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Moneyball’s Latest Influence On The NBA: John Hollinger And The Memphis Grizzlies

In NBA on February 28, 2013 at 8:02 am

By Jeff Weyant

After he lectures about his expert knowledge of statistics throughout the history of basketball, he’ll then tell you how aliens and Bigfoot played a part in it.

In the film Moneyball, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) delivers a brief soliloquy to Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) in an underground parking lot: “People that run ball clubs, they think in terms of buying players. Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players. Your goal should be to buy wins. And in order to buy wins, you need to buy runs.” While this sort of mentality – which goes against basically the entire history of sports in America – has yet to spread like wildfire in any of the major leagues, it’s catching on bit by bit, and the trend is nowhere more apparent than in the NBA.

The award for Biggest Transaction of the Last Five Years definitely goes to the deal that sent John Hollinger from ESPN to the front office of the Memphis Grizzlies (and by “deal” I mean Hollinger jettisoned himself from ESPN as fast as possible in order to take his dream job). His departure was highly publicized, but Hollinger was merely following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Dean Oliver, the godfather of APBRmetrics (sabermetrics, but for basketball). In 2004, Oliver left the blogosphere to join the Seattle Supersonics for an advisory role, then two years later joined the Denver Nuggets as a permanent, administrative basketball analyst. He was the architect of the Allen Iverson trade that netted Chauncey Billups, destroyed the Pistons, and vaulted the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals; of the Carmelo Anthony trade that produced lots of cheap talent which has since become the core of Denver’s success; and of the surprise Ty Lawson pick in the 2009 draft which has been vindicated consistently every time the North Carolina point guard steps onto the court. In other words, this isn’t the first time a basketball stat-head traded a volume shooter for a member of Detroit’s ’04 championship team.

Remember this? Blame Dean Oliver.

Oliver created the template that one assumes Hollinger hopes to follow (except perhaps the third stage of Oliver’s career, which has him at ESPN doing wizard-like behind-the-scenes things with numbers, a job that only pertain peripherally to basketball). Given history, then, it was no surprise that less than two months after Hollinger came aboard, the Grizzlies traded their overpaid and underperforming shoot-first superstar for a few guys who, as an aggregate, more than make up for Rudy Gay’s absence. If you modify the quote from Moneyball so that it applies to basketball, it’d be something like: Don’t buy players, buy wins, and to buy wins, buy efficient points. You’ll notice that defense doesn’t factor into that but the adage that defense wins championships is a bit overblown. The reality is that top-10 defenses win championships. You don’t necessarily have to have the greatest defensive season in the history of the NBA but you also can’t be a punching bag all season long. And besides, for a small market team like Memphis that just wants to make the Finals at all and which already has the league’s second-best defense, buying efficient points seems more important at this point.

So they traded for Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye, and Ed Davis, three players who score efficiently. With a volume-shooter like Rudy Gay out of the picture (the kind of player who ruins many of the possessions he’s involved in), your offense is going to get better by default. Adding team-first players like Prince, Daye, and Davis should only make it even better.

Et voilà! That’s been the case these last eleven games. The team has won nine of them (including the last eight) and their offensive efficiency (ORtg) over that span is 106.5, which is not only nearly two points higher than their ORtg pre-trade but it’s also, if kept up the rest of the season, good for 10th in the league (up from 19th). A long-term jump like that and Memphis would be almost as likely as San Antonio and Oklahoma City to make the Finals and a legitimate rival to the Eastern Conference representative (which, barring tragedy, is going to be the Miami Heat).

The Grizzlies would love to avenge their semifinal loss from two years ago.

But lest we forget, moneyball tactics also involve a financial aspect and this was certainly a factor in trading Rudy Gay, whose contract was arguably one of the worst in the league. The Grizzlies were essentially paying him $1.13 million for each point of his Player Efficiency Rating ($16.46 million contract vs. 14.56 PER). In comparison, they’re now paying Prince $537,000 per PER point ($6.75 million contract vs. 12.58 PER). And this doesn’t even take into account Austin Daye and Ed Davis who, combined, are playing over 20 minutes a game while contributing around 10 points (at 55% shooting), 4 rebounds, and almost 2 blocks (their combined PER – impossible to calculate precisely when combing statistical figures – would nevertheless, if normalized, be in the mid teens – in other words, very good for a bench player).

This was the kind of money-crunching that almost certainly took place in Memphis’ front office as they went about constructing a profitable trade. And in true APBRmetric fashion, they’re now better positioned to win this year and also in the years to come (they saved around $4 million in cap space in the transaction and, given player contracts, will save about the same every year through at least the 2015 season).

As Jonah Hill says, buy wins, not players. And that’s just what Hollinger and Memphis have done. They traded a volume shooter for three players that do as much on offense and more efficiently at that. Of course this makes me wonder: if every team had a John Hollinger or a Dean Oliver in the front office, where would they send all their volume shooters?

The D-League, probably.

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Indians Post Craigslist Ad Asking for Help Posting Craigslist Ad for Pitching Coach

In MLB on February 26, 2013 at 3:14 pm

By Jeff Gibson

Indians starting pitcher Justin Masterson has made a career out of going with the flow. The flow of pitching coaches Cleveland hires and fires like they’re on reality television. Masterson has had a new pitching coach every year of his big league career, except one — astonishingly, it was his best season. He’s the Alex Smith of Major League Baseball. An underperforming talent that just needs the right coaching staff. Ahem, a coaching staff that lasts more than one season. But with the Cleveland Indians hiring manager Terry Francona this offseason, Masterson might be wishing he too was on the trading block just like the soon-to-be-prospected 49ers $8 million #1b quarterback. Although he’s too cool for that.

Murica!

See, while Smith may have had a new coach and a new system practically every year he’s been in the NFL, he’s never had to deal with the turnstile of Niner coaches actually spinning back around and hitting him in da mouf for round 2.

That would be the left hook from Francona. Check it out: he’s got a history with Masterson. In May of 2008, Francona, then skipper for the Boston Red Sox, called up Masterson to serve as a replacement starter for an injury-plagued Boston rotation. Masterson went six solid innings of one-run ball for the Sox, impressive against an Angels squad that went on to win the AL West, and a noteworthy first big league stint with the club. But he was sent down to the minors two months later by Francona, to be transitioned into a relief pitcher. Francona thought his starting rotation of Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Bucholz, and Tim Wakefield could duplicate their collectively fluke 2008 championship season. That experiment failed. As it did again in the 2009 edition, where the Sox were swept by the Angels in the first round of the playoffs — too bad they’d traded Masterson to the Cleveland Indians three months prior.

Hey Buddy! Hey Guy!

Francona overlooked/misunderstood what he had in the young slinger from Indiana back then and I don’t think it’s too far out in left field to assume Francona, with his second stint with Masterson, still doesn’t know what he’s got.

It’s a shame, really. After being shipped from the Red Sox to the lndians, Masterson has been one of the only solid consistencies for Cleveland. The 6’6” 250-lb sinkerballer has been the Tribe’s ace for the past two seasons, albeit after suffering a setback in 2012.

But let’s look deeper. Masterson has had a different pitching coach every season he’s been in Cleveland. In 2009, it was Carl Willis, who’s three Cy Youngers in CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, and Felix Hernandez are more treasures that fell in his lap than young arms he’s groomed into big league talent. In 2010, Masterson worked under the guidance of first time pitching coach Tim Belcher. Masterson went 6-13. In the following year, Belcher coached Masterson to his best season to date (3.21 ERA,12-10), only to resign at the end of the season. In 2012 Scott Radinsky was promoted from bullpen to pitching coach for the Indians. Radinsky’s coaching helped Masterson to his worst ERA of his career (4.93) and the most losses he’s suffered (15). Radinsky also helped turn a near twenty-game winner in Ubaldo Jimenez into a 5+ ERA, 17-loss starter.

Something about rocking a mullet just screams pitching coach.

Luckily for the Indians’ starters, Radinsky is gone and this season the entire Indians coaching staff has been overhauled. Their new pitching coach is Mickey Callaway, after a brief offseason interim stint by Ruben Niebla. Callaway is the best pitching coach the team has had in years, and the guy hasn’t ever coached in the big leagues. I don’t know how Masterson has been able to keep a level head the last three years. He’s a testament to the argument that there’s still class left in baseball. He’s more Alex Smith than even Alex Smith is. Although I hope he’ll get a shot one day at proving his ability, because his ceiling as a starting pitcher is ten times what Smith’s is at the quarterback position. He just needs consistency in coaching.

The secret to being a pitching coach you ask? Well, you tell the pitchers things and those things help to make them better pitchers.

Just look at the Oakland Athletics, and what pitching coach Curt Young has done for the organization’s young arms over the past decade and a half. Bary Zito, Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson round 1. Dan Haren and Rich Harden round 2. Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez round 3. Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, and Brett Anderson round 4. Will the list keep going? Curt Young and other great pitching coaches appear to be producing successful young starters out of thin air.

But it’s not thin air. Organizations like the Indians just think that it is. When the fact of the matter is they are investing in young arms without the most important piece in that equation: a veteran pitching coach who has proven he can coach young arms.

The Indians have the offense to compete in the AL central. And they have at least two All-Star arms to guide them if they’re coached properly. But they won’t be. And it’s going to be another long season for Cleveland fans. Unless Mickey Callaway learned a thing or two during his time in South Korea.

Publicly Working Out How I Feel About The Death Of A Sports-Related Stranger

In NBA on February 21, 2013 at 9:13 am

By Jeff Weyant

Jerry Buss’s death is like the tree, and now everyone else is going to have to deal with it. The real question though, is if that tree falls, and nobody hears about it because of the Lakers record, does it really make a sound? 

I spend a lot of time thinking about why I watch sports. This is because part of me thinks they’re a huge waste of time, that on some level obsessing over something I have no control over is unhealthy, and that they’re keeping me from becoming the kind of generous, prepared, and confident individual who finishes novels and cleans up around the house and in general practices good hygiene and goes to the gym three times a week. Another part of me, of course, thinks sports are awesome, terrifying, entertaining, artistically significant, pornographic (metaphorically but occasionally literally), and more or less one of the best things human beings have ever created alongside the final montage in the Marx Brothers’ film Duck Soup, the collected poetry of John Keats, and the velociraptor I drew in fifth grade and which subsequently won first prize in the Maricopa County Boys and Girls Club art contest.

Me thinking about me thinking about me thinking about sports is often most severe when something happens in the sports world that has nothing to do with sports yet requires that everyone have an opinion. In this case, Jerry Buss, longtime owner of the unbelievably successful Los Angeles Lakers franchise, succumbed to kidney failure earlier this week (the result of, what else, cancer), ending a long and illustrious career as either the greatest villain or the most important innovator (or both?) in the history of modern sports. So basically we’re all supposed to say something and let everyone else know about it and so on and so forth until a week passes and something else distracts us.

Personally I’m confused. I’m a Lakers fan and a Jerry Buss fan (assuming I understand even a little bit about what he actually did to evolve or devolve the sport in any meaningful way) but his passing inspired two things in me: first, a meta-reflexive notion about how I’m supposed to be inspired to feel something at all, and second, sadness and sorrow, because someone is dead.

A fitting image given the 16 Finals appearances and 10 championships during Buss’ 33-year ownership.

But more than anything, Buss’ passing made me think about fans and owners, a relationship with a strange dynamic. Because fans only talk about owners when they fuck up or when they die. Such is the life of millionaires, I suppose. But it’s true: owners of sports teams are those nebulous entities that exist to be reviled or eulogized, usually the former while alive and the latter afterwards. Think of the late George Steinbrenner: while alive, he was vilified by everyone as being the most absurdly awful asshole this side of the Atlantic but the moment he kicked the bucket he was suddenly a kind and loving soul sent from heaven to guide us towards the light.

What I’m getting at here is that if I suffer lots of mental anguish at obsessing over strangers I pay attention to basically every day (players, coaches, media members – the last of whom are essentially playing their own sport), I’m uncertain as to how I feel about owners, whom I don’t think about all that often and when I do it’s because someone I know reflexively blamed the one that owns their favorite team because that favorite team has a shitty win-loss record or because they traded a universally-praised top five lottery pick for a guy who already hit his ceiling as a decent rotation player.

So then maybe it boils down to a tribal thing: if Kobe Bryant or John Hollinger died, I’d grieve as if it were a friend of a friend whom I saw frequently over the years and  I’d feel sad in my gut and sort of think about mortality and stuff but I probably wouldn’t cry because after all I didn’t really know the guy all that well and the only conversation of consequence I can remember involved our mutual interest in the films of Terrence Malick; but when Jerry Buss dies, it’s like he’s that neighbor next door I talked to maybe twice in ten years and with whom I exchanged masculine head nods maybe five times when we were both getting into our cars in the morning. Which is to say: when he dies I think about mortality and stuff but in an ephemeral, forgetful way. Jerry Buss, then, might as well be Michael Jackson or Mindy McCready or that guy I lived next to who killed himself in the late 90’s, the kind of person about whom I heard a lot over the years but whom I never knew in any meaningful way.

And now we’re into weird territory because this implies that I feel like I know Kobe Bryant or John Hollinger in some sort of meaningful way. But then Twitter is much like a public diary, conveying an intimacy that cultural critics are still puzzling over. And I never followed Jerry Buss on Twitter (partly because he didn’t have an account and partly because I probably wouldn’t have found it all that engrossing even if he did).

Words here are sort of useless, for obvious reasons.

All this seems to have been confirmed last night when various individuals paid homage to his passing on ESPN before, during, and after the night’s slate of games. Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant in particular talked about Buss in reverential, mournful tones and it occurred to me that these people knew Jerry Buss as more than a neighbor you saw rarely and talked to even less frequently, but instead as a mentor and a friend. The complication up to this point, I think, was that Jerry Buss as an owner always seemed remote, detached, off limits, in the way the CEO of a large, multinational corporation must seem remote and distant (physically and psychologically) to the guy temping in the mail room. He was a machine or an alien rather than a human being.

I think most people see owners this way, as Mr. Moneybags, the man responsible for a franchise’s problems, the guy the cameras show up in some private box chatting with another stolid figure in a blue business suit. But at some point I think it’s nice (and I mean “nice” in every untrendy sense of the word) to remember that owners, even hideous ones, are people, and not (exclusively) monsters or titans. We spend enough time making sure everyone knows athletes are errant humans like the rest of us but little time making sure everyone knows their bosses are as well.

So finally then, after all that hand-wringing, I’m prepared to offer my two cents about the late Jerry Buss: He was a dude and like many other dudes I didn’t know him at all. He seemed like he had a good time while alive and without doing an investigative piece for Nightline I can say that he did some good stuff and also some bad stuff. In the end, he’s dead and I’m not, which you can take however you want (morbidly, offensively, logically, mystically, none, all, other). He’ll be missed by those closest to him and I hope their anguish fades at least momentarily into fond reverie.

January 27, 1933 – February 18, 2013

Alex Ovechkin as the Scapegoat of Hype

In NHL on February 19, 2013 at 4:57 pm

By Chris Carosi

NHL players just aren’t the same type of athlete found in other North American sports. There’s less personality, less “good” sound bites. Hell, if a player is mopey or even remotely upset after a game, the opponent team’s media automatically rips them for being “soft” or “emotional.” This is old school. At it’s best, the lack of personality or controversial sound bites after a game makes the game that much more refreshing to me, because the players just play and that’s it. It’s kind of nice.

The NHL is pretty conservative as a rule, and so is the approach of these athletes in terms of their own personality. The vast majority of these guys really do buy into team sports in a real way. It’s no surprise that ESPN has no interest in the NHL (and vice-versa): there’s no media heat coming off of it besides wins and loses.  There is little controversy, and very few, or any, players commit crimes. The NHL is the Fugazi of sports. Case in point: Alex Ovehckin’s passionate after-goal celebrations are seen as controversial by the powers that be. Yeah.

“One game at a time. Play as a team. Play our game. Blah bu-blah blah.”

For the sake of this article, you can think of Russian players in the NHL like a ballet version of the game, weaving between players and holding the puck trying to score on elaborate and beautiful individual efforts. Players like Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin, and Pavel Datsyuk are dazzling in their ability to control the puck and move fluidly by sheer will into the attacking zone, dangling the puck between defenders and breaking the ankles of goaltenders. Ovechkin and Kovalchuk are wingers, and rely almost entirely on their strength and ability to shoot in the offensive zone while Malkin and Datsyuk, as centermen, combine offensive and defensive skills in both zones, scoring as much as they set up plays.

So, given the nature of the “Crosby vs. Ovehckin” dynamic, why was Ovechkin chosen at all? Crosby, as a centerman, plays an entirely different position with different responsibilities and different wrinkles to his game (and more pressure as a leader). Ovechkin, shoved into the role as leader and “rival”, is all muscle and speed with no real defensive game.  His defensive game is basically delivering crushing body-checks.

It’s fair to say that Crosby was bred since he was a fetus to be a leader and superstar, as weird as that sounds. It’s true. Ovechkin, with his abilities on paper (skate, shoot, hit, repeat), seems like an unlikely foil. He’s a winger: much easier to defend especially with all the hype.

Despite this article, this picture is awesome.

The comparison makes about as much sense  as Rocky Balboa vs. Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. And by that I mean it only makes sense in Reagan-era terms: big, powerful, tank meets modestly sized hometown pride and hometown pride wins. Seriously, wasn’t Drago in a different weight class than Rocky? Cocaine is a hell of a drug. This is my point: it’s not that Ovechkin is worse or better than Crosby, it’s that they are in different weight classes, different stratospheres, of the game.

And unlike Crosby, surrounded year after year with quality supporting players and goaltending, Ovechkin has a clueless front office to deal with. The Capitals, who have never passed beyond the second-round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Ovechkin era, have been managed like a twelve-year-old playing NHL ’96. Instead of pushing talent toward the middle of the ice and stacking up defensively, they’ve created an offense with a one-note winger as its lead, with mediocre to decent players backing him up. And no consistency in goal. Ovechkin’s massive contract might put pressure on the front office to make hard decisions, and I won’t go as far as saying that he didn’t deserve it way back when. It’s something to think about.

“Let’s have a fair fight, gentlemen…um, given the seventy-five pound disadvantage.”

Washington’s attempts to bring the team back to basics with the hiring of defense-first Dale Hunter last year found Ovechkin feeling frustrated (despite still putting up 30+ goals) and the team floundering again: losing in the second-round of the playoffs to the Rangers. This year, new coach Adam Oates (himself once a very solid centermen) has a seemingly tissue paper squad, and an even more lost Ovechkin sharing a line with new linemates instead of setup man Nicklas Backstrom. So now, as the Caps wane into the background considerably, the media turns on Ovechkin, the unlucky leader of a damaged brand.

Caps owner Ted Leonsis. Just for Men equals hockey.

Ovechkin was never meant to lead. That was never his game. He plays hard and his talent in the offensive zone is truly one-of-a-kind. His shot is lethal and impossibly hard, like John Elway’s arm with the added torque of a composite propeller. His speed and power between areas on the ice (especially considering his size) is unmatched. His ability to use retreating defenders as screens while entering the zone is a brilliant innovation and shows his natural and superhuman ability to pick his shot. His game is not puck management or rallying cries. He’s not a noted passer or point man. He doesn’t have the patience or vision to set up an elaborate play.

The media’s recent turn on him is leftover from a forced attempt to make the NHL relevant again. For a designated leader in a non-leader role, Ovechkin is taking a lot of blows for the incompetence demonstrated by his franchise and the league. The media’s disassembling of his superstar status will only help him in the long run. As expectations lower, perhaps the Caps can begin to surround him with complementary talent and move forward.

Happy 50th, MJ!

In NBA on February 17, 2013 at 1:42 pm

By Jonathan Danielson

On this Sunday, the entire news world is seemingly consumed and obsessed with the 50th birthday of Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player ever to live. Everywhere you turn, whether it’s ESPN, Bleacher Report, SBNation, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Yahoo, or even the Huffington Post, news outlets everywhere are taking a moment to recognize and celebrate the life of number 23.

For anyone who doesn't think Jordan could still play today, this picture was taken at last week's Charlotte Bobcats practice.

For anyone who doesn’t think Jordan could still play, this picture was taken at last week’s Charlotte Bobcats practice.

It’s a bit ridiculous, really. It’s President’s Day weekend, and MJ is getting more love than Washington, Lincoln and every other Commander-in-Chief combined. That’s a lot of sing-song for a guy who got paid to dribble a ball, and let’s face it; Jordan was not Washington or Lincoln. He wasn’t even a President, and it’s unfair to President’s Day (technically its weekend) to be overshadowed by MJ just turning the big five-oh.

If Jordan’s birthday is going to be compared to any holiday, it should be Christmas, not President’s Day.

That’s a joke, but the fact remains: Michael Jordan is the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All-Time) of basketball. Perhaps and probably even sports in general. There’s no comparison. Sure, Bill Russell won more titles, and Julius Irving was Julius Irving, and Magic was Magic, and Kobe likes to pretend he’s better, and Lebron just wants to be left alone, but when it comes down to it, there was no other human on this planet who could do the things with a basketball that Jordan did. More importantly, there was never anyone on this planet who was able to present themselves doing anything, regardless of what it was, in the way Jordan did. And that’s his importance.

Only Jordan could make this outfit, or his Hanes commercial Hitler-mustache, look good.

Only Jordan could make this outfit, or his Hanes commercial Hitler-mustache, look good.

Of course there might be “better” painters in the world, or thinkers, or writers, but Picasso will always be Picasso. Einstein, Einstein. Shakespeare, Shakespeare. That’s just how it works. There are people who are good, even great at what they do, and then there are innovators. People who do things, and then become synonymous with that action. For Jordan, that action was sheer greatness.

By most accounts, he hasn’t been the greatest person. He allegedly wasn’t the greatest husband, or tipper, or gambler. Supposedly, he’s a huge jerk. The Charlotte Bobcats, the team he owns and operates, have been absolutely miserable under his entire tenure.

But none of that really matters. On the court and during his prime, Jordan did things people had never seen. He overcame adversities and flus, and made sure he would not be beaten. As the face of a franchise, he turned a backwoods, po-dunk operation into a worldwide, multi-billion dollar conglomerate (and that statement can be said for the following: Nike, Gatorade, Hanes, McDonald’s, the Chicago Bulls, and the National Basketball Association.) “Be Like Mike,” was not just a marketing campaign, but a mantra. A way to think about the world, and yourself in that world. Do your best. Aspire for greatness. Settle for nothing less.

You know this guy was chanting it to himself that entire day.

You know this guy was chanting it to himself that entire day.

“The Michael Jordan of ________” became the go-to phrase when comparing someone at the peak of their talents in their respected fields. Jordan was more than basketball player, he was a way of thought. A philosophy, and that’s why everyone is acknowledging him in the completely over-the-top and overblown fashion that they are (including, but not limited to, this article). That’s why ESPN, Bleacher Report, SBNation, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Yahoo, and even the Huffington Post have made such a big deal out of one person’s milestone. It’s because whatever that one person did, he did it with ease, yet an ease that was only possible because of an unwavering work ethic, and a fierce competitiveness spirit. For the millions of people who idolized him around the globe, he was physical manifestation of greatness, and the inner desire to achieve that greatness in themselves. To those of us in the USA, he was the embodiment of our conceptualized American Dream, and the values needed for those dreams.

And that’s why his birthday is completely overshadowing any President Day Weekend festivities. That’s why he has been the focus of the news lately. And it also probably doesn’t hurt that Jordan could probably dunk waaaaaaay better than Washington or Lincoln ever could.

NBA All-Star Weekend: Why I Watch

In NBA on February 15, 2013 at 10:30 am

By Jeff Weyant

“At least I’m playing, Dwight!”

Basketball has always been about intimacy. Nowhere else among the Big Four sports will you see this. Or this. Or this. It’s because in basketball the fans are literally and metaphorically closer to the players. The players, on their side, wear less clothing, their faces are readable for the slightest emotional changes, and there are less of them to pay attention to. The fans, likewise, receive high-fives, tackles, punches, spittle, and racial slurs from the players on a nightly basis. This doesn’t happen in the NFL, the MLB, or the NHL, mainly because it’s impossible. The players are either too far away or bundled up under pads and helmets (like people in fat suits) such that they’re basically invisible. There are moments of fan interaction in these other sports, naturally, like when a wide-receiver scores a touchdown and jumps into the stands to receive ritual and congratulatory punishment from people wearing his team’s jerseys or when an outfielder flips a third-out fly ball to a kid with an outstretched glove. But in the NBA, every possession has the potential for this sort of experience, and often it delivers.

Public image is (seen by David Stern to be) a problem in the NBA – corn rows and tattoos and the aftermath of the Malice at the Palace – and for this same reason February’s annual All-Star celebration is often wildly successful. Because basketball players are closer to fans than in any other sport and so what they do and say and look like matters a great deal. Thus All-Star Weekend every year is like a regular season game in which the intimacy and the importance of that intimacy is augmented a hundredfold. And since All-Star Weekend, in any sport, is an attempt, among other things, to heighten intimacy, and the NBA already has a leg up in the destruction of barriers between fans and players, their annual All-Star festivities are naturally the most enjoyable and the most popular.

Not only is it a celebration of the game’s best players and talents but it’s also an opportunity to actually see those players more often and from a closer perspective. You get to see them in interviews for three straight days, you get to see them in events that involve activities not always available in a regular season game (or at least with the same frequency), and you get to see them hanging out with each other for a weekend, just like you and your friends watching at home on the couch. In basketball, much more so than football, baseball, and hockey, you get to see them in the arena where the fans sit, doing fan things, reacting to what’s happening on the court like fans would, yelling and screaming and high-fiving and basically carrying on like anyone would given the opportunity to sit courtside at a game featuring the best players doing the best things.

“If I make this I get free milkshakes. If I make this I get free milkshakes. If I make this. . .”

In what other sport could you see Deron Williams marveling at Dwyane Wade in the skills competition? Where else would Kobe Bryant hold up giant cards emblazoned with “10” across the front when Gerald Green does something amazing in the dunk contest? And in what other universe would Justin Bieber crossover the US Secretary of Education only to get blocked by Michael Rapaport?

Of course, there are needling problems with the enterprise, such as the reality that NBA All-Stars are, in a lot of other more practical ways, far removed from everyday fans at home on the couch watching with friends. They’re rich, tall, beautiful, healthy, and popular, and most of us are not even two of those. We’re just the residual effects of our parents copulating years ago. We’re not world-conquering behemoths who influence fashion, sport, and finance all in the same weekend. In fact we actually have a vested interest in not caring about All-Star Weekend because we’re basically supporting the very people who have a political motivation to make our day-t0-day lives worse. We’re probably worse off in the long-run by feeding any money at all into the NBA’s inevitably corrupt upper-echelon of Stern and his lackeys, the owners.

But human beings have a long history of shooting themselves in the feet in order to get some sort of short-term benefit. All-Star Weekend is one of those short-term benefits. Because it’s just a shitload of fun to see these weird, famous millionaires do everyday stuff that you and I assume weird, famous millionaires don’t do because they’re weird and famous and possess millions of the same thing, even if there are lot of reasons to be reflexively suspicious about spending time and money in the endeavor.

So with the trade deadline looming, All Star Weekend will be filled, as usual, with lots of speculation and rumors about any number of teams and players. There will be forced hilarity between Stuart Scott and the majority of other human beings. But there will also be that wonderful mixture of everything that’s great about sports: seemingly inhuman creatures forced, for at least a few moments, to be human after all (for an example of which, see below). Which is why I’ll be watching.

NFL Mock Drafts Are Just Stupid

In NFL on February 15, 2013 at 10:27 am

By Jonathan Danielson

Since the NFL season officially ended when Joe Flacco said he was going to Disney World, every sports journalist on television or the interwebs has become obsessed (like they do every year) with mock drafts. It’s as if every sports writer and broadcaster nationwide puts on their magic fortune-teller hat every January, then think they can see into the future, and the seven rounds of picks that lay there.

On ESPN, Professional Mock Drafters Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay spend their whole life trying to predict who will get taken when, and by whom, months before the draft order is even set. I would be mad at them for this, but really I’m just envious, because who wouldn’t want to get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to watch football , then go on camera and play make-believe.

Kiper and McShay hard at work the day before the draft.

Kiper and McShay hard at work.

NFL Mock Drafts, or just mock drafts regardless of the sport, are absolutely worthless after guessing who will be taken first. It’s like your March Madness Brackets, in that one upset screws up your entire order, and then all that time and effort was for naught.

Here’s an example:


1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT (Texas A&M)

There is no doubt in my mind that Joeckel will be the first player to come off the board. His sheer size, strength and speed make him the obvious pick for new head coach Andy Reid and his team’s need at protecting the quarterback. Then again, Kansas City also has a lot of questions at quarterback, so I also wouldn’t be surprised if they took Geno Smith from West Virginia instead. Smith is like a faster Donovann McNabb, and a more collected version of Michael Vick. Smith is the obvious choice for the Chiefs with the number one pick. 

2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Bjoern Werner, DE (Florida State)

This is a no-brainer for the Jags. The team has serious needs for their defense, and picking Werner will help shore-up their inability to stop the opposing team’s running game. Then again, the Jags also have questions at the quarterback position. Is Blaine Gabbert really the franchise player of the future, or could they already admit their mistake, if it was a mistake, which I’m not sure if it was, and draft another QB while they still have the luxury of taking anyone at the position, sans Geno Smith if Kansas City surprises everyone (except me) and takes him.

What I’m saying is I could definitely see the Jags drafting Werner, but I could also equally see them drafting Smith, if he’s available, but if he’s not I could just as well see USC’s Matt Barkley being a legitimate pocket -passer for the team. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if NC State’s Mike Glennon becomes a dark horse and jumps this high, or if Arkansas’s Tyler Wilson becomes a dark-dark horse, and surprises everybody, including me, except I just said it.  

3. Oakland Raiders: Manti Te’o, ILB (Notre Dame)

The smart money would have the Raiders talking Joeckel or Werner if available, or even Smith or dark horse Barkley, or dark-dark-horse Wilson, but Oakland will undoubtedly surprise everyone, even me, except I just said it, by reaching way back in our projections and continuing the trend of taking extraordinary high-risk players with personal issues. There is no question this is the path the Raiders will take, unless those other guys are available and they draft conservatively, which I could also see, and if they do that, they would probably take Utah’s Star Lotulelei (DT), Florida’s Sharrif Floyd (DT), Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore (DE), or Georgia’s Jarvis  Jones (OLB). 

4. Philadelphia Eagles: Luis Zendejas, PK (Arizona State University)

Zendejas was the place kicker for ASU from 1981-to-1984, and last played football for the Birmingham Barracudas of the CFL in 1995. He’s really the only person I’m sure will be available at this pick. 

See what I mean? It’s like how fantasy sports are Dungeons & Dragons for jocks, mock drafts are pretend futures trading for fans whose teams were so miserable during the season, they have nothing better to do than think about next season. And what about these professional mock drafters, like McShay and Kiper and everyone else? Well, they’re nothing more than Merril Lynch traders playing around with the hopes and dreams of those beaten down investors. It’s all fun and games until the bubble bursts, and your house gets foreclosed, and you find yourself sleeping under an overpass near a Circle K and strip club, and I don’t even know what the means. What was I talking about?

Oh look, Bleacher Report has the Cardinals taking Eric Fisher out of Central Michigan. Wait, what was I doing again…?

Dear ESPN, The Lakers Blow, So Start Covering Them That Way

In NBA on February 13, 2013 at 5:47 pm

By Jonathan Danielson

If the NBA playoffs were held today, the Lakers wouldn’t even be in it. Currently, the new other team from Los Angeles is in tenth place in the Western Conference, and share a similar record with the Portland Trailblazers and Dallas Mavericks (with just a slightly better standing than the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings, and New Orleans Hornets Pelicans Hornets).

But what don’t the Lakers have in common with those other guys? The fact that ESPN doesn’t follow every game, practice, argument, thought, tweet, or fart from the Blazers, Mavs, Wolves, Kings or whatevers in NOLA.

"Dwight, this is J.A. Andade. How rare will you order your steak for dinner tonight?"

“Dwight, this is J.A. Adande. How rare will you order your steak for dinner tonight?”

The Lakers are currently the most reported sub .500 team in the NBA. ESPN uses the splash screen of their website to break news when the Lakers beat the second worst team in the league, the Charlotte Hornets. When they lose, the channel reports the game as “Lakers lose to…” not “(Whoever) beats Lakers.”

Why? Because ESPN isn’t concerned about sports or news or even news about sports, their primary focus is ratings, ratings, ratings. And when the Lakers win, its ratings. When they lose, apparently it’s even bigger ratings. Who cares about the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, or even the New York Knicks? You know, teams who will actually make it and compete in the playoffs?

Nope, instead just sit back and relax and be surprised when you have no idea who won’t be playing the Lakers come May, because on ESPN, it’s the Laker show all day and every day, and it’s hosted by Bill Plaschke and J. A. Adande, the two biggest L.A. homers in all of sports.

"Now, to go back to your point on Lance Armstrong, I think the Lakers will really have to attempt to get Dwight the ball if they hope to compete."

“To go back to your point on Lance Armstrong, I think the Lakers will really have to focus on getting Dwight the ball if they hope to compete.”

All I’m saying is this, if ESPN is so determined to cover 25-and-28 teams, I want to see an hour-long special on the Milwaukee Bucks or Philadelphia 76ers sometime soon. Right now they’re both about as interesting, and they both and lined up to win as many games as that other team in L.A.

MLB, Breathalyze This: What’s Yellow, Checkered, and Gets You Home Safe?

In MLB on February 12, 2013 at 9:49 am

By Jeff Gibson

It’s that time of year again, folks! Spring Training is just around the corner and baseball players are getting their last Wade Boggs swigs in before the season begins. Only problem is (as has been the norm the last few years) they’re getting behind the wheel after said swigs.

Rockies first basemen Todd Helton is the latest major leaguer to put innocent people’s lives on the line (this time in order to purchase lottery tickets in the wee hours of a Wednesday morning, because the 141 million dollar contract he signed back in 2001 wasn’t enough). Here’s a snippet of his public statement after the arrest: “I am very sorry and embarrassed by my actions. I hold myself to a high standard and take my responsibility as a public figure very seriously.”

Helton sure looks like he takes his

Helton sure looks like he takes this “public figure” role very seriously.

Seriously? “Embarrassed”. Embarrassed? Yes, embarrassed. The emotion that comes with rosy cheeks and a wad of tighty whities up your bum. Maybe the feeling you get when you ask out that pretty red head who lives down the hall and then she tells you her boyfriend is your boss, causing you to wet yourself right in front of her. Like if you stash your 9mm in your belt and head out to the NYC club scene, only to accidentally shoot it off in a night club, nailing yourself in the groin. Well, actually that might be pretty embarrassing. But at least that offense gives you jail time. And a suspension. Thing is, Major League Baseball doesn’t suspend players for DUI arrests. It’s not part of their collective bargaining agreement.

Point is, embarrassment is not the emotion you should harbor after you put innocent lives in danger because your inflated ego is too steroided out for you to care about anyone but yourself and your shrinking man parts. How about remorse? Or shame? Or regret? How big of a narcissist are you to feel embarrassment over a DUI?

La Russa now knows how stray animals feel after they’ve been picked up by Animal Control.

However, Helton isn’t the only MLBer to express this middle school-age emotion over such a selfish crime. Ex-Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was arrested during spring training in 2007, releasing a statement that read: “Last night’s situation is the opposite of feeling good. It was an embarrassment, so I apologize to anyone who is close to me, members of the Cardinals organization, our fans. I regret it, take responsibility and I’m not sure there is anything else I can say.” Again, an “embarrassment”. Calling this an embarrassment is an embarrassment. It’s as if MLBers are coached to give this same bogus answer. But at least La Russa figured out mid-statement that words weren’t going to help clear his name, or right the wrong in this matter. Although another World Series ring in 2011 seems to have been enough. Or the nonprofit foundation he’s set up to rescue domestic animals around his hometown in the San Francisco Bay Area. Do his good deeds make him immune to MLB punishment? No. Apparently, you don’t even have to act like you care one bit about your crime.

Who smiles in a DUI photo?

Point in case: Mr. Triple Crown & Coke himself, Tigers first basemen Miguel Cabrera had the audacity in February 2011 to swig from a bottle in front of officers, then exclaim, “Don’t you know who I am?” As if being a ballplayer meant he got a free pass to potentially kill the less fortunate non-baseball players who may have been crossing the street in front of his SUV before being pulled over. He went on to win MVP in 2012, shaming every player to win the prestigious honor before him. Even Pete Rose. Or 7-timer Barry Bonds. And Major League Baseball keeps them out of the Hall of Fame for gambling on baseball, and for taking steroids, respectively. But these “crimes” don’t put anyone’s lives in danger. Bud Selig, his henchmen, and major league ball players need to address the issue in their next collective bargaining agreement. Until then, I’ll be counting down the days until a ball player kills someone after boozing behind the wheel.

The odds are in my favor. Judging by this list of offenders the last ten years thanks to the Political Game. 2012: Matt Bush, Bobby Jenks, Eric Langill, Alex White. 2011: Miguel Cabrera, Shin Soo Choo, Coco Crisp, Austin Kearns, Adam Kennedy. 2010: Dane Sardinha. 2009: Ryan Ouellette. 2008: Joba Chamberlain, Rafael Furcal, Luis Vizcaino. 2007: Gustavo Chacin, Jim Hickey, Tony La Russa, Steve Swindal. 2006: Jim Bowden, Esteban Loaiza, Dontrelle Willis. 2005: Erik DuBose, Sidney Ponson. 2004 Rafael Furcal.

Oh wait, it already happened! Former big leaguer Jim Leyritz was acquitted of voluntary manslaughter when he killed a woman after running a red light under the influence back in 2007. He didn’t serve a second in jail. Only a year of probation and a $500 fine. This acquittal coming just days after MLBer Nick Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver driving on a suspended license. Guess how many years this “average citizen” received behind bars? Try 51. The absolute minimum.

Ahem. Unless you’re a major leaguer. Or former major leaguer.

Honey badgers don’t look this mean.

I’m not the first to write about this atrocity in major league baseball. Bleacher Report just came out with one a few days ago. Last year it was ESPN. Before that it was CBS sports. I might not even be the hundredth person who has written about it. So why isn’t something being done to address this problem? I could care less about PEDs or HGH at this point. I care more about my safety on the road when I have to share it with major leaguers who don’t have to abide by the same set of rules normal citizens must.

Especially when the solution is so absolutely, brutally, truthfully simple. Call a @#!%ing taxi!

Not that kind of taxi.

So here’s what you do, Bud Selig. You grow a pair and make a decision. Don’t form a committee. Don’t consult your assistants. Or the owners. Put your fist down and doll out some business cards for taxi services to each and every player. I estimate this would cost about $300. Work to prevent this problem from escalating further. Not by shelling out fines and suspensions equal to or greater than the penalties that result from positive drug tests, but by coaching players on the options they have available to them after they’ve been drinking. Punishments won’t solve the problem. It hasn’t solved the steroid era. Help your players by getting them the assistance they clearly need.

Here’s what you do, owners. Hire personal drunk dial drivers for your players. Take it out of your players’ salaries. One drunk dial driver per team. Ten grand for a dude to chill out on warm spring nights waiting for that phone call. What’s that total? $300,000 total for all of the MLB?

A Not So Short Reflection Upon The Life Of A Celebrity: Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter

In Media, NFL on February 7, 2013 at 4:20 pm

By Jeff Weyant

The person in this video – referred to sometimes as Beyoncé, other times as Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter, depending on whether the speaker wants to characterize his or her subject as a pop star or as an ultra-empowered feminist/cultural icon – confuses me. But then I’m easily confused. For example, it was at an embarrassingly-progressed stage of life when I learned that the pronunciation of the noun “lingerie” had nothing in common with the verb “linger.” Still, understanding in some important way the actions of a professed un-single lady seems meaningful in spite of the present confusion.

The origin story of our eponymous star, thankfully, isn’t all that confusing. It doesn’t require a J.J. Abrams-directed prequel trilogy nor an Alan Moore graphic novel. One long sentence will suffice: Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter was born in Houston, Texas, where as a child she pursued the age-old tradition of singing and dancing which naturally led to the just-as-age-old tradition of performing, a gig which quickly developed into a prominent role at the front of the famed 1990’s/2000’s musical act Destiny’s Child which, after many successful forays into the labyrinthine maze known as the Billboard Charts, went on hiatus (due to normal stuff like “internal conflict,” “exhaustion,” and “former bandmates suing current lineup”), forcing the eponymous star of this article to release a solo album that righteously stormed the already-stormed Billboard Charts and became the basis for the young Houstonian’s vault into the record books (in terms of sales) and into the hearts and minds of billions of people the world over (in terms of everything else), culminating (so far) in the universally-acclaimed performance during this past Sunday’s as-usual-highly-Nielson-rated Super Bowl, a performance which, for most, cemented her legacy (at the tender age of thirty-one) as one of the greatest most awesomely badass female performing artists ever of all time forever.

It’s well-established, then, that Beyoncé is at the top of whatever edifice our culture considers representationally important. She’s friends with basically everyone cool. She sang (perhaps without vocalizing in the present moment) the national anthem at the recent presidential inauguration of her good friend Barack Obama. She gilds with gold whatever she touches. She has a strange website where the background animation is a repeating GIF of her doing something regal in attire befitting her station. And, oh yeah, she’s married to her male counterpart in the musical world, Jay-Z. In sum, she is, according to the third entry at Urban Dictionary, “[t]he female artist of the decade who is hated on by people who are jealous of her fame and extremely great talent. She is also one of the most beautiful women in the world and the top female black artist.” Sad to say, this is one of the more sincere entries on that great website.

All this is common knowledge. And yet The Artist Currently Most Often Referred To As Just Beyoncé perplexes me. Because on the one hand she seems to have expertly crafted a public image that portrays her as a strong-willed, beautiful woman able to achieve her dreams using nothing but copious amounts of elbow grease and a glistening can of Pepsi, the kind of generous, self-sacrificing individual who acts as spokesperson for campaigns like Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative aimed at curbing child obesity, the sort of human being one imagines intelligent feminists created in a laboratory somewhere in Minnesota to be their incredibly effective mascot, effective because she doesn’t overwhelm the opposition with facts and logic and violence but instead with solicitations of admiration and worship against which most of us are essentially defenseless. Because who can ever quibble with the vicissitudes of Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter, the woman who finally conquered the unconquerable heart of Jay-Z (he of 99 problems of which a bitch ain’t one), the woman who donates to charities constantly and seemingly effortlessly, the woman who reunited Destiny’s Child for a brief moment in front of the whole world last Sunday around 7:15pm Arizona time?

Well, me, I guess. And also apparently Harry Belafonte.

“And I think one of the great abuses of this modern time is that we should have had such high-profile artists, powerful celebrities. But they have turned their back on social responsibility. That goes for Jay-Z and Beyonce, for example.” – Belafonte to the Hollywood Reporter

There’s a lot to unpack here (people like Beyonce rarely travel light) and I think it’s best to return to Urban Dictionary. The first and second entries are the same (which doubles as a metaphor about Beyoncé) and they help shed light on my confusion: After saying that Beyoncé “shows who she is,” it is revealed that she, apparently not in contrast, “is extremely careful about how she portrays herself in the media” and that “People take this for a fake or flighty character, but she doesn’t give too much of herself away because she wants to keep a piece of her own integrity and protect her self [sic] and those that she loves.” Comprehensibility issues aside, this provides the most immediate and pressing question concerning Beyoncé: is she quote-unquote for real or is she merely a marketed manipulation, an artificial construct created to win the souls and wallets of everybody everywhere as quickly and as lastingly as possible?

As Hamlet would say, aye, there’s the rub.

My answer, as is probably already clear, is that Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter, as we all know her, exists only on paper. Somewhere in the cavernous recesses of the body we identify with the aforementioned quadrinomial title is the “real” Beyoncé but the only one we’re allowed to see is the one designed to make the most money and in general be the most awesome at all times (generally for the purposes of making money but also for making the hidden Beyoncé feel really nice about life) and that this, of course, is harmful and bad and uncool.

Very few people have wondered aloud about this (mainly because such individuals are universally reviled upon receipt of said public wonderings – Harry Belafonte a case in point) but it bears pondering nevertheless: Why is the most visible spokesperson for one of the nation’s most visible anti-child obesity campaigns also the most visible spokesperson for the leading cause of child-obesity? It’s a surprise to no one that fat children are fat largely because they imbibe truckloads of sugary soft drinks which are not only obesity-inducing but also the cause and suspected cause of lots of other awful health issues, like death, death, and death. Pepsi, who paid for Beyoncé’s ringing endorsement at the Super Bowl, accounts for an embarrassingly-large part of the market share for sugary soft drinks. Beyoncé, then, wants you to lose weight but to keep buying Pepsi while you do it. Which makes, naturally, no sense whatsoever (and is also expressly harmful, because children are more susceptible to whatever’s in front of them more often, and since no one sees the Let’s Move! campaign nearly as often as they see Beyoncé drinking Pepsi, it’s easy to guess which advertisement wins out).

The standard workout routine for Let’s Move! consists of walking to the store to buy more Pepsi products.

Another troubling part of her resume is World Humanitarian Day, which is, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), “a global day to celebrate humanity and the spirit of helping people.” One assumes, rather appropriately, that such a day is to be marked by the selfless, altruistic spirit of an individual like Mother Theresa and not, say, by the arrogated arrogance of an individual like Kanye West. It was interesting, then, that the UNOCHA decided to commemorate this day (which was actually more like a month, but whatever, it’s their terminology) by having Beyoncé stand alone in a white gown in front of the United Nations General Assembly in New York and sing one of the most incomprehensibly self-involved songs in the history of civilization.

Performed on August 10th, 2012 but released worldwide on August 19th, “I Was Here” seeks to impart to the listener the singer’s ardent wish that they be remembered for all the awesome things they did while alive, a small part of which concerned helping other people. The chorus is (and I’m not making some elaborate joke here, this is literally accurately factually what she sang to the world): “I was here, I lived, I loved, I was here, I did, I’ve done everything I wanted and it was more than I thought it would be, I will leave my mark so everyone will know I was here.” If you notice the distinct lack of altruism in this chorus, you’re onto something. Because it’s only occasionally in the verses (and frequently vague at that) that we get any sense that this song is even partially concerned with the welfare of other people. Given the time and venue, it sounds more like a South Park parodic imitation of what a celebrity would sing at such an occasion rather than what they actually sang. But no, it’s real. Painfully real. As if my generation wasn’t already expertly skilled at naval gazing, Beyoncé gave us more validation: do good not because it’s the right thing to do but so that everyone will remember how good you were.

To make matters infinitely worse, Beyoncé has repeatedly failed to question her public associates’ actions and decisions, however harmful they might be. For instance, she values highly her public friendship with Barack Obama but has to yet to comment publicly on anything he might be doing that could construed as, well, “bad,” for instance the sanctioning of the continual slaughter of innocent civilians (mainly children) in Pakistan using fancy remote-controlled airplanes, or really any of his other empire-building initiatives the world over, actions which seem contrary to the spirit of World Humanitarian Day, and she and Jay-Z first endorsed gay marriage only after President Obama gave his own support (and for what it’s worth Beyoncé also didn’t speak out against the various failures of George W. Bush either, unlike her good friend Kanye West, which suggests Beyoncé’s more interested in cultivating relationships with the powerful than using those relationships to make the world better).

Kanye West is more authentic which makes him more obviously obnoxious. But that’s probably a good thing.

The proverbial list goes on and on and it all leads to the same thing, the only viable explanation for Beyoncé’s contradictory actions: she’s a self-interested pop star who cares more about her coffers and her self-worth than she does about the strangers she influences and who willingly help fill those coffers. She donates to charity only if it helps augment her global brand, she offers conflicting messages to impressionable youth, and she maintains a cone of silence around the only things that really matter in life, opting to say nothing at all even when she’s in a position to do the most good. And when she does do something beneficial to somebody other than herself, she has to publicize it endlessly so everyone knows that she was here.

Which brings us to the halftime show at the Super Bowl, which was, fittingly, a summation of her entire career. For while her lyrics on Sunday didn’t necessarily point overtly to a self-aggrandizing agenda (unlike, say, those of her husband) the visual display was more than enough to compensate.

Beyoncé was given free license to immortalize herself in the annals of cultural history. It was no surprise then, given her track record, that the halftime performance was essentially a fifteen minute public service announcement designed to inform the world that Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter exists and is important and is finally worthy of your undying adoration. To say it was maddening to watch is, as is usually the case with these sorts of things, an understatement.

It begins (after a Pepsi intro) with a Vince Lombardi quote broadcast over a stampede of screaming strangers running onto the field, followed by pyrotechnics which illuminate three objects: opposing profile light displays, a giant statue, and the shadowy outline of a female figure, all three of which bear a striking resemblance to Beyoncé herself, a supposition made certain when the shadowy female figure is revealed moments later to be the eponymous singer. The self-deification is agonizing: like all formidable and long-lasting deities, Beyoncé is a tripartite goddess (two-dimensional profile, three-dimensional and huge statue, and three-dimensional and human-sized avatar), greeted and adored by onrushing worshipers. In addition, every other individual on stage throughout the performance will be dressed and made up such that they resemble the reason we’re all watching (a lot like Eminem’s army at the Grammy’s in 2000, except without the cultural critique).

Probably not purposeful but if it was it makes Beyonce the Emily Dickinson of contemporary pop artists.

As the first musical number rolls along aimlessly (because all musical numbers at the Super Bowl roll along aimlessly because they have to be part of a larger, necessarily awkward medley to fit the time and entertainment constraints of being loud and obnoxious as much as possible for fifteen minutes) we are gifted a telling visual: the camera goes birds-eye and Beyoncé is supposed to fit snugly into a circular design meant to enclose her prostrate figure. It and she fail to align and we’re left with an odd image, which can be read two ways: either Beyoncé’s façade isn’t and will never be perfect, allowing people like me to cast those much maligned slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or it was a purposeful deviation sent as a subliminal signal to people like me who spend way too much time thinking about this shit that the multitudes of Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter can’t be contained by the puny constraints of time and space. Your guess is as good as mine.

At this point we’re three minutes in and I’ve already had enough but against my better judgment I brave the interminable tragedy of Beyoncé’s unutterably depressing self-aggrandizement (depressing because it appears to be contagious) for twelve more minutes, during which the singer jumps around and sings breathlessly out of tune renditions of her Billboard-topping catalogue, making me realize that even Madonna ceded the stage last year to other performers. But not Beyoncé. She declared, once and for all, that she is the contemporary female equivalent of Kanye West, the sort of person interested in two things, making money and cementing one’s legacy as the most awesome and beloved and respected and adored person ever. The only difference is that Kanye, while musically a genius, is otherwise an idiot, particularly with respect to public relations. Not so with Beyoncé, who managed to accumulate laudatory couplets from the entire universe for behavior that we label as megalomaniac in others.

Fittingly, then, the only appropriate way to conclude is through the words of Beyoncé herself. After the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, she was quick to release a charity single, a cut of “God Bless the USA,” the proceeds of which were intended for the New York Police & Fire Widows’ & Children’s Benefit Fund. She went on CNN to premiere the single, participating in a short interview with Piers Morgan afterwards. Now, did she publicize her own awesomeness unnecessarily when a simple anonymous donation would have sufficed? Yes. Did she, instead of donating herself, merely create an opportunity for others to contribute? Yes. And did she needlessly and harmfully invoke the Judeo-Christian deity in the aftermath of a political assassination of a prominent figure in the Muslim world? Yes. But, as she told Piers Morgan, “I cannot think about anything more appropriate to do to help these families.”

Which is basically all you need to know about Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter.

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