Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Not all that fun

As pumped up as everyone was for the NBA Playoffs this year, so far it has been more sad than happy. The number of "bad" stories has far outweighed the good stories and great games. And though I didn't watch a second of the Spurs-Suns series, I do at least know if it over now. The new parlor game here in Arizona will be "D'Antoni: Keep or Fire?" I think that both he and Avery Johnson and George Karl may soon be looking for new work. And if the Celtics can't get rid of the pesky Hawks, Doc Rivers may be joining them.
I guess my point was that when the playoffs started, no one expected that we would be talking more about bad than good. If the Spurs meet the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, that would be something to behold. And the Wiz-Cavs series has been exciting in a sort of "too frightening to look away" sense. But despite all that, I can't help but feeling that at a time when basketball should be synonymous with joy, for me, some of the great things I loved are coming to an end. I came to Arizona the same summer that Nash was signed, and they have been great years. However, it feels like they are over. It seems that Nash has bad games more often than I remember and the Suns still struggle with the same problems. A Shaq-sized Band-Aid hasn't changed that. And while pundits will continue to pontificate about how the Suns' model could never actually work, I'll remember the joy of watching them at their best - even if it often was during the regular season. Arguing for process over result is often the crutch that the unsuccessful cling to after their most recent failure and I think the Suns are the poster children for such (ir)rationalizations. But for me, I don't mind. In some ways, I perversely hope that the Suns fire D'Antoni and Nash retires and Phoenix Suns 2004-2008 can fade away as a memory only for those who witnessed it. As I've had less time to watch and less energy to care, I've realized I'm ready to move on. I'll remember the Nash-led Suns by what they actually achieved - not by what they could not achieve. I fear that few others will choose to remember them this way, but history is written by the victors. I see this Spurs' near-sweep as the end of a dynasty based on almost - a dynasty that never was - a dynasty that couldn't get over the hump. For most fans, I think mediocrity might be preferable to such a situation. But you won't hear that from me. I thought the Suns' inability to ever take that final stride rings true with my all-too-human failings. People don't watch sports to remind themselves of their own foibles, but I do. And it might be better if more people did.

Note: This is stream-of-consciousness while trying to digest some chocolate cake and a defeat by a loathsome enemy. Sorry if it doesn't make sense.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Out for a Spin

I downloaded the new Tapes 'n Tapes this morning off the eMusic (thanks for the nth time to Keith and Shaleah) and banged it back and forth on the commute. I'm definitely liking it because it capitalizes on what was great about The Loon but has some new things here and there. I liked the single Hang Them All (and, by the way, I agree with the sentiment) as well as Conquest and Lines. I need to give it some more listens before I know how I feel for sure, but I just want to say that it is quite awesome to be able to listen to music without ever doing anything more than one's regular routine. I am always thrilled that I happened to be born in the future.

I'm also excited to download the new Colin Meloy live record which has him singing Decemberists songs without any backing other than his own acoustic guitar playing. I would have already gotten it, but I don't have enough downloads because this month eMusic uploaded a ton of old Rolling Stones tracks, so I had to get some of those.

I've been listening to Let It Bleed over the last few days. Gimme Shelter is a heck of a tune as is You Can't Always Get What You Want. I especially enjoy the choir on YCAGWYW that ushers in the song. The Stones were definitely creative musically, but they definitely could rock as well. Country Honk and You Got the Silver are also excellent on that record.

I've also recently listened to the first single from the forthcoming Death Cab for Cutie album. I like it - although you wonder about an 8-minute single that has no lyrics for the first 5 minutes. Maybe they are trying to drive their new label crazy. Anyway, if you haven't heard it and want to - it is right here.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

JVG is my MVP

The excellence of Jeff Van Gundy as an NBA commentator has been bandied on the Interwebs for awhile now, but I feel like I have to add my two pennies. So here it is, an ode to JVG:

As a younger lad but still a hardcore NBA fan, I loathed Jeff Van Gundy. I loathed his baldness. I loathed the fact that he coached a loathsome team, the New York Knicks. I loathed the fact that he once fought a fierce battle with Alonzo Mourning's lower leg. I loathed the fact that he never seemed to get any sleep even though his only job was to bark orders at adult men wearing shorts. But, yea verily I was wrong. JVG is not loathsome - he's lovable.

As an announcer, JVG is the perfect antidote to all of the other announcers I am subjected to. I don't know if listening to Billy Packer Saturday night brought this on, but I wanted to praise Van Gundy because he is one of the few announcers who doesn't cause me to yell at the TV for no reason (Kat sometimes gets worried). I'm forced to watch sports regularly on mute because I can't stand the inanity, but hearing JVG once a week is a dose of sanity (that's the only romantic couplet I'll offer in this post).

Here is why Van Gundy is good: he takes the game seriously - knows stuff that only insiders know - isn't afraid to criticize the officials - doesn't rely on the same tired explanations for why things happen (see Billy Packer and players getting tired even though there are about three timeouts every five minutes in the NCAA Tournament) - has a great sense of humor - actually pays attention to things that don't have to do with basketball - doesn't resort to catchphrases - tends to reduce the amount of nonsense Mark Jackson spews - and truly loves the game.

Today during the Suns game, which contained three good quarters by the Suns and 12 of the most putrid minutes since Dr. Naismith hung a peach basket, the cameras panned the crowd and found Kevin Costner (Phoenix: Like LA, but with has-beens!), and then Van Gundy commenced on a 45-second encomium to "For the Love of the Game." I don't know if I saw that movie, but to hear Van Gundy tell it made it sound like The Natural meets Annie Hall. Normally, that sort of off-topic yammering would drive me insane, but with Van Gundy, I actually like it. It's amazing what being likable can do.

Bonus JVG stories: he once had his car destroyed when it was parked on the tarmac to meet the team plane. The car was too close to the landing strip, so when the plane flew over, the force flipped the car into the air. The beauty of the story was that even as the coach of the Knicks, Van Gundy was still driving a 1995 Honda Civic. And, he said he would not have minded, except it was a great car and the Knicks were flying home from a game they had lost.

I also recall him once getting into an extended debate with another commentator over the winning percentage for NFL teams that received the kickoff in overtime. JVG was adamant it was at 50 percent, while the other commentator said it was much higher. Here is the proof. In fact, only 28 percent of NFL games end on the first possession of overtime.

Also, this season during the Rockets' 22-game winning streak, Van Gundy was constantly faced with the fact that the team he coached was better off without him. But where other people would be unable to even speak about such a thing, Van Gundy was always self-deprecating and comfortable with the jokes.

Lastly, his heart is full. Read that link. I urge you. I have no idea what it means, but it's gold.

But more than anything else with Van Gundy is that he isn't afraid to talk X's and O's and give real fans something to actually listen for. While he probably belongs in the NBA as a coach, I sincerely hope that he stays on the sidelines for awhile longer. In an era when every member of the media has to have a shtick (did you hear, Craig Sager wears loud suits?), Van Gundy is just being himself and giving real fans what they crave: NBA basketball with intelligence and wit.

I realize this may sound like Brokeback Basketball, but I like so little of what I hear about the game that I can't help it. I have been on occasion accused of "hateration," so I take this opportunity to praise JVG. May he commentate forever!