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MANHATTAN, N.Y. -- So I was walking down Amsterdam Avenue on Sunday when I saw a man in a Red Sox hat set upon by a mob of beefy guys in pinstripes, as if he were a hot dog bun tossed into a crowd of seagulls. It was brutal. It was merciless. The Yankees fans absolutely had at the poor schlub, cackling with glee and bobbing their heads in a peculiar forward-back motion all the while.
Then I rubbed my eyes and realized that it wasn't a Red Sox fan at all but rather an actual hot dog bun, and those were indeed seagulls. Or at least the big, fat, relatively flightless gray ones that are indigenous to NYC. Yes, a strange vision to have, but when you live in Manhattan, you get accustomed to such things. I once saw a taxi driver jump on the hood of another taxi driver's car and start collapsing his windshield with the back of his boot heel at 2 in the afternoon. But that's another story.
Anyway, there's something brewing here in the city. I'd say vitriol, but I don't think Yankees fans really hate Red Sox fans, or the Red Sox. To a degree, it seems they pity them, or just enjoy tormenting them. Which is why this week should be so interesting. Especially at places like Harrison's on the Upper West Side (which happens to serve Harpoon UFO, the finest of hefeweizen beers). Harrison's is owned by a Beantowner, and tends to fill up with enthusiastic (that is, desperate-looking) Boston fans for most games.
I'll leave the prognosticating and telestrating and bombasticating (if that's a word) to the baseball experts (care to weigh in, Chen and Habib? But I will say Sox in 7. It seem if ever there were a year (Curse is broken) to get an even, well-played series (Kevin Brown implodes), this is it. May the best team win. Actually, scratch that. What I'd really like is a meaty, soap-operatic series, full of drama and comebacks and heroic home runs and bench coaches attacking pitchers and ludicrous promises and 28-inch microhumans. Which is to say, another typical Sox-Yankees series. So may the least dysfunctional, or perhaps most durable, team win.
Thoughts from the West
Spent a day at a few NBA training camps last week. Some observations, thoughts, etc.
LAKERS -- Caught the first day of camp at the University of San Diego and the team looked good. Which is to say, Kobe looked good. He also appeared to have instituted a discussion and deferment procedure. First, there was to be discussion of how good Kobe is (in this case initiated by -- surprise! -- Kobe himself and with regards to whether or not he lost in a competition or scrimmage that day). This was followed by the deferment of his teammates (Caron Butler and Brian Grant made meek attempts to argue that Kobe actually went 4-1 before being shouted down by Bryant and, in Butler's case, making the sorry proclamation, "I'll take 1-4 man, I'll take that!"). Vlade looked good, at least as good as a starting center can look while riding a stationary bike and nursing a sore something-or-other. Grant remains one of the best human beings in sports, though how long that man's body can hold up guarding seven-footers is anyone's guess. Bryant ended the session by going through an extra half hour of individual work -- wind sprints, shooting drills, free throws,etc. Then he sat down and was swamped by media members who asked such hard-hitting questions as, "How is it you and your teammates have bonded so well already?"
CLIPPERS -- Shockingly, there were one or two fewer reporters at the Clip camp, held at Santa Barbara City College. Main attraction here was rookie Shaun Livingston, who wasn't participating in full-court drills but was modeling his sweet Richard Pryor-in-'79 fro. I was told Livingston had packed on 15 pounds over the summer. Twenty more and he'll have caught Tayshaun Prince. Coach Mike Dunleavy lauded Livingston's maturity but singled out his shooting as the weakness so far (watching him, his rotation isn't great). In other news: Corey Maggette has shaved his head, which only makes him look more like the perfect basketball fighting machine -- a roundball version of the Universal Soldier. This may be the year he averages 25.
JAZZ -- The only ballclub to have a practice facility disguised as a car dealership. Training camp itself is in St. George, Utah, but I made it for media day in the SLC at Zions Bank Basketball Center, hard by Larry Miller auto row. Tough to judge anything by media day, but I can report that Boozer and Arroyo look to be in good shape, and good spirits, after a summer of Olympic ball. Mehmet Okur has his own personal Turkish PR person who will ask what questions you asked Okur and write them down ("Who is this O-ser-teg"?). Speaking of "Oserteg," following up on the Monday blog from last week, I asked coach Jerry Sloan about the big man's habitual habituation in his doghouse. Sloan frowned and explained that he didn't like the term "doghouse" and that "players put themselves in a situation where somebody has beaten them out." He acknowledged that he and Ostertag "fought a little bit," but added: "Greg was never a guy that I didn't have feelings for. And he knows that and I know that." There you have it: warm fuzzies from Jerry Sloan.
WARRIORS -- I may be a little biased here, having suffered through many years of the Warriors as a little tyke (the highlight being Sleepy Floyd's quarter-long eruption against the Lakers, which prompted an all-time great TV call -- "Sleepy Floyd could by MAYOR!"), but I think this team is headed in the right direction. New GM Chris Mullin is building a squad of hard-working good guys: Derek Fisher, Adonal Foyle, Troy Murphy, Eduardo Najera, Calbert Cheaney. I half expected him to make a play for Shane Battier. What is heartening is that Mullin has a strategy, something that couldn't be said about the team in years past. In addition, new coach Mike Montgomery has come in with the right attitude and has good assistants in Keith Smart and Mario Elie. Montgomery's not trying to go Calipari on the guys, either, but rather relying on his veterans to set the tone. It's a good move, considering he's got some quality ones in Fisher, Cliff Robinson and Dale Davis. Most telling thing he said while I was there was that he's not about to try to teach guys who've been around the league for years how to play defense, understanding that each has devised his own technique (in the case of Fisher, call it the Little Man's Vlade Flop). With some teams -- that is, any one that has Glenn Robinson on it -- this could lead to lackadaisical D. With the core Mullin's assembled, it just might work.
Before I get to the mailbag, a couple of quick hits
Have a question or opinion for Chris? He might answer or address it in his next blog.
1. Sure, Pearl Jam used to be called Mookie Blaylock, and Five for Fighting is the toughest sports name for the wussiest band in history, but what about songs about athletes? I ask because a band called Stroke 9 has a new song called Rod Beck. Haven't heard the whole thing yet, but I can only imagine how deep into the Fu-Man Chu-ed closer's psyche it delves. Incidentally, the lead singer, Luke Esterkyn, played a mean shooting guard for a dominant Marin Academy high hoops squad back in 1990.
2. According to the NY Post, LeBron James was supposed to be on the cover of this month's GQ but was bumped by "luscious teen" Lindsay Lohan. The smart money says this is a potential lead item for a future 10-Spot, if not fodder for Letterman and Leno. My money's on the 10 Spot bringing the better joke. Though I may just be saying that so the 10 Spot will buy me a round next week.
Turns out a few hunters took issue with my report from Salt Lake City last week. Who knew so many people in Utah read the Blog. Thanks for writing in folks. I'm the guy wearing bright orange and running and ducking.
My favorite response came from Eric Jewell, a former Utah resident now living in Missouri who apparently became confused as to which company actually employs me. "I cannot believe ESPN actually has enough money to convince you to take time away from San Fran to go to Utah! Did the pay include money for you to bring your wine cellar?"
As for the Washington Baseball name, there were a lot of nominations. Chris R. wrote in to back "the Grays," which wasn't a big surprise since his email suffixed with @rememberthegrays.org. Another writer suggested the Capitals so that once the team was inevitably mediocre, fans could take to calling it "Crapitals."
Then, near the end of the week, I heard from O2, which frequent readers may remember as the Other Owen. He wasted no time in arguing for Owen-astic supremacy.
"Listen, I don't know what the Other Owen is thinking, talking about $10 pretzel letters on uniforms etc. It is all whack. MLB made a huge mistake giving D.C. baseball again, so they should just continue with even more ridiculous mistakes. Being a person of mixed race heritage, I suggest that MLB just pull out one of the old Negro league names ... not a good one like the Homestead Grays or the Monarchs. And not a ridiculous one like the Indianapolis Clowns or the ABCs (also from Indy). But something that continues the ridiculous nature of this decision. Why not bring back one of the TRULY great negro league team names like Black Crackers (can you imagine Marion B. throwing out the first pitch?), Black Sox, Black Barons, Black Lookout! Or my favorite, The Black Yankees (sweet!!!)? All of these names are from the Negro leagues, and should be considered..."
Not to be outdone, Owen 1 sent along a bevy of sports thoughts this week. Some highlights:
Things One Don't Do: 1. Tug on Superman's cape. 2. Spit into wind. 3. Steal Gary Sheffield's cook.
Philadelphia-Fan Bait of the Day: I'm so happy that Scott Rolen can experience the excitement of the postseason.
There's a real easy, one-question test for determining whether Ricky Williams is worth the headache (because you know he's going to take at least one major suspension during the contract term): Were the Dolphins a playoff team with him? I like his former teammates' response, which is, more or less: "We can miss the playoffs without you, too."
Which brings this blog to a close. Until next week, may all the metaphorical seagulls circling over your head have poor aim.
Chris Ballard is a staff writer for Sports Illustrated and writes a Daily Blog every Monday for SI.com.