Thursday, July 29, 2010

Buzz Bissinger is my illegitimate father

I just felt compelled to share this. Listen to Buzz Bissinger, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Friday Night Lights" and a more-recent book about LeBron (apparently a LeBron autobiography, but after "The Decision" I'm not convinced The Chosen One is literate) talk with ESPN's Bill Simmons about LeBron's psychology, the tragic death of journalism, and much, much more.

It's like Buzz Bissinger's angry, curmudgeonly brain took a bleep and out came me.

The Gunning Hawk >> Are Arsenal's youth Wenger's summer signings?

The math doesn't add up. Four players gone. Two players injured. And only two players brought in. What's Arsene Wenger up to in this critical summer in Arsenal's development? Maybe Arsene is witnessing the future right before his eyes.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Quick Takes - Take me out to the baaaallgame

I haven't been to a baseball game in a year or so. Not out of protest or anything (although you could argue that my distaste for public support of Bud Selig's product has pushed me away from regular attendance), but mostly because the Seattle Mariners just suck. Yep, they suck. My apologies to our Japanese owner who's never attended a game in person. I will forgive you if you let me design my own game for Nintendo.

It's a sumo-wrestling game for the Wii. Call me.

I'm not a bandwagon guy, I've spent my whole life rooting for teams that don't win, I'm used to it. But if I'm going to physically go to a baseball game, it better be special. I went to a game recently with my wife, so you could argue that that alone is what made it special (aww), but, really, what happened during the game redefined my definition of "special" (or just reinforced it). It wasn't one thing specifically, just a conglomeration of the human experience ... a welding of jaw-dropping stupidity and hilariousness that reminded me what it's like to be around large groups of people. I wouldn't say it made me want to go to a baseball game again, no, it just opened my eyes once more to the true wonders of American life. NPR should've been there to document it.

But instead of NPR, you get a less-pretentious version of it called Me. And you know what that means ... QUICK TAKES!

  • I got a free unfitted Mariners hat upon arrival at Safeco Field, which I think I gave to a homeless man on the way home (you're WELCOME). Have we learned nothing from "Seinfeld"? Also, the irony of that sentence about "a homeless man on the way home" just hit me, and I sincerely apologize to the homeless, as they are an easy and unnecessary target for Internet-based humor. Lack of computers, etc.
  • Standing out by the bullpen before the game, Felix Hernandez was warming up despite the fact that he wasn't pitching that day. I guess that's what pitchers do on their off days: Toss a wad of chew in their mouths, throw some pitches in the bullpen, spit a little (see my photo above), and call it a day. But as Felix wowed fans with every snap of the catcher's glove, a group of dudes (and they really were "dudes") ran up to the bullpen fence and yelled, "Hey Felix! Thanks for the shutout the other night! I have you on my fantasy team! You're finally paying off!" To which Felix quickly replied, "You're welcome, you owe me $20!"
  • I've now discovered that anyone wearing a T-shirt to a Mariners game with skulls, swords, or some sort of skull/sword combination is not there to watch the baseball game. He is there to drink beer, hit on women, and yell obscenities at whoever looks at him funny while he walks laps around the field for four straight hours. He will also, strangely, stand outside the bathroom for lengthy periods of time while holding his cell phone and smirking like an idiot. Is that where people like him find their pick of the litter? Right outside the litter box?
  • Been to a baseball game lately? If not, it turns out that everyone there is rooting for every other team BUT the teams playing. Please take off your Cincinatti Reds jersey, sir, they aren't playing today and you're just confusing your children.
  • We sat next to a man with no teeth who was wearing a Mariners-branded T-shirt that said "#1 Dad!" as he fed his kids packets of Crystal Light and home-brought peanuts from a Ziploc bag. One of his three boys was about 20 years older than the other two and was utterly enthralled by the ability of the Crystal Light packet to turn his bottled water red. Safeco Field is supposed to be a family-friendly environment, but let's not make it a refuge for the cast of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Shudders.
  • Mariners fans got more excited about the damn digital hydroplane race than they did at any other point during the game. I may or may not have mockingly yelled "BLUE!" throughout the race, despite the fact that there was no blue hydroplane in the competition. It was in the shop, I was just rooting for a speedy recovery.
  • In Chicago, everybody sings "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh inning stretch at Cubs games as loudly and passionately as they can. It's tradition and it really goes a long way toward bringing fans together. In Seattle, people stand around and wait for that song to be over before launching out of their seats and dancing around like Emily Rose when "Louie, Louie" comes on, which, I contend, is a completely non-sensical song and not worthy of the adoration it receives. Oh baby now me gotta go? What the hell.
  • If I'm walking down the street and I see a sign that says, "CLAP YOUR HANDS!" ... I don't clap my hands. I make a quizzical face and then move on. Why should I clap my hands if I don't feel like clapping my hands? It's preposterous. If I'm watching TV and a commercial comes on for Taco Bell, I don't immediately get in my car and go to Taco Bell. Sometimes I think about going to Taco Bell, but I don't actually do it. I have free will. I make my own decisions. I decide when I'm hungry and what I should eat. At a Mariners game, however, free will is strongly discouraged. When a sign comes on, people profoundly adhere to making noise, chanting a player's name a specific way, or, in the case of the sign, "Let me hear it!", letting whoever the me is in that sign hear whatever it is that he/she is hoping to hear. When a clapping sound comes on, everyone immediately claps along. The second the signs or sounds disappear, everyone stops. It's absolutely terrifying. And we're sure the robots haven't already won?
  • Explain to me the allure of a gigantic mound of hot, sweaty garlic fries.
  • A kid sitting next to me got up to go to the bathroom with his dad (full of teeth, not the #1 Dad from before). He tapped me on the shoulder, handed me a bag of hot peanuts his dad had purchased from a vendor, and said, "Can you hold this?" before walking up the aisle. Now I was holding a stranger's bag of warm peanuts. I do not understand human behavior.
  • Fun fact: The last book Rob Johnson read was "The Bible." Maybe he should read a book on catching. And then one on hitting. And then one on less-creepy fun facts.
  • Around the third inning, two wannabe cast members from "Jersey Shore" showed up in our section wearing LA Angels jerseys (surprisingly, the team the Mariners were playing that day). It was immediately clear that a) they were drunk, b) they were related, and c) they were obnoxious dbags that were going to provide endless entertainment for our section. While hurling slurred insults at Mariners fans in the fifth or sixth inning, a beer vendor came down the aisle and the two brothers yelled "HERE!" to get his attention. They obviously needed more liquor. The section collectively screamed, "Don't serve them!" at the bewildered beer salesman. He served them anyway (why listen to 100 sober people when two drunk kids are going to give you money?) and, a half inning later, on a sweltering summer day, the brothers had finished their beers and were looking a bit shaky excusing themselves from their annoyed row. Not one or two steps onto the stairs and one of the gel-slicked brothers, in mid-walk mind you, passed out and crumpled onto the stairs. He passed out while standing up! Can't say I've seen that before. His brother tried quickly to wake him as security began to descend the aisle, but Tweedledee was lights out and firmly planted. Out of nowhere, four old women appeared around the unconscious boy and started checking his vital signs. I whispered to my wife, "I bet they used to be nurses!" ... because old people obviously can't be nurses anymore once they reach a certain age (I'm an idiot). Alcohol enforcement finally showed up, called the paramedics, and then four paramedics showed up and pulled open his now-ironic Angels jersey, exposing a robust beer gut to the hundreds of people standing and watching. One guy got out of his seat and moved right up next to the scene, taking pictures with his cell phone while the paramedics gave "Are you effing serious?" looks and shooshed him away. The paramedics finally got the kid's eyes open and dead-body carried him up the aisle, placing him on a stretcher that was waiting in the rotunda as fans clapped. Their first non-suggested clap of the day. Whew.
Buy me some peanuts and Craaacker Jacks ...

The Gunning Hawk >> A final farewell to Eduardo

With Arsenal selling former striker Eduardo to Ukranian champions Shakhtar Donetsk for a reported fee of £6m last week, I wave a fond farewell to one of the slickest poachers we've seen at Arsenal in years.

Click "E-mail Erik" and send in your questions (sports and non-sports) to be in the next Q&A!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Michael Jordan vs. ESPN TrueHoop

After reading the recent ESPN TrueHoop post "Magic Johnson sought elite teammates too" in defense of LeBron James' decision to jump the Cleveland ship and head for South Beach, one line stuck out to me like a sore thumb at the bottom of the article:

"What it really comes down to is that Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson can say they wouldn't have stooped to seeking out teammates as good as Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. But bear in mind they also never had to confront the reality of seven years with the kinds of rosters James played on in Cleveland."

Henry Abbott, the TrueHoop guru I respect and admire, used John Hollinger's PER as the basis for his argument about Magic Johnson being blessed to play with such a phenomenal player like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, citing Abdul-Jabbar's individual PER in Magic's first seven seasons. I used that same statistic, however flawed it may be, to try to provide actual data to the readers about the other name he haphazardly mentioned, Michael Jordan, and his so-called "superior" teams that are now being used to absolve LeBron James from his decision to flee from adversity.

Trying to use that argument is, frankly, ignoring the fact that LeBron played with generally good teams, often better on average than Jordan's teams in both players' first seven seasons. I ran through Jordan's and James' first seven seasons in the NBA, removing all players from both teams who played less than 10 games, and found that, at best, the average PER of the team as a whole is basically a draw between Jordan and James, while Jordan was significantly better his rookie season and had much greater consistency year-over-year. While Jordan was better overall individually, LeBron often had higher-ranked individual teammates than Jordan in his starting five too.

Removing Jordan and LeBron from their teams, the difference in their teammates' average PER is almost negligible.

Rookie season

Jordan: Individual (25.8 PER), Chicago average (11.96 PER)
LeBron: Individual (18.3 PER), Cleveland average (12.71 PER)

Year 2

Jordan: Individual (27.5 PER), Chicago average (13.75 PER)
LeBron: Individual (25.7 PER), Cleveland average (11.06 PER)

Year 3

Jordan: Individual (29.8 PER), Chicago average (11.82 PER)
LeBron: Individual (28.1 PER), Cleveland average (11.26 PER)

Year 4

Jordan: Individual (31.7 PER), Chicago average (10.76 PER)
LeBron: Individual (24.5 PER), Cleveland average (11.85 PER)

Year 5

Jordan: Individual (31.1 PER), Chicago average (11.36 PER)
LeBron: Individual (29.1 PER), Cleveland average (11.10 PER)

Year 6

Jordan: Individual (31.2 PER), Chicago average (11.53 PER)
LeBron: Individual (31.7 PER), Cleveland average (12.18 PER)

Year 7

Jordan: Individual (31.6 PER), Chicago average (13.73 PER)
LeBron: Individual (31.1 PER), Cleveland average (12.31 PER)

The only major statistical significance arrives in the seventh season, when Jordan and the Bulls won their first championship. So please, let's all stop acting like LeBron was tortured by his teammates while simlutaneously throwing Michael Jordan under the South Beach-bound bus. Saying Jordan would've done the same thing if he were in LeBron's shoes is laughing off the statistics.

Jordan's teams were, on average over the first seven seasons combined, only 2.9 percent better than LeBron's, while Jordan himself was nearly 10 percent better over that same span.

Done and done.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The psychology of "The Chosen One"

I make no claims of clairvoyance. I make no assertions of a fundamental understanding of the human brain. I am simply an observer, an analyst of the world around me. I observe the way crows commune and combat over food outside my window. I observe the way people order their meals, the way they tousle their hair when they're nervous. I listen to how people talk to one another, zeroing in on inflections and emphasis in an attempt to unlock the deeper meanings of often-meaningless words. I try to peel open the human brain as its gears are crunching forward to make some sense out of behavior. It's why I became fascinated with primatology in college, behavioral science at its core, and why I've continued that fascination and study into my post-graduate life. Thanks Dr. Calcagno, this one's for you.

It is with all that warped, twisting mentality in mind that I witnessed "The Decision," the pitiful self-destruction of new Miami Heat superstar LeBron James on national television, using a group of underprivileged kids from the Boys and Girls Club like a human meat shield. Or should I say, witnessed the human reaction to the self-destruction. I chose not to watch the media's and LeBron's pathetic attempt to shamelessly squeeze the last bit of attention out of NBA fans. I chose not to participate in the hot, sweaty melting of sports news and reality TV "entertainment." I chose to watch "The Simpsons." Homer is funny. Ironic. Brilliant even. LeBron James is ironic and funny too, but only because of his complete lack of self-awareness.

I didn't want to experience the nuclear bomb of "The Decision," however, I wanted to live through the fallout. I wanted to surface, hours after the explosion wearing a kickass gas mask and some combat boots I snagged from the Army Surplus store in preparation for LeBron's implosion, to look at the wreckage, to hear the angry cries, to see the bewilderment and the mind-blowing, dumbfounding reaction that such an utterly-stupid decision had on the sports community.

But the more I sat with the events of "The Decision," the more I realized that my reaction couldn't be knee-jerk. I didn't want to just toss myself into the aftermath, pick up a gun and start pumping bullets into the man that pushed the button (with a hefty nudge from ESPN). LeBron had already destroyed himself. I just wanted to find out why.

I think there's a lot to be said about the psychology of athletes. Teams hire sports psychologists to keep their minds sharp and focused, or in Ron Artest's case, to keep it functional within a standard society. Sports psychology has resurrected careers, saved them from going down, and even built one coach, Phil Jackson, into one of the most-decorated front-men in the history of professional sports. Psychology is incredibly important, even from the standpoint of a team, where good teams can overcome improbable odds to exceed expectations and their own physical limitations. LeBron James' psychology, specifically, has left me in awe for the last few years. Why does he still act like a child? Why does he care so much about his image? Why does he want so desperately to be loved and adored?

And yet, at the same time, why doesn't he want to do it alone?

It's all in a nickname. That's right. A nickname. When Kobe Bryant gave himself a nickname, people laughed and guffawed. Nicknames aren't chosen, they're given. If you don't like it, well tough cookies. That's the way the old school worked, and, frankly, it was a helluva lot more fun when athletes didn't have to create their own personas (Mark Fidyrich was "The Bird," he didn't create it ...) and were given their nicknames because of who they were and what they represented. But for Kobe, he gave himself the alter-ego "The Black Mamba," named after the world's deadliest snake, as a way to motivate and focus himself. He gave himself something to try to become. A goal.

When asked about his nickname, Kobe said, "The mamba can strike with 99 percent accuracy at maximum speed, in rapid succession. That's the kind of basketball precision I want to have."

And he's done that. Five championships later, Kobe Bryant has become his own prophecy. He's lived up to his name and accomplished his goal. He's become The Black Mamba, the ruthless killer of the NBA. If he hadn't won those championships, if he hadn't lived up to his own self-billing, this easily could've been about him. But it's not. He chose the nickname because of his personality. He chose the nickname because of what he saw in himself, what he wanted to become. He wanted to be great, he wanted to be the champion, he wanted to leave a wake of bodies when he was done winning rings. His nickname was born out of ego, sure, but it was born out of desire too, the desire to be truly great.

But what about LeBron? LeBron gave himself a nickname too.

"The Chosen One."

Hmm, the chosen one. Years ago, fans, broadcasters, and writers used to give sports stars their nicknames. It still happens on occasion now, usually from some overzealous ESPN anchor elbowing for attention on the midday retread of Sportscenter, but it's becoming less and less common for players to "earn" a nickname. Players like LeBron, who work, from the time they're in high school, on crafting some infallible image, supported by yes-men too scared to tell them to suck it up and learn how to shoot a jumper, create their own images now, away from the eyes of criticism, away from the judgment of history. Michael Jordan didn't create "Air Jordan," he was that. He wowed us with aerial feats and his unprecedented ascension to the top of the basketball pantheon. He didn't call himself "Air Jordan," he just was.

LeBron, fragile ego obviously battling years of mass-media attention and the sneaky puppeteering his so-called friends were performing on him, called himself "The Chosen One" when he walked into the NBA. But looking at the psychology of the nickname, it's easy to see why, years after being drafted by the Cavaliers and putting together the pieces of Cleveland's oft-broken heart, he so shamelessly and incognizantly smashed it to pieces on live television.

"The Chosen One" isn't about hard work. "The Chosen One" isn't about overcoming insurmountable odds. "The Chosen One" isn't about winning at all costs; a ruthless champion who strikes fear in his opponents. It's a boy with a silver spoon in his mouth, a paper king pushed to the throne by snake-tongued thieves from his past, collecting riches off of the oblivious hero. LeBron doesn't want to be the king, despite his other ironic nickname, he wants to be loved, he wants to receive the gifts of the many, he wants to bask in the glory of his mere renown.

That's not a champion, that's a chosen one, a medieval prince in-bred into royalty.

Alternatively, a "chosen one" is supposed to be someone destined for greatness, someone with an innate, righteous path toward ultimate heroism that supersedes reality. The chosen one is often the leader of the futile, the revolutionary who frees the impoverished and oppressed and becomes more or less ideology. Not a person, just a concept, a name, something to believe in. Neo in "The Matrix." Frodo in "The Lord of the Rings." Other nerdy characters from other nerdy movies that I'm too embarrassed to now reference.

But chosen ones don't choose themselves. The name speaks for itself.

For LeBron James to choose himself to be the chosen one tells me everything I'll ever need to know about his ego, his character, his fears, his friends, and, ultimately, his failure. Perhaps the best investment the South Beach Heat can make this summer is a sports psychologist.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> The birth of an Arsenal monster

Saturday kicked off the preseason for Arsenal, and while most eyes were fixed on the brilliant attacking display that led to a 4-0 victory over hapless Barnet, one player in particular took the game, and me, by storm.

Make sure to click "E-mail Erik" and send in your questions (sports and non-sports) to be in the next Q&A!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> What Arsenal can learn from the World Cup

 It's been a long month of fantastic football as the World Cup finally comes to a close. The Dutch crashed out, but obviously not without a fight (9 yellow cards, 1 red) against the Spaniards, who attempted to kill the Dutch with what's referred to in Spain as "Death by 1,000 Passes." Very successful, if you ask me.

But what can Arsenal and its fans take away from the World Cup? I've got the answers below.

And as always, send in your questions to be in the next Q&A!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> The final nail in Barcelona's coffin

With revelations about Barcelona's financial issues surfacing, pulling out loans to pay their players, the business side of the football world is coming to the forefront. Our manager, Arsene Wenger, has always been a fantastic businessman in that world, and that is why Cesc Fabregas is staying at Arsenal.

E-mail Erik to send in your questions (sports and non-sports) to be in the next Q&A!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> Is Arsenal still relevant in the transfer market?

Pre-season training is already upon us, and Barnet is only 11 days away (whoa), but at Arsenal, in what looks to be a decisive summer for the Gunners, we've only managed to snare the free transfer of Marouane Chamakh. I'm starting to wonder if Arsenal is still relevant in the transfer market anymore ...

As always, send in your e-mails to be in the Q&A! Cheers.