kobe signs with Beskitas, it's not just newsworthy for that specific story. I think it tells us a lot about the fate of the 2011-2012 season. And also, I will have to stop giggling at "House Leader Boehner". Damn it.