Joe Frazier and "Ghosts of Manila"

Smokin' Joe Frazier
Joe Frazier

R.I.P. Smokin' Joe.  Joe Frazier died today at the age of 67, leaving behind (of course) three classic Ali bouts and one of the great classics of sportswriting, "Ghosts of Manila" by the late Mark Kram.  I reviewed "Ghosts" last year for the precursor to this blog, and I figure it would be good to edit a bit and repost it.

UPDATE: DAMN YOU SIMMONS!!!! Seriously, it was actually Simmons' original post that inspired me to read "Ghosts" and write the original book review.  It's just weird we both had the exact same idea to edit or repost our reviews.  It's not a coincidence, though: "Ghosts of Manila" is like an obituary to Frazier written before he died.

Mark Kram’s “Ghosts of Manila” recounts the third and final bout between heavyweights Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, in the Phillippines of the 70s so rife with corruption: the infamous "Thrilla in Manila".  Kram paints Ali as a gifted and enigmatic boxer, but gives us a dark side as well: Far from the acclaimed cultural icon and civil rights leader that lives in cultural memory, Ali's is a flawed celebrity whose cultural power is by the end up for a sick sociological auction built on exploiting weaknesses in his personality and his standing.  Under the influence of relatively insidious Black Muslims, Ali was at the center of a media machine that "played him like a fiddle" in Manila.  Frazier, on the other hand, had done everything right: With quiet, unassuming dignity, Frazier would do what he had to in order to win in the ring: a tough, classy, scrappy competitor of the highest caliber.  But as virtuous as Frazier had been, Joe found himself outcast because of Ali's defamatory and malicious statements.  Joe found himself in foreboding danger because of the shady Black Muslims around Ali.  And eventually, when the dust had settled, Joe found himself filled with permanent hatred because of the injustices of his experiences with Ali.  Ali and Frazier, in their own ways, killed was was true and dynamic about one another in that fight.

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Alex Dewey
The co-founder of the blog, Alex is an unemployed jack of all trades, if you redefine "all trades" to mean "computer science, not owning a car, and mathematics." Writes ace book reviews as well as disturbing Lovecraftian horrors. Has a strange sense of humor that's part Posnanski, part coyote, and part Butta. "See you space cowboy."

Player Capsules #14: Kevin Garnett

As one of our mainstay features, Aaron is writing posts highlighting every single player in the NBA. Role players, superstars, key cogs, or players who are barely as useful as ballboys — none are exempt from the prying eyes of our readers. Check the index for a lowdown on order, intent, and all that jazz. Today's player is KEVIN GARNETT, whose name we will put in all caps to ensure he knows we are giving him the proper respect. Don't kill us, KEVIN.

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Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.

Juwan a Blog? #3: Ball Don't Lie

Overview:

Ball Don't Lie - written by Kelly Dwyer, Eric Freeman, and Dan Devine - is The Quintessential Work-A-Day Blog™ for the NBA.  Featuring news, analysis, and regular features, BDL is the blog you go to when everything else feels stagnant.  If you are a young writer and you ever feel discouraged, you can always go back to Behind the Box Score for a look at how it's done and how it should be done from October to June.  A few too many gimmicks and some annoying tics, but overall an exceptional blog that goes out of its way to be down-to-earth and personal.

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Alex Dewey
The co-founder of the blog, Alex is an unemployed jack of all trades, if you redefine "all trades" to mean "computer science, not owning a car, and mathematics." Writes ace book reviews as well as disturbing Lovecraftian horrors. Has a strange sense of humor that's part Posnanski, part coyote, and part Butta. "See you space cowboy."

Player Capsules #11-13: Derrick Favors, Andrew Bynum, Jrue Holiday

As one of our mainstay features, Aaron is writing posts highlighting every single player in the NBA. Role players, superstars, key cogs, or players who are barely as useful as ballboys -- none are exempt from the prying eyes of our readers. Check the index for a lowdown on order, intent, and all that jazz. Today's trio includes Derrick Favors, Andrew Bynum, and Jrue Holiday.

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Aaron McGuire on EmailAaron McGuire on FacebookAaron McGuire on GithubAaron McGuire on LinkedinAaron McGuire on TumblrAaron McGuire on Twitter
Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.

Eye on the Classics: The Most Ferocious Cat (3OT, 2007)

I've always thought of the Bobcats as the most ridiculous and arbitrary team in the entire league.  Their logo haunts my mind - I just picture a kid trying to draw a ferocious cat but after the outline realizes he has only two depressingly drab crayons to shade it with. And all of this haunting happens before we even touch how funny the word "Bobcats" really is.  It's especially awkward to enunciate quickly.  It was a team destined for tongue-twisters and hilarious sentences like "Welcome to the Bobcats' sports network" or "In short, despite Kobe Bryant scoring 58 points, coach Bernie Bickerstaff's Bobcats beat Kobe's scrub Lakers in triple overtime, thanks to D by Crash and caroms by Emeka Okafor."  Strangely, that last sentence is an accurate summary of the game we're going to be covering today.  Weird.

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Alex Dewey
The co-founder of the blog, Alex is an unemployed jack of all trades, if you redefine "all trades" to mean "computer science, not owning a car, and mathematics." Writes ace book reviews as well as disturbing Lovecraftian horrors. Has a strange sense of humor that's part Posnanski, part coyote, and part Butta. "See you space cowboy."

Player Capsules #8-10: Danny Granger, J.R. Smith, Nate Robinson

As one of our mainstay features, Aaron is writing posts highlighting every single player in the NBA. Role players, superstars, key cogs, or players who are barely as useful as ballboys -- none are exempt from the prying eyes of our readers. Check the index for a lowdown on order, intent, and all that jazz. Today's trio includes Danny Granger, J.R. Smith, and Nate Robinson.

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Aaron McGuire on EmailAaron McGuire on FacebookAaron McGuire on GithubAaron McGuire on LinkedinAaron McGuire on TumblrAaron McGuire on Twitter
Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.

Jordan Rules, Part II: "Go Away, I Already Got Mine"

Today, I read two very important articles within about 15 minutes of each other. They set off an incredibly angry tirade in my head that I couldn't do all that much about, and still can't. Except write it down. Which, as millions of NBA fans everywhere are uncomfortably discovering, is virtually all we can do. We hold no leverage, no power, no pull. And while I'm not saying we should have all that much power here, there are moments when I can't help but get depressed by the fact that we have absolutely nothing we can do but wait and see what happens while borderline insane factions of owners battle a downtrodden and de-toothed player's union. Nonetheless. The first story I read, thanks to Kelly Dwyer, was a somewhat interesting exchange from the run up to the 1999 lockout.

During the mass owner-player meeting yesterday, Jordan engaged in a heated exchange with Wizards owner Abe Pollin. Jordan's showdown with Pollin and fellow Bull Steve Kerr's verbal battle with David Stern were the highlights of the 11/2-hour meeting, according to several players.

According to players, Pollin said about his fellow owners, "You just have to trust us."

Jordan fired back, saying, "You've got to trust our negotiators." Jordan also blasted owners for not bargaining in good faith in the offseason and said to Pollin, "If you can't make a profit, you should sell your team."

Sound familiar? Dan Gilbert's "trust my gut" line isn't really a new sentiment. Abe Pollin's pleading for the players' trust is just about the same, and just about as baseless. There's no particular reason to trust an ownership group who is trying to kill your union. Jordan was right for standing up to the owners. But, really -- the 1999 lockout isn't the 2011 lockout, as we're discovering. And to be honest? The owners during the 1999 lockout were clearly operating from a position of better faith than the 2011 lockout. As I discovered firsthand from this particularly infuriating piece from the New York Times outlining the demands of a certain faction of the owners. Led by none other than the league's all-time golden boy. The same person from the previous story, in fact.

A faction of 50 N.B.A. players is threatening to dissolve the union if it compromises further on player salaries. The league is facing an equivalent threat from a trenchant group of owners, who are vowing to oppose any deal that gives players more than 50 percent of revenue.

The owners’ faction includes between 10 and 14 owners and is being led by Charlotte’s Michael Jordan, according to a person who has spoken with the owners. That group wanted the players’ share set no higher than 47 percent, and it was upset when league negotiators proposed a 50-50 split last month. According to the person who spoke with the owners, Jordan’s faction intends to vote against the 50-50 deal, if negotiations get that far. Saturday’s owners meeting was arranged in part to address that concern. ...

Despite the misgivings of some owners, Commissioner David Stern has said publicly that he can garner support for a 50-50 deal and will continue pushing for it. But the longer the negotiations drag on, and the more games are canceled, it is more likely that the hard-line owners will demand reductions. That group backed an initial proposal that would have cut the players’ share to 37 percent (from 57), eliminated guaranteed contracts, rolled back current salaries and imposed a hard salary cap. The league has since dropped those demands over the objections of those owners.

This is a lot to digest. So let's start at the top. The picture I started this post with is a photo of Michael Jordan's house. Jordan bought that house in 2010. It's worth $12.4 million dollars -- $4.8 million for the land, $7.6 million for the construction. It's highly likely that my net worth over my entire career will be less than this house he built, using money he earned as a player and as an icon. And that's quite his right. What I don't think is quite his right is demanding that players submit to completely fucking insane draconian proposals. Jordan always had his brand behind him, and from the time he took off in the NBA, he essentially was set for life. Jordan was never a middle-class NBA player -- a star from day one, all things considered. But he didn't let that stop him from fighting for the players in 1999, and helped the players get a deal that was -- frankly -- the best deal any professional athletes had in any league.

Now? It appears that Jordan has pulled a Harvey Dent. He has lived long enough to not only become the biggest villain we've seen in this lockout, but to become a grotesque caricature of one to boot. A villain who demands the players' unconditional surrender with no recompense, despite the fact that not less than 10 years ago he was among their ranks. A villain who would rather endanger the legacies and careers of dozens of young stars with a lockout that lasts not just months, but years than accept a deal that lets the players save face and protect their sport for future players. You couldn't write a better comic book villain here. You may not remember when the owners released their original proposal -- nobody paid it much attention, because it was fucking crazy. The rollback of all current salaries? No guaranteed contracts? A rock-hard punitive cap, and a reduction of the player's BRI share by TWENTY PERCENT? No way any owner actually thought that was reasonable, the story went. There's nobody on the owner's side who's that crazy. That's the equivalent of walking into a new car lot, demanding a Mercedes for a nickel, then being flabberghasted that they won't sell you the Mercedes for five dollars -- after all, you've made some SERIOUS concessions. Nobody could possibly demand that in good faith. Right?

Oh. Wait. It looks like Jordan's batshit crazy competitive desire doesn't just apply to basketball. It doesn't just apply to the obsessive way he approaches gambling. It doesn't just apply to his rude, cantankerous, and altogether inappropriate Hall of Fame speeches. It also applies to the way he does business. And unfortunately for NBA fans, Jordan has finally latched onto the one place where he CAN do business this way -- if Jordan ran a business in a competitive market and made demands like this, nobody would work for him, and he wouldn't be able to be quite this insane and still pull a profit. But the NBA isn't a competitive market, it's a cartel. The owners have a monopoly on the only professional basketball league in the country -- there's no ABA to go to, no backup plan for the players. It's NBA or bust. And if the owners want to be pathetic racists a la Donald Sterling, the only person who can really do anything about it is Stern. If the owners want to be money-grubbing crazy people like Robert Sarver, nobody really can bat an eye. And if the owners want to demand insane concessions and cry foul at the players for trying to preserve their livelihood? Well, looks like nobody can even say much of anything.

After all, he's God disguised as Michael Jordan. Right?

Aaron McGuire on EmailAaron McGuire on FacebookAaron McGuire on GithubAaron McGuire on LinkedinAaron McGuire on TumblrAaron McGuire on Twitter
Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.

Introducing the Rodgers Test

So, according to our friends at Public Policy Polling, Aaron Rodgers has a 89% approval rating in Wisconsin, to go with a 4% disapproval rating and 7% having no opinion. These are, according to them, the best favorability numbers they've gotten in any poll they've ever conducted. As a statistician I don't find that particularly hard to fathom -- Aaron Rodgers has the ideal mix of being a franchise cornerstone coming off a magical season and unexpected playoff run in the most popular sport in America. He's nice, nonconfrontational, and beloved.

The poll did raise the question with me, though -- what athletes would match it? That is, are there any athletes on earth with Rodgers' combination of widespread love and widespread knowledge? That is -- anybody with 90%+ approval and 7% or less nonresponse. Given how relatively neat and simple the line seems to be, I shall hereby refer to it as "the Rodgers test." It is the test of an athlete so beloved and well-known that they could outpoll God in their sphere of influence. But what's a test without some cold hard facts? For your consumption, I revved up the Poll-O-Matic 3000 and decided to pose the question with the power of instant and unbelievably accurate polling -- could any random athletes who came to mind beat Aaron Rodgers? My brilliant, groundbreaking, publishing-quality results follow.

Disclaimer: None of these are real polls. At all. They are canon, though.

  • Manny Pacquiano:  87% approval, 2% disapproval, 11% no opinion (n=242 adults in the Philippines)

    Clearly, Manny is hurt by the lack of knowledge the general populace has of boxing. If only he played something popular, like Rugby, or Checkers, or Chess -- then he would truly pass The Rodgers Test.

  • Manu Ginobili: 85% approval, 7% disapproval, 8% no opinion (n=467 adults in Argentina)

    I'm getting word that Manu's 7% disapproval comes from confused Argentinians who thought we were asking about Manchester United. I... whoops. My bad. The Poll-O-Matic has some kinks to be ironed out, Ray Davies style.

  • David Robinson: 94% approval, 1% disapproval, 5% no opinion (n=145 adults in San Antonio)

    I looked at the results for this one.  The 1% disapproval comes from David Robinson himself, who gave the interviewer a two hour sermon on how disappointed he would be with himself if he were to ever give himself credit he felt he was not due. It changed the interviewer's life and he converted to Christianity on the spot. Anyway, good job David.

  • Michael Jordan: 85% approval, 16% "too cool" for an opinion (n=26 hipsters in Chicago)

    Wait, what? Poll-O-Matic, what the hell kind of a sample size is that?

  • Roger Mason Jr.: 1% approval, 84% disapproval, 15% shot themselves immediately (n=40 adults in New York)

    Oh sweet Jesus what have I done.

I'm officially retiring the Poll-O-Matic 3000. Forever. Goodnight everybody.
Aaron McGuire on EmailAaron McGuire on FacebookAaron McGuire on GithubAaron McGuire on LinkedinAaron McGuire on TumblrAaron McGuire on Twitter
Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.

Player Capsules #7: Kevin Durant

As one of our mainstay features, Aaron is writing posts highlighting every single player in the NBA. Role players, superstars, key cogs, or players who are barely as useful as ballboys -- none are exempt from the prying eyes of our readers. Check the index for a lowdown on order, intent, and all that jazz. Today's player is Kevin Durant, a player important and interesting enough to warrant his own long post.

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Aaron McGuire on EmailAaron McGuire on FacebookAaron McGuire on GithubAaron McGuire on LinkedinAaron McGuire on TumblrAaron McGuire on Twitter
Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.

"Opening" Night: UTA v HOU (1995)

In celebration of our personal opening night, we're going to try the good try to make up for the NBA's lack of one. We're going to make it up to you by posting three full classics of NBA matchups of the teams that WOULD have been playing on opening night, if the season's schedule hadn't been scrapped. Here's game #3: a reprisal of a rivalry so old that few fans remember it existed.

This matchup is the Hakeem Rockets versus the Stockton-Malone Jazz, this time for all the marbles. And there were a lot of marbles: Yes, their only 90s titles came from the Spurs and the Rockets. But the Western Conference also included two of the greatest Finals runner-ups in the history of the game in the 1997 and 1998 Jazz, two teams featuring all-time centers, some great Portland teams, the Barkley Suns, and some amazing Sonics teams. In short: quite a few marbles, even if Jordan kept them from winning the rings to show for the marbles they had in abundance. This metaphor is getting confusing. Let's watch some hoops. This post is formatted like a retroactive liveblog. Simmons-style.*

*We have nothing else in common with Bill Simmons...Well, except all these footnotes.

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Aaron McGuire on EmailAaron McGuire on FacebookAaron McGuire on GithubAaron McGuire on LinkedinAaron McGuire on TumblrAaron McGuire on Twitter
Aaron McGuire
Editor in Chief at Gothic Ginobili
Aaron McGuire works as the lead mathematician and CTO for a small financial consulting firm in Richmond, VA. As a basketball writer, he's primarily known for Gothic Ginobili's 2012 Player Capsule series, where he wrote the equivalent of 1.5 Russian novels about every NBA player around. Nowadays, he writes a weekly column on whatever he damn well feels like.
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