Monthly Archives: May 2012
In early 2007, Floyd Mayweather had a question to answer. Long hailed by hardcore boxing fans, the man known as “Pretty Boy” signed a contract to take on a career-changing fight against Oscar De La Hoya. This was going to be Floyd’s big chance in the spotlight. Mayweather, already a multiple “fighter of the year” award winner and pound-for-pound king, toiled in obscurity prior to the fight labeled “The World Awaits.”
The question for Floyd was this: ”How do I capitalize off of this fight, and use it to springboard myself into the boxing zeitgeist?” The answer was simple, but revolutionary. What if Floyd could use De La Hoya’s fame to thrust himself into the spotlight? What if HBO’s cameras followed both he and De La Hoya around, chronicling their lives in preparation for the fight? Interesting idea, for sure, but there was no way Mayweather would be able to come off as being a more likable person than the uber-fan-favorite De La Hoya. But, who said you only became famous by being likable?
Thus, the persona of “Money” Mayweather was born. Obsessed with money, arrogant, flashy, but excellent, the character of “Money” was straight out of the Vince McMahon WWE playbook. Get the people to hate you, get them to want to see you lose, and you’ll always have eyeballs on you. Floyd turned himself into the boxing version of Duke basketball or New York Yankees baseball, the empire that you knew you were desperate to beat, but also knew was too good to be beaten.
“24/7: De La Hoya vs. Mayweather” was a revelation for Floyd Mayweather. In terms of getting exposure, it was a resounding success. People watching began to openly hate a person who was completely unknown to them. They were going to buy the Pay-Per-View just to see this loudmouth get crushed by the “good guy” in De La Hoya.
The strategy worked wonders. De La Hoya-Mayweather still holds the record for most PPV buys ever. They fought on Cinco de Mayo, and Mayweather made a bold choice in coming out for his introduction in a giant sombrero, a robe covered in the colors of the Mexican flag, and having 50 Cent in his entourage wearing a bulletproof vest also covered in the colors of the Mexican flag. Floyd Mayweather became the ultimate boxing heel.
The “Money” persona is a double-edged sword for Floyd. On one hand, it’s brought him untold notoriety and (more importantly) fortune. Floyd’s most recent fight against Miguel Cotto earned him a record $32 million in guaranteed money. This means if the PPV does well (which it obviously will), Floyd could stand to make upwards of $50 million dollars. ”Money,” indeed.
However, at what cost does Floyd continue this character? There’s something ghastly about a young black man perpetuating every terrible stereotype of young black men to a worldwide audience openly rooting for him to lose. Floyd has to be a self-aware guy; nobody who would conceive of “24/7″ or the “Money” character wouldn’t be. How does all of this make him feel inside? Boxing is not an easy sport to be involved with. The events themselves aren’t called “matches” or “games,” they’re called fights. It can literally be life and death inside the ring, and I don’t know that I can really begrudge Mayweather for doing everything he can to maximize his earning power. What’s interesting to me, however, is that as a generally unassuming guy pre “Money,” Floyd’s genius was largely unnoticed outside of hardcore boxing circles. Why?
Boxing fans can generally be broken down into one of three categories. First, there are the hardcore fans who follow boxing with a true “nerdist” heart. They know all of the fighters, including the young guys breaking onto the scene as well as the foreign guys trying to break into the lucrative U.S. PPV market. Hell, they can even make sense of the weight classes and governing bodies, a rare feat. The second category is the group of fans that could best be labeled as “patriotic.” These fans (usually not White Americans) root for their countrymen first (Ricky Hatton is a GREAT example of this) and view all fighters not of their ethnic group to be non-entities. Finally, there are casual boxing fans, who root for the “good guys” and against the “bad guys” in the mold of professional wrestling.
As the popularity of boxing has waned, most of the loss in fans has come from that last group. By and large, casual fans of so-called “combat sports” are flocking towards mixed martial arts, primarily due to the perceived fairness and lack of corruption relative to boxing (both fair points). It has become harder and harder for American boxers to really break out of anonymity and make the leap into the big money. I’d have a hard time putting any American boxer in the top 5 most popular boxers right now. As an American, you need a hook to get the casual fan. Floyd has found his hook. His hook is getting casual boxing fans to hate him. Vociferously. Why is that the only way he has been able to make money? He wasn’t able to do it with Jordan-like universality. No, it has only been by playing to the stereotype of the angry, materialistic, arrogant black man that Floyd Mayweather has turned into one of the richest black athletes in the country.
It’s a strange symbiotic relationship that Floyd Mayweather has with boxing fans. He literally feeds off their hate. If they stop tuning in to see him lose, he falls like a brick in the PPV rankings. If he toned it down, even slightly, would people still care? Would people still purchase his fights? Floyd would probably argue that no, they would not.
None of this is to say, by the way, that the entire “Money” character is an act. Similarly to a WWE superstar, the best characters are a hyperbolic extension of a person’s natural personality. I’m sure Floyd loved money before the De La Hoya fight. I’m sure he was arrogant, I’m sure he was pretty ignorant, but not like this. I suppose, though, Floyd is just giving the fans what they want to see.
Does that make him mad, or us?
As the confetti fell in the raucous Wachovia Center, the Philadelphia 76ers surrounded the man who had saved them from a heartbreaking loss to the Chicago Bulls in the final minute. This man, after a John Lucas III 3 pointer cut the Sixer lead to just one with 43 seconds left, bullied his way to the rim, had his shot blocked, recovered, went back up, got fouled, and made 2 key free throws to push the lead back to 3 (in a play Doug Collins dubbed “the singular play of our season”), is the Sixers second leading scorer, rebounder, and assist man through 3 games in this series, exerted his will on the game and finished it for the Sixers.
The man they surrounded was…Evan Turner.
There has been much debate amongst Sixer fans when it comes to the direction of the team. The Sixers are built oddly. They have a slew of young players who play major minutes, yet have relied on veterans Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams, and Elton Brand to carry them when it matters most, and those players have failed at that role this year. The fans have pointed to the potential backcourt of Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday (#1 on the team this playoffs in scoring, assists, and FG%) as the future of the team, but it had not yet materialized this season.
This team should now officially be handed over to Turner and Holiday for the future. Not Andre Iguodala, who, while a great defender and facilitator, is playing on one leg and has been wildly ineffective shooting the ball (his wide-open 3 with 2:55 in the game was a horrific miss). Not Elton Brand, who, despite his wonderful leadership and focus on the defensive side of the ball, has also seen his effectiveness drop precipitously. And not Lou Williams, the alleged “closer” of the team, who is probably too small and has too spotty a shot selection to be “the guy” on a good team.
No, the team should belong to Evan and Jrue. In the series they have combined for 35 points per game on 26 shots, while collecting 11 rebounds and almost 9 assists and playing tremendous defense on the Bulls’ guards (save for all of those weird fouls on Richard Hamilton in this game, which is a story for another time), and getting to the line a combined 10 times per game.
After the series against the Miami Heat last year, where the Sixers showed real growth in a 5 game loss that featured a myriad of close games, the Sixers’ goals this year were to find out what they had in Evan and Jrue, who played very well in that series. The team’s hot start shifted the goals of the season to a “win-now” mentality, which derailed the progress of the two future backcourt mates as Doug Collins stuck with what was working (namely, Jodie Meeks and Lou Williams), and jerked Evan’s minutes around despite his occasional flashes of brilliance. There was a point where Evan started and was given full control of the team, and the Sixers went on a mini-tear before his role was dialed back again. There was frustration on both sides, and it hurt the team tremendously as they floundered down the stretch and ultimately fell from their perch atop the Atlantic division, falling all the way to 8th in the Eastern Conference.
Holiday has struggled this year too. Considered a rising young point guard before the season, Jrue struggled to get to the free-throw line and had a strange lack of assists, often trying to hit long jumpers instead of finding his teammates. Both he and Doug Collins spoke about him becoming more of a “scoring guard,” and looking for his shot before his teammates, but it never really meshed well with the glut of ballhandlers on the team. Jrue struggled to find his role and there were points in the season when Sixer fans openly wondered if he and Evan could ever play well together.
Not anymore. This needs to be their team going forward. They are the future of this team, two rangy guards who excel at different parts of the game (Holiday shooting and passing, Turner driving and rebounding) and complement each other on offense and defense very well. Jrue in particular is a person who could be the emotional center of this team, and seems to be well-liked by his teammates and the city. The city pulls for Turner extremely hard (they go crazy whenever he does anything positive), but I’m not sure his personality makeup is going to allow him to be the leader the team would need him to be if Jrue were not there. Regardless, the two of them together (they seem like good friends), need to be the heads of this team going forward.
After this season, there will probably be some changes to the Sixers. Lou Williams may opt-out of his deal, and the Sixers would be wise to let him walk. Elton Brand might be on the amnesty block, and Andre Iguodala might be on the trade block. Spencer Hawes is a free agent in the offseason, and might not be re-signed (last night’s offensive explosion notwithstanding, he’s been terrible the second half of the season), so Evan and Jrue, along with Thaddeus Young, will probably be the new “veterans” on the team going forward.
I hope they embrace their new roles, as they have the potential to be the best starting backcourt in the NBA both offensively and defensively. For now, they have control of the series against these Bulls, missing so much leadership in Derrick Rose and now Joakim Noah, with one more game in Philadelphia that offers the Sixers a chance to go up 3-1 and put a stranglehold on the series. It could all fall apart with losses Sunday and Tuesday (game 5 in Chicago), but even if it does, there has been a paradigm shift in the team these last 2 and a half games (Meeks started the first half of game 1 before being benched at halftime and seeing about 2 minutes of playing time since). With the veterans struggling, Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner have taken control of the team.
Now it’s up to them to run with it and see how far they can go.
Phoenix Coyote’s goalie Mike Smith looked up at the scoreboard as the clock ticked down to zero during Phoenix’s series with the Chicago Blackhawks. With a 39-save shutout and a 4-2 series win tucked into his back pocket, Smith trekked back to the visitor’s locker room to celebrate the Coyotes’ first playoff series victory since 1986, when they were the Winnipeg Jets.
However, if you look behind the Wile E. Coyote goalie mask, you would find an unexpected past. The journeyman netminder has struggled to find a home, much like the current franchise that he is playing for. Smith has bounced around in the OHL, AHL, and NHL, playing for ten different clubs in total over the course of his career. As an NHL goalie, he started out with the Dallas Stars, then landed with the Tampa Bay Lightning, until finding his current home in Phoenix. Smith’s career numbers are pretty pedestrian as well, posting a 105-84-29 record with a 2.56 GAA and .914 SV%.
Much like Smith, the Coyotes are struggling to form an identity at home. The team packed its bags and moved from Winnipeg to Phoenix in 1996 after a group headed by Jerry Colangelo, the owner of the Phoenix Suns, bought the franchise. Then in 2001, the group sold the team to Phoenix-area developer Steve Ellman, with Wayne Gretzky as a part-owner and head of hockey operations. From then until the 2007–08 season, the Coyotes were barely competitive and managed to break the 80–point barrier only once. Attendance levels dropped considerably, worrying many league executives. In addition, an unfavorable lease with the city of Phoenix had the team suffering massive losses. In 2005, Ellman sold the Coyotes to trucking magnate Jerry Moyes, who is also a part-owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks. In December 2008, the media became aware that the Coyotes were suffering massive losses, and the NHL was paying the team’s bills. The media reports were minimized by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and vice-president Bill Daly, however, Moyes had secretly given operational control of the team to the league. Finally, by the 2009 season, the NHL had full ownership control of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Fast forward to the 2011-2012 season. The Coyotes finished first in the Pacific division with 97 points and earned a trip to the playoffs as the third seed in the Western Conference. Smith has put the team on his back so far in these playoffs by posting a 6-3-2 record with a 2.03 GAA and a .942 SV% and the Coyotes faithful are packing home playoff games at the Jobing.com Arena in Glendale for the first time in a very long time. In addition, the ‘Yotes currently have a 2-1 series lead over the Nashville Predators, a team that many people picked to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. Smith, resembling a brick wall so far in these playoffs, has given a ray of hope to a city that has had little to none over the past 15 years. And maybe, just maybe, this journeyman netminder has finally found a match made in heaven that could save the franchise, and in turn, give him a place to thrive for the rest of his career. We will have to wait and see what happens, but right now, there has never been a more exciting time for hockey in the desert.
The NHL playoffs are, just like Chris Simon’s stick, in full swing. They have been great, but that doesn’t surprise nobody because well, the NHL’s playoffs rule harder than any other playoffs the world has to offer. I write to you as a completely and unabashedly biased hockey fan, but I am also swearing an oath before both the old gods and the new that the NHL Post-Season is the best stretch in sports every year. Sometimes the Olympics and World Cup make it close, but still NHL Playoffs >.
Need evidence of the power of the NHL Playoffs? Just take a walk into the busy part of town, some city middle, or a college campus. ZOMG! Hockey Jerseyz EVrYWHR! Living on a small college campus smack dab in the cross hairs of several fandoms, I can report back to ya’ll that since tax day, I have seen more hockey jerseys than Elisha Cuthbert’s floor.
Last year, I watched the advent of Bruins Nation. This year I live in a hellhole full of tools wearing Ranger Jerseys from the “Glory Days.” Whatever, I’m not here to complain about bandwagoneers, I try to be as welcoming as I can to new hockey fans. Fair-weather faithfuls are essential for the survival of any sport in this country. Hockey fans try not to accept that, but we need casuals the way Kathie Lee need Regis. Even so, hockey fans tend to be the most hipstery-pretentious-you-get-my-point fans of any sport in America*.
We love our sport. We were deeply and permanently damaged when it went away for a whole year and during and for a period after the lockout, the NHL was the laughing stock of the sporting world. We were bullied by other fans and it wasn’t fun, but we knew it would be worth it to stand by our quirky little league.
A few years ago, hockey fans started noticing something. All of a sudden, it was hip to be a puckhead again. Those who were once throwing stones at NHL fans were now willingly taking the lumps in their Patrik Elias jersey. Some of those who stuck with the league through thick and thin began sticking their nose up at the new wave, and though I was tempted to do the same at first, I knew it was for the better of the league to take the good with the bad.
Admittedly, I still do get mad when I see the worst offenders of bandwagonry (you know who you are and I still don’t know how you live with yourselves), but at the same time I have been like a proud mother watching some of my friends who never gave hockey a chance before they came to college really, truly fall in love with the sport.
It’s hard to get someone to actually listen to you when you’re like, ‘Yo dude, you should watch hockey.’ It’s like trying to get someone to listen to The National or to watch Deadwood, you know that if they put in the time they would come out better people for it and would thank you in the long run. But The National isn’t Coldplay and Deadwood isn’t Friends and the NHL isn’t the NBA. What I mean by these self-fulfilling metaphors is this: the NHL doesn’t stick themselves in your face and make it hard for you not to watch it.
Hockey has always been that way. If you don’t want to join us, don’t. Because to those who know, those who do not, matter not.
In closing, to all my fellow NHL fans I leave you with this, next time you walk past someone sporting threads they didn’t earn, try to stray from scoffing. Give them the nod and in your head, just think about how amazing the playoffs are.
*-Not including soccer fans who are a different breed.
In a season of never-ending storylines, is it any surprise that something like this would happen? Following the Knicks’ 10-point Game 2 loss at the hands of the Miami Heat, word broke that Amar’e Stoudemire suffered a laceration on his left hand after punching the glass casing around a fire extinguisher in the locker room and may be unavailable to play for the rest of the series. Not only was I impressed that he shattered the glass with his hand when you normally need an axe to do so, but I felt comfort in the fact that I wasn’t the only person whose post-game emotional outburst led to punching something (mine being the pillows on my bed; I suffered no lacerations).
Much to my chagrin, this entire fiasco has spawned a bunch of jokes (“Amar’e didn’t hit the glass that hard all game”), bad memes, photoshops, a Twitter parody account, and Amar’e-bashing opinions from Knicks fans. Whether it be a sense of relief that the Knicks will finally be able to win without Amar’e or calling his character into question, I find this lack of loyalty amongst Knicks fans a little disrespectful. On the first day of free agency in the summer of 2010, only one man stood forward into the limelight and promised to lead the New York Knicks back to basketball prestige and glory. It wasn’t LeBron James, it wasn’t Joe Johnson, it wasn’t Chris Bosh, it was Amar’e Stoudemire. From that point on, I vowed to have that man’s back, whether healthy or with a bulging disk in it.
I don’t know if you remember the failures of Don Chaney, Lenny Wilkens, Larry Brown, and Isiah Thomas. I don’t know if you remember a time when Tim Thomas was our team’s best player. I don’t know if you remember Antonio McDyess, Zach Randolph, and Eddy Curry redefining the term “underachiever”. I don’t know if you remember the countless years of squandered picks and draft busts. But I do, and I also remember last year, when Amar’e Stoudemire had the New York Knicks in playoff contention and in the public eye on a national scale for the first time in over a decade. I remember Stat’s almost game-winner against the heavily-favored Celtics, I remember the 9 straight games of 30+ points, I remember the MVP talks, and I remember the core of the most promising Knicks team since Allan Houston was playing being ripped away and shipped off to Denver for Carmelo Anthony. While it took awhile to come to terms with that (I miss you Gallo and Wilson), I am not yet ready to believe that Amar’e Stoudemire is a detriment to this team, whether it’s stubbornness, stupidity, or sheer loyalty.
So call me naive, but when Person X from Long Island who averaged 3.6 PPG in their intramural basketball career believes that the Knicks are better without Amar’e, I’m not so inclined to agree with them. While you can make a strong argument with statistical evidence, you can also make the same argument that the Knicks are better without Amar’e AND Carmelo Anthony. I know ESPN seems to have forgotten, but I’m sure you remember Linsanity. Also, when Amar’e was out and Jeremy Lin was finally paired together with Melo, the Knicks regressed once again. Stats are meaningless in such a small sample size with all of the variables involved in this past regular season, which was a season of trials and tribulations squeezed into a compressed 66-game schedule.
At the end of the day, the Knicks are a hodgepodge of players thrown together without a semblance of basketball chemistry taken into account. They’re currently being led by an interim head coach whose been forced to experiment with an ever-changing set of lineups because of the constant cycle of injuries and drama. The only constants we’ve seen all year have been strong defensive showings from Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert and the heroic scoring of just one player, be it Carmelo Anthony or Jeremy Lin. It’s been a wild ride, and while the fans finally have something to be satisfied about, the Knicks are still a 7-seed on the brink of another first round exit and still nowhere close to that coveted championship trophy.
The next time you choose to slander Amar’e Stoudemire, remember who stepped up and took this franchise out of the decade-long, torturous period of irrelevance. You may look upon Stat’s 5-year, $100 million contract as a poor, untradeable asset, but I look at it as the symbol of his leap of faith. In 2010, only one player looked at the most pathetic and sorry franchise in all of basketball and succeeded in bringing them any success, and that’s Amar’e Stoudemire. We may not be close to a championship, but we’re closer than we have ever been in recent memory, and it would be nice to see some respect for the man who made this possible in the first place: STOUDEMIRE.