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Nets cry foul after judges award Lakers win

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Jason Collins
A judging controversy has erupted in the NBA in the wake of the Los Angeles Lakers’ win over the New Jersey Nets in Los Angeles Sunday night. The Nets outscored the Lakers 108-102, but the judges awarded the Lakers the win on artistic merit.

While basketball judges never address the public or media about their decisions, observers of the sport speculated that the decision may have been influenced by the presence of Jason Collins in the Nets’ lineup. Collins, who came out as gay before the season, made his Nets debut in the game, becoming the first openly gay athlete in the four major professional sports leagues in the United States.

“For many people, Jason being the first out player to get into a game is a great moment,” said longtime basketball analyst Scott Hamilton, “but the judges are old-school. They’re conservative and they don’t like change. They may be looking at Jason as an outsider they don’t want as part of their club.”

Collins wouldn’t speculate on the effect his sexuality might have had on the judging: “I can’t say why the judges made the decisions they did,” he said. “They can, but they won’t. That’s just the way it goes.”

But Hamilton and his broadcast partner, Sandra Bezic, were both quick to note that there may have been other factors at play.

“The Lakers have a way of connecting emotionally to the audience, making them feel like they’re really part of the performance, that the Nets just don’t have,” Bezic said. “They just play to the crowd so beautifully and bring them along on this wonderful ride. It’s captivating.”

And, Hamilton added, the Lakers put their best fashion foot forward. “As much as we all might hate to admit it, costumes do count. The Lakers have the beautiful white and yellow and purple outfits that are bold and flattering and exciting. The Nets wear black with white trim. It’s a classic look, but really they’re just kind of drab when you get right down to it. The judges notice that.”

Nets rookie coach Jason Kidd said he was angry with the decision, but kept his emotions in check in front of the media. “It looked to me like we won that game,” he said quietly at the postgame press conference. “The judges saw it a different way and we have to live with that, but I think this sport has a lot of work to do. My guys went out there and played better, but they don’t get the win. It’s not right.”

Not surprisingly, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni didn’t see it that way. “I thought we were clearly better,” he said. “You heard the crowd. They know.”

“Honestly, casual fans see the Nets scoring more points and losing and they think it’s all fixed,” Hamilton said. “But if you know the sport inside and out, if you really know what you’re looking at, you see things differently. Obviously the Nets scored more points. But that doesn’t mean they should win. That’s basketball. That’s what makes it so great.”

Written by King Kaufman

February 24th, 2014 at 10:06 am

Rob Gronkowski’s time machine is a story about media bias

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Time Machine poster

 

The sports meets pop culture part of the Internet jumped on New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski this week for not understanding what time travel is. I disagree with the consensus that Gronk is wrong about what time travel is, but I found the dust-up fascinating as a journalist, not as a physicist, which I am decidedly not.

Gronk has a media reputation as a bro’s bro, a good-natured, fun-loving lunkhead. The iconic Gronk momentcame after the Patriots won the AFC Championship Game in January 2012: An ESPN Deportes reporter asked him, in Spanish and then English, if he would be celebrating the victory, and Gronk said, “Si. Yo soy fiesta.” That moment becoming iconic is another blog post.

This week Pats radio announcer Scott Zolak asked Gronkowski what superpower he’d like to have. He said he wished he had a time machine, so that “I could just be like, ‘I want to be in Florida right now,’ and then boom, I’m in Florida.”

Boom. The snark was unleashed, including by my outfit, Bleacher Report. Here are some headlines:

Rob Gronkowski Wants to Time Travel to Florida, Doesn’t Know How Time Works (Bleacher Report)

Rob Gronkowski doesn’t understand the concept of time machines (SB Nation)

Rob Gronkowski Thinks Planes And Cars Are Time Machines (Deadspin)

Here’s Deadspin’s Samer Kalaf:

Gronk doesn’t understand how time works. Or maybe he doesn’t know what a plane is. Either way, it’s concerning. Does he know what happens when he gets on the big metal bird to go to away games?

Clearly the consensus view of this situation is that if you’re in Boston and then you instantaneously show up in Florida, that is not time travel. It’s just travel. Several people took the time to patiently spell this out to me on Twitter. Zolak helpfully informed Gronk that he was talking about a “transporter,” not a time machine. Keep in mind neither of these things exist.

I think that’s a valid viewpoint, but what’s interesting to me is that it’s a viewpoint, a perspective. It’s a way of looking at the world, specifically a way of thinking about time.

I believe it’s not the only valid way of thinking about time. It’s not how I think about time. I think that if you have a machine that does nothing to change the distance from Boston to Miami Beach—Gronk means Miami Beach when he says “Florida,” don’t you think?—but reduces the time it takes to cover that distance from several hours to zero seconds, your machine is very much about time. I think it’s fair to say that a plane is a kind of time machine.

If you don’t agree, I don’t want to debate the point. I’m just saying there are different ways of thinking about “time.” Your way of thinking about it is cool with me.

From all the evidence—the articles and the amen chorus in the comments section and on social media—the people who don’t look at time the way I do don’t think of their point of view as a point of view. They think of it as a fact. What Gronk talked about? “That’s not a time machine.” Fact.

That’s where I get interested as a journalist, because as a journalist, I was taught to be “objective,” which is to say without bias. I, like many, have long since rejected this practice, the purpose of which is for journalists to claim they have no bias. NYU professor and media thinker Jay Rosen calls this “the view from nowhere.”

See the parallel? You can’t not have a bias. How you think about something as seemingly fundamental and fact-based as how time works can be affected by who you are and what culture you’re a part of. “That’s not a time machine” might sound pretty weird to anyone who hadn’t grown up hearing that air travel had “shrunk the world.” As opposed to, say, “slowed down the clock.” I’ve been hearing about how “the world is much smaller now,” thanks to faster travel and communication, for as long as I can remember.

I’m not saying the consensus view—”That’s not a time machine”—is incorrect, in the way that 2+2=47 is incorrect. I’m saying it’s an opinion, a viewpoint, not a factual statement. It’s like saying “A true friend is someone who wouldn’t let you root for the New England Patriots.” A valid way to look at the world. Just not a fact.

But the snarkosphere treated “That’s not a time machine” as a factual statement, because the default way of thinking about time in Western culture in 2013 is so ingrained, so agreed-upon, that it feels to most people in that culture like the only way to think about time.

What else in our consensus worldview is like that? What other opinions and points of view do we think of as facts? That’s a central question in journalism, and one I believe every journalist should be asking all the time: Is that a fact, or an agreed-upon viewpoint?

Written by King Kaufman

November 24th, 2013 at 10:18 am

Posted in Football, The media

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The fundamentals of punctuality

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It’s the first day of school for my kids, so I have a math quiz for you:

In the past, the school the kids attend has started its day at 8 a.m. There were always a certain number of kids who came scrambling in every morning at 8:05. Their parents tended to say things like “We just can’t get there at 8.”

A note: San Francisco doesn’t automatically send kids to neighborhood schools, so most of those who don’t get to school by school bus are driven there by parents or others, even in the upper elementary grades.

This year, the start of the school day has been moved up 10 minutes, to 7:50. Here’s the quiz: If those kids were habitually five minutes late when the day started at 8, how many minutes late will they be now that school starts at 7:50?

Answer: Five.

Written by King Kaufman

August 19th, 2013 at 11:06 am

Posted in Not sports

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Meghan Rutledge celebrates early, crashes: Remember Lindsey Jacobellis?

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An 18-year-old Moto-X racer named Meghan Rutledge lost a gold medal at the X Games this weekend when, leading the race, she celebrated prematurely, pumping a fist during the final jump. She crashed on landing and finished out of the medals. I saw the video on The Big Lead.

This reminded me of a similar incident in the 2006 Winter Olympics, when snowboard cross racer Lindsey Jacobellis did essentially the same thing, with a similar result, though Jacobellis was able to recover in time to win the silver medal. Another difference is that, at least according to the video, Rutledge appeared to have been crestfallen, while Jacobellis, at least publicly, shrugged off her error, saying she was just having fun, and that’s what snowboarding’s supposed to be all about.

I wrote about Jacobellis’ crash for Salon, and that section of my June 21, 2006, column is pasted below. I would just link directly to it, but Salon’s permalinks from that time don’t work anymore.

A few days earlier, I had written about how the X Games athletes, including Jacobellis, had brought a breath of fresh air to the Olympics: “They bring their laid-back culture to the Games, downplaying the importance of medals at every opportunity, and they present a refreshing contrast to the Type-A zealots who make up so much of the elite athlete population.”

I wonder if that’s less true now, seven years later. Rutledge certainly didn’t seem to be shrugging off her defeat in Jacobellisian fashion. But that might just be the difference between two individual personalities. I wouldn’t draw any conclusions from it. I just wonder, and that’s all I’m going to do, because I find X Games-type sports to be boring, so I’m not interested enough in the answer to research it.

Here’s what I said about Lindsey Jacobellis in 2006. Note how the basis of the column is the old-school publishing model that had me waiting from Friday until Tuesday to write again:

So I think Lindsey Jacobellis is my kid. I’m going to get one of those DNA tests.

I think the American snowboard cross silver medalist is my own spawn because she created the most talked-about moment of the 2006 Olympics mere hours after I’d published my column Friday morning, with my next one not due until Tuesday. Thanks a lot, kiddo.

This is exactly what my kids do. I mean my other kids. They have a knack for falling ill at 5:01 p.m. on the Friday of holiday weekends. And the longer the holiday, the weirder the illness and the more necessary a doctor.

On Labor Day or Memorial Day weekend, they’ll just get an ear infection, maybe a little stomach flu. But give them a four- or five-day weekend and they really go to work. Green spots, Linda Blair cranial 360s, spontaneous combustion.

Jacobellis — Mother and I call her “Linds” now — only had a three-day weekend, so she didn’t really go for it, as the boarders say. She didn’t declare for the NFL draft or move to Washington and change her name to the Lindsey Nationals.

But her last-minute showboat that cost her a gold medal — if you don’t know what I’m talking about at this point, I’d like to borrow your copy of the current Cave and Garden Monthly — was immediately the talk of the Olympics, except in this column, and will go down as one of Turin’s signature moments.

On the same day, Sweden beat the United States in the greatest upset in the history of women’s hockey, and it took a back seat to Jacobellis blowing a gold medal in a sport that most people had never heard of a week earlier.

As we’ve seen in the chatter that’s gone on over the last four days, Jacobellis’ fall will be a cautionary tale for some, an illustration of what happens when you count your chickens, when you try to show up beaten foes, when you self-aggrandize.

For others, it will be an inspiring example of youthful exuberance trumping ambition and competitiveness, of living life to the fullest, consequences be damned, of eating dessert before dinner, painting your nails with white-out for the prom.

Lindsey Jacobellis grabbing her snowboard and falling has become one of those Rorschach tests. What you think of it says a lot about who you are. What I think of it is she must be my kid.

As I sat around over the three-day weekend, not writing columns, listening to my children sniffle and cough, I was amused watching the commentariat and the bloggers try and fail to come up with parallels from sports history for Jacobellis’ screwup.

Leon Lett’s premature touchdown celebration in the 1992-season Super Bowl was cited most often, but everyone seemed to agree there’d never been anything quite like what Jacobellis did, costing herself victory by showboating.

Everybody forgot about Billy Conn.

Conn, the light heavyweight champion, gave up his belt and challenged Joe Louis for the heavyweight title in 1941. Conn outboxed the bigger champ for the first 12 rounds of the 15-round bout and had a big lead. All he had to do was keep doing what he’d been doing for three more rounds and he’d win the heavyweight championship.

But he went for the knockout in the 13th. Not enough to win, he had to do it with flair. Get some style points. Sound familiar? Louis put him to sleep before the next bell.

I’m sure that story’s been used to warn many a youngster not to get cocky, but I’ll always remember Conn being asked on the fight’s 50th anniversary what he’d do in that 13th round if he had it to do all over again. I’m paraphrasing from memory: “If I had it to do again, I’d probably do the same thing,” he said. “What the hell’s the difference?”

I love that attitude. Why not go for it? The good thing about being Lindsey Jacobellis’ dad — I think — is that I won’t have to teach her to think that way.

Written by King Kaufman

August 5th, 2013 at 10:46 am

Posted in All those other sports

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Happy birthday, Rembrandt, you handy allusion you

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Rembrandt Self-Portrait

In honor of Rembrandt’s 407th birthday, here are all the references I have made to him in my writing. Or at least all of them that I could remember or find. All of this is from the Salon column.

They’re s’mores, is all they are. A little circle of graham cracker with marshmallow on it, surrounded, smothered — no, embraced — by a slightly brittle shell of dark, luscious chocolate. Enrobed. That’s the word. The chocolate is poured over the cookie, you see. The cookie isn’t dipped into the chocolate like some common thing. Therefore, says Nabisco, “Mallomars are an enrobed product.” They’re just s’mores, like you make at cookouts. And a Rembrandt’s just a painting, like you make in kindergarten.

Mallomar memories, 2/27/01

My grandmother loved this story, a love letter to Mallomars, which my grandfather, who died in 1968, loved.

I know that sounds silly. A Randy Johnson fastball equals a Rembrandt painting equals a Shakespeare sonnet equals a Kobe Bryant dunk. I can enjoy Rembrandt as much as the next guy. Love what he could do with a dead peacock. But if a tackle-breaking run through the secondary by a tailback gives me the same pleasure, fills me equally with wonder, inspires me in the same way that a Rembrandt painting does, what difference is there? Rembrandt was just as meaningless last Sept. 12 as Emmitt Smith was.

Sports and 9/11, 9/11/02

A little strange on its own but I think it more or less makes sense in the context of the argument I was making. This was the first anniversary of 9/11, and there were some mini-controversies over sportsball people using words like “warrior” or phrases like “let’s roll” when talking about other sportsball people.  Some people thought of this as insulting to the memory of the dead, or to soldiers then just launching a decade’s worth of post-9/11 wars. My point was that we couldn’t live in a state of heightened sensitivity and mourning forever, that we had to get back to our normal lives, which we were doing, and that was a victory. And part of our normal lives is watching and talking about sports, which are exactly as important as we let them be. On Sept. 12, 2001, they weren’t important at all, to anyone. A year later, they were important again—if we wanted them to be. And each of us is free to assign importance to a sporting event, according to our tastes and feelings, just as we are to a Rembrandt painting, which, without the importance we’ve given it as a society, is just colors splashed on a canvas.

I wonder if Cubs fans, deep in their heart of hearts, really love this.

The Cubs are losers again, beaten 9-6 by the Marlins Wednesday in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. But they aren’t just losers. They are artists of loss, maestros of defeat. They are to losing what Jascha Heifetz was to the violin, what Rembrandt was to still lifes, what Jennifer Lopez is to overexposure.

NLCS Game 7 story, 10/16/03

Readers and friends who were Cubs fans hated this, thought I didn’t understand the first thing about being a Cubs fan. I maintain to this day that it’s just about the truest thing I’ve ever written.

And they’re playing the Braves, whom they beat last year, and who are to losing in October what Rembrandt was to painting faces.

MLB playoff preview, 10/4/05

“They” were the Houston Astros, who did, in fact, beat the Braves in that series. But that doesn’t mean I was right. The preview was set up with a “they will win because” section for every team. I did pick the Astros to go to the World Series, though, and I was right about that. I had them beating the Angels. They lost to the White Sox.

Written by King Kaufman

July 15th, 2013 at 11:55 am

Posted in Baseball, Not sports

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Hall of Nearly Great: My Ron Cey chapter in new baseball ebook

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I’m thrilled to be a part of the new ebook The Hall of Nearly Great, an anthology that celebrates the careers of those who are not celebrated.

It’s amazing how quickly very good players can become largely forgotten figures. I’m a pretty big baseball fan and something of a student of baseball history, and it’s not uncommon for me to stumble across some player I’ve never heard of from the decades before I started watching, only to realize that, holy crap, this guy was a six-time All-Star!

And now I’m old enough to be amazed that people in their 30s have never heard of guys I grew up thinking of as very, very good players. If a player doesn’t make the Hall of Fame and doesn’t become a manager or broadcaster, he’s headed for the “Who?” file. You watch: In 25 years, you’ll be able to say the names of terrific players like Ryan Zimmerman, Jake Peavy, Yadier Molina, Corey Hart and Dan Haren, to name just a few, and people in their 20s who love baseball will give you blank stares.

“The Hall of Nearly Great” is meant to celebrate some of those guys. From the promo copy:

It’s not a book meant to reopen arguments about who does and does not deserve Hall of Fame enshrinement. Rather, it remembers those who, failing entrance into Cooperstown, may unfairly be lost to history. It’s for the players we grew up rooting for, the ones whose best years led to flags and memories that will fly together forever. Players like David Cone, Will Clark, Dwight Evans, Norm Cash, Kenny Lofton, Brad Radke, and many others.

Including Ron Cey, the subject of my chapter. Cey was a six-time All-Star, and I have long thought of him as the best player about whom I’ve never heard a single “what about him for the Hall of Fame?” comment kicked around on barstools or message boards. For most of his career he was overshadowed by teammate Steve Garvey, who was not as good a player as Cey, and by Mike Schmidt, the greatest third baseman of all time, whose career stretched over almost the exact same years as Cey’s.

It’s an honor to be among the 42 great writers who wrote this book. The list includes a bunch of friends, e-friends, co-workers and acquaintances: R.J. Anderson, Tommy Bennett, Craig Calcaterra, Cliff Corcoran, Chad Finn, Steven Goldman, Jay Jaffe, Jonah Keri, Will Leitch, Ben Lindbergh, Sam Miller, Rob Neyer, Marc Normandin, Jason Parks, Jeff Passan, Joe Posnanski, Emma Span, Cecilia Tan, Wendy Thurm, Jon Weisman and Jason Wojciechowski.

Here’s what official MLB historian John Thorn says about “The Hall of Nearly Great”:

Fans love to argue about who are the greatest players. In this splendid book some of the game’s top writers give a nod to players who have no plaques in Cooperstown, but were undeniably great. “Let us now praise famous men … all these were honored in their generations, and were the glory of their times.

You can buy “The Hall of Nearly Great” for immediate download for $12 by clicking the image above or right here. It is an ebook available in PDF, EPUB, and MOBI formats, suitable for reading on a computer, iPad, Kindle, Nook, other e-reader, or smart phone, and it is DRM-free.

Written by King Kaufman

July 18th, 2012 at 10:17 am

Are you more risk-averse than a 5th grader?

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The wife, the kids and I were watching the cute game show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” and all of a sudden some kind of game theory/philosophy seminar broke out.

The contestant, a woman named Stephanie, had reached the final question, worth $1 million. She had earned $500,000 by correctly answering the previous question. If she got the million-dollar question wrong, she would walk away with $25,000.

She could see the subject of the final question before deciding whether to answer it, and she could walk away at that point with the $500,000. But once she saw the question, she had to answer.

The subject was music. Stephanie looked disappointed, but she also said she’d taken violin lessons for 10 years. She was 25 years old, I guessed and a post-show Google search confirmed. Her name is Stephanie Wambach. She’s from St. Louis, where the wife and I used to live—and which requires that I say she went to Marquette High School. And she went to the wife’s alma mater, Indiana University. This is all foreshadowing, in a kind of lame way.

Here’s a clip of the last few minutes of the episode, uploaded to YouTube in 2007.

Stephanie had mostly breezed through the answers, on questions ranging from second- to fifth-grade level, struggling only a little and using just one of her three “cheats.” “Fifth-grade level” makes these questions sound easier than they are. They’re not rocket science, but fifth-grade questions aren’t pushovers. If you’re not familiar with the subject, or don’t remember it from fifth grade, you’re sunk. One of the fifth-grade questions Stephanie had answered asked what country Sweden shared its longest border with.

Now she thought over whether to go for the $1 million on the music question or “drop out” with $500,000.

“You have to go for the million,” I said to the wife. Oh, no, said the wife. You have to take the half-million. “If she gets it wrong she’d be giving away $475,000,” the wife said. That’s how the host, Jeff Foxworthy, had phrased it as Stephanie struggled with her decision: “If you answer the question incorrectly … you give back $475,000.”

That comment seemed designed to push her toward not going for the million, which struck me as odd, since a contestant winning the million bucks would be a home run of a moment for the show. Foxworthy should have been all Dr. Evil: “Think about it: A MILLion dollars,” as if $1 million were a lot of money or something. But he explicitly said he wanted to “talk about the downside.”

“She’s not giving back anything,” I said. “She walked in empty handed. The floor for her, the worst thing that can happen, is she walks out with $25,000. That’s a pretty damn good floor. She’s ‘giving back’ $500,000 by not trying for the million.”

And there you have it. Two fundamentally different ways of looking at risk.

The wife: How can you live with herself if you’d “given back” $475,000 by getting the last question wrong.

Me: Any time I can bet $475,000 of house money to win $500,000, I’m putting the money down as if it weren’t mine—which it isn’t. I never really “had” dollars 25,001 through 500,000 any more than Stephanie “had” dollars 500,001 through 1 million.

Get the last question wrong and the consolation prize would be $25,000. I’d live with myself just fine. I’d walk out thinking, “Losing stinks, but it was the right bet.” And if the same situation came up again, I’d do the same thing.

Stephanie opted out. Interesting: A male person close to her had been in the audience the whole show holding up a sign that said “Go for the $1 million.” Is this a gender thing? Sample size of two so far. The guy, a friend, later wrote a blog post about it.

Foxworthy asked Stephanie if she wanted to see the question and she quickly said, “No!” That followed from her first decision. She didn’t want to risk feeling terrible if she knew the answer, even though, given her decision, she must have thought there was a good chance she wouldn’t know the answer.  Wouldn’t it have felt great to know she’d made the right call?

Fortunately, she quickly changed her mind, since it’s hard to imagine the show not revealing the question. She said, “All right, fine,” I think in response to shouts from the audience. Foxworthy revealed the question: “In the 1720s, what man composed a series of violin concertos known as ‘The Four Seasons’?”

When Foxworthy, reading the question off a video display, got to the word “man,” Stephanie put her hands on her head and gasped, “Oh my God!” Then she crumpled onto the podium. She recovered quickly, took it well, flashing a smile. Foxworthy had her look into the camera and say what I gather is the show’s tag line, but she customized it:

“I guess I’m not smarter than a fifth grader,” she said, “but if I woulda answered the question, I would have been!”

I think that’s right. Even if her answer had been wrong.

Written by King Kaufman

December 5th, 2011 at 8:43 am

Posted in Not sports

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