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Perfecting the Round Table: The Passion for Jeremy Lin

In Basketball, New York, Perfecting the Round Table on February 15, 2012 at 2:33 PM

Perfecting the Round Table is a series where our contributors discuss various topics back and forth.  We encourage you to participate in the comments below.

Rahat Ahmed (): How important is it that Jeremy Lin is an Asian-American? Would we care less if he was black or white? Is Lin’s rise to sudden stardom more important for basketball, New York or Asian-Americans?

Douglas Chau (): Asian American identity, by far. It doesn’t hurt that he plays in NY, where he’ll get huge media exposure, but it’s more the curiosity that comes with being unfamiliar. If this was a black player, we wouldn’t give it a second thought. That black player would be thought of as keeping the seat warm until STAT and Melo get back. Instead, the media is making this a team of Lin, Stat and Melo. While I don’t think he’ll keep this up, I’d be more than happy with a 15 and 8 line at the end of the season. The scouting report still holds true on him: He can’t go left very well, he certainly can’t finish left and his jumper is shaky, at best. Plus, he is Turnover City. Besides, his first games have come a third of the way into a season where the schedule is compressed, and everyone he’s playing against is tired of the back-to-backs.

In essence, J-Lin plays like every Asian guard you’ve ever played pickup ball with: He has a quick first step, gets into the lane and keeps coming. You probably won’t see him mentally check out at the end of a game. That’s what I like best about his game, but let’s leave all that “on pace for hall of fame numbers” hogwash to Skip Bayless and the “tiny pecker” jokes to Jason Whitlock.

Marcus Bui (): Everybody loves the underdog story: David “pwnz” Goliath in a 1-on-1 duel, ’84 Americans beat the Russians, Eli does it again against the patriots.

I’m personally happy for the guy because as much as I’d love to be an NBA Basketball player, there’s simply no hope for me: I’m just lacking way too much.  Size, strength, skill, a last name that is catchy, etc. Jeremy Lin represents the average American—not just Asians—that similarly lacks elite athleticism but has a high basketball IQ. In a league where players are drafted and given millions of dollars based on just potential and physical size/strength (e.g. Kwame Brown, Hasheem Thabeet, Bismarck Biyombo), these types of players are deemed much more valuable than the plethora of players who are 6’10 or shorter and are much more skilled (i.e. hit at least 3 consecutive free throws) because, in the end, “you just can’t teach size.”

However, I’m annoyed at certain publicity that Jeremy Lin is getting. Because Lin is in a Knicks uniform and is on the “Big Stage,” there’s just simply way too much knee-jerking about how great this guy really is. MVP chants? Come on MSG, you’re better than that. The thing that irritates me to no end is that the Rockets and Warriors forums are filled with hundreds of posts regarding the “Lin-sanity” DNPs and how they lost out… These types of reactions are big slaps in the face to Kyle Lowry, Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis who are truly elite PGs in the NBA. Don’t get me wrong, what Lin has achieved in his starting position for the Knicks is great, but there are many factors playing into how “great” he really is.

1) The level of competition/matchups have been really generous to Lin. The one team that should have posed a threat to the Knicks, the Lakers, have their biggest weakness at point guard. When you’re seriously considering a 36-year-old Allen Iverson as an upgrade offensively and defensively, you’ve got some serious issues.
2) The Knicks offense stuffs PG stats. Look at Raymond Felton and Chris Duhon as examples. Their statistics as a Knick are much higher than their career averages.
3) Any wins right now for the Knicks are much better than the amount of losing they were enduring—especially with two all-star players at the helm. It’s extremely irritable to see knee-jerk reactions like “What are we going to do with Melo and STAT now? Trade?” You just gave up 6 players for Melo!

In the end, Jeremy Lin is displaying some enjoyable entertainment—it’s not everyday my wife (who has a minimal desire to watch sports) will sit glued to a Knicks-Timberwolves game and complain about me switching channels during commercials for fear of missing a Lin highlight.

Nick Britton (): I’m not Asian-American so his being Asian doesn’t really have the impact on me that it would if I were. I was a little amazed at all of the comments along the lines of “this is the biggest story in Asian-American sports history!” but after a little discussion, it dawned on me that in the big four, there really hasn’t been that much in the way of Asian American athletes. Or, perhaps more telling, the Asian athletes, your Ichiros and Nomos and Yaos, have dominated the discussion of Asian, American or not, influence on sports. When I made a mental list of Asian-Americans in the big four, I got Dat Nguyen and Kurt Suzuki. That’s it.

Jeremy Lin is a good story for the traditional underdog reasons: He was all-everything in California, but no one recruited him. He went to an Ivy League school without a scholarship, led Harvard to their best season and got very little love from the pros. But he’s interesting because underdogs in the NBA are just more interesting: The elite college kids get the hype, all of the love, the focus from ESPN and all of that. And it’s non-stop. So when a smaller kid from an Ivy League school who played four years in college comes and shows up Deron Williams, John Wall and Kobe Bryant, I’m interested. Especially Kobe Bryant.

Douglas Chau (): Being Asian-American is a big part of that underdog story that people are talking about, whether they admit it or not. If he was a black kid (using black because they’re the majority of basketball players, not because I hate white people) and he was Mr. Basketball in California, he wouldn’t have gone unrecruited. He wouldn’t have gotten zero Division I scholarships. Whether people care or relate to him because he’s Asian-American is one thing, but it’s a big part of why he’s the underdog that those people identify with.

To a certain extent, he’s easy to identify with for some of the same reasons that Iverson was. He’s relatively small, and he’s going at bigger foes (how I’d imagine most people view their challenges in life).

Rob Boylan: I’m pretty sure Richard Park and Devon Setoguchi (and Nazem Kadri is from Lebanon, to be fair) are the only Asians in the NHL. Park is a good fourth line grinders/penalty kill guy, the kind of guy who gets under your skin with hard work (I remember him scoring a 5-on-3 short handed goal against the Rangers a few years ago), while Setoguchi is probably an AHL player who got a huge bump in his rookie year by playing with Joe Thornton. If any of us played on a line with Joe Thornton we’d score 30 goals too.

Not being Asian or a basketball fan though, I have a limited interest in the story, but I do admit to finding it interesting as long as he doesn’t start writing bible passages on himself like Tebow.

Andrew Feingold (): Bottom line is if he didn’t play in New York, his jersey would not be the top seller. The media loves this, and it’s saved D’Antoni’s job for now.

Rahat Ahmed (): We’ve read that Lin was Mr. Basketball in California, but that is incorrect. Chase Budinger, incidentally, won it before going onto Arizona and then getting drafted by the Houston Rockets—the same team that cut Lin earlier this year. He was, however, Northern California Division II Player of the Year and first-team All-State. So, while it wasn’t Mr. Basketball, that’s still a resume that should have gotten some attention for a Division I basketball university. Alas, such was not the case, and I cannot help but agree with Doug that it was because he was Asian. Other than that factor, what other reason could there be? Because even if you’re not a prototypical size, the kind of production he had in high school still demanded attention from some podunk college of mediocrity. And even that he apparently did not receive.

Andrew Feingold (): Fun listening to New York sports radio and a caller already comparing him to Steve Nash…

Rahat Ahmed (): It’s true that he’s got the basketball IQ to possibly manage D’Antoni’s court game, but we’ve seen that in the absence of the $180 million men, he doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. His fearlessness reminds me considerably more of Russell Westbrook than Nash, though I worry if he’ll continue forcing it as he did against Minnesota when Melo and Amare come back. What I can’t tell, though, is if him taking 20+ shots a game is a bad thing or a good thing. If he ends up disorienting defenses, creating space (especially on the perimeter for a sharpshooter such as Steve Novak) or simply being more efficient than Melo, maybe he should shoot 25 a game!

Marcus Bui (): ESPN SportsNation asked, “Who is the NBA’s best point guard?”  Clearly 14% of the country has gone full retard.  It was 20%+ earlier…

Rahat Ahmed (): It’s Paul, Williams or Rose. Anyone who answers Lin is clearly not a real basketball fan. And non-basketball fans do read ESPN.

Douglas Chau (): It’s CP3 in my book. But seriously, I hate the Internet generation because of things like this. Jeremy Lin hasn’t played nearly enough for him to even be allowed to be in this conversation, yet somehow Facebook and Twitter allowed him to be mentioned. Did anyone realize that Rondo threw up a 32-10-15 trip dub last night?! And we’re still talking about a dude that struggled to finish against a long armed Spanish rookie?

Andrew Feingold (): Skills-wise, Kyrie Irving is better than Lin, just on a worse team and now hurt. Again, look at the numbers Felton was putting up with the Knicks…

Ethan Kim (): I’m Asian-American. I am a die-hard hoops fan. Lifelong Knicks fan. This approach is not about his skills on the court, something I can address later as I’ve tracked his career since Harvard and have been to every Knicks home game since his breakout Nets game.

This time of year, like all other years, there are no pro sports of significance (sorry hockey fans). The New York media was busy focusing on the Giants’ incredible run but once that was over, all eyes were going to be on the Knicks anyway. This Jeremy Lin thing just gives them much more ammunition.

Identity: I really really want to say, “I don’t care that he’s Asian-American, as long as he can put the ball in the hoop, make the right pass and win games for my beloved Knicks.” If I said that, I know I’d be lying, and nobody likes a liar. As a die-hard hoops enthusiast who plays in multiple basketball leagues, all that matters to me is how you perform on the court. That’s the bottom line. But in this case, it’s different. I was, and still am not (although I may sound like one after reading this), one of those overly “Asian Pride” type of guys. Growing up on Long Island, I guess you can call me the cookie-cutter Asian-American embracing both cultures due to my parents’ influence, but identifying myself to the American culture more. What I’m trying to say is, I identify with this guy Jeremy Lin so much and I’ve never had someone like that in the sports/entertainment industry before. Jackie Chan? Jet Li? Yao? Yi? Nope. The closest I have is Anthony Kim but golf just doesn’t do it for me. Jeremy grew up as an Asian-American and had to deal with the same issues that come with that territory. He’s not a Yao nor a Yi who I have nothing in common with except the way we look. I grew up watching Saved by the Bell, Fresh Prince, etc. I’m sure Yao nor Yi have watched Saved by the Bell, but I’m pretty sure Jeremy has. Yao and Yi are products of the Chinese Government athletic programs whereas I just tried to make the varsity basketball team in high school. To put it simply, that’s the difference in why I never found myself rooting for or even being a fan of Yao/Yi. I can see myself in Jeremy, and if I were younger, he’d be my role model and inspiration that if I work hard, I can make it to the NBA and not have to be 7 feet tall.

Pressures: Being the starting PG for the Knicks is pressure enough for any basketball player with the New York media and fans watching and judging every move. Throw in the fact that we were supposed to contend for a title this season. We’ve also been on a ridiculously horrible losing streak that was temporarily masked by the Giants’ success. Factor in the insane media hype of “Linsanity” that is now reaching Tebow’ish proportions. Don’t forget the millions of fans in Asia (China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Philipines, Thailand, etc.) who are also getting enamored with this guy. Then there are guys like me all over the country: The Asian-American kid who instantly identifies with hm. And then to a smaller degree, there are religious people who see him as an ambassador for Christianity in sports. That’s a lot of pressure for a kid to deal with. He’s dealt with it humbly with a certain maturity beyond his years while putting up numbers and winning games.

So while the Knicks finally found the PG that can run the offense, Jeremy Lin’s impact transcends just the basketball court into a whole new arena of cultural and social importance. It gives hope to the Asian American male that it is indeed possible, and shows mainstream America that hey, an Asian-American guy can also be a sports “star.” What made me the most happy at the Lakers game this past Friday were the 6 Caucasian kids (ages 6-12 roughly) begging their dads to get them a Lin jersey.  Every time Lin made a play, these kids were cheering hard because Jeremy was a good basketball player.

Personal Note: I’ve actually met him twice through a friend and got to hang out with him. I’ve seen him play in person in college many times as I tracked his career since his junior year at Harvard. What you see in the interviews is the real deal, this kid isn’t letting this get to his head. That’s refreshing especially in the NBA.

With that said, Kobe is still my favorite player.

Douglas Chau (): The interesting question from a basketball perspective is whether the Knicks will have this type of stifling defense when the stars come back.

And very well thought out, Ethan.

Marcus Bui (): That was a refreshing read Ethan, I thoroughly enjoyed your response.

I play a lot of basketball—both leagues and for fun at the gym. I’m taller than the typical asian guy, just a tad over 5’11. The thing is, Jeremy Lin is 6’3, and they were surprised that he could dunk. He has a standing reach of 8’2—that means he has to jump approximately 26+ inches to dunk a basketball, which is pretty low standard for a professional athlete. I know plenty of Asians that can dunk that are much shorter than him or me.

This is the Asian bias that we have come to tolerate. At the gym, there are plenty of times when people are selecting teams and the black guy gets picked over an Asian guy with superior athleticism, skills and basketball IQ. You choose an Asian guy to do your math homework, not score you buckets.

I have been following him for a while too as I also have a sense of AzN PrYdE (you have to write it that way… you just have to), and I do consciously/self-consciously look for that similar identification. Herein lies the issue that I have with Lin right now: It’s not that I hate Lin, I want him to succeed. It’s the awareness of what you’re capable of. As you stated before, Lin has been really humble about his play, I believe he knows that the stars just lined up for him perfectly, and it won’t last long. It’s the “fans” that make this hype truly unbearable for me.

It’s my opinion that it’s CP3 > D-Rose > D-Will > everyone else. It’s still amazing how many people who you imagine would know better are proclaiming Lin to be in the same ranks.  When it comes to point guards, my arguments are along the lines of “Nash vs. Kidd” (aka pure offense vs. everything but a shot pre-2008).

However, this Lin hype is ridiculous. If you watched the Knicks-Wizards game, you would know that Wall outplayed Lin on almost ever single facet. That dunk wasn’t even the product of Wall’s bad defense but Trevor Booker’s failure to pick up the help defense.

Again, I reiterate that I am not hating on Lin but I’m definitely more “grounded” on what it seems he is truly capable of. As I’ve pointed out to people before, Nikola Pekovic is averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds in 7 games as a Wolves starter—should I start thinking that he’s better or on the same level as Al Jefferson, Marc Gasol, Al Horford and LaMarcus Aldridge?

Ethan Kim (): John Wall played great but a point guard’s job is to run the offense. John Wall didn’t do that. He looked to score more than run the offense. John Wall is a better basketball player than Lin, no doubt. Also agree with you on the dunk thing. Wall was expecting Booker to hedge early and high on the screen.

You can’t discount how Lin took over the game in key moments and ended with a dub-dub playing with the likes of Jeffries and Walker.

CP3 is the best point guard in the nba. Then Rose. Those two are by far the top two in the league.

Marcus Bui (): I agree to a point about your point guard comment. I believe the better statement is “your most skilled player” should be directing the offense, and generally, the shorter you are, the more skilled you have to be to be in the NBA. You have to be insanely skilled at the height of Muggsy Bogues or Earl Boykins to make it in this league, but you have your LeBrons and T-Macs that kind of go against the grain.

John Wall is a pass first PG. He’s just asked to score on a very crappy Wizards team. I don’t want to compare Lin to Wall.  To me, there isn’t a comparison.  It’s just that the public makes these comparisons that drive me up the wall. Right now, I can guarantee that the Knicks would rather have (pick one): Teague, Rondo, Augustin, Rose, Irving, Knight, Monta, Curry, Lowry, Collison, CP3, Conley, Jennings, Rubio, D-will, J-Jack, Westbrook, Holiday, Lou Williams, Nash, Tyreke, Parker or Wall. That’s just the PGs that I know for sure that the Knicks would rather have and not the debateable ones like Jameer Nelson, Felton, etc.

Rob Boylan: Excuse me everyone, but it’s now Eastern Conference Player of the Week Jeremy Lin, not just Jeremy Lin.

Douglas Chau (): Thoughts on Mayweather’s comments? I think he’s right. Lin is getting tons of press because he’s a novelty who happens to be playing in the major media market. If it was a black dude in Milwaukee putting up the same numbers, I highly doubt he’d be generating this much interest.

Also, I had someone argue with me that Lin’s appeal is that he’s an underdog (cut from two teams, D-league, etc), not that he’s Asian. Opinions on that?

Nick Britton (): His appeal is that he’s an underdog.  It’s a feel good story about a guy making the best of his opportunity despite being cut twice and being a D-Leaguer in a league that offers very little in the way of opportunities for guys like him, of his size, etc. Him being from Harvard and not being recruited is way, way, way more interesting to me. His being Asian is part of that, sure, but I really don’t find his being Asian on its own that huge of a thing. I’ve seen Asians in the NBA before. His being Asian-American doesn’t really mean all that much to me personally.

But, to address your first point, he very much is a novelty to many—possibly most—people and him being in New York absolutely helps that. And, to be honest and probably a little crass, black dudes putting up the same numbers in Milwaukee… as long as we have the Bucks and Marquette, we’re always going to see that.

Isn’t this similar to Jason Williams of the Kings back in the late 90s? A white guy from West Virginia playing street ball at the pro level? Perhaps it’s not as novel, but it’s just the perceived fish-out-of-water thing.

Douglas Chau (): Granted, it’s all a package with this guy, but I don’t know if many people are relating to him because he’s an Ivy League grad. He’s also not undersized at 6’3, 200. There have certainly been guys smaller than him that were better (Iverson for one). Isn’t part of the reason he wasn’t recruited in the first place because he is Asian? The PC thing to say is that judgment was based on ability, but those judgments were made by humans.

I understand the underdog aspect of the story, but even in terms of that, his story doesn’t really stack up with other recent stories. Kurt Warner being exhibit A and Tom Brady being exhibit B. Those guys went from out of the league/end of the roster to Hall of Famers. This dude has played well in a few games by jumping into the middle of a compressed schedule where everybody else was already tired. Maybe my exasperation with the Internet age is manifesting itself with hate against Jeremy Lin. To me, this is like knowing about an indie band before everyone else and then they hit it big and everybody jocks them and then everybody hates them. (Read: Black Eyed Peas) Honestly, I’m just preparing myself for the backlash.

Total side note about the fish out of water thing: Since you brought up J-Will, I want to bring up his running mate from high school. Why doesn’t Randy Moss get more love for owning a NASCAR truck team?

Rahat Ahmed (): Nobody actually cares that he went to Harvard (at least not anyone outside of Ivy institutions). It’s more about the underdog combined with the racial angle that creates the perfect storm. Of course, he’s performed on the court, and that’s the most important part. And as you say, Doug, he wasn’t recruited because he was Asian. There’s no other reason at all to think why he didn’t get a scholarship. There are too many schools who scout in California for there to be another explanation.

And David Stern has said he will not send a special invite to Lin for the Rising Stars game. I’m all for tradition, but they run the All-Star game on such a whim that I find this decision to be ridiculous.


Lin just drained the game-winning three against the Raptors with the coldest of staredowns. Are we buying? If so, at what value?

Andrew Feingold (): What a second half comeback. Real nice game out of Calderon but the Raptors are not very good either.

Rob Boylan: You can only beat what’s in front of you. It’s a professional league.  Even the bad teams are pretty good.

Andrew Feingold (): Bobcats and Wizards would say different…

Marcus Bui (): I’m buying in that Jeremy Lin is an NBA player, though I’ve felt that way the whole time. I’m not saying that Jeremy Lin doesn’t deserve to be in the NBA, what I’m saying is that he isn’t a “superstar.” We’re being critical over 6 games, in a shortened season that Lin hasn’t been exhausted in the first 20+ games.

Against the Raptors, he was:
1) Getting manhandled by Jose Calderon (who isn’t by any means a top-tier PG) for the majority of the game
2) Scored alot of tough baskets, which were only tough because he can’t go left
3) Had 11 assists, many of which were really bad passes
4) Made the game tying 2 + 1 on a layup that was harder because… well, he couldn’t go left
5) Game-winning trey was good

For as much as everyone (and by “everyone” I mean everyone) talks about how meaningless the NBA regular season is, people sure are making a big deal out of Jeremy Lin. Again, there are a lot of factors into play: Nothing else for New York to talk about right now sports-wise, Asian-American succeeding, undrafted player riding an awesome roller-coaster ride, etc.

Congrats to him and his success.  I personally feel that there are decisively 20+ players I’d much rather have over Lin as my starting PG and another 20 I’d most likely would rather have. If his play continues against better competition, through the end of the year, through the end of his career, then I’ll eat crow; but I’m legitimately asking: Would you want him as your starting PG for a championship contender?

Also, anyone else wonder where the defense was on that game-winning three-pointer?

Andrew Feingold (): I don’t think it wouldn’t have mattered. That shot was destined to go in?

Douglas Chau (): I don’t think anything is destined at the end of a game when your moron coach is playing you 43 minutes.

Sreesha Vaman: I’ve been away so missed most of Lin-sanity. But this is much more about him being in New York than anything else and helping the Knicks make a run to the playoffs finally. He wouldn’t get nearly the attention he does if he was in Oklahoma City or New Orleans or any of the 20+ “fodder” markets in the NBA.

The racial angle is secondary to him being on the Knicks.  It’s the side salad of the story but isn’t the main course. The NBA made tremendous in-roads into the Chinese-American community over the past decade through players like Yao coming over to play in the NBA, so I wouldn’t say that Lin has galvanized a new fan base for the league.

Plus, like Marcus, I’m reserving judgement on his game until the end of the season. He’s on a great 6-game run, but let’s see what happens when teams get enough film on him to be able to figure him out. And. he started getting big-time minutes because the Knicks took a lot of injuries; what happens when those guys come back and his playing time is reduced?

I’m glad that David Stern didn’t send him to the Rising Stars event at the All-Star Game. Six games do not make a season. Saying that, if there is a last-minute injury, gotta think Lin is the first name to go as a replacement.

Rahat Ahmed (): The most important thing at this moment is perspective: We’ve got to let his game speak for himself, not the media hype.  That being said, I’m going to bite the bullet and agree with Momofuku’s David Chang that Lin’s emergence is “the most important event for Asian-Americans in sports history.”  As much as we want to praise Michelle Kwan, figuring skating is simply not a mainstream, national sport. In effect, there are three: Football, basketball and then baseball. The latter has had its share of successful Asians, but no Asian-Americans that I can recall. Football has had players, but none that have stood out. Dat Nguyen was a beast, but he was generally under the radar and made his biggest impact in college. Yao Ming, may I add, is not “Asian-American,” and his success can be attributed heavily to his size. But Lin, at a “normal” height and body, is doing wonders through six games. He’s made a dent into the mindset of vast areas of America (and the world) that lack a masculine, athletic Asian presence.  Lin has also, in a span of a week, given hope to all the Asian-American kids who play basketball but never follow through past high school because it isn’t considered something “Asians” can do. Going pro is now suddenly a reality.

Got something to add?  Join in the conversation below or become a contributor by sending us an email.

Perfecting the Big Question: The First Game

In Baseball, Basketball, Football, Hockey, Houston, Loyalty, New York, Perfecting the Big Question, Seattle, Wrestling on July 29, 2011 at 12:03 PM

With a varied list of contributors to Perfecting the Upset, we decided it made sense to start a series of articles where we’d throw out a question to the crew and see how they stand.  This week, we ask:

What was the first game you ever attended?

(Don’t forget to check out our Allegiances table to know our loyalties.)

Rahat Ahmed
The first professional game I attended soon became part of one of my first memorable heartbreaks: Game 6 of the 1992-93 Western Conference finals between the Houston Rockets and the Seattle SuperSonics.  My uncle surprised me with tickets, which led to me frantically printing out “banners” on our old dot matrix to cheer on Olajuwon and crew. (They were terrible, but an eleven year old has to make do with the technology he has access to.)  The first five games of the series had been decided by an average of 14.4 points, all won by the team at home.  Game 5, in fact, ended in a 25 slaughter by the Shawn Kemp-led Sonics.

The game was tight through half-time until Kenny “The Jet” Smith took it upon himself and ripped the Sonics 36-15 in the third quarter with his 13-for-16 shooting.  We won 103-90.  But the real memory of that series remains in two parts: The first was Game 7, which ended in a 3 point loss at Seattle in overtime.  It was the only game in the series that went down to the wire, where The Jet had a chance to clinch it at the end of regulation but failed.  We lost 103-100 because we simply couldn’t stop Sam Perkins.  Brutal.

But what I’ve never forgotten was outside the series, and why I’ve come to hate David Robinson and the San Antonio Spurs so much: Game 82 of the regular season was against them. We won the game outright during regulation, but Hugh Evans decided to count a tip-in at the buzzer that was clearly too late.  It was enough to send the game to overtime and help the Spurs eek out a 119-117 victory.  Most importantly?  It gave Seattle home court advantage against us, even though we both ended the season with the same record.  And considering we were 2-6 against them over the past two seasons due to our inability to contain Kemp, Payton and Perkins, we could have used that.  (Perkins, especially, was one of the few players in the league who gave Olajuwon problems due to his range and height.)

We know that one decision in the regular season doesn’t lead to your final seeding, but I’ve never been able to forget about it.  My first experience at The Summit remains blood-stained by Robinson and Evan and kept us from having a go at Jordan.

Nick Britton
I assume that the first sporting event I went to was a minor league baseball game but I don’t remember anything about it. And when I was a young’un I saw the Washington Bullets a couple of times and the Washington Capitals once. That’s all I remember.

The first game for which I remember any details was a Seattle Mariners/Baltimore Orioles game on June 6, 1993 at Camden Yards in Baltimore. The stadium was only about a year old then. I remember this game for a couple of reasons: One, my dad had procured access to the Tyson Chicken corporate luxury box, so I got to watch the game in style; and two, there was a giant brawl in the middle of the game.

The fight I remember well but the people involved faded from my memory over the past 18 years until a friend of mine found the box score for me. I knew Harold Reyonlds, Mike Mussina and Norm Charlton were involved and that Lou Piniella got thrown out for a temper tantrum. It was an epic fight by baseball standards, and it started as baseball fights usually do: Team A’s pitcher throws at or hits Team B’s batter and then Team B’s pitcher retaliates shortly thereafter. In this case, Chris Bosio of the M’s went headhunting and Mike Mussina of the O’s nailed some dude I’ve never heard of. Fight!

What I remember most was how the fight never seemed to end. Usually, these things end quickly and everyone’s standing around. The guys from the bullpen run in just to get some cardio in. But this fight just kept going on and on. The pile kept moving around the infield like those cups in that cup game they always throw up on the video board. Fights were breaking out all over the place. McNulty and Bunk tried to break things up until the umpires stopped them (the police did try to intervene). Apparently, Ripken was at the bottom of that mess. Everyone in the stadium was standing up just in awe of a real, honest-to-god fight on the baseball diamond. I was pretty sure it was the greatest thing I’d seen in my 14 years of life so far.

The end result: Chris Bosio broke his collarbone for the second time that season. Two guys on the O’s got all bloodied up. Norm Charlton threw some punches. Eight players were ejected, including Piniella (shocker).

I only knew who won thanks to the box score. But two teams brawling out all over the diamond, that’s the kind of thing that sticks with you. The only equivalent would be Pedro Martinez throwing Don Zimmer to the ground like a bag of flour. But I wasn’t there for that.

Oh, and Cal Ripken? Ripken lived to see another day (or so).

Andrew Feingold
Technically, the first game I ever went to was Rockets vs. Knicks at Madison Square Garden on December 3, 1983, when my mom was pregnant with me. When I was old enough to hear this story, I instantly became a Knicks fan. During the 1983-84 season, the Knicks finished 47-35 and lost in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Celtics. As a Knicks fan, this was just the beginning of losing series to playoff rivals. Hubie Brown was the coach of the team at the time, and to this day he remains one of my favorite announcers to hear on the radio.

C.D. Hale
Survivor Series ’94. San Antonio. Freeman Coliseum. I was 12, and our poor asses smuggled food in from the outside, a pseudo-white trash family of four taking in the ‘rasslin for the night. Couldn’t have enjoyed it more, particularly when Undertaker extracted revenge by defeating Yokozuna in a casket match. The special enforcer for that main event match? A Mr. Chuck Norris, the man who doesn’t read books, but rather, stares them down until he gets the information he wants.

Sean Koo
In September ’94, my dad took my brother and me to our first Buccaneers game. It was at the Old Sombrero against the New Orleans Saints, and little did I know that this would be the start of my hatred of the ‘Aints. In the midst of the Bucs’ thirteen year run of losing seasons, Sam Wyche was trying to put a consistent winner out on the field, but even his Super Bowl resume couldn’t get it done in Tampa. In a game that you could call a “defensive showdown” or an “offensive letdown,” the Bucs lost to the Saints 9-7. It would be a couple of more games until I saw my first win, and years until my first winning season, but being in the stadium for the first time and taking in the experience in all of its smash-mouth-football glory had me hooked. Buccaneer football at the Old or New Sombrero was the only way to go.

Sreesha Vaman
My first sporting event was a Capitals regular season game against the Minnesota North Stars in 1987, but it wasn’t the first one I was supposed to go to.

On November 1, 1985, my Capitals hosted an early-season home game against the New York Islanders—those New York Islanders, who had won four straight Stanley Cups and came one win away from a fifth.  Bossy.  Trottier.  Smith.  Potvin.  Gillies.  LaFontaine.  Two Sutters.  Tonelli.  A stacked line-up, one of the greatest teams ever assembled in the NHL.

So needless to say I was excited for weeks when my friend told me that his dad got four tickets to the game from work, and I was getting the fourth ticket.

The day before the game, I stayed out playing night roller hockey with my friends in the cold Indian summer air wearing a t-shirt and shorts… and got sick.  I could barely move the next morning.  I skipped school, slept as much as I could, but couldn’t convince my mom I was healthy enough to go to the game.

The 4pm vomiting didn’t help my cause.

At 5pm I succumbed, and another friend went to the game.  I watched the Caps beat the Isles, 5-3, on television.  My friend’s dad brought me a Capitals team calendar, which was the promotion that night.

Missing that game was a source of inspiration from then on, though: I watched every minute of every Capitals game on TV (unless I went to the game in person) from that year until I went to college outside of the DC area 12 years later.

In my junior and senior year, there was some home tape-delaying involved since I was working, playing club hockey, and, for a little bit, entertaining a girlfriend who wasn’t a sports fan; go figure—but I made it happen.

Still, I wondered how great it would have been to see my Caps perfect the upset (pun intended!) against the vaunted 1980s Islanders.

I still am jealous to this day.

Perfecting the Top 10: Superstars in Surprising Places

In Baseball, Basketball, Football, Hockey, Perfecting the Top 10 on July 25, 2011 at 7:00 AM

For many of us, the off-season and the trade deadlines can be a time as exciting as the season itself. You can find yourself in agony when a favorite departs or on the other side of the fence when a fresh face or seasoned veteran makes their way onto your club.  And with today’s salary cap limitations, fire sales and trades in the name of “rebuilding,” cornerstone members of franchises often find themselves in jerseys different than the one they’ll be remembered for. While most of these are forgotten over time, here are the most random (and jarring) ones over the last few decades until LeBron ultimately ends his career in Minnesota.

10. Wade Boggs, Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Boggs is a member of the 3,000 hit club, and he did it while wearing one of the ugliest uniforms in sports history. After a long run in Boston and a World Series for the Yankees, Boggs signed on with Tampa Bay in 1998. The Hall of Famer spent the last two seasons of his career in the basement of the AL East after years of sitting on top of it.

9. Thurman Thomas, Miami Dolphins

After being cut by the Buffalo Bills in 2000, Thomas signed on with the Miami Dolphins as a backup to Lamar Smith (and probably because Florida is a retiree paradise). The future Hall of Famer saw action sparingly before an injury ended his career twelve year career.

8. Mike Piazza, Florida Marlins

One of the greatest offensive catchers of all-time, the one time Dodger bat boy was traded by L.A. to the Florida Marlins in 1998 for exactly a week. He was nothing more than a poker chip to the Marlins to purge contracts from their World Series team the year before. The twelve-time All-Star managed to play a whole five games before being flipped to the New York Mets where he spent the next seven seasons of his career.

7. Karl Malone, Los Angeles Lakers

The definition of a ring chase: Karl Malone spent eighteen of his nineteen years with the Utah Jazz and John Stockton perfecting the pick and roll. After Stockton’s retirement in 2003, Malone, at the age of 40, decided to move out further west to the Lakers for one last attempt at the NBA Finals. Things didn’t go as planned as the Lakers ran into a staunch Pistons team who caused The Mailman to retire with many accolades, but no championship.

6. Wayne Gretzky, St. Louis Blues

“The Great One” to some will always be seen as an Oiler while many will reference him as a King. While he did spend the end of his career in New York, his brief stint alongside Brett Hull for the St. Louis Blues is often forgotten. Acquired for their playoff run in 1996, he departed the following off-season.

5. Eddie George, Dallas Cowboys

Forgot this ever happened even though it wasn’t all that long ago. Eight years after being drafted by the Oilers and then moving with them to Tennessee, George made his way back to Texas as a member of the Dallas Cowboys. From there, he pretty much did nothing until hanging it up. Playing in only 13 games for Dallas, he managed just over ten yards per game.

4. Hakeem Olajuwon, Toronto Raptors

The Dream was Houston. He spent his college years a Cougar and led the Rockets to two championships over his seventeen years with the franchise. However, after the 2000-01 season, Olajuwon and the Rockets could not settle on a contract for the fading superstar and traded him north to the Raptors. He retired after the season, but he got to hang out on Toronto’s bench for half of it.

3. Emmitt Smith, Arizona Cardinals

As odd as it was to see Eddie George in Cowboy blue, it was even more awkward to see the NFL’s all-time leading rusher not in it. Determined his career wasn’t over, Smith made his way to the Cardinals after the 2002 season and spent his last 2 years in the backfield of some really bad teams. Thankfully, Emmitt retired as a Cowboy after signing a one-day contract worth zero dollars.

2. Joe Montana, Kansas City Chiefs

Still remember the Sports Illustrated cover with Montana, his ring and the title Kansas City, Here I Come. After 13 seasons in San Francisco, the Hall of Fame quarterback was traded to the Chiefs who he took to the playoffs both years before retiring. Regardless of this success, the guy who threw that pass will always be remembered in red and gold.

1. Michael Jordan, Washington Wizards

This one is easy. Michael Jordan is a Chicago Bull. While his numbers were decent, the Wizards weren’t and his tenure there just didn’t feel right.

Disagree on the order?  Have we left out some obvious choices?  Let us know in the comments!

Perfecting the Big Question: Most Heartbreaking Moment

In Baseball, Basketball, Football, Loyalty, Perfecting the Big Question on July 21, 2011 at 12:00 PM

With a varied list of contributors to Perfecting the Upset, we decided it made sense to start a series of articles where we’d throw out a question to the crew and see how they stand.  To start off, what better than to answer a question that most of us try to avoid thinking about:

What is your most heartbreaking moment in sports history?

(Don’t forget to check out our Allegiances table to know our loyalties.)

Rahat Ahmed
Super Bowl XXXIV, January 30, 2000

And that’s how the heart breaks: With the final play of the most important game. With the legitimacy and lore of Earl Campbell, George Blanda and Warren Moon on the line with six seconds left.  With the Tennessee Titans trailing “The Greatest Show on Turf” by a touchdown.  This was it:

Dyson comes in motion, now resettles. McNair drops, throws right side for Dyson. He dives for the end zone!

He didn’t make it.

He came up one yard short. The Rams win by a yard.

The Titans announcers became quiet.  All of us who had stayed loyal to the Oilers after they left town stood still, mouths agape, in shock and dismay.  After avenging the Frank Reich comeback from 1993 with the Music City Miracle, we thought we were predestined to win it all, but Kurt Warner and crew had other plans.  An incredible game, a grand-standing finale for bystanders, forever etched in the annals of Super Bowl history as one of its most fantastic finishes.  But for us, it was nothing short of devastation.  Losing isn’t the end of the world, but when it happens by inches, the pain learns to linger on a lot longer.

Shaughn Balezentes
ALDS Game 3, October 13, 2001

You guys already know the play. Terrence Long doubles down the right field line. Jeremy Giambi tries to score from first. The right fielder makes an errant throw to the cut-off man. Every time I see the replay, I remember the few seconds where it looked like Giambi was going to score the tying run. Those few seconds were an eternity. In those seconds I thought, “This is it! This game is ours!” Then Derek Jeter sprints into the play and casually flips the ball to Jorge Posada.

I’ve never been humbled so instantly.

The real problem with “The Flip” wasn’t so much that the A’s lost that game. I always hear Yankee fans talk about “The Flip” as if it was limited to that specific game. Yankee fans are fucking idiots. “The Flip” forced a Game 4. In Game 4 Jermaine Dye fouled a ball of his shin so hard his bone shattered like plate glass in a Michael Bay film; he’d never be the same hitter again. We lost the series in Game 5. If we had won Game 3, there’s no doubt in my mind that Oakland carries the momentum of a Yankee sweep and wins the World Series. If we win the World Series, maybe Jason doesn’t run to New York that offseason. Maybe we’re able to extend Johnny Damon. We had the pitching. We had the hitting. Maybe we become the most dominant team of the decade.

Of course I’ll never know how it could have been. That’s the tragedy of “The Flip.”

Fuck Derek Jeter.

Rob Boylan
Champions League Final, May 17, 2006

Arsenal versus Barcelona in the Champions League Final at the Stade de France. The most bittersweet moment of my life. What an amazing run up to the final from an Arsenal point of view, though. It was one that saw Henry score a brilliant goal at the Bernabeu (that later featured in the shitfest Goal 2) in a 1-0 aggregate win over Real Madrid, and after the most perfect Arsenal goal ever against Juventus at Hughbury—Pires stripping the ball from former Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira, shunting it up to Henry, who pushed it on to future captain Cesc Fabregas who pushed the ball low past Juve keeper Gianluigi Buffon—to the last minute penalty save by Jens Lehman against Riquelme at Villareal that I could not physically bring myself to watch, all while setting the record for most consecutive clean sheets (10) and the record for longest time between goals allowed (995 minutes).

The week of the final started in scandal when the original match ref was pictured wearing a Barcelona shirt in a Norwegian paper, and things only went downhill from there. Despite already being despised by the club’s fans, Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell found themselves in the starting XI, where we featured our regular Champions League formation that season, the thoroughly non-Arsenal 4-5-1.

In the 18th minute, Arsenal’s world collapsed when Eto’o went through on goal and was tugged on my Arsenal keeper Jens Lehman, who was red carded for his effort, the goal Giuly scored on the loose ball disallowed. It was the second season in a row an Arsenal player had seen red in a final, after Jose Reyes was shown two yellows in the FA Cup final against Manchester United.

Both teams and both sets of fans, I think, would have preferred Lehmann stay on and the goal stand. Things got ugly from there and had ramifications beyond the match itself. Robert Pires was subbed off to bring on substitute keeped Manuel Almunia, and this was one of the reasons Pires left Arsenal for Villareal. Arsenal drew blood first, in a terribly uncomfortable way, when Emmanuel Eboue dove to get a free kick, which led to a Sol Campbell goal. It was wiped out in the second half when, despite Deco’s consistent diving in the box, it was Henrik Larsson who made all the difference. Eto’o scored in a goal I swear was offside (have not watched it again), and then Beletti scored the winner in a shot that Almunia should have had. Beyond this point is not a blur so much as a blank.

I’ve seen the match only once, live as it happened, and have never been able to watch it since. I had to close my eyes during the opening credits to the 2007 Champion’s League, where they showed that rotten bunch of bastards lifting the cup even. The team that got us to the final was not allowed to play in manager Arsene Wenger’s last ditch attempt to keep both wantaway players, Cole and Campbell, at the club — an effort which failed. Eboue was named defensive player of the tournament, but that was hardly a consolation for the Arsenal fans who have seen nothing but disappointment in the league and Cups since.

Nick Britton
World Series Game 7, October 27, 1991

Being a Braves fan in the 80s kind of sucked. They were decent in the early 80s, winning the West Division in 1982 behind Dale Murphy. But it was all downhill from there. The 1990 record: 65-97. In 1991, though, it seemed a bit different. At the halfway point, they were a game under .500. And then they began dominating the West and ended up a game up on the Dodgers for the pennant. The seven game series against the Pirates was a good one and had Drabek not injured himself, we might not be talking about the 1991 Series today. But the Braves won and soon found themselves in the ever-depressing Metrodome for Game 1 of the World Series. This was heaven for me: My favorite team in the World Series. I was the happiest fourteen year old in the world. Some funny stuff happened in that series: Kent Hrbek, the bastard, pulling Ron Gant off first base; Rick Aguilera pinch hitting; Mark Lemke being called a “World Series hero.” By the time Game 6 rolled around, Atlanta was up 3-2, and I was pumped. The pain began in the 11th inning, seeing Kirby Puckett pumping his fists after his game-winning home run. That stands out as the iconic video clip from the 1991 World Series, but Game 7 was the game that mattered.

Here we were: Hometown hero Jack Morris versus John Smoltz, riding high on a brilliant postseason (and pitching against his boyhood idol). And it was truly an epic game. Morris and Smoltz tossed shutouts for eight innings, before Smoltz was removed for Mike Stanton in the eighth and then Alejandro Peña in the ninth. Lonnie Smith was fooled by Greg Gagne and Chuck Knoblauch fake double play, and he only made it to third on Terry Pendleton’s double. He should have scored. And I remember feeling bad, like that was the play that would spell the end of this magical season. And it was. With runners on second and third and no one out, Ron Gant grounded out and Sid Bream grounded into a 3-2-3 double play.  The game goes scoreless in the 9th and the Braves do nothing in the top of the 10th, everything went the Twins’ way. Dan Gladden stretched a single into a double. Knoblauch sacrificed him over to third. Peña then intentionally walked both Puckett and Hrbek to load the bases. Gene Larkin hobbled up to the plate and promptly drove one to deep left-center. I remember the feeling, hearing, “The Twins are going to win the World Series!” over the television, but still hoping Brian Hunter would somehow catch the ball (not that it mattered; there was only one out). I can’t even remember how I felt, but I knew that I’d invested way too much in this season for it to end the way it did. I was convinced after the game I’d never see the Braves in the World Series again.

I was wrong of course, there was more heartbreak left to come, but nothing quite like this Game 7.

Andrew Feingold
NBA Finals Game 6, June, 19, 1994

The New York Knicks had two chances to win the 1994 NBA Finals. It would have made it their first title since 1973 and third overall in team history. They lost Game 6 86-84, in a game where John Starks scored 27 points. Game 7 was a lot different, Starks shot 2-18 from the field including 0-11 from downtown. He missed all 10 of shots in the fourth quarter as the Knicks lost the game 90-84 and the Finals as well. Ewing shot 42% from the field and was only 3-of-6 from the foul line. Hakeem averaged 25 points in Games 6 and 7, becoming the nemesis. What would have happened if the Dream didn’t block Starks as he shot at the last second in Game 6?

Bradley Freedman
Regular Season, August 4, 2007

On July 31, 2007, Kyle Davies was traded to the Kansas City Royals from the Atlanta Braves.  On August 4 at Old Yankee Stadium, Davies gave up Alex Rodriguez’s 500th career home run in his first start as a Royal. I was there, sitting in the right field stands, not too far from the Bleacher Creatures. (The Creatures are perfectly nice to Royals fans because the Royals pose no actual threat.) From the time I first moved to New York I had been to Yankee Stadium every year when the Royals came into town. I never once saw them win.

When A-Rod hit his homer I thought, “Welcome to the Royals, Kyle Davies.” Or was it actually the other way around? “Hey, Royals: Welcome to Kyle Davies.” In the four years since, he has remained in the Royals’ starting rotation and amassed a statistical record that has legitimate baseball analysts suggesting he may be the worst starting pitcher in baseball history.

In sports, there is one kind of heartbreak that happens when your team comes close to achieving greatness and then it all falls apart. But this was the other kind of heartbreak. It happens when your team is so far from any hint of postseason and has been falling apart for so long that every game feels the same. But then sometimes out of nowhere the team will find a way to fall apart in a slightly different way, because even a slug must occasionally make a left turn. And that different way of failing reminds you how far from glory the team really is.

This wasn’t a communal heartbreak. It was mine alone. It was mine because I was there. Because I had been there the summer before, and the summer before that watching the Royals lose. There is no shame in giving up a homer to A-Rod. But after years of coming to the Bronx with my fellow KC transplants (most of whom had already abandoned the worn-off novelty of Yankee Stadium) I knew my annual visits to Yankee Stadium were over. Welcome to the Royals, Kyle Davis–this is what we do. We are the set-up men for the glory of other teams. Welcome to Kyle Davies, Royals–he’s gonna fit in just fine. We are the guys you catch a glimpse of on SportsCenter, standing with our hands on our hips as the other team’s fans scream with delight. It was that screaming, more than anything, that was the breaking point. As the crowd around me roared I felt embarrassed not by the Yankees, but by the Royals. There were better things to do in New York than watch Kansas City baseball.

C.D. Hale
Western Conference Semifinals Game 5, May 13, 2004

Two words: Point 4. Yep, Derek Fisher did it again, serving up a steaming pile of NBA lore to help set my Spurs’ quest for another NBA championship off-kilter with his off-balance buzzer-beater. Not only that, but it was the Lakers doing the derailing. I’ve never fully gotten over that one, even if the Spurs would later claim two more titles.

Sean Koo
NFC Championship, January 23, 2000

In Kurt Warner’s coming out party, the Rams blazed through the regular season and playoffs with “The Greatest Show on Turf” until they hit a brick wall playing against the Bucs’ dominant defense. We held the Rams to five points throughout most of the game, and we seemed to have an answer for everything they threw at us. Even after the Rams scored the only touchdown of the game—a thirty yard strike to Ricky Proehl over Brian Kelly—I felt like we had enough to strike back and take the lead for good. Behind rookie Shaun King, the Bucs actually moved down the field in convincing fashion, but in the final moments a completed pass to Bert Emanual that would have put us at the Ram’s 22 yard line was overturned because the ball touched the ground despite the receiver maintaining possession. We lost the call, the game, and our ticket to the Super Bowl. Afterward, the NFL clarified the rules to basically say the Bucs were robbed. That was a slap in the face to go with the heartache of watching the Rams later win the Super Bowl.

Masahito Ogasawara
Western Conference Finals, May 29, 1997

As a die-hard Rockets fan, it has to be Game 6 of the 1997 Western Conference Finals. First, it was against the Utah Jazz, and every Rockets fan can tell you the pure hatred we all have for the Jazz (although, Rahat with his article may say otherwise these days). Second, I had such high expectations that season, with us having three future hall of famers in Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley. At minimum, I expected to see us in the Finals, hoping to play and beat the Jordan-led Bulls, so people could finally shut up about the Rockets’ two championships being won during “Jordan-less” seasons.

Well, the Bulls did their part by winning the Eastern Conference Finals on May 28, the day before Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. I won’t recap the whole game, but the Rockets were basically up by 10 points in the final minute, and everyone pretty much thought it was over. Then in the last moments of the game, John Stockton throws up a 35 footer at the buzzer into the basket with Barkley on him to send the Jazz to the Finals. While most people may remember that year because of the Bulls winning the Finals and Jordan’s “flu game” in Utah, I will unfortunately always remember this game for the wrongest of reasons.

Sreesha Vaman
Olympics Hockey Gold Medal Game, February 28, 2010

We were the upstart Americans, thirsting for payback from losing the 2002 medal to Canada.  We had defeated Cocky Canada in the round robin, sheer determination triumphing over superior skill.  When Zach Parise scored with 28 seconds left to send the game into overtime, I thought the tide had finally turned the USA’s way.  We believed.  We prayed.  We hoped.  And we cried when Sidney Crosby snuck one in past Ryan Miller to give Canada the gold.  It figures that it would be Crosby, who had a terrible Olympics but was lauded as a “hero” because of that one goal, and who has all the skill in the world but has as much personality as a dry piece of stale bread that’s been sitting in the cold toaster oven for six hours.  The one bright spot was how much support the U.S. team got: The TV ratings were the second-highest of any genre all year behind the Super Bowl, and the topic dominated talk shows—I distinctly remember Craig Ferguson shaking his fist at the camera and vowing to win gold in 2014.

Now it’s your turn: What is your most heartbreaking moment in sports?  Leave a comment and let us know.

Perfecting the Top 10: Most Intimidating Athletes

In Baseball, Basketball, Boxing, Football, Hockey, MMA, Perfecting the Top 10, Wrestling on July 16, 2011 at 2:42 PM

Certain people draw plenty of attention when they speak. James Harrison, with his guns, brash attitude and status as one of the NFL’s top defensive players, is one of those people. Needless to say, Harrison had the nation’s attention with his recent comments regarding league commissioner Roger Goodell (crook, devil, puppet, dictator—the latter two of which I’m not sure can coexist, but I digress), as well as verbal digs against teammates and opponents alike.

What made Harrison’s comments so noteworthy—aside from their inflammatory nature—was the person from which they were spewing forth. Point being, Harrison (to quote Kevin from The Office) is a “Grade-A-Badass.” Herein lies a question: What other athletes currently share Harrison’s standing as legitimately frightening individuals, people with whom kicking up dust might not be the best idea? Let’s find out.

Note: These rankings are not based on an athlete’s ability in their sport, but rather, their sheer “fear factor.”

10. Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens: Yeah, Ray has lost a step. In fact, he’s probably only the third or fourth best player on his own defense at this point. That said, if it goes down, give me someone such as Ray-Ray, a wily vet with a noted mean streak, a ripped physique, unmatched intensity and an innate leadership quality. Plus, tell me this doesn’t frighten you just a bit.

9. Zdeno Chara, Defenseman, Boston Bruins: I don’t pretend to know much about hockey, but I do know that anytime a guy has to meet with police regarding an on-ice hit, this person gets a one-way ticket to this list, no questions asked.

8. Clay Matthews, Linebacker, Green Bay Packers. The hair doesn’t hurt matters; neither does unmatched ability to get to quarterbacks and dispatch them with extreme prejudice.

7. Manny Pacquiao, Boxer/Politician: The reasoning for this is simple … boxing is a sport in which success is measured by one’s ability to pummel his opponent into submission with his fists. No one in the world does this better than “Pac-Man.” Let’s move on.

6. The Undertaker, Professional Wrestler/Dead Man: Think it’s fake, huh? Try telling that to this 7-foot, 300-plus-pound Houstonian behemoth who, by the way, also trains in mixed martial arts. Plus, his 19-0 record at WrestleMania is professional wrestling’s 56-game hitting streak.

5. Kobe Bryant, Guard, Los Angeles Lakers: He’s not intimidating in terms of pure physical force, but Bryant’s intensity, work ethic and will to prevail on the court are second only to one Michael Jordan. Personally, that frightens me, if only because it indicates that Kobe is the type to sneak a shiv into a fists-only streetfight.

4. Albert Pujols, First Baseman, St. Louis Cardinals: By all accounts a good guy on and off the diamond, Pujols nonetheless looks like the meanest bouncer at the bar, the guy who spent all day working out in the hopes of inciting a riot later that night. His muscles have muscles. Hell, Brad Lidge never fully recovered from his brush with Big Albert.

3. Brock Lesnar, UFC Heavyweight/Ill-Tempered Minnesotan: No, Brock Lesnar is not an elite UFC competitor, at least not on par with the Anderson Silvas of the cage fighting world. That said, look at this man. Dude looks like he was manufactured in a lab. Hell, I’d go so far as to call Lesnar our nation’s 21st Century Ivan Drago.

2. Ron Artest (aka Metta World Peace), Forward/Resident Lunatic, Los Angeles Lakers:  The eyes don’t lie. Whether it’s that formerly-crazy girlfriend who alleges to have changed her ways, or a former bleacher-rushing Indiana Pacers forward who alleges to have done the same, the eyes don’t lie. And the eyes tell me, for all Artest’s on- and off-court improvements, there’s a tinge of crazy that has yet to be exterminated. And that sliver of crazy, no matter how small, is more than enough reason to vault near the top of this list.

1. James Harrison, Linebacker/Gun Enthusiast/Disgruntled NFL Employee, Pittsburgh Steelers: Easy call. Harrison is a 6-foot, 250-pound, mean-spirited, hard-hitting, gun-toting madman. A former Defensive Player of the Year, Harrison’s bone-crushing hits, their ensuring fines and his subsequent NFL blasts, are the stuff of legend. Tack on fellow Steeler defenders like Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton, LaMarr Woodley, and Troy Polamalu, and it’s no wonder Carson Palmer can’t wait to exit the AFC North.

Perfecting the Top 10: Championship Upsets of the 21st Century

In Baseball, Basketball, Football, Golf, Perfecting the Top 10, Soccer, Tennis on July 9, 2011 at 12:00 PM

In discussing who we are here at Perfecting the Upset, we argue that, “Everyone believes in miracles whether they admit it or not.  And for a sports fan, miracles happen when someone pulls off the perfect upset: That team nobody saw coming against the team who we thought would take it all.” But there’s an additional curl in this fabric that can make some victories considerably more satisfying because of their rarity: Upsets in championships.  In order for this to happen, there has to be perfect harmony in the cosmos.  Not only does David have to first make his way through the rubble, but he also needs Goliath to be waiting at the end of the tunnel.  There are some quite unfortunate cases where, if Goliath was waiting, the story could have been sweeter.  After all, Portsmouth winning the FA Cup in 2008 sounds like a story to tell until you remember they defeated a team from a lower division (Cardiff City) in the finals.

So, what better way to continue our Perfecting the Top 10 series than to count down the ten most memorable championship upsets of the 21st century?  In coming up with the list, more popular leagues were given greater weight.  They had to be head-to-head matchups, not just against the field.  Attention was given to genuine upsets, not those simply perceived as such by the sensationalist media (such as a formidable Diamondbacks team defeating an equally-talented Yankees team).  And finally, additional credence was given to teams with legacy: It’s one thing defeating the flavour-of-the-year, but it’s another to defeat a Goliath packing a dynasty in his holster.

10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 48 – Oakland Raiders 21 (Super Bowl XXXVII) »  At age 37, Rich Gannon threw for 4,689 yards, won the league MVP and took the Raiders to their first Super Bowl since 1983.  The oddsmakers favored their top-rated offense by 4 against Jon Gruden’s top-rated defense, but by the time the third quarter ended, it was obvious that defense did, in fact, win championships.  Gruden had gotten revenge against his previous team, and the Al Davis affliction in sunny California continued to persist.

9. Florida Gators 41 – Ohio State Buckeyes 14 (2007 BCS National Championship Game) »  Troy Smith, Ted Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez made the Buckeyes look invincible throughout the season (which included a 24-7 dismantling of defending champions from the University of Texas).  Aside from a late game comeback by rival Michigan, Ohio State was never in danger of losing a game.  This was supposed to be one of the most lopsided deciding bowl games ever.  But Chris Leak, Percy Harvin and some fellow named Tim Tebow had other ideas.  After the Buckeyes returned the initial kickoff, Harvin matched—and it was a cakewalk for the remainder.  It was lopsided, alright, just on the other side.

8. Florida Marlins 4 – New York Yankees 2 (2003 World Series) »  Money doesn’t always make you happy, and money definitely can’t buy you championships.  The Marlins shocked the Yankees (and their $110 million difference in payroll) by riding Josh Beckett to the glory land for the second time in seven years.  Along the way, though, they had some extra help from a Cubs fan whose memorabilia-hogging instincts kept the grand prize away for his cursed team.

7. Greece 1 – Portugal 0 (Euro 2004) »  Greece’s improbable run at Euro 2004 was capped with a second defeat of Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Portuguese squad, headlined by Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo, who failed to avenge their opening day loss.  Along the way, they also beat France and England.  It’s possible to pad this further, but seriously, there shouldn’t be any other data necessary: Greece won Euro 2004 by defeating three powerhouses four times total.  That’s the math, and that’s pretty amazing.

6. Maria Sharapova (6-1, 6-4) over Serena Williams (2004 Wimbledon) »  Out of nowhere, 13th seeded, 17-year-old Sharapova beats two-time defending champion and #1 seed Williams in straight sets.  This was a passing of the torch, of sorts, not unlike Federer beating Sampras in 2001.  Of course, Serena continued her dominance for a while longer, but she’ll never forget the spark she provided to Sharapova’s career at Centre Court.

5. Y.E. Yang (-8) over Tiger Woods (-5) (2009 PGA Championship) »  Golf isn’t a head-to-head sport, but when you take into effect that Yang and Woods were paired up for the final round at the Hazeltine National Golf Club, you can imagine how intense it must have been throughout the day.  Tiger entered the day with a 2 shot lead before ending the day +3, in the process witnessing the first Asian-born player to win a major on the PGA tour.  This was all the more impressive as Yang didn’t start playing golf until age 19.  The maturing prodigy was defeated by the budding late-bloomer.

4. Texas 41 – USC 38 (2006 Rose Bowl/BCS National Championship Game) »  Matt Leinart this.  Reggie Bush that.  For all the hype the media loves to generate, there’s probably no doubt amongst college football fanatics that this Trojans team was one of the greatest to ever play.  But there was one man who, frankly, didn’t give a damn: Vince Young.  He had put in the single greatest individual performance I’ve ever witnessed by the time he crossed into the endzone on 4th and 2.  While the awe and magic of a game like this may never again be repeated, Young’s lesson in media-founded histrionics will always be remembered.

3. Patriots 20 – Rams 17 (Super Bowl XXXVI) »  September 11 made New York City a solemn place to live.  But for some reason, it felt as if supporting these mediocre “Patriots” would make us all happier.  So, we did.  Against “the Greatest Show on Turf.”  Little did we know that we’d witness the genesis of one of the most hated dynasties in sports history, and that of a man who would end up marrying the world’s highest-paid supermodel and have hair softer than Justin Bieber.

2. Giants 17 – Patriots 14 (Super Bowl XLII) »  18-1.

1. Detroit Pistons 4 – Los Angeles Lakers 1 (2004 NBA Finals) »  Many would contest that the Giants’ defeat of the previously undefeated Patriots should be #1.  But I can’t help but argue for these pesky, blue-collar boys from Detroit.  Not only did the Pistons embody everything the Motor City stood for, they outright dominated a stacked team filled with four future Hall-of-Famers.  Keeping the Lakers to 68 points in a game?  That’s a team with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.  Yet they never broke 100 points.  Winning one game is great.  But winning a championship in this commanding a fashion as an underdog?  Incredible. Keeping someone from perfect once has some luck involved.  But keeping a great team from reaching its ultimate goal over a seven-game series?  That’s the kind of perseverance and teamwork that makes us believe that miracles are possible.

Championship Upsets of the 21st Century

The Tin Man Always Had A Heart

In Basketball, Houston on July 5, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Tracy Lamar McGrady, Jr. was drafted 9th overall by the Toronto Raptors in the 1997 NBA Draft.  He came straight out of high school and mainly played a reserve role in his first two seasons.  A year after T-Mac’s arrival, the Raptors drafted his cousin Vince Carter with the 5th pick: The high flying duo instantly built expectations for the Canadian franchise.  They finally led the Raptors to a playoff berth in 2000 only to get swept by the Knicks in the first round.  Then, in order to escape the shadow of his older cousin, he forced the hand of the Raptors into a sign-and-trade that sent him to the Orlando Magic.

During the four years he spent in sunny Florida, he was consistently considered one of the top 5 players in the league.

In the summer of 2004, after McGrady successfully defended his scoring crown, the Magic agreed to send him and a slew of mostly forgettable players to the Houston Rockets for local favorite Steve Francis and another slew of forgettable players.  There, McGrady continued his statistical onslaught, averaging 24 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists in four relatively healthy seasons including a memorable comeback against the Spurs that may be his only Lone Star highlight.  But his body started to give out; amidst controversy, he was traded to the Knicks in what felt like a mercy transaction.  He finished the season, unwanted, and was signed by the Detroit Pistons last summer for a veteran’s minimum.  This past season, he had his first injury-free year in three years.  We even saw hints of the old T-Mac, though they were few and far between.  Now, with his eventual retirement looming, T-Mac will never again be in the discussion for the best player in the NBA.

For T-Mac, statistical success has not translated to critical praise: Players like Karl Malone and Charles Barkley all receive knocks as players because they never won a championship; T-Mac’s legacy is even more tarnished as he has never even advanced beyond the first round. Despite averaging 29.5 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.3 steals in the playoffs as the main star of his teams, his doughnut trips to the second round has led basketball experts and historians to scratch him off the all-time greats list.  He’ll always be remembered as one of those players who never lived up to their physical talents.

But that isn’t exactly fair…

First and foremost, McGrady was never given the personnel to go far into the postseason.  Even the greatest of players need a team that’s better than dead weight: Every championship team has been full of all-stars and above average role players.  Just compare the past 3 championship teams:

2011 Mavericks: Dirk Nowtizki, Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry
2010/2009 Lakers: Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and Ron Artest
2008 Celtics: Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins

In fact, I could list every single championship team and a plethora of names would jump out to even the most casual of basketball fans.  T-Mac has only been paired with one recognizable player in Yao Ming, and the rest of his teams never truly fit the bill of a genuine contender.  Here’s a basic list of his key contributors: an over-the-hill (OTH) Darrell Armstrong, OTH Horace Grant, OTH (and fat) Shawn Kemp, Rafer Alston, Tyronn Lue, OTH Bob Sura, OTH Juwan Howard, OTH David Wesley, OTH Clarence Weatherspoon, Derek Anderson, Luther Head, etc.  When I write OTH, I mean on the wrong side of 30.  Besides Yao Ming, none of T-Mac’s teammates could have pulled off being on the starting rotation of a true contender.  Great players are recognized by non-fans.  My fiancée knows who LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Dwight Howard are, but she couldn’t name more than five teams in the league.  Most argue that T-Mac’s so-called greatness should’ve at least carried him past the first round, but instead his lack of discipline and heart failed to get his teams over the hump.

In a recent interview, Jon Barry, NBA journeyman and a member of the Rockets during T-Mac’s stay, was asked about his biggest regret as a player: “I couldn’t help Tracy McGrady get past the first round. The whole team saw the talent, heart and dedication of T-Mac, but we just weren’t good enough to help him get over that hump.”  This comes from a former teammate, acknowledging that the Rockets, who had a better cast than the Magic, failed to surround him with the talent necessary for postseason success.  LeBron showed us in recent years that a subpar cast isn’t enough even when you’re the heir-apparent to Michael Jordan.  Even Karl Malone, paired with the all-time assists and steals leader in John Stockton, never won a championship.   In the same vein that Malone, Charles Barkley and crew had to compete in the Age of Jordan, T-Mac had to play in an era when the Western Conference was unusually stacked.

But T-Mac had Yao: That should mean something, right?  But those Rockets fans who’ve obsessed over our pitfalls know better.  There’s no need to discuss Yao’s fragility as that’s deserving of its own article.  Yao was (and still is) the Rockets’ cash cow, whether the organization admits it or not.  Retaining Yao, even into next year regardless of how much of a liability his injuries have become, is important if only because Yao is a significant financial asset.  But Yao’s body and game were never meant to be paired with someone like T-Mac. In his prime, T-Mac represented an ideal NBA body: 6’9″ with a 7’3″ wingspan, 42-inch vertical jump, 235 pounds with only 8% body fat and ran the 40-yard dash in less than 4.5 seconds.  He represented the perfect combination of height, weight, speed and strength to be successful in the league—a build like LeBron but with T-Mac’s quickness making up for his lack of similar upper body strength.  This quickness suited him a fast-paced system, not one that has to have a half-court set with Yao.  In addition, Yao’s game has always been easily neutralized: Too uncoordinated to catch quick passes, too tall to have true success with his back facing the basket, too slow and un-athletic to defend against players that would front him.  The list goes on.  I’m a fan of Yao only because the man always says and does the right thing and has a lot of heart.  But heart only gets you so far.  I’ve never met anyone who agreed that the two superstars’ games complemented each other, but everyone agreed that they were indeed “superstars” and would bring in the “kwan” and “show the Rockets the money.”  (Jerry Maguire quotes seem quite fitting when discussing money and heart together.)  The Rockets would’ve had more success if they had traded Yao for versatile and mobile big men, or if they had traded T-Mac for knock down shooters and defenders (something that Mark Cuban would have done without hesitation)—but the Rockets held onto their “superstars” as money in the pocket instead of building a better ball club to advance to the second round and beyond.  The failures of Team USA basketball in the early 2000s have taught us that you can’t just stick a bunch of good players together and expect to win.  They have to gel and complement each other.  Let’s put this into a statistical perspective: Until the end of the 2007 season, the Rockets won 59% of games with Yao on the floor and 70% without.

McGrady has been called the “Tin Man,” referencing The Wizard of Oz character who lacked a heart.  I spoke of a former teammate’s defense of T-Mac, but there are a couple of statistical arguments against this as well.  McGrady was always one of the most efficient players in the NBA (even leading the league in 2002-03 ahead of another monster season by Shaquille O’Neal).  But we often overlook this feat.  The more minutes you play, the more susceptible you are to reducing the quality of your play, and T-Mac averaged around 40 minutes per game from age 21 to 26.  As such, T-Mac’s efficiency always rose in the playoffs.  He literally averaged more of everything in every statistical category when the postseason arrived, and doing more of everything should show the effort and heart—except that you can only do so much sometimes.  McGrady also came back from multiple injuries.  If he truly lacked the heart and desire to win, wouldn’t he have called it quits and gone to Disneyland with his $100 million?  The long hours, the constant media ridicule and having to play with teammates that he simply couldn’t depend on—when you combine all this, “lack of heart and desire” is the easy, lazy criticism because there’s no way to really disprove it.  In football, Carson Palmer can only nod his head in agreement.  He was a top 5 quarterback in the league in his prime, had multiple injuries, never a great supporting cast to surround him—and now he’d rather face retirement rather than once again carry the weight of a mediocre franchise on his shoulders.

I’ve always found myself to be a staunch defender of T-Mac’s legacy.  While I’ve felt he was in the wrong sometimes, I’ve never doubted his ability, heart and desire.  If we replaced Kobe Bryant with T-Mac, would the Lakers have still won those championships?  I believe so.  Just look at the seasons where Kobe was going solo and failed to make it past the first round despite leading the league in scoring titles in back to back years (sound familiar?).  In fact, he didn’t become the Kobe that we will remember until Chris Wallace gift-wrapped Pau Gasol to the Lakers in February of 2008.  If T-Mac had been blessed with the same luck, I’m quite sure that all these knocks against him would’ve never existed.  Because when you win, history shows us that people let you get away with even rape.

Perfecting the Top 10: Historic Team Logos

In Baseball, Basketball, Football, Hockey, Loyalty, Perfecting the Top 10 on July 2, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Logos are important. They are a team’s identity, the common element that we recognize, that we react to. If a Yankees fan sees those two red socks on the back of a car, they know the car belongs to a Red Sox fan. If you want to know the power of a logo, break out your Cowboys t-shirt at FedEx Field (please do not do this).

I have limited background in design. I’m no expert. I just like logos. I’m not going to break down each element of a logo, but I do look at the font, the colors, the link with the team name, the complexity (or “busyness” you could say) and so on. Some logos just have that somethin’ special.

I’m limiting the pool to the Big 4: MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL. Defunct or relocated teams count. MLS isn’t old enough, and there are way too many colleges out there. A current logo qualifies as historic if it was being used, say, since 1985 (over 25 years).

10. Chicago Cubs: 1979 – present (MLB)

The Cubs have been around forever. If it weren’t for that pesky Great Chicago Fire costing them the 1872 and 1873 seasons, they would be the oldest sports franchise in the country. Since the late 1900s, the Cubs have kept the same basic theme with their logo: A large “C” and something in the middle. In the first part of the century, it was usually a bear. Since the 30s, it’s been “U-B-S.” The latest (and best) incarnation came about in 1979 and has seen the likes of Sandberg, Dawson, Maddux and Sosa. It’s simple and clean and contained completely within a circle. I don’t typically like logos that are entirely contained within a circle, but the interior “C” helps to break up the circle’s impact visually. You can never go wrong with red and blue. It doesn’t tell you anything about Chicago or their mascot, but it does tell you something very important about the Chicago Cubs: They’re a historic franchise that have never needed a huge makeover. Their logo is a fairly modern take on a simple concept. It’s proof that sometimes simpler is better.

9. Portland Trail Blazers: 1970/71 – 1989/90 (NBA)

This is the lone NBA representative on this list. And it seems an unlikely choice. There’s nothing in this logo that tells you anything about the team. Absolutely nothing. Some people suggest that the logo is a backwards “p” and “b” but I can’t verify that. The font used in the wordmark is certainly echoed in the logo. And if you’re willing to take it a step further, you could probably get a “t” out of there. Anyhow, at first glance, it does have some things going for it: Clean lines, a simple and distinct shape and it’s self-contained without being completely enclosed in a circle. The logo creates a sense of movement, and it feels dynamic despite its simplicity.

I also like the choice of non-traditional colors. I read one comment that said black and red were used to mark the Oregon Trail but haven’t been able to verify that via an admittedly brief Google session. If it is true, that’s a stroke of genius. But there’s another stroke of genius, one that’s far more subtle. Both the red element and the black element are made up of five lines. And, of course, basketball is a game of five on five. So you have a (very) abstract representation of the game the Trail Blazers are playing. You can even take it further and suggest that sense of movement brings the five lines to meet in the circle at center court. One last thing: It just screams classic 70s.

8. Minnesota North Stars: 1967/68 – 1973/74 (NHL)

Perhaps hockey teams seem to spend a little more time than other sports on their image and identity. Or it may be because their logos appear more prominently on their uniforms. It may be because a lot of these teams showed up later on when identities became more important with more exposure. Until 1967, there were only six teams in the NHL. At that point, the league doubled in size. One of those teams was the Minnesota North Stars.

None of the expansion teams of ’67 were Canadian. The team farthest north was Minnesota. And when you think hockey, you look north. Like the Cubs logo, this one is simple and easy to use in various formats. It gives you an idea where Minnesota is in relation to the other American teams and evokes the team’s branding. The “N” has a nice fluidity; it creates a sense of movement that leads you to the star. The star fits snugly into the arrow, which is pointing up, the usual direction for north. Not only does it lead you into the star, but it takes you north to hockey’s homeland. And of course the star is yellow which always goes well with green. When the North Stars moved south to Dallas, they dropped the “North” and the logo lost everything that made it special.

7. Toronto Blue Jays: 1977 – 1996 (MLB)

This is a complex logo. It has a lot of competing pieces, lots of swooping lines and a non-traditional font. At the same time, for a logo from the 70s, it has a surprisingly modern representation of a blue jay: Angular and abstract. It incorporates Canada’s maple leaf without distracting the viewer from the rest of the logo. While I’m not a fan of using sports equipment in a logo, it seems to work here: The ball creates focus and helps define the logo’s shape that might otherwise seem to sprawl in all directions. The blue is an obvious choice but the red is not. Blue and red verges on the traditional American colors used by a number of teams. But here it provides a contrast that helps to, again, focus the logo and contain its pieces. If you ignore the text, it tells you most of what you’d need to know: the team is Canadian, probably called the Blue Jays and they play baseball.

And when you compare it to their horrible current logo, this logo is a work of art, worthy of a wall at the Louvre.

6. Pittsburgh Steelers: 1963 – present (NFL)

You should know this logo. This logo probably violates any rule I could put on paper about what logos should or should not do. It’s completely surrounded in a circle, it contains colors that are not part of the team’s official colors, it’s basically copied from another organization’s logo. And so on. The logo’s history tells part of the story. It was created in 1960 for the American Iron and Steel Institute, and it originally said just “Steel” on the left side. The three shapes on the right side are called astroids, which are “hypocycloids with four cusps” (yeah, I know, just go here). A company called Republic Steel (from Cleveland!) asked the Steelers’ owners about putting the logo, the Steelmark, on their helmets. In 1963, the Steelers asked if they could change “Steel” to “Steelers” and there you have it. The colors do mean something: Yellow is coal, red (originally orange) is iron ore and blue is for scrap metal. So that the Steelers could trademark it, they made the astroids bigger and changed the middle one to red.

So, how does all of this make a good logo? Because what started as the symbol for an industry turned into one of the most iconic brands in not just the NFL but all of professional sports. It shows how seemingly random shapes and colors can come together in a clean, classic design. And to underscore all of that, what amounts to an advertisement for the steel industry turned into the logo for a football franchise that had been around for 30 years before the logo even existed. Can you imagine that happening today? Scratch that and try this: Can you imagine that happening so overtly today?

5. California Golden Seals: 1970/71 – 1973/74 (NHL)

Wait, you’ve never heard of the California Golden Seals? Well, you’re in good company. I doubt anyone who wasn’t a hockey fan in the 60s and 70s has. They were part of the expansion in 1967 that also brought the North Stars to the NHL. They were the California Seals, then the Oakland Seals and then finally the California Golden Seals. After that, they moved to Cleveland and then merged with the North Stars. But while they were in the Bay Area, the Seals kept the same basic logo: An abstract seal with a hockey stick coming out of a “C.” I’ll admit that this logo didn’t catch my eye when I first saw it. But like the Trail Blazers logo, it grew on me. There are no hidden pieces, no subtle elements. It’s just a straight logo, and that might be the part I like the most. It’s got a lot going on but it’s not overwhelming.

The “C” is good: As I’ve said, as a general rule, logos should use circular elements to contain most of the logo, not all of it. Even when they were the Oakland Seals, the seal’s head spilled out of the “O” (that was converted from the “C”). The seal is not a simple. Like the Blue Jays’ logo, the representation is remarkably ahead of its time. And like the Blue Jays’ logo, the animal isn’t represented as aggressive, but as neutral or even “happy” as was common before the 90s. The aggressive animal logo phenomenon came later and is all the rage over the past 10 or so years (see the most recent logo changes for the Seahawks, Lions, Dolphins, Blue Jays and nearly every minor league baseball team).

Of course, a seal is a good choice for a team name in the Bay Area, it being home to the California sea lions and harbor seals. Additionally, there was the San Francisco Seals, the minor league team that Joe DiMaggio played for. The fact the seal is holding a hockey stick is something I’d normally dislike but here it helps to balance the composition. There’s a lot of unused space inside the “C” which was filled in with green. I’m okay with that, too, for the same reason: It gives the logo a nice balance and helps the yellow elements stand out.

This is the kind of fun logo you’ll never seen again. It would be considered too flat, too static, too something. But it’s bold and holds up well to this day. It’s a good mix of an old football or baseball logo and something you might see today. To that effect, this is a unique work that we may never see the likes of again.

4. Milwaukee Brewers: 1978 – 1993 (MLB)

I remember always seeing this logo on baseball cards and thinking, I don’t understand why the Brewers use a glove and ball as their logo. I just didn’t get it. And it took me a while to get it. My wife, on the other hand, got it immediately when she saw it. It’s an “m” and a “b” of course, and it’s flawlessly molded into a baseball glove, the empty space in the “b” serving as a baseball. It has a cartoonish quality to it: The font is bubbly and uneven, the outline is thick and the ball is, well, anatomically incorrect. But these qualities give it that fun quality. It’s a nice reminder that, hey, sports can be fun sometimes.

This logo is also a good example of how a team can create an identity crisis for itself. It establishes an identity, sticks with it for a long time, and then changes it for no apparent reason. This logo was on the hats of Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and Rollie Fingers. And then the team altered its colors, did away with the ball and glove logo and created an entirely new identity. And a decade later, the Brewers brought this logo back as a third uniform. The Blue Jays did the same thing. There’s a reason people like throwback uniforms: They’re usually better.

3. Montreal Expos: 1969 – 1991 (MLB)

We’re going north of the border again. When I was a kid, I watched the Atlanta Braves on TBS religiously, and they seemed to be playing in Montreal 100 times a year. I always wondered about the logo on their hat: It appeared to spell out “elb,” and I had no idea what that meant. A former co-worker of mine was an Expos fan.  (Really, his license plate was “XPOSFAN”.) He told me that it spelled out “eMb”  with the “e” and “b” forming part of the “M”. Admittedly, the “M” is hard to see at first, but it’s there and stylized in a way that feels like it represents Montreal well (though I cannot tell you why).

So, why “eMb” then?  Well, in French, it stands for équipe de Montréal baseball, which translates into “Montreal Baseball Team.” But, wait, there’s more! Shuffle those letters around and you get “Meb” and they left it in English for you: “Montreal Expos Baseball.”

So in one little, three-color shape you have the team’s insignia, a description of the organization in French and a description of the club. It’s simple and unique and stands out as one of the better baseball logos in history. It may not be iconic like the Yankees’ “NY” or the Brooklyn Dodgers’ “B”, but it’s clever and captures that certain je ne sais quoi.

2. Hartford Whalers: 1979/80 – 1991/92 (NHL)

When the Whalers moved to Raleigh and became the Carolina Hurricanes, this logo disappeared from the sports world. This is one of those logos that probably flew under the radar: It’s a very small city in the fourth sport of the Big 4. I’m not a big fan of whaling and all, but I’m pretty sure there’s no other team called the Whalers in the sports world (unless there’s some small liberal arts college playing Division III basketball I don’t know about). The Whalers’ logo took advantage of an design element you rarely see: Negative space. Think the FedEx logo, the way the white area between the “E” and the “x” forms an arrow. You probably never noticed it. But once you see it, you’ll never stop seeing it. That arrow is the negative space.

In this logo, you have the “W” at the bottom. Pretty obvious. At the top, you have the two flukes. That alone would be a pretty decent logo. But graphic designers are sometimes pretty damn good at what they do. And good ones will use that negative space when it can be used effectively. In-between the “W” and the flukes you have a stylized “H”. So, in one compact space you have the first letter of the city, the first letter of the team name, and a graphical representation of the team name (or what the team name would be killing, I guess). Another nice touch is that the outsides of the “W” are rounded to give it the feel of water. It’s like the tail is coming out of the water.

This logo is similar to the Expos logo in what it accomplishes. It takes a lot of pieces and puts them in a clean, simple form. There’s nothing flash about it. It doesn’t use a lot of colors or any sense of depth to give the team an identity. And like the Expos logo, it manages to endure even though the team itself is no longer around.

1. Vancouver Canucks: 1970/71 – 1979/1980 (NHL)

I don’t know where to begin with this logo. So many things are represented in such a simple design. If there’s a problem with it, it’s that people don’t know what’s being represented. It’s too damn good for its own good.

The somewhat obvious: It’s contained within a hockey rink and there’s a hockey stick cutting across the right side. Thus the nickname “stick-in-rink” logo. Some people don’t pick up on the rink but the stick is clear. The colors weren’t just chosen because they look good together (they do) but because they represent three natural characteristics of Vancouver: The blue water, the green trees and the white snow of the mountains. Then we begin to dig deeper. The hockey stick breaks the outline and creates a very, very stylized “C”, and one could go so far as to say that the negative space in the stick itself serves as a very shallow “V”. Then you get to the flat out esoteric: That hockey stick forms the mouth and jaw line of an abstract whale head.

I know a lot of people hear all of this and just shake their heads. That’s the problem I mentioned earlier: A lot’s going on but it’s all really subtle. Even the “C” is subtle. Most people see a hockey stick in a swimming pool. Even if this was simply a hockey stick in a swimming pool, it would still be one of the best logos ever created. It’s clean, simple and nice to look at.

In the end, logos often define a team’s identity. You’ll always know that the hockey stick in the swimming pool logo belongs to the Canucks. The longer a logo sticks around, the more entrenched that identity gets. That’s why some baseball teams can hang on to the most generic of logos (think the Tigers’ script “D”). No sports fan in North America is going to look at that and wonder what team it is. But for teams that haven’t been around since the turn of the century, you have to create an identity and stick with it, good or bad (good’s usually better, though).

The Teams We Root For

In Basketball, Loyalty on June 28, 2011 at 10:00 AM

The NBA Finals wrapped up recently, and one of the many fun facts used as filler by the announcers was that, despite being from Ohio, LeBron James grew up as a Chicago Bulls fan.  Not only that, but he also supports the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys.  If he liked the Lakers instead of the Bulls, it would have completed the trifecta of national bandwagon sports fan franchises.

While his allegiances make me want to stick my finger down my throat, it’s hard to find fault in the reasoning of how Mr. James chose the teams that he did.  Imagine being a child growing up in the 1990s with no presumable father figure. Now, imagine being a developing athlete in the process of cultivating your love of  sports.  At the beginning, you have no predispositions or influences regarding which teams to support.  It seems natural that one would gravitate towards supporting the successful franchises of the era.  In this case, the Bulls, Yankees and Cowboys were the clear choices.  Other teams never had a chance.

People pick favorite teams for a variety of reasons, all of which are valid: “I grew up near [city],” or “I went to school in [city], so I support franchise X.”  Often, a person picks a team because of their father: Either to coincide with or go against the paternal grain.  (This explains why there’s an inordinate Cowboys following in New Jersey.)  When there is a lack of personal or geographical connection to any city or franchise, the uninformed fan will logically, in most instances, choose the team that is winning.  People who care about following a sports team care about winning.  If winning isn’t the goal, or isn’t important, then you don’t really care about your team.

If you have a similar portfolio of favorite teams as LeBron James,  I will make fun of you and then shake my head.  This is a promise.  In fact, this has probably already happened.  However, I won’t disregard your fan loyalty, as long as you exhibit a level of commitment to the teams you claim to support.  As long your loyalty doesn’t waiver, you can cheer for the Yankees and the Cowboys.  Basically, everyone is entitled to jump on bandwagons as the basis of becoming a fan, but if you jump off that bandwagon, then there is something fundamentally wrong with your understanding of sport.

Then there’s the worst fan of all: The one who hops from bandwagon to bandwagon.  This is the guy who traded in his Yankee cap for one from Boston in 2004.  As a baseball fan, this makes me angry.  As a believer in sports loyalty, this makes me sad.  It doesn’t matter to this guy who he supports, just as long as he supports the winning team.  This is who Bob Dylan referred to in “Positively 4th Street”—You got a lotta nerve / To say you got a helping hand to lend / You just want to be on / The side that’s winning—that is, if the song were about sports and not some bitch that Dylan was ripping apart.  If all that you care about is supporting the winner and don’t particularly care who wins, then the sport itself means nothing to you.

There is a loophole to the bandwagon hopping system though.  If the reason you became a fan of a team is because of player X, then it is acceptable to switch favorite teams to stick with that player.  Since he’s been such a standout figure in recent memory, let’s continue to use good ol’ Mr. James as an example.  If you became an NBA and Cleveland Cavaliers fan as a result of LeBron, then it was perfectly within your right to move on as he did.  This logic is understandable.  Personally though, I would’ve grown attached to the Cavs as a result of him, and then stuck with the franchise even after “The Decision.”  Franchises trump players.  Players come and go, but the teams stay put (unless they’re owned by Art Modell or Clay Bennett, of course).

Almost as bad (and much more idiotic) as the bandwagon hopper is the polygamist who claims to have two or more favorite teams within the same sport.  The worst is when the two teams fall within the same division of the particular sport.  I went to high school with a guy who claimed that his two “favorite” NBA teams were the Celtics and the Knicks.  Liking these two teams equally is an impossibility, as they compete for the same division every year.  The inherent flaw of this guy’s logic exposes itself when the two teams face off against each other: He then roots for the Celtics.  If that’s the case, then you can’t claim for the Knicks to be your favorite, Bruno.  Look up the definition of “favorite” some time.  You’ll see what I mean.

So what kind of fan are you? Are you the bandwagon hopper? Or are you the die-hard superfan who, through good times and bad, stubbornly believes that this is the year your hometown will finally make a run at a championship?

Learning to Love the Hated

In Basketball, Houston, Loyalty on June 27, 2011 at 10:00 AM

There are people in Kentucky who will threaten bloody murder upon hearing the words “Christian” and “Laettner” one after another.  Because his shot was the kind of moment that creates hatred in the heart.  It’s the kind of moment that spontaneously imbues everlasting enmity towards not just players, but whole franchises.  And tragically, every fan has one of these moments.  For me, it was John Stockton’s three-pointer against my Rockets in Game 6 of the 1997 Western Conference Finals.

Little did I know that it was just the beginning: The Jazz went on to knock us out of the playoffs three more times over the next decade (1998, 2007, 2008).  On their first go-around, the Jazz were hated for being ruthless: On top of Stockton, you had the hard-to-love, nearly mechanical mailman in Karl Malone and James Bond-villain rejectee Greg Ostertag.  (Face it: If they remade The Spy Who Loved Me, Richard Kiel would have had some serious competition for the role of Jaws.)  As if that wasn’t enough of a trio to despise, Jerry Sloan came off as a brutally exacting coach.  He kept the Jazz competitive every year without actually winning.  They were the NBA-counterpart of the 90s Braves (though Bobby Cox did get his World Series win).  It’s frustrating seeing a team fail so often, especially when they do so at your expense.  Then came the crew of Boozer, AK47, D-Will and Ashton Kutcher.  While lacking the same sort of instant revulsion the old school crew brought us, Sloan’s basic presence still allowed them to embody the sort of cold swagger that reminded us of the Stockton-Malone era.  The first round exits in 2007 and 2008 were effectively the only real shot we ever had for the McGrady-Yao combo to bring home a trophy.  And the Jazz killed it.  They dashed our hopes, slashed our tires, left us on a ditch with our necks spewing blood on broken glass.  The team was broken, spirits dismantled.  Fans were on the verge of complete resignation.  The only thoughts that ran through our minds: “Fucking Stockton.”  It always went back to him.  To that one shot.

On February 9 of this year, Jerry Sloan coached his last game as the coach of the Utah Jazz.  On February 23, Deron Williams was traded to the New Jersey Nets.  Boozer left the summer before in free agency, as did Korver.  It’s inevitable that Kirilenko will bolt this summer (possibly to the Russian-soiled Nyets or literally to Russian soil).  And now the Jazz are no longer the team that I hated.  Been a huge fan of Al Jefferson for years, watching him toil away in the Minnesota cold.  Like Devin Harris and am looking for good things from Derrick Favors.  And when on draft night Enes Kanter found himself in Salt Lake City, I started feeling guilty.

I kind of want to support these guys.

Does that make me disloyal?  Am I suddenly a treacherous fool unworthy of cheering for the Rocket Red?  The Jazz and the Rockets don’t have a geographical rivalry: It’s been a purely incidental product of chance playoff seedings.  We’re not even in the same division anymore.  And the bad blood is mostly within a 15 year time frame.  Or wait: Am I just making excuses?

At what point are we allowed to stop hating certain teams?  If the Red Sox move to Montreal and change their name to the Expos, will Yankee fans still be mandated to wish ill on their pitchers and hock long-distance loogies at batters on-deck?   The Seattle SuperSonics were the bane of my existence as an early 90s Rockets fan.  But they’re the Thunder now.  In Oklahoma City.  With a crop of young talent headlined by a Longhorn.  I support them without guilt.  Is there a flaw in our logic of who we can and cannot hate?  The Jazz aren’t moving, but their pieces are drastically different from before.  The only real vestige of the old guard is Okur, and even he may be gone after next year.  Is change of culture enough of a justification?

Between love and hate, the memories we try to forget (or grudgingly hold onto because it feeds us the fire we sometimes need), there has to be a way to learn to love the hated.  Blind hate does a disservice to the beauty of a game.  It does disservice to players who are trying to make something of themselves.  All indications point to Kanter being the kind of guy you want on your team.  Shall we force upon him an unnecessary, inherited hatred?  We support teams because we like the sport.  The sport is the priority.  When we let blind hatred ruin the appreciation of a game, are we even worthy of being a fan?