Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Home Team Assessment

                The Twins’ TC hat is one of the most unique pieces of apparel in sports.  They’re probably the only franchise to essentially have a logo on any part of their uniform that doesn’t stand for either the place they’re named after or the nickname of the team.  The Hornets got creative recently and started writing out NOLA on their jerseys, so as to remind people that New Orleans was in LA [Louisiana], but that’s not quite the same thing.  You could make the argument that they have put the T there for Twins and the C is just an afterthought- meant to stand for Cities, if you’re in the mood.  The Twin Cities, as what the hat represents, are able to be both the place the team plays and the inspiration for their nickname.
                Nicknames for teams probably started with English soccer teams being given these (still) unofficial designations by their supporters, usually based on the kit colors (Reds, Blues, Magpies, etc).  But in America we decided it was important that all teams have more formal team names, specifically when cities like Boston or New York would have multiple teams.  And while those teams have in their histories changed nicknames a fair bit, our franchise has been called the Twins since moving from DC.  While the name change has led to the two incarnations never connecting their shared history (see Senators’ Banners at Target Field, Lack of), the Twins have recently decided to honor the earliest eras of baseball in this country by including Baseball Club in their most recent logo.
                The logo itself may only use the Baseball Club as an excuse, however, for the key addition to the logo that most adds to the Twins’ identity.  As long as I’ve been a fan of the team, they’ve worn Navy blue and Red[i].  But I don’t think they’ve ever been the Navy and Red, the way other teams identify themselves with their colors.  One of the problems is that neither is really the primary color, but more on that later.  The other problem is that there’s a couple other ways to identify the team, whether it’s that they have TC on their hat (using the time-honored “wishbone C”) or the fact we have pinstripes on our home unis.   But both of these ideas are semi-borrowed from other teams, so they’ve each failed to grab a foothold.  They realized that the closest thing the team has to an identifier is the Navy and Red.  By adding the navy outer ring to what is still essentially the classic Twins full logo, the organization is at least able to garner some attention to its color scheme.
                Another way that the Twins have made people associate the team with the colors is by the pennant flags out in left field.[ii]  The pennants themselves offer fans another glimpse of their color scheme- emphasizing their World Series wins with Red, the bolder of their two colors.  And by making the flags as understated as they are, they make the somewhat modest success of the franchise actually seem grander.  “We can’t afford to take up room in the stadium with unnecessarily large flags- we just have too many championships.  And we count on getting even more.”
                But they still made a bad call taking those trees out from behind the centerfield fence.

[i] Because there are so many named shades of red, no team ever calls their color just “Red”.  It’s generally called either Cardinal or Crimson or Burgundy or something else.  Ironically, as many distinct colors of blue as there are, teams generally call their shade of blue just “Blue” regardless of how specific that is.  All this is to say that I really don’t know what the Twins refer to their scheme as.
[ii] My friends and I have joked that while the Twins don’t seem to have any extra room for more pennants out there, it’s not something they’ll have to worry about for a while.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Another Irrelevant Question

Why did the Boston Red Sox fail to win the 1986 World Series?  Did the fact that their franchise had not won a World Series for 68 years in any way contribute to their failure to close the deal?  They were one strike away, though I don’t consider that much more significant than just being one out.  All it takes is hitting the ball in play, and that’s a strike, too, just a more productive one.  Whether or not you believe in the Curse of the Bambino, there just seems to have been (and continues to be)[i] a collective cloud hanging over it.  Maybe it’s the Boston media or pressure from the fans themselves, but it was this moment that above all others brought attention to the Red Sox’ plight.
There are a number of things that set the Red Sox far enough back after 1918[ii] that they didn’t even gotten many subsequent chances to take on the best team in the National League.  The expansion of the major leagues actually didn’t help, I would have to guess, because the big league talent reached an equilibrium of competitiveness with that number of teams they added through the 60s.  That was in part because they added a whole new demographic to the talent pool by breaking the color barrier.  And with the Sox being one of the last teams to add black players, it’s not surprising they were behind in their capitalization on that market.
                When they found resurgence in ’67, they were already battling about 20 straight years of second-division finishes and had to win one of the most exciting pennant races in history to boot.  So winning the World Series would have been icing on the cake, but was probably beside the point.  In truth, they didn’t even have as bad a time of it as the Indians, who were finishing in second in the AL for most of these years[iii] and finally made it back to the World Series in ’95. The Red Sox also made it back to the Fall Classic in 1975, but they were doomed to lose to one of the most unstoppable teams of all time, the Big Red Machine.  By ’86 their fan base was starting to get impatient.
                Another part of the Red Sox history, though, is undoubtedly engrained in their stadium.  They were bound to win or lose with that place, but it was going to contribute to their ultimate destiny one way or another.  The doubles-friendly layout was a factor in Enos Slaughter’s Mad Dash, and then Bucky Fucking Dent drilled his heart-breaking homer over the Monster.  I honestly think the Sox coulda won the Series in ’86 if they had ended it at Fenway. As many times as it had hurt them when they most needed it, they were due for some help from the park.  To come that close to a championship, it made me think that they were actually a better team than the Mets, but it could not have helped their chances to have to finish them off in the city of their most hated rival.
                The most ignored part of the whole episode is how clutch the Mets themselves were.  A large part of winning the whole battle is opening the psychological floodgates by doing just a few things your opponent would not have expected.  Even scoring one run with the bases empty and the Red Sox that close to ending the season was 90% of the battle.   I don’t know if it was Calvin Schiraldi just trying to make the Mets get themselves out, but simply the fact that they were able to do what the Sox own Ted Williams described as the hardest feat in sports, hitting a baseball- for a clean base hit, three times in a row when they had to, gives them the majority of the credit for the win in my book.  Bad things like wild pitches and booted balls are going to happen a certain percentage of the time, but the Mets had put themselves in a position to win well before all that.
                They had the entire population (and the 68 years’ torment) of Red Sox Nation pulling for them from several hours away.  But in the end, the collective will of a fan base that had only existed for 26 years[iv]- and was present with their team at that time- was able to win the day.

[i] See 2011 Season, End Of
[ii] Besides selling still the greatest (yeah, I said it) baseball player of all time to an as-of-then unsuccessful ballclub from the Bronx, NY.
[iii] …had a rare ten-year run of incompetence around the time the first Major League movies were being made
[iv] Albeit a fan base cobbled together from the remnants of two previously tortured ones, the Dodgers and Giants- both perennial WS losers to the Yankees, and at least one would go on to achieve much greater success in their new home.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Living West

The Kardashian-West’s new baby girl is going to be named North.  It’s not a terrible name, all things considered.  If we see it as just a name made up of letters and take away the meaning first, it checks out decent.  A lot of solid ladies names start with N.  Nora, Nell (or Nellie), Nina, Natasha, Nancy, Naomi.  But we can’t ignore that it is a cardinal direction as well.  If I had to choose a direction for a first name, I think North would probably be the best one.[i]  I also think West is among the two best directions for a last name, but more on that later.
                The concept of North started out as a very arbitrary one.  It refers to the top of the globe at this point, but started with its origins in a time when the earth was thought to be flat.  The first real cartographers were Europeans[ii].  That is to say, the ones we have most been influenced by today.  And fortunately they were also explorers, because they lived by the sea and because they needed more room to contain their growing population.  They looked in the direction the sun rose from and saw a lot of land, but which had people on it.  Then they looked toward where the sun set, saw a lot of ocean, a lot of open space that was relatively easy to navigate, and which they could pass through without having to pay tribute or encounter enemies[iii]- and they decided that whatever land they found they were going to claim.  And during all of this, they were plotting out their courses and making maps.
                But where to put their starting point, aka Europe?  Scientists have figured out that the human eye, when reading anything (which by our nature was evolutionarily predetermined) our eyes are drawn top to bottom and left to right, in that order.  So it was the most logical and inevitable for the early mapmakers to put their homelands on top of these flat representations of the world they were creating.  They would just be easier to read that way.  And by virtue of putting Europe on top of the map, they put most everything else below it and to the right.  Right, the secondary direction the eye is drawn, was given to the first lands they knew for sure existed, besides their own, because of their proximity.  It has come to be understood, however, that the Europeans put themselves on top of the world because they thought they were the best.  I’m starting to think this to not be the primary reason, though North has now come to signify an improvement in relative position.
                It would be hard for the West’s new child to go any further North, in many ways- except, in many people’s opinion, in the name department.  I, however, disagree given this couple’s constant striving for success, hopefully one that they pass on to their daughter.  But I wouldn’t blame her, after she grows up and realizes the incredible circus she’s been born into, if she wants to, idiomatically speaking, head West.

[i] I once played the “I’m going to Hollywood” name changing game, which in this case was Your Middle Name + The Street You Grew Up On.  Mine came out Kenneth South (Numbers don’t play well in Hollywood).
[ii] Coulda been the Chinese, even, but let’s ignore that for once.
[iii] Eventually pirates came around to correct this market inefficiency. (Not ninjas)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Speaking with No Authority

                The origin of my last name actually just comes from a more Norwegian-sounding pronunciation of a word pairing that to some American naturalization officer sounded like “Buckeye”.   The name was supposed to be Bukk Oy, or Island of the Male Goats.  But for a period of time in college, I joked with those less familiar with my last name’s origins that it was actually an Ojibwe Indian name (and that I was still waiting on that casino money).  The irony is that as pale-skinned as me and most of my family is, my grandpa (on my Mom’s side) said he actually has reason to believe that we are part Native American.  And you can definitely see a slightly darker pigment in him and my little sister than you might expect if they were strictly descended from northern Europeans.  And I guess it makes me about 1/32 to 1/64 Native American.  Which earns me absolutely nothing.
                It’s such a small part that it doesn’t even get one day out of each month.  But the part of a morning that I did give it some time last week told me something interesting regarding the recent debate over the Washington Redskins’ name change debate.  It said that it was a little offended.  This is genuinely surprising to me, because for the most part, I wasn’t offended by the name.  In fact, everything about my demographic has been immune to repression over the years; White, male, blond-haired, blue-eyed.
                And while I haven’t been too much in favor of it ever, the part of me that wasn’t against it rationalized it in a very simple way.  It’s about money.  The Washington Redskins, a very successful NFL brand, have been making money off their moniker for many generations- and there simply hasn’t been an organization with enough political or monetary sway to take them down.  The Washington Bullets (arguably a less-offensive name) changed their name to the Wizards in large part because the NBA is a less-successful league and the Bullets a much less successful franchise.
I don’t understand why there hasn’t been a bigger uproar about how racist the Cleveland Indians franchise is, actually.  Not even their name so much, which is ironically pretty politically correct at this point- I have it on good authority that they prefer American Indians to Native Americans anyway[i]- but rather their logo of Chief Wahoo, which is a ridiculous and downright offensive caricature.  But while their logo might be insensitive, the name itself is pretty innocuous, if inaccurate.
Now I would usually say in this particular case, “Why doesn’t Congress find something more important to do?”  Yet the first thing they might respond with is “There’s enough Congresspeople to take care of most of these things.”  It’s important not only for the country’s view of itself that it do right by one of its most marginalized demographics, but also for other countries’ view of us.  Cowboys and Indians are one of the things that other powerful countries like Germany most closely associate with us.  And let’s be honest our own reputation in the human rights category isn’t completely spotless, either. On top of it all, this should be something American football strives to improve, if it wants to improve its stature in the world as a whole.
                The part of the name that did make sense was mostly in how it connected to one of its biggest rivals.  Everyone makes a connection between Cowboys and Indians, and the fact that a franchise named after the latter was huge rivals with one named the former had a really nice ring to it.  Given their lack of geographical proximity, it could even be argued that their shared name theme was what made them rivals in the first place.  I don’t want an NFL whose nicknames don’t pay homage to the history and spirit of this country.[ii]
                So under the right circumstances, I think the ‘Skins should be allowed to keep the overall theme of their team nickname.  It would save them having to change most of their color and logo scheme, and pay homage to the history of their team, while acknowledging that “mistakes were made”.  The first and most common sense thing to do would be to turn to the local tribes and lobby groups for the Indians and ask what they would recommend.  Perhaps Braves, or even Indians.  But I have a better idea.  Name it after a semi-local tribe.  The Algonquins, let’s say.  Then you could call them the ‘Quins for short!

[i] “He doesn’t speak for us” ~My 1/32nd Native American part
[ii] I’ve often tried matching up the nicknames of teams in one conference with their counterparts in the other conference.  It’s pretty easy.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Bit of Local Folklore

There seems to be new construction going up everywhere in this city lately.  For a lot of reasons it pisses me off; it takes longer to drive some places, and it feels like nothing is ever complete.  But to an extent I appreciate that lack of completeness.  This city is never satisfied and we’re always reaching for something more.  That shitty bar Cowboy Slim’s down on Lake was dynamited for what will be some more highrise apartments and an even denser population in this most noticed part of Minneapolis, Uptown.
                Another big new addition to Uptown is the Mosaic parking structure, Bar Louie, the new Greenway bridge and entrance off Girard Avenue and a bunch of new fun stuff in that same area.  One of the most fun additions is a giant brick head facing south just across the bus road from the Greenway.  My housemates and I have come to name him Cornelius Uptown.  He’s a statue erected to the memory of the hyper-intelligent alien who landed on this spot to found Uptown in ancient times.   He had two golden surfer angel servants (best way to describe them) also commemorated atop two incomplete looking pillars which lead into this somewhat-abbreviated park.  And a model of his spaceship is a short ways down the path in the form of a spherical interpretation of the type of trolley car this area used to be famous for.
                This story has given me endless enjoyment every time I pass to the extent that I have even made it one of my security questions at work to access my password account in the system (“Q: Statue south of the Greenway?:” “A: Cornelius”)[i].  It’s a story that really only we know, so logically I tell anyone visiting the area willing to listen.  But I also want to break down exactly why this is funny.  Many questions arise in the telling of this story which are better left unanswered:  Why does he have the name Cornelius?  Wasn’t Uptown just named such because it was Up from Downtown?  What do you mean Uptown was founded independently of the city of Minneapolis?
                The logical answer to all these questions is Shut Up.  But seeing as if I was an outsider I would be asking them at least internally, if not externally, I plan to answer them all once and for all to everyone.  His name is Cornelius because that is the name of all those probably-important ancient (like, at least a couple centuries past) historical leaders or explorers that we vaguely remember.  So that applies even if he was an alien from another planet.  Because, of course.
                It’s better that we gave him the last name Uptown, because firstly, it’s based on the assumption that aliens have last names and that they, like us, name things they find after themselves (both correct). In the show Recess (One Saturday Morning! ABC! Today!), the kids went to Third Street School.  Later on we find out that one of the most important men in their town is Thaddeus T. Third III, and so presumably Third Street is named after his Grandpa.  Uptown is named after an alien from another planet with the last name Uptown.
                But answering the last question reveals a little about the place we live, too.  Was Uptown founded independently of Minneapolis?  For all most of us care, it might have been.  We have an identity with the area possibly as strong or stronger than with the city.  So we don’t just live in Minneapolis- we live in Uptown.  And yea, there’s a certain black-hole aspect to the area. But I’ll quickly admit that my favorite readily- available beer is named after another part of Minneapolis.[ii]

[i] Given how much other security my as-yet unnamed employer has and the amount of traffic on this blog, I am not concerned with that bit of info.
[ii] Nordeast. By Grain Belt. Duh.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Refugee City

                Magic Johnson and Co. made a really good purchase recently.  Yes, the Dodgers cost a lot of money, but what he’s really investing in is the greater Los Angeles area.  This is the area that has throughout the years made giants out of runaways.  What I mean by that is it has taken into its arms those entities which have come from the east seeking greener pastures.  And it doesn’t get much greener than Los Angeles, it turns out.
                L.A. is the nickname for a city whose original full name[i] was twenty-five times bigger than that.  But it’s all marketing.  And a better market is what early motion picture producers saw when they started bolting for the area in the early 20th century.  You see, there was this guy named Edison who invented the motion picture camera, and he wanted everyone to pay him royalties when they used it for profit.  And if he couldn’t do it the legal way, he had some “helpers” who would make sure it got done.  So these pioneering filmmakers went as far away from Edison and his goons as they could get while still getting noticed in the US of A.  But the added benefit of being in California was that the state was pretty lenient on patent law and generally ignored Edison’s suits.
But the Dodgers might be the most assimilated entity that has come out to California, especially considering their roots.  They were so despised when they left Brooklyn that there’s a story told in the borough about three business men who went to lunch to decide who the three worst men in the world were.  They all wrote three names down on their napkins, and when they went to look at each others, they had all written the same thing: Hitler, Stalin, Walter O’Malley.  It didn’t seem to bother Los Angeles much.  With a strong core of players who had all played in Brooklyn, they went on to win a World Series in their second year out there.  The team was so successful, they lured an expansion franchise to the area in three years and the west coast soon became a bastion of Major League Baseball.
                I’d be remiss as a Minneapolitan if I didn’t mention the second most successful pro basketball franchise of all time.  My biggest problem with their franchise is not the rampant success they’ve had, in contrast to the terrible track record of the team the NBA later saddled us with, but I feel as though their insistence on keeping the name ‘Lakers’ is essentially a slap in the face.  There are absolutely no lakes in the greater Los Angeles area, nor is it a name that you could argue applies to just about any city in America, or even just to the West Coast, as ‘Raiders’ and ‘Clippers’ might.  And while the Dodgers only moved out West a couple years prior to the city stealing what-would-have-been-my team, it feels like Dodger Blue has made the nickname the city’s own, due to both the nickname’s ambiguosity, and the immediate success they found out there.
Yes, the fans in Brooklyn were very upset, possibly even about L.A.’s refusal to change the team name or colors, but the fans in SoCal as a whole embraced the team.  Ironically, L.A. might have been able to stake a claim on the reference to street-car Dodgers were it not for the burgeoning automotive conglomerate which elbowed out the trolley system to make it the car traffic hell-hole it’s now known as.  So it’s almost justifiable to keep the name in that sense.  Maybe you even argue that the name refers to all the automotive traffic fans of the team or just denizens of the area are required to Dodge on a daily basis.  Heading out west with the rival Giants probably kept a little of the old Big Apple spirit alive, and they managed to meet the Yankees often enough in the Series to keep the fans cognizant of who else they should hate.[ii]
I went on the Lakers’ internet site the other day and was dismayed to discover that they do list all the old Minneapolis incarnation’s NBA championships as their own.  And it kind of makes sense, as that team was also called the Lakers.  But what I never understood was how the Twins would never list the Washington Senators’ meager championship resume as their own. It’s true that they have a different nickname, but they were the same franchise, and nobody knows[iii] what colors they wore anyway because everything was in black-and-white.  It’s not like the District is going to claim them, because nobody missed the team when they were gone anyway, partly due to the expansion team they received the same year the Twin Cities got their franchise.  I understand that the team didn’t want to be like that city that stole their first major franchise, and while I’m always in favor of the area-specific name, calling them the Minnesota Senators makes a lot more sense than does L.A. Lakers.

[i] El Pueblo de Nuestra SeƱora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula.
[ii] Not to mention meeting their fellow itinerants, the Twins, in a riveting 7-game World Series classic that helped bolster the baseball (and sports) profile of both areas.
[iii] I don’t know, rather.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Our State Pastime

            The Minnesota Golden Gophers Men’s hockey team has become, in our state, more than a team- it’s a religion, and it’s a way of life.  One that I wish I could be more into.  It’s not that I don’t like hockey, but I have so much on my sports fan plate already, and understanding, appreciating and rooting for hockey is so time-and-effort-consuming that I just can’t give it the attention I know it deserves.  College hockey even more so.  That’s partly a product of the country as a whole and what the national media outlets tend to devote time to.  But I understand that with many people in the state we live in, it’s what they eat, breathe, and sleep.  It starts in high school, where we have the most glorified (and rightly so) hockey tournament in the country.  It’s what basketball is to Indiana, or Brooklyn, perhaps.  Katie Baker of Grantland wrote a great piece detailing just this relationship between the hockey buffs and their team.
            The reason I get chills and want to go bake a Hotdish while drinking an ice-cold Pop is that this team is probably as much Minnesota’s team as any team in any sport is to any state or area.  It’s because almost every player on the Gophers is from our state specifically.  Taking from Baker’s story, they all seem to grow up playing on those frozen ponds dreaming of one day playing for the Gophers.  It’s the big leagues of that demographic.  Even when I was growing up watching mostly other sports, I once asked my dad about the Twins, “Are all the players on that team from our state?”  They should be, it felt like, so we could prove that we were better at that sport than the other areas.  And that’s what this program epitomizes.
            But the sport itself generally has two major hubs of talent- Minnesota and Boston.  No two other places could produce as many colleges who are all that good at hockey.  And for the most part they each take players from their respective areas.  There are good teams in places like Michigan and New York state for sure, but none have as a deep of histories as the two aforementioned.  So with all the recent sports success the Boston area has had, this is pretty much our last grasp at besting them in something.  It seems even more personal for us given all the good players the town has stolen away from our teams with the allure of cash, but for once it’s nice that one sport has come down to strictly home-grown talent.
I’m pretty sure the reason I don’t follow pro hockey that closely is the lack of a pro hockey team in my state during my formative years.  I knew a lot of kids who played, but my parents really didn’t encourage it because it was just about the most expensive sport a kid could play and they (and I) liked most other sports better anyway.  But the NHL has made some horrible mistakes with the relocation of their teams.  Let’s examine- they moved a team from Hartford, Conn, to Raleigh, NC.  Not the obscure state capital I would have picked, not to mention having to change the greatest logo of all time.  2) Moving the Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix, home of no natural ice… ever.  And 3) Moving The North Stars out of the State of Hockey to the State of Football.  (Sorry, Quebec- hockey seems to have thrived in the move to Colorado, which never was a horrible place to go to begin with.) But it was a good idea to bring major league hockey back to the North Star State, if only because I could never be sure if the Moose (that minor league team) was meant to be a singular or plural noun.[i]
            And it’s really sad, when you think about it, that this state, which invented the sport, went even as long as it did without a pro team. It may indeed be semi-hypocritical of me to say that teams shouldn’t ever leave the city they start in.  It worked out pretty well for the original Baltimore Orioles franchise (now known as the New York Yankees), it seems to have worked out for the Dallas Stars (curse you, Tom Green!)[ii], and it worked out alright for the original Washington Senators.  But it seems like we’ve lost a part of our state’s sports history having lost the North Stars.  You never hear about the Stanley Cup Finals run we had around the same time the Twins were winning their second World Series, probably because we feel like it doesn’t belong to us anymore- it belongs to Dallas[iii].  But you do see people walking around in North Stars jersey-shirts (sweater-shirts?) or hats a lot around here, so it seems like it meant something.  I remember when they were holding the naming competition and such for our new NHL franchise and as a sports fan it was interesting.  But even then I didn’t really feel like I was going to get into it.  I was used to having one team to root for in the summer, one in the fall and one in the winter.  When you’ve left an area for a while, even a hockey-mad area, I think you end up losing a generation of fans, because another sport will just take its place.

[i] And I’m still unsure if I think singular or plural nouns make better team nicknames as a whole.
[ii] Same for the Lakers, too, it seems.
[iii] Put up the Senators’ 1924 World Championship banner already, Twins!

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Forerunner

Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, Tim O’Brien, Salman Rushdie are four of my favorite authors. They are not necessarily American.  Vonnegut and O’Brien might even be called Anti-American, Rushdie is at best Trans-Atlantic and Douglas Adams is without a doubt British, in what he writes about and his sensibilities.  Then I realized why I thought of them as American: because America is the heir-apparent to what the United Kingdom once was.
                Though to say that America is what the United Kingdom and even just England once was, is to ignore the long history of what they had done to the world.  Even we are part of that history, kind of like a phoenix that rose from the ashes of their empire.[i]  They were once the only thing in the world.  It was a truly global empire that they say the “Sun Never Set On”, in the sense that there was always some part of the empire that was in daylight.  If America is the only global superpower right now, England once was the globe.  Why else would this language developed on an island in the North Sea with French (yeck!) influences become the dominant language in the world today?[ii]  Essentially, they had influence in so many parts of the globe, that it’s almost impossible to go some place that doesn’t have some kind of influences from this place.
                And therefore, my tribute to authors from across the pond is a show of appreciation for their past influence (and in reality, a certain amount of continued influence) on the modern world.  You can’t ignore any kind of place where any sort of thing, specifically something as important as soccer, is done at the highest level.[iii]  There are 6 billion people in the world, but the best of those at the most popular sport in the world come from all over the face of the earth to play in a country of about 50 million.  And England itself is impressive enough at the sport for a country of that size, but at a certain point they simply cannot overcome their lack of a population base.  And it’s their fault, really.  They’re the ones who spread the sport all over the globe.
                What seems to be the difference between the time when England ruled and the present, dominated more by America, is that there’s a lot more acceptance of the other countries and their cultures.  It’s a much faster-moving society, and we’re all now on a more level playing field.  And it’s not a surprise that the country that was founded and grew based mostly on immigrants and the joining of many different cultures is now the most successful in an era of a lot of equally-recognized cultures.  I think if we recognize those ways we are better than other countries and cultures, we will not only help ourselves grow, but also continue to improve the world as a whole.

[i] Phoenix, by the way, is a terrible name for a city.  Sorry about that, World.
[ii] There’s actually reasonable evidence to suggest that what is now known as a British accent is more recent than the founding of America.  Something to do with an influx of French culture into England around the time of Napoleon, which may have entered into their mode of speaking.  An interesting argument to make, as there were no recording devices to attest to this either way. The point being, we may actually be speaking in the original pronunciation of the language.  Go America, and Minnesota most of all!
[iii] America carries on this tradition, in its truest manifestation, in the game of basketball.  It is everything that soccer could never be (high scoring/small playing surface) and therefore everything it is (exciting/nuanced) and has itself become a truly global sport.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Musings on Basketball

There are a lot of things about basketball that have always bugged me, and formed my semi-distaste of actually watching it.  As far as playing ball, I had a sort of knack for it, for the same reason that I was a reasonably good pitcher in about 5th and 6th grade.  I understood that having accuracy was important, whether it was throwing the baseball in the strike zone or throwing the basketball in the hoop.  But what bugged me about watching it was a couple things.  It was a high enough scoring game that I thought it made every basket that much more trivial.  And it had a weird enough schedule that I couldn’t follow it religiously, having been raised on weekly football games and daily baseball.
                The schedule thing I’m starting to gain an appreciation for, because the people always need sports.  And since I’ve been watching more, you really start to get an appreciation for which baskets mean the most and when not getting a basket means a lot, too.  I got roped back in I think by the George Masons and Gonzagas of March, which is when I started to pick up on some of these things.  And I warmed to the Wolves when they picked up Kevin Love, who I had seen play well in the tournament the year before.
                With all that, I’ve found so much more to like about the sport- the personalities and polarity that they cultivate; the excitement that almost every game comes down to; the fact that we have the top league in this sport that has become truly a global one, possibly second only to soccer.  But there is at least one deficiency that it has become painfully obvious needs to be addressed.  There needs to be a legitimate minor leagues of basketball.
                The sport, we’re finding out, is not like football in that college serves as a default minor leagues.  College football and the pro version are similar enough that the transition is much easier, and pro football teams have enough room on their rosters to keep any talent that they may need in the distant future.  Teams even seem to be nervous these days that late bloomers like Jeremy Lin, who they won’t be always able to justify keeping, are going to slip through their fingers.  But a lack of additional talent might also hold back the expansion of the current D-League format.  Players see being sent down as much more shameful, and basketball players, as much as those in any sport, got where they are because of pride and ego.  Part of the process, then, would be transitioning the lower league from a mentality of “You failed to make the pros” to “This is actually just part of the pro system”.
                Basketball is also, for a variety of reasons, probably as suited as anyone to maintain a widespread, lower-level version of itself.  They already have one of the better expansion strategies of major pro sports in America.  The NBA has found that it works really well in areas that don’t have any other sports teams, examples being the Thunder (sorry, Seattle), the Magic (no, Jacksonville doesn’t count) and Memphis.  It’s a very accessible sport, and people just like their city being put on the sports map in any capacity.  Minor-league-sized arena would be easy enough to fund, and may already exist in many places they would try to do it.  The drawback is that so many of the accessible markets might already be in use or would be trampled on by some nearby team.