Happy 25th, Seinfeld

Today, Saturday, July 5, marks the 25th anniversary of the Seinfeld pilot. Seinfeld is the greatest comedy ever made, and as I went back and skimmed through all the episodes, it became clearer than ever that the show will never be surpassed.

There are people out there who don’t ‘get’ Seinfeld, which never made any sense to me. To not understand the show and why its funny, one must quite literally never leave the house. It’s been called a New York show and a Jewish show, but it’s so much more. It famously depicts the inanity and hilarity of the most basic everyday situations, transcending provinciality, class, race, religion, and gender.

If you don’t ‘get’ Seinfeld, then you haven’t been in any of the following situations:

Arguing with a stranger over a parking space; Switching barbers and fearing hurt feelings; Double dipping a chip; Jockeying for a dream apartment; Looking for your car in a garage; Eating diet food that’s too good to be true; And of course, waiting in vain for a table at a restaurant.

In celebration of the anniversary, I’ve put some lists together. Not the “greatest” or “most influential.” We’ve seen those lists before, and we know how great episodes like “The Contest” and “The Chinese Restaurant” and “The Pick” are.

To commemorate 25 years, let’s do five lists of five episodes/people/entities each, plucked from different, unique categories that I made up completely out of the blue. And a bonus list for the hell of it. What better way to celebrate the show about nothing than by making a bunch of lists about nothing? As Jerry once sang, on with the show, this is it:

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FIVE MEMORABLE JERRY-GEORGE CONVERSATIONS

  1. The Pitch: After George refuses to sacrifice his artistic integrity and blows the NBC meeting, Jerry lectures him about seeking psychiatric help, telling George, “You need a team.” Jerry is frequently berating George for childish behavior, but this speech takes the cake. George’s defeated look says it all, and his response to Jerry—that he thought the woman at NBC was cute—just piles on and makes this one of the funniest minutes in television history.
  1. The Revenge: After George has Elaine “slip a mickey” to his boss and gets fired, he’s got to decide what his next job will be. Jerry’s matter-of-factness in shooting down George’s deluded occupational fantasies is a departure from his usual animated rants towards George. The highlight is Jerry calmly telling George that sports announcer jobs go to “Ex-ballplayers and people that are, you know, in broadcasting.”
  1. The Engagement: George has happily become engaged to Susan, until he realizes he isn’t so happy. He can’t choose which movies he sees, what he watches on TV, and when he sees his friends. We can see George’s anguish as he’s forced to see a romantic sob story rather than join Jerry for an action movie. If only he’d gotten the same speech from Kramer that Jerry did.
  1. The Virgin: Three parts here. One, the introductions between Jerry, George, Marla, and Stacy. Two, the part where George realized what a cool job he has and how he could use it to meet women…if it weren’t for the fact that his current girlfriend is his employer. The conversation I’m thinking of is when Jerry delightedly illustrates the conundrum for George, who doesn’t find it fair that he can’t use his writing gig to meet women. That conversation, of course, leads to this one, where Jerry determines, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that George has a girlfriend and can’t see other women.
  1. The Switch: One of the stranger episodes, almost as if it doesn’t fit with the show. It has the film noir vibe with the relationship between Newman and Babs, and the menage escapade. As scandalous an episode as they did. Yet, despite having a different kind of feel, it left us with a classic scene about the roommate switch, complete with analyses of “big course HA’s” in a woman’s laugh and whether or not there were roommates in the Middle Ages.

FIVE FUTURE TELEVISION ANTI-HEROES

  1. Bryan Cranston as Dr. Tim Whatley: The mother of all anti-heroes, Walter White himself. Cranston shined as the lewd and lascivious dentist who switched religions just for the jokes (“The Yada Yada”). Before he was Walter White, or even Hal, he was snubbing Jerry on a party invite, making Super Bowl plans with Elaine, using his office as a sex chamber, and insulting Jews, comedians, and everyone in between.
  1. Marcia Cross as Dr. Sara Sidarides: I didn’t watch Desperate Housewives, but from what I can gather, Cross’s character Bree was somewhat of an anti-hero. It seemed like Teri Hatcher (Seinfeld alum) and Felicity Huffman were good, Nicollette Sheridan was bad, and Cross and Eva Longoria were somewhere in the middle. So, Cross gets the call-up for her work in “The Slicer” as dermatologist Dr. Sidarides, who had a hard time convincing Jerry that she saved someone’s life and that she didn’t give Jerry hives.
  1. Melinda Clarke as Alex: Before she was the devious yet occasionally sympathetic Julie Cooper on The O.C., Clarke was Jerry’s flame in “The Muffin Tops.” Her love of hairless animals prompted Jerry to shave his chest, which came back to haunt Jerry when they got stuck on Kramer’s Peterman Reality Bus Tour.
  1. Courteney Cox as Meryl: This is a stretch because Monica Geller was obviously not an anti-hero. However, Cox played the scandal-seeking Lucy Spiller on the FX show Dirt from 2007-2008. Forgot about that one, didn’t you? Spiller was a tabloid queen whose survival depended on digging up—what else—dirt on celebrities. In “The Wife,” Cox’s Meryl and Jerry, who are dating, pretend to be married in order to score a dry cleaning discount. It all goes to hell when Jerry uses the discount for another woman that he meets in the store.
  1. Michael Chiklis as Steve Pocatello: Look at all that hair! In return for letting Jerry and Elaine stay at his house late when George strands them at a party (“The Stranded”), Steve is looking to have some fun with Jerry when he’s in the city. When Jerry leaves and strangely allows Steve to stay, the guest has a little too much fun. Chiklis’s Vic Mackey on The Shield is credited with being the bridge from Tony Soprano to Walter White and Don Draper in the world of cable anti-heroes.

FIVE EPISODES WE LOVE SEEING IN SYNDICATION

  1. The Gum: An episode from the middle of Season 7 that feels like it’s from Season 5-6. Think about all the times you’ve rehashed a scene with a friend and someone asks, “What else happened in that episode?” and you go through the story lines of each character. So many episodes have intertwining story arcs, which made the show what it was. “The Gum,” while historically overlooked compared to other great episodes, is a quintessential “confluence of events” episode. Every scene has an impact later on, with everything snowballing from Kramer simply trying to protect Lloyd Braun’s feelings. From there, Elaine’s compromised blouse and Jerry’s pretend glasses lead to chaos for George, who’s made to look crazy on several different occasions. It’s a carefully constructed puzzle that’s as perfect a 30-minute episode of television as you’ll ever see.
  1. The Good Samaritan: One of those episodes that seems ordinary at first, but then you watch it with friends and it gets funnier each time. There’s the “God bless you” incident. There’s Jerry’s fabrication of the hit-and-run. Elaine’s fabrication of an affair she had. The angry husband’s threat. To me, there are two moments that stand out. First, George exclaiming “What!?” when told of the husband’s rage. It’s a fleeting moment, but the pitch of George’s voice and his facial expression are priceless. And of course, Jerry calling out Elaine. Elaine scolded Jerry for lying to her about the accident, and he throws it back at her when learning of her fake affair with a matador. George divulging Elaine’s fib and egging Jerry on is a nifty bit of teamwork, culminating in Jerry asking where Elaine would have possibly met “Eduardo Carroccio” while waving his dish towel in the manner of a matador. At first glance it might not be the funniest thing in the world, but watch it in a group, multiple times, and your perception is sure to change.
  1. The Junior Mint: Individual episode plots got undeniably more absurd as the seasons went on, but this is one from Season 4 with a pretty outrageous premise. Jerry not knowing the name of the woman he’s seeing, forever known as “Mulva,” was absolutely in line with the everyday mishap element of the show. However, dropping a minty, chocolatey piece of candy inside a man having surgery was not. But who cares? It doesn’t get much better than the looks on Jerry and Kramer’s faces when the Junior Mint plops down and lands inside Elaine’s ex-boyfriend. George, having bought the man’s artwork, is openly rooting for him to die after surgery. Of course, the simple fact that George bought the man’s artwork is what brightened the man’s spirits and saved his life. It’s not unusual to see George get screwed, but it is strange seeing Jerry come out on the losing end, which he does with Delores aka Mulva. The conversation between Jerry and George (Bovary? Aretha?) makes this episode a syndication must-see.
  1. The Mom and Pop Store: “Everybody’s talking at me, I can’t hear a word they’re saying…just driving ’round in Jon Voight’s car.” The Jon Voight car. The Jon Voight cameo. Jerry torturing George in the car. Jerry being kicked out, chased, and hurting his tooth culminating at Whatley’s party, which Jerry wasn’t invited to. And getting to see Mr. Pitt dance while shouting “Next Stop Pottersville!” is a treat as well. Speaking of George getting screwed, notice the shift in his demeanor first upon learning that Jon Voight did in fact on his car…only to learn that it was Jon Voight the periodontist, not the actor. It’s a shame the episode isn’t called “The Jon Voight Car,” but I think fans are well trained to have that part register when they see “The Mom and Pop Store” on the schedule.
  1. The Fusilli Jerry: To my knowledge, this is the first episode featuring Patrick Warburton as David Puddy. Great things come in twos here. Both Estelle and Frank see the doctor, she for an eye job, he for a proctology problem. Both George and Puddy try a new move in the bedroom—bestowed upon each by Jerry. Both Jerry and Kramer have car mishaps, including Kramer receiving the license plate “ASSMAN.” There are even two sex moves: Whatever the hell Jerry’s is, and Frank’s stopping short. This episode could safely be called “The Move,” because that’s what it’s really about. But the word ‘fusilli’ is just too damn funny to pass up. And of course, Jerry’s carbohydrate copy plays a role in the end, where we all get to meet the real Assman.

FIVE GUEST STARS I’VE MET

I gave you fair warning that I made these all up. And since I made them up, I’m going to self-indulge with a category unique to my experiences. Seinfeld was about random observations, so that’s what you’re getting here.

I met the majority of these people working at AKA Talent Agency in LA, where they’d come in for voiceover work, meetings, or just to shoot the shit. The agency I worked for represented over 500 actors commercially, many of whom had guest spots on Seinfeld. Typically, actors don’t like being bothered. But many of these people are working actors who were excited someone recognized them in Seinfeld. I don’t have any bad things to say about any of them, but even if I did, I wouldn’t. First, some honorable mentions…

–Roger Rose as Mark, who auditions for TV George in “The Pilot.” (helped rep for hosting)

–Ben Reed as the Male Nurse who gives the sponge bath in “The Outing.” (frequently visited office)

–Drake Bell as Kenny the kid playing Frogger in “The Frogger.” (repped/accompanied to convention)

–John Patrick McCormack as Kramer’s boss in “The Bizarro Jerry.” (frequently visited office)

–Kristin Bauer as Gillian aka Man Hands in “The Bizarro Jerry.” (helped rep for conventions)

–Tony Amendola as Salbass Rushdie aka fake Salman Rushdie in “The Implant.” (frequent visitor)

Alright, now on to the real list…

  1. Richard Fancy as Elaine’s boss Mr. Lippman. For a brief time, he also plays George’s boss. Richard’s the only person on this list I didn’t meet at the agency, but rather at my fish market job. A reserved guy in person, his portrayal of Lippman, as a more subdued, by the book boss, contrasted greatly with Elaine’s future boss, Mr. Peterman. While Peterman was outlandish in his tastes and behavior, Lippman provided more subtle humor, like in “The Letter” and “The Cigar Store Indian.” Of course, they brought him back in Season 9 for “The Serenity Now” and gave him an outlandish story line.
  1. Matt McCoy as Lloyd Braun in “The Gum” and “The Serenity Now.” One night, shortly after moving to LA, I watched an episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip that featured Matt in a bit part. My roommates and I remarked on Matt’s career, and how he did TV like Seinfeld, Studio 60, and The Nanny, and movies ranging from L.A. Confidential to Alley Cats Strike (yes, the Disney Channel movie). The day after discussing his eclectic career, I ran into Matt on the Santa Monica Promenade. He was more than happy to chat and take a picture, a genuinely nice guy. A few months later, I was working to help represent him. He worked his ass off on auditions, always made a point to say hello, and was the most upbeat guy I’ve ever met. Lloyd Braun may be crazy, but the guy who plays him is far from it.
  1. Richard Herd as Mr. Wilhelm. I met Richard at some schlocky convention; I don’t even know what he was signing autographs for. Wilhelm became vital to George’s story lines in Seasons 6-8, including memorable turns in “The Checks,” “The Nap,” and “The Bottle Deposit.” The highlight from meeting Richard was that he asked my name, shook my hand, and then said, “Remember Jared, it’s all downtown,” which delighted me to no end.
  1. Richard Portnow as the wheelchair salesman in “The Handicap Spot.” This is one of the funniest guest spots in the show’s history, and Richard was perfectly cast. I’d see Richard every couple weeks when he’d come in for voiceover work, and we always talked, sometimes for 15-20 minutes. We’d discuss his upcoming projects, the most exciting of which was when he was cast as the studio head in the 2012 film Hitchcock. He told me that back in 1993, shortly after this episode aired, he ran into Jerry at a restaurant in Beverly Hills. Jerry excitedly yelled out to him, “Hey Richard! We got hate mail!” Richard’s line “You’re almost glad to be handicap” is hilariously offensive, and Jerry took great pleasure in the fact that activists responded angrily after it aired. That’s what made the show so great: they were equal opportunity offenders, and the more shit they could stir up through humor, the better.
  1. Judge Reinhold as Aaron aka The Close Talker in “The Raincoats.” Another all-time guest spot and near perfect scene (the first clip especially). The close talking is perfect, especially when it’s with Jerry, who is doing his best not to crack up. The Schindler’s List takeoff is as funny as something can be that relates to an incredibly sad movie. And Judge, well, Judge is something else. We first started working with Judge for voiceover…then theatrical…then hosting…then personal appearances. Let’s just say Judge is a unique guy and it was an experience working with him for a little while.

FIVE EPISODES WHERE THE BIG FIVE (INCLUDING NEWMAN) SHINED BRIGHTEST

  1. Jerry: The Cheever Letters, The Outing, The Puffy Shirt, The Rye, The Chicken Roasters.

Since The Rye aired in 1996, no fan of the show has ordered anything with the words “marble rye” involved and not laughed. The Cheever Letters is an underrated classic where Jerry is stuck in tough situations with both George and Elaine, one he fell into and one he created for himself. The Chicken Roasters offers one of his memorable scenes, where living in Kramer’s apartment engulfs his soul. The Puffy Shirt gave rise to “The Low Talker” and the “I don’t want to be a pirate” gag, used a couple more times throughout the show. And of course, The Outing gave rise to the saying, “We’re not gay…not that there’s anything wrong with that!”

  1. Elaine: The Stall, The Understudy, The Letter, The Revenge, The Soup Nazi.

The Soup Nazi is really a standout episode for all characters, but Elaine’s game of cat and mouse with the man himself is unforgettable. Her baseball-cap inspired defiance at a Yankee game, and attempt to hide it from Lippman, helps drive The Letter. Any woman who’s wondered what the Asian women in the nail salon are talking about felt vindicated when Elaine went in there with a spy. Faking to be a nudist helped George—but ultimately got him fired—in the Revenge. And of course, anyone who’s run out of toilet paper in a public restroom knows what it’s like to ask for a spare square.

  1. George: The Parking Space, The Phone Message, The Opposite, The Marine Biologist, The Smelly Car

Honestly, every episode of the show is a George episode. This could be due to Larry David’s heavy involvement and George being based on Larry. It might just be that George is the strongest character. It was tough picking just five for him. The Parking Space sees him argue over, yes, a parking space for an entire episode. The Phone Message has him leaving angry messages on a woman’s machine and scheming to erase them before she hears them (an earlier episode many forget). The Opposite marks a rare change in form, one that leads to his job with the Yankees. The Marine Biologist has the single greatest monologue in the show’s history. And The Smelly Car finds him asking nuanced questions about lesbianism while justifying “side-al nudity” in a movie (“a film is what it is, actually”). For my money, George Louis Costanza is and will forever be the greatest character in comedy history.

  1. Kramer: The Merv Griffin Show, The Fire, The Bris, The Pothole, The Butter Shave.

Kramer’s plots were always the most absurd, even more so once we hit Seasons 8-9. Despite being utterly ridiculous, fashioning his apartment with the set of the Merv Griffin Show was unbelievably funny. The Butter Shave is as slapstick as it gets with Kramer. The Pothole shows him acting out yet another wacky idea, this time adopting a highway. The Fire features what I’d call the second greatest monologue in show history. And The Bris is another overlooked classic that parodies the greatest film ever made all while centered around the covenant of circumcision and of course, a pigman.

  1. Newman: The Package, The Junk Mail, The Ticket, The Millennium, The Seven.

Trivia: Newman does not have the fifth most appearances after the Big Four. That distinction is held by Ruth Cohen, who plays the cashier at Monks, Ruthie Cohen, most well known for her battles with George in “The Gum.” Still, Newman obviously gets the call up here. There’s his interrogation of Jerry for mail fraud, “Pretty hot under these lights, eh Seinfeld?” The Junk Mail, where Kramer’s mail cancellation leads to problems. The Ticket, one of his earlier episodes, which plays out like a parody of a bad southern courtroom drama. The Millennium has him competing with Kramer over who can have the cooler Y2K bash. And The Seven sees him play arbitrator between Kramer and Elaine over Elaine’s bike.

BONUS: FIVE EPISODES NOT MENTIONED YET

Okay, some have gotten quick mentions, but haven’t been expounded upon yet.

  1. The Lip Reader: Kramer’s job as a ball boy/man, Jerry’s relationship with the deaf lineswoman, George’s doomed relationship, and Elaine’s car service mishap come together and as usual, George comes out on the bottom. Best scene: Marlee Matlin’s “Laura The Lineswoman” at dinner with Jerry and George.
  1. The Cigar Store Indian: I can’t decide what’s better about this episode, Frank yelling at George for turning his house into “Bourbon Street!” or Kramer yelling offensively out the cab. Let’s go with the cab thing, as that involved the actual Cigar Store Indian.
  1. The Hamptons: The episode that gave us “You gotta see the baby!” and “Shrinkage.” The shrinkage part had the longest lasting effect in pop culture, but I’ll go with the Jane being topless bit—which does lead to the shrinkage—as the best scene.
  1. The Doll: A Season 7 episode that feels more like a Season 5-6 given how everything aligns perfectly. The doll, the pool, the pants, and The Maestro. The scenes with Kathy Griffin and the doll are spectacular, but the pool scenes are just too good.
  1. The Stand-In: The names of the one-off characters in this are better than any other episode. Al Neche and Phil Totola are killer names, and Phil’s, um, encounter, with Elaine, makes for one of the best incident rehashing scenes ever.

FINALE: THE JIMMY

Any legitimate Seinfeld fan knows that there’s no one “greatest” episode. I’d venture a guess that most diehard fans of the show don’t even have a true favorite. There is one episode that stands out for me, though, and it’s “The Jimmy.” It’s not the most well known and certainly doesn’t have the cache of “The Contest” or “The Soup Nazi,” but that just doesn’t matter.

“The Jimmy” is as perfect an episode as there is. I know I said that earlier about “The Gum,” and that stands. But “The Jimmy” is my perfect episode, and the one that’s come to mean the most (apologies for the overly sentimental nature of this anecdote). In college, my roommate Murph and I bonded over Seinfeld, among other things (Caddyshack, sports, hip hop and beer, mostly). Before we’d go to bed, we’d usually pop in a Seinfeld DVD and just let it play with the TV on sleep timer. One day, we watched Season 6, Disc 4, which starts off with “The Jimmy.” We were hooked. For what had to be at least three or four nights a week spanning at least four semesters, we’d start with that. Sometimes, if we’d been drinking, we’d pass out during the cold open. If it was a random Wednesday night, we might make it all the way to “The Understudy,” which was at the end. But we always saw at least a little bit of “The Jimmy,” if not the whole thing. I’ve probably seen it over 200 times, and that’s being conservative.

I came to know every line of dialogue, every affectation, every mannerism, every movement. Like many greats, it’s one of those episodes where everything comes together perfectly in the end and makes you realize how truly inimitable this show was. It’s one of the few things I’m not linking to, because you should just go watch the entire episode.

It was refreshing to see “The Jimmy” chosen as one of the 25 episodes TBS ran as part of their “Seinfeld 25” marathon this week. It vindicated my love for the episode and of course, gave me a chance to record it on my DVR and save it permanently (pretty sure that DVD got swallowed up by our frat house by the end of senior year).

So, here’s to “The Jimmy,” and to the 25 year anniversary of the greatest television comedy ever made.

Landon Donovan’s Questionable Summer Job

Landon Donovan, one of the three greatest American soccer players of all time by any measure, finds himself in an awkward position. Cut by USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann, Donovan was just hired by ESPN as a World Cup analyst.

Simply put, Donovan should not be working with ESPN for the World Cup.

Soccer: Friendly-USA vs Mexico

Be it during previous World Cups, their time as the Premier League carrier, or even with the MLS, ESPN’s soccer coverage has always been one of its strong suits. ESPN’s soccer coverage (along with ABC during the WC) is one of few remaining bastions of high quality studio programming, featuring fine on-air talent plucked from all over the globe.

Viewers trust Bob Ley and Mike Tirico. The potpourri of international analysts ensures that any biases will be canceled out. There’s no screaming, shouting, or pandering. It’s a professional studio crew that viewers—many of whom are not experts—can trust to enhance the telecast.

That’s not to say that Donovan will be a talking head, there solely to dumb things down, raise his voice, and create false narratives. His presence does, however, diminish the broadcast’s credibility, as viewers risk being fed the feelings of a scorned lover rather than a prepared, open-minded observer (to be clear, he won’t be in Brazil, but rather, in Los Angeles).

During ESPN’s World Cup preview show, the studio threw it to Donovan in regards to Klinsmann’s insistence that the US cannot win the whole thing. Donovan said he disagrees with Klinsmann, agrees with the American Outlaws (who’ve apparently replaced Sam’s Army as the leading soccer fanatics from America), and believes the US has a chance to win.

Only, when he said he disagreed with Klinsmann, it was something like “This is no surprise…” and with a chuckle. Not to get uptight about this, because it’s soccer and television and not life and death, but it was clear that Donovan was going to disagree with Klinsmann on principle alone. Just knowing the recent history, we’ll need to take much of what Donovan says with large grains of salt. It’s no fault of his own—he has every right to say what he feels. ESPN is the one putting him on television for the world to see. Donovan seems too classy to air any dirty laundry during such an important event, but I wouldn’t put it past him to skew his analysis in an anti-Klinsmann direction.

It’s a bit awkward, as well. We know he’s probably still good enough to make the team. We also know he didn’t put in the work and made those statements about taking a break. It’s one thing if Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt says he’s over the drama and wants to take a break, only to come back shortly before Olympic trials. It’s another for the USMNT to have a program requiring continual participation and commitment. Instead of Donovan on the field for the US, he’s in the studio, as we watch uncomfortably, wondering what he’d really like to say about Klinsmann.

Isn’t he going to feel a bit weird about things, too? Not to say he should be embarrassed to be on television rather than playing, but why subject himself to covering the team he wants to play for? Again, he seems like a classy guy who can handle it, and maybe he deserves kudos for attempting to put his feelings aside, doing the broadcasting job, and sharing his knowledge with fans. That is, if he’s able to leave feelings and grudges out of the job.

Conceptually, though, it’s not a good idea. Donovan could prove otherwise and bring a unique perspective along with intelligent points. The fear is that he’ll be an ESPN hand puppet, there to play cheerleader for the USMNT, second-guess Klinsmann, and regurgitate whatever the popular narrative is that day. The hope is that he’ll be allowed to dish on things other than American soccer and lend insight into other groups, teams, and players. Let’s watch Donovan discuss Spain’s Starting XI and who England should pair with Rooney rather than something banal like “where the US went wrong.”

He may not have a chance to prove himself on the pitch during the World Cup, but thanks to ESPN’s bold yet injudicious hire, Landon Donovan will have something to prove on television.

Roger, Tom, and Phil

“He’s running out of time, but I think he can win one more.”

There are three athletes who come to mind when I think about that quote, which is uttered almost hourly on every sports talk radio and television talking head show in America. For me, the three athletes who define that quote are Roger Federer, Tom Brady, and Phil Mickelson.

Each guy is in the news. Federer had a disappointing run at the French Open and now prepares for Wimbledon, just a month after his wife gave birth to their second set of twins. Brady has been dissected in light of a well-conceived, poorly-executed column by a rabble rousing troll who admittedly is all about numbers and completely ignores wins. And Mickelson tries yet again for his first US Open championship starting tomorrow at Pinehurst. Oh, Mickelson’s also under investigation by the FBI and SEC for his alleged role in an insider trading scheme. Let’s just say he’s stressed.

Federer, Brady, and Mickelson all have one primary rival with whom they’ve co-defined their sports over the past 15 years. For various reasons, each rival has a better shot at reaching the mountain top again before these three.

The questions are clear. Will Federer win another Grand Slam event? Will Brady capture another Super Bowl? Will Mickelson win another Major, but much more importantly, will he ever win the US Open?

The levels of wondering and hoping have reached nearly mythical heights. Let’s take a closer look at each member of the triumvirate:

FEDERER

He’s the one closest to a lock for “Greatest of All Time” status. Another Grand Slam win would help, as would a better head to head record with his younger rivals, but Rafael Nadal backers rely too heavily on Nadal’s French Open success. In a couple years, maybe Nadal surpasses Federer, but not yet.

Even though Federer could retire tomorrow as the greatest, he presses on. Thousands of columns have been written on the odd experience of watching Federer remain an elite, top-5 player, yet one who can’t beat the top two guys. And it is an odd experience. It’s strange watching Federer not reach Grand Slam finals anymore, but at the same time, why should a top-5 player retire? Federer shouldn’t be punished for his past greatness. Instead, fans and media should do a better job of adjusting the current reality that Federer is merely a very good player who still has a puncher’s chance to win.

For Federer to win, a lot of things have to go right. He needs a forgiving draw, one pitting Novak Djokovic against Nadal in the semifinals so Federer won’t have to face both. He’s got to beat other guys he’s struggled against, like Juan Martin del Potro and Tomas Berdych. He’s got to be well rested yet in top form. He needs to play short matches. And of course, he needs some luck.

Thankfully for the Swiss Maestro, he gets four chances a year to win another. A relatively healthy 32 (soon to be 33), he should have at least 10 more cracks at it before he declines even further, at which point he could still make a Jimmy Connors-like run in his late 30s.

BRADY

The only one of these three guys who plays a team sport, Brady’s case is a bit different. Yes, he’s still an elite, top-5 quarterback capable of taking crappy teams to the conference championship. Working most strongly against Brady is simply his age, as he’ll be 37 this season. He’s famous for insisting on playing into his 40s, and maybe he will. Should he follow up on that promise, he’ll not only need to delay his decline, he’ll actually need to improve in some areas, like throwing the deep ball and reacting under pressure. Tall tasks, but Brady isn’t one to be doubted.

Brady does, however, have a couple items working in his favor. He plays in a weak division and what has been a weak conference for three years now. The Patriots may not have been one of the four best teams in the NFC, but they were, by far, the second best team in the AFC. If it weren’t for the Broncos, the Patriots would be the heavy favorite to reach the Super Bowl this year. Speaking of the Broncos, both they and the Patriots have “loaded up” this season, which helps Brady. His receiving corp still leaves much to be desired, but the commitment to improving the defense should increase New England’s chances. This year should prove Brady’s best chance at winning it all since 2011, with the enhanced defense playing a big role, and the AFC playing a major role. He’d run into an NFC buzz saw in the big game should he get there, but as most Patriots fans know, this year has got to be the year.

Phil Mickelson

MICKELSON

Phil is the most complicated of the bunch. He’s the oldest, yet his career will last longer than the other two. He was the last to get over the hump, in 2004, and he’s also the most recent, winning the 2013 British Open, the Major his game is least suited to, with a scorching Sunday that came out of nowhere. Assuming he stays out of prison for this Wall Street snafu, Phil inspires the most confidence that he’ll win another big event.

Instead of looking at his, say, 30 or so upcoming chances to win one of the four Majors, let’s instead look at his US Open chances. Given the disparities in their sports, and the effect age has on each, Federer has about the same chances left to win any of the Grand Slams as Mickelson does to win one US Open. It’s tougher to extrapolate Brady’s chances, given he plays a team sport with only one chance per year. However, Brady should have two or three legitimate chances to win, and that’s about what the other guys have left, too. Phil has finished 2nd a whopping six times at America’s championship, and may only finish in the top two a few more times, much in the same way Federer may only reach a few more Grand Slam finals.

Despite not winning it yet, Phil Mickelson is the US Open. He has been since 1999 at Pinehurst, where he collapsed on the final few holes and lost to the late Payne Stewart. That US Open, like all others since, ended on Father’s Day. That particular Father’s Day saw Mickelson becoming a father for the first time, and left many with the memory of Stewart simultaneously consoling Mickelson on a golf level and congratulating him on a personal level.

On those Sundays when he’s coming in second, the cameras fixate on his wife and kids, and we all think back to that first US Open letdown, fatherhood, and wonder if this is the year Phil comes full circle. If the nostalgia of Father’s Day isn’t enough, Mickelson’s birthday is June 16 and usually falls during the tournament. Phil finished second in both 2002 and 2013, when the competition’s final day fell on June 16, meaning it was US Open Sunday, Father’s Day, and his birthday. If you think about what must go on in his head during those days, it’s pretty hard to blame the guy for a bogey here or there.

Is this the year? Hell, I hope so. I’m a Phil fan, and it makes for a great story. Does he have a better shot of winning a US Open than Federer and Brady do of winning a title? It’s damn close, but with the aura of Pinehurst looming large, how can you not go with Phil?

Star-Crossed Hoop Hope For Seattle

A specific thought occurred earlier this month, shortly after writing about Adam Silver’s handling of the Donald Sterling situation. It’ll never happen, but it’s fun to fantasize.

What if, once the Los Angeles Clippers are sold, they move to Seattle?

Sonics Logo

I contemplated writing about the idea when Silver’s ruling came down, but seeing Steve Ballmer’s name pop up as a prospective buyer has given some juice to the notion. Ballmer’s presence in any NBA sale conversation immediately sparks talk of a move to Seattle, and on a basketball level, the Clippers make more sense than any other team. On a monetary and marketing level, it’ll never happen because teams don’t leave Los Angeles (unless it’s the NFL, of course). But let’s take a look at why it makes sense strictly for basketball reasons.

The Clippers have 44 years of history, as three different incarnates, but almost none of it is worth preserving. They were the Buffalo Braves, the San Diego Clippers, and then the Los Angeles Clippers. Some facts:

–The franchise has never won a championship.

–They’ve never been to the NBA Finals.

–They’ve never been to the Conference Finals.

–They’ve only been to the playoffs 10 times.

–They didn’t win a division title until 2013.

–They’ve only won three playoff series, the first of which didn’t come until 2006. You could argue that they won a series in 1976, when they won a play-in round to get to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. But it’s more like a First Four NCAA Tournament game than an NFL wild card game because the majority of playoff teams bypass that round. So no, 1976 doesn’t count.

–It’s a franchise marked by brutal injuries, blown draft picks, and constant mismanagement.

–They’ve had a few Hall of Famers play for them, but only one, Bob McAdoo, had his best years with the team. And he had to go to the Lakers to win a ring. Adrian Dantley’s best years came in Utah and Bill Walton’s came in Portland.

–They’ve had great coaches but never at the right time. Dr. Jack Ramsay coached the Braves from 1973-1976, left, and became a genius with the Trail Blazers in 1977. Bill Fitch failed with the Clippers after successful stops in Boston and Houston.

–Again, they’ve won three playoff series in 44 years! In any given year, whichever team wins the NBA Championship automatically passes the Clippers in total franchise series victories.

Why does this team need to stay in Los Angeles? To say they have history is not good enough. To say they have an expansive, rabid fan base isn’t true. Clipper fans have come out of the woodwork in the past few years because of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but that’s about it. The Los Angeles basketball scene is all Lakers, all the time. I lived there. I attended games for both. I have friends of both teams. It isn’t close. There’s a reason Kobe Bryant’s day-to-day life is in the first segment of the local news every night. Because the Lakers matter a lot more and it isn’t close.

Again, a move out of LA is unlikely, especially with the Clippers retaining two of the 20 best players in the league. Maybe even two of the 10-15 best players, depending on how you feel about Griffin (I’m not sure he’s better than Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge, but many think he is).

Perhaps more importantly, whoever wins the bid is buying in the right neighborhood, so to speak. Why spend $2 billion and risk moving to a new city, building a new arena, closing your eyes and hoping it all works out? In LA, the arena is in place. The players like each other, the coach, and the city. And as a bonus, the Lakers are at a crossroads, which happens about as often as Halley’s Comet. If the Sterling punishment had happened at any point before, say, 2011, moving the team would have been much more appealing.

The only way I can see a move happening is if Sterling miraculously drags out the process and Silver can’t get him to sell by the start of next season. In this scenario, the players, and coach Doc Rivers, would demand to be released because they won’t work for Sterling. The team sells at some point after that, and with nothing left, the new owners move. However, knowing that Silver is going to push this thing along, and that the Board of Governors will move swiftly to oust Sterling, it leaves the chances of a Clipper mutiny lower than the chances of Sterling keeping the team. Hence, they’re not leaving.

It is fun to think about, though. Somehow, Ballmer snags the team. He says “screw it,” moves them to Seattle, and gets billionaire Chris Hansen involved, as they’ve tried in the past. The Sonics are back, with those glorious green and yellow jerseys. The 1979 championship banner is re-hoisted to the rafters. Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp get their numbers retired. Hell, maybe Doc doesn’t want to go and they get George Karl to coach the team. Ballmer wouldn’t leave LA (he’s said as much), but hey, it’s a cool fantasy.

Removing an owner with Sterling’s track record—in aspects both personal and professional—is the right move for the NBA. Unfortunately for Seattle fans, he just happens to own a good team in a hot market at the right time. If it were another time and another place, maybe Seattle would be in luck. For now, they continue to wait, and we continue to hope that someday soon, a team makes its way back to the Pacific Northwest.

Previewing A Heart-Stopping Game 7

A few scattered thoughts on Boston-Montreal Game 7 aka Armageddon even though it’s only Round Two aka the night cardiologists make their money…

–It’s tough to make sense of anything on a day like this, so let’s start with something that makes zero sense. Win or lose, the Bruins have outplayed the Canadiens in the series. They’ve lead in puck possession, registered more shots, and seemingly more chances. Of course, simply playing better for the majority of the series does not make them the better team. If they were the better team, they wouldn’t be missing empty nets every time they have the chance. They wouldn’t be hitting crossbars on every shot. Some of hitting posts and crossbars is bad luck, but the bottom line is that you need to put the puck in the net. The Bruins have been better most of the series, but that absolutely does not mean they “deserve” to win the series. Teams deserving to win are opportunistic and disciplined. How many times have Marchand, Lucic, Krejci, and a slew of others fumbled easy chances? I lost count sometime during Game 3. Better teams, ones that deserve to win, finish their chances. The Bruins haven’t done so thus far, but still have a chance tonight.

–As to why the Bruins have been outscored by the Canadiens so far, 17-15, take a look at special teams and turnovers. Again, it’s all about opportunism and discipline, which are explained by special teams and turnovers. The Bruins special teams have been dreadful in all facets. The Canadiens have been scoring in bunches on their power play, and that’s why they’ve been able to offset the Bruins’ puck dominance. When you combine a Bruins team that can’t score 5-on-5 with a Canadiens team that cashes in on seemingly every other power play, you get a tight series. The other piece of the puzzle is turnovers. How many breakaways and empty nets has Montreal taken advantage of? I lost track of guys that scored on breakaways. Subban. Weise. Pacioretty. If goalies were allowed to carry the puck over center ice, I’d be shocked if Carey Price didn’t have a breakaway goal by now. Speaking of which…

–Price has simply been better than Rask. To simplify things, let’s re-confirm that the Bruins have indeed outplayed and outshot the Canadiens on the whole. That’s not enough to win a series. However, Price outplaying Rask is enough to win a series. And unless Rask turns in a performance tonight like he had in Game 4, Price ends up being the biggest difference maker in the series.

Bergeron-Subban

–This won’t matter if the Bruins lose tonight, but the team’s best player during these playoffs has been Carl Soderberg, and it isn’t really close. He’s only got one goal, but he has five assists, a +5 rating, and has only taken one penalty. You could argue Bergeron, but Soderberg’s two-way play, the major point of any Bergeron argument, has been stellar. Also, his line changes every few games, and he’s adapted beautifully, with help from mainstay Loui Eriksson, to coax strong performances from newbies Justin Florek and Matt Fraser, not to mention also centering Danny Paille and Jordan Caron.

–I think Soderberg is the only Bruin to score on a true wrist shot between the dots. It feels like the Bruins attempt 20 shots per game that are good looks in the slot, clean wrist shots that just can’t beat Price. Dougie Hamilton may have scored one as well, but that’s about it. It’s been garbage in front (Fraser Game 4), fluke shots (Bergeron Game 2), and rebounds (Eriksson Game 5). Then again, it doesn’t matter how you score, just that you do it. But when guys like Iginla, Marchand, Lucic, and Krejci can’t put a shot by the goalie, it increases the chatter about the Bruins getting a pure scorer. No, not Tyler Seguin. They had him last year and he couldn’t score. It makes you yearn for guys like Kane, Stamkos, Perry. But let’s hold off on the questioning of Claude’s system–which has no place for those types of high money guys–because it’s a system that works as long as the best players actually play their best. Like everything else mentioned, we’ll see tonight.

–Saying Rask “hasn’t won anything” and that “he’s no Tim Thomas” is childish. Rask is a young guy who came closer to “winning something” last year than any Boston goalie besides Thomas has since the 70’s. So if you’re dismissing Rask for not having won a Cup, then apparently Bruins history from 1972-2011 should be wiped from the books because they didn’t “win anything” either. Also, by that logic, Tomas Kaberle had a more worthwhile stint with the Bruins than Ray Bourque. Winning a Stanley Cup isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do and it takes some guys a few years to get over the hump and “win something.” And lest we forget, Rask was a couple minutes and a Game 7 away from having a postseason at least as great as Thomas did in 2011. He’s a great goalie who keeps the Bruins in contention year after year and should get his Cup someday, hopefully soon.

–That said, Rask has always had trouble against Montreal. There are certain teams that he owns (the Rangers) and others that own him. Actually, really just one team owns him, and it’s Montreal. Rask is better when shots are more even and he has a chance to get engaged. When Bruins dominate action, he’s cold an unprepared. Just look at Rene Bourque’s goal in Game 1. Rask usually stops that, but he hadn’t done much all night and got beat on a rush. Look at Pacioretty’s goal in Game 6. The Bruins dominated play for 10 minutes, but they got sloppy, gave up a breakaway and Rask channeled his inner Marc-Andre Fleury. As a Bruins fan, I want to see them get the majority of the chances. But seeing how that’s gone for six games, having Tuukka tested early on isn’t the worst thing in the world. Well, as long as he stops the puck, that is.

–If the Bruins lose, they become a combination of several teams. They’re part 2011 Canucks, a team loaded with talent that either took its opponent too lightly, lost a mental edge, or just lost a clash of styles. They’re part 2013 Penguins, an absolute juggernaut that suffered from hype, goofy goaltending, and too many posts. Remember last year when the Penguins kept saying “Yeah, we only scored twice in four games, but we hit a ton of posts!” That’s what the Bruins are facing. You don’t want to be the “We hit a lot of posts!” team. Lastly, they’ll be part Bruins of the past. Shades of 2004 and 2008, where they couldn’t match Montreal’s grit and skill. Shades of 2012, where they sleepwalked through parts of a series they should have won. Shades of 2009 and 2010, losing soul-crushing Game 7s at home to teams they undoubtedly should have beaten. Especially 2010, where they would have been the favorite in the Conference Finals, which they will be should they prevail tonight.

–If the Bruins win, though, it’ll hopefully be just a road block on the path to another Finals appearance. Though it ultimately means nothing for the next round, the Bruins have had the Rangers’ number lately. Boston’s miracle against Toronto last year will long live on in Hub hockey lore, but the fact remains that the Bruins embarrassed themselves in Games 5, 6, and most of 7 during that series. This Montreal team is better than that Toronto team (Price over Reimer alone makes this true), and the Bruins have put enough of a scare into their fans. Regardless of what happens against New York and beyond, let’s just hope this series becomes a scare, not a heartbreaker. This is the best Bruins team of my lifetime, and to go out at this stage would be a shame. Here’s hoping they won’t join the 1971 Bruins as the best editions in franchise history to not take home the Cup.

–You know I’m not in the prediction business, so nothing really left to say, other than I’ll have a three hour arrhythmia tonight that I’d prefer to end with a jolt of celebration and a feeling of relief than the unfathomable alternative.

WEEI Puts Mut Down

I remember driving back from Worcester on May 18, 2008.

It was midday on a Sunday, and I’d retrieved my car from a friend’s in the Worcester area, en route home after a weekend spent at Dartmouth College. The Celtics and Cavaliers were playing a Game 7 that afternoon for the right to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. To enhance the buildup for the game, I listened to WEEI sports talk radio the entire way home.

The host was a typical weekend guy. An up-and-comer who I hadn’t really heard before, trying to make a name for himself. Like all radio guys trying to get listeners to remember them, he kept saying his name, in and out of every commercial. The way I heard it was “Mike Mananski,” and I wouldn’t learn for a couple years that it was actually “Mutnansky.” He wasn’t “Mut” back then. Hell, to me, he wasn’t even Mike Mutnansky. He was “Mike Mananksi.” He had a memorable voice, seemed like a nice guy, and above all, did his job of raising the excitement and interest level for the game that day. Thanks to Mike Mananski, I couldn’t wait for that game to get started by the time I got home.

Six years later, in a Boston sports radio market thoroughly dominated by 98.5 The Sports Hub, I’m among the few who stayed loyal to WEEI.

Over the weekend, Boston Globe sports media reporter Chad Finn broke a story about WEEI making a change to their midday show. The Entercom-owned station is taking midday co-host Mike “Mut” Mutnansky off the “Mut & Merloni” show and reassigning him. Mutnansky confirmed Finn’s story live on air today, including details that he’ll be replaced by former Patriot (and frequent guest host) Christian Fauria and Massachusetts-native Tim Benz, currently a host at 970 ESPN Pittsburgh and the Clear Channel Pittsburgh sports director. It’s just the latest shakeup for the ratings-challenged WEEI, which has seen a number of hosts, sidekicks, and producers shuffled in and out of the station over the past three years.

I was never wild about the M&M show, but this latest moves strikes me as part copycat and part deja vu. Before touching on the soon-to-be-demoted Mutnansky, let’s take a look at the other pieces of this transaction and what they mean going forward.

Fauria has become a frequent guest host on WEEI, both on M&M and the afternoon drive “Dale & Holley” program. Not all football players are meat heads, but Fauria doesn’t do much to stop the stereotype. I wouldn’t go as far to call him boorish, but let’s just say he doesn’t do so well when discussing sports other than football. It’s tough to put my finger on what bugs me about Fauria, but he just seems like the guy who isn’t in on the joke, rather than the guy at the barstool making the joke. He’s plenty enthusiastic, even likable, but it’s just tough to take him seriously at times, almost like he’s a cartoon character. Judging by the success of 98.5’s midday “Gresh & Zo” show, listeners enjoy a couple big guys (one a former athlete, one a fat mess) talking football as if they’re the biggest, loudest know-it-alls in the bar. It’s why Glenn Ordway and Pete Sheppard did so well for so many years. Fauria doesn’t play that way, and if WEEI thinks he does, it’s clearly trying to copy the success of 98.5 in that regard. Sports Hub has owned the ratings with fat football talk, which is why WEEI should have aimed higher than Fauria, a poor mans version of Gresh & Zo who’s stuck in no man’s land between pointed, expert voices and loose, everyman voices. Adding Fauria is a sure sign of dumbing things down, but I’m doubtful that listeners will switch allegiances from one loud program to another.

I’ve never heard of or listened to Tim Benz. WEEI’s press release today tells me that he’s a local guy who’s been working in Pittsburgh and that his father is a famous Bostonian doctor, which is all well and good. All I can say is that Tim Benz better be great, maybe even a little better than great. Obviously, I’m not high on Fauria. Lou Merloni is a fine co-host and is well liked in the region, but isn’t a must-listen on his own. A large portion of the show’s success falls on Benz to be funny, engaging, and enigmatic. Merloni and Fauria aren’t going to stir the pot, and while it’s not necessary to do so, it has proven to work for some hosts (i.e. Mike Felger). Benz would be well served to make some waves from the get-go to prevent WEEI from another ho-hum midday show that fails to resonate. Simply playing traffic cop for Fauria and Merloni won’t cut it. We’ve heard Fauria and Merloni and they aren’t stars. Unless Tim Benz is the star of the show (a la Kirk Minihane), the show won’t succeed.

Dale & Holley, perhaps the least controversial pairing in town, were the best midday show Boston has seen over the past decade, but they were dismantled to make way for M&M (that D&H resurrected itself in a more prominent day part is an ode to Dale’s perseverance and WEEI’s missteps). D&H have a rare chemistry and demeanor that negates the need for theatrics, but judging by the downfall of their midday show in 2011, sometimes listeners want a jester (i.e. Tony Massarotti, who barely edges out Adam Kaufman as the worst columnist in town, able to write entire pieces that literally say nothing other than a bunch of regurgitated headlines strung together).

Radio shows like to boast ex-athletes in their ranks to earn credibility and legitimacy with listeners. After all, who knows sports better than the guys who played for a living? And with Merloni and Fauria, WEEI has a so-called expert on board year round, with the doldrums of February and early March as the only time that one of their sports isn’t being played. Still, it seems like just one former pro athlete should be enough. Merloni is intelligent and engaging enough, not to mention reasonably well educated on the other teams in town (especially being from the area). Give him a stud co-host and Merloni will succeed as the only “analyst/expert.” That’s why Fauria is a curious choice, one that signifies WEEI is trying to minimize the risk it’s taking with Benz. If Benz is a stiff, at least they’ll still have the ability to boast two athletes in the booth. In a perfect world, you wouldn’t need Fauria and Benz would come in, set the world on fire, mesh with Merloni, and compete with G&Z.

The proof lies in the last time the station tried a similar move. A local guy who worked in a rival market at an ESPN station coming home, making good, and co-hosting a show at the most storied station of his childhood with a host whose show had been failing. That perfectly describes the Mike Salk situation. The only differences are the day part and the fact that Michael Holley wasn’t a pro athlete. Everything else fits, right down to the failing show. Salk had a tough situation and failed spectacularly. WEEI is giving Benz two athletes in an effort to ensure he doesn’t suffer the same fate as the not-so-dearly departed Salk. Despite this being sports talk radio, let’s give Benz the benefit of the doubt and see how he plays in Boston. I gave Salk a fair shot, and while I didn’t dislike him the way everyone else (his colleagues, listeners, media critics) did, it took too much effort to enjoy him. Benz will receive a similar shot, and here’s hoping he’ll be an easier listen that gets WEEI back in the midday game.

Mut & Lou

When the news of Mut’s partial ouster came this weekend, I wasn’t surprised. He’s been so-so as a host and his numbers have been flatlining for more than a while now. The lede painted him as a god-like figure of radio, which he clearly is not. He’s a capable, serviceable host who couldn’t generate enough buzz on his show to stay there. He brings an everyman’s perspective, not a tough guy, but rather a nerdier guy who knows sports. He’s well equipped to discuss all sports and even hosts podcasts for Triple Crown races, a nice nod to his versatility. At times he tries to be a bro, just one of the guys you’d have over to watch the game. But when you hear his voice, or better yet, see his photo (above), it’s tough to take him seriously in that regard. He’s not a bully and doesn’t pander (if you’ve forgotten, those are good things), but he’s not exactly the funniest or most engaging guy on the air. It also hurts that he goes by “Mut” but doesn’t come off as someone who should use “Mut” as his nickname. He’s a slightly cooler version of Mike Reiss, but he’s not quite a “Mut.”

Mutnansky is being “reassigned,” which should consist of weekend and fill-in duty, unless WEEI plans on letting him go in the near future (I’m unaware of his contract status). It’s somewhat of a death knell, but Mut need only observe Dale Arnold’s comeback as motivation. Mutnansky is prepared, thoughtful, and likable, so with a few tweaks to his style, he could be back on the air full time someday.

Until then, though, it could be back to those weekend pregame shows for Mut, where he first made his bones at WEEI. If that means more excellent radio before big Sunday evening games, like Sunday, May 18, 2008, well, that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, for Mutnansky and listeners alike.

One Shining Silver Moment

Whoever conspired to leak the recording really put Adam Silver in a tight spot. Let’s assume it was V. Stiviano, with a little bit of help, who didn’t gently nudge, but forcefully shoved the NBA’s newbie commissioner into a corner. The two sides converging to form that corner are both daunting and insatiable. One wall is the court of public opinion, led by NBA players, fans, the media, and activist groups. The other is the court of law, led by whichever poor, rich attorneys Donald Sterling hires.

For one thing, there really was no “right” decision for Silver to make. Time will tell what kind of decision it was, banning Sterling for life and pressuring other owners to step on the throat of Sterling’s 30-plus years of ownership. Adjectives thrown around regarding Silver’s ruling include prudent, necessary, moral, short sighted, justified, illegal. Resolutions will have to wait until litigation is settled, and litigation may not be settled until after Sterling is dead. For better or worse, that’s what Silver chose when the world threw him down the well and left him to get out.

Silver isn’t a tragic figure or a hero. He’s being praised as a leader, a guy who did his job properly. It says here that whatever comes of Tuesday’s actions, his words were thoughtfully crafted and poignantly delivered. He was brief yet comprehensive, assertive yet sensitive, powerful yet self-aware. In answering questions, he was forthcoming enough to satisfy the media while maintaining a dodgy, Belichick-ian demeanor.

What makes Silver such an interesting character in this situation is that he was given so few choices and none of them were ideal. Those withholding credit will claim he had no other choice. Those laying blame will accuse him of falling victim to mob mentality. Both have hints of truth that require consideration. Learning that players in all three games on Tuesday’s docket were going to protest (not just the Clippers and Warriors) sure made it seem like Silver fell victim to the mob. There was no threat to Silver’s well being, but there was a threat to the credibility and well being of the league. To be clear, the mob also consisted of the media, fans, and activist groups, among others. In specific regards to the players, however, Silver’s decision, which led to immediate peace and good vibes throughout the league, ended up temporarily saving the mob from itself. If Silver is lenient and three games go uncontested Tuesday, it’s a nightmare for the entire league. Yes, that includes Silver, but he’s got his own nightmare coming down the pike. This would have looked bad for the players, the coaches, and the owners. Silver took one for the team–or in this case, the league–on a level his predecessor never would have.

NBA Commissioner David Stern Addresses the Media

Sterling should not be a part of the NBA and justice was served. It was served through possibly illegal and unprecedented means, but it was served. This was Silver’s first, and perhaps best chance to get rid of Sterling. But it wasn’t the NBA’s first chance. Adam Silver did Tuesday what David Stern was afraid to do for 30 years. For decades, Sterling had been committing fouls over and over again, targeting specific groups of people. For decades, Stern allowed it because he didn’t want a fight with Sterling, because racism didn’t directly affect games, and because he knew that taking on one owner for less than exemplary behavior would open a can of worms. In one fell swoop, Silver hit Sterling with a couple flagrant fouls, a bunch of techs, and went Bart Giamatti on him.

Silver chose temporary harmony in the face of protracted legal battles, and he enforced that choice with a sense of resolve rarely seen from Stern. The adoration of Stern for revenue increases, lucrative television deals and brilliant marketing usually outweighed the scorn he received for missteps like allowing the Sonics to leave, vetoing the Chris Paul trade, and presiding over multiple lockouts. He kept his owners happy and himself out of the courtroom, and that was good enough for him. Seattle fans are wondering right now if they might still have a team if Silver was the commissioner when a cabal of underhanded businessmen conspired to steal their Sonics.

Given Tuesday’s events, fans in all cities have every reason to feel like the league is in the right hands. Silver banished a bigot, but that’s not at the core of the matter. The important part, as it relates to the future of the association, is that Adam Silver will stand in the lane every time and take the charge as Blake Griffin comes barreling straight towards him.

Marathon Monday

“The roof will be there, let’s go watch the race.”

It was tough keeping the pack at bay, because let’s be honest, the view from the roof is incredible. Sixth floor rooftop at the crest of Beacon Hill with panoramic views from East Boston to Watertown, Downtown to Fenway. It’s tough to find much better.

Still, there were different points of logic that went into that phrase, which I found myself repeating over and over again. This Marathon is unlike other Marathons. We should be out amongst the people. And, well, the roof will be there later.

As much as the day means—and this year that was a whole helluva lot—a great deal of it still comes down to running. When you think about it, road racing is the purest form of competition on earth. The first athletic competition many of us enter comes at a young age when a classmate or friend simply says, “Let’s run and see who’s faster.” We learn to race before we learn to shoot a basketball or swing a golf club.

The roof being available later in the day was a big part of it, but the need to watch the runners was paramount. I wanted to see the faces on the runners as they turned onto Hereford, just steps from Boylston. I wanted to see the working folk who wake up early throughout the winter to hit their mileage goals and throw in a monster 20-miler on Saturdays. I wanted to see parents, roughly 26 miles into the journey, stop on the side of the road to give their kids a hug before making that one last push. That, as Robin Williams’s character from Good Will Hunting would say, is the good stuff.

I’ve never run a marathon, but it’s on the bucket list. What I have run is a 10 miler through the Newton hills back in high school, and for those who’ve never experienced, there are some sections that just ascend and keep rising for nearly half a mile. If these runners are going to train for six months and put themselves through 26.2 grueling miles to test their physical limits, then we’re damn sure going to take the time to watch them and cheer them on.

Standing at that corner in Back Bay, something strange happened. The entire cheering ecosystem was flipped around. At first, we yelled and clapped for a couple minutes, then took a break. A few minutes later we clapped some more, but it was fleeting. Outside of rare standing ovations, how long do you usually clap for? So we clapped when a big wave of runners came through and then took a little rest.

Thankfully, the marathoners wouldn’t let us rest. Why should we? They just willed themselves here from Hopkinton and all we did was navigate a crowded sidewalk. Runners not feeling the proper amount of love would wave their arms, as if to lift the crowd itself. With every gesticulation came a roar from the crowd, a renewed sense of spirit and celebration.

Watching the elite runners is to marvel; watching the weekend warriors is to be in awe. The elites are running sub 5-minute miles, nonstop, for over two hours. Everyone else is trying to finish, maybe in three hours, maybe in four, maybe just at all. We’ll never be able to fathom what the elite runners are capable of so we just smile, wave, and hope we get to see a course record. Thing is, we can kind of envision ourselves in the racing shoes of everyone else on the course. Most work regular jobs, have regular families, and live regular lives. They’re the ones who inspire us to think that, someday, we too could run the 26.2 mile gauntlet from Hopkinton to Boston.

Meb Wins Big

Before we watched the throngs trying to finish in under three or four hours, we did catch the elites at the finish line. Given the anticipation surrounding the day, it was shocking to find decent viewing points near the finish line at the last second. Arriving on Boylston, between Dartmouth and Exeter, the crowd wasn’t as deep as we assumed it’d be. It went about 8-10 deep but not much more. Standing on our toes, we could see the elites coming in.

Security was airtight, with officers patrolling the streets in droves and checkpoints set up at every neighborhood entrance point. The only person who made me the least bit nervous was some crazy old guy in a beat up tweed jacket who was swaying about and holding plastic bags filled with bottles. And even he was probably just a harmless vagabond. Our spot was right in front of Marathon Sports, site of the first explosion last year. The little crystals on the sidewalk tiles shone brightly in the sun, but it was hard not to imagine the blood stains that adorned those tiles at last year’s race. Speaking of the sun, law enforcement efforts made it so that my only worry in the world was how bad the sunburn on my forehead would be. The sun was unsuspectingly strong and unrelenting as the spirit of the city itself.

Like I said before, it’s hard to get a group to do one thing at the same time, and because of that, we missed Rita Jeptoo win her third Boston Marathon. What we did arrive in time for was Meb Keflezighi’s coronation.

Meb is an older guy—he’ll be 39 in two weeks—meaning he was in his prime right when I got into running during high school. He’s not a deity like Prefontaine or a machine like Rodgers. Hell, he wasn’t even born in America. He’s of African descent and made an American ascent. He was raised here, educated here, and trained here. He’s run in the Olympics for the United States, and on Monday, he won the Boston Marathon for the United States—the first time it’s happened in 31 years. Who gives a damn that he wasn’t born here? We’re still healing and more than happy to accept a triumph, so yeah, we’ll take the win going away and set aside the skepticism for another day.

After watching the grinders conquer the course, and only after that, did I allow the group to join the rest of the city for the unofficial alcohol marathon, which takes place shortly after the real thing. A friendly BAA volunteer let us walk along the south side of Boylston over to a rooftop bar called Rattlesnake. Oh, that’s one other thing about Patriots’ Day: Everyone is nice. Boston can be a testy town at times where everyone’s got a chip on their shoulder. Not on Monday. If you’re in Boston on Marathon Monday, you’re holding doors, letting people cut in line at the bar, and even saying “excuse me” when you bump into someone. It’s the one day of the year where people put aside their attitudes for the greater good.

We had a few drinks, watched the Red Sox fall short, and then left. Walking back on Boylston, runners were still finishing, wrapped in those metallic silver blankets that have some medical effect I still can’t quite figure out. It looked like a scene from a sci-fi zombie movie, an army of half-dead bodies wandering aimlessly in their shiny space suits, only with various forms of Vitamin C and water.

There was no need to say “nice job” or anything like that because it felt patronizing. These people just ran the race of their lives and we’re just the dopes leaving the bar. They didn’t need our approval; we needed theirs. Given what they’d just accomplished, we weren’t worthy of them, so we politely nodded, tried not to stare, stayed out of their way, and kept moving.

Over and through the Public Garden we went, passing families picnicking, runners laying out in the grass, and the swan boats in full force. A more majestic scene is hard to envision. The jaunt through the Garden could have lasted hours and I wouldn’t have cared. It was that perfect. Alas, we reached Beacon Street at the foot of Beacon Hill. And then?

Then we went to the roof.

More To Bos-Det Than “Bruins in 5″

Before we get to some thoughts on the Bruins’ first round matchup against the Red Wings, it’s necessary to thank the band of black and gold for their performance this season. Claiming the President’s Trophy is a nice accomplishment, though it becomes somewhat of a mockery if playoff results don’t resemble those of the regular season. The Bruins deserve thanks because they distracted the Boston sports scene from the Celtics all winter.

We knew it’d be a bad year for the Celts, but there would have been a truly dreadful aura surrounding Causeway Street this season had the Bruins not been such an entertaining, physical powerhouse for the past six months. Thank you, Boston Bruins, for getting us through the winter in scintillating fashion.

Your reward? A playoff road taking you through the two teams in the conference who play you the toughest.

The Bruins were great this season and deserved the President’s Trophy as the league’s best regular season team. They’re the heavy favorites in the Eastern Conference, as they should be. What’s more, as a pessimistic Boston fan, I’m okay with their favorite status because, hey, someone has to be the favorite, so why not the best team?

Much of the talk I’ve heard this week has been “Bruins in 5” or “Bruins are too deep for Detroit.” The latter may be true, but it by no means translates to a Bruins cakewalk into the second round. While retaining full confidence in the Bruins, it’s necessary to point out that the “Don’t worry, the Bruins have it, no question” crowd is completely delusional.

Some thoughts on the matchup and the road facing Boston:

–Philly and Columbus would have rightfully engendered “Bruins in 5” talk from this space, as those teams lack the talent and/or experience to keep up with Boston.

–It’s not just the name “Red Wings” that makes them dangerous. It’s their mix of youth, speed, talent, experience, and coaching. It’s names like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, and Tomas Jurco.

–Expect this series to have the same respect factor as the 2013 Finals. All we heard going into that series was that the Bruins and Blackhawks were similar teams in their balance, grit, generally clean play, discipline, and work ethic. You’ll hear the same about the Red Wings, who, on top of the aforementioned likenesses, also share with the Blackhawks a great name, classic sweater, and Original Six heritage. Unless a younger Red Wing emerges as a pest, a la Andrew Shaw for Chicago, this should be a relatively clean series.

–Back to matchups for a second. Other than the Penguins (though not after last year), the two teams in the East that give Boston the most trouble are Detroit and Montreal. Boston plays Detroit in the first round. Should they advance, they’ll play Montreal in the second round. I offered nothing in the way of an official prediction other than a Twitter proclamation, but the Lightning are overrated, without their star goalie, and unequipped to beat the Canadiens. I know the Bruins don’t mind having a tougher road, and they’re the type of team who’ll feed off a rivalry series. Still, it’s easy to imagine a Columbus-Tampa road being much, much kinder. But it’s the Stanley Cup Playoffs and nothing comes easy, so maybe it’s a moot point.

–Speaking of potential matchups, here’s the absolute worst case scenario for Boston fans. The Bruins lose to the respected Red Wings. The Red Wings lose to the hated Canadiens. The Canadiens square off with the obnoxious Penguins for the right to play in the Finals. Oh, and for good measure, Tyler Seguin’s Stars also make a deep run, leading the Chiarelli bashers to come out of the woodwork (even though they are and will likely remain wrong about the Seguin trade).

–I’ve heard the refrain “The Red Wings are petrified to play the Bruins.” Fair point, but playoff series do exist where both teams aren’t thrilled with their draw. Just look at the Blues-Blackhawks series. These are two of the five best teams in the league and they’re facing each other in the first round. I don’t think either is petrified, but I’d bet both are thinking “We really had to get them in the FIRST round?” While not to the extent of those teams’ disbelief, I have similar feelings about the Bruins facing the Wings. Again, it’s not a lack of confidence, it’s just not an ideal matchup in the first round.

–Saying “Bruins in 5…but they’ll be five hard fought games” makes zero sense and actually makes me angry. If you think they’ll be hard fought, one goal games, then you need to predict 6 or 7 games. You only predict 5 games if you think they won’t be close. One goal games are often dependent on luck, bounces, referees, etc. It’s counterintuitive to predict a 5 game series with all one goal games.

–As complete and loaded as the Bruins are, the defense still worries me. If it’s a lineup of Chara, Seidenberg, Boychuk, McQuaid, Krug, Miller, they’re basically impenetrable. But they’re going to replace Seidenberg and McQuaid with some combination of Hamilton, Meszaros, and Bartkowski. If I’m Claude Julien, I bench Bartkowski, who’s most prone to turnovers and miscues. Boston hockey guru Dale Arnold predicted this morning that Bartkowski will be scratched, which is a good thing. I’ve had nightmares all week about Nyquist racing down the ice uncontested because Bartkowski bungled yet another puck in the neutral zone.

–Then again, Detroit’s defense gives me some peace of mind. They’ve got a sturdy anchor in Niklas Kronwall, but will likely be without veteran Jonathan Ericsson. As young and vulnerable as Boston’s defensemen can be at times, Detroit has unproven guys like Danny Dekeyser, Brian Lashoff, and Brendan Smith manning their blue line. It says here that this series will be a bit more wide open than people are expecting. The Bruins tend to engage in rock fights, but with both teams high on offensive fire power and middling on defensive experience, we could see a few more goals than most expect.

–Okay, devil’s advocate time is over. The Bruins won the President’s Trophy and have all the makings of a team built for a long playoff run. I’m not in the prediction business, but I will say that despite all the potential Boston road blocks I just put up, I feel good about their chances against Detroit. More importantly, after watching seven terrific games through the first two nights of playoff action, it’s about damn time we get to see the Bruins go to work.

The Boston Marathon: One Year Later

It’s hard to imagine an act of violence, terror, or anything else of the sort changing the entire world as roundly as 9/11 did. No matter the venue, fewer items are permitted, lines are longer, and everyone’s a bit more paranoid than ever before.

A prime example came last week when attending my first Yankees game. Throngs of people who’d already paid for tickets—or, just as likely, received them through work—lined up to enter the stadium as if they were receiving free tickets for the entire season. It took at least 20 minutes to get through the line, at which point we were frisked, asked what’s in our pockets, and instructed to prove that our cell phones were on. This was new to me, as I assumed it was to prevent bad guys from sneaking in bombs that look like cell phones. The facts that this advanced practice exists and the concept of bomb diffusion is what immediately came to mind further reinforce how the world’s changed, nowhere as glaringly as the city where it happened.

The City of Boston is part of that changed world and has undoubtedly adopted many of the newer security measures in the appropriate public places. One place that never really needed security, though, was along a 26.2 mile route from Hopkinton to Boston. Even if you tried, how the hell do you secure an entire marathon route? Sure, there are cops everywhere, but there are hundreds of thousands of people that line up across eight towns to watch the race. It’s impossible to police everything.

Luckily, before last year, nothing had ever gone too awry. Outside the rare athlete death (which are tragic, and while occasional during marathons, less so during Boston), the biggest fear was another Rosie Ruiz situation.

And then, last year on this day, April 15, two loathsome, subhuman mongrels set off a couple bombs near the finish line, immediately killing three and injuring over 260 others. The world may never change as much again in one fell swoop as it did on 9/11, but the City of Boston, independently, has undergone its own metamorphosis over the past 365 days.

The standard responses were put into place. Heightened security. Increased vigilance. Everyone has their guard up more than usual. The reminders are constant, whether in the form of the Red Sox placing the World Series trophy on the finish line, Boston media outlets reporting heartfelt stories on the victims, or the legal proceedings involving a detestable former college student rotting in a cell.

On April 21, the 2014 Boston Marathon will be run, and it will serve as the greatest reminder of all. It’ll be a day of celebration, commemoration, and triumph. We’re still here, we’re still fighting, and we’ll be back. But it’ll also be a reminder of the cowards who killed four people in total and caused some major damage—every kind imaginable—to Boston and its citizens.

And as I wrote last year, they turned a sacred event full of determination, happiness, and community into one of mourning and remembrance. A year later, I’m still pissed that our event, our day, will forever be marred by what happened in 2013 and instead of being another Marathon, it’ll also be some number anniversary of the attack. It’s important and necessary to grieve, to heal, to memorialize. But I hope I see the day when it goes back to just being the Boston Marathon, the great Patriots’ Day tradition, rather than the anniversary of an unspeakable tragedy.

It won’t happen this year, or next, and certainly not in 2023. Someday though, we’ll have healed to the point where 4/15/13 is a footnote rather than a headline. It’s not about skipping the stages of grief and rushing towards acceptance, rather, it’s about yearning for the day when we’re finally there.

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After last year, the chorus echoed from Caribou to Dorchester to Trumbull and all around the country. Hell, the president traveled to Boston to lead the choir. “We’ll be back next year, and we’ll be stronger than ever. We’re doing 2014 even bigger and there’s nothing you can do to stop us.”

It was a powerful rallying cry, one I believe is true in various ways. I’m positive there’ll be a near-record number of supporters lining the route. I’m positive the the BAA will have all it can handle in the way of athlete registration pushing the limits. There’s no doubt this year’s race will be a bigger deal for everyone in the area, as it very well should be.

Still, it’ll be a different experience than it was before, and that’s a shame. I don’t live in Boston and assumed I wouldn’t make it to the 2014 race. From afar, it was easy to repeat the “bigger, better, stronger” mantra, because I never really placed myself in the setting. Also, because I can be a stubborn, hardheaded Bostonian.

Today, however, I found out that I may in fact be going to the Boston Marathon in six days. And to be completely honest, I rethought my tough guy stance a little bit. I’ll still go, but I’d be lying if I said I’ll have no fear, even though there’s every reason to believe the Marathon will be safe and secure, with local, state, and federal authorities on duty. Maybe instead of having fear I’ll feel vulnerable, knowing that, despite the increased law enforcement presence, we’re all essentially naked out there.

That’s the risk we run, though, by coming back bigger, better, stronger. We’re giving the finger to the bad guys and trusting that the most sacred event in the city will be restored to its previously implicit lawfulness.

If all goes according to plan, this will be my first Marathon since I was half my current age. But it won’t be like it was back then, gathering with my family by the Wellesley Police Department, settling in for a couple hours of spectating and cheering. It’ll hopefully be with friends, enjoying a few drinks and lining the streets of Boston to watch the runners accomplish a feat of sport that’s unlike any other. Funny thing is, had last year not happened, that childlike innocence would still be intact. That was taken from us last year, but if it hadn’t been, I swear to you, I’d still have that giddy, energized, indescribable feeling that I always had when I was a kid. That’s just the kind of events that the Boston Marathon, and Patriots’ Day as a whole, always were. As we move on through the stages of grief and summon our strength to finally reach acceptance, that’s the way the Boston Marathon can someday be again.

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