Thursday, July 28, 2005

Big City Nights

So, as some of you may know, I'm just another single guy living in the city. I support myself, chew with my mouth closed, take the occasional shower—in other words, I'm a great catch waiting to happen. Which is why, the last two nights, I read the entire new Harry Potter book and went to a soccer game.

Now I'll admit, part of the reason I stayed in (for the most part) is that I'm still fighting off this stupid cold (brought on, I presume, by the combination of chilly AC and the ridiculously hot and humid weather we've been enduring lately). But another part is, I admit, that I really wanted to read the latest Potter installment.

And I know—I'm 34 years old, I should be over this stuff. It took me a while to start, actually. My sister brought me back the first three books after a trip to London a few years ago, and for a good year afterwards they just sat on a shelf collecting dust. I'm not sure what caused me to open the first volume, but once I did, that was that. And of course, having the originals of the first three books, I needed the British versions of the following volumes as well. I bought the fourth on eBay, before realizing I could simply order each new one as it came out from

I'll skip spoilers and simply state that the latest book (6 of 7) is everything I've grown to expect from J.K. Rowling. Her books may be primarily aimed at children, but I'd venture to say that anyone who enjoys a good tale would get a kick out of the Potter series. Well, if there's still anybody out there who's not reading along. I felt intense disappointment at the end of volume 6—not because the ending was bad, but because the ending arrived. It'll be a long wait for No. 7.

As for the soccer game, that was MetroStars (no more NY/NJ, as per their instructions) vs. FC Dallas (FC stands for Football Club, and is a European affectation adopted by the MLS) on a potentially stormy Wednesday night. It rained as I approached the Port Authority bus terminal for the ride to the Meadowlands, but cleared rapidly before kickoff. In fact, the temperature, which hit triple digits earlier in the day at JFK, had dropped below 80 by gametime.

Still, the potential for horrific weather must have changed a lot of minds. Giants Stadium hardly ever looks terribly full for a soccer match (especially when it's strictly MLS), but this was particularly bad. Listed attendance was 7,000-something, but the actual crowd had to be less than half that. The final was 3-2, MetroStars, with the heralded "King of Goals" adding one to the winning effort.

Anyway, more later. I'm just happy it's 80-something degrees out.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Day To Day

OK, so I missed a little time there. A few things happened--the Brooklyn Banks (the best BMX spot in the universe) re-opened after an 8-month shutdown, the Tour de France entered the interesting time, and I had a few things to kick out for KICKS. And yesterday I got hit with a head cold that makes it feel like my sinuses and nasal passages are filled with half-dried Elmer's Glue. How's that for imagery?

But hell, it's 95 degrees out and humid, so I might as well sit in the AC and put down some thoughts on a few things:

• The Tour de Lance: Hey, I'm American—I'm happy that Lance won his seventh. But whay did it all have to be so anticlimactic? For the last two weeks, any attacks came from guys who didn't have a chance in hell of winning, while main contenders Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich couldn't do anything to make things interesting.

There were moments, of course—Armstrong teammate George Hincapie winning a stage (and the toughest one, at that), Robbie McEwen's leg-melting sprint stage wins, Mickael Rasmussen's tireless climbing (and Agony of Defeat signature time trial), Lance's blazing time trial second half, and Alexander Vinokourov's last stage win (and his sprint duel with Levi Leipheimer). But all in all, there wasn't much drama regarding the outcome. It seemed like a given that Armstrong was going to win from the first week, and, of course, he did.

Not that it takes anything away from the accomplishment. Over 2,000 miles in three weeks isn't just hard—it's insane—and to beat all comers SEVEN years in a row after overcoming a nasty case of cancer, well, that just isn't human. The only question now is whether Armstrong will stay retired. After all, he is only 34.

But even if he does, I'm already looking forward to next year's Tour. With the mechanical rabbit sidelined, the greyhounds should (hopefully) battle from the first day to the last. Ullrich has won before, Basso—long considered the future of cycling—is already 29 without a Tour win to show for it, and Vinokourov is still a beast at 31. Then there's 25-year-old Ukranian Yaroslav Popovych, who pushed the Discovery team along, and along with Hincapie, should be right there in '06. There will be no shortage of American riders to follow, either, with Leipheimer, Bobby Julich and David Zabriskie all turning in respectable performances.

• Larry Brown coaching the Knicks: Yikes. I suppose it's a way to sort of circumvent the salary cap and the luxury tax, but unless he can bring half the Pistons along, why bother? It's like hiring Dale Earnhardt to drive your lawnmower. The Knicks are NOT going to win an NBA Championship in the next three years—and Next Town Brown won't be staying any longer than that—so what exactly will he accomplish? Especially with Isiah having long been on the side of Stephon Marbury, who's absolutely NOT a Larry Brown point guard. (And boy, is he going to love Tim Thomas.)

Will Brown make the Knicks better? Of course. (And for $12 million a year, he'd damn well better.) But what will he make them into? Even the best chef in the world can't make the simplest dish when you're missing half of the ingredients. Their best defender is in Phoenix, they don't have a true point guard, and their free-agent signing is a center who's played well exclusively in his contract year. Oh yeah, and their tradeable assets are Penny Hardaway and Tim Thomas. Stay in the Hamptons, Larry!

• Roller skating: Went a couple weeks ago, to The Skate Key in the South Bronx. Hadn't been to a rink in several years, and all I have to say is, what a racket! I'm convinced nothing in there had changed since roughly 1975. The lights, the carpeting, the lockers, and especially the rental skates. It's quite possible the rental skates were used in the Civil War. When I exchanged my left skate because it insisted on turning right, I got another one that did exactly the same thing.

But the investment! I'm not sure how much the building cost (or whether it was rented or leased or what), but other than utilities and employees, there are essentially no expenses! Admission and skate rental was $10, and that's because we were part of a party. I need to invest in a roller rink.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

All-Star Game

Just for the heck of it, I watched a couple of innings of the MLB All-Star game last night. I don't normally watch baseball, but this was in a bar, so I figured it was OK.

I used to be a huge baseball fan. That was due to my parents, who took me to my first Mets game when I was—I don't know, 5 or 6—and enabled my ensuing addiction with baseball cards and box scores. I knew the name of every Met by the time I was 7. The Mets were awful back then, in the mid-to-late '70s, but I stuck with them all the way through the 1986 World Series championship and through the death of the should-have-been dynasty. Around that time I got seriously into basketball, and when the strike/workstoppage/whatever killed the Series in, what, 1994?, I pretty much gave up on baseball for good.

Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa pulled me back in briefly, and I've been somewhat of a casual follower of the sport ever since. I don't really watch SportsCenter, so I don't see many highlights, but occasionally I'll flip on a game if it seems intriguing.

Which brings me back to the All-Star game. It's been long enough since I seriously paid attention that there are current All-Stars that I don't even know. And then there are guys like Roger Clemens, who will probably be pitching when he's old enough to start beaning his own K-named grandchildren. To be honest, I didn't pay all that much attention to the game, except for Clemens' 1-2-3 inning, and Dontrelle Willis getting shelled (which is too bad, because he's one of my favorite athletes). But there are a few things I don't get:

1) Giving the MVP a new Corvette: Back in the day, it made sense. Athletes weren't making as much money, and a new car was a pretty big thing. Now the guys are making tens of millions, and a new $50,000 Corvette (in eye-melting yellow, no less) is just a gift for the kids. Or a trade-in on a Hummer. Meanwhile, the big 3 are going bankrupt while still paying God-knows-how-much to sponsor the All-Star game. Oh well, at least it was in Detroit.

2) The whole "winning league gets home field advantage in the World Series" is just plain stupid. Seriously. I guess it's cool that it gives the game a little meaning, but essentially, one team gets rewarded in the end. Is there really a sense of League pride in who wins the Series? When the Red Sox won, were the Yankees happy for them because they're a fellow AL squad? Somehow I doubt it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

You're A Good Man, Larry Brown

Will someone please explain to me what's going on with the Larry Brown situation? As of right now, word is that he might get fired from the Detroit Pistons—whom he led to a championship and a Finals Game Seven. The Pistons's previous coach, in case you forgot, was Rick Carlisle, who led them to two straight 50-win seasons before HE was fired. (Which leads one to wonder what exactly it is they're looking for in a coach.)

They got rid of Carlisle because they had a chance to get Brown. They'll get rid of Brown—if they do—because he had the gall to interview for the Cavs job of team president DURING this year's Finals. And while yes, that's a major breach of etiquette, was anyone really surprised? Hiring Brown as your coach is like dating a girl from an escort service. You need to be satisfied with the job they do for you and not worry so much about what they're doing with other people.

But maybe that's not the real reason. After all, Joe Dumars has added a lot of young pieces--namely Darko Milicic, but also Carlos Arroyo and Carlos Delfino--who have barely gotten off the bench. While winning has been great, it wouldn't be a bad idea to start developing some of that young talent. You know, just in case some of the other guys on the team start aging.

The thing that's the most mind-boggling, though, is the idea of Larry Brown coaching the Knicks. Not only is their payroll higher than the GNP of some countries already (while LB won't count against the cap, he'll definitely command a high seven-figure salary), but it's just hard to see how he'll be able to help out the Knicks. First off, he's widely known to be extra-hard on point guards, and neither Stephon Marbury or Jamal Crawford are exactly prototypical ones. Factor in the three rookies they just added, and the fact that they just traded the one player who knew how to play defense to the Suns, and, well—if Brown does come to New York, he'll be interviewing for other jobs by the All-Star break.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Like Mike?

I've gotta run out to this thing in the Bronx, so I figured I'd post this thing I wrote a little while ago on whether Michael Jordan was the best basketball player ever. I think it asks more questions than it answers, but I never thought there was a "correct" answer to begin with. See what you think.

Not that he planned it, but Michael Jordan had the luxury of peaking when interest in professional basketball absolutely exploded. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson laid down the foundation, and he built the mansion. Jordan’s personality, his game, his style--all were expertly tailored for his time. For a while, at least, he was the most famous individual on the planet. He had a fresh pair of shoes every game, millions of dollars before he even knew what to do with them. The right players were assembled around him, the right coach was brought in, and everyone's talent was maximized. His on-court and off-court personas were meshed perfectly, thanks to Nike, Wieden & Kennedy, Spike Lee and, of course, Michael himself. Michael Jordan would have been a star in any era—but in ours, he went way beyond.

What is greatness? How is it defined? Is it just numbers? If that was the case, you'd need to look to Wilt Chamberlain or Oscar Robertson. One averaged 54 and 20 for a season, the other damn near averaged a triple-double for a decade. Is it intangibles? Winning? If that's the case, you might want to turn to Bill Russell. He earned 11 rings and essentially invented modern defense. His outlet passes and blocks triggered a fast-break offense that often ended in someone else getting the bucket. He wasn't just a hall-of-famer, he made countless others into hall-of-famers as well. The ability to play several positions? That would be Magic Johnson.

You can certainly make a sound argument that Jordan was the greatest ever. He's got the numbers to back it up, from scoring titles to defensive awards to championship rings. Forget about Spike and Mike—even without the unprecedented publicity push, Jordan was a transcendent player who could have dominated in any era. But it’s far too easy for us to be blinded by recent memory—who actually remembers seeing Oscar, Bill, Wilt, Earl Monroe? Meanwhile, we all saw Mike on TNT, on ABC, on NBC, on IMax. We bought his shoes, we wanted to be like Mike. Is it any wonder we put him before others?

Even his astounding longevity is at least partially due to the era in which he played. Modern athletes have professional trainers, multi-million dollar shoe research labs, nutritionists, five-star hotels and the best medical care the world has ever known. X-ray machines in the locker rooms, massage therapists at their beck and call, private jets. Meanwhile Bill Russell was turned away from ordinary hotels because of the color of his skin. Couldn't eat in restaurants, flew in cramped quarters, gutted out injuries. Played in canvas hightops in cold arenas on deadwood floors. A serious knee injury now might knock you out for a year—back then it probably meant your career. And if you did come back, you were never the same again.

Who's best? Nobody will ever truly know. And that's the triple truth, Ruth.

What's With The Infrequency, Kenneth? (Starbury Time)

I know, I know--I'm actually updating two days in a row. Shocking! Nothing terribly exciting today, but I want to start putting stuff up every day just to keep myself busy. And to keep writing. And so Lang will leave me the hell alone. (All love.)

All I wanted to write about today was the recent profane reaction of Knicks vice president (president? GM?) Isiah Thomas to a question as to whether he was considering trading Stephon Marbury. In an expletive-filled response, he essentially suggested to the assembled media throng that it was more likely that he'd jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. Are you kidding me? Because if that's true, Isiah should be fired. Immediately.

Let's face it. Stephon has been more trouble than he's worth ever since he left Minnesota (which was his first and biggest mistake). He doesn't make his teammates better, he's petulant, he bruises easier than a day-old apple, and his morose attitude when the chips are down is dangerously contagious--all the more so when you consider he's the leader of an increasingly young team. And this, mind you is from someone who for years was painted as one of Steph's staunchest supporters. And honestly, I still like him tremendously, both as a person and a player. I just think he's a bad fit for the new-look Knicks (ironic, seeing that he was the first, and biggest, acquisition).

It goes all the way to the way he plays the game. Given his attack mentality, and despite his occasionally brilliant playmaking, Steph should be a scorer. And he needs to part of a winning team, where his downcast attitude wouldn't be as much of an issue. And--the biggest thing, playingwise--Steph just isn't an up-and-down guy. He never has been. Even in New Jersey, with Kenyon Martin and Kerry Kittles, he wanted to bring the ball up slowly, and play in the half-court set. If the Knicks truly want to be a running team, they need a different point guard.

Then there's the matter of his max contract, which will pay him roughly 20 million annually for the next three years. Why WOULDN'T Isiah want to move that? As a guy who says he cherishes flexibility, why would he want to dedicate roughly a third of the cap for the next three years to an aging, miscast, redundant, misanthropic guard? Just because he's from Brooklyn? Why not try and actually free up cap space to draw a marquee free agent like, say, LeBron James? And, even more inexplicably, why would Zeke so categorically and emphatically deny it--except perhaps to save Steph's easily hurt feelings? Trading Stephon Marbury shouldn't only be a possibility for the New York Knicks, it should be an inevitability. The homecoming was the feel-good story of the year, but the experiment failed. Let both parties move on.

Where to trade him? I was thinking Memphis, for Jason Williams and the admittedly cancerous Bonzi Wells. Start Wells at the three, with Williams running (literally) the point and Quentin Richardson at the two, with Jamal Crawford being the first guard off the bench. Or replace Wells with a re-signed Stromile Swift and include someone like Michael Sweetney. (I haven't looked up salary numbers, but the new CBA loosened the salary restrictions anyway). I don't know, just something to think about. It would definitely make both teams better--Memphis would be rid of some headaches, and the Knicks could REALLY start running. And you know how many "Williams 55" Knick jerseys would sell?

Honestly, I don't think Steph plays another game for the Knicks. And, if so, I can't wait to hear what Isiah has to say then.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Morning Glory

I'm not a morning person. Never have been, never will be. Well, except for Saturday cartoons when I was a little kid, and the occasional late night that runs into sunrise. Yet, for the past week, I've been waking up easily (sort of) at 8 a.m. to watch each passing stage of the Tour de France.

My hatred for mornings, you see, is counterbalanced by my love for cycling. Any kind of cycling. I started as a BMXer, and while I remain a BMXer at heart, I've since expanded into mountain, track, and road. I share my studio apartment with 11 complete bicycles, and enough parts to assemble a half-dozen more. And despite my current freelance existence, I recently spent close to $2,000 on a brand-new Orbea road bike, a 17 or so pound creation of aluminum, carbon and steel that provides equal amounts of pleasure and pain. In between nights of carousing this holiday weekend, I managed rides of 30 and 40 miles, concentrating on pedaling steadily and seeing how fast I could go (34.1 mph). Mainly what I learned is that I'm quite out of shape--my beer consumption probably being rather higher than that of the average road professional.

Which brings us back to the Tour. I've always been aware of it, of course, seeing that it's the most celebrated bicycle race in the world. I probably first really knew what it was when Greg LeMond was winning in the '80s, and started watching--at least a little--when Lance Armstrong started his run. But until this year, I hadn't paid this close attention. And until I started riding (for me) big distances, I didn't really appreciate what went into this kind of race.

I've ridden bicycles my whole life--30-plus years now--and I can barely fathom what these guys accomplish over three weeks in July. For example, my high speed of 34 mph was established in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, coming down a long hill in the big gear. Hammering. Wind whipping through my helmet, fluttering my jersey and buffeting my ears. It felt super fast, and it bled away once the road levelled out. Yet these guys AVERAGE that, top it--while going uphill at times, through rain, screaming fans pressed to both sides of the road, and other cyclists constantly running inches off their wheels--for 100-plus miles and four hours at a stretch. And then, at the end, they stand in their pedals and sprint for the line, hitting 40-plus, banging shoulders and elbows and somehow staying on two. And then they get up the next morning and do the same thing, only faster. Anyone who watches cycling and thinks it's boring has obviously never ridden.

Like stock car racing and even track events, it's difficult to comprehend just how fast people are traveling just by watching the TV coverage. With everyone tight in packs of equally fast competitors, the sense of relative speed is tempered greatly. But with the Tour, you get a better idea than in other events. Look at the team cars following, the motorcycles with the time boards pulling ahead, even the spectators and dotted lines rushing past. That's speed.

As fantastic as it would be for Lance Armstrong to win a seventh-straight Tour (an unprecedented amount), I'm rooting for a former BMXer from Australia named Robbie McEwen. A tiny, sinewy sprinter, McEwen has already won two stages, and placed third in another. Of course, he was disqualified from that stage for putting his head in the chest of a competitor (who happened to be elbowing him at the same time--while they were both at full bore). McEwen is also known to end stages by wheelieing across the line. As a BMXer myself, how can I not be on his side?

But Armstrong is still inevitably a huge presence. It's fast approaching a year straight that I've been wearing a yellow LiveStrong band. It's always meant a lot--my grandfather died of cancer when I was six, and my aunt passed from myeloma a few weeks back--but it's this time of year when it means the most. Hopefully some of the previous explains why.