It's been a long week, I'm still catching up on sleep after All-Star Weekend, so we'll be perfectly honest here: There's literally nothing going on in the sports world right now.
It's the calm before the storm in college basketball, the NFL Draft is still six weeks away, the NBA is humming along quietly as the second half gets started, and ... yeah, that's pretty much it, right?
So with that in mind, here are a handful of the best stories I've enjoyed over the past week or so. Some old, some new, and all a pretty good way to spend 30 minutes on a slow sports weekend. We'll begin 10 years ago with an article in an academic journal that probes the stereotypes behind "black" and "white" basketball and ultimately ends with the Sacramento Kings and Jason Williams.
Basketball In Black And White
From Tom Scocca at Harvard's Transition Mag, a meditation on the battle for basketball's soul. He traces the equal and opposite threads running through the fabric of basketball's past, present and future, and spends the entire piece grappling with this premise:
It comes down to this: playing basketball is a black thing, but winning at basketball is a white thing. You can fly to the hole, cut trajectories that no one has ever seen before, bend space and stop time to make music with that sphere. So what? It's only two points. Same as a layup. If you want to win games, the things that really matter are discipline, teamwork, unselfishness. Forget that stuff that looks good on the playground. Instead, concentrate on setting screens for your teammates, moving without the ball. Play tough, diligent defense. Fight for rebounds. If you do that—C'mon, fellas, listen up!—if you do that, you can beat anybody. Even if they're bigger and quicker and more agile than you.
He uses Phil Jackson's Triangle offense as the example of "winning" strategy, and cites Kobe and Michael Jordan as two winners who had to conform before they ever lifted a title. Race and racial tension is a subtext pretty much anywhere in life or sports, but no sport except for maybe boxing lays it all bare quite like basketball. In the end, though, Scocca rejects the yin/yang choice and moves on to those Kings teams of the early 2000s, the team that disproved all our preconceived notions of what the "black" and "white" styles really look like. And for that matter, what really makes "success" in basketball? Anyway, there's a lot going on here, and it's all pretty great.
(via @SportsFeat, which everyone should be following for kickass sportswriting.)
Speaking Of Basketball, There's James Harden And The Thunder
Here's Bethlehem Shoals on James Harden, and if the picture at the top doesn't make you love the Thunder, then I don't know what to tell you. As for Harden, he's one of the most enjoyable players in the NBA, and the single greatest catalyst for OKC's newfound coherence:
Ignoring one guy is easy, and can get frustrating for both parties. Throw in another, and there's more of an obligation to others. Throw in someone like Harden, who can facilitate or go for his without missing a beat, and the Westbrook-Durant problem dissolves. Harden is a buffer, a neutralizer, and an impediment all at once.
A Boy And His Billionaire Father
From the L.A. Times Magazine in 2000, the story of Scott Sterling, Donald's son, and the time he shot his best friend in the back with a shotgun. We talked about Sterling on Thursday, when this incident was brought to my attention. The circumstances surrounding the shooting remain murky to this day, but there were no charges brought by the L.A. police, possibly because of conversations like this:
As the conversation drew out, Donald Sterling, Scott's father, came on the line. On the tape, which The Times has heard, Sterling indicated he thought it was unfair for his son to submit to further interviewing. Then he added, "And I, you know, am very close to the police chief in Beverly Hills . . . . So I'm very close to the Police Department, and I want to cooperate as much as possible."
Sterling continued: "I wish that you'd give me a little advice. One day in life you're gonna be passing through, and you may need a lawyer to give you good, honest advice."
"Yeah, well . . . ." Hopkins responded.
"And I'm that lawyer," Sterling said. "Donald Sterling, on the corner of Wilshire and Beverly Drive."
Hopkins hemmed and hawed and tried to change the subject, but Sterling returned to it. "But the bottom line, I'm asking you, officer, and please put my name somewhere in your wallet. Sometime in the course of your career, you will want to call me. You know what I'm saying? And your name again is spelled . . . may I put your name down?"
Neither the shooter nor the victim were deemed reliable by the D.A.'s office, so they decided not to try the case, and that's fine. But there was plenty of resentment from the police force at the time, and 12 years after the fact, it's easy to see why. In any case, it's a fantastic read, if for no other reason then the reminder of just how insane life can get for the children of the megarich. Drugs + Shotguns + Argument over your D-list celebrity girlfriend = Fun for everyone!
A Boy And His Bi-Polar Father
From Tom Ley at The Good Men Project, here's a painfully honest reflection on his relationship with his estranged, bi-polar father.
I had never once considered that my father was, at one point in his life, just a kid who played little league baseball. Of course, baseball was and still is my favorite sport. ... I wondered if maybe my father used to love going to baseball practice like I did. There wasn’t much joy on his face in the photo, but who is ever actually happy when posing for one of those pictures? I looked at him hard, trying to figure out if he got the same silly satisfaction that I did from diving across a gravelly infield in pursuit of a grounder in the hole, inhaling dirt and dust before skidding to a stop. Maybe he loved the game like I did. Maybe he used to be just like me.
It's heart-wrenching in places, but ultimately kind of uplifting. If you've got a great relationship with your dad, it'll make you grateful. If not, it'll give you something to identify with. In either case, it's fantastic, honest writing that's worth your time. Check it out here.
A Boy And His Once-Bigoted Father
Over at Grantland, Davy Rothbart interviews Michigan guard Tim Hardaway, Jr., and the whole interview is fantastic, but the best part comes when
"After retired NBA player John Amaechi revealed in his book that he is gay, your dad said, "I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States." He later apologized, but the comments caused public outcry and a media backlash. How did the episode affect things at home?"
Speaking Of Famous Fathers!
If you don't like to read, then good news! SB Nation launched its YouTube channel this week. There's a lot of fantastic material over there, but if you're looking for a place to start, the premiere episode of Shutdown Fullback is probably the best place to immerse yourself early on.
Nick Nolte Is America And So Can You!
Where Nick Nolte explains the GHB could be a miracle drug, talks about his early days in Hollywood, explains how he pissed off Martin Scorsese, recounts a night spent partying and doing drugs in Pittsburgh, and generally just reminds everyone that Nick Nolte's world is a kaleidoscope of sights and sounds the rest of us have never even thought to imagine.
Being 23 Year-Old Leonardo DiCaprio In The Late-90s Would've Been Pretty Cool
Now, venturing out at night with him feels like climbing onto the set of the Jerry Springer Show, says one of his close friends. "When he goes to a club, people start screaming and jumping over the security guards and elbowing and pushing to get near him."
And that's not just the civilians. "The models are all over him," says Jeffrey Jah, director of the club Life. "He's got rock stars, Puff Daddy, Donald Trump, going over to his table to sit with him. Leo just comes in to hang out with his friends."
That's from New York Magazine, and one of the more entertaining celebrity profiles you'll ever read. Sex! Fights! Gossip! Publicists stalking that one girl from Saved By The Bell who wasn't Kelly Kapowski! And the sequence at the end is particularly awesome. (via @rilaws)
This Is Just Tracy Morgan Talking About Benihana
"This is my family. These people know me," he says. "This is fancy, man. They cook the food right in front of you. They might go to Pathmark and buy it, but they're gonna cook it. Fancy."
Really, Tracy Morgan is just the greatest.
"This is the Benihana on 56th Street in Manhattan. It is going down. Everybody comes here. L.L. comes here, Busta comes here. The Rock comes here. Everybody comes to this Benihana."
Finally, Let's All Take A Moment To Enjoy Young Jeezy
I'm headed to a Young Jeezy concert on Saturday night after Carolina-Duke, so re-reading this Young Jeezy piece at Grantland was sorta like homework for me. The best homework ever:
As the story goes, Young Jeezy never planned on being a rapper. Originally, he wanted to transition from drug-dealing to music moguldom. He bought a studio, and founded a label. But "all my artists got locked up," he tells me. "All 10 of the motherfuckas." So one day Jeezy threw his hands in the air, said "fuck it," and gave this rapping thing a try himself. "I always pretty much been hands-on," he recalls. "But I wasn't able to get [my artists] to go as hard as I wanted them to go. When it was my time to get up in the booth, a lot of the frustration came from that. What you could hear was the stress in my voice."
"I've had some trials that would have made the average motherfucker jump out a window a long time ago," Jeezy had said earlier. "But if you wake up one morning and say, 'I can't do it no more,' then it's all over. That's why I wake up every morning and say, let's do this shit. Let's get it."
Yeah. Let's do this shit. Let's get it. Now let's all go watch this documentary.