Having returned from vacation, I'd like to point you all in the direction of Bill Walton's autobiography, Back from the Dead. I spent my extended weekend on a road trip to Kansas City, which provided plenty of time for an audio book. I chose Walton's recent release for the journey, and it was with his dulcet tones in ear that I sped down the highways of central Kansas towards the City of Fountains. The book was a fantastic tour through his life, celebrating his love of all things basketball, biking, and music. It also dealt with the trials of pain and injury, the loss of the gifts that made him such a beloved star in the 1970s. Through it all, I found it an open and honest tale of everything that goes into existence - success, failure, joy, sorrow, excitement, fear, learning, teaching, etc. I can't recommend it enough, especially if you, like me, wonder at Walton's World from afar, and just want a small peek into his circus.
Today in the bag, I'm talking the Baylor thing, the NBA Finals, and the MLB standings.
Click below for the bag...
The Baylor thing -
Last week came a bombshell out of Waco, TX. The brewing sexual assault scandal inside Baylor Athletics had burst open like an infected sore, and was spilling pus all over the news. What we had all known for a while - that Baylor Athletics was complicit in covering up and even condoning the sexual assaults of many, particularly members of the BU football team - came to a head, resulting in the firing of football coach Art Briles, the resignation of AD Ian McCaw, and the reassignment of school president Ken Starr. The actions stem from an independent report from Pepper Hamilton, one that lays out the ugly truths that Baylor wantonly covered up the felonious, evil nature of their charges, even encouraging the silence of victims in a number of cases. It is hateful, criminal activity, the kind of thing that makes me resent sports and the people who revel in its glory -- how do we as a society get to the point where gown ass adults allow these kinds of actions go down just to earn a couple more tic marks in a left-hand column?
I take no joy in the Baylor scandal. Yes, I realize I'm the guy who made the #FuckBaylor tag the national phenomenon it is, and that I generally believe that anything that it bad for those from Waco is a positive for society at large, but to take pleasure in the downfall of Art Briles and the criminals he helped cultivate would be to, in essence, welcome the fact that the rapes and the culture of cover-up existed in the first place. We've known for some time that the Baylor Athletic Department was run by a bunch of scumbags, and this culture of rape didn't need to exist for the sporting world to grow tired of their malfeasance. I would've been more then happy to see them gigged, again, for scholarship infractions, or other such rubbish. What we're talking about here is inhuman, let alone not Christian or conducive with academia. It is beneath civilized society, and us as people - not sports fans - ought to be outraged and vengeful.
I also won't let myself to believe the easy lie that these kinds of activities are reserved for a private school in central Texas. The mindset that lead Baylor to this moment is not as unique as you would hope. Sexual assault and other forms of sexual- and gender-based hate is a pervasive and far too common problem, one that is too often swept under the rug, and allowed to go unnoticed by those who could make a difference. From predatory wrestling coaches, to misogynistic hate speech directed at female reporters, to this festering cesspool in Waco, hardly a day goes by without the worst of our nature made apparent. This isn't a Baylor problem, this isn't a sports problem, this is an everyone problem. We're failing one another, and not nearly enough is being done to address the the real issue.
The NBA Finals are set as OKC Stumbles -
- Golden State 96 - Oklahoma City 88 -
Last week I struggled with the fact that OKC had climbed to within a game of blowing Golden State out of the 2016 NBA Playoffs. While the eye test showed the Thunder to be clearly in control of their best of seven series with the defending NBA champs, then up 2-1, a large part of my mind was convinced that the Warriors were still the favorites to come from behind and take the series. Even when OKC took Game 4 in blow out fashion to go up 3-1, I still thought of the Thunder as, at best, a 50-50 prop to continue on to the Finals.
And so the stage was set for one of the most dramatic, yet predictable, comebacks in NBA Playoffs history. Reeling off three straight wins, GSW reclaimed their mojo, and launched themselves back to the sport's pinnacle stage. Capped by a resounding swarm of points in the 3rd quarter of the decisive Game 7 in Oakland, the Warriors stormed back against an OKC squad that squandered far too many opportunities to put the champs to bed. And through it all, my only thoughts were of how perfunctory the whole mess seemed. Of course Golden State came back. Of course the Thunder stumbled at their moment of greatness. Of course the 73-win dynamos from the East Bay emerged victorious when all was said and done.
My biggest problem with OKC's collective efforts in Games 6 and 7 was the back door they continually left open for GSW. Racing out to big leads in both contests, they had the Warriors exactly where they needed them: backs against the wall, with their two great shooters, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, struggling to find a rhythm. Yet in each they allowed defensive switches and miss-aligned defensive matchups to give the pair the kindling needed to re-fire the engines. Now, all credit to Golden State - they bust through that open door when it was presented to them, after all - but why in the world were the Thunder playing with fire like that? Just lock Andre Roberson onto one of the shooters, and let the chips fall where they may; just set it, and forget it! Instead, switches left Steph Curry in isolation against Steven Adams 30 feet from the basket (with predictable results), and Klay Thompson as far away from Roberson as he could manage ('Dre had Klay locked in a straight jacket almot every time the pair met on the wing). They invited the doom that was to come, with the pair of shooters knocking down 13 threes in Game 7 alone. Add to it panicky shooting from the desperate duo of Kevin Durant and Russ Westbrook as the games got out of hand (stop trying to draw cheap fouls on 27-foot jumpers!), and the Thunder were largely agents of their own demise.
So, with OKC set aside, the Finals are set. It's a rematch of last year's Finals, which saw Golden State defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games. Really, the only difference between this year and last is that LeBron has his two big supporting guns, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, healthy. Back in 2015, Love was out with a dislocated shoulder (from a move rather similar to the one Draymond Green put on Steven Adams in the GSW/OKC finale...), and Irving was lost in Game 1 to a knee injury. The theory goes, with those two back in the fold, the Fightin' LeBrons may have a shot to reverse the tide that set them down a year ago. For me... I'm not so sure. The 2016 Warriors are only a superior amplification of their 2015 selves, and Cleveland has yet to be tested this Playoffs -- who knows how they will react when pushed by the Golden State juggernaut? In that vein, give me the Warriors in yet another six game series.
I will note, however, that I will be rooting for the Cavs, mostly for @TZiskBuff reasons (I'm with you, big guy!).
A look at the MLB Standings -
I make it a yearly tradition not to peek at the Major League Baseball standings until Memorial Day weekend. As I figure it, with baseball expressed as a marathon, rather than a sprint, the results of the opening weeks are useless without the context of a larger run of play. Waiting for Memorial Day, roughly a third of the way into a season, gives any new year enough time to settle down from the frantic first games, and into something relatively resembling the true pitch and timbre of a campaign. So, with that in mind, let me take a look at the standings, especially as it pertains to the only two teams I really care about: the Chicago White Sox and (to a much lesser extent) the Colorado Rockies.
You may have heard some early rumors that My Sox had been enjoying a strong run of play in April, and I can report that they did win their fair share of the opening month's action. May, however, landed on the South Side like a wet fart, with the team going 10-17 over the month (with one more to play this evening... that they're already losing). That includes a recent run of 3-13 since May 14th -- enough to make me want to gnaw my arm off. As a result, the team, which had enjoyed a comfortable division lead only a few weeks ago (six games), have spiraled out of control into 3rd place of the AL central; a solid two games back of the defending champion Kansas City Royals. I don't want to get too deep into matters, but this is a much truer reflection of the team's capabilities than what we saw in April (not 3-13, but 10-17 and in 3rd place). This was never going to be a set of world beaters, they were just riding a successful run of flukes against an easy schedule early on. With the big boys appearing on the schedule more and more in the 5th month of the year, reality came home to roost, and shit baseball followed. Really, and I understand that it's still 'early,' all that's left is to tank, sell off some pieces (not Chris Sale), and look to the future. This team is deader than a doornail. It's the kind of shit that eats away at my soul.
The Rockies? Well, they've been about what you'd have expected. Maybe not as bad as their floor, with their overall record only four games under .500, but still far from good. Sitting at 23-27, they are, just like My Sox, stuck in third place. Their situation is a little more dire, however, as they're a full six games back of the NL Western Division leading San Francisco Giants (in the throes of their even-year surge). What the Rox can claim, though, is to have survived one of their toughest stretches of the season (vs the Mets, at the Cards, Pirates, and Red Sox, home against SF) largely intact. If they can pounce on teams like the Reds and Padres this week, they could set themselves up for a strong run at .500 for the All-Star break. The problem is, and will continue to be, pitching. The Rox are 14th in the NL in team ERA with a woeful 5.59, and dead last in the league with a .280 BAA. You aren't going to win crap with a staff pouring gas on the fire like that.
So, it looks like a dismal year for both of my teams. Sweet! #IsItNovemberYet?