Saturday, May 31, 2008
If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, then it must be an ostrich.
It just has to be, right? Of course it has to, because looks are so deceiving. Especially in this unorthodox “what in the hell has happened to this world’s structured scenario” when everything doesn’t appear as what they seem.
Just ask Scott McClellan, and he’ll certainly be in accord with that statement.
But for some (and mostly those that are rational), it is extremely difficult to not believe in what you see. In the world of sports, with instant replay angles coming at you harder than those requesting that you switch to HD TV, it’s even more of a struggle to dismiss your sight. You know that if a boxer commits a low blow on his or her opponent, no matter if it’s the first, last, or any round it’s a low blow, right? You know if a hitter gets hit by a pitch, no matter what inning the game is in, whether its’ the first or the last round, he takes his base, right?
As this archaic system of logical reasoning reaches its climax, this then must be asked: In the NBA, is a foul always a foul? Rather, when has a foul not always been a foul?
Unfortunately, this has to be asked based on yet another “swallow the whistle” moment this league has placed on itself after Game 5 of the Lakers-Spurs series. But even more troubling and ridiculous is the reasoning why maligned official Joey Crawford didn’t blow his whistle when it was clear to even David Patterson that Derek Fisher made contact with Brent Barry.
Let’s get all of the “Barry didn’t sell the foul” propaganda out of the way first. He clearly didn’t subscribe to the Reggie Miller body driving school, and the Spurs really didn’t deserve to get another lifeline in a playoffs where they received more of them than T-Mobile and Geico has gotten commercials. Tony Parker, despite three rings, didn’t prove to put himself in the level of Chris Paul or even Deron Williams this series. Manu Ginobili was banged up and finally forced to go to his right hand consistently for a change. For all of Tim Duncan’s greatness, his free throw shooting is nearly a Shaq-like liability. And the bench made John McCain look about as young as Jason Rae. They are the only dynasty in NBA history that can’t win a title back to back, and the Nielsen ratings for the finals was already ensured of an increase once their demise was sealed.
Finally, you can’t go without mentioning the most flagrant unwritten rule in sports, the general reason why Barry didn’t at least shoot two free throws to tie that game: “Let them play, you can’t call a foul at that moment to decide the game.” It’s more visibly invisible than the inherent laws of the Constitution.
Certainly it’s more visible than seeing that Barry got fouled apparently. And the sad thing about this is every analyst, from Charles Barkley to Avery Johnson, players and coaches, have agree that it was a foul. And last time we checked the rule book, a foul is a foul, right? But then, most of the players like Barkley, Miller, Kenny Smith and others felt that it wasn’t a big enough foul to call. The consensus quote is uttered again: You can’t call a foul at that moment of the game.
This is not a disease that the NBA will be able to cure ever, nor will David Stern and company be willing to even try to do. Just like illegal immigrants working in this country, insignificant spam coming through emails, and Samantha Jones resisting abstinence from fornication, close game fourth quarter fouls will continue to be different from any other part of the game. And this is nothing less than a totally alarming situation that has arisen because the league hasn’t had the guts to stand for what’s right. Instead, they choose to go over what’s popular instead of the actual edict.
No way was Michael Jordan going to be called for his shove on Bryan Russell in Game 6just 10 years ago, when he sunk that crossover shot to give him his sixth title. Everyone who is infatuated with his “Airness” always looks to this being the exclamation point of his unrivaled greatness in the history of the sport, that jump shot that was wetter than the best morning shower. Yet no one to this day, whether it’s Stephen A. Smith, David Aldridge, or Frank Isola has even mentioned how Jordan extended his hand out of Russell shoulder. Just that slight touch put Russell on the ground, and gave Jordan the exiguous piece of space needed to etch another indelible moment in basketball history. Though they aren’t obliged to do so, and you know what Mr. Smith would tell me about what I think he should do. Use your own imagination freely I suggest.
And if they did show protest, the company line would once again be, “You can’t call a foul in a moment like that unless it’s clearly a foul. It’s Michael Jordan; he’s going to get the calls because he deserves the call.”
In short, they’ll say this: stop being stupid, childish, and plain damn idiotic. Use common sense please. Finally, they’ll close by twisting the argument on you, saying, “If we called everything a foul, basketball would be ruined. We wouldn’t be able to get out of the first quarter, every ticky-tac call will be blown, and the sport would die.”
And they say “use common sense.” Look, this is not a request to outlaw any official who doesn’t call every hand check or back down bump by Dwight Howard a foul. Let’s not be inane here. Only fools would think that, and even more dubious is why they would be so defensive about this. Because they know full well that the integrity of the game is in question once again. They are indolent in truly not analyzing this, and steadfast in their belief that you can’t call certain fouls in the crucial juncture of a contest. It’s engrained in the thoughts of many, from the players all the way down to the journalists. And until an individual or a group experiences how really irrational this reasoning is, it will continue to tickle down to generation after generation after generation.
Back to the Jordan-Russell moment, the player bias in regards to who is worthy of getting the calls makes you want to ask “why even play the game?” If the supposed superstars will get the “50/50” calls based on their reputations than the average Joe’s in the league, then why isn’t there a scream of foul play here? Why is LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and now probably, Paul, possibility given more leeway than say Deshaun “LeBron is overrated” Stevenson, Ronnie Brewer, or Earl Watson? Why do I even bother to answer these reasonable questions when I know the answer will be a “just deal with it” response?
Kobe Bryant, a man who has somehow transformed back into the league’s happiest person after being about as disgruntled with things as Michael Ware is with politicians in just a 365 day span, is part of those who don’t believe Fisher fouled Barry. He didn’t even try to sway one bit in whether the foul should have been called, dismissing that it was even a question whether it actually was one. You can only imagine how Bryant would have responded if he switched places with Berry with Bruce Bowen doing the same with Fisher’s role in that situation. Correction, you would have known how Bryant would have responded if he was bumped like that. Obviously, he would have probably put his body into Bowen and make the foul mandatory for even Marv Albert to scream foul. And he wasn’t going to acknowledge the referees did his team a favor after they almost accomplished one of the more historic collapses in playoffs history. He certainly wouldn’t have won the award for hypocrite of the day if he didn’t lie just like his tremendous team play wouldn’t have given him his first MVP Award now, would he?
Funny enough, Bryant’s opinion of the non-call was not felt a day later by the league. Thinking that it wasn’t too late at all to admit this, the NBA declared that the officials goofed completely on the call. They apologized to the Spurs for the actions of Crawford and fellow officials Joe Forte and Mark Wunderlich, though the proposal of having the end of the game by giving Barry two free throws replayed was never debated of course. But they felt a sign of penitence from them was sufficient enough to give to the Spurs and to the rest of the public.
Most importantly however is the information that they didn’t say, and may not say forever. That a foul - a bump, a slam on the wrist, an elbow to the face, or any physical contact that alters the opposing players physical momentum even while touching the ball – in the first quarter is different from a foul in a close game going down to the wire. As Jeff van Gudy said the other night quite candidly as he always does so, “Why just don’t they say it or admit it?”
Maybe because their eyes are giving them a view of an ostrich swimming in the pond, quacking out loud to itself thinking that it is indeed a duck.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
John Terry cried.
Now, he wasn’t the only one crying at the Luzhnki Stadium in the twilight hours of the late Moscow night. Cristiano Ronaldo cried, Nicholas Anelka showed a few tears, and Salome Kalou rushed off the pitch to not display his rush of demoralized emotion.
And you can bet, some fans inside the stadium, whether they wore red or blue, cried as well.
But the focus was consistently on Terry. The cameras continued to target him. And he still was crying.
John Terry continued to cry, and the agony on his face was there to stay for a long, long time.
He isn’t the first professional sports athlete to cry (whether in defeat or victory), and he won’t be the last. But witnessing a grown man, in an occasion such as this one, show this rush of unwavering sullenness in a sporting event is touching to anyone’s soul. And these sights of a usually stoic figure down on the ground in torture was the fitting imagine of this Champions League final, the first one ever between two English clubs.
It wasn’t Edwin van der Saar’s save on Anelka to give Manchester United their third European title in a 6-5 penalty duel for the ages. It wasn’t Ryan Giggs hitting the penalty before that save. And it wasn’t the stupidity of Didier Drogba slapping Nemanja Vidic in the waning moments of regular time, leading him to possible end his Chelsea career in such an ignominious fashion. And not Ronaldo’s moment of despair, because you know that was clearly the image everyone would have taken from this final, this dramatic event, if Terry didn’t slip and have his penalty be a few inches inside the bar instead of right on it.
Everybody’s Player of the Year had eviscerated his wonderful header in the first half, and revitalized the claims of him coming up small again on the biggest of stages.
But John Terry’s crying has nullified that opportunity.
Those bereaving sights of #26 have placed in the background (for the moment) Avram Grant’s future with Chelsea, and obvious dismay at this crushing loss. The Israelites bitterness was apparent, as well as his support for his devastated captain. "He is very sad and has cried but he is the main reason we are here," said Grant, denied a trophy for the third time and second in a cup final in just over four months.
Terry’s tears have pushed Sir Alex Ferguson’s elation as the second photo on most Internet and newspaper pages (or it should). The Scots man is now a perfect 4 for 4 in these European show piece events, and he knew that his team and his star man had destiny on their sides. "When we missed the penalty kick (from Ronaldo) I thought we were in trouble but overall I thought we deserved the win.”
But Terry didn’t deserve that moment. No one in sports does. The feeling of hopelessness and loneliness, a combination that strikes at your heart just as hard as a dysfunctional artery. The lingering thought that it was your fault, that you caused your own team’s demise and no one else did. No one can console you; no one can ease the pain in the slightest bit of what you are enduring. Not even a gracious “enemy” such as Paul Scholes, who received redemption for his own self-nightmare of missing United’s 1999 Champions league title in Barcelona because of suspension, could make Terry hold his head up high.
If John Terry was in a colorless vortex instead of the Luzhnki Stadium, you would have thought that he was in total lament over a lost one in his family like Frank Lampard was with his mother. Or you would have figure that Terry was witnessing the recent disasters in Myanmar and China in person. It was never any attention of his to try and rival the clouds as spewing out the most liquid on the night, but simultaneously, he was attempting at doing just that without even caring about such a silly thing.
There will be some out there that will sympathize deeply with Terry, and they won’t only be Chelsea fans mourning this defeat just as hard as he did, is, and will further do. It will be those sensitive to another’s sadness, as Scholes displayed with his attempts at getting Terry out of his misery. It will be those who understand when a man is down, and feels that he is stricken forever with a sickening repetition of “It’s my fault” taking domicile in his cerebral. They will try their hardest to lend a hand to him, to say that we love you and that you will get through this. You will be stronger; we will be there for you.
And then, there are the others in this world that will condemn Terry to the lowest low, forgetting that he already checked himself into the place long before they even attempt to. Despite Terry’s obvious moment of fragility, there will be a few insensitive fools that will cast Terry as a “choke artist” and a loser. Acerbic, irrational fans of Chelsea or the most hated foes of the club will feel no remorse for what condescending things they will say about Terry and his colossal miss. Those so called fans will forget the myriad of great displays he has had for the club. And they will even forget that if it wasn’t for him on his night’s performance alone (where he prevented Giggs’ certain go-ahead goal in extra time with his headed clearance off the line), there wouldn’t have been a chance for him to take the potential winning penalty.
A penalty that he missed, and cried about when Chelsea’s runner-up fate was sealed for the third time this season. A moment of crying that personifies how much, even in the world of sports, something can mean to someone, and how it can devastate him or her in just a quick instance.
That instance in this situation being a penalty kick off the crossbar. And leading for the world to see how John Terry’s crying was the indelible moment in a match full of them.