Who’s the Draft King?

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I don’t gamble.  Not at all.  Never.  On anything.  The house always wins, my judgment is awful, I let emotion rule, I love a good story more than good odds, on any given day … and so on.

So, here I am about to put another twenty-five bucks in my Draft King account.

This comes up, of course, because the NFL football season is coming soon to a brain near me, and while hockey and baseball were my first true loves, I can’t not watch football.  Since I’m going to watch anyway, doesn’t it make sense that I ought to invest a little extra prep time so that I can see the game on a whole new level?  There’s research to be done and rosters to explore.  No more just grabbing a sandwich and a diet soda, plumping up the pillows on the couch and leaving family and the petty exigencies of life behind for a few (eight) hours.

No, my viewing now demands daily review of players moving to and from the trainer’s table and whirlpool, scanning scouting reports, keeping track of vets and rookies, new coaches, new schemes, suspensions, rivalries, contract extensions, and that’s just the start.

Let’s say I’m looking at a rookie.  Is he a high motor guy, a natural waist bender, does he have a bubble butt, is he quicker than fast, does he have oily hips, is he a dancing bear, is he a space player, can he click and close, can he throw an effective jam?

Full disclosure.  I have never asked any of those questions, but I do scan the opinions of those in the know, each contradicting the other, the result of which is that I’m lucky if I can make my twenty-five bucks last through the entire season.  Last year?  Ended up with one dollar in my account.

So I start this season with twenty-six dollars to plunk down, three bucks at a time.

I do understand that there is some dislocation of fan attachment when I’m less interested in the outcome of the game than the number of yards my tight end has put together or the number of sacks my defense has recorded.  Some would call it rationalization, but I consider myself now a fan of football rather than hanging on to a provincial attachment to one team over all others.

I might also be a Detroit Lions fan, so there’s that.

Look, I have principles.  I don’t goof around with college football, the last bastion of amateur sport; however, with no money on the table, this might be a good time to predict a top five finish for the University of Michigan.  My allegiances in hockey and baseball are so misguided and absolute that I’d be through my small stake after three games.

I like to think of myself as a student of the game of football, an earnest aficionado, but there are moments when I think of Romans roaring encouragement to that week’s favorite gladiator, urging a final act of mutilation so profound that no opponent could crawl from the arena.  Surely, hoping for a blitz so effective that the quarterback has to be scraped from the field with a spatula is nothing like that?

Well, as Julius Caesar is reputed to have said, “Alia iacra est” (The die is cast!).  My twenty five bucks are in; might as well cross the Rubicon and check out the stats on Jimmy Garoppolo.

 

Measuring Arnold

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My daughter grew up in California at a time in which the state and the governor seemed to be in a perpetual state of crisis; Gray Davis was recalled and removed within months of the start of his second term.  Then, the improbable candidacy of Arnold Schwarzenegger quickly went from dubious prospect to inauguration followed by a solid two terms as Governor of California, leading her to belive that Schwarzenegger completely measured up as highest office holder in the state.

I did some measuring myself, back in 1977 when I met Schwarzenegger and had the opportunity to run a tape measure around his neck, not a feat I’d try again, and a little daunting even in retrospect.  This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity arose as Schwarzenegger appeared at the unofficial premiere of the film that was to set him on the road to stardom.  Through an odd set of circumstances, I was involved in the arrangement of that event and complied with the star’s command, “Go ahead.  Measure my neck.”

The film was Pumping Iron, a docudrama produced by George Butler, based on the essay, “Pumping Iron” by Charles Gaines.  It was the first film to feature Arnold Schwarzenegger, then known as an Austrian bodybuilder who had captured the title of Mr. Universe in 1966, Mr. Olympia in 1969, and whose sculpted physique virtually owned international bodybuilding throughout the 1970’s.  He’d had bit parts in two movies, one of which, Stay Hungry, had something of a cult following because of Schwarzenegger’s role.  Pumping Iron was released in  January of 1977 and was a commercial success, kick starting Schwarzenegger’s career in film and accelerating the development of franchised exercise and fitness gyms.

Buzz about Gaines’ article had grabbed the attention of Dino de Laurentis who was looking for a project for his daughter.  By the time Arnold and I met face to neck, he had been cast as Conan the Barbarian, a role that established him as the premiere piece of beefcake in Hollywood, a position previously held by the relatively ordinary muscular giant, Steve Reeves.  Beefcake, by the way, was the term used to describe hunky guys in Hollywood fan magazines; Betty Gable and Marilyn Monroe, on the other hand, were pin-up girls, and their photos were known as cheesecake.  Beef, cheese …no Vegan terminology in those days.

In any case, it happened that in those years I ran the Berkshire Film Society in Sheffield, Massachusetts, a very small association attempting to bring classic and experimental films to south Berkshire County.  Our theater was musty and cramped, our equipment was primitive, and our budget was exhausted.  I got a call from the far snappier film society in Salisbury, Connecticut, a near neighbor, asking if I’d like to join in hosting Charles Gaines, Schwarzenegger, and the as-yet-unreleased film, Pumping Iron.

I jumped at the chance for a number of reasons.  Two of the most stalwart members of my small cadre lived just outside of Salisbury and had been hoping we might find a way to connect the two groups.  The only celebrity in my bunch was Terry Southern, author of Dr. Strangelove and Candy, and a wickedly funny man (I do mean wicked) who shared with me an odd appreciation of the competitive world of bodybuilding.  We had both read the Gaines articles, seen Butler’s photos illustrating the essay, and thought the film would be a hoot.

The Salisbury Film Society booked the auditorium of Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, opened the screening to the public, and invited Hotchkiss students to attend as well. My job was to bring in an audience from southwestern Massachusetts, fairly easy to do as I also had an early morning radio show on the only station available in that corner of the state, and, more importantly, there is nothing to do at night in southwestern Massachusetts when the temperature drops below zero.

The auditorium was packed; as a fund-raiser it was a clear triumph.  The film was far better than I had expected, a great documentary about the competitive world of bodybuilding as well as a compelling drama featuring the self-assured prankster, Schwarzenegger, and his aspiring rival, hearing impaired and self-doubting Lou Ferrigno, later a slab of beefcake himself as the TV incarnation of the Incredible Hulk.

Ferrigno did not attend the screening, but Schwarzenegger was in rare form.  He had been at the top of his career for a decade and was eager to move into whatever niche Hollywood could find for him.  He had just found out that the Conan project had been green-lighted, Oliver Stone had been hired to write the script, and James Earl Jones had been cast as Thulma Doom, the fiend who had killed Conan’s parents.  It took another two years to get the project off the ground and into production in Spain; by that time, John Milius as director had re-written the Stone script, toughening the action to give Schwarzenegger more room to flex his personality.

That evening, in the question-and-answer part of the program, I asked if Schwarzenegger hoped to win a part in a film in which he wouldn’t have to take off his shirt.  I know, what the hell was I thinking?  With great restraint and good humor, Schwarzenegger took off his jacket and made a gesture as if he were about to un button his shirt.

The next question came from a student in the audience, asking how his physical features had changed since he had stopped training for competition.  There was considerable back and forth about various body features, dialogue that Schwarzenegger seemed to enjoy.

To be clear, he was still huge.

He wore a suit that allowed him to look something like a mortal, but when he took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves, the masquerade was over.  At the top of his game as a competitor, Schwarzenegger weighed about 245 pounds.  He was 6 feet 2 inches tall, and every limb had been developed for perfect symmetry.  A champion can’t have huge arms and skinny legs; everything has to be in perfect proportion, and he had been termed the most perfectly developed human for years.

Arnold Schwarzenegger could not have been more cordial in describing his training  routine and the resultant physical features; he thought of himself as a sculptor, working in his own medium.  His weight that evening was 235 pounds.  He had a 32 inch waist, his chest when expanded measured 57 inches.  I’m going to stop there to suggest that his chest was about the length of a kid just under five feet tall.  His thighs were 28 inches around, both of them, again about the size of a sixteen year old’s waist.  He tapered down to a mere 19 inches at the calf (more than a foot and a half), and his bicep when flexed was 20 inches in circumference.  The next time you see an AYSO team playing soccer, the ball they kick is only slightly larger than Arnold’s arm.

And so, it came to the neck.  Because I had been affronting enough to question the star’s career path, he beckoned me to the front of the auditorium, handed me a tape measure, and said, Go ahead.  Measure my neck.”

I was 5 foot 8 1/2 inches tall.  I had to ask Arnold to lean a bit so that I coud operate the tape.  I don’t know what I expected.  2 feet?  22 inches?  At that time, Arnold Schwarzenegger had a neck that measured only slightly more than 18 inches. As in all other things, in perfect proportion with the rest of his physique.

I was completely charmed by Schwarzenegger that night and have since seen him in almost everything he’s made.  We all have favorite roles, of course, and mine tend to fall into three categories.

Against all odds, he has a lively and gentle sense of humor, a quality best expressed in some of the lighter roles, such as Jingle All the Way, Junior, Twins, and to some extent Kindergarten Cop.  That film generated two of my favorite Schwarzenegger lines, delivered with that signature Austrian accent.  “Who is your daddy, and what does he do?” , and his querulous response to the child who fears he has a tumor, ” That is not a too-mah!”

Schwarzenegger became an action superstar fairly quickly, frequently appearing as the leader of an elite military or para-military crew facing overwhelming odds or as a sleuth on his own, facing overwhelming odds.  My favorites of these many films include Commando, in which his character’s survival skills are so advanced that he can smell invaders before they appear, and Total Recall, an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick Sci Fi adventure in which a special effects moment makes it seem that his head expands and explodes as he exposed to the atmosphere on Mars.  Critics had fun at his expense when Schwarzenegger was cast as a robot in the Terminator series (“Schwarzenegger a robot – now that’s type casting!”), but he made us feel for the machine.

Batman and Robin stands alone in the Schwarzenegger oeuvre.  I’m a fan of director Joel Schumacher, and the cast for the film was fantastic.  George Clooney was Bruce Wayne/ Batman, and Schwarzenegger played his nemesis, Dr. Victor Fries, a Nobel Prize winning molecular biologist whose body was altered as he tried to freeze his terminally ill wife.  Fries, damaged physically and psychically,  can only live in a suit that keeps him at a sub-zero temperature, thus becoming Mr. Freeze.

It’s a goofy sidestep in the cinematic history of Batman, a bit more like the early tv show than the Dark Knights.  Chris O’Donnell is Robin, kind of a bat bro, eager to break out of the bat-shadow.  Alicia Silverstone, fresh from Clueless, is Batgirl, not only a crime fighter in the making but niece of the Bat Butler, Alfred, played by the brilliant English character actor, Michael Gough.  Schumacher brought another contemporary trope to the film, casting Uma Thurman as an eco-terrorist, resentful that a chemical mishap has caused her blood to turn to aloe, her skin to chlorophyl, and her lips to a toxin that goes unnamed.

Mr. Freeze steals the show, I think, with puns that live eternal in the hearts of Schwarzenegger fans.  “Alright, everyone.  Chill!”, “I’m afraid my condition has left me cold to your pleas for mercy”,  “The Ice Man cometh”, and “Let’s kick some ice!

From time to time I recall my up-close-and personal with the future Mr. Freeze and Governor of California, wishing I had not been so snarky in challenging his acting skills.  He’s measured up and built a career, several careers, that would be the envy of any aspiring actor.

And … I’m pretty sure he could still crush me like a grape.

Will the real Jim Harbaugh please stand up?

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Remember why Quinn Nordin is kicking for Michigan football and not for Penn State?  Remember who plans slumber parties with prospective recruits?  Remember who presented the Pope with a Michigan football helmet?  Well, to be more precise, who presented the Pope with a Michigan helmet and a pair of maize and blue shoes?

 Remember who told his team not to eat chicken, a “nervous bird”?  Remember which Division I football coach wore number four as first base coach for the Detroit Tigers?  Remember which coach put together a rap video?  Remember which coach was the correct answer to a question on the Simpsons – “a sports genius that everyone hates.”  For that matter, remember which coach has a fan crush on Judge Judy.

Let’s also remember which coach was blasted for establishing “satellite camps”, 10 camps in seven states, then remember the coach who walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama when bringing a camp to Alabama.  Maybe remember who stood on Omaha Beach with his team as Taps was played in honor of the 9000 American soldiers who gave their lives there on D-Day.

The truth is that last season was tough, tough on the team, tough on the coaches, and tough on fans.  Losses to Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, an 8-5 season and 4th place in the division hurt, watching a stalled offense hurt, watching quarterbacks flounder hurt.

There were some obvious obstacles to success last year, and hopes at the start of the season were probably unrealistic, but all bets are off when it comes to Jim Harbaugh and Michigan football.  In a landscape of taskmasters and oily self-promoters, Jim Harbaugh is both a character and a man of character.

He has strong feelings.  “I drink a lot of milk … A lot of milk.  Whole milk though.  Not the candy-ass two-percent or skim milk.”  “The football gods have provided us with heat and sun to shape the body and carve the mind.”  “My default is ‘yes’ when asked to do things.”  And, perhaps the most striking, in describing his attitude toward coaching, “I’m as happy as a pig in slop.”  He wore a Colin Kaepernick jersey at Michigan’s Sacramento camp and in an interview with Sports Illustrated observed, “For Colin, and what Colin’s doing and has been doing, when you really stop and listen and know where Colin is coming from…he’s trying to do this for his future kids, for my kids, for all of our kids. He’s a special person and a hero, in my opinion.”

A column by Bill Gordon, Ph.D., in Psychology Today examined America’s infatuation with Jim Harbaugh.  Gordon considered all of the qualities already mentioned, but took the question of Harbaugh’s popularity to those who know him best.:

“…  his many humanitarian deeds add yet another level of subconscious appeal.  I asked several top Michigan related Internet social media groups, such as Michigan Football HQ, The University of Michigan M Club, Michigan Proud and True, and Big Ten Talk why they liked Jim Harbaugh. U of M alumnus, Bruce Laing, encapsulates the majority opinion: He will instill toughness and accountability in the athletes, posted Laing in the University of Michigan M Club.  Our children’s futures are vital, so we embrace the importance of education, accountability and toughness because they galvanize that future; yet  another reason America is instinctually drawn to Harbaugh.”

Michigan has an extraordinary coach, a coach with rare ability to motivate, inspire, and teach.  We need all that only Harbaugh can offer. The team faces what may be the toughest schedule in college football, and there are still questions about the offensive line, running backs, receivers, and starting quarterback.  The opening game against Notre Dame is plenty daunting enough, and there will be moments of consternation on the sideline.

And that is when fans want the real Jim Harbaugh to stand up.  Yes, measured rationality is a good quality to present during a battle, but the team and its fans need a little wild man, a little Henry V, a little “we band of brothers,” some hopping on one foot, slapping of helmets, screaming at refs, tossing of clipboards.

We want to see the competitive genius of Jim Harbaugh at a fever pitch.  We want a Jim Harbaugh who is over the top and almost too much.  Just take off the headphones, Jim, and kick something.

We believe in Jim Harbaugh and only want to see him do what he can do best.  After all, when it comes to looking at leadership at the top of the Michigan football program, “Who’s Got It Better Than Us?”

Beauty and the Beast – Steph and LeBron

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I’m watching NBA playoff games, and that’s as unlikely as my setting up a herpetarium in the bedroom.

I am a total bandwagon fan of the NBA, only following the sport for the past three years after almost twenty years of thinly veiled contempt for professional basketball and for what I considered its grotesquely overpaid  divas – both players and coaches.

I’d been a fan in my boyhood, unattached to any particular team; I liked individual players, each of whom was a hero for differing reasons.  I grew up in New England and saw more of the Boston Celtics than any other team, and those years were very good years for Boston, so my attention was often focused there.  Bob Cousy (The Houdini of the Hardwood) was a brilliant passer and playmaker, slick, deft, bordering on flashy but so passionate about the game that his behind-the-back no-look passes to equally adept teammates – Bill Sharman, Tommy Heinsohn, K.C. Jones – were simply part of a Celtic machine that operated with surgical precision.  Equally talented as an offensive player, the Celtics’ Bill Russell was a defensive genius, a shot blocker, rebounder, and a team leader who took the Celtics to 11 championships in his 13 seasons with the team. If I’d known the phrase, I would have said I admired Russell because he played within himself, a warrior handing opponents one slam after another with calm dispatch.

I didn’t much care for Wilt Chamberlain; he was conspicuously taller than the rest of the league (and humanity) so his scoring seemed inevitable.  Much later, when I saw the documentary about Chamberlain’s years as a waiter in the Catskills, I found him more interesting.  I did care quite a bit about four or five other luminaries – Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor for example.   I was a sophomore in high school when Baylor pumped in 61 points against the Celtics in game 5 of the 1962 finals.  Baylor was an incredible athlete with a smooth jump shot and remarkable rebounding skill.  I’ve always admired rebounders , so I’ll put Bob Pettit and Jerry Lucas on my list as well.

All of which is to explain that I stuck with the NBA watching the Lakers,  Detroit’s Bad Boys, Jordan and Pippen, John Stockton … and then/but then  … the lockout.  Jordan to the Wizards. Kobe and Shaq.  Isaiah Thomas and Jim Dolan.  Practice, we’re talking about practice.  Ron Artest.  Tanking otherwise known as “the process”.  Players demanding trades from small markets.  Players firing coaches.  Personalities larger than teams. Teams out of the chase before the season began – Phoenix, Memphis, Dallas, Sacramento, Atlanta, Chicago, Brooklyn, New York, Charlotte.

Back to Kobe.  As others have noted, unimpeachably brilliant player (at times), probably no more silly and egomaniacal than many superior athletes, but somehow allowed by the Lakers’ owners to run a dynasty into the ground.  Kobe sucked the air out of the league and replaced competition with contention.  There were still great players on the floor, but the tone of the game had soured.  Yeah, I’m blaming my disaffection with the league on Kobe, although the game itself had grown stale and formulaic.  Remember, this was the era in which the Spurs were an outlier because they played as a team.

My son and I saw LeBron James play in his senior year at Saint Mary’s High School in Akron, Ohio.  At least three of St. Mary’s games were televised that year, pretty much the only regular season high school games broadcast at that time, but LeBron had already moved into the pantheon of remarkable athletes sometime between his junior and senior year.  Sure, it was high school basketball, and some of the play was spotty, but this 6’5 high school kid ran the floor as if he was literally a man among boys.  His physical presence was notable; he had grown four inches since his freshman year, and he was less bountifully muscled than he has become, but rock solid and capable of bouncing defenders at will.  To use the scouting lingo, he had hops, a smooth stroke, and saw the floor.  What most impressed me though, in addition to this kid’s mature charisma, was his ability to dish the ball to teammates with stunning precision.  I’d seen Shaq play at LSU, and he moved well for a 7 foot kid approaching 300 pounds, was clearly a force of nature, but did not have LeBron’s mastery of the game.  Shaq could rebound and drop a hook shot, but he played in reaction to the game around him.  Even as a high school senior, LeBron created the game.

OK, willing to endure Stephon Marbury, Allen Iverson, Dwight Howard, and Kobe, to see how the phenom would turn out, and that meant watching the Cavs who were not good, so not good, that there was talk that Carmelo Anthony and Dywane Wade were more likely to emerge as stars.  By the end of his second season, LeBron had pulled the Cavs above .500 and was averaging almost 30 points a game, despite being the only threat on the floor for the Cavs.  “The Decision” broadcast in 2010 took LeBron to Miami and created the first of the athlete controlled “super” teams, interesting in the abstract, but indicative of the character of NBA basketball at the time; the Spurs remained the only team operating as a team.  I lost interest in seeing Kobe and Carmelo hog the ball and spent my winters hoping the Red Wings could figure things out before sliding into irrelevance in the NHL.

LeBron’s return to Cleveland awakened my curiosity, (do you remember the East before the Celtics and Sixers were reanimated?) and the drive toward a championship season had all the elements of mythic battle, particular to the City of Cleveland and to LeBron.  He had come of age, had multiple MVP seasons and All Star appearances behind him, and was now returning home to do for Cleveland what no other player could have done.  He was bigger, more focused, humbled by the response to his decision, ready to carry this franchise on his back.  There were other impressive players in the league, but none took the team’s success as personally as did LeBron James, and in the playoffs against the Warriors he rose (literally – remember his chasing down Iguodala and blocking the lay-up in game 7?) to the challenge.

LeBron is smart and still sees the floor better than all but one or two guards in the league.  He is 6’8 of ball handling acumen with the ability to crash the boards, go to the rim, loft a three, float a short shot, and sink a fade-away jump shot as the clock winds down.  He is a master of the game with unmatched skill and yet, for all his attainments, LeBron  is a beast – durable, tough, imposing, physical, and driven by a fierce will to win.

The conversation, then, turns to Steph Curry, born in Akron, Ohio, the son of Dell Curry, then playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but with the exception of that accident of birth, the mythos of these two players could not be more unalike.  If LeBron is a force of nature, Steph is the play of sunlight on the water.  OK, that’s out there, but there is joy in Steph’s play even as he takes the role of the baby-faced assassin.  In a sense, for Steph basketball is play and the court a playground.  This is not to say that he lacks competitive fire; he is a relentless competitor, but even in the heat of battle, there’s nothing grim about his play, determined, for sure, but not grim.

Curry was good in high school, very good.  He had played competitive club basketball in Toronto when his dad was with the Raptors and later for Charlotte Christian School, taking them to three state playoffs while winning all conference and all state honors.   Whereas some part of LeBron’s dominance is in being “roughly the size of a barge”,  Curry wore the number 20 on his high school jersey because the 30 jersey was too big for him.  He tipped the Toledos at 130 pounds and stood 5’7  as he began his career at Charlotte Christian.  His games were not televised nationally, but there are some clips available that show him in at the start of his high school career.  From a quick glance and from the testimony of his teammates and coaches, it is clear that Steph had the ball handling skill and shooter’s eye that would distinguish him throughout his collegiate and professional career, but he was small enough, that he had to hold the ball at his shoulder to begin his shot and often had to jump to get a shot past a taller defender.  Even in his high school years it was clear that the only defense against his sharpshooting was to swarm him, suffocate him before he could loft a three.

Coming out of Saint Mary’s, LeBron was the undisputed first pick in the NBA draft.  Curry had hoped to follow his dad in playing for Virginia Tech, but was considered too small to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference.  Lightly regarded by the other members of the strong ACC including Duke and Wake Forest, Steph was recruited by Davidson College, then a formidable member of the Southern Conference.  Davidson with an enrollment just under 2000 is among the most highly regarded academic institutions in the South, routinely called “The Princeton of the South”, and it’s had its moments in the athletic arena as well,   Celebrated coach Lefty Driesell took the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament in the 1960’s, earning a Sports Illustrated’s rank of number one in the nation in 1964.  The next wave of Wildcat fever peaked during Steph’s 2008 season when Davidson knocked off Gonzaga, Georgetown, and a tough Wisconsin team to meet Kansas in the elite eight thanks to Steph’s 30 plus points in each of those games.  At the end of his junior year, Curry was the leading scorer in the nation, a seasoned point guard and the seventh overall pick by the Warriors.

Conjecture runs wild in any conversation about sports and about the composition of teams in particular.  Does the team have chemistry, the players complementary skills, veterans who show composure under pressure, the right coach for the right star, a happy locker room?  And the answer for great teams is, sometimes.

There’s no kind way to describe the Warriors’ franchise that Curry joined in the 2009-2010 season.  Things had been rocky in the prior decade, but in Steph’s first season, the Warriors called up five D League players signed on a ten-day contract.  Yes, the Iowa Energy, the Idaho Stampede, and the Sioux Skyforce coughed up three starters that season.  Nevertheless, Curry averaged 17.5 points a game and was runner-up to Tyreke Evans as the Rookie of the Year.  Injuries plagued Steph throughout the 2011 season, allowing backup, Jeremy Lin, to take the floor when he escaped captivity with the Reno Bighorns.  Curry only appeared in 26 games that year, and many basketball cognoscenti thought the Warriors made a mistake in giving injury-prone Steph Curry an extension on his contract for the 2012 -2013 season.

But here’s where the addition of one player can make an outsized difference.  Klay Thompson joined Steph in the backcourt, and, as the “Splash Brothers”, they rained three point shots on opponents, leading the Warriors to their first playoff in 13 years.  Curry dropped 252 three point baskets that season, combining with Thompson for a total of 483 treys, and the Warriors appeared in the NBA playoffs for the first time in 13 years.

Steph was averaging 24 points a game, had earned the title of “baby-faced assassin” and was still splashing with Thompson as the Warriors got a second playoff sixth seed in the 2013 – 2014 season, but the Warriors current success as a team began to gel when Steve Kerr, the NBA’s most precise three point shooter of all time took the helm in 2014 – 2015.

And here’s where I fall into the adjectival abyss in a lame attempt to evoke the impact of Steph Curry’s shot on me, on the league, on the game, on the future.  It may not matter that his release is as unfailingly elegant as it is, or that the arc is so geometrically precise that the moment the ball leaves his hand we know that Steph’s shot is clear and clean, or that he’s taken the shot from just short of mid-court.  Yes, his shots are beautiful, and yes, I see them in my dreams, but it is in the moments just before the shot that Steph Curry causes one to catch one’s breath.  What words suffice?

Here’s a brief account of how Steph gets space in order to shoot.  He starts with a crossover (ok, not the only crossover in the league) between his legs, followed by a step back, into a cross back, which sounds simple enough (!) except that he has already dribbled past two defenders and shrugged of a third before sensing that the range is right, the defender off-balance, the ball coming off the dribble in just the right ascendency.  He’s moving forward, back, side to side, and then up.

Don’t take my word for it.  An article in the New York Times profiled several ballet dancers who have become basketball fans after having seen Curry in action.  One of these, the director of the Oakland ballet, put it this way, “…he’s not even trying to do something beautiful.  His coach doesn’t tell him how to land, but he does.  It’s innate.  His whole body knows what to do in the air and in the return.”

Steph has already changed the game; his team passes frequently, creates motion and space, and wins consistently.   As we speak, a twelve-year-old somewhere is working on his crossover and another dribbling with two basketballs.  The next generation of basketball players will come up shooting from behind the three point line and handling the ball in an attempt to recreate Steph’s magic.

At the end of this rhapsody, it occurs to me that I’ve come full circle, from boyhood appreciate of the wizardry on the best ball handler of his time (Cousy) and the most physically imposing player of his time (Russell) to LeBron and Steph.  So, in the end, I have to admit that LeBron is also a beauty and Steph some kind of beast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SIS BOOM BAH

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Times have changed, certainly, but lest we forget those who once stood poised by their megaphones, ready to lead a spirited locomotive cheer, let’s remember, shall we, the men of cheer..

Yes, mascots slam dunking off trampolines are among the more amusing spectacles available at halftime, and, yes, the national cheerleading championship broadcast from Disney World does feature impressive pyramid building and endless tossing of small girls into the stratosphere, but doesn’t it all feel contrived, really?

Fired Up and Bring It On took us inside that heartless world of cheer competition, but like the Disney version of cheering, school spirit seems secondary if mentioned at all.  Satan’s Cheerleaders expanded the scope of the genre, but again, was much more about a secondary issue (sacrificing virgins) than rooting a team to glory.   Apparently cheering as cheering lost traction somewhere along the way.

I suppose a modern cheer take on the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland “Hey-let’s-paint-the-old-barn-and-put-on-a-show” montage would present the moment in which the college’s notably mousy librarian jumps from the bleachers as the final minute ticks down, the home team scores, she drops her specs, strips off her cardigan sweater, displays the college’s colors, and leads the crowd in a furious snake dance around the goal posts.  I suppose she could as easily mug the opposing team’s mascot, toss an overweight bobcat to the ground and plant the school’s flag somewhere near its nether bits.  Or not.

Back to the locomotive, a cheer rarely heard on the sidelines these days.  It’s simplicity itself; fans simply follow the leaders in spelling the school’s name, deliberately at first, gathering steam as the cheer is repeated – like a locomotive – get it?  Not too tough on the sidelines at Yale, a bit more challenging at Susquehanna.  Simple, perhaps, but the energy behind the cheer comes from the urging of cheerleaders, men in letter sweaters virtually foaming at the mouth as the cheer grown in intensity.  Toss away any misconception you might have about the popularity of male cheerleaders in the day; these guys were BMOC, Aces,Keen. Mr.Charisma grabbed a microphone, threw his shoulders back, and tossed out the first word. That was enough. That’s all it took.

In the 1880’s Princeton’s lads developed what would come to be known as the skyrocket cheer –

Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!
Tiger. Sis, Boom. Bah Princeton!

In Austen, in 1892, eager Longhorns “borrowed” a cheer in use at Philips Academy Exeter (NH), a school known as PEA:

Hullabaloo! Hoo-Ray! Hoo-Ray!
Hullabaloo! Hoo-Ray! Hoo-Ray!
Varsity! Varsity! UTA!

And the familiar refrain?

Rah! Rah! Rah!
Sis! Boom! Bah!

… It is rumored that the first modern cheer of this sort originated at the University of Minnesota where six male cheerleaders kicked this genre into gear.

Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-u-mah, Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Varsity, Minn-e-So-Tah!”

OK, that was fine as far as it went, but some colleges brought a higher level of erudition to the field. Imagine if you will the Britons of Albion College rousing the crowd in 1884 as Olivet came to town:

Io Triumphe! Io Triumphe!

Haben, swaben, rebecca le animore

Whoopy, whoopty, shellerdy veridy;

Broomdy, Ralldy, eyedy pa

Honeka, heneka, wack-a wacka;

Hob, bob, boldibara, boldibara,

Con slomaday, hob, dab, rah!

Albion! RAH!

Occidental borrowed that one wholesale, and others traveled equally well, as did this gem from Mercer University in Georgia.

Ricker-chicker, Boom! Ricker-chicker, Boom!
Ricker-chicker, Ricker-chicker, Boom ! Boom ! Boom !

Even more institutionally specific is the cheer used by years by the fun-loving pranksters at Cal Tech:

Cosine, tangent, secant, sine

Logarithm, logarithm, hyperbolic sign,

3-point-1-4-1-5-9

slide rule, slide rule

Tech, Tech, Tech.

Fun is fun, but every once in a while a college has to step up and celebrate its core values, as is done on the sideline at Indiana’s Earlham College, one of the nation’s most Quakerly of Friends colleges:

Fight, Fight, Inner Light!
Kill, Quakers, Kill!
Knock ’em Down, Beat ’em Senseless!
Do It til We Reach Consensus!

For years, Earlham’s mascot was “Mr. Quaker”, a portly figure the virtual twin of the character shilling for Quaker Oats. Today, however, that bastion of Quakerism has become, “Big Earl”, a fearsome if highly principled avatar.

Who WERE these guys, these captains of cheer squads? Here are but a few: George W. Bush (Head Cheerleader at Andover), Jimmy Stewart (Head Cheerleader at Princeton), Dwight D. Eisenhower (Varsity football star who cheered while injured), Franklin D. Roosevelt (Harvard Cheerleader). What’s changed over the years? Somehow this activity, once entirely controlled by men was transformed, sometime in the 1950’s as pom poms began to replace megaphones. The ranks of women who once cheered is perhaps even more celebrated (Halle Berry, Vanna White, Sandra Bullock, Madonna …. and … Ruth Bader-Ginsburg).

Sis! Boom! Bah!