Monday, July 7, 2014

Sports et ceteras

I spent an awful lot of time opining about the NHL playoffs while they were taking place, then didn't type a word about them when they ended. Today I make up for it and begin by quoting something I wrote soon after the conference finals started: "If Chicago wins it all (an admittedly big if when there is so much hockey left to be played) then dynasty talk will be justified..."

I'm glad that statement included a qualifier, because the way the postseason played out, it is the Los Angeles Kings who have proven themselves worthy of dynasty talk.

Jonathan Quick is 28 and one of the best goaltenders on the planet; Anze Kopitar is 26 and arguably the best two-way forward on the planet; Drew Doughty is only 24 and arguably the best defenseman on the planet. In other words, not only is the Kings' nucleus uber talented, it is young, and yet the Kings have already won two of the last three Cups and made it to the conference finals three seasons in a row.

Add to that the fact that they do not rely on their stars but consistently get production from all four lines. And that they are coached by Daryyl Sutter. And that they conduct business with the kind of self-assuredness that can generate victories all on its own, the kind that makes them the ultimate "tough out" -- as evidenced by the fact that in this one postseason alone, they survived seven elimination games, four of which were played on the road; won three Game Sevens, all of which were played on the road; and became only the fifth team in the history of sports to win a series after falling behind three games to none.

This LA bunch amounts to something special. They are a bona fide mini-dynasty and they have the right stuff to become a full dynasty. Despite playing in a salary cap era.

Why is is that Gregg Popovich is not considered one of the greatest coaches in NBA history? I'm just asking.

He does not have Red Auerbach's eight consecutive championships, but then again, Auerbach coached in an era when the league had fewer teams and it was easy to stockpile talent and lock it up long-term.

He does not have Pat Riley's four rings in seven seasons (followed by a fifth almost twenty years later), but then again, he didn't enjoy the luxury of having arguably the best center and best point guard in basketball history on his roster for the first nine years of his head coaching career.

He does not have Phil Jackson's eleven rings, but then again, he has always stayed in one place instead of relocating to the franchise with the most talent after resigning when the roster of his original (and at the time most-talented) franchise started to age.

What Gregg Popovich does have are five world championships over the past sixteen seasons. All of them have been won with a team-first philosophy, while competing directly against actual and perceived dynasties whose rosters packed more star power than his own. What Popovich has cultivated is a rebirth of what I call "real" basketball: The kind featuring players who are driven much more by winning than by making it onto Sports Center highlights, the kind that atrophied throughout the 1990's and that I feared might never return. The man deserves his due.

World Cup
At the risk of being called an ethnocentric Neanderthal (which I'm not) who loved Ann Coulter's column about soccer (which, well, I did), I am here to say that I find all of the World Cup coverage in America to be very, very, very -- and did I say very? -- effin annoying.

Bedwetting media outlets have showed us images of bars filled with people cheering for Team USA, and they have sprayed us with World Cup coverage that is every bit as saturating as Super Bowl coverage. They have done this while breathlessly reporting that soccer is "catching on," just like they breathlessly reported that it was "catching on" when I started third grade in 1979.

An alien landing in Nebraska would never know from watching the news that the number of viewers for Team USA's biggest World Cup games (which by definition should have national appeal) was smaller than the number of viewers for some regular season NFL games (which by definition should have only regional appeal).

Although I don't like soccer, I do not begrudge genuine soccer fans their love of the game. There are some Americans who fit the bill, and I personally know and respect some of them.

What I mind are the people who have recently been rattling on and on about soccer so much that you would think they know what they're talking about -- except for the fact that they talk about sports frequently and never said a word about soccer until a couple weeks ago. I know some of those folks too.

...I also find it irritating that people think Team USA did well in this tournament. I understand they "got out of the 'group of death'" when they weren't expected to, and I appreciate that they exceeded expectations, but since when are we as Americans proud of an appearance in which our team wins only one of the four games they play?

On the eve of D-Day, General Patton exhorted our troops by saying "America loves a winner and will never tolerate a loser." 70 years later, in the summer of 2014, our soccer team wins one of four games and people get misty-eyed talking about how good they did.

Our Olympic hockey team played much better in Sochi than our World Cup soccer team did in Brazil -- and the former has legions of fans who feel a bitter taste in their mouths over finishing fourth, while the latter has fans who act jubilant about finishing sixteenth.

Those futbol fans certainly aren't proving Ann Coulter wrong. If anything, they are making her second column about the game seem just as good as her first.

The word "nil"
Stop saying it, U.S. soccer fans. It makes you sound ridiculous because "nil" is not a soccer term, but rather a British one.

When the citizens of Mexico City are watching a soccer match and the score is 2-0, they don't say it is "dos-nil." They say it is "dos-cero."

When the residents of Moscow are watching a 2-0 match, they say the score is "dvah-nulevoy" -- not "dvah-nil."

Yes, technically "nil" is a word in the English language that means "zero," but the only places it gets used are in Great Britain (where it is common) and by American soccer fans who believe it somehow makes the rest of the world think of them as sophisticated.

If you were born in the United States, please stop saying things like "Ghana is ahead of Denmark two-nil" until you also start saying things like "the Washington Redskins are ahead of the Dallas Cowboys fourteen-nil."

...I am not above picking a national team to root for the rest of the way, even though I am unlikely to watch at all and certain not to watch more than 10 to 15 minutes combined.

"My" team is Argentina. Yes, I know that country has had dictators due to its history of embracing political kooks. And yes, I know it is where many Nazis relocated to avoid being tried as war criminals when World War II drew to an end.

But on the other hand, Argentina gave us the tango and Gabriela Sabatini. Its Mendoza Province produces some of the most delicious and affordable red wines in the world. Its snow-flecked Andean peaks rising above arid benchlands reminds me of Colorado. It is home to the southernmost city on Earth and the largest ski resort in Latin America. It was good enough for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to move to after being harassed by The Man.

And one of our best friends, whose daughter happens to be one of Sarah's best friends, hails from there. What's not to like?

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