Team skylines 2.0

Link to the first installment, which includes an explanation of what’s going on here.

xMoscowMoscow:  San Antonio Spurs

Moscow is a strange duck.  It has many older but recognizable features like the iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Seven Sisters, as well as cultural touchstones like the Kremlin and Red Square.  This echoes the robust history of the original ABA San Antonio Spurs and its unique and irreplaceable characters like George “Iceman” Gervin.  But the city’s actual skyline is dominated, in particular, by a cluster of modern towers that stand apart from the historic underbelly.  Continue reading

Ironic Name Hall of Fame: Donald Sterling

Although he is splashed across the headlines this week, the Los Angeles Clippers’ longtime owner and agitator has had less than a “Sterling” reputation for some time.

Sterling

Believe it or not, Donald Sterling is currently the longest tenured NBA owner.  That is, until NBA Commissioner Adam Silver convinces three-quarters of the other NBA owners (22 out of 29) to force a sale of the Clippers, after which he’ll just be a forlorn billionaire business magnate who will (likely) profit more than $1 billion upon the team being sold.  Not even Clippers numbers guru Cliff Paul knows the bounds of Sterling’s pocketbook.  You can almost hear the gold plated violin playing over his left shoulder.

There is a pretty strong consensus that Sterling is a bad dude and a general stench on the Clippers organization.  Over the years, he has been involved in several discrimination lawsuits, notably involving both his copious real estate investments (with allegations that his rental philosophies fell…let’s just say shy of Fair Housing Act standards) as well as a high profile employment discrimination suit brought by former Clippers executive and Lakers legend Elgin Baylor, alleging racially charged remarks and disparate treatment along racial lines.  He allegedly called Baron Davis a bastard.  He has been involved in shady business practices.  He has been accused of racist statements on many occasions.  His fans find him creepy.  His posture is terrible.  But the lifetime ban and $2.5 million fine levied on Sterling, announced today by Silver in response to the outrage over recordings in which Sterling made racist remarks, is still fundamentally surprising.  After all, powerful people tend to squeak by these obstacles.  You rarely see heads roll when it comes to rich folk in the private sector.

“In this country, you’re guilty until you’re proven wealthy.”  — Bill Maher

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Da Spurs

There has been an invisible war raging for a decade and a half, not unlike the invisible war being waged between spam messages and your email filter.  The San Antonio Spurs have been battling age, irrelevance, and history.  Somehow, the “boring,” un-hip, small market basketball team from central Texas has become the most historically fascinating sports franchise of our era.  In other words, they’re winning the war.

spurs2Photo credit:  Garrett Ellwood, Getty Images

As you probably know, players generally grow old, rosters turn over, and partnerships grow stale.  Teams fluctuate.  A team might be at the top of the league, then crash out of the playoffs, then stumble back in and lose in the first round a couple times, then lose in the Finals, then win a couple titles, then lose early for three years, then crash again and miss the playoffs with no relief in sight.  That’s the profile of the Lakers for the past twelve years or so.  They have been all over the place.  And that “all over the place” resume is easily one of the most successful teams in the entire NBA over that stretch.

Most teams are more like the Orlando Magic.  A few All Stars here and there.  Some coaches fired.  An unexpected Finals trip in 2009.  A few early and mid-playoff exits.  A few terrible years.  So it goes in a competitive league of 30 teams with a salary cap.

And then there are the Spurs. Continue reading

Cutting a handsome figure: Sports team skylines

HongKong from above

Every city has a feel to it. Ah yes, the fountains of Rome, the smog monsters of Beijing, and the Ian Zeiring Chippendales posters of Vegas.1

Walking the streets of a city is the best way to get a sense of its ambiance — a person strolling through New Orleans’ French Quarter would never mistake their surroundings for the streets of Cairo.  But every city also has a larger visual identity, and a city’s skyline is the best way to get a sense of this broad aesthetic character.  Think of it as the shadow that each city casts on the wall while it awkwardly dances in candlelight in an 80’s teen movie.  The silhouette created by a city is partially determined by population and wealth and development prospects, of course, but it also reflects the image that the city wants to present.  The steady low rooftops of Washington, D.C., broken only by historical monuments and colossal political egos, cut a very different figure and send a very different message than the contempo towers of the Frankfurt skyline, which advertise the city’s status as one of Europe’s leading centers of finance and cocaine.

Likewise, every sports franchise has a history.  Some teams have short and forgettable histories, like the Charlotte Bobcats, who will be soon changing their name to the Hornets to begin that forgetting process as soon as possible.  Some have long and storied histories, like Real Madrid and the New York Yankees.  If you plotted a team’s success and identity over time, what would it look like? Continue reading

What happened to the MOP?

For many decades, the “Most Outstanding Player” trophy of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament went to a signature star, year after year, many (or even most) of whom went on to have Hall of Fame NBA careers and become all-time legends.  The more recent winners have been… let’s just say less memorable.  Why might that be?

North Carolina Tar Heels v Illinois Fighting Illini

I’m sure you’re thinking that the duration of college athlete careers is the cause.  While the greats of yesteryear commonly stuck around for all four years of college ball, the “one-and-done” freshman stars of today’s game are the rule rather than the exception (at least among top talents).  However, I’m convinced that is far from the only reason for the decline of the MOP trophy, and I’m fairly confident it’s not even the biggest reason.

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The Three Oscars

Oscar1

The acceptance speeches from last night’s show are finally over, and Matthew McConaughey is surely still elbow deep in champagne.  Every year, the Oscars are a breeding ground for judgments to be cast from every direction, focusing on the movies themselves to the red carpet cameos to the host’s good-natured barbs.  The affair pulsates with arguments about overratedness and underratedness — who should have won, who lobbied the hardest for an undeserved award, and who was belatedly gilded for unrelated performances in decades past.  It turns out Oscar is an important name in the sports world as well, and has produced several of the most wildly underrated and misjudged athletes of all time.  It is worth telling the story of three notables in particular, each an all-time great in his sport and each in need of a bit of clarification:  Oscar Charleston, Oscar Robertson, and Oscar De La Hoya.  Continue reading

Air Ball

Open air hockey.  It’s a good thing.

Pond hockey, obviously, has been a tradition for generations.  Long before there were legitimate organized hockey leagues (we’re talking deep into the 1800’s), all hockey was outdoors.  The game was slowly moved indoors, and it became the norm.  Although there were occasional exhibition and college games played outside over the years, the first outdoor NHL game that actually counted was played in 2003 in Edmonton, wherein the Canadiens bested the Oilers.  The NHL instituted its “Winter Classic” series five years later, and since then, occasional outdoor games have been a popular fixture.  The same is true across central and northern Europe.  Outdoor pro hockey was good in “Mystery, Alaska” and, as it turns out, it is good in real life too.  Tonight’s Blackhawks versus Penguins game at Soldier Field has had its crowds thinned by frigid temperatures and inclement weather, but it maintains the trademark charm of outdoor hockey.

There is one other major American sport that has a robust outdoor history but is also played indoors.  So why haven’t we seen the NBA show any love for open air basketball?

ruckerpark

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Sir names

A couple years after the historic 2003 NBA draft, I remember thinking it was odd that the three marquee talents from the draft all had common first names as their last names.  LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade.  They had joined other more established stars with the same attribute, namely Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Ray Allen.  That’s mildly interesting, I thought.

It may have been when Brandon Roy of the Portland Trailblazers was establishing himself as a top 10 player – 2009 or so, when he made the All-NBA Second Team – when the trend crossed my mind again.  Brandon Roy was making waves.  Dwight Howard was already the best center in the league.  Chris Paul was probably the best point guard in the league.  James, Bryant, Duncan, Anthony, Wade, and Allen were still at the top of their games.  It was officially a strange trend among NBA stars.

And now it is 2014.  Continue reading