Archive for June 2010

Bandwagon on the Run

With the US eliminated from World Cup competition, it’s now time for Americans to repeat what most of us did after 5th grade- abandon our interest in soccer.

It was fun while it lasted, but feigning love for a sport in the name of patriotism is exhausting and unfulfilling. I love America as much as the next guy (unless the next guy’s John Mellencamp), but buzzing Vuvuzelas, inexcusable blown calls, and tie games made my colors run faster than Landon Donovan.

Buzz off

Sure, the World Cup gave us all a great excuse to get drunk, paint our faces, and find a television substitute for American Idol, but there’s a profound difference between supporting your country and following the team that represents it. In fairness, though, it’s easy for this truth to be lost on an overcrowded bandwagon.

America, F**K Yeah!

For those who really do love soccer, I’m sorry. The World Cup is an amazing spectacle and I’m sure you got a real “kick” out of seeing your homeland valiantly compete against the world’s elite. At the same time, however, the phony soccer love generated by the masses must leave real fans feeling uneasy. While the sting of America’s loss to Ghana affected the masses for about four minutes, this outcome will last with you for the next four years.

As part of a consumer nation, it’s fitting that we Americans are so quick to buy into things and/or people (think President Obama) that are hot in the moment. Our inherent fear of missing out is equaled only by our quickness to jump ship when our collective dreams don’t live up to our often impossible-to-meet hype. Many times, this makes us appear attention-span challenged and ungenuine. No one ever said life in the Land of the Free has no costs.

With the Gulf Coast drowning in oil, controversial immigration reform nearing, and our growing involvement in two wars, I wish the public would give World Cup-like attention to issues that are more American! Even pretending to care can help our nation progress towards a brighter future. I guess phony patriotism is still patriotism, after all.

Mamba # 5: An Offseason on the Brink

It’s the beginning of AndrewBank.com’s second year, and here I am writing about a second straight NBA title for Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s no surprise to me that “Mamba” now has a handful of rings, or that he has enhanced his legacy by defeating the “out-of-nowhere” Celtics (while many praised Boston for being overachievers this June, they were simply regular season underachievers who hit stride after months of coasting). What may be shocking to some, however, is just how significant the outcome of last night’s Game Seven truly is.
Aside from featuring the most physical NBA play in recent memory and an impressive fourth quarter comeback, this decisive contest may have also shattered what ESPN writer Bill Simmons refers to as “The Unintentional Comedy Scale.Watching coach Doc Rivers ass-slap ginger Brian Scalabrine after he contributed a single, spirited defensive sequence was almost as priceless as a homeless-looking, suit-wearing Adam Morrison embracing Kobe after the final buzzer (the fact that this washed-up, 2006 NCAA Chevrolet Player of the Year now has two more rings than Patrick Ewing and Karl Malone combined is as hilarious as it is startling).

White Men Can Wave Towels

I nearly had a laughter-induced heart attack while watching Rasheed Wallace and Ron Artest (the league’s two most notorious players since Dennis Rodman) trade clutch threes in the final minutes. I can only imagine the look on commissioner David Stern’s face, as I’m sure he must’ve been very proud.

In a year when University of Texas QB Colt McCoy gave one of the most heartfelt (and awkward) postgame interviews of all time after the BCS Championship Game, Artest upped the ante with an awe-inspiring ode to his psychiatrist, and an infomercial for his newest “single.” Who needs Disneyland, anyway?

Last night’s victory cements  Kobe Bryant’s place as the NBA’s greatest active player (he’s now surpassed Tim Duncan in my mind), and one of the 5 to 8 best ever (he’s not quite MJ, Magic, Bird, or Russell, but he’s close). Even though Kobe struggled offensively throughout most of Game Seven, the league’s alpha dog demonstrated that even he can occassionally play Ringo and win with a little help from his friends (Artest, Pao Gasol, and Phil Jackson fulfilled the roles of John, Paul, & George, respectively).

Ringo & Paul?

Other players’ legacies were altered by Game Seven as well. Like Kobe, Derek Fisher also won his fifth ring, placing him closer to Robert “Big Shot Bob” Horry on the sport’s list of clutch role players. Artest, love ‘em or hate ‘em, will now always be a champion, and Gasol has added more credibility to his impressive Hall of Fame resume.

As for the Celtics, future H.O.F. players Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett missed out on the opportunity to become true Boston sports legends (while Pierce will likely go down as one of the greatest to ever wear the Green & White, he needs multiple rings to join the ranks of “Larry Legend,” Bill Russell, and Kevin McHale). With “The Big Three” growing older, it’s possible that he’ll never get this close again.

Jack Nicholson's Boys CAN handle "The Truth"

Strangely, the legacy that changed the most last night may belong to a player who wasn’t on either sideline. Kobe’s fifth championship and second Finals MVP adds to his historical image while detracting from that of his former teammate Shaquille O’Neal. For years, Kobe was criticized for never being able to win without “Kazaam,” but now it’s just the opposite (although Shaq did win a title with D-Wade in 2006, he hasn’t reached the finals since…even with Steve Nash in Phoenix and Lebron James with the Cavs).

While Kobe’s skills and legacy are improving, Shaq’s are both deteriorating. I get the sense that the former Magic, Laker, Heat, Sun, and likely soon-to-be ex-Cavalier will be remembered more for what he could’ve been, than for what he once was.

From Student to Master

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With the most highly anticipated offseason in NBA history beginning with next Thursday’s draft, there’s a lot of uncertainty about where the Lakers, and rest of the league’s teams are headed. With Phil Jackson undecided about whether he’ll return for a run at a dozen coaching championships (he only needs one more), and the most talented free agent pool of all time, many teams will undergo personnel shifts that will alter the landscape of the basketball world.

The biggest story of the offseason is obviously the fate of Lebron James. As the self-titled “ringleader” of the 2010 free agent class, an unparalleled domino effect will kick in sometime after July 8th (the day unsigned players can officially join new teams) when the King decides where he’ll place his castle.

King Without a Castle...

While money, ego, fame, location, and likelihood of winning will all play a role in Lebron’s choice, nobody knows for sure which will take precedence. Whether he stays in Cleveland or sets up shop elsewhere, no free agency decision in sports history will be more scrutinized.

As a Knicks fan, I’ve waited over a decade for the opportunity to land a franchise-changing player of this caliber. Signing Lebron would instantly make my favorite team a title contender. More importantly, it would make the Knicks relevant. Still, if New York’s unable to land ‘Bron, I’ll do my best to appreciate the excitement of an offseason that will likely be more entertaining than any on-season I’ve suffered through during the past ten years. With other stars like Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Amare Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, and Joe Johnson available, there will be multiple winning teams this offseason. I can only hope that at the very least, the Knicks are one of them.

In a summer filled with questions, one thing is certain. Regardless of where Lebron and the rest of the free agents move, the Lakers will still be the team to beat in 2011. Kobe wouldn’t have it any other way.

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*For the hell of it, here are my 2010 NBA free agency predictions…

LEBRON JAMES:

Lebron should swallow his pride and make the intelligent basketball decision of joining the Chicago Bulls. He’d have the sidekick he’s always needed (Derrick Rose), and other talented veterans (Noah, Hinrich) to help lighten his load. With defensive guru Tom Thibodeau coming in as coach, The Windy City would be the ideal fit.

Robin to Lebron's Batman?

Still, I don’t believe Lebron will join the Bulls. While it’s Kobe Bryant he should be chasing, it seems like James is most often compared to Michael Jordan. For this reason, I just can’t see Lebron embracing the franchise MJ built.

I’ve always believed Lebron would remain in Cleveland or sign with my beloved Knicks. Unless Cleveland’s able to lure a big name coach (Phil Jackson, Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari,) before free agency begins, I believe my dream will become a reality.

DWYANE WADE:

If Miami’s able to bring in Amare Stoudemire, D-Wade should and will remain with the team that drafted him. Although it would be cool to see him in his hometown of Chicago, this doesn’t seem likely.

CHRIS BOSH:

Many experts believe Bosh and Lebron are a package deal. I think this is only possible in New York, where both would get to play side by side in a major market. I can’t see Bosh agreeing to play in Cleveland, and it’s unlikely the Bulls would be able to bring him in as well.

Like Tim Horton's, Bosh will surely be moving from Canada to the U.S.

AMARE STOUDEMIRE:

Amare will stay in Phoenix or head to Miami to join Dwyane Wade. While he thrived under Mike D’Antoni, I don’t think New York is in the cards for the five-time All Star.

JOE JOHNSON:

A great fit with the Nets. A backcourt of Johnson and Devin Harris would be dangerous with the size coach Avery Johnson’s team will have at the forward and center positions. If he doesn’t end up in New Jersey, I expect Joe to be a Knick.

DIRK NOWITZKI:

A Dallas lifer. Can’t see Marc Cuban letting his biggest asset slip away.

DAVID LEE:

I’m not giving up on Lee as long-term Knick. If New York is unable to snag Lebron, I see them finding a way to keep David at a price that will satisfy both parties. Many expect a sign-and-trade deal with Toronto, but would Lee really want to play for another struggling franchise after all of the losing he’s endured?  Lee deserves his payday, but has the opportunity to join a winner. He should take it. Portland and Oklahoma City would be great fits for the 2010 first-time all star.

A Working Class Hero is something to LEE

CARLOS BOOZER:

A great fit in Portland or Miami. I see Boozer being one of the later free agents to sign, as his market value will increase when the other free agent bigs sign elsewhere.

RUDY GAY:

Rudy would be an excellent complementary piece on a winner. Struggling teams may panic and offer him Ben Gordon-like money (the Pistons were last off-season’s biggest losers), but he’d be a great asset on a team like Phoenix where he can run the floor with an elite point guard. Gay is a great sign-and-trade candidate, because of the unique skills he could bring to winning organizations lacking cap-space.

TRADES:

While free agent signings and increased player experience will help many teams improve next season, established veteran-filled teams like San Antonio and Dallas will need to adapt in order to stay competitive. Neither team has the cap room to compete for elite FA’s, but both will need to be creative if they want to contend with the personnel of up-and-coming teams like Oklahoma City and Portland. The Tony Parker to New York rumors are out there, and I can see a three-way trade being made to help make this happen.

Desperate House-Husband in NYC?

Next year’s free agent class may impact this summer’s moves as well. With Carmelo Anthony expected to re-sign with Denver, the premiere 2011 free agent will be Chris Paul. It’s unlikely that CP3 will extend his contract with New Orleans, so there is a small chance he could relocate sooner, rather than later. Watch out for teams like Houston (who would part with Aaron Brooks and draft picks) or Dallas (Jason Kidd can’t run the show forever and Dirk will need a future running mate) who could make strong efforts to acquire the second coming of Isiah Thomas.

Reality Bites (The “Survivor” Paradox)

It’s funny how Survivor, one of the smartest programs in television history, has paradoxically contributed to cultural and intellectual regression in America. After concluding its twentieth season several weeks ago (that’s right…there have been twenty “sole” survivors), the groundbreaking show that ushered in the reality TV era is still going strong.

While ratings aren’t quite what they used to be, reality mogul Mark Burnett’s series will be back for another season with no end date in sight. Survivor was once my favorite TV show (I religiously followed seasons 1-5), and its “Outwit, Outplay, Outlast” concept was revolutionary. In addition to being a unique game show, Survivor pioneered showcasing unscripted human drama in the form of a contained social experiment on TV.

The show has been a unique examination of human physicality, philosophy, and morality. Intense “immunity challenges,” revealing side interviews and “Tribal Council” voting patterns reflect the measures individuals will take in order to carry on. Survivor has also shown how self-preservation can often be achieved through maintaining strong relationships with others. Past winners, such as the premiere season’s Richard Hatch, proved that forming and manipulating voting alliances with rival castaways can help one contend for the $1 million prize. Other successful contestants, such as Survivor: Africa winner Ethan Zohn, contrarily thrived by being more well-liked, despite being a physical threat (he was a former professional soccer player).

Long before LOST, we had had this "Hatch."

What makes Survivor most interesting, however, is that it is often anti-Darwinistic. Being the strongest, smartest, and most-well adapted candidate DOES NOT ensure winning the game  (blending in and getting lucky can help more), and this counters most competitions’ established conventions. Survivor: Marquesas winner Vecepia Towery demonstrated this by simply flying under the radar to take home the title.

Survivor still has a large fan base because it manages to stay fresh. Because there is no right way to play the game, each season unfolds differently. The introduction of new, exotic locales also keeps viewers intrigued. Still, with the show still airing, it’s easy to overlook its historical legacy.

No television show shaped the medium and society more in my lifetime than Survivor. After becoming a national phenomenon in 2000, the program spawned the creation of other quality reality shows like The Amazing Race (2001-present), Big Brother (2000-present), and other Burnett works like The Apprentice (2004-present) and the underrated Contender (2005-present). While these have succeeded in following Survivor’s lead, they’ve also contributed to programming changes that have made America dumber.

The emergence of intelligent, thought-provoking reality television inevitably led to an abundance of mindless, thought-inhibiting shows in the years that followed. For every show like Survivor today, there are 4 or 5 Real Housewives or Jersey Shores (although I did favorably write about the MTV hit here, “The Situation” certainly hasn’t symbolized progression in American television).

Without Survivor, John & Kate would probably still be married and more importantly, anonymous. Kim Kardashian’s on screen performances would’ve ended with Ray-J in 2007,  and Clay Aiken’s singing career would have been dead long before it was well, dead. Brett Michaels would just be a washed-up Bon Jovi, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck (a Survivor: Australia contestant) would still be leaning on the right…just not of Joy Behar on The View.

Television's biggest Bum.

While Survivor has always maintained high production value, most of its reality followers are cheap imitations. The genre has become characterized by fast and easy development, making scripted shows seem more complex and less desirable to cost-conscious networks. Although there are many brilliant dramas and comedies on air today, more could succeed with fewer reality programs hogging scarce time slots.

Reality TV is here to stay. The masses love observing everyday people (and B-list celebs) in the limelight. While I’m not sure why, I can only hope the genre improves by paying homage to its early influences and the show that has quite literally Outwitted, Outplayed, and Outlasted all others of its kind.