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Posts Tagged ‘basketball’

Rhapsody on a Theme from Rip City, Part 1

November 16, 2015 | by

Our basketball columnist ventures to Portland.

The 1970–71 Portland Trail Blazers, in an NBA press photo.

In the beginning, also known as last week, I welcomed you to my ebullient but off-kilter basketball life. We were in Brooklyn, watching a Nets game—an unlikely place to begin, as a Manhattan resident and Knicks fan. Just as unlikely was the cross-country flight I took last week, bound for Portland, Oregon. I flew in on a Thursday morning because I wanted to see, finally, the Portland Trail Blazers play on their home court, known now as the Moda Center. I’m still going to call it by its glorious former moniker, the Rose Garden. It was an inevitable outcome: a beautiful name erased by an insurance company.

Once I knew the Blazers would be in Portland when I was, I didn’t hesitate to get tickets. Really good tickets. I yearned for that contact high I’d spent my entire life hearing happens in Portland. I’d tried Barclays Center—that sanitized, bank-named, eminent-domained, half-empty pod of steel Frank Gehry dreamed up for developers to drop in the middle of Brooklyn—but I never liked New Coke. I needed a shot of real basketball excitement. The Rose Garden would have spirit–a kind of saucy, sustained legacy that’s difficult to associate with today’s style of fandom. A strange potion runs through the basketball blood of Portland. It’s stayed hot from the days of games at the Memorial Coliseum, where the Blazers played from their inception in 1970 until 1995. On April 8, 1977, the Blazers beat the Phoenix Suns 122 to 111 in front of a sellout crowd and went on to enjoy another 813 consecutive sellouts, making theirs, until recently, the longest sellout streak ever by a major U.S. sports team. Six and a half years earlier, the Blazers had played their first-ever regular season game, a 115 to 112 win over Cleveland in front of only 4,273 fans. Read More »

Tonight: Rowan Ricardo Phillips at McNally Jackson

November 12, 2015 | by

Rowan Ricardo Phillips, award-winnig poet and basketball columnist.

New York: tonight at McNally Jackson, Rowan Ricardo Phillips will read his latest basketball column—so new, in fact, that I haven’t even seen it yet. (If you haven’t heard, Rowan is our new, and also first-ever, basketball columnist.) He appears tonight as part of the bookstore’s weekly variety show, with Michael Cunningham, Billy Hough, Alex Mar, Adam Sternbergh, and Michael Robbins there to cover any and all non-basketball-related portions of the evening. The event begins at seven tonight. If you’re not in New York, you can livestream it from McNally Jackson’s Web site.

Welcome to My Basketball Life

November 6, 2015 | by

Say hello to our new basketball columnist: Rowan Ricardo Phillips.

Nets v. Bulls.

Last Wednesday evening, after most of the autumn day had been washed away by rain, I found myself crossing Atlantic Avenue, in Brooklyn. A friend and I were heading to Barclays Center to see the Brooklyn Nets open their season against the Chicago Bulls, one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. In this day and age, being one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference doesn’t mean much; the powerhouse teams, with all due respect to LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers, are in the West. But a game between two Eastern Conference teams offers the opportunity to see competition in its purest form: that is, within a realm of easily exposed flaws and weaknesses. Seeing a team miss shot after shot isn’t my idea of a fun time, but watching teams divine their strengths from a forest of inadequacies—I prefer that to endless hours of free and easy swishing. And if that sounds crazy to you, think of how many people sing the praises of college basketball.

My friend, who went to college in Chicago, is a Bulls fan. You wouldn’t know it today from his cool demeanor, but once upon a time he was of those nineties-era Bulls fans, the ones who tormented New Yorkers by wearing his Bulls cap everywhere he went, saying little because little needed to be said. The Bulls almost always won, and almost always at the expense of the New York Knicks. But today it’s a struggle to imagine my friend in a cap at all, much less being invested enough in basketball to risk his well-being for a sartorial statement. In fact, I can only recall him mentioning basketball once in the past few years: when a Miami native insisted on referring to his beloved Superteam, with an evil tilt to his Jack Nicholson-esque eyebrows, as the Heatles. Then the look of the scrapper scoured my friend’s face and the side of his forehead trellised with veins before he laughed it off: “Yeah, the Heat are pretty good. We’ll see.” He’s from the Midwest. Read More »

Bad Call

August 4, 2014 | by

The growing redundancy of sports commentary.


Photo via Wikimedia Commons

You’re gonna have to learn your clichés. You’re gonna have to study them, you’re gonna have to know them. They’re your friends. Write this down: ‘We gotta play it one day at a time.’
Bull Durham

They smelled the jugular.
—Sportscaster Chris Berman, during the 2002 NFL playoffs

In 1945, George Orwell’s “The Sporting Spirit” appeared in the leftist weekly Tribune. The essay argued that large-scale athletic competition, rather than creating a “healthy rivalry” between opponents, is more likely to rouse humanity’s “savage passions.” Thus: “There cannot be much doubt that the whole thing is bound up with the rise of nationalism—that is, with the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige.”

To a contemporary reader, Orwell’s assessment of the “sporting spirit” may feel exaggerated, if not slightly paranoid. Then again, in an age of rampant merchandising, zealous fandom feels more pervasive than ever. Not long ago, riding the subway, I saw an infant with a San Francisco 49ers pacifier; in the same car, there was a man wearing an Ohio State football sweater bearing the laconic slogan, “Fuck Michigan.” What Orwell might have thought of such displays of allegiance is anyone’s guess.

But what he would find troublesome is sports culture’s continued abasement of the English language. Professional sports jargon has become so vacuous that TV interviews with athletes are increasingly farcical—and tremendously boring. An interview with LeBron James, after a botched play at the end of a quarter:

INTERVIEWER: Lebron, what happened with you and Norris on that inbounds pass?
JAMES: We didn’t execute.
INTERVIEWER: You were talking to him as you guys walked off the floor. What did you say?
JAMES: That we need to execute better.

Perhaps such vagueness is intentional: if LeBron James had, in fact, just told his teammate that if he makes the same mistake again he’s going to rip his face off, he’d be disinclined to share it with a national audience. For similar reasons, a coach interviewed at halftime isn’t going to be too forthcoming when asked to reveal his strategy for the remainder of the game: “Well, Chris, we’ve just gotta keep pressuring their quarterback and not make any unnecessary mistakes.” Read More »



December 19, 2012 | by

The most common score in basketball is 2-0. It tends to be the point of departure from which thousands upon thousands upon thousands of basketball games subsequently differentiate themselves. Yes, of course the game can break its goose eggs with a three-pointer from behind the line, or the enduring “and one” basket and free throw, or it can begin with one of two free throws made after a personal or technical foul. 1-0, 3-0: as far as basketball scores go these are baroque figures: one bland, one grand. But 2-0. One basket made inside the arc with no response yet from the other team. It’s the primordial moment of the game in motion. The opening bell. The icebreaker.

Twenty seconds into last night’s game in Madison Square Garden, when Raymond Felton dribbled hard to his left, flattened out from the left elbow of the lane, dropped his shoulder as though heading full-steam on an angle toward the hoop, and then, instead, took a sudden step backward, elevated, and rattled in a fifteen-foot jump shot, the New York Knicks led the Houston Rockets by the pristine score of 2-0. The crowd cheered. I watched and couldn’t help but wonder: Would tonight be Felton’s night? I have trouble recalling another ballplayer with Felton’s knack for being both mercurial and dependable always and at the same time. He can shoot you out of a game you have no business losing. He can shoot you to a victory against the best competition. Yet, as strange as this must now sound, he basically plays the same game every game. He always looks to run the offense. And he rarely turns the ball over (a trait he should get far more credit for). Read More »


Staff Picks: Monkey Minds, the Singing Butler, and Rum Cookies

June 22, 2012 | by

Last night Daniel Smith taught me the word anxiolytics. It means “anxiety reducers.” (Dan is the author of Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety, so he should know.) His favorite nonchemical anxiolytic is Singin’ in the Rain. Mine, for now, is “Jesus Dropped the Charges,” by the O’Neal Twins. —Lorin Stein

The 1935 Silly Symphony cartoon “Cookie Carnival” raises so many questions, but most pressing: What is a rum cookie? The highly enlightening Wikipedia article informs us that the animated short, in which various varieties of baked good compete for the title of Cookie Queen, is a take on the Atlantic City bathing-beauty contests of the day, precursors to Miss America pageants. (Incidentally, the gingerbread hobo is voiced by the same actor who immortalized Goofy.) As a friend of mine commented, “Misses Licorice and Coconut were robbed.” And it’s true: Sugar Cookie’s easy victory (after she dons a blonde taffy wig, that is) is a testament to how little standards of beauty have changed, however much baked goods have. —Sadie Stein

Leanne Shapton’s Swimming Studies, which comes out in early July, needs to be on everyone’s bookshelf this summer. Or, more fittingly, in the pool house. And the latest Vanity Fair has a fun article about the origins of that hideously romantic painting The Singing Butler, which I’m sure you’ll recognize once you see it. —Thessaly La Force

Helpless,” by Poindexter. I heard this song playing in a store downtown and was convinced it was a new track by French electro band Phoenix. Poindexter gets it right with well-placed cymbal crashes and the type of moody synth that sound tracks an eighties teenage tryst on a foggy night. You can buy “Helpless” off fashion’s jack of all trades (Kitsune) album Kitsune America. SO DO IT. —Noah Wunsch

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