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The Good, The Bad, The Fuggly


As Meg will tell you--I've been watching a ton of televised sports lately.  In fact, although Meg normally leads our household in number of TV hours watched, I think over the course of May and June that I may have taken the cake.  How did this happen?

The Good: The NBA Playoffs

Friends, I'm ready to say this in print--the 2009 NBA playoffs were the best postseason professional playoffs I have ever seen, ESPECIALLY when you ask this question:

Has there ever been a postseason where the quality of play was high, the best team won each round, and every single individual game created at least a few "wow" moments for people who love that particular sport?

The answer is now the most recent NBA playoff run.  People who know me know how much I adore college basketball (and, the fact that I take the first two days of the NCAA tourney off each year just so I can wake up and watch 12 hours of hoops each day), so you should also know this--I have just about given up on major college hoops because the quality of play has become so poor.  This year's tourney was bad, but the Final Fours the last five years has also not been the best, even if a couple of the championship games have been legendary.  Missed jump shots, an incredible number of attempted three-pointers, poor free throw shooting, and the nation's most under-reported fad--guards driving all the way to the RIM only to throw the ball out to forwards for uncontested threes--have threatened to destroy the college game altogether.

Now, I will give college hoops this much--the top five or six teams this year had some great players, so it was interesting to watch some elite athletes make the magic happen.  But, it is a strange irony that the top men's college basketball highlight this year was the multi-overtime Syracuse/UConn thriller in the Big East Tournament featuring the heroics of Jonny Flynn...a game that went as long as it did because of at least four game-ending shot attempts missed at the buzzer, multiple DQs and at one point, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim's insertion of a player that had NOT PLAYED A MINUTE OF BASKETBALL ALL SEASON.  Cool, yes...high-quality, uh, no.

I am amazed that I only know two or three guys who watch pro basketball; most people claim that college basketball has more "energy" and "passion", or that college hoops is more "fun" to watch...bullshit.  I watch both sports all year--here's the main difference:

The NBA talent pool is better than any basketball talent pool--every NBA team, spots 1-12 on every roster--ever.  EVER.  I know this because of my eyeball test mixed with NBA analysts nationwide raving about the same thing.  Even if it wasn't the playoffs, people who watched the lowly Wizards play regularly can tell you that even some of their players have consistently good talent, and they were missing their best player all year.  But, the playoffs brought it all home.

Do you know how riveting this year's playoffs was?  One night, I watched something like a first-round Magic/Sixers matchup and then a Mavs/Spurs matchup, and then watched the TNT post-game was all over at like 2 in the morning.  I mean, I couldn't get enough of this!  I thought almost every single team star in this postseason showed up, so even watching the Sixers play, I couldn't believe how good guys like Andre Iguodala are every single night.  Blowouts like the games in the Heat/Hawks series (like every other series this year, the better team won) were still fun to watch thanks to generally high-caliber play; then, a couple of series had consistently close games (none more so than the Bulls/Celtics series) and they kept my attention that way.

Each time, the right teams won; Kobe & Co. had the best NBA roster and they won it all, and as Meg knows, I predicted they would win in five mainly because I thought the Lakers would remember how badly they played in the Finals last year.  But, it really wouldn't have mattered if the Lakers won eventually...I had a ball watching games every night for six weeks.  It was cool to see if either Lebron or D-Wade would be able to lead a team of scrubs all the way to a championship; I couldn't believe that J.J. Redick basically shut down Ray Allen, who has got maybe a year of elite ability left in him; Orlando has all of the pieces to get back to the Finals next year, but they never should have let Jameer Nelson play in this year's Finals; Dirk Nowitzki is unbelievably good and as unguardable as Kobe, Lebron and many others on most nights.  And, the best coach in the NBA playoffs this year?  That's easy--Rick Adelman.  With a team of total scabs LED BY RON ARTEST, Houston was the only team that had a shot of beating the Lakers.  Adelman has led scabs to Western Conference finals in Sacramento, nearly won a title with Gary Payton, and took the Lakers to seven games this year with a 6'6" center filling in for a 7'7" center.  What???

I don't work for the NBA, but if you think watching the NBA is dumb or that the games are boring, you are absolutely insane.  The athletes right now are out of control talented, and they can shoot, and almost all of them attack the rim and finish.  I could gush about the NBA all day.

The Bad:  The Washington Capitals and UVA Baseball

All of the following is true:

  • Prior to May 12th, I had never watched a single complete game of hockey in person or on television.  Ironically, I became a master of the game "NHL '94" while at UVA and knew almost every NHL center's name just by playing this video game.

  • My friend Gary, a season ticket holder who blogs for the Caps, had a family activity on the night of May 13th, and had to give up his tickets for the game...and, he asked me if I would be able to go.

  • My first hockey game, from not too shabby seats, was Game 7 of the Caps/Penguins series at Verizon Center.

  • My last hockey game, from not too shabby seats, was Game 7 of the Caps/Penguins series at Verizon Center.

Earlier on May 13th, I went to a sports shop near my office and bought two red t-shirts so that I would be in costume for the big game; on game night, my lovely fiancée Meg and I made the eight-minute walk from our apartment to the Verizon Center in our shiny new red t-shirts and my red Nats cap.  Fans were fired up; the house was packed; kids were decked out in all manner of hockey gear; the pre-game intros were passionate and laced with hyperbole.

Then, the game started.

To refresh the memories of those who have forgotten, the Caps got shelled 6-2 that night, but at one point, it was 5-0 Pens and it was as ugly as I have ever seen for a home team from their fans.  I mean, fathers were dropping f-bombs WITH THEIR NINE-YEAR-OLDS RIGHT NEXT TO THEM; fans were booing their team lustily while consuming $10 Budweisers and $12 chicken finger platters; women were leaning over the rails booing the Caps coaching staff.  I don't know much about hockey, but my general sports knowledge told me that the Caps needed to have the puck on their half of the ice in order to create scoring opportunities...which is hard when the Caps never had the puck.  The Penguins scored on almost every major Caps mistake, but they attempted many more shots than the Caps on this night, and the shellacking of a home team in a Game 7 was a nice precursor for the Penguins' eventual win in a Game 7 on the road against Detroit to win it all a few weeks later.

The Caps' choke job wasn't all that bad, though.  At least they were out of the game from the start; UVA's baseball team, on the other hand, were tied with their opponent, Arkansas, in the ninth inning and blew a ton of chances to end their season.

What made the UVA baseball choke job so thrilling for me?  Despite the fact that this was not UVA basketball or UVA football, it was a UVA sporting event, so the same basic rules apply--we will find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, a team will have its season's best highlights against us, commentators will ride us mercilessly for choking, and our coaching staff will squander every built-in advantage we have.  (Wait, am I talking about UVA lacrosse or UVA baseball?  I get them all confused.)

To be fair, I like UVA, and I like baseball, but "UVA baseball" is not something high on my radar.  In fact, I have watched more UVA field hockey (one game, my fourth year) than I have UVA baseball (three innings in the Arkansas game).  As my man Rich "Socki" Wysocki will tell you, I informed him this week that I would become a bandwagon UVA baseball fan only if we won it all this year and take credit for a lifetime of love for UVA baseball, which would be a blatant, out-and-out lie.

But, Meg called me last night from an office party and said "Hey, are you watching UVA?  We have the bases loaded in the ninth inning!"  So, I turned on the game and watched UVA complete choke away a loss by blowing chance after chance for four innings...amazingly, they STILL had a chance to win in the 12th inning (UVA was the home team) after getting a leadoff double and a baffling blown bunt/third base steal at-bat to give UVA two outs to score a man from third.

Terrible.  But not fuggly.

The Fuggly:  USA Men's Soccer

I don't watch much soccer.  But, I know how the game is played and understand the rules, and when the World Cup is going on, I generally have watched the games the last two Cups because I like to watch top athletes perform.

I was working from home this morning and happened to turn on ESPN2 when the US men's team was about to play Brazil in a Confederations Cup matchup, and I'm not even sure what the Confederations Cup is.  I do know this--watching the US team walk out to the field side-by-side with the Brazilian players, I knew that their players were taller, stronger-looking, and more Brazilian than the US players, which told me that they had probably always wanted to be soccer players, whereas the American players might have been failed football players or failed basketball players but settled on soccer.  This is important, because on the field, within just 20 minutes, even my dumb ass knew that Brazil's team is on another level completely than the US team.  I mean, comPLETEly.

In addition to being taller, stronger-looking, and more Brazilian, the Brazilian players were also more skilled with their feet, faster, and more graceful.  They also appeared to be in better shape than the American players, making run after run with ease.  Even though the score was "only" 2-0 at the 20-minute mark, the rest of the first half was spent watching Brazil pile up shots on goal, legal tackles on smaller American players, and fancy moves while embarrassing their opponent.

It wasn't so much the score; it was the general feeling I had that if this Brazil team played this American team 25 more times this year, Brazil would hammer us every single time.  The pure athleticism here told the whole story--when the captain for Brazil walked out to the field (I believe his name was Lucio) to swap flags with Landon Donovan (the US captain), he absolutely towered over him.  The US team has a lot of guys that are roughly Donovan's size; the Brazilian team has a lot of guys that are roughly Lucio's size.  Uhh, if that won't change, and those guys are faster than our guys, won't you always get the same result?

Then, I thought about it some more while talking to my buddy Brian "Schmoove" Prenoveau.  Has the U.S. ever had a world-class soccer player?  I don't mean players who have competed on the world stage.  No, I mean have we ever produced a world-beater who plays soccer?  A physical specimen the soccer world has never seen?  A Federer, or Tiger, or Lebron-like talent that has soul-crushed his respective peers?  Maybe--Mia Hamm.  But, I'm still not sure about her only because USA Soccer on the women's side is so much better than other teams that we regularly blow out traditional soccer countries.  Obviously, soccer is still not a part of most Americans' sport culture, and it has been a part of the culture in many other countries for decades.  But, are we this far away from ever being good?  I listen to The Herd on ESPN Radio a lot and Cowherd has been hammering on this same point this week...isn't it a little arrogant to assume that because we are Americans, we are just going to figure this soccer thing out overnight and suddenly compete on the world stage next year at the 2010 Cup?

I'm not sure...but, I know that match today was fucking nasty.  (Uhh...ugly.)


Random Bellviews, courtesy of Bell and Longer Community Trust:

  • Dom Perignon:  Opening Weekend

  • Getting in and out of the DC DMV in 25 minutes:  $9.50 Show

  • Landing safely at Newark International...then learning that your pilot died mid-flight:  Matinee

  • The trailer for "G.I. Joe":  Rental

  • The new Black Eyed Peas package "The E.N.D.", complete with the overrated and strangely-titled lead single "Boom Boom Pow", a remix album better than the original material, and lyrics so bad they should have called one of the tracks "It Must Be the Money":  Hard Vice

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 06/18/09