Joe-Pinions: Sports

12 July 2010 – Random Musings from the Weekend

Posted in Basketball, Cycling, Formula 1 by txtmstrjoe on 12/07/2010

  • Here it is, four days removed from the end of LeBron James’ free agency, and I’m still flabbergasted and annoyed with how cynical and farcical and completely unnecessary the whole affair was.
  • I don’t have a problem with Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh coming together in Miami, or whether or not they have had a years-long conspiracy to eventually do this (the Cleveland Plain Dealer suggested that the threesome hatched the plan as long-ago as 2006).  I DO have a huge problem with how LeBron James parlayed his free agency into the most desperate grab for universal attention imaginable, as well as ESPN’s decision to shred the very last vestiges of its image as a reputable “sports journalism” entity to further enable James.
  • LeBron James’ stunt revealed the very worst aspects of his character, in my opinion.  I have always seen him as arrogant to a fault – I’ve been watching this guy ever since ESPN first told of his exploits as a high school basketball phenom in Ohio; his hubris, however, went up and beyond the exosphere when he and his cohorts sanctioned “The Decision,” which was, quite frankly, the most distasteful public ball washing of any celebrity, superstar athlete, or any other figure of prominence that I can ever remember.
  • All “The Decision” did was expose LeBron James’ as someone with a massively underfed ego.  Whatever illusions there were that he is a likeable person were destroyed in an hourlong special intended to enhance the LeBron James brand.  Whatever soul the person may have possessed was sacrificed to the altar of the pursuit of the almighty dollar, immolated beyond all redemption.
  • Jim Gray‘s role in “The Decision” proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he has absolutely no credibility as a journalist left in his entire being whatsoever.  As an aside, was there ever a time when Jim Gray was a good sports journalist?  As with Jeremy Schaap, I find his work and his style to be totally devoid of professionalism nor understanding for the principles of journalism (at least, the principles that I had been exposed to, to whatever degree, when I was in college).
  • Speaking of “The Decision,” why did it take almost eight minutes into the program proper (not counting the fluff intro piece with that insufferable talking head Stuart Scott and his cast of muppets, Chris Broussard, Jon Barry, and Michael Wilbon) before Jim Gray asked the one question anybody cared about?  Instead of increasing the drama, all it did was expose the entire episode as a horribly contrived, hopelessly narcisstic co-exploitive play by LeBron James (and the company of buffoons advising him) and ESPN.
  • ESPN has been nothing more than a promotional vehicle for certain chosen athletes, sports and organizations.  Where in their history they used to broadcast with professionalism and with a certain respect for the craft of journalism (where spreading truthful information was the aim), these days they resort to flash, spectacle, slant, and selectiveness when it comes to who they want to cover.  
  • If it ain’t flashy or trashy, it ain’t gonna make it on SportsCenter.  If it casts any of their sacred cows (such as Michael Jordan’s alleged gambling addiction or Ben Roethlisberger’s reputed penchant for sexual mischief, for example) in a negative light and is front-page, red-letter headline news on other sports-oriented media, it may not be on SportsCenter at all, unless the public outcry is enough to force ESPN to mention such incidents in passing.  
  • Do you think I’m the only one decrying ESPN’s descent into the abyss as a credible sports news agency?  See what The Rock Report has to say about “The Decision”:

“The Decision” was by far the most embarrassing example of how ESPN has turned away from the roots of sports journalism.  How does a simple:  “In this fall, this is very tough, in this fall I am going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.”  have to take a hour in the first place?

Now for some other sports-related thoughts from over the weekend:

  • Lance Armstrong had a disastrous Stage 8 – actually, a rather dreadful first week – in the Tour de France.  Stage 8 practically destroyed the cycling great’s drive for eight Tour victories.  Unless his major competitors (Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, Cadel Evans, etc.) all run into major catastrophies themselves, it’s virtually impossible for Lance to recover the time lost in various spots of terrible luck.  If you’ve missed Tour coverage on TV, or if you simply want THE BEST TdF writeups around, make sure you read the armchair sports fan‘s excellent recaps.
  • Spain won its very first FIFA World Cup.  Strangely, the entire tournament failed to inspire me, which is the first time it has ever happened.  I enjoy the World Cup, but I couldn’t find the motivation to watch this particular tournament.
  • Mark Webber won the British Grand Prix yesterday.  The victory came amidst a raging controversy within his Red Bull Racing team, where the Australian accused his team of favoring his German teammate, Sebastian Vettel.
  • Red Bull had only two of a special front wing and fitted one to each of its cars on Saturday.  The new front wing apparently was a small but noticeable enhancement to the Red Bull-Renaults.  The team’s problems started when Sebastian Vettel broke his new front wing during Free Practice 3, which immediately precedes Qualifying.  Instead of fitting one of the older front wings to his car, Red Bull instead pulls Webber’s from his, effectively dealing the Austrian a double whammy.  Not only did he lose a performance advantage, but that very same advantage was now being used directly against him.
  • I used to think of Mark Webber as being a bit overrated as a driver, with a touch of the hooligan thrown in.  What I mean by him being a bit of a hooligan is that sometimes Webber’s defensive tactics tend to be a bit risky.  Weaving while trying to stay in front of your rival is one thing; weaving AT your rival when he’s got part of his car next to yours is not what I would consider a legitimate tactic.  
  • But back to me thinking Webber was overrated:  I’m now ready to shed that tag that I hung on him.  His performances over the last two and a half seasons have convinced me that he has matured into one of Formula One’s current best.  He may not have absolute top-drawer driving talent like Lewis Hamilton does (or Sebastian Vettel, to a bit smaller extent), but he definitely has honed and sharpened his abilities to the max.  I think of him as a super-developed version of someone like Damon Hill or David Coulthard, although I feel that Webber does have a bit more natural ability than Hill did.  
  • I certainly have always appreciated Mark Webber’s no-BS approach to his racing.  He strikes me as someone absolutely honest and forthright, completely unafraid of speaking his mind and even sometimes doing so to the horror of his team and its backers.  He’s very much an old-school racer in this regard, a reminder of the great old days of Lauda and Keke Rosberg.
  • Final note:  Derek Fisher is returning to the Los Angeles Lakers.  As the great man himself said, “Let the hunt for six begin.”

29 June 2010 – More Post-GP of Europe 2010 Thoughts, Random Stuff

Posted in Auto Racing, Basketball, Cycling, Formula 1 by txtmstrjoe on 29/06/2010

Here are some more thoughts on last weekend’s GP of Europe:

  • Lewis Hamilton clearly passed the safety car which was deployed in response to Mark Webber’s crash with Heikki Kovalianen.  However, I do not subscribe to Fernando Alonso and Ferrari histrionic contention that it was a case of Hamilton cheating deliberately, and the FIA stewards in charge of the GP being unfair in doling out the drive-through penalty Hamilton served.
  • For one thing, despite Hamilton’s checkered history insofar as incurring the stewards’ attention in his career so far in F1, I can give him the benefit of the doubt in this particular incident.  When you consider that he’s got Alonso in close pursuit, probable radio calls from his pit crew in his ear, and the fact that the timing of the whole incident had him racing down the pit straight just as the safety car and medical vehicle were being deployed from the pit lane, that’s a large number of things to think about on top of actually keeping his McLaren under control under racing conditions.  That’s a lot of factors to calculate in your mind all happening concurrently, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed with so much information to think about.
  • There is no question there was a transgression, but I don’t agree with Alonso and Ferrari’s insistence that it was a deliberate attempt to cheat.  I think Hamilton got confused by all that information coming at him, hesitated for a few brief moments (he lifted on the pit straight, allowing the safety car to get in front of him in the first place), and made the mistake of passing the safety car after it had crossed the 2nd blend line.
  • What’s intriguing about this whole incident is that the FIA originally had been completely unaware that Hamilton had indeed committed a rules violation; the stewards in charge of the race only became aware of the incident because Fernando Alonso complained to his team bitterly about it, and Ferrari relayed the complaint to the stewards.  While I give Alonso full marks for his knowledge of the rules (all competitors should be similarly comprehensive in their knowledge of the regulations), I believe that he is nurturing an unhealthy obsession over Hamilton.  Either that, or Alonso is still nursing a very angry grudge against McLaren.  (I don’t believe Alonso would have been so bitter about the safety car overtaking incident if it involved another driver or team altogether.  I might be wrong, but you have to admit there are grounds for my beliefs.)
  • Perhaps this is only natural, since Hamilton is the only teammate Alonso has ever had who has proven to be a match for him.  The two were contentious teammates at McLaren in 2007, when Lewis Hamilton was an F1 rookie and Alonso a new recruit into the team.  Hamilton beat Alonso in an equal car, so perhaps Fernando fears Lewis as a rival.  Also, Alonso may still be angry with McLaren because the team did not cede to his wish to grant him a guaranteed #1 driver status, a condition that Alonso is used to having in most other teams for which he has driven.  McLaren has never subscribed to the practice of officially naming one of its drivers as a #1, making it team policy to allow them to race each other as hard as possible without jeopardizing the team’s chances at scoring the most championship points.  McLaren has always believed that the issue of which driver is “#1” is settled on the track; in other words, the more successful driver in the team becomes #1 by virtue of his performances and results, not because he is nominally granted that status before the races are run.
  • One more point against the idea that Hamilton deliberately cheated by passing the safety car:  Alonso and Ferrari are mystified by why they fell so back in the race order while “respecting the rules,” to paraphrase their statements, when Hamilton did not suffer too much of a penalty by “cheating” and passing the safety car.  I disagree with this viewpoint as well.  I think that Hamilton’s drive-through penalty lost him all opportunity at challenging Sebastian Vettel for the win; 2nd place was the maximum result he could get if Vettel finished the race sans problems.  Hamilton had a lot of performance in hand, in my opinion, as shown by his torrid run of laps after the FIA notified McLaren that Lewis was being investigated for passing the safety car.  He put the hammer down and created a big-enough cushion between himself and Kamui Kobayashi so that he wouldn’t get stuck behind the slower Japanese driver in the Sauber during his drive-through penalty.  Let’s now suppose that Webber didn’t have his spectacular somersaulting crash and the safety car had never been deployed:  I think that Hamilton was just biding his time, saving his tires so that he could attack harder and close the gap to Vettel as the tire stops came into play, thereby putting himself in position to challenge for the win.  Alonso, in contrast, was pushing hard just to stay in contact with Hamilton.  What I’m trying to say is that I think there is enough evidence to suggest that Hamilton was never going to finish behind Alonso anyway  unless he hit trouble (say, he had a bad pit stop, or made a mistake on the circuit, or got balked by traffic long enough to allow Alonso to close and stay in contact).  Whether Lewis was faster than Vettel was and could overtake, however, is another argument altogether.  It’s a moot point, regardless.
  • The last few races, Ferrari has been quite vociferous in their complaints against their fellow competitors, whether it’s against McLaren (a long-time enemy since it’s a successful team with a long history, just like Ferrari is) or against the backmarkers (the slower cars and teams who happen to all be new to the category).  Things aren’t going well in Maranello, but they don’t ever acknowledge the possibility that their car simply isn’t good enough to fight against the front-running Red Bulls and McLarens.  It’s always other people’s fault that Ferrari isn’t doing well, if you were to swallow everything the team tells you.
  • Last thing about Valencia:  I think that a large part of the problem is in the rules themselves.  For some incomprehensible reason, the FIA likes to write their rules in legal-speak, which means that even the simplest contingencies are governed by regulations that are needlessly complicated.  (Again, kudos to Fernando Alonso for his apparent mastery of the rule book.)  I very strongly believe that the FIA does this deliberately so that their rules can be subject to interpretation.  This is especially true in the technical regulations; apparently, even the apparently mundane regulations governing merging behind the safety car are more muddy than they are clear.  Insofar as how the cars line up behind the safety car is concerned, in the event that there is a mistaken overtake of the safety car (obviously, this is the first time the safety car had ever been overtaken in F1, so the rules governing this contingency had never been exercised prior to the European GP 2010), the driver who overtook the safety car would simply be instructed to allow the safety car to overtake him again as soon as possible, then take his rightful position behind it.  This is the most straightforward solution to this particular question, in my opinion.  It does not penalize honest mistakes, which is all Lewis Hamilton’s violation really was.

And now, some other non-F1 items:

  • Lakers fans like me are on pins and needles right now waiting for Phil Jackson’s decision to either return to the team and coach, or to finally retire.  In my selfish heart of hearts, I want Phil to come back since I believe he gives the Lakers their best chance to defend their title again next year.  A new coach coming in may have a good shot at performing reasonably well given the quality of the team’s core, but he is also handicapped by that same advantage.  The Lakers’ success depends much on positive chemistry given the egos and personalities of the players on the team, and I fear only Phil Jackson is the only coach around who can come up with the right mix of ego massaging, instruction, and strategic direction for this group.  If a new coach is needed, this will obviously disturb the equilibrium that Phil Jackson creates for this team, and this disturbance may be enough to send the whole house tumbling down on itself.
  • LeBron James’ arrogance is astounding.
  • As June ends and July begins, I’m getting quite excited for the Tour de France.  I feel this way every year in July.
  • In my opinion, the Tour de France is the single most difficult athletic challenge that exists.  Consider these facts:  1)  The race takes place over the better part of a whole month.  The peloton is out racing almost every day every summer in France.  2)  The Tour is unmistakably dangerous partly because of the tremendous variety of terrain that the peloton has to cover.  They race up and down mountains, they race on cobblestone streets, they sometimes have raced on roads so dusty and bumpy they seem like dirt tracks.  Riders have been killed in the Tour.  3)  It takes a great degree of coordination of teamwork to win a gigantic race like the Tour de France.  The team’s ace (most teams which are run well know which of their riders gives them the best chance to win the Tour, so everyone else in the team becomes a domestique in service to the ace) cannot win without his team’s support.  This means having superior tactics (primarily in where they position themselves in the peloton) as well as performing the best in the team time trials.
  • Anyone who tells you that the Tour de France is overrated as an athletic event, and that road race cycling is not a “real” sport, is a bloody ignorant idiot who has absolutely no clue about what he/she is talking about.  It is not just riding a bike.
  • In fact, the same is true for people who say car racing isn’t athletic either.  I’d love to see what these morons can do strapped into a real racing car.  Let’s see them set competitive lap times lap after lap, racing in traffic, without stuffing the car into the barrier or the wall or into another competitor.  It’s not just “driving a car.”

After all, when was the last time someone was killed playing on the PGA Tour?

Now golf:  THERE’S a “sport” whose status and credentials as an athletic event I seriously question…

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