Sunday, May 31, 2009

Kwik Kwiz

Which former Red Sox hurler reminds you of Larry Bird: Keith Foulke or Curt Schilling?

A story in this week's Globe (surprisingly highlighted by Dan Shaughnessy today):
Knowing he was too injured to pitch, oft-maligned Keith Foulke (now trying to make a comeback) retired in February 2007 one day before he would have collected $5 million from the Indians just for showing up at work. Here's what Foulke said to the Globe's Stan Grossfeld when asked about Curt ($8 million for not pitching in 2008) Schilling: "He's got to wake up and look himself in the mirror every day."

Here's how Larry Bird's retirement went down:

When Bird finished the 1991-92 season, the prognosis was grim; his body had finally worn out. His contract contained a two-year option for $4.5 million a year, which would automatically take effect on August 15 if he didn't notify the club of his retirement. On August 12, Bird went to see [Celtics CEO Dave] Gavitt and announced he was going to retire. Gavitt, aware of the August 15 deadline and of all the years of dedicated service Larry had given the Celtics, asked him whether he wanted a few more days to think it over. "I know what day this is," Bird replied. "If I'm not going to play and know I can't play, I'm not going to take the money. I'm not going to take one cent I don't earn."

Friday, May 29, 2009

When Amazing Happens from 15 Feet

The NBA's playoff ad campaign is brilliant: a pianist plays stark thirds, an empty basketball court and arena slowly (thanks to a reverse-CGI) filled to life with Kobe to Shaq...Bird's steal...Magic's Junior Sky-hook.

There's one other "Amazing" highlight that brings the NBA's past to its future: Dr. J's swoop. For NBA fans of a certain age, it defined all that basketball could be -- power, mid-air acrobatics, and grace. That moment was seared -- thanks to countless replays -- on the mind of millions.

But who saw it live? Only the 18,000 or so in Philadelphia's Spectrum who were in attendance for Game Four of the 1980 Finals. For everyone else, the 1980 Finals were consigned to late night television -- speaking of amazing -- on 'tape delay.'

The NBA of the late 1970s was a much different league than the one declared "Fannnn-tastic" just a few years later. It was a league that had gone through the 1970s built on terrific teams (the post-Russell Celtics, Knicks, and Lakers in the first half of the decade, the immortal Blazers in 1977), but after the ABA merger, it was a with little defense, little charisma, and little fan support (the 1979-80 Lakers drew 582,882, good for 3rd in the League; the Lakers this season drew 778,877, a 33% increase in numbers, good for 8th in the League.)

But presented with two well-known (thanks to the 1979 NCAA Final) and marketable stars -- Magic and Bird -- the NBA turned to a star-based system. The teams became identified by single players, and thanks to the leadership of the two most prominent; renewed interest in college basketball created interest in the pro game, culminating with the 1984 draft (3 of the top 5 players were eventual Hall of Famers, highlighted by His Airness, and the other was Sam Perkins, who played in 1286 games(*)) and interest and attendance spiked, from 450,331 (10,983 per game) in 1979-80 to 641,616 (15,649 per game) ten years later.

(*-While NBA games played is not the only measure of a player to be sure, it's more games than every player drafted at #4 from 1985 to 1994 (Rasheed Wallace was the #4 in 1995, and he's still active. Inserting footnotes in the text -- Hat tip to Joe Pos.)

But as teams -- and marketing campaigns -- were built around stars, the league had to make some tricky choices. Fans came out to the stadium to see Michael, Dominique, and Isiah, and it wasn't doing anyone any good to see them on the bench with foul trouble.

More important -- and more ominous for the integrity of refereeing -- stars became subject to kid glove treatment. In 1979-80, the top five in free throws attempted were Moses Malone (#1), World B. Free, Dan Issel, John Drew, and Reggie Theus. Malone and Issel were legitimate stars (both are in the Hall of Fame), but the other three were good, but not great players who played in a total of 5 All-Star Games.

Contrast with 1989-90, where the top five in FTA is dominated by Hall of Famers (Karl Malone, David Robinson, the Chuckster, Jordan and Patrick Ewing.)(**) FTA per game were also up slightly during the period, from 56 per game in 1979-80 to 57 per game in 1989-90, although defenses were becoming more physical in the era of the Detroit Bad Boys.

(**- Analysis of one year's top 5 FTA may not make the argument airtight, but here's top 5/FTA in 1978-79: Free, Malone (HOF), George McGinnis, Cedric Maxwell, and Drew; here's 1988-89: Karl Malone, Barkley, Jordan, Moses Malone, and Hakeem, all HoFers)

Here's another set of data: in 1977, Dr. J led the NBA in playoff FTA with 7.05 per game (134 in 19 games; in 1978, Dennis Johnson led with 7.22 FTA per playoff game (159/22 games); in 1979, it was Elvin Hayes with 6.84 FTA per playoff game (130/19 games).

In 1987, Bird led the league with 8.39 FTA per playoff game (193 FTA in 23 games); in 1988, it was Adrian Dantley with 7.73 FTA per playoff game (178/23 games); in 1989, it was Jordan with 13.47 FTA per playoff game (229/17 games).

In 2007, LBJ led with 9.8 FTA per playoff game (196/20 games); in 2008, it was Kobe with 9.23 (194/21 games); and currently LBJ leads with 14.5 FTA (188/13 games).

Weighted averages among the leaders: 1977-79 = 7.05 FTA per playoff game; 1987-89 = 9.52 FTA per playoff game; and in 2007-09 = 10.70 FTA per playoff game.

But by focusing on stars, and protecting them around the basket, the NBA turned into a multiple-rule league: one set of rules for regular season; and one for the playoffs had long been established. But by allowing stars to roam free -- and rewarding them with trips to the line, the NBA went down the road of creating "stars" and rewarding them. The trend has continued to the present day with the ultimate peak (nadir?) being reached in the 2006 Finals, when Deee-wayne Wade put the refs in his Fave Five with 97 FTA in the 6 game Finals.

So while getting refs younger or more in shape or less subject to home crowds may help alleviate some of the criticism that the calls are getting throughout the Internets, its also true that the double-standard has yet to be addressed, and is argubly getting worse.

So it wasn't just that LBJ got bailed out at the end of regulation in Game Four in Orlando; it's that he knew he would.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

MSM Discovers AI

Another sign that concepts around artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics are breaking through to the mainstream media (MSM): an article by John Markoff in the NYT's Week in Review.

While Markoff does not break much new ground -- he summarizes the rise of the concepts of "Singularity" and the ethical issues that AI may raise -- TWIR is a marker on the way to reaching opinion-leaders. In the old world of newspapers and magazines, a cover story on AI/Robotics in Time or Newsweek would not be far behind.

But in the brave new world of the MSM, there's no longer a clear formula for moving from techie journals, to creeping into the Science section of the NYT, to 'breaking out' into popular culture. And the fact that it's Memorial Day weekend -- and that much of Manhattan is out in the Hamptons (or wishing they were there like last year) -- may mean that AI is not quite ready for its coming-out party.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Which One Is It, Sir?

Dick Cheney yesterday, on President Obama's decision not to release additional photos from Abu Ghraib:
When President Obama makes wise decisions, as I believe he has done in some respects on Afghanistan, and in reversing his plan to release incendiary photos, he deserves our support.
Dick Cheney, also yesterday, on whether 'enhanced interrogation' helps recruit for al Queda:
Another term out there that slipped into the discussion is the notion that American interrogation practices were a “recruitment tool” for the enemy. On this theory, by the tough questioning of killers, we have supposedly fallen short of our own values...As a practical matter, too, terrorists may lack much, but they have never lacked for grievances against the United States. Our belief in freedom of speech and religion … our belief in equal rights for women … our support for Israel … our cultural and political influence in the world – these are the true sources of resentment, all mixed in with the lies and conspiracy theories of the radical clerics. These recruitment tools were in vigorous use throughout the 1990s, and they were sufficient to motivate the 19 recruits who boarded those planes on September 11th, 2001.
So the photos from Abu Ghraib would be incendiary, but the techniques themselves (which are featured in the photos) add no additional fuel to the fire?

It reminds one of another question:
KAFFEE: Then why the two orders? Colonel? Why did you--
JESSEP: Sometimes men take matters into their own hands.
KAFFEE: No sir. You made it clear just a moment ago that your men never take matters into their own hands. Your men follow orders or people die. So Santiago shouldn't have been in any dangor at all, should he have, Colonel?
JESSEP: You little bastard.
ROSS: Your Honor, I have to ask for a recess to--
KAFFEE: I'd like an answer to the question, Judge.
RANDOLPH: The Court'll wait for answer.
KAFFEE: If Kendrick told his men that Santiago wasn't to be touched, then why did he have to be transferred?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Your honor, Your Honor.

Allerton's Point usually defers to Decisionism for close readings and analysis of US District Court memos on Motions to Dismiss(*).

But when the ruling involves the son of a former Presidential candidate, suing an ACC school for the right play on the university's golf team, an exception must be made.

Andrew Giuliani sued Duke University and its current golf coach after Guiliani was dismissed from the golf team last spring (2008). (Giuliani had been 'recruited' to play golf by the prior coach, who died unexpectedly; Giuliani was not offered an athletic scholarship, so in essence he was 'recruited' to walk-on and tryout for the team.)

Giuliani asked the court to in essence, reinstate him to the team based on a contract theory. U.S. Magistrate Judge Wallace W. Dixon's opinion is a readable and entertaining loop through some of the 'signature holes' of North Carolina contract law in the educational setting. Bottom line: Giuliani's attempt to cobble together a contract through a combination of University policy manuals, bulletins, and assorted other documents ends up, to quote Judge Dixon, "in the drink."

Unsurprisingly, Judge Dixon finds a way to work in a Caddyshack quote into the memorandum; in dismissing Giuliani's promissory estoppel claim (which is somewhat surprisingly, not argued in his brief), Dixon quotes Carl Spackler (Bill Murray): "He's on his final hole. He's about 455 yards away, he's gonna hit about a 2 iron I think. "

At least Dixon didn't quote this section of Caddyshack dialogue:
Danny Noonan: I planned to go to law school after I graduated, but it looks like my folks won't have enough money to put me through college.
Judge Smails: Well, the world needs ditch diggers, too.

(*)- And related matters, all as described in a Memorandum Opinion, Recommendation, and Order, 1:08CV502, USDC (Middle District of North Carolina)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Because it insults my intelligence"

Here are the corresponding numbers for New Hampshire, as reported by the AP:

Belknap - $6.6M total / $ 109 per person

Carroll - $63.1M / $1,334pp (!)

Chesire - $1M / $13pp

Coos - $2.6M total / $81pp

Grafton - $36.7M / $429pp

Hillsborough - $56M / $139pp

Merrimack - $21.1M / $143 pp

Rockingham - $48.4M /$163 pp

Strafford - $6.2M / $51pp

Sullivan - $2.7M / $61pp

"Only don't tell me that you're innocent."

The Associated Press has mapped stimulus dollars to each county in the United States. Here's how the county-by-county breakdown went in Massachusetts:

Barnstable - $17.4M total / $78 per person

Berkshire - $20.7M /$160 pp

Bristol - $100.3M / $184 pp

Dukes(*) - $4.1M / $268 pp

Essex - $50.5M / $68 pp

Franklin - $26.3M / $366 pp

Hampden - $8.9M / $19 pp

Hampshire - $20.3M / $132 pp

Middlesex - $100.1M / $68 pp

Nantucket - $7.7M / $733 pp

Norfolk - $24.8M / $38 pp

Suffolk - $108.6M / $151 pp

Worcester - $78.8M / $101 pp

(*) Dukes County is comprised of Martha's Vineyard.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Sports = Entertainment

From the dawn of history, professional sports was always co-existed with the "entertainment world."

Babe Ruth was either traded so that Harry Frazee could -- or could not -- finance "No, No Nanette." The Celtics usually have a long West Coast road trip in mid-February, so that travelling shows (currently "Disney on Ice") can use the Garden.

But it has only been in the past few decades that sports has morphed into entertainment. Red Auerbach, who was a link to the original NBA of the 1940s, refused to allow danceteams or other "modern" entertainment at the Garden. In 2004, he said: "They're just waiting for me to die so they can get cheerleaders."

(The Celtic Dancers are in their third year, beginning the first season after Red's passing.)

But the point of this post is not to complain about the post-modern "Fan Experience."

Rather, when Big-Time Sports began competing directly for the American consumer's entertainment dollar, a Rubicon was crossed.

Sports heroes have become treated like celebrities, been paid like celebrities, and begun living their lives like celebrities. Salaries followed.

But there's a difference between sports and pure entertainment: we don't care what entertainers have to do to stay at the top.

If Madonna needs a little help to stave off the next generation of teeny-boppers, no one cares. Sure, it's fuel for the tabloids and gossip pages, but no one cares. Her music either sells or it doesn't; in fact, we don't even care what 'post-production' needs to be done on the album to improve her voice.

And it's not just music -- body doubles abound in Hollywood: Julia Roberts got help from a body double in Pretty Woman. Halle Berry has received "double" help from Barbara Alexandre. And of course stunt men -- while being replaced by CGI in recent years -- have been around since the days of Eisenstein.

There's no pretext in show biz -- the entertainment is entertaining. If it's not, we won't watch, and don't care. And if the Big Star needs a little help -- from a surgeon, or a strength coach, or a teleprompter, or even a little pick-me-up in the morning, we don't see it, and we don't care.

But sports is -- or was -- different.

The competitive aspect of sports is what made it compelling. Could one athlete outtrain, outwork, or outlast their opponent?

We measure athletic achievements, both to separate them from one another, but also to show the separation from mere mortals.

The compelling images from our childhood are of superhuman achievement: Dr. J dunking from the foul line. Kirk Gibson limping to the plate, then fist-pumping around the bases. Michael Jordan ripping the heart out of the City of Cleveland.

What does it mean for our children's memories?

Jerry Seinfeld once famously summarized modern sports as follows: "You are standing and cheering and yelling for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city. Fans will be so in love with a player, but if he goes to another team, they boo him. This is the same human being in a different shirt! They hate him now! Boo! Different shirt!! Boo!"

When will we reach the point that we now root for our chemists to whip up better concoctions than the other team's chemists?

And will we pay $100 a ticket to see it?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Big night in playoff sports tonight:

* For the second series in a row, the Celtics have dropped the first game at home, leaving themselves in a "must-win" situation tonight. Ironically, the Cs might have been able to stick the Magic with their worst-ever-Game-One-loss-that-didn't-involve-Nick-Anderson had they been able to close the deal after storming back from 28 down. Instead, Gang Green needs a win and then more perimeter jump shooting in the Magic Kingdom (from the Os) rather than pounding the ball down to Dwight Howard or Rashard Lewis.

* Speaking of Lewis, his confidence has to be helped by the fact that for much of the game, he was being guarded by Brian Scalabrine. While Scal is not a stopper in the best of times, he has only recently returned to the lineup (Game 3 of the Chicago series) after suffering a series of concussions in February. Scal's post-concussion syndrome 'disappeared' the night that Leon Powe's knee was shredded, and he wears a headband as "cushioning"; it's perhaps the NBA's equivalent of giving Dumbo-the-Elephant a feather to hold to enable his to "fly." And repeated head injuries are very dangerous for the future health of the victim.

* Let's just not mention "Derrick Rose" anywhere around Scal. Please.

* In the Adams Division final, the Bruins need to show that they can match the Canes' intensity. After getting blown out in the opener, the Whale came back and showed up in Game Two; the Bruins now need to respond with an uptick themselves. And hope that Goalie Cam Ward is through standing-on-his-head.

* Finally, the Pittsburg Penguins also face a 'must-win' tonight, back home in the Igloo and down 0-2 to the Washington Ovechkins. While Sid Crosby has backed up his end of the Rivalry, he's not received a lot of help from NHL regular-season leading scorer Evgeni Malkin or (even) the 413's Bill Guerin. The Pens looked slow and old in the last 20 minutes on Monday night; they need to turn it around tonight.

* One more NHL thought: wouldn't you love to be a the guy who got to tell Commissioner Gary Bettman, "Oh, by the way, our franchise in Phoenix just filed for bankruptcy"?

Prime Minister's Question (PMQ) Time

John McCain campaigned (at least for a while) on the idea of coming before Congress to answer questions a la the British Prime Minister. But if after watching the above video, one imagines that a President McCain might have -- after cool reflection -- decided that an East Room presser was a better idea after all.

Bill Clinton was publicly encouraged to hold a PMQ by members of his own party, but demurred; PMQ was not an option for other Presidents (like 40 and 43, linked in this entry with the immortal words "What the President meant to say...")

Friday, May 1, 2009

Game Seven Notes

Most of the coverage of the Bulls-Celtics series is understandably focused on the drama of seven overtime periods in six games, and the fact that the teams are so competitive and evenly matched. However, a few points stand out despite all of the hard play:

Vinnie Del Negro.

* Despite criticism throughout the year, Del Negro has represented for the "413." And he's still looks like the same kid that Jimmy Valvano recruited with a-for-the-time high-tech innovation: an audio tape of a future "ACC Title game" where Vinnie wins the title for NC State.
* Say what you will, but the Bulls have a plan: run the ball down the Celtics' throat. When Derrick Rose squares his shoulders and runs north-and-south, no one can stop him defensively.
* Kirk-Hinrich-on-Paul-Pierce has been surprisingly effective, and not overused; Hinrich's quick hands allow him to both Pierce when he brings the ball down, and he also is athletic.
*While running out of TOs hurt him in Games One and Two, his teams have also been in position to win five of the six games so far. The Cs have escaped near-death experiences twice: down five (without the ball) with 2:30 left in Game Two and down 11 with 9:27 left in Game Five. They won't get out of a hole like that in Game Seven.

Celtics Guards off the Bench

* There's nothing more painful than watching a player who has lost the confidence to shoot, and it's now happened to both Stephon Marbury and Tony Allen. It's not "unselfish". It's not "working within the team." It's hoping the ball doesn't find you at the end of the shot clock. And it will. As John Cheney once said: "There's a reason why a guy's open."
* As to why Tony Allen was on the floor at the end of regulation (when the Cs had their best -- and really only -- chance to win last night), here's what Doc Rivers said:
"With an 8-point lead, if you're a good defensive team, all you have to do is play defense," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "You don't have to score again. You literally don't have to score again. But we didn't do that."
But that's why there's the 'offense-and-defense' substitution package, Coach.

Celtic Bites

* There's not much left in the tank for Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. Allen had a career playoff high last night, keeping the Celts alive in the second OT with two huge jumpers. And Pierce was immense in crunch time during Game Five. How long can this go on?
* You got Rondo'd. It's hard to believe, but a year ago, Rondo was still seen as the weak link on the Cs. Two years ago he averaged 6 ppg, 3 apg, and 3 rpg, and last year's 10.6/5.2/4.2 was seen as a big improvement. This year, and especially this post-season, has been a cosmic leap.