Friday, June 17, 2011

Happy Father's Day 2011: "Daddy, Who's Winning?"

"Daddy, who's winning?"

My 5-year-old Gabe may or may not have a vivid recollection of his earliest sports memory. I am not sure I have one. But I will always remember the summer he became a sports fan, and that is far more meaningful to me than my own history.

The gateway drug was the NCAA Tournament back in March. I went through the bracket with Gabe, telling him the team names, the mascots and -- to his pointed question -- if they were good. He had this incredible sub-regional where, certainly without my help, he picked Richmond over Vanderbilt and, far more improbably, Morehead State over Louisville.

Overall, he had a mostly reasonable bracket -- like most with reasonable brackets, his picks fell off a cliff somewhere around the second weekend. He had Florida winning it all (the same result his bracket had in 2006, when his mom picked his bracket for him while he was in utero, with Florida winning the title, and finishing in the Top 10 out of more than 10,000 entries in the Daily Quickie readers bracket group).

Gabe wanted daily -- even game-by-game -- updates on his bracket, down to the percentile he was in compared to all brackets nationally. There is something about the sheer volume of games in the NCAA Tournament that can turn a 4-year-old into a die-hard sports fan: Games on all day and all night, with mom and dad glued to the TV, shouting or muttering about upsets and brackets, a scoresheet he can use to compare himself to all the other fans out there.

The tournament ended in early April; he turned his attention to baseball. A day-care classmate was a die-hard Yankees fan -- all of a sudden I'm hearing about "CC Sabathia is my favorite player." He is a New York kid; we are not a New York sports family (even if I had already taken Gabe to see his first college hoops in person at nearby St. Francis College, then to the Garden to see the Knicks, with a couple of trips out to Coney Island to see the Brooklyn Cyclones in between). It could have been worse -- the peer pressure could have been toward the Red Sox.

In the middle of April, his fandom accelerated with the start of the NBA Playoffs -- he became obsessed. He wanted to learn every team -- city and nickname -- and wanted to know every result, every night. My kids share a bedroom adjacent to our living room, and after their bedtime, I would settle in on whatever game happened to be on that night. Then, from the top bunk:

"Daddy, who's winning?"

This is not "Daddy, I'm thirsty" or "Daddy, sing me a song" or "Daddy, my pillow fell on the floor." I couldn't help but answer him, even if it only got him more fired up. He wanted to know the score -- and I would be derelict as a parent and a sports fan not to tell him.

He was very specific about it: I couldn't just say "The Celtics," because then he would reply, "Against who?" The Knicks. The Celtics are beating the Knicks. "The New York Knicks?" Yes. "The Boston Celtics?" Yes. [Beat] "What's the score?" The Celtics are winning by 8. "No, what's the SCORE?" Celtics 54, Knicks 46. "8 points!" Yes. Five minutes later: "Daddy, who's winning?"

(At least with basketball, the score changed frequently. With hockey, it was "It's STILL zero-zero, Gabe!")

Our ritual in the morning during the playoffs involved him coming out of his room and joining me on the couch. He would ask me who won -- eventually I figured out that I could earn a smile by telling him before he could ask. And I would fire up the highlight clips on my laptop and show him what happened, pointing out the players and big plays.

The kids have a mini-hoop in their room, and in the evening it would become the place where the inkling of NBA dreams would be played out, Gabe taking the role of Durant or Dirk before flinging up some crazy errant shot or camping out under the basket and cramming the ball through the flimsy plastic orange rim, posterizing his 2-year-old little brother.

Gabe has his NBA favorites: Whether it is his age or simply the paternity, Gabe is a front-runner. The team that is winning the game or the series would become a favorite. Losers would fall by the wayside. Allegiances would shift with the scoreboard and the series tally.

For a little while, it was the Bulls. For a long while, it was Kevin Durant and the Thunder. Then it was the Heat. And the Mavericks. He knew "Nowitzki" had a "v" sound -- I'm sure the actual spelling would confuse the hell out of him.

Finally, there were only two teams to pick between, the Heat and Mavericks. He started with the Heat after Game 1, flipped to the Mavericks after Game 2, then back to the Heat after Game 3 -- hey, just like most sportswriters -- then settled in with the Mavericks for Games 4, 5 and 6, waking up on Monday morning to the news of me telling him the Mavs had won the title. He pumped his fist and hissed "Yesss!"

Between mid-March and now -- just three months -- Gabe has become a sports nut. But he is hardly athletic; this isn't about him flashing skills as a player, like some of those bitty YouTube legends where you spend less time saying "Wish that was MY kid" and more time wincing at everything that is behind that video clip.

Gabe has become a sports fan, which for me is a much more important development in his life. It has become a way for us to connect, part of the cycle of parents and kids -- yes, in honor of the weekend, fathers and sons -- sharing sports fandom.

It is important to me that he came by it of his own curiosity and interest. Undoubtedly, that I consume a lot of sports and talk about it and have made it part of my job has exposed him to it. Maybe, consciously or not, he saw it as a way to connect with me, to win my approval and attention. But I want him to enjoy it for its own sake, and I will let that take whatever course it might -- even if he wants to be a Yankees or Heat fan. Even if he loses interest in sports.

There is an urge for sports-fan parents to loop your kid into sports as fast as possible, precisely so you CAN share this thing that has been such a big part of your own life. I have pictures of Gabe in Gators gear in his first weeks home from the delivery room. All I can say from the experience -- to young dads and future dads -- is the best thing in the world is to let it happen on its own timetable, in its own way. It is so much more satisfying for both of you.

One of my earliest sports-fan memories as a kid was of my father saying the name of a city and me reciting back the name of its NFL team. More than 30 years later, I found myself a couple of Sundays ago sitting with Gabe at the dining room table. I had drawn a rough outline of the United States. First, Gabe wanted me to label all the NBA teams on the map in their proper cities. Then MLB. Then the NFL. Then the NHL. The map filled up and I could see him committing the cities and nicknames to memory. (Any graphic designers who want to make a slicker version of this for me with team names and logos, shoot me a note. Happy to pay you for the effort.)

Gabe wanted to know who the good teams were. He giggled when he would mention a team name and I would say, almost sounding like Charles Barkley, "Them? Oh: They're TERRIBLE." He finds it particularly amusing that I am a fan of the "terrible" Wizards while he is a fan of the champion Mavericks. Or Heat. Or Thunder. Or Bulls. All going in the "great" teams bucket. He wants to understand: Who's good. Who's not. And, most interesting to deal with: Why?

There are an insane number of amazing things about being a dad... about being a parent. For parents who are sports fans, that first inkling of fandom from your kids has been one of the most remarkable moments I have experienced -- those first hours, days and weeks he has spent as a fan, in front of the TV or just talking about sports.

Those will become literally tens tens of thousands of hours of his life to be spent in front of the TV or at the game or prepping for a fantasy draft or reading great sportswriting or just talking about sports with his friends -- or his dad (or mom). He is signing up for years of joy (and frustration) and the unlimited account of social currency that comes with being a fan. And, as I will remind him later when his team inevitably lets him down, he came to it willingly.

It all started with the simplest and most fundamental question in sports: "Who's winning?"

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there.

-- D.S.

For more, check out, a site I created a few years ago to investigate the idea of raising an all-star athlete sports fan and have updated irregularly since. With Gabe's life as a sports fan really only now starting to kick in, the site will become increasingly active as a real-time memoir of stories, photos and interesting things I find to share with you -- and other fans/parents share with me -- that might relate to your own parenting, either now or down the road.

06/17 (Father's Day) Quickie

In honor of Father's Day weekend, I put together a little thing about the season -- this season -- my older son became a sports fan. I will publish it in full here later this afternoon, but you can get a sneak-peek over at Quickish now.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

06/16 (Riot) Quickie

The post-game riot in Vancouver sort of eclipsed the Bruins' winning the Stanley Cup, didn't it?

Have to say: I thought that picture of Mark Cuban at the urinal holding the NBA championship trophy while peeing was going to be the photo of the year, or at least the month... or at least the week.

And then there was that photo of the couple making out on the ground during the riot, with riot police in the foreground of the picture. It has mesmerized fans everywhere.

So some fans in Vancouver are dopes. And it is heartening to see people (and authorities) taking to Facebook and Tumblr and Twitter to try to ID some of the more dickish (and criminal) ones so they can be held accountable.

Meanwhile, let's not take away from the (entirely fair) triumphalism emanating from Boston and Boston sports fans around the nation, so many of whom have been rooting for the Bruins for at least 8 weeks.

I'm no Boston sports fan (except for my man-crushes on Theo Epstein and Bill Belichick), but I can totally root for Bruins goalie Tim Thomas -- any athlete who is my age and can perform at such a high level (not to mention the circuitous path he took to stardom) is OK by me.

And so Boston sports enjoys some sort of "grand slam" of pro titles in a mere 7 years -- NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL -- with another Red Sox title on the way (and possibly another Pats title). Would the rest of the country please step up?


*LeBron vs. "Hate": I'm going on's live video show at 3 ET today and I hope we'll get to talk about this. I really do think it is entirely overblown, and not even 96 hours removed from the Heat losing on Sunday night, the story is already in the rear-view (until next May or June or so).

*US Open: I grew up in Bethesda, so I have a particular affinity for the tournament being played there -- although I'm glad I'm not in the area right now to battle the congestion. Sounds like the Congressional C.C. folks made 18 a monster, which will help the drama. But no Tiger means a substantial drop-off in interest from all but the most avid golf fans. (Sort of like if the Heat hadn't made it to the NBA Finals.)

*NBA Draft a week away, and my Wizards are in the mix with the most intriguing rumor-mongering: Swapping the No. 6 pick plus freakishly athletic (yet monumentally dumb) center JaVale McGee for the No. 2 pick, presumably Derrick Williams, who could team with John Wall to form the Durant-Westbrook of the East. It's a lot to pay for Williams, but I'm coming around.

So many great things on Quickish today -- lots of Bruins title/Canucks riot stuff this morning, with plenty of great recommendations coming throughout the day. Please check it out (and pass it on to your friends and colleagues).

-- D.S.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rooting Against LeBron, Cont'd

Really enjoyed this argument from SI's Joe Posnanski about why it's OK to root against LeBron.

He incorporates the nuance that is missing, both from the idiot extremists on the "hate" side who don't represent the vast majority of fans in this LeBron situation...

...and from the moralizing harpies who would tell me who (and how) I can and can't root for (or against) because they presumptuously equate my nominal enjoyment at LeBron's failure with "hate," a notion that is offensive, to me and to folks who really have to deal with "hate."

I'm a pretty big believer that the fans' first amendment -- not too far off from the real First Amendment -- for sports fans is this and absolute:

As a fan, you have the right to cheer -- or boo -- for anyone or any team you want, at any time.

You can be a die-hard, you can hop on and off bandwagons. You can wear authentic jerseys, you can wear a pink hat.

Whatever: It's your right as a fan to be a fan however you want to be, including the essential right to boo.

(Should you be a dick about it? Absolutely not. But staying on the benign side of everything -- jeering included -- is probably a fair goal. Are there social norms that come along with the vocalization of fandom and might reject a fan who strays too far from the orthodoxy? Sure. But, in the end, I'll defend any fans' right to express their fandom how they want... with the clear caveat: As long as they aren't infringing on other fans.)

I go back to what I said this morning: The vast majority of fans rooted against LeBron benignly, and the vast majority of media hand-wringing over the rooting against LeBron misappropriated words like "hate" in ways that don't reflect how things really are with most fans.

Anyway, Posnanski's take is a smart one that normal fans don't need to read to feel OK about rooting against LeBron, but perhaps anti-booing moralists need to read to grasp what happened this week.

-- D.S.

06/15 (Game 7) Quickie

I'm still thinking about LeBron, and what I ended yesterday's post with stuck with me:

That enjoying LeBron's failure now is entirely acceptable -- I find the scolds telling fans that they are morally wrong to root against LeBron or deficient in cheering his failure (which is hardly "hate," by the way) to be insufferable. But if we are still jeering his failures five years from now, the Decision has morphed from something disqualifying about LeBron to something corrosive about us.

That said, it is as useless to worry about where we'll be five years from now as it is to assume LeBron can't/won't win one along the way -- chances are, he will.

For now, 48 hours of schadenfreude (11 months, if you insist) are an entirely appropriate response. Are some of the reactions more intense than most? Sure -- but let's not mistake the extreme examples for "everyone." My take is that most fans casually enjoyed LeBron's failure, then have moved on to other things.

What I really want to talk about is tonight's Stanley Cup Game 7. The Quickish Facebook Question of the Day is asking where a Stanley Cup Game 7 ranks among all standard events in a sports year (presuming there IS a Game 7 in any given title series).

My take was that it clearly falls behind the Super Bowl (and probably the college football national title game), but also falls behind the first two days of the NCAA Tournament. But it stands right up there with Game 7s of the NBA Finals or the World Series -- in the case of the NBA this year, it is bigger than a Finals that end in 6 games (although the TV ratings for the final game of the NBA Finals will clearly be greater than Game 7 of the Stanley Cup, understanding that has a lot more to do with LeBron than the NBA itself).

So a Stanley Cup Game 7 is, at best, the 3rd-biggest sports event of any given year, but no worse than Top 5. That's pretty good for a niche sport like the NHL. (It is no coincidence that the NFL, college football and NCAA Tournament are the most nationally celebrated events of the sports year -- not to mention single-game playoffs, not "best-of" series in which series can end before both teams face a do-or-die situation.

Ranking is probably unnecessary -- something is either "must-see" or it isn't. On this count, tonight's game certainly qualifies, even if you couldn't care less about hockey. Enjoy it.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

06/14 (LeBron...Yes, Still) Quickie

A day removed from Mavs win/Heat fail -- and it was as active a day for good analysis of a single event as we've had this year -- and I can't stop thinking about LeBron.

Not LeBron, specifically, but more about the "What LeBron hath wrought" situation, the national frenzy of schadenfreude that he not only didn't win the title, but that he played so poorly in not doing it; the most direct reason the Heat didn't win the series was LeBron's late-game failings.

I think my position is fairly reasonable:

(1) Any fan is entirely within their rights to dislike LeBron, root for his failure and enjoy it when that failure happens.

(2) Many/most fans do not resent LeBron for leaving Cleveland for Miami -- although some might not have liked him abdicating the role of leading a team to a title, in hindsight he was never going to lead a team to a title... he is merely the most talented second-fiddle in NBA history.

(3) Where the resentment really kicks in is (a) The Decision, then (b) the Celebration, where the Big Three gaudily announced themselves and their intention to win many titles. At that point, how could you NOT root against them, then revel in their failure?

Here is the key counter-factual, the historical fiction that needs to be written: If LeBron didn't have The Decision and instead simply put out a modest press release announcing his decision to leave Cleveland for Miami, fans would have found the choice a bit ungainly, but without nearly the resentment of the spectacle of the Decision. If the Big Three didn't have the absurd pep rally and claim a stake to many titles, fans would have settled in to see if they can win their first, without nearly the glee when they failed.

It is rare in sports history that we can isolate the root cause of such a dramatic situation, but in this case, we can. Save for The Decision, LeBron and the Heat go through the season and the playoffs disliked, yes, but hardly loathed. Their failure cause for cheering, not jeering.

Then again, without the Decision (or, to a lesser extent, the Celebration), the interest in this Heat team -- which, make no mistake, was the engine behind the NBA's surge of popularity this season -- would not have been nearly as great. So the trade-off is that we wouldn't have cared as much, the emotional roller-coaster wouldn't have been as intense.

Some -- particularly in the media, which feels disingenuous -- might think that we would have been better off without the intense dramatics that led to the intense reactions of the past 24 hours.

That is entirely untrue. What happened over the past 36 hours was close to unprecedented in sports -- the Giants beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl was close, but lacked the laser focus on a single athlete; in that case, the rest of the nation was more rooting against Boston sports fans as a group, rather than the Pats players specifically, let alone individually.

Ultimately, I agree it is corrosive that this might extend another year... or two... or five. This past year -- this past month -- was so much fun for most fans, so cathartic. But if it continues for another half-decade, it will compound whatever LeBron's original sin might have been. I'm not sure fans will get tired of rooting against LeBron, if only because the expectation remains -- despite this season -- that he will eventually win a ring (or rings). But with such intensity?

I'm not sure LeBron going his entire career without a ring ever earns him sympathy from fans -- The Decision was that toxic.

Given the eventuality that LeBron will win a title, the healthiest perspective is to appreciate the national event that was rooting for LeBron over the past year and particularly over the past week. The feeling has a lifespan of a year. It will be fascinating to see if fans care as deeply about LeBron's failure a year from now (if it even happens) or if this was as intense as it gets.

If this past week marks as intense as it gets, I think it was a fun, healthy year spent. If the NBA is still dominated by fans rooting against LeBron -- for his failure -- years from now, his Decision will have had far worse consequences for us than him.

-- D.S.

Monday, June 13, 2011

On the Failure of the Heat and the Success of the Mavericks

With all due respect to the Mavericks -- and I'm not sure that has ever been framed with such sincerity or enormity -- the story here is that the Heat lost and that LeBron performed terribly.

The Heat and LeBron have been the linchpin of the NBA season -- of the NBA universe -- since The Decision a year ago. We saw that on Opening Night. We saw that throughout the season. We saw that in the playoffs -- first against the Celtics, then against the Bulls, finally against the Mavs.

Outside of the Olympics, there has never been a team that has generated such a national rooting interest -- even if it is rooting against -- than LeBron's Heat.

You cannot begrudge any fan who joined this group, and I don't understand the folks who find those of us (outside of Cleveland) rooting against LeBron and the Heat to be petty or somehow morally derelict.

In fact, LeBron's Heat have managed to bring together fans of all types -- kneejerk haters, thoughtful pragmatists, purists and "new schoolers." This is mainly the result of The Decision and its follow-up preseason "Coronation." I never begrudged LeBron his decision, only his Decision.

That LeBron failed so epically at the biggest moment of his career only underscored the epic sense of schadenfreude. (Ironically, the much-maligned Chris Bosh played very well in the Finals, and his candid, thoughtful comments after the game were both humanizing and welcome.) It is very possible LeBron does not have a champion's killer instinct.

And that last statement is where we reach -- even stretch -- the boundaries of what we can say here.

What we know is that in Year 1 of LeBron's Heat, they failed. They (and we) get to live with that failure until next spring, when they will have another chance. If they win then, this year might not be forgotten, but it will be significantly mitigated. And if they don't win next year, they will have another shot in 2013, then 2014, then 2015. Even then, LeBron will be a year shy of Dirk's NBA service time before he won a title.

Chances are, the Heat will eventually win a title -- maybe more than one. What this initial run underscored was that the star power alone will not get it done. It will get them close, but it will not get it done. The Mavs will be even better next season. So will the Thunder. So will the Bulls.

By June of 2013, the movement of Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Deron Williams will have likely created another "superteam" (although it's worth wondering if Howard sees Dirk and wonders if it is indeed possible for the Magic to build a champion around him, even if it takes a decade or more).

The point is that it is as reckless to assume the Heat will win a title in the future as it was for anyone to assume they would win one this season. The confounded expectations were among the many reasons this Mavs championship/Heat failure was so delightful.

For now, there is a very unique dual celebration: For the Mavs and the impressive way they won a championship, yes, but even more for the celebration of the failure of LeBron's Heat in the most interesting way possible.


And that is where the Mavs come in: Led by a single star player who never abandoned the franchise, least of all in the summer of 2010, where he quietly signed an extension with the team and understood that the chemistry of vets and talents would give him a shot at a ring. I completely buy the narrative that this was a triumph of chemistry and execution and low profile (even, in these Finals, for Mark Cuban!) over talent and glitz and hype.

But it was so much more than that -- it was a rejection (if in a small sample size) of the "superteam" in favor of the "single-star-plus-perfect-supporting-cast," not unlike Hakeem's Rockets of the mid-90s. It was a triumph for the brilliant coaching mind of Rick Carlisle. It was a new model that says you can take a brilliant difficult-to-replicate European 7-footer and team him with savvy, hungry vets and 3-point shooters and win a title. It was the validation of Mark Cuban, long the most interesting and innovative owner in sports.

These Mavs -- improbably -- became incredibly fun to watch and easy to root for. A lot of that was a function of the fact they were playing the Heat -- any team (even the Lakers!) would have been easy to root for against the Heat. But these Mavs had so many great stories, played so well and proved so worthy of a championship that they were the ideal team to win the title this year, the ideal team to quash LeBron's superteam Heat.


And so what next? If you thought the Heat story got some closure, you'll be so disappointed. The story reboots as soon as today -- Heat 2.0. In fact, if anything, it is even more compelling and complicated -- and, yes, annoying when presented ad nauseum -- now that the Heat have come so close only to fail so big. As it was this year, everything up until the moment the Heat are eliminated from the Playoffs -- the summer, the regular-season, the early-rounds of the playoffs -- are formalities. Dissected, to be sure, but ultimately meaningless when framed against the ultimate question: Championship or Failure.

Don't let the avid NBA fans distract you -- the league hasn't been more popular or compelling since the Jordan Era. That is 98% because of LeBron's Heat. Oh, the other nuances of the NBA might be wonderful for the die-hard NBA-heads, but for the casual masses that make up the TV ratings and interest levels cited by the die-hard NBA fans and pundits, the story is entirely about the Heat. That is why the pending labor showdown is game-set-match for the owners (more on that later this week). The point is that if the NBA has never been bigger, it is mostly because of the Heat and everything in its gravitational pull.

For now, we can content ourselves to some schadenfreude, to some celebration of a great champion and to looking ahead to offseason things we love (the draft) and loathe (labor talk).

But if nothing else, with the Heat losing in the way they did and to whom they did, the NBA just got even more compelling.

-- D.S.

06/13 (Mavs Win! Heat Lose!) Quickie

There is a lot to say about how the NBA Finals ended last night. A lot of praise for the Mavs. A lot of schadenfreude for the Heat.

I would love to have a grand unifying theory -- the alternative is to try to do justice to the myriad angles. I'm working on it.

For now, I have spent the past few hours curating the best early takes on the Mavs and the Heat for Quickish -- combined with the instant reactions from late last night (Tweets, photos and more), the result on Quickish is particularly strong today.

So please give it a look. I have even set up a special feed -- found here: -- that updates as soon as I have entered a new recommendation, even if it doesn't post on the front page until later this morning.

So please check it out, pass it around (post it on Facebook, tweet it out, email it to friends, show a co-worker or classmate) and pop by throughout the day for more. Thanks!

-- D.S.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

06/12 (Game 6) Quickie

It is a little surreal that the NBA Finals -- that Year 1 of the post-"Decision" era of the NBA in which LeBron and the Heat subsume every other storyline, like Galactus -- might end tonight.

I suspect it won't. Like most of us, I'm rooting for a Game 7, if only for its inherent drama -- it would be, quite possibly, the most dramatic game in the modern history of the NBA. But we have to prepare ourselves as if it might.

LeBron's story doesn't end tonight (or in a loss on Tuesday), although it will certainly feel like it the day after.

It will trigger celebration. It will trigger schadenfreude. It will trigger a rebooted year of narrative -- until this time next year, when LeBron either wins a first title -- or misses out again, re-starting the cycle.

I never thought the Heat would win a title in Year 1, although I figured they would/will win eventually. Up until a week ago, I had resigned myself to the idea that they would.

Ultimately, LeBron will win a title (or many), and that will dramatically change his narrative, as all championships do. And yet you get the sense that attached to "champion" will always be "didn't quite reach his potential." The remaining 10 years of LeBron's career is a long time, but that's the way it feels right now.

Even if the Heat don't win their ring this year, they will. And that's why what we get tonight if LeBron loses is merely a one-year reprieve from what still feels inevitable.

That is more than enough to celebrate.

-- D.S.