Y'all seen Stanley Kubrick's horror movie classic, The Shining? I caught it for the first time on Netflix and loved it. One of the creepiest, most iconic scenes in the film was the reveal of Jack Torrance's novel manuscript, and the repeated phrase:
"ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY"
Well, after the Panthers dropped 50 on the Cardinals to clinch a Super Bowl birth, I was so very tempted to write an entire essay that read:
"CAM NEWTON FOR BLACK PRESIDENT 2016"
I resisted, for now. Maybe next week as we approach the Super Bowl (and my weak grip on sanity continues to erode), we'll have more to share what he means to so many fans. For now, I chose to spill some ink about Carmelo Anthony. I promise to only get a little weird about Kristaps.
Leadoff hitter: Longform that lays off the first pitch.
It doesn't matter what you feel about him—speaking from the ground floor, I can ensure you—having an opinion about Carmelo Anthony can divide sons against fathers, daughters against mothers, especially for Knicks fans. Some of that isn't his fault. Critics argue that he selfishly pressured New York into making an immediate trade instead of waiting until the Knicks, flush with cap space, could sign him and keep valuable players and draft picks. Even still, James Dolan and the Knicks brain trust—hey, stop laughing!—were free to make their own decisions. Carmelo has long been considered a "ball-stopper," averse to team basketball, and yet, as Nate Silver notes, his teams have always scored significantly better with every jab-step, jab ... step ...
But he hasn't been lauded for his leadership and has sometimes been accused of alienating younger talent that threatened to surpass his popularity or sufficiently cede to his clout. His defense has been lackadaisical and porous, regularly leading fans and analysts to wonder if he should be moved to power forward so he doesn't have to defend against outside shots. Further, his persona off the court has lent him few favors. He often appears corporate and inauthentic, focusing more on Me7o the brand, than a real person with ideas and opinions. (Most star athletes worry about their marketability, but Melo’s emphasis on his extracurriculars is particularly noticeable—enough for Eli Saslow of ESPN to devote a profile entirely to this side.) He's good, sure, but do we like him?
Amplifying the critique is the incredible comparative success of his lottery pick peers, especially LeBron James. LeBron was picked two spots ahead of Melo in the 2003 NBA Draft, and has two more championships. He’s won 107 more games in spite of incredibly weak teammates. He's been to the NBA Finals six times, and in five consecutive seasons. (As of this writing, Cleveland is first in the Eastern Conference and are the favorites to continue LeBron’s Finals streak.) They have similar scoring averages, but LeBron is, by far, the better passer, totaling almost 4,000 more assists since the beginning of their careers. When he takes shots, he has an obsessive concern about making sure they count. (Recall LeBron and his Miami teammate Dwyane Wade competing over who can make at least half of their shots. H-O-R-S-E for the sabermetrically inclined.)
He's got a deserved reputation as a lock-down defender. Remember when LeBron blocked Joe Johnson into Queens? Or Derrick Rose into Milwaukee? We could GIF LeBron ripping out the souls of his opponents on the defensive end for days on end.
LeBron works hard to sell himself—you don't get a lifetime Nike deal without some PR effort—and surely you can find a Skip Bayless-led contingent of sports fans that have reduced the entirety of his character to Michael-Jordan-did-it-better. But no, James’s put his mainstream reputation at risk by standing for the lives of slain unarmed blacks by the hands of law enforcement (and whatever the hell George Zimmerman thought himself when he endeavored to protect those Sanford streets from one of its residents.)
Recently, Carmelo appears to be building a legacy bigger than his scoring totals or endorsement deals and possibly bigger than his hats, which I'll remind you, are quite big. The Melo leading the surprisingly competitive 2015-16 Knicks, still gets his isolation touches, as a scorer of his caliber should. He hasn’t lost the ineffable flair of his post game, and he can still land a devastating end-of-game shot. But he's spreading the love, borne out in a significant uptick in his assist rate. Rather than shooting the ball with maybe decent opportunities, he's giving an extra pass to open up scoring opportunities. Since December 19, he’s led his team in points, rebounds, and assists, with stat lines his Cleveland contemporary might find familiar. He's helped a Knicks defense that was the absolute worst at defending three pointers become the second best in the NBA, regularly disrupting shooters from the perimeter.
While you could easily find Melos fingerprints all over the end of Linsanity, he's become a mentor and friend to rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis, a Latvian, seven-foot-three dynamo on the precipice of blowing past his popularity with Garden faithful. If he hasn't already. Dad Melo, as he's referred to from a certain corner of nerdy Knicks Twitter, is abundantly interested in the success of his younger and less heralded teammates, and seems to play with a newfound joy.
Melo has found his voice outside the iconic Garden walls. Last offseason, VICE Sports collaborated with Melo to produce a fascinating series of videos exploring everything from free agency to mass incarceration. Before the 15-16 season, he’ll spend a day in Rikers Island, lamenting the prison’s "fucked up” existence. LeBron let the world know that "He Can’t Breathe," and Melo inspired teenaged inmates to fight for fresh air with an authenticity only possible from someone that once ran the same streets they do.
There’s more. Here’s the half-Boricua man greeting kids in the slums of Old San Juan at basketball courts he refurbished. He’ll return to his second home of Baltimore to march with protesters in solidarity with Freddie Gray. (He's still wearing that hat.) His desire to mentor extends beyond skinny Latvians when he gives direction to black and Latino children a decade before they’re eligible to be tried as adults.
It’s hard to say, without immense speculation, why Melo’s game is objectively different on the court and almost revolutionary off of it. Sports analysis lives and dies on the scrutiny of arbitrary endpoints, so who’s to say Melo hasn’t been working religiously on fighting between screens for years and he finally learned a better technique to maintain his defensive effort? Maybe he read an excellent book on racial injustice in a freshman composition class at Syracuse, but the rise of Black Lives Matter gave him a clearer outlet to take action? Perhaps Kristaps is a unicorn and if you touch the hem of his jersey, all that ails you can be made new? Until an ambitious reporter asks—or Melo and LaLa invite me over for dinner—the best we can do is discuss the public-facing progression and be grateful while we witness his growth.
The Knicks aren’t quite contenders, and as Melo ages into his thirties, his window to realistically win a championship shrinks. Fortunately, the youth and potential of Porzingis gives his title dreams a second wind. But whether or not he’s the last man standing in June, his maturation is hard to miss, adopting the best qualities of his rival to become not merely a leader inside the Garden, but a voice of hope when he leaves.
Stick to sports: In which we stay in our lane.
In spite of the almost record-setting Winter Storm Jonas, Barry Zito and others trekked through Manhattan's tundra to make it to the annual Baseball Writer's Association Awards. No, seriously:
After Zito cut open his tauntaun for warmth, he used his acceptance speech of the "Willie, Mickey and the Duke" award (a recognition he shared with former teammates Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder) to announce the handsome baseball men that made his "All-Dreamy Team."
While we don't want to knock Zito for his valiant effort at crediting MLB's most physically attractive men, there were some glaring omissions that necessitated a Foul and Fair response.
1. Curtis Granderson
This man's smile lights up the Citifield diamond, and the diamond of our hearts. Grandyman's jaw, square and profound at all times, deserves an accolade onto itself.
2. Yoenis Cespedes
No wonder the Mets needed him by their side. The best combination of athleticism and attractiveness, what team wouldn't want his poised and powerful physique manning the outfield? Sure, it's the second Mets player on our list, but Zito's New York bias needed to be dealt with appropriately.
3. Joe Mauer
Mauer's time behind the plate may be long behind him, but his handsomeness ages like fine wine. The longtime face of the Minnesota Twins features 70-grade blue eyes and plus-plus 5-o'clock shadow.
4. Derek Jeter
Sure, he may have retired his gritty cleats, but if there's one thing Hannah Davis, Minka Kelly, Jessica Alba (need I continue?) can agree on, is that Derek's looks remain All-Star caliber.
While we one day hope to forgive Zito for his transgressions, we're grateful to provide an objective correction for the masses.
You can argue with this list, but you will lose.
Delay of game: All you can read before the clock expires.
Black Girl Magic. When Serena announced last year that she had forgiven the hecklers that yelled the n-word and accused her father of fixing the all-Williams match, Venus wasn’t ready to attend, much less play. But now it seems clear that her sister’s decision to return to one of the painful and humiliating moments of their lives, impacted Venus’s heart as well. Why? She’s on the tournament’s entry list for 2016. We covered the significance of Serena’s return in December. “Everyone always asked, ‘What was your greatest moment in tennis?’ and I always said it hasn’t happened,” Serena mused last year. “But I think it has happened now.”
His Filipino-American wife is a former WNBA assistant coach. When the Panthers made Ron Rivera their head coach in 2011, he became the NFL’s third Latino head coach in the history of the organization. But even if Carolina crushes the Broncos in the Super Bowl in 10 days, he won’t be the first Latino to win the title. Nope. That honor goes to Tom Flores, one of two people in NFL history to win a Super Bowl as a player, an assistant coach, and head coach. Read this ESPN interview from 2012 where Rivera talks about Roberto Clemente, his Puerto Rican and Mexican heritage, and how he firsts got into football. PS: Read more about Stephanie here.
“I learned quickly what football meant in the South.” Today, Jameis Winston is the Buccaneers starting quarterback, who led Tampa Bay to 6-10 record this season. Four years ago, a female student accused him of raping her after a night of drinking in Tallahassee. If you want the facts, start with The New York Times’ 2014 takedown of the entire sex assault “investigation,” a report which among other disclosures, reveals a police department cozy with letting star college athletes test their invincibility.
Last week, the school settled with the accuser. In the past year and a half, Florida State has also begun providing resources for sexually assaulted victims within the Seminole community. No word on whether that means that head colleges can continue to trot out winning athletes after they learn the students have been accused of rape.
“‘Say Hey’ Mays Is Denied House.” Yes, that Willie. And in San Francisco. Read the original report, h/t Yakyu Night Owl.
Olympic transitions. You’ve probably seen the headlines announcing that transgender athletes no longer need surgery to compete in any future Olympic games. The IOC will allow athletes who’ve transitioned from female to male to compete “without restriction.” For trans women, many of the regulations revolve around establishing competitive testosterone levels. Joanna Harper, a trans woman herself, helped formulate much of the policy. You can read more of the medical physicist’s work in her Washington Post op-ed, but here’s her conclusion:
"Science provides a clear explanation for why, in many sports, trans women don’t maintain any athletic advantage. Hormone therapy for trans women typically involves a testosterone-blocking drug plus an estrogen supplement. As their testosterone levels approach female norms, trans women see a decrease in muscle mass, bone density and the proportion of oxygen-carrying red cells in their blood. The estrogen, meanwhile, boosts fat storage, especially around the hips. Together, these changes lead to a loss of speed, strength and endurance — all key components of athleticism."
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