Joe-Pinions: Sports

30 Dec 2010 – A Mixed Bag

Posted in Uncategorized by txtmstrjoe on 31/12/2010

So here we are, almost at the end of another calendar year.  Almost by instinct, I find myself reflecting on the year nearly done, sorting the good from the not-so-good and the outright bad and horrible.

2010 has been a difficult year, by most measures.  But since this blog’s scope is limited to my thoughts and feelings about sports, I’ll limit the discourse to just my sporting year 2010.

Don’t get me wrong; there have been a few high spots in 2010.  Chief of these is the Los Angeles Lakers‘ winning their 16th NBA Championship, which puts them just one title short of tying the hated Boston Celtics for the NBA’s all-time lead in titles won.

Perhaps the 16th title was especially sweet since it came at the expense of those very same hated Celtics.  The Lakers outlasted the men in green in a Finals series that went the full seven games; they overcame a thirteen point deficit in the second half of the final game to pull the memorable victory from the jaws of yet another collapse against the Celtics.

I’ve said to friends that I have no real interest in attending a Lakers championship parade, but the one exception that I will make is when the Lakers finally overtake the Celtics in the all-time list of championships won.  As things stand now, they are two titles away.  I hope the Celtics never become powerful enough to increase the gap again.

But the Lakers’ sixteenth title was probably the brightest spot of 2010.  Most other sporting events in 2010 left me less than happy.

For example, the Tour de France was less than satisfying to me.  Alberto Contador won his third Tour, but his conflicts with erstwhile teammate Lance Armstrong last year made him a lot more difficult to cheer for.  Andy Schleck proved to be an admirable foil, but Chain-gate and post-Tour doping scandals soured me so much on the sport.  Its grand champions have traditionally always been figures worthy of admiration, but Contador’s strong Macchiavellian streak strongly discouraged me from giving him the respect and esteem past champions have always deserved without reservation.

In Formula One, the 2010 season was spectacular, with five bona fide Drivers’ World Championship contenders.  At the end of the marathon chase for top honors, German Sebastian Vettel won his first career world title, thus becoming the sport’s youngest-ever champion.  He beat out his Red Bull Racing teammate Mark Webber (from Australia), Ferrari team leader and two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso (from Spain), and the McLaren British dual-champion lineup of Lewis Hamilton (2008 F1 Champion) and Jenson Button (2009 F1 Champion).

I’ve long been a McLaren fan (ever since the early 1980s, in fact, when John Watson and Niki Lauda were the team’s drivers), so of course I had hoped for either Lewis Hamilton or Jenson Button to claim the champion’s crown at the end of the year.  But clearly the MP4-25 was not as quick as the Red Bull’s RB6; nor was it as consistently reliable as Alonso’s Ferrari F10.  To see neither Hamilton nor Button mount a strong-enough challenge left me a bit disappointed.

Amongst Vettel, Webber, and Alonso, Webber was my favorite.  I used to dislike Webber because he tended to indulge in the Ayrton Senna/Michael Schumacher-style of “defensive driving,” which frequently entailed veering towards any opponent attempting an overtake against him.  I intensely dislike this kind of driving, especially in open-wheeled racing cars; I’ve seen too many instances where drivers get hurt (or even killed — look for Jeff Krosnoff‘s devastating and lethal crash in Toronto in 1996 on YouTube, and you’ll see what I mean) when drivers indulge in such dangerous behavior.  But Webber transformed himself last year into a more mature driver, one no longer so eager to drive into his rivals when they have the momentum and the line to overtake him.

Mark Webber this year was largely a very polished and heady driver; he wasn’t as quick as Vettel, but nor was he prone to making gigantic mistakes as often as the very quick and young German.  In fact, I can recall only two big Webber errors:  His spectacular Valencia somersault after hitting Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus, and his spin and crash in Korea.  His Korean mishap took him out of the Championship lead, and he never recovered.

Alonso proved he was still a formidable contender for championship honors after a couple of years in the wilderness at Renault, but he did his reputation no favors either with his petulant behavior in Hockenheim, which plunged Formula One back into the morass of arguments regarding the legality of team orders in the sport.  This was probably the single most annoying issue in F1 for me this year, and it was a stark reminder of why 1) I now hate Ferrari so passionately, and 2) why I hate Michael Schumacher so passionately.  (If you want a little bit of perspective and background for such a passionate outburst against Ferrari and Schumacher, see here and here.)

I have nothing against Vettel, except that perhaps he is still immature and incomplete as a Grand Prix champion.  He is undoubtedly one of F1’s quickest drivers (I think only Hamilton is close), but he hasn’t learned how to temper his speed with the guile and control of the sport’s greatest champions (Hamilton has improved in this regard, though he isn’t close to reaching his potential either).  I suppose I backed Webber more because he is older (i.e., he won’t have another shot at the title, in my opinion), and his transformation into a polished, crafty, and complete Grand Prix driver (he had enough basic speed) was something I personally enjoyed.

Going back to professional basketball for a moment, though I enjoyed the Lakers winning their sixteenth championship, LeBron James’ shameless shenanigans in the height of summer was a stark reminder that there is a lot wrong in American professional sports.  LeBron and ESPN’s unholy love child, “The Decision,” was nothing more than a display and demonstration of arrogance and vanity unchecked.

I don’t care about James’ decision to leave Cleveland, as that is his right.  What disgusted me was the crass and obvious cultivation of attention in his manner of doing so, showing as it did his pathologically malnourished ego.  The methods of his madness are what I found repugnant.

As bad as James’ display of arrogance and vanity and ego deficiency was, though, it was not the worst thing about my sporting year of 2010.  By far the worst thing from 2010 was the San Francisco 49ers’ continued flight down the path of self-destruction and irrelevance.

I’ve been a 49ers fan for a couple of decades now.  For the most part, the last decade has been filled with nothing but disappointment and mediocrity.  Ever since the Niners got rid first of Steve Mariucci (the last head coach who actually knew what he was doing), then Jeff Garcia, the 49ers have been giving me nothing but heartache every year.

2010 promised to be the year that the team made their long return from the wilderness.  They went 8-8 last year in Mike Singletary’s first full season as the head coach, and the team looked ready to take further steps forward.  They teased the 49er Faithful with an undefeated preseason; pundits everywhere cited that the team finally looked to have a good-enough roster after several years with mediocre players and predicted that this combined with Singletary’s leadership was enough for the team to take the NFC West.  Admittedly, the NFC West was a weak division, with major changes affecting all the other teams (Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, and St. Louis Rams); nevertheless, someone had to win and clinch the automatic playoff berth, and this was good enough for the 49ers and their fans.

What happened instead was an alarming five consecutive losses to open the season, punctuated by very sloppy play with plenty of mental mistakes and penalties on the field, poor play by the offensive line, and internal strife.  Very quickly, the 49ers were exposed to be a paper tiger at best with absolutely no hopes at all on offense, largely because of what apparently was said to be Mike Singletary’s complete underestimation of the requirements of running a modern NFL-standard offensive attack.  Erstwhile offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye was fired after the third game, but things scarcely improved under his replacement Mike Johnson.

The 49ers’ woes on offense were most clearly seen in the play of the quarterbacks.  Alex Smith, the 2005 top draft choice, caught much of the criticism; in his defense, I would venture to say that any player (but especially quarterbacks) will suffer in the NFL if he doesn’t have adequate coaching.  Whatever the case, quarterback play, once an area where the 49ers were absolutely the class in the entire football world, was in a very sorry state.

Truly, nothing has hurt me more (yes, I mean that literally; it really has hurt, emotionally) than to see my favorite football team continue down the path of mediocrity.  In 201o, the Niners just crushed my soul.

Even my dad has noticed how badly I’ve hurt this year, even telling me the other evening that perhaps the time has come for me to love another team.

I guess that’s what happens when you really love sports, and you love the teams and players that you do.

I hope 2011 will bring more joy than tears as far as sports are concerned.

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10 Aug 2010 – Quickie Status Update

Posted in Uncategorized by txtmstrjoe on 10/08/2010

Just a quick status update:

Been stupidly busy lately, especially at work.  I often can spare enough mental energy whilst in the office thinking about the next posts here.  But lately that has been more challenging than usual due to the dramatic increase in my workload.

So, an apology for the massive slow-down in my output in this blog.

Trust, though, dear readers, that I’ve not been idle.  I’m in the middle of drafting the last two parts of the F1 Drivers’ Mid-Season Review.  It’s already a few weeks late, but I’m sure it’ll all be done in about a week’s time.

Honestly, it’s a great exercise to churn these big F1-related entries, as F1 is one of my favorite sports.  As the American autumn approaches, though, I’ll devote more time and energy to both football (not soccer, just to clarify) and basketball.

I wish I could muster a similar enthusiasm for baseball, but the truth is it’s quite difficult since the team I like best (the Oakland A’s, though I have a very healthy respect and regard for Mike Scioscia and his Angels) is having yet another miserable year.  This largely explains my indifference for the MLB this year.

Be patient, dear readers.  Your humble scribe needs to catch his breath a bit, then it’s back to the grindstone.

12 July 2010 – Last Comment of Derision over “The Decision” (hopefully?)

Posted in Uncategorized by txtmstrjoe on 12/07/2010

I just wanted to share what Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone has to say about “The Decision.”

Please follow this link to Mr. Taibbi’s “The Five Funniest Things About the ‘LeBron James:  Global Superdouche’ Broadcast.”

Here are a few awesome nuggets from his piece:

The first two paragraphs are golden:

“The Decision” was simultaneously the most painful and most hilarious television show I’ve seen in a long time. Its entertainment value rested almost entirely in its scope — the same way a person goes to the Niagara Falls or to the Grand Canyon for that take-your-breath-away moment when the heretofore unimaginable vastness of the vista is first perceived, I watched “The Decision” in breathless awe of the sheer scale of the narcissism involved.

By any measure it was a landmark moment in the history of human self-involvement, eclipsing previous peaks in the narcissism Himalayas (Nero’s impromptu fiddle concert as Rome burned, the career of the prophet Mohammed, Kim Jong Il publishing “The Popularity of Kim Jong Il”) mainly because it was a collective effort. You can understand the citizens of Tsaritsyn cheering the decision to rename their city; if they didn’t like “Stalingrad,” they were getting lined up and shot.

Here is a very sobering yet salient part of his commentary (obviously, I agree with this particular point, which is precisely why I’ve highlighted it):

I’m sure there’s a larger point to make in all of this about how the insane pathology behind the LeBron spectacle (read: a co-dependent need to worship insatiable media-attention hogs gone far off the rails of self-awareness) is what ultimately is going to destroy this country and leave us governed for all time by dingbat megalomaniacs like Sarah Palin.

Then Mr. Taibbi gives us his five reasons.  Each one is not so much “funny” in a humorous sense, but more so in the “painfully funny” sort of way.  To paraphrase,

  1. Instead of dedicating more time to promoting the Boys and Girls Club, the beneficiary of a mere percentage (I hear as little as 20%!) of the ad revenue generated by the one-hour special, LeBron James NEVER mentions the charity.  “The Decision” is all about LeBron.  Selfish, arrogant, misguided fool, yep.
  2. ESPN is a propaganda machine, complete with grammar check and transcript correction.
  3. Jim Gray.  ‘nuf said.  Worst.Most.Overrated.Piece.Of.Trash.Excuse.For.A.Journalist.EVER.
  4. LeBron James is asked a semi-interesting question, hedges, then most likely lies with his answer.  (And what does Gray do?  Absolutely nothing of merit.)
  5. “The Decision” stands as People’s Exhibit 90,909,349,839,483,948,394,839,483,948,439,829,348,320,984 on why “Reality TV” is part of what is systematically destroying society as we used to know it.  It’s a huge problem when we don’t know what is real and what isn’t real.  In other words, it’s a transparent attempt at a mind-fuck, even if some of the agents doing the mind-fucking don’t even know what they’re doing anymore.

Some of you may think I’m obsessed over this LeBron James crap, and perhaps you might be right.  I don’t know about you, though, but I really get disgusted when I find out that someone’s trying to pull the wool over my eyes.  You know why?  It’s an indication of a basic lack of respect.  The people engaged and invested in the business of slinging bullshit and lies care only about themselves and their interests; people who work with them and for them with a full awareness of the evil that they’re doing (Jim Gray pitched “The Decision” to LeBron’s team of buffoons, and they in turn pitched the idea to ESPN) are nothing but shills and whores only interested in lining their pockets (Jim Gray has no credibility whatsoever, in my opinion, when he claims he’s getting no compensation for his role in “The Decision.”  Don’t believe that crap, or anything else he has to say).

If you care at all about why it’s important to recognize “The Decision” as the most cynical mind-fuck that has ever happened in sports insofar as I’m concerned, please give Mr. Taibbi’s comments a good, critical look.  If nothing else, that’s what we all need to do with everything, really.

We really all need to learn how to be more critical.

28 June 2010 – Welcome!

Posted in Uncategorized by txtmstrjoe on 28/06/2010

Welcome to Joe-Pinions:  Sports, a blog that will be purely about sports!

First, a little introduction:  I’m a HUGE sports fan.  I enjoy an eclectic list of sports, including:

These are just the sports and events that come easiest to mind.

Of course, as a sports fan, I have my favorite athletes, teams, and organizations as well.  I even have favorite sports writers!  Here is a short list of some of those favorites:

Who are YOUR favorites, whether they are athletes, coaches, sports teams, or whatever else?  What are YOUR favorite sports?

I hope this will be the first of many posts to this, my very first blog dedicated entirely to sports!  And I hope that you’ll be part of this journey I will be taking.

I look forward to going places with everyone!

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