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Simona Halep, in the wake of her French Open title [Citation Needed]

There is something to watching the inevitable unfold that nevertheless makes it captivating, whether it be dropping Mentos[1] into Diet Coke, watching an eager dog sneak into a bag of improperly-balanced potato chips or, say, a generation-defining basketball team send the greatest player ever packing like a camp administrator pulling a preteen off an adult and onto a bus. It is interesting not for the result, but for the reaction. In some ways, we all prepare for failure; in many more ways, we do not prepare for success.

It took them three sets apiece, under slightly different circumstances, but the result was clear by the third in both. Simona Halep finally captured her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros on the same weekend that Rafael Nadal captured his seventeenth, and his eleventh at this tournament. The French Open has masters, of many varieties.

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Oh, how quickly we forget. Or maybe it’s just about wanting to believe in something, anything, so much right now, surrounded by *gestures more broadly than any wingspan at the NBA combine could contain* all of this, that we can talk ourselves into believing in the most irrational things. Just look at [caters to your political leaning by making a correspondingly tactful reference to current proceedings]. Somewhere between Roger Daltrey and George W. Bush, however, we were supposed to have learned not to get fooled again. And yet, here we are, forcing ourselves into this dance once again like a spurned defender asking for a second helping of James Harden.

Are we really going to do this? We’re going to do this. Alright, fine, let’s do this: Houston had a problem, and then it remembered its own solution, and now the Western Conference Finals are tied 1-1. This doesn’t solve anything.

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I.

You’d have to really be up on your Eastern European saints to know Stanislaus Kostka; the 16th century Jesuit novice somehow isn’t even the best-known St. Stanislaus from Poland (an honor that goes to Stanislaus Szczepanów, the 11th century bishop martyred at the hands of a guy literally named Boleslaw). Long story short, Kostka grew up a boy of weak constitution but strong religious fervor in a (surprise!) harsh patriarchal family with six siblings and one older brother in particular who – we are told, probably by way of the younger siblings – ragged on him often. After education in Vienna, an alleged visit from St. Barbara and a long trip through Germany and Austria that ended with employment in a Rome boarding school, Kostka realized in a vision that the last fever he had would get the better of him, promptly wrote a letter to the Virgin Mary and died in the small hours of August 15, 1568, at the age of 17. In the Renaissance, being self-aware enough to realize you had a weak immune system was basically enough to get you beatified and canonized; in the Gilded Age, it was enough to get you Chicago’s first Polish Catholic church.

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It is admittedly unusual for us to recap a single game from a first round playoff series. Even elimination games, which are so ripe for assessment and criticism, both in the immediate aftermath and as time wears ceaselessly on heading into every other team’s offseason. Free agency beckons; fresh wounds heal, but the scars can inform decisions for players and teams, altering the direction of the entire league.

As such, the Utah Jazz’s prompt dispatch of the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games calls for some prompt discernment. Russell Westbrook is the center of the Thunder’s galaxy, and as such, he draws adulation and condemnation in equal measures. He deserves considerable amounts of both, to be certain, but context is vital. Collective blame is undoubtedly shared in Oklahoma City.

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Jose Orozco, Hombre de Fuego (Man of Fire), 1939

It’s not like Anthony Davis expected this, either. Coming into the season, expectations for the New Orleans Pelicans were sky-high, having run off an 11-14 record to close last season following the trade for DeMarcus Cousins that nevertheless inspired hope in a fan base accustomed to insipid displays by 11 of a dressed 12 on any given night.

In this era of normalizing the relatively small – that is, getting used to seeing otherwise jarringly large humans between 6’7” and 6’10” thrown into lineups and deemed “small for their position, traditionally, but with the ability to space the floor!,” the Twin Towers look had been out of fashion with few exceptions. Then, literally during last season’s All-Star Weekend, the Pelicans traded for the Swiss Army knife that is Boogie to pair alongside erstwhile Best in the World-in-waiting Anthony Davis.

The tandem worked kinks out toward the end of last season, the team re-signed Jrue Holiday and brought Rajon Rondo in for maximum weirdness, and everybody prepared for the Pelicans to be THE League Pass fodder to watch. Until…they meshed, better than expected, and went 27-21 through their first 48 games.

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Photo by moi

The switch exists. I’m telling you right now because, for the second time in my life, I was lucky enough to see the man at the helm in person, and at 33 years young, he was as commanding of attention as he was in command of the game, and when he needed to, LeBron James turned the volume all the way up and told your parents to mind their Ps and Qs. Last Sunday, in Brooklyn, I saw the switch in action.

It isn’t that he isn’t great all the time – he is, and he has been for the overwhelming majority of his breathlessly Hall of Fame career – but to watch him have to be, with his still-gelling team nervously jetting and firing around him in an effort to show that yes, we’re good enough, please stay, adds another layer to an almost unquantifiable NBA experience.

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Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing by Austin Manchester, 2004

The list of shared experiences by Americans[1] in the year of our LORD 2018 reads more or less as follows: death; taxes[2]; unseasonable weather no matter the season; thoughts on race, whether intentional or not; thoughts on gender equality, whether intentional or not; thoughts on the New York Times’ editorial strategy, definitely intentional; all prior thoughts brought on by pieces courtesy of social media and/or texts linking to it; and a vague understanding of nuclear proliferation.

Narrow the scope, and that list becomes broader, but then you’re dealing in sample sizes of varying confidence. The South is hot, but man, these taxes, amirite?; the Northeast is cold, and keep your business out of my business; the West is a beautiful landscape and has bad traffic, tech geniuses and an insatiable hunger to continue being a final frontier long since conquered; Texas is the South, but it isn’t, you know what I’m saying?

On the Midwest: I’m not from there[3], nor have I ever lived there[4], though my oldest, not older, brother has for over a decade, and Blog Surf James Vasiliou is well-equipped to speak on generally Midwestern things himself. Something exciting, however, is unquestionably brewing in two cities, Minneapolis and Indianapolis, involving characters both familiar to both and foreign, in nationality and suitability for the stereotypically reserved region.

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