Category: Sports

The most divisive championship of all time!

On Tuesday the Milwaukee Bucks ended a 50-year NBA championship drought.

It shouldn’t be surprising given our fractious times that this was not met with universal praise throughout the home state of the Bucks. Some people fail to grant others the same rights of opinion as they grant themselves when opinions disagree. (This is a bigger thing with liberals than conservatives, but too few conservatives grant others the right to be wrong.)

There is also the dynamic of Milwaukee vs. the rest of Wisconsin. Some of that comes through this rather defensive piece from On Milwaukee:

Hello, big market sports punditry. I see you over there on the coast, scoffing about Milwaukee’s historic victory in the NBA Finals.

You’ve probably never been to Milwaukee, so let me try to explain this to you.

What’s happening in Milwaukee this week is about so much more than an NBA title. It’s about so much more than some sports talk blowhard who called us a “terrible city.”

It’s about humility. It’s about passion. It’s about showing up and being yourself when everyone else says you should be embarrassed of who that is, and grinning like Bobby Portis and not giving a f*ck.

Did you catch that, Stephen A? We know you didn’t want to come to Milwaukee. We don’t care, we were having a great time regardless. We think it’s hilarious that you had to come anyway. We hope you hated how much fun you had.

Because being a champion is easy when everyone else sees a champion. Being a champion when everyone sees a nobody – when the world sees “Flyover Country” – that takes guts.

That’s why Giannis Antetokounmpo is such a perfect avatar for this place. That’s why his statue will stand taller than the “Bronze Fonz” (but probably in its general vicinity).

Because nobody outside of Wisconsin saw a champion when Giannis stepped onto an NBA court as a gangly, quiet 18-year-old who barely spoke any English.

He doesn’t fit the mold of an NBA champion. Even today, there is a sizable segment of the national sports punditry that (not-so-secretly) resents him for that.

He doesn’t brag. He doesn’t make drama. He’s not flashy.

He shows up, and he does the work. He stays humble and grateful. He doesn’t just remember his roots, he never left them.

There’s no pretension there, just an authentic human being who is awkward and doofy and full of passion.

NBA fans no longer get to count the seconds as Giannis prepares for his free throws.

No, from here on out, they have to spell:

A-N-T-E-T-O-K-O-U-N-M-P-O

After the game, Giannis described himself as “a people pleaser.”

Believe me, the people of Milwaukee are pleased. We identify with this dude.

If he stays in Milwaukee Antetokounmpo will be as loved as Henry Aaron was. And those who are ignoring the Bucks because of (they believe) incorrect political views are missing out on one of the greatest sports figures (not just for athletic reasons) in our lifetimes.

And we needed this W bad.

Because you don’t GET nice things when you’re from Milwaukee. This city’s entire history is about getting knocked on its butt just when it’s on the precipice of having something nice.

Kevin Smith’s movie classic “Dogma” sums it up succinctly. When Linda Fiorentino asks if Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were sent to hell, Alan Rickman infamously deadpans, “Worse. Wisconsin.”

Nobody quotes that line more than we do here in Milwaukee, and we laugh it off with our customary Midwestern good grace. But there is real pain under that laughter.

People forget that Milwaukee was poised to be a global super-city at the turn of the 20th century. Milwaukee City Hall was the tallest secular building in the world, and the city had growth and population density that rivaled New York, London and Paris.

Maybe we forgot because no one reading this was alive at the time. But I digress.

It didn’t pan out – seems like it never does for Milwaukee. People forgot about the city that “Feeds and Supplies the World.” Factories closed. Racial discrimination reared its ugly head. The rust belt decay took hold. Affluent folks fled to the suburbs and took their wealth with them, and Milwaukee became a scapegoat for the rest of the state to look down upon.

Even when we learned Milwaukee would play host to the Democratic National Convention in 2020 and soak up some warm political press, somehow we knew it wouldn’t work out. We’d never heard of COVID at that point, but we knew that Milwaukee can’t have nice things.

So some thing or another was bound to screw it up.

It’s OK. We’re still here. We’re still doing the work. And let me tell you what I saw Tuesday night in Milwaukee.

I saw 100,000 deliriously giddy people packed into a “Deer District” that sits on top of a scar.

When I moved to Milwaukee nine years ago, that’s what it was – a scar, both metaphorical and physical.

This scar was a reminder of a time when some privileged someones decided to rip out one of the Midwest’s most vibrant African American neighborhoods so they could build a freeway, so that some white folks could get to their homes in the suburbs five minutes more quickly.

And then decades later, when they tore down that ill-conceived Park East Freeway, 24 acres of blighted gravel pit just sat there like a knife through Milwaukee’s heart. When I moved to Milwaukee, I figured that ugly scar would be with us forever.

My hat is off to the Lasry family. When they bought the team in 2014, Milwaukeeans had low expectations. Billionaires from New York don’t normally do much for us here in “Flyover Country.”

Not so with the Lasrys. They threw their talents and their wealth into healing that scar – both metaphorically and physically.

The Lasrys didn’t just build the new Fiserv Forum arena and the surrounding Deer District on top of that ugly Park East Freeway scar.

They committed to hiring unemployed or underemployed Milwaukeeans to make up 40% of their construction workforce. Contractors and detractors said it couldn’t be done, but the Lasrys invested in recruitment and upskilling programs and exceeded that goal.

Those people dancing in the Deer District last night were dancing in a monument to Midwest urban renewal that was built for Milwaukeeans, by Milwaukeeans – folks who showed up and did the work.

Those kids diving off the bridge into the Milwaukee River – they would have come out with chemical burns if they had tried that in 1971.

The scars are healing.

Now, it would be ridiculous and reductionist to say this NBA title marks a turning point for the city of Milwaukee.

This city still grapples with a legacy of racial discrimination that won’t just go away. It’s still the scapegoat of a state legislature that sees Milwaukee as its perennial punching bag. And a humming decade of businesses reinvesting in Milwaukee has suddenly been slammed into neutral amid the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Maybe if Milwaukee wasn’t the source of most of the state’s social pathologies — high (compared with the rest of the state) crime, horrible schools (that no additional amount of money could fix), playing of the race card against the rest of the non-Madison state, and failure to get rid of the politicians who are fixing nothing, to name four — and had made any attempt at all to rectify that, Milwaukee might have more sympathy outside the 414 area code. We’ll return to that “punching bag” point momentarily.

But last night, Milwaukee finally got to have something nice. And it may not be a panacea, but it reminded us why we keep showing up, and why we keep doing the work.

In Downtown Milwaukee, I saw a vibrant city firing on all cylinders and living up to its full potential. I saw white guys who wear MAGA hats hugging Black guys who wear Black Lives Matter shirts. I saw just a little bit of pride creeping out from under that Midwest veneer of humility.

No, we’re not LA or New York or Miami. We never will be. We don’t want to be.

We’re authentic and awkward and doofy and full of passion. We’re Milwaukee.

Any basketball fan will tell you it doesn’t matter what the scoreboard says at halftime.

What matters is momentum. And right now, Milwaukee has the momentum.

Jake Curtis presents an alternative view:

As Wisconsin basks in the glory, it is worth keeping in mind how the Bucks got to this point and the important role the state’s conservatives played in ensuring this moment was possible.

During Games 4 and 6, the packed Fiserv Forum literally shook, and on Tuesday night over 65,000 additional fans packed the Deer District just outside the arena. The story of the Fiserv arena offers proof that the bold reforms ushered in during Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s era included a long-term vision for economic development based on true public-private partnerships, not the phony ones that far too many taxpayers have had hoisted upon them.

Following the 2014 sale of the franchise by longtime Bucks owner (and former U.S. senator) Herb Kohl to hedge-fund managers Marc Lasry and Wes Edens, the NBA made it clear if the Bucks did not upgrade the aging Bradley Center, the team would be purchased by the NBA and sent off to Las Vegas or Seattle. Unlike other boondoggles, Kohl and the new ownership group put up $250 million while the remaining cost (the total came to around $524 million) came from state income tax revenue, a ticket surcharge, $4 million annually from Milwaukee County, $47 million from the City of Milwaukee, and $203 million in Wisconsin Center District bonding.

Would the billionaire owners have had the ability to pay for the entire construction package? Probably. In a perfect world, should Wisconsin taxpayers have been forced to shoulder the load? No. But the reality at the time was that the Wisconsin legislature, under the leadership of state Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (now a member of Congress) and longtime Speaker Robin Vos, and Gov. Walker and his team ushered through the financing plan. Without their work, which was aided by the state’s largest business lobby (the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce), NBA fans could very well have been left watching a Finals played between the Phoenix Suns and Las Vegas Bucks.

Despite opposition from some Milwaukee Democrats, legislators like my former boss, Sen. Duey Stroebel, who represented districts that straddled metro Milwaukee and more rural communities, were forced to take a tough vote to keep the team in Milwaukee. As a result of this bold leadership, the financing package ultimately garnered bipartisan support in both chambers.

The jury is still out on whether public financing arrangements like the one that made the Fiserv Forum possible directly benefits taxpayers. Critics of such deals raise legitimate free-market concerns. However, had Wisconsin conservatives not stepped forward to assist, Wisconsin would have lost an asset and the city’s Deer District would be nothing more than an aging basketball skeleton. Instead, as the Bucks took the court Tuesday night, a full house was present in the Fiserv Forum, 65,000 plus were cheering (and spending money in nearby bars and restaurants) outside, and viewers across the state witnessed a historic performance by Giannis and his teammates.

Everyone should be thankful that in 2015 Wisconsin conservatives did not let the team leave on their watch. Instead, they rolled up their sleeves and ensured the Bucks would remain part of the state’s amazing economic comeback. And because of their efforts, Wisconsin will be able to proudly feature a humble and hungry role model like Giannis for years to come.

About that opposition from Milwaukee Democrats: One of them, Rep. David Bowen, sent a congratulatory social media message that might make you think he had supported the Fiserv Forum package. He didn’t.

As was pointed out in the aforementioned post (when reposted on Facebook), the state funding package was more an allocation of tax revenue than a tax increase, by earmarking the so-called “jock tax” toward the package instead of just dumping it into state General Purpose Revenue. As Walker put it at the time, “I think it’s arguably the most fiscally conservative idea in the country for a professional sports team,” Walker said. “We’re having them pay their own way. It’s not coming out of revenues from anywhere else. It’s not coming from new taxes. It’s keeping the foundation we have today.”

And yet, it helped Walker in no political sense. In fact, nothing the Republican Party has done to help Milwaukee has helped the GOP politically. Did Republicans benefit by getting Miller Park built? Ask former state Sen. George Petak, who got recalled for his support of the 0.1-cent stadium tax, which then lost control of the Legislature. How about Milwaukee school choice? Democrats outside Milwaukee routinely bludgeon Republicans on the spurious claim that private school choice money takes away from public schools.

Fiserv Forum? Notice that instead of Walker as governor …

… Wisconsin has a governor who, as politicians will do, takes credit for something he had absolutely nothing to do with.

 

Postgame schadenfreude, Valley of the Setting Sun edition

The Arizona Republic:

The Phoenix Suns built an early lead, and then unraveled. The Milwaukee Bucks snatched a Game 5 road win, 123-119, to take a 3-2 lead on Saturday. Trailing 16 points after the first quarter, the Bucks overcame the deficit and continued to build on their own lead. It started in the second quarter.

“Well, both second and third,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “You give up 79 points. And the reasoning behind it, I gotta look at the film to see, but we just didn’t have the same energy that we had in the first and fourth, when you look at the numbers.”

In those two quarters, the Bucks scored 79 points. And they did it shooting 32-of-45, including 10-of-17 from 3.

“It just put us in a hole,” Williams said. “I felt like we were playing from behind for a long, long time.”

Still, guard Chris Paul didn’t want to fully boil it down to that stretch. At least, not until he could delve into it more.

“It’s a 48-minute game,” Paul said. “I’ll go back and look at it and see, but we gotta play the way we started off the game. We gotta put a full game together like that.”

In the third quarter, the Bucks eventually built a double-digit lead, but not until after a more evenly-matched stretch.

“We were trading basket for basket for I think five minutes straight,” Suns guard Devin Booker said. “We’re at our best when we get stops and get out in transition. So that’s what we hang [our hats on] on defense, and we just have to be better.”

In the second quarter, the Bucks shot 70.8%, while the Suns shot 35.7%. Booker played just 6:14 in the second quarter. Williams wouldn’t dabble in re-thinking that decision in hindsight.

Postgame schadenfreude, Valley of the Sun edition

I have been too busy (including vacation) to comment on the Bucks’ trip to the NBA Finals before now.

But Wednesday night’s 109–103 win that tied the Finals at two wins each requires me to post this from the Arizona Republic:

The Phoenix Suns had turned each of their previous three playoffs series in their favor with Game 4 victories on the road.

Not this time in the NBA Finals.

The Milwaukee Bucks withstood a mega 42-point effort from Devin Booker by forcing 17 turnovers that led to 24 points in topping the second-seeded Suns, 109-103, in Wednesday’s Game 4 to even the series before a charged sellout crowd of 16,911 at Fiserv Forum.

“The turnovers just crushed us tonight,” said Suns coach Monty Williams as the third-seeded Bucks also got 17 offensive rebounds and 19 second-chance points.

“We shot 50% from the field, but they got 19 more possessions. Over the course of the game when you just give it up that many times, the turnovers and offensive rebounding was a bit of a hill for us to climb.”

The fans chanted “Bucks in 6!” as Game 5 is set for Saturday at Phoenix Suns Arena.

“How bad do you want it? How bad do you really want it,” Bucks All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “And just leave-the-game-swinging kind of mentality. Try to be aggressive. Try to get stops. Try to set screens. Do everything physically possible to put yourself in a position to win this game. I think everybody was feeling that. That’s what we did.”

Phoenix had won its previous Game 4s in its journey to the finals.

  • at Los Angeles Lakers: Won 100-92. Tied series at 2-2 (Won in six).
  • at Denver Nuggets: Won 116-102. Took 3-0 series lead (Won in four).
  • at Los Angele Clippers: Won 84-80. Took 3-1 series lead (Won in six).

Again, not this time.

Khris Middleton scored a team-high 40 points with 14 coming in the fourth quarter while Antetokounmpo added 26 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists to just one turnover as the Bucks won Game 3 and 4 at home in this best-of-7 series.

“You need somebody who can make those shots,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “He and Giannis in a pick-and-roll, Giannis setting great screens. Khris, I thought he had some good looks kind of early. But then he just stayed with it. Credit to him. A lot of big, tough shots, and then the tough finish in transition. He was special. A lot of good stuff from Khris. And defensively, too, I think he’s given us a lot on that end.”

The Bucks overcame a seven-point deficit with 8:39 left in the fourth quarter to even the series. Game 6 will be back in Milwaukee on Tuesday.

Game 7, if necessary, will be July 22 in Phoenix.

“When you have that kind of a lead in the fourth, if we can just hold on to the ball and get good possessions, you feel like you can at least hold it there,” Williams said. “So I got to look at the film and see, was it schematics or was it just their defense, I’m not quite sure yet, but we certainly had a lot of self-inflicted stuff tonight.”

The Bucks closed the game on a 27-14 run as Middleton gave the Bucks the lead for good, 101-99, on a jumper with 1:28 left.

Fourteen seconds later,  Antetokounmpo, the 2019-20 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, followed that up with a massive block of Deandre Ayton’s lob dunk.

“I thought I was going to get dunked on, to be honest with you,” the two-time MVP said. “But you know, going down the stretch, just do whatever it takes to win the game. Just put yourself in a position that can win the game. I saw the play coming. I saw that Chris was going to throw the lob and I was just going to jump vertical toward the rim. Hopefully I can be there in time, and I was there in time and was able to get a good block.

The loss puts a damper of the performance of Booker, who bounced back from a career playoff-low 10-point effort in Game 3 to post his third 40-point game this postseason.

“You knew it was going to happen,” Suns wing Cam Johnson said. “You knew he wasn’t going to have another tough night. You know he’s going to get to it and he’s going to get buckets. That’s just what he does. He’s a great player. He’s one of the best players in our league.”

Booker set a record for most points scored in his first postseason run as he has 542 in the playoffs, but didn’t find much comfort in his special Game 4 performance.

“It doesn’t matter at all,” Booker said. “I said that after last game too, when I struggled shooting it. The main objective is to win the game. So anything that goes on throughout the game, it doesn’t matter, for real.”

Phoenix led 82-76 going into the fourth quarter as Booker had 18 points in the third quarter on a perfect 7-of-7 shooting.

The Suns shot 70.6% from the field in the quarter (12-of-17).

However, Booker picked up his fifth foul with 10:50 left in the fourth.

The Suns were up six, 85-79, when Cameron Payne replaced Booker and led, 93-90, when Booker returned with 5:55 remaining.

“He could have gone for 50-plus tonight,” Williams said. “I wanted to get him in maybe a minute earlier than I did, you’re just holding on trying to get as many stops and solid possessions as you can, but it’s not an ideal situation, but I thought we managed it well.”

Booker didn’t get called for another foul, but had two instances when the whistle could’ve easily blown against him. He grabbed Jrue Holiday in transition with 3:38 left in the game, but wasn’t called for the foul.

After the game, lead official James Capers said Booker should’ve been called for the foul on that play.

“During live play, I saw a clean sweep of the ball and thought it was a no call,” Capers said. “However, after seeing the replay, I now realize that I missed Booker’s right arm around the waist of Holiday, and it should have been a defensive foul on the play.”

The Suns went into halftime tied at 52-52 as Booker led all scorers with 20 on 8-of-15 shooting after scoring just 10 in Game 3 on 3-of-14 shooting.

Mikal Bridges added seven points in the first half as the Suns led by as many as nine in the first half. Chris Paul managed just two points in the first half on 1-4 shooting.

Paul finished the game with 10 points and a game-high five turnovers.

The Bucks, as a team, had five total turnovers.

“It was me, I had five of them,” said Paul about the turnovers. “It was bad decision making. That time we were down two and I tried to cross over right there, slipped, turned it over. I had some bad passes in the first half. They got a significant amount more shots than us, so for me I got to take care of the ball.”

His last turnover led to a Middleton layup on the other end to put Milwaukee ahead, 103-99, with 27.2 seconds left.

Usually so careful with the ball, Paul has totaled 15 turnovers in the last three games. When asked if Paul was physically OK, Williams said the 16-year veteran was fine.

“Great players have games like that,” Williams said. “We expect him to bounce back. He had five (turnovers), but we had 17 and they scored 24 points, you know what I mean? That was pretty much the game right there. Then you double that up with the offensive rebounding, so it wasn’t just Chris. As a team tonight, we got to take better care of the ball.”

Bridges didn’t score again after halftime as he took just four shots for the game, marking the second straight game he didn’t score double figures after posting a career playoff-high 27 in a Game 2 win in Phoenix.

Back to state

The sports broadcasting gods have smiled on me again, so I will be broadcasting the WIAA softball tournament today starting at 11:40 a.m. Central time on this fine radio station, followed, we hope, by the championship game at 6:40 p.m. Central time on this fine radio station.

I previously wrote about my uncommon luck in being able to do state games for a part-time guy. My first state tournament was the first year I was announcing games, in 1989. It took me 25 years to get to do state football, but since then I have done five state championship games, the last two with the right team winning.

I have done three state boys basketball tournaments, three state girls basketball tournaments (most recently this season; one year I called two state championships in two hours), one state wrestling tournament, two state girls volleyball tournaments (most recently this year despite my team losing the game before state; then came positive COVID tests for the winning team), two state baseball tournaments, and one state boys soccer tournament (with the house goalkeeper).

Add softball to the list today to conclude a school year where I did state in the fall, winter and spring, which I think is a first. That, of course, came after a simultaneous first and last, first and last, announcing a child’s game.

The similarity between that game and the most recent game I did was the score: 1–0. A first-inning bases-loaded walk was the only run in our third baseman son’s final game. The only run in the softball sectional final came on, in order, an outfield error, a pitching change (which moved said outfielder to shortstop), a pinch-runner, a base hit, a stolen base by said pinch-runner, a hit batter to load the bases with no one out, and a ground ball to the shortstop, who threw … to first base and not home, where the only run scored. (I assume either muscle memory took over, since most shortstop throws are to first base, or she forgot something her coach had told her about one minute earlier.)

This is why Jim McKay opened every “Wide World of Sports” show with “the thrill of victory … and the agony of defeat … the human drama of athletic competition.” Especially in high school, which is where advanced metrics go to die. The unpredictability and the raw emotion of players, their parents, coaches and fans is what makes it compelling.

A first and a last

Tonight I am doing something I’ve never gotten to do before, and something I won’t do ever again.

The pitcher depicted in this GIF …

… has had quite a week, beginning with channeling his inner Terry Kath at his last high school concert …

… followed by playing the National Anthem before his last conference home game:

I have announced a lot of different things in my more than 30 years of sports announcing on the side, but until tonight I have never announced a child’s game, though I once announced a state soccer match with a child, a goalkeeper:

Platteville is playing Madison Edgewood at Sun Prairie (the future Sun Prairie East, by the way) today at 5:40 p.m. on WPVL in Platteville. If Platteville loses, that will end Dylan’s baseball career, and his parents’ watching him play baseball since he started playing T-ball years ago.

That will apply to all the parents of the seniors on tonight’s losing team, though at least two of them plan to play at the college level. It will also apply to the losing coach, because the Platteville coach’s stepson and the Edgewood coach’s son play for their fathers. It may make for an emotional postgame, less for being eliminated from the postseason as for the end of a season and, like graduation five days ago, the last time this group of players will ever be together, given future life circumstances.

I did announce a few games of Dylan’s and his teammates the summer before his freshman year online …

… but with no other children in the house who compete in sports that are covered on the radio, Dylan’s last game will be the last game of a child I will announce.

Playing for your father means you’re usually expected to be a “coach on the floor,” as the phrase goes. They’re also usually expected to be go-betweens between their coach/father and their teammates. Conversely, coaches of their kids can treat their players as they see appropriate, but they go home with their kids, and the line between coach and father may be at the front door, or not. When I do pregame interviews with coaches whose kids are on their team, I usually ask them about  what that’s been like for them, and I always get interesting answers, though none like former Marquette coach Al McGuire, who when asked why his son Allie was starting over another player, replied, “Because I’m sleeping with his mother.”

(Less colorful but as honest was McGuire’s answer when a player asked him why he wasn’t starting over Allie: “Kid, you can’t be as good as my son to be in the starting lineup, you’ve got to be better than my son because he’s my son.”)

I have one tenuous connection to Edgewood, whose most famous alumnus is probably the late Chris Farley, who was a year ahead of me in high school. Edgewood played Madison La Follette in a nonconference football game in the early 1980s. Chris played offensive and defensive line. I played trumpet.

Farley is buried in Resurrection Cemetery in Madison, the final resting place of my older brother 33 years earlier. He is buried in Resurrection’s mausoleum, and you can imagine that gets a lot of visitors.

 

Win or else

The Bucks open the NBA playoffs with their first-round series against Miami starting Saturday at 1 p.m.

The Bucks were the Eastern Conference’s number one seed in 2019 and 2020. Both playoff runs ended before the Bucks even got to the NBA Finals.

And so, Mike Chiari writes:

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer reportedly needs a “deep playoff run” this season in order to save his job.

According to Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic, it is believed that anything short of a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals will almost certainly result in Budenholzer’s firing.

Budenholzer, who is in the midst of his third season with the Bucks, owns a 154-63 record in Milwaukee, but the Bucks have been unable to break through with a trip to the NBA Finals.

Milwaukee finished with the best record in the NBA in each of the past two seasons, and it had the NBA MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo in each of those campaigns as well.

Even so, the Bucks fell to the eventual NBA champion Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2019 and to the eventual Eastern Conference finalist Miami Heat in the second round last season.

Budenholzer was seemingly on the hot seat earlier this season after the Bucks got off to an uneven start …

Charania and Amick also reported that the “team dynamics are very healthy,” but that doesn’t guarantee Budenholzer will be back for the final year of his contract in 2021-22.

Budenholzer is reportedly battling against the perception that he played a big role in the Bucks’ shortcomings last season, with Charania and Amick reporting that there was a “great deal of frustration” toward Budenholzer last season because of the belief that he didn’t adjust accordingly to beat Miami in the playoffs.

Budenholzer has a hugely talented team at his disposal, with Giannis leading a group that also includes Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez, among others.

A trip to the Eastern Conference Finals or better is far from certain … but that is the expectation for Budenholzer given the team that has been put around him.

The Bucks slumped to third in the Eastern Conference, meaning assuming they put out the Heat they are likely to play second-seed Brooklyn in the conference semifinals without home-court advantage. Of course the Bucks had home court advantage the past two years and managed to not win their last series, and who knows how COVID restrictions will affect home-court advantage, but being at home is better than not.

Another playoff failure, though, might not only end Budenholzer’s job, but might speed along the departure of Giannis Antetokounmpo, because the NBA hates having superstars in small media markets. Note that Lebron James, who started his career in Cleveland, now plays in Los Angeles. And you remember where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar started and finished his career.

 

The greatest baseball movie you probably never watched

The first apartment I lived in after graduating from UW–Madison had cable TV with free HBO.

That allowed me to see this example of sports fiction, reviewed by David Krell:

Had Henry David Thoreau been a baseball fan, his signature quotation might read, “The mass of minor leaguers lead lives of quiet desperation.” Such is the wont of the Tampico Stogies in the 1987 HBO TV movie Long Gone. “Now the Tampico Nine always has been and always will be an aggregation that knows it’s about to suffer another ignominious defeat,” declares Cletis Ramey to Cecil “Stud” Cantrell, the Stogies’ player-manager.

Starring William Petersen, Virginia Madsen, and Dermot Mulroney, Long Gone takes place in the fictional town of Tampico, Florida—home of the La Madera Cigar Company. It is more than a story about baseball, though. It is a tale of corruption, hope, and love.

Stud—played by Petersen—leads the Stogies of the Class D Alabama-Florida League in 1957 through the stagnant labyrinth of the owners’ frugality, the team’s mediocrity, and the Deep South’s racism. Pushing 40, Stud tells rookie second baseman Jamie Don Weeks— played by Dermot Mulroney—that he rivaled Stan Musial for a spot on the St. Louis Cardinals. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Stud signed up with the Marines, fought on Guadalcanal, and suffered a mountain of shrapnel in one of his legs; he persuaded the doctors not to amputate. “I never made it, kid. But I would’ve. Goddammit, I would’ve.”

“I think he’s a flawed character,” explained Petersen in a telephone interview. “Stud has a tremendous amount of talent. Things came easy, then a bad break happened and he was bumped down the ladder. He’s trying to make the best of it. There are analogies in the acting world where the breaks don’t go your way. You find yourself making compromises, maybe for your talent and integrity. At a certain point, the light goes off and the world is what you make of it. He’s a regular guy who could be any man.”

While Stud has experience in the harsh realities of life, Jamie oozes naïveté. With an attitude of sexual indifference that would make Lothario blush, Stud coarsely instructs Jamie that all women have sex—even the religious ones. But Stud lands in an unintended romance that begins as a one-night stand whose name he can’t remember the morning after—Dixie Lee Boxx, Miss Strawberry Blossom of 1957, played by Virginia Madsen. A platinum blonde with the looks of Marilyn Monroe and the street savvy of Lauren Bacall, Dixie Lee is 20, almost half Stud’s age. “I’m old enough to like Jax for breakfast,” she explains to a bartender in the glow—or haze—of her dalliance with Stud. (Jax beer was a regional brew manufactured by Jax Brewing Company of Jacksonville from 1913 until it went out of business in 1956.)

Long Gone details Stud’s resumé of romance, or lack of it. An aura of cockiness buttressed by crudeness gives the impression that the Stogies’ manager is carefree about life and careless with women. In Paul Hemphill’s eponymous 1979 novel, Stud got a “Dear John” letter from his wife. While he was arguing with doctors to save his leg, she was cheating on him with a coworker at her plant. With visions of a major league career in the rear view mirror, Stud would play for a Class B team in Corpus Christi. “So began a wallowing odyssey that carried him all over America in that limbo called the ‘lower minor leagues’: Mountain States League, Cotton States, Evangeline, Itty, Big State, West Texas-New Mexico, Ardmore, Eastman, Hopkinsville, Amarillo, Pocatello, Hazard, Thibodaux,” the novel reads. “Bad lights, rutted infields, rickety grandstands, swampy dressing rooms, ancient buses, hand-me-down uniforms, drunken fans. Still smarting from what his wife had done to him, he began to drink and to gorge himself on women, as though repeated conquests might blot the memory that he had once been cuckolded by a 4-F. He hit an umpire at Big Stone Gap, contracted gonorrhea in Galveston, and was run out of Waterloo for knocking up the club owner’s teenage daughter.” There is no mention of a Mrs. Cantrell in the TV movie.

Southern-style racism confronts the Stogies, who mask their black slugger Joe Louis Brown as José Brown, a Venezuelan; Larry Riley plays Brown. On a road trip, Klansmen block the road, brandish whips, and burn a cross. Wise to the Stogies’ scheme of protecting Brown, they call for him. Stud orders him to stay on the bus and, in turn, guides his teammates, each one holding a bat, to chase the Klansmen off the road.

After the tumult, Brown gets off the bus to finish the job, metaphorically. When he gets a nod of approval from Monroe, the Stogies’ elderly black equipment manager, Brown takes a vicious swing at the cross— when it hits the ground, the flames are extinguished. A bond is forged, eliminating the awkwardness seen earlier when the white players look at Brown in the locker room without talking to him.

Full of optimism, Stud believes that the Stogies can win the championship, a far cry from the dismal 12–23 record the team had before Jamie and Brown showed up. A slow-motion montage of Stogies highlights against the backdrop of the gospel song “I Don’t Believe He Brought Me This Far (To Leave Me)” reflects the inspirational tone that seems to be a prerequisite for sports movies featuring an underdog taking on a superior opponent—in this case, it’s the Dothan Cardinals.

Here, Long Gone presents an obstacle for the fearless protagonist who sacrificed his baseball career for his country. A native Missourian, Stud never lost his desire to work in the Cardinals organization. When the owner of the Dothan Cardinals presents an opportunity to manage the team next season, Stud grabs it. But the job comes with a catch—he can’t play in the Stogies-Cardinals championship game.

Dixie Lee leaves him and then deconstructs Stud’s hero image for Jamie, who has lately embodied the swagger of the Stogies’ skipper. Jamie suffers a letdown with the impact of a Gulf Coast hurricane, consequently. It comes on the heels of a personal dilemma—his girlfriend Esther is pregnant. Following Stud’s love-them-and-leave-them philosophy, Jamie abandoned Esther emotionally as she went to Mobile, Alabama, to stay with an aunt.

For solace, Stud heads to the bar, where he finds Brown. Immediately, Stud realizes that the Cardinals bought Brown’s absence as well. Without Tampico’s star duo, Dothan will be assured a victory.

“What’d they give you?” asks Stud

“What’d they give you?” responds Brown.

“I get the privilege of managing Dothan next year.”

“I guess they know what they gotta pay for white trash, huh?”

“Come on, what’d they give you?”

“I guess they know what they gotta pay for a nigger, too.”

“It’s just so damn sad. Baseball ain’t nothing but a little boy’s game played on some grass,” mourns Stud. “It shouldn’t matter who the pitcher’s daddy is or how much money he makes. It shouldn’t matter what color a fella’s skin is. You just go out there with a bat in your hands, you hit the ball, and you run like hell. That’s all. It’s just a shame.”

When Brown leaves the bar, he takes a bat to his Cadillac—his price for sitting out the game. It’s the latter part of a setup-payoff literary device, common in films—Brown eyed the car when he first came to Tampico.

Stud has more than a job in the Cardinals organization at stake. Through the Buchmans, Stud learns that failure to accede to their demands that he not play in the championship game will result in the Cardinals owner, J. Harrell Smythe, informing baseball’s power structure about every peccadillo, big and small, resulting in Stud’s permanent expulsion from the game.

But Tampico’s manager and slugger renege on their deal to sit out the game. In another setup-payoff, Stud faces Dothan hurler Dusty Houlihan with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning. Bad blood exists between the two because of Stud’s relentless insults about Houlihan’s sister. Stud admitted, earlier, that he’s only 2-for-68 against Houlihan in his career.

And so, when Houlihan comes in from the bullpen to face Stud, the ante is raised. A taunt that is vicious at worst and inflammatory at best enrages Houlihan, who beans Stud. After being knocked unconscious, Stud stumbles to first base. The Stogies are Alabama- Florida League champions! Tampico exorcises the ghosts of failure underscored by Cletis earlier in the story, consequently.

“I think Stud had become a lost cause, but only to himself,” says Petersen. “Dixie Lee is the one who is straightening him out. When he looks across at Joe Brown and they ask themselves who they are and talk about what they should be, I think Stud saves himself.”

Stud marries Dixie Lee, Jamie marries Esther, and the Stogies, for once, have pride.

Notably, two performers known for comedy appear as the father and son owners of the Stogies—Henry Gibson and Teller play Hale Buchman and Hale Buchman, Jr., respectively. They’re greedy for money, giddy for victory, and garrulous for explanations about their nickel and dime management. In lesser hands, their characters could have been caricatures.

Long Gone resonates three decades after its premiere, largely because the joy in making the movie comes across in the performances. “I have fond memories of working with Virginia and Dermot,” recalls Petersen. “The 1986 World Series was going on while we shot the movie. We’d go back to the hotel after shooting and watch in the bar. I also had friends from Chicago who were in the movie. You have to be close. You can’t do a baseball movie and not have the guys be a team. We were just very fortunate. It was like falling off a log.

“Baseball reminds me of my childhood and a time and place when things were more fun and simpler. For many of us, baseball will always be that type of memory. It will always be reflective.”

The movie “Bull Durham” is also about the minor leagues. The difference is that Crash Davis, played by Kevin Costner, isn’t really a likable character. (Except to Susan Sarandon.) Nuke LaLoosh, played by Tim Robbins, does do a good job playing the pitcher with the proverbial million-dollar arm and 10-cent head, but the viewer sometimes is left wondering how stupid he can be. (Of course, baseball players have never been known to be great intellects.) “Bull Durham” feels more like satire than “Long Gone.”

 

The end of women’s sports if you allow this

Ryan Saavedra:

Former President Donald Trump slammed President Joe Biden during his Sunday CPAC speech over the issue of women’s sports.

“Joe Biden and the Democrats are even pushing policies that would destroy women’s sports,” Trump said. “Lot of new records are being broken in women’s sports. Hate to say that, ladies, but got a lot of new records that [are] being shattered. You know, for years, the weightlifting, every ounce is like a big deal for many years. All of a sudden, somebody comes along and beats it by 100 pounds.”

“Now, young girls and women are incensed that they are now being forced to compete against those who are biological males,” Trump continued. “It’s not good for women. It’s not good for women’s sports, which worked so long and so hard to get to where they are. The records that stood for years, even decades, are now being smashed with ease, smashed. If this is not changed, women’s sports, as we know it, will die, they’ll end, it’ll end. What coach, if I’m a coach, you know, I want to be a great coach, what coach, as an example, wants to recruit a young woman to compete if her record can easily be broken by somebody who was born a man? Not too many of those coaches around, right? If they are around, they won’t be around long because they’re gonna have a big problem when the record is, ‘We’re 0-16, but we’re getting better.’ No, I think it’s crazy, I think it’s just crazy what’s happening. We must protect the integrity of women’s sports — so important.”

“Is that controversial?” Trump asked as the audience cheered.

I’m waiting to read a defense of men — and dress however they like, and get whatever surgery like, anyone who was born XY will be a man until he dies — competing in women’s sports.

 

This hot mike/Zoom blog is rated R

Even in the Year of the Pandemic, or maybe because of the Year of the Pandemic, things happen that earn the WTF badge.

Megan Fox writes about the viewer-discretion-advised incident of Monday:

Jeffry Toobin, a CNN contributor and writer at The New Yorker, got caught tickling his pickle on a work Zoom call. This wasn’t a situation where he thought he had hung up but hadn’t. Oh no. Toobin was purposefully masturbating during a work call.

He claims he thought he had “muted the video” but left it on “accidentally.” But that’s not believable, because when turning the camera off on Zoom, there is an avatar where the video used to be. How does he expect us to believe he did not check this before deciding to whip out wee Willie? And worse, why is that a good excuse for flogging the dolphin during a work call? Do we need congressional intervention to tell us that being an Army of One on a Zoom call is the wrong thing to do? Do we need a new criminal code for 2020 specifying that hoisting your own petard while attending a conference call is offensive to others? It’s sad that humans can’t just self-police.

Toobin is rabidly anti-Trump as any famous journalist must be. He’s also already well-known for running afoul of the #MeToo crowd when Patty Hearst blasted him for sensationalizing her rape in his book American Heiress in 2018. Fox canceled plans for a movie based on the book after Hearst got through with Toobin.

And now Toobin wants the world to accept that he made a “mistake” and “accidentally” sexually harassed everyone in a Zoom call. That’s what we’re really talking about here. If MeToo has taught me anything it’s that consent matters and if a man exposes himself to anyone without their consent it’s akin to rape. Remember that Louis C.K. was dragged for engaging in this same activity on phone calls with women. So was Harvey Weinstein, who was reported to have sprinkled his house plant in plain view of witnesses. …

This is no different than Charlie Rose or Matt Lauer groping coworkers or having automatic locks installed on the office door. Why should Toobin get a pass because his crime is embarrassing and rather hilarious? It’s still harassment. Every single one of those people on the Zoom call who witnessed it was sexually harassed, if not assaulted. …

This needs to be a firing offense if the big networks are really concerned about making workplace environments sexual harassment-free. I don’t expect he will be fired, but he should be. …

The other troubling part of this story is the call itself, which reads like some kind of Deep-State media plotting session. Did anyone catch that? While everyone is distracted by Toobin’s lubin’, the description of this Zoom meeting is going largely uncommented on.

Vice reported:

Two people who were on the call told VICE separately that the call was an election simulation featuring many of the New Yorker’s biggest stars: Jane Mayer was playing establishment Republicans; Evan Osnos was Joe Biden, Jelani Cobb was establishment Democrats, Masha Gessen played Donald Trump, Andrew Marantz was the far right, Sue Halpern was left wing democrats, Dexter Filkins was the military, and Jeffrey Toobin playing the courts. There were also a handful of other producers on the call from the New Yorker and WNYC.

An election simulation? What are these people playing at? Coup 2? I’m a reporter and my newsroom doesn’t hold conference calls simulating what we want to happen and gaming different scenarios. We just report what happens. What is the purpose of this “simulation”?

Maybe this is why we lose the media game and we should start doing these simulations and get our narrative together ahead of time, but we’ve literally never even thought of doing this. That’s how honest and naive we are! I think I need to see this Zoom call. In the interest of finding out what the media is doing to undermine our Republic, I think we need the tape (and no one believes this was not being recorded). Let’s see what the media is plotting for November 4. They can edit out the Toobin show. I want to know what Jane Mayer, Masha Gessen, Andrew Marantz, Sue Halpern, Dexter Filkins, and Toobin are cooking up for November.

One day earlier, Fox Sports’ Joe Buck and Troy Aikman exchanged thoughts that they thought were off the air but weren’t:

USA Today reports on the aftermath:

On Monday, we learned that Fox NFL broadcasters Joe Buck and Troy Aikman were not the biggest fans of stadium flyovers. And like many topics in 2020, their remarks were seen as divisive.

Defector Media posted a hot-mic video from Sunday’s Fox NFL broadcast of the Packers and Buccaneers that showed Buck and Aikman mocking a military flyover of four A-10 aircraft at Raymond James Stadium.

Aikman joked that a lot of jet fuel was getting wasted for a flyover of a football game that was being played at a mostly empty stadium. Buck also sarcastically said that it was our tax dollars at work.

The comments, though, were evidently seen by some as anti-military (which they really weren’t). So come Tuesday, Aikman took to Twitter to clarify that his joke was not meant to disrespect the military.

Regardless of their opinion, you would think that after Reds and Fox announcer Thom Brennaman was fired for a hot mike moment that sports announcers would be more careful. Then again, you might think people would be more careful around Zoom.

Noon update: Jimmy Traina of Sports Illustrated:

If you’ve been on the internet over the past 48 hours, you most likely saw the video of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman talking about military flyovers.

The internet, as it always does, ran with the video with no context and spun it to paint Buck and Aikman as super liberal, anti-military people. …

There are many things about this ridiculous story that need to be cleared up. First, it seemed pretty clear if you listened to the audio, that Buck and Aikman were goofing around and being sarcastic.

Two, and most important, they were not caught on a hot mic. This did not take place during a break in the Packers-Bucs game.

This was done before the game, during a rehearsal. That means someone who works at FOX, either in a truck or a broadcast studio, pulled the clip on purpose and then leaked it on purpose to make Buck and Aikman look bad. And the fact that one of their co-workers would leak this clip to make the broadcast duo look bad really sucks.

You can be sure Fox is doing some sort of internal investigation to find the culprit.

There is no question, however, that Buck and Aikman said what they said, whether that should have been exposed by a duplicitous coworker. This will certainly add to the general narrative of Buck and Aikman, who have been criticized for going out of their way to make negative comments about, among other teams, the Packers.