At the time of this article two teams who were thought to be prime candidates for tanking, Philadelphia and Phoenix, are 3-0 and 2-1 respectively. The Sixers can boast of wins agains the the Heat and Bulls while the Suns’ lone loss came to Oklahoma City in their home opener and on a night Russell Westbrook made his return. Despite this, they still played OKC tough, having been down only 2 in the final minute. Of the other potential tanking contenders, Utah, Milwaukee, Boston and Charlotte have all gone on the record to vehemently denounce the tactic.

This should all come as welcome news to NBA fans.

The most overstated storyline of the upcoming season has been tanking. A draft that is loaded with talent is the incentive for purposefully not playing up to the best of a team’s capabilities. At the surface level, it makes sense – play bad now in order to get better for the future. But the lingering narrative is not entirely accurate, nor is it what we should want the game to become.

What makes a good franchise is still determined by how well a team is run, top down, from owners, to management, to coaches, to players. That will never change. The notion that a team can tank their way to a high lottery pick, secure a potential superstar and have their fortune forever changed for the positive is an incredibly simplistic and embellished argument that runs contrary to what actually happens. Ask perennial lottery mainstays Charlotte, Sacramento and Washington how well being in the lottery year after year has worked for them.

Even the Clippers’ fate did not change with multiple lottery selections; it changed with the acquisition of Chris Paul and owner Donald Sterling finally taking a backseat and allowing basketball people to make basketball decisions.

And for a team like the Thunder, who built their success through the lottery, nobody has accused them of tanking to get there. They were lucky Portland was still enamored with going big in order to get Kevin Durant, and the selections of Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden earned GM Sam Presti and Thunder management a reputation as being one of the best in the NBA. Very few had Westbrook going as high as his fourth overall selection, not to mention changing him to a point guard. Ibaka was picked 24th overall where few players manage to etch out a solid career. And how many envisioned Harden to be as good as he is? The irony is that the Thunder were a victim of their own drafting prowess as they were unable to pay all their star selections their worth, leaving them to deal Harden to Houston.

There are a lot of problems with tanking. First, you have to lose a lot of games, and you might not be the only team tanking, thereby having to compete for the worst record in the league. You run the risk of becoming perpetual losers and alienating a fan base, your own players and potential free agents. And let’s say you do secure the worst record, this only guarantees you a 25% chance of picking first.

Boston found this out the hard way. In 1997 Tim Duncan was the prize of the draft and a reason to lose. Ten years later Greg Oden and Kevin Durant were the incentives for being horrible. The best they could manage was the third and fifth pick. Now, it’s worth noting that they parlayed their fifth pick along with other assets in 2007 for Ray Allen, and, on an unrelated deal, picked up Kevin Garnett about a month later to bolster a team that won a championship in 2008. Yet the point remains, their plethora of losses did not help them to a top pick. What turned them around was good decision making by their brass.

And even if you get the coveted top pick of the draft, there is no assurance that translates into championships. Since 1985, the year the NBA implemented a lottery system for the draft, only two players have been selected first overall and have gone on to win championships for the team that drafted them – David Robinson and Tim Duncan, both for the San Antonio Spurs, one of the most respected organizations in the league.

One might argue the Cleveland Cavaliers tank job in the 2002-2003 season was a success since it netted them Lebron James in the subsequent draft. However, one could just as easily counter argue his departure to the Heat and the ire it caused nullifies any notion that it ended successfully for the Cavaliers as they retreated back to where the they started, the depths of the lottery.

If you analyze that Cavaliers team, you see their tanking was a management decision. They made a conscious effort to stock their roster with a team that was certain to lose. When Ricky Davis is your best player, you know you’re in for a losing season. No amount of coaching or effort can resurrect that team.

This brings us to an important distinction about tanking: Tanking is often thought of as losing on purpose – either the players don’t play hard or the coach is purposely making decisions that cost his team victories. This is often held in a more negative light than what is called rebuilding. Did the Cavaliers tank, or were they just rebuilding?

I’m more inclined to call it tanking. They wanted to be bad. They did so with a team they knew would lose. Their plan was to go all in on Lebron James, and they got lucky. That seemed to be their only plan. But what does rebuilding look like?

Take this year’s Utah Jazz team for example. Many expect them to be bad this year, but it comes with a caveat – their future looks promising. They have a solid young core in Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Trey Burke. GM Dennis Lindsey also has a plan in place – multiple first round picks in upcoming drafts, ample cap space and a developing young roster. This is the difference. They have options. They are not going all in on one scenario. And as stated before, they are on the record saying they will compete every night while readily acknowledging their youthful team may take some lumps along the way. It’s all part of development. They are not alone. The Suns, the 76ers and perhaps others have similar plans in place to improve their fortune.

This, of course, is a good thing for the NBA and its fans. It can’t become a league where purposely losing is legitimate strategy. Nor can it be talked about as the only strategy for young teams who are likely to be bad. There is a difference between tanking and rebuilding. One is a sound strategy, the other is not.

The NFL and its owners win again. They always win.

This seemed to be the consensus two weeks ago when the NFL settlement was announced. In fact, it seems to be the sentiment a lot of the times when there is talk of the league. And yet this past weekend millions tuned for the opening week, and they will continue to tune in for the rest of the season and beyond, seemingly undeterred by any gripes they have. We can’t live without them. We are a nation hooked on football. The anger and cynicism directed at them is a little like getting pissed off at your dealer. They supply our addiction, we give them billions of dollars of support, and we still love to hate them. There seems to be a disconnect here.

No doubt the NFL made mistakes in their handling of the lawsuit. Perhaps they tried to conceal information about the severity and effects of injuries that occur in football. And maybe a lot their response was more to protect their bottom-line than their players. It is a business after all, and you can’t really expect the NFL to ascribe to a higher standard than other businesses.

But when so much of the commentary is so overly one-sided against the NFL, I think it’s important to consider some other factors.

No one would ever suggest this sport is without its dangers. People have known this well before recent insight has exposed the lasting cognitive dangers players face.  There’s a certain level of risk every player consents to just by playing this game. Injuries are interwoven in the very fabric of the sport. Each player that signs an NFL contract is effectively signing a waiver form acknowledging those dangers. This is not to say they should be disregarded in the case of injury or even death; it’s just a part of the game. It’s a dangerous sport they have signed up for.

Indeed, there are countless stories of players experiencing an injury and demanding to be put back in the game. In the case of head injures, you could argue that they’re not in their right mind to make such decisions. But the fact remains many players often mask injuries, play hurt and demand to go back in. For many, the game is all these players know. It’s their livelihood, their profession and the means to provide for their family. They develop a mentality of doing whatever it takes. They don’t want to be told they can’t play.

In a recent episode of Hard Knocks, Marvin Jones had his bell rung in practice. When told his symptoms meant he was done for the day, he pleaded with the athletic trainer to stay in the game. As Yahoo notes, the scene shows the difficulty in getting players to accept the new concussion policies even if it’s for their own good. And a 2009 AP report indicated many players conceal head injuries for fear of losing their spot on the team or being viewed as weak.

When the NFL has tried to curtail the number of violent hits and the subsequent damage these hits cause through various rule changes, it has been met with considerable backlash by both fans and players alike. Players have grown accustomed to playing a certain way, and they don’t want the NFL changing that. And neither do many of the game’s fans.

The cynics are quick to argue the only reason they implemented such rule changes was to protect their own ass, not player safety. They argue the rules are inconsistent and not evenly enforced across different facets of the game.

I don’t disagree completely, but I will say this: Perhaps the NFL was looking to protect themselves from future lawsuits and drawn out litigation, yet I find it hard to believe they sincerely don’t care about the players’ safety at all. If we want to put it in business terms, the players are their product, their means to making a lot of money, and a businessman usually wants to protect that.

In regards to inconsistencies in the rules, this should be viewed as ongoing process. It won’t be perfect the first time around. Tweaks to the rules over the coming years will help sort that out. That’s one thing I’ve admired about the league – they have shown a willingness to alter the rules if they see fit.  More research and a better understanding of the lasting injuries players face will shed light on how to better manage the game. Just as the game has evolved, so too will the rules, guidelines and the ability to control the game and protect players.

And the bottom line is that if the rules work to ensure the safety of the players, that has to be considered a good thing. You can question their motives, as I sometimes do. You can question their handling of the events that led us here. But what shouldn’t be questioned are the results. If they help, and I believe they do, then that is what matters most.

The other issue is whether the settlement is enough. Honestly, I would never to pretend to know the full answer to that question. I hope the former players who have suffered because of their dedication to their craft get what they deserve. But I do know those players are getting $765 million more than they did. They’re getting it now instead of years from now, like many people had suspected. And I know that the NCAA, another organization that has been supplying our football habit, has largely avoided many of the same criticisms targeting the NFL and they are not responsible for paying out any of its former athletes that may have developed cognitive damage under their watch.

And I know that many of the NFL’s harshest critics are its biggest fans. Will diehard fans ever stop watching because of the way they handled this lawsuit? I highly doubt it. So they must be doing something right. The criticism has often been warranted, and it keeps the NFL more in check than they would be without it. But it also doesn’t reflect the complete story.

 

 

Two of my favorite interviewers are Charlie Rose from PBS and Terri Gross from NPR. They do what seems obvious but is so commonly forgotten now days – they let their subjects speak. They do not inject their own bias or their own narrative. They ask good, often challenging, questions, keep the interview on track, and let those who are being interviewed say what they have to say. It’s an art that has been lost to the many media outlets nowadays. The quest for ratings, an ever-decreasing attention span and the practice of placating executives have reduced the number of quality interviews in the media. It seems journalism has become more about entertainment than reporting.

This is not to say that these two are the only ones doing a good job; there is still talent out there, but these two are the first who come to mind.

All of this is on full display in a recent interview with Shane Salerno, the filmmaker who is set to release a documentary on J.D. Salinger. Any Catcher in the Rye or Salinger fans will like this.

And it was announced that Charlie Rose has interviewed Bashar Assad. I would never defend Assad, but I’m curious as to what he has to say. He is being interviewed by on of the best.

A few links from the sports world today:

Do genetic advantages make sports unfair? That’s the question Malcolm Gladwell poses in this piece from the New Yorker. He doesn’t so much answer the question as he does explore it. The piece is based on a book by David Epstein titled The Sports Gene. It sheds light on why you will never beat a Kenyan in a distance race, why a genetic mutation cemented one guy’s status as a legend in cross country skiing, and which sport sees a high number of its athletes having great vision. And to stay current with the times, it takes a look at how Tyler Hamilton transformed his body to make it as a cyclist with the help of seltzer water, sleeping pills and some cutting-edge EPO.

 

A quick read from the Portland Business Journal with 5 examples of shoe companies running the NCAA football. Not that anyone doesn’t really know this. Oregon is after all the land where Nike is known for lavishing the University of Oregon with top of the facilities and technology that no doubts give the university a competitive and recruiting advantage. But it’s not just Oregon, and the stipulations these companies ask might interest you.

 

And Gary Payton is entering the Hall of Fame, and John Stockton, along with George “The Iceman” Gervin, will be there to induct him. According to Payton, it was Stockton, not Jordan, who was the toughest guy to defend. Check out the full article at Yahoo. You can find a snippet below.

Q: Did John Stockton ever talk trash back to you?

A: ”Never. That is the reason I really respected him because you never could get in his head. He’s the hardest person I ever had to guard. I tried to talk to him, try to do something and he’d just look at me, set a pick and cause me [to get mad and] get a tech. And then all of the sudden it was over. There was much respect to him doing that to me. It taught me a lot.”

Q: You say Stockton was the hardest to guard, but what about guarding Michael Jordan?

A: ”Those battles were a little easier. I would have Jordan get mad at me and go back at me. He knew he was really talented and could do whatever he wanted to. But [Stockton] was more of a challenge to me than guarding someone that would talk back to me. When you talk back to me and say something to me it made my game go to another level. John was one who wouldn’t say nothing and you couldn’t figure him out. He’d keep going in the pick and rolls and he and Karl Malone would score a big bucket. At times I would guard Jordan and get him mad and into other things.”

I love it when people call him dirty. Didn’t say anything, looked like he should be selling insurance somewhere instead of playing NBA basketball, a good Catholic boy, but he set a mean pick. And this means he was a dirty player.

Right now in Portland, Oregon kale is trending.

On three occasions in the last six months I’ve been invited to dinner where the focal point was kale. And I don’t get invited out that often. Probably because I make fun of their kale. Each time they went into unnecessary detail about they how prepared it. First, I sautéed some onions and garlic. Then I added the kale. You can even add hot sauce to it to give a little kick.

That’s amazing. I would have never guessed you could do that to a vegetable. We should definitely focus on this instead of that delicious-looking salmon right next to it.

And each time the particulars of their kale dish were divulged it was as if they were letting me in on a secret. Like they were the only ones that new about this vegetable and were doing me a favor by imparting such wisdom. I’ve grown accustomed to this in regards to music, but not a vegetable. It was usually an obscure new band someone heard about from some friend who knows the band. Part of the reason they were so cool was because nobody knew about them. The more they gained in popularity, the less cool they became.

I wonder if kale will suffer the same fate. When people realize kale is too trendy, will chard take its place? Will people forget Brussels sprouts taste like shit and make them the new cool food?

During dinner, I didn’t mention the kale. I commented on the salmon, the garlic bread and the salad. Inevitably, the kale was brought up. So do you like the kale? No. If you eat kale for its nutritional value, that’s fine – I’m not going to argue with that – but don’t try to convince me of its taste. All that sautéing and garlic only slightly reduce the fresh-from-the-dirt-taste non-sautéed kale has. You either like the taste of you vegetables seasoned with soil, or you ignore it because eating this vegetable is so damn cool right now.

At work, a couple of girls quite were still trying to figure it out. They didn’t understand why it wasn’t tasting right. Were they not cooking correctly? They spent a good ten minutes discussing the ways you can cook kale. Some methods they tried. Some they hadn’t. The thought never occurred to them that it just might not be that good. Other people were cooking it, so there must be a way to make it taste good, right? Nope. You can sauté it, braise it, steam it, smoke it – whatever; it’s still going to taste bad.

You’re best bet is to overpower it with as many other flavors as you can. That way you can still brag to your friends about eating kale, and you don’t have to pretend that you like it.

 

 

 

There are a lot of “What ifs?” when looking back on the Iraq War. What if Al Gore had one won the election in 2000? What if there were no false claims about WMDs? What if 9/11 never happened? But since it did, what if military resources in Afghanistan hadn’t been sucked away by the preoccupation to invade Iraq? What if the war had been better managed? No Abu Ghraib. No corruption and billions of dollars ending up in the wrong hands.

But the latest “What if?” I’ve been pondering is what if the war didn’t happen – how would the Arab Spring have affected Iraq?

As I’ve argued before, the Arab Spring was more than just rising up against Arab autocracies, it was affected by a bleak economic climate. Sanctions by the international community would have contributed to a similar state in Iraq. At the time of the war, Iraqis had undergone twelve years of crippling sanctions on top of an oppressive regime. Had things continued, tension would have continued to mount.

In fact, frustrations were hot after the first Gulf War in 1991. Thousands of Iraqis boisterously voiced their displeasure with their leader and called for foreign forces to remove their dictator. Their dissent was met with a heavy-handed blow as Saddam killed thousands of his own people. If Saddam had stayed in power, no doubt he would have squashed any new rebellions with equal force. The country would likely have suffered a similar fate as its northern neighbor, Syria.

But it could have forced U.S. intervention and perhaps we would have still had a war in Iraq, just several years later and under much different circumstances. How would that have affected Iraq? How would that have affected the American standing in the Middle East?

Now, all of this discussion assumes that the Arab Spring would have still happened had the U.S. not gone into Iraq in 2003, an assumption some argue would have been impossible since they attribute the fall of Saddam Hussein as one of the causes to the rebellions in the Arab world. More of this theory can be found here and here, but the basic premise is that the fall of an Arab dictator allowed people to see the impossible done. Inspired, they then imagined it for themselves.

As you can see, I’m not offering concrete answers to the questions I’m posing. Those are for others who have far more knowledge and experience of the affairs and history of this region. But it hasn’t kept me from wondering.

1993. In terms of Hip Hop, there’s not a lot of other years that stack up to that year. Wu Tang. A Tribe Called Quest. KRS-One. Snoop Dogg. Cypress HIll. Souls of Mischief. All of them dropped iconic albums. It was the tail end of Hip Hop’s Golden Era where EPMD, Public Enemy, D.I.T.C., Eric B. and Rakim, Gang Starr and De La Soul were mainstays. Dr. Dre had just launched his career and Nas and Biggie were just about to launch theirs.

It was also one of the first years I started paying attention to Hip Hop. For me, the genre will forever be judged against that era.

NPR has been running a series of reports to commemorate the twenty year anniversary. The main page is here. My favorites include a report on Bay Area HIp Hop. The Wu Tang Clan business model. Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. And Tupac breaking through.

Zach Lowe wrote a nice piece ranking the 30 franchise names in the NBA (Part I & Part II).  It was served up with an accompanying podcast on the BS Report with Bill Simmons. It is the kind of debate that leaves wives and girlfriends feeling unloved, the kind of debate that conjures up memories of debates on the playground. I’m a grown-ass man with a fulltime job and countless other things I should be paying attention to, but I couldn’t help getting wrapped up in the discussion.

A few thoughts:

  • The criteria is purely subjective. If you ask 100 different people, you’ll get a hundred different lists, each invoking one’s own criteria.For starters, the name has to sound cool. When said with its adjoining city or state, the name should roll of the tongue. Even though I kind of like the new New Orleans name, the Pelicans, it doesn’t have the same fluidity as a name like the Los Angeles Lakers, a name that is not inherently great but gets bonus points for sounding good.
  • A team’s history, colors, jerseys, logo and general impression they give off influence the quality of a good name. I’ve warmed up to the name Thunder, however, their god-awful uniforms and color scheme is so atrocious that it’s hard to take that name seriously. Conversely, the legacy of the Celtics and tradition of the Knicks lend a helping hand to those teams. The Wizards might have avoided being in the last spot by updating their jerseys recently to a style reminiscent of their Bullets days. And it will have to take a lot more than two years of the Clippers being respectable for that name to sound good.
  • I think the argument that a nickname has to be synonymous with the city is overstated. Full disclosure, my team is the Jazz, so I might be a little biased, but if you have a good name, you have a good name. Changing your name doesn’t necessarily make it better (ask Wizards fans about that). Now, that’s not to say a name that represents its city well doesn’t deserve bonus points. The New Orleans Jazz is going to be better than the Utah version.But, as Zach Lowe argues, the Jazz is just a good name:

    “The Jazz is a very nearly perfect name for a basketball team. The basketball-as-jazz thing has been a bit overdone, but it still works. Both involve ensembles playing off each other in sequences that fall in the large gray area between “totally scripted” and “100 percent improvised.”2 Players/musicians make reads based on feel in the moment, and they allow each member of the group to thrive at the right time. The goal is to develop deep connections between teammates, push the boundaries of creativity, and raise the collective to a higher spiritual level than any member could reach on his or her own.”

    This is precisely the point made in Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s documentary, On the Shoulder of Giants (although there was no mention of the Jazz in Utah). There is a scene in the movie comparing a good basketball team to that of a jazz ensemble. Each instrument, each player, has a role in the band, and when they are all in sync, the result is great music. So you keep the name even if the most popular music group in the state is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir because you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a better name. Plus, it passes the roll-of-the-tongue test.

    It’s not as if other teams don’t face a similar incompatibility with their names. The Lakers. The Grizzlies. And do Wizards really live in Washington D.C.? I suspect Utah bears the brunt of the criticism since people outside of Utah think Mormons are a little weird, which they might be. But they are so nice (except in Energy Solutions Arena) and some of them can even ball.

    Personally, I would like to see the Utah Jazz incorporate more of a Jazz theme into their persona. Bringing a little jazz to the Beehive State couldn’t hurt.

  • My bottom of the barrel list is as follows: Magic, Wizards, Nuggets, Clippers, Raptors. I’m not as anti-Nets as a lot of people are, which I feel like I should be. I don’t know, maybe it’s the fact that it’s basketball related and I still associate the name with a young Dr. J. Jay-Z might have helped, too.
  • The best? In no particular order, Trail Blazers, Knicks, Celtics, Jazz. I like those four. A case can be made for all of them. As I read Lowe’s rationale for choosing the Trail Blazers as the pinnacle of NBA team names, I became more convinced. As someone who lives in Portland but is not a huge fan of the team, I try to avoid giving them too much credit. It was too hard not to on this one. They really do have a great name.

There’s been a lot made of the NSA and electronic privacy lately. The focus has been placed on the government – their ability to access your data, spy on private citizens and the distrust it has created. But what hasn’t gotten a lot of traction recently is how the very tech companies that have worked complicity with the NSA.

It has always amazed me how willing people are to give much of their personal information without a second thought. Facebook is a haven for the intimate details of millions of people around the world. I find it fascinating so many are willing to not only put their trust in a company to hold their private information, but for much of that information to be freely posted on the Internet for the world to see.

Now, I do recognize one glaring difference between the government and such companies, that being the government has the ability to target and prosecute while, for the most part, companies are more limited in this respect. But the lack of concern about what private corporations do with one’s information does seem odd.

In a recent lawsuit against Google that claims the tech giant violates U.S. law by scanning emails as a way to generate advertising to target its users, Google’s response was:

“Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient’s assistant opens the letter, people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their communications are processed by the recipient’s ECS [electronic communications service] provider in the course of delivery.”

And most brazen of all, Google added:

“Indeed, a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.”

Can anyone realistically expect complete privacy when you enter into an agreement with a company to use its services? When one enters into such an agreement, any information involved in that platform is subject to oversight. We could look at this as a clear violation of First Amendment rights and invoke Big Brother. Or it could be simply the reality of times we live in. On top of the national security issue, I suspect that is what defenders of such policy will argue in the courts.

A few other thoughts on the NSA, Edward Snowden and electronic privacy:

  • When Snowden leaked the documents to the press, the shocking thing to me was that people were shocked. It’s not like the precedent hasn’t been set for United States espionage. J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. COINTELPRO. The Patriot Act. If I’m not mistaken, there were reports early in the Obama administration that certain tech companies were working with the government to aid in surveillance measures. It was a little like Lance Armstrong admitting to doping – there was outrage over something that had been so obvious.
  • I have a feeling that in ten years, or sometime in the future, Snowden will regret the way he went about doing this. I could be wrong, obviously. But I just can’t help note the irony of leaking sensitive U.S. information then seeking asylum in Russia. Now, I wouldn’t label Snowden as a traitor. I think he was going for what he thinks was a higher good, but is Russia really the answer? I know the U.S. does not have a blemish free human rights record, but it’s a record that I would gladly put up against Russia. And it’s not as if American defectors in Russia have enjoyed the best of times.
  • Finally, I do believe there is a need to keep tabs on electronic communication in this day and age. To an extent. It’s simply too naïve to think terrorist threats can be averted while we get rid of all surveillance methods. Hopefully, the controversy will bring a more disciplined means of oversight and some semblance of transparency. Although the notion of transparency in espionage is oxymoronic.Who should do the monitoring? It is the NSA’s job, isn’t it? But Snowden worked for a private contractor. The idea of contracting this job out to private businesses is a little unsettling. But then again, the thought of having certain people in government running this stuff is also unsettling.Honestly, I don’t have the answers. It’s a very fine line, and I only hope that all the fuss leads to improved measures that are both effective in national security but don’t overstep their bounds. Whatever happens, it’s a controversy that’s not going away.