Five observations to start the week:
Went to the Big Strick Classic on Saturday at City College. The Big Strick is an annual tournament showcasing some of the best high school basketball players in the country. Team NYC, represented by players from the tri-state area, fell by one point against Team USA. The main ballers on display were the Texan twins, Andrew and Aaron Harrison. Color me unimpressed- Andrew especially seemed like a tuned-out, shoot-first point guard. My favorite player was Nutmegger Karon Iverson, who is indeed related to A.I., though he has never spoken to his cousin. Iverson is 6’8, runs the floor very quickly, can hit a pull-up three, and is a menace on defense. He slammed home several dunks off offensive rebounds. We’ll be hearing more from him in years to come.
Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan as his running mate, doubling down on the sad message of austerity. Paul Ryan is a total radical, a sop to the right-wing base. It is a testament to the sorry state of the Republican Party that he is considered an intellectual dynamite by the rabid right. In fact, the core of his philosophy is to completely gut successful government programs like Medicare (replace with a voucher system) and Social Security (privatize it). Romney went with Ryan when we realized that his base was not completely behind him yet, and with his toxic personality appealing little to moderate swing voters, an energized base is his only path to success in November.
At the Big Strick classic I was introduced to Odessa Turner, a former New York Giant, and part of the 1991 Superbowl championship team. He was a big fan of the jersey (pictured left) that I rocked that afternoon. And he was not alone. A woman in the subway offered to buy it off of my back, and several others commented favorably on the trek through Harlem to the City College courts. Turner proposed that I import a whole bunch of them and sell them for $40 a pop uptown.
I bought the jersey in the markets of Monrovia (Liberia), where you can find all kinds of weird stuff. Do you think there’s a market for this type of apparel heading into election season? Lord knows I bought all kinds of wacky Obama gear in 2008, but that was at the height of Obama-mania. In any case, shipping things to and from Liberia is highly problematic, so I doubt this business venture will take off any time soon.
A couple concluding Olympic observations:
1. In the raging debate over “Greatest Olympian ever”, we are not only comparing different sports, but different eras and different maximum medal counts. And re: Jesse Owens, context does matter. That said, Michael Phelps demonstrated that he was the best swimmer in the world for the third consecutive Olympics, albeit with less dominance than he shows in Athens and Beijing. To be the best at a major sport for that long is staggering, and should clearly put him in the conversation for “best ever”. But pure medal count cannot be the premise under which he is granted such a title, especially when so many medals came from relays.
2. NBC’s tape-delay coverage has taken enough of a beating, but what about the actual content they showed in prime time? Way too much diving, in my opinion. We had to deal with 30 minutes of diving from 8pm-8:30pm most days last week. While dives can be impressive, they are far too similar to each other to evoke much emotion out of all but the die-hard fans. Track and field should have had a more prominent role, particularly field events, where we were often treated only to snippets of the eventual medalists doing their finals jumps and throws. Not a lot of drama in that.
3. Will dodgeball ever be an Olympic sport? People play it all around the world, although rules vary considerably. Is the International Dodgeball Federation up to the task of standardizing the sport? I like the idea of Olympic sports inspiring kids to go out and play, to work off those 24 ounce sodas everyone’s so upset about. I’m not sure some of the weird stuff NBC was airing fit that category.
4. Oscar Pistorius turned out to be a classy guy and inspiration to many, but he still shouldn’t have been eligible to compete. I now like enough that I won’t call into the Brian Lehrer show to complain about him again.
5. Gabby Douglas is awesome. In her post-gymnastics career, which will be commencing shortly, she should star in a super-hero movie as the Flying Squirrel. After all, we know two things about super-hero movies: 1. They are enormous block-buster hits. 2. We are just about out of superheroes, and can only take so many re-makes.
6. Team USA’s nail-biter against Spain was perplexing and worrisome. Given that some combination of Durant, Kobe, and Lebron were always on the floor, this shouldn’t have been close. Is there a basketball player more annoying than Rudy Fernandez? The 2014 World Championships, which should feature a Spanish team starring Ricky Rubio, will provide an interesting re-match.
I am of very mixed opinions about Oscar Pistorious’s eligibility. Consider a baseball player who has poor vision who wears contact lenses so he has 20-20 vision. Clearly that should be allowed, and I don’t think any one would question that. But I fail to see how that’s much different than what Pistorious is doing – the best of our phyisicians/physicits have shown that things he wears don’t give him a physical advantage.
Going back to the baseball player, what if he wore contact lenses that improved his vision to something super-human, even better than 20-20? I think that most people would consider that cheating, but it’s actually now a fairly regular occurance in MLB. Many players have worn contact lenses that filter out certain wavelengths of light to allow them to read the seams on pitches better, and there are lots of cases of people getting elective eye surgery to improve their vision to 20-10. These would seem to be unfair advantages that should be disallowed. But on the other hand, if you make those contact lenses illegal, shouldn’t you make eye-black (a very commonly worn glare-protecting substance rubbed on your cheaks) illegal? Most baseball players would consider that absurd.
In any case, I have a very hard time saying making a hard stand on this issue because there’s clearly a lot of gray area and I think this debates are going to become more prevalent soon.
I’m not sure where scientists have used the scientific method to determine that Pistorius does or doesn’t have an advantage (we have no idea how fast Pistorius would be with legs instead of blades). I’ve heard the suggestion that as long as the blades are completely human generated (as opposed to motorized), they should be permitted. But here’s the thing- if he gets a certain spring from each time the blade connects with the ground, what is to prevent him or a future athlete from using a blade with a greater spring? When I called in, the scientist said he was using 15 year old technology, but that’s not to prevent future athletes from using better technology. At its core, shouldn’t running be done with one’s feet?
I have a different baseball analogy for you. What if Jim Abbott, instead of (remarkably!) playing with one hand, affixed a prosthetic hand to his right arm? Most people would probably be sympathetic, but it would definitely descend into the gray area if there was reason to believe he could do things with his new right hand that regular athletes could not do. What if he pitched with it?
At the end of the day, I just find it weird that the Olympics bans the use of certain swimsuits because they allow people to swim through water too quickly, but allow a guy who is doing a fundamentally different muscular act than the other runners to compete.
And I agree that this conversation will rear its head many times in the years to come.
I think the only thing that’s clear here is that we are destined for a future where all sports are dominated by robots, as described in the Futurama episode where Leela becomes a “Blernsball” player:
Bender: Now Wireless Joe Jackson, there was a blern-hitting machine!
Leela: Exactly! He was a machine designed to hit blerns! I mean, come on, Wireless Joe was nothing but a programmable bat on wheels.
Bender: Oh, and I suppose Pitchomat 5000 was just a modified howitzer?
Absolutely. There’s a 40% chance I join some cult that insists on playing sports with humans, 40% chance I end up running a leading robot fantasy sports league, and 20% chance I wind up with a desk job regulating the robot sports industry.