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Posts Tagged ‘basketball’

Bad Call

August 4, 2014 | by

The growing redundancy of sports commentary.

James_Boyd_microphones_2

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 »

19 COMMENTS

2-0

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 »

3 COMMENTS

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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4 COMMENTS

On the Shelf

February 22, 2012 | by

P.G. Wodehouse.

A cultural news roundup.

  • R.I.P. Barney Rosset.
  • Judy Blume’s Oscar picks.
  • Paramount makes the Puzo Estate an offer it can refuse?
  • Surely you’re joking, Mr. McCarthy.
  • A site of one’s own.
  • A room for one’s books.
  • Wodehouse’s wartime legacy.
  • The Master Book of All Plots?
  • A truly beautiful library.
  • Forget Washington. Things to do for Wallace’s birthday.
  • “Fans trek across the country for the chance to see Wallace’s underlined paperbacks, his early drafts, his e-mails to tax experts. The staff has even received a request for a scan of Wallace’s handwriting, for use as a tattoo.”
  • He fought Wikipedia, and Wikipedia won.
  • Lin-ericks.
  • Lin-dles.
  • Lin(coln) Towers.
  • NO COMMENTS

    Baseball Leaves Me Cold

    December 3, 2010 | by

    I’m dating an athlete—more problematically, he’s a great watcher of sports. I was raised on football, so I have no problem screaming at the television with him when pass interference doesn't get called, but baseball and basketball leave me cold. Are there any good books on either sport—I do love a weepy sports narrative—that I could read to pique my interest? I’m tired of asking my boyfriend to explain the designated hitter to me—as, I’m sure, is he. —M. K.

    Dear M. K.,

    We at The Paris Review Daily—okay, I, Lorin—know diddly about sports. So we decided to ... um, bunt? Hand-off? Bring in a couple of pinch hitters? You get the idea: Your question has been referred to our two Paris Review Daily sports correspondents, Will Frears and Louisa Thomas.

    Thus Will:

    If she wants to understand her boyfriend and the pitiable nature of his condition, she should read A Fan’s Notes, by Frederick Exley, or Fever Pitch, by Nick Hornby.

    The really good baseball books are The Boys of Summer, by Roger Kahn; Ball Four, by Jim Bouton; and pretty much anything by Roger Angell. I can’t think of a good basketball book, but for the true weepy sports experience, watch Hoosiers.

    If the boyfriend is a soccer fan and she wants to dazzle him with her technical know-how, then Inverting the Pyramid, by Jonathan Wilson, is a must-read.

    And Louisa:

    Jim Bouton’s Ball Four won't explain the designated hitter, but it will tell you what “beaver-shooting” is, and it will make you laugh. Gay Talese’s “The Silent Season of a Hero” barely visits a ball field, but it will make you ache for Joe DiMaggio. If your boyfriend is a statshead, read Michael Lewis’s Moneyball to demystify sabermetrics. (Plus, it’s always satisfying to read a story in which the men in charge hadn’t a clue.) John McPhee’s A Sense of Where You Are, about Bill Bradley as a Princeton basketball player, is in awe of its subject, but so am I.

    To learn the rules, try Wikipedia.

    Have a question for The Paris Review? E-mail us.

    12 COMMENTS

    Letter from Cleveland

    July 8, 2010 | by

    Who am I to deny LeBron James a chance to move away?

    Photograph by Keith Allison.

    LeBron James is thinking. And Cleveland is worrying. At twenty-five, the two-time NBA MVP is the most admired, elaborately talented, and imaginative basketball player of this era. He is also, by an unfunny and indisputable margin, the most important Clevelander in memory, if not history. Harvey Pekar, Bob Hope, Paul Newman, and Drew Carey can fight it out for second place. Born in nearby Akron, he was preternaturally composed, having achieved crippling levels of notoriety before turning sixteen, generating the most unrealistic expectations in decades, and calmly proceeding to exceed them all. Ever since he signed a contract extension with the Cleveland Cavaliers four years ago, his fellow Clevelanders have dreaded July 1, 2010. This was the date that, seven years into a triumphant—though still championship-less—career, LeBron became the most coveted free agent in modern team sports.

    After a year or two of local consternation, a couple of months of over-thinking, and a full week of orgiastic, self-negating theorizing and maneuvering, the care-worn, hostage-taken people of Northeast Ohio know that LeBron plans to make his decision and announcement during an hour-long, live special on ESPN at nine o'clock this Thursday evening. We know because ESPN, whose band of specialist scrutinizers and hypothesizers have, at various points, overwhelmed Twitter's tube capacity in the last week, "broke" this story about their own network's broadcast, abetting LeBron’s unfortunate, hubristic tendencies. His fate will require a dedicated hour of live television.

    And since the final game of the shamefully frictionless eastern conference semifinals, when the Boston Celtics overwhelmed the Cavaliers, ESPN has helped ratify what all Clevelanders understand to be a fact: we lose. Most often, dramatically. There is a dazzling catalog of defeat engrained in the cringing lizard brain of every Northeast Ohio sports fan, and ESPN had the soul-puncturing, spirit-killing montage of upper-case humiliations1 cued up. Each anti-triumph represents a picturesque, late-game failure by a once-promising Cleveland pro team. We Clevelanders know them all by sickened heart. Read More »

    Annotations

    1. Quickly: The Catch (baseball: by Willie Mays against the Indians in the 1954 World Series); The Drive (football: referring to a late game drive by Denver's John Elway); The Fumble (committed by Ernest Byner of the Browns); The Shot (basketball, courtesy of Michael Jordan); The Date (1964, the last year a Cleveland team won a major championship of any kind, and the year of the Civil Rights Act). There is also a gnawing late-inning collapse in a Game 7 loss to the Florida Marlins in the 1997 World Series that does yet have a fun proper name.

    4 COMMENTS