Over at Torontoist, I have written a bandwagon-jumper’s guide to the Toronto Raptors and also participated in the fact-check for the first televised Toronto mayoral debate.
You can go over to Torontoist and read my three nominees for Heroes and Villains 2013: Tatiana Maslany, the Toronto Zoo’s elephant move, and The Raptor. (The Raptor piece was written before the Toronto Raptors went on a serious tear and actually look like a for-real basketball team for the first time in a loooooong time.)
None of them won Superhero of the Year or even came close in the voting, but unsurprisingly, Rob Ford took Supervillain in a walk.
The rec.sport.pro-wrestling Awards are the oldest public-vote wrestling awards on the internet. Dating back to 1990 (when Curt Hennig won Best Wrestler, Scott Steiner’s Frankensteiner won Best Move, and Hulk Hogan versus Earthquake won Worst Feud), the RSPW Awards now span over two decades and are far and away the most comprehensive wrestling awards in wrestling fandom. They are the oldest awards and the best awards. You can see the results of the 2012 Awards (which also contain the entire history of winners in all categories) for the “best of year” awards here and the “worst of year” awards here.
This is the Call to Nominations for the 2013 RSPW Awards. The Nominations phase is not a strict rule of eventual award nominees – if nobody nominates CM Punk for Best Wrestler, for example (let’s say that an apocalypse happens and we’re all too busy for the next month, because that is the only way that will happen on the internet), come time for voting, people can still vote for CM Punk as Best Wrestler. The Nominations are intended, instead, to present voters with a list of suggested candidates to consider when assigning their votes (as voters will vote for a 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in each category).
Maybe when voting for Best Tag Team, you will forget about how great Christopher Daniels and Kazarian have been this year (or maybe you don’t watch TNA often enough to know). Maybe you weren’t aware of how much fun Wrestling is Fun! is as a promotion (despite it being in their name – maybe you are illiterate or something? If so, how are you reading this?), and seeing them nominated causes you to check them out. That’s the point of the nominations: to expose wrestling fans to the wider wrestling universe. Just like the Awards themselves, when you think about it. You can nominate candidates for awards here.
Nominees are due by December 28, 2012; we will update this post with a list of all current nominations on December 21. Awards voting proper will begin on January 1, 2013. A list of current nominees can be found here.
One of the more interesting stories during the NBA offseason this year – managing to get basketball fans going “wait, what?” even in a summer where Dwight Howard finally committed to a team1 and where major free agents went all over the place, sometimes in unexpected ways2 and where Toronto finally traded Andrea Bargnani and got a better return than a pile of ’57 Chevy parts in a box labeled “Betty” – was that a minor bidding war erupted for the services of Greg Oden.
Greg Oden, for those of you who are not basketball fans,3 is the rare person who can say despite having received millions of dollars to play sports that he still got a raw deal. See, Greg Oden was Portland’s #1 pick in the NBA Draft back in 20074 after being a ridiculously dominant center at Ohio State, the sort of epic-level big man who is increasingly rare in the NBA these days (because, well, it’s better to have a truly great 6’8″ player than an okayish 7’2″ one) and then promptly blew out his knee with microfracture surgery. He didn’t play until the 2008-09 season and spent the season plagued by injuries to his knees, which just kept getting worse and worse – but despite that you could see the flashes were still there. Multiple 20+point games. Twenty rebounds in a single game. “If Greg Oden were healthy” was everybody’s favorite what-if game.
And then this happened:
That’s Greg Oden’s knee blowing out on what was really fairly routine mid-air contact. That ended his 2009 season. He barely played the next year.
And of course eventually it looked like Oden was done – people basically gave up on him after the third set of microfracture surgeries on his knees – and people mostly forgot about him except as a what-coulda-been story, a modern-day Len Bias but slightly less tragic because Greg Oden at least didn’t die, and that’s something, right? He said in 2012 he was “going to sit out” the season to focus on rehabbing himself, which everybody mostly thought was just a graceful way to prepare for an exit from pro basketball because you can’t play the game without knees.
But he really did work on it. Knee microfractures are extremely difficult to rehab for an athlete but it’s not impossible. And this past summer, he let teams come see him work out (because nobody was gonna buy on Greg Oden without seeing him work out). And almost instantly he had teams expressing interest, and not bottom-feeders either: contenders like the Spurs and the Heat, up-and-comers like New Orleans and Cleveland. Mostly they wanted him as a backup centre, someone who could give five or ten minutes tops when needed.
Eventually Oden signed with Miami, because Oden’s not stupid: you can’t have less pressure on you than playing on a team with LeBron James on it because everybody’s looking at LeBron, not you. This of course left basketball fans perturbed, because everybody wants Oden to come back and have a good career, but on the other hand, fuck the Miami Heat, they’re the worst, they’re nearly as bad as the Lakers (by the way: fuck the fucking Lakers) and Miami Heat fans are some of the most appalling people in sports ever.
Anyway. I mention all of this because last night, in a pre-season game against the Pelicans, Greg Oden played proper basketball for the first time since 2009. He only played four minutes (two rebounds and a dunk), but the basketball internet all lit up because HOLY SHIT EVERYBODY GREG ODEN IS PLAYING ACTUAL BASKETBALL:
It’s visually incongruous seeing that seven-foot giant looking absolutely terrified to go onto the court, but he most certainly is that. You know he’s thinking about things most players don’t have to consider (or at least can easily suppress), including that the last time he was on a basketball court his knee exploded for reasons that seem impossible. But he goes out anyway, because that is what is great about goddamn sports: the desire to never stop competing, never stop trying to be the best you can be, and yes, never stop playing games and having fun, even if you are getting paid money to do so. It’s silly and illogical in all sorts of ways, but that’s mostly what makes us all human anyway, even when you’re seven feet tall. And that’s pretty good to be. Human, I mean, not seven feet tall. Seven feet tall would be kind of inconvenient, really.
…is here. Head-to-head categories, twelve slots (nine left at this point), standard draft (currently scheduled for evening of Friday the 25th). Pretty straightforward, all things considered. If you like fantasy basketball (“it’s like fantasy football, but you don’t have to let it consume your damn life”), then join up and so forth.
UPDATE: Yahoo software is silly with joining renewed leagues, so if you want to play, just email me and I’ll send you an invite.
1. Trade Rudy Gay to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Tristan Thompson, Alonzo Gee, Tyler Zeller and draft picks/cash.
2. Exercise draft rights on Tomislav Zubcic, sign to rookie deal.
3. Send Linas Kleiza to spy school. Kleiza learns arts of secret killing.
4. Trade Linas Kleiza to the Dallas Mavericks for a second-round draft pick.
5. Linas Kleiza assassinates Dallas owner Mark Cuban.
6. Send Quincy Acy back to college. Acy majors in theoretical physics.
7. In 2086, an elderly Quincy Acy invents time travel, returns to present day, shares secret of time travel with younger Quincy Acy.
8. Elderly Quincy Acy promptly vanishes in puff of causality.
9. Use the Acy Engine to travel to 1870s America and ensure that Mark Cuban’s wife’s great-great-grandparents never meet.
10. Travel to 1960s and make sure Mark Cuban, instead of reading The Fountainhead, instead becomes obsessed with The Westing Game.
11. Through further time travel, ensure that DeMar DeRozan is made sole heir to Ellen Raskin’s estate.
12. Return to present day. Mark Cuban’s estate donates the Dallas Mavericks to Ellen Raskin’s heir. DeMar DeRozan now owns the Dallas Mavericks.
13. Dallas trades Dirk Nowitzki to Toronto for Andrea Bargnani.
14. DeMar Derozan sits down with New York Knicks owner James Dolan for a game of high-stakes poker, and in an epic hand wins the Knicks from Dolan with three jacks against a seven high.
15. DeMar DeRozan offers to trade the Dallas Mavericks and the New York Knicks, together, for the Miami Heat to owner Mickey Arison. Arison accepts.
16. However, the Knicks were rigged to EXPLODE after the trade takes place. “Caveat emptor,” sneers DeRozan.
17. DeMar DeRozan trades LeBron James to the Toronto Raptors for a set of old encyclopedias, executes a three-way trade with Toronto and the Clippers to send Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade to the Clippers, Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe to the Raptors and a set of old encyclopedia dustcovers to Miami, then announces the dissolution of the team.
18. Toronto sacrifices Kyle Lowry to the Dark Basketball Gods. Instantly, the Boston Celtics wink out of existence and indeed never existed in the first place.
19. Toronto spends $50 million to convert Amir Johnson into a cyborg superhuman known as ROBO-BALLER. ROBO-BALLER can dunk from the other side of the court and has laser targeting on his jump shots to give him a .997 shooting percentage.
20. Current-day Quincy Acy goes back in time, assumes identity of Reggie Evans. In present, “Reggie Evans” leads rest of Brooklyn Nets on a “fun trip” to a curiously unlabeled warehouse. They are never seen again.
21. Jonas Valanciunas’s mutant powers emerge. At a pickup game in Indiana he screams “WIKTORY BABY” and the sonic vibrations destroy all of Indiana along with the Pacers.
22. 2013-2014 NBA regular season ends with a Toronto team whose starting lineup is Chris Paul, LeBron James, Clone of LeBron James, ROBO-BALLER, and a giant crocodile with human intelligence named “Dave.” Rest of Eastern Conference has ceased to exist; teams not destroyed in pre-season are eaten by Dave.
23. Despite this, during the NBA Finals, they still lose in six games to the San Antonio Spurs.
24. I dunno, tank for Andrew Wiggins, I guess?
Generally, when it comes to sports owners pleading poverty every time they have to renegotiate with players, I am completely unsympathetic. The “always side with labour over bosses” rule is never stronger than when one is talking about pro sports, because without the players there would literally be no product, and sports owners are some of the worst examples of management crying poverty that there ever have been – where their franchises have not become profitable and ridiculously appreciated in value over time (particularly in an era where they can very easily blackmail communities into handling much of their expenses), it is usually because of mismanagement on a scale that is truly ludicrous (cf. the Maloof brothers, owners of the Sacramento Kings, who have turned a traditionally profitable small-market team with a crazy-passionate fanbase and a city willing to help pay for an arena into a neverending disaster) and even then mismanagement is no guarantee that the franchise will not continue to be profitable anyway.
Ridiculous salaries? The teams are making the money, and the players are the reason the teams are making the money; really, the salaries are much more justifiable than the fact that the owners in most leagues usually end up taking about half of all the money the teams make on the basis that they own the team brands and pay the cheerleaders and such. LeBron James has the league maximum contract and, based on his personal fanbase, brand power, ability to help a team compete and everything else that comes with being the best basketball player in the world, he is widely regarded as being underpaid.1
But LeBron is underpaid not because he does not have a maximum contract, but because other players – like Rudy Gay or Joe Johnson, for example – have maximum contracts as well. If Rudy Gay is worth $14 million per year, then LeBron must comparatively be worth much more than that – or so the argument goes. Of course, you can as easily argue that Gay and Johnson2 are overpaid rather than LeBron being underpaid – but this only works if you accept that the salary cap determines actual maximum player value, rather than being, oh, a totally artificial construct that owners demanded long ago in order to maintain the illusion of parity between small market and large market teams and to give them bargaining power over players.
But why, then, are the likes of Gay and Johnson paid so much? The answer is a bit more than “because teams can.” Rather, it is because every free agent signing or contract extension that rewards a good-but-not-superstar-level player with a maximum contract – Gay, Johnson, A’Mare Stoudemire, Deron Williams, et cetera – is done because a team wants to win. NBA players – and pro athletes playing in team sports generally – chase two things: money and prestige. Money is self-explanatory. Prestige is playing in large markets, playing for an organization that wins titles regularly – your Celtics, your Yankees, your Man Uniteds – and winning titles. This means that franchises with a track record of success (and let’s be honest: these are usually, but not always, large-market franchises, because they have more money and because top players want to play in big cities where there are more fun things to do and you will be more famous) will always have more ability to sign good players than small-market teams that have no history of sustained competitive success.
Which means that small-market teams – or teams like the Toronto Raptors, who aren’t technically a small-market team, but who get treated like one because it’s Canada – feel, rightly or wrongly, that they have to overspend in order to get quality players to stay in their town. This is not exactly true, but it’s true enough in a league where two teams (Boston and the Lakers) have won about half of the championships. So GMs overspend on players to create the sense that they are where The Good Players Go To Play so they can sign some more players – who also end up being overpaid when GMs try this strategy. And sometimes this strategy works (the Miami Heat). And sometimes it does not (the Raptors).
And I have been trying to figure out how the league might stop doing this, but I am hamstrung in two respects. Firstly, it’s a classic prisoner’s dilemma – if one team says “WE will overpay the good players” and nobody else does, then they will get their pick of the best players and while they might not be the best team, they will be very good and competitive for a few years (which is the point because GMs don’t stick around a team forever anyway and they want their tenure to be successful) and if they’re very good and competitive for a few years then the odds that players will begin to view them as a good place to play will increase. (It happened to the Houston Rockets, and Houston the city is, well, kinda shitty.) And there’s not a good way to rule around prisoner’s dilemmas that I can think of.
And second, like I said – this problem exists because of an artificial construct on player salaries that the bosses use as rhetorical and real leverage whenever they like, so I am not particularly inclined to want to solve it in the first place.
Since the thing that was previously worst in the world was a commercial, it is only fair that one such also be the best:
“Yeah… cool guy.”
But then Foot Locker released the even better alternate version:
This is my second year playing fantasy basketball and it hits the sweet spot for me in terms of fantasy sports – less rigorous and attention-demanding than fantasy baseball1 (where everybody plays almost every day and roster decisions tend to be insane in terms of amount of attention required), and less annoying than fantasy football (both because I don’t like football, and because fantasy football people have a tendency to be really, really irritating about fantasy football, whereas fantasy B-ballers in my experience tend to recognize the essential absurdity of what they are doing and are willing to make riskier choices in the name of fun).
Anyway, this is to say that the one MetaFilter-based league I’m in right now is, I think, not quite enough to whet my fantasy B-ball appetite. Therefore, I have created a second league for MGK readers (and well, whoever really). I’ve capped it at 16 teams but we can go with as few as 8. Head-to-head weekly matchups, scoring by categories (free throw percentage, field goal percentages, points, threes, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, and turnovers), live draft (tentatively for Saturday at noon EST).
UPDATE 11:00 A.M. EST: Half full already!
UPDATE #2, 4:00 P.M. EST: We’re at twelve teams and I have locked it so as to make sure we don’t have an uneven number of teams going into the draft. If you want to play and aren’t in yet, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org), and when I have a set of two people who want to play I will send both of you invites.
Watch this compilation of finishing moves from All-Japan Pro Wrestling in the early-to-mid-1990s without wincing at least once and you will impress me:
What’s interesting about this to me is that All-Japan’s death rate (and it is sad to say that death rate in wrestling is something that can be quantified) is so low. There’s only one guy in this video who directly died as a result of wrestling, Mitsuhara Misawa (green and white trunks). [EDIT: In comments, Rev rightly points out that Gary Albright died of a heart attack mid-match in 2000, so: two, not one.] Terry Gordy died of a blood clot, Doug Furnas of complications from Parkinson’s and Steve “Dr. Death” Williams from throat cancer, but none of those can really be blamed on their wrestling careers. All of the rest of the people in this video are still quite alive and in many cases are still actively wrestling, and this is video from almost twenty years ago where every other move looks like they’re actively trying to break the other guy’s neck. This, I think, speaks very well of Japanese wrestling’s training culture.
VIA THE INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE
January 7, 2012
TO: Mr. Flap Jacks
FROM: G. Elkington, Personal Assistant to Danny Boyle
Dear Mr. Jacks:
Thank you for your recent correspondence and suggestions regarding the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, England. Mr. Boyle was quite pleased to receive your letters (all four thousand pages) and some of your ideas are quite interesting – and, indeed, even somewhat duplicative of Mr. Boyle’s vision for the ceremony. Although at this point we cannot incorporate your ideas as the planning stage is quite completed and we are rapidly moving from concepts to realized, complete portions of the ceremony, Mr. Boyle wished me to address some of your ideas specifically, as he felt they might assist you in your future creative endeavours, which we note should not include the Olympics in any way.
HISTORY: Although we quite agree with you that the Olympic opening ceremony should indeed reflect the United Kingdom’s history and the things of which we are proud, we do not think your proposal to have a crowd of five thousand volunteers all simultaneously giving someone dressed as Adolf Hitler a middle-finger salute is appropriate for a family-friendly event like the Olympics. (It would also probably just embarrass Germany again, which would be impolitic in this day and age.) Similarly, your proposed salute to Sir William Wallace, while likely to delight extreme Scottish nationalists, would not be in line with the ceremony’s mission of celebrating peace and unity. Furthermore, the cow blood required for the staged eviscerations you describe would be budget-breaking.
FIVE RINGS: Your suggestion to revise J.R.R. Tolkien’s stanza describing the Rings of Power from his Lord of the Rings series by adding the line “Five to the International Olympic Committee, who think they’re so goddamn special, la dee dah” was, to say the least, terribly impolitic. Also, it does not scan well.
POPEYE: We understand that you are a fan of Popeye, but Popeye was created by E.C. Segar, an American, and is currently owned by an American company. Really, Popeye has nothing to do with Britain at all and is not appropriate for the opening ceremony, even if it would be exciting to watch him fight Aslan (whom we believe is who you meant by “that God-Lion, you know the one”). Other suggestions you made that have nothing to do with the United Kingdom fall into this same category: Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves, the re-enactment of a chase scene from the videogame Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (which is set in Rome, which is in Italy, not Great Britain), the army of dancing leprechauns (which are Irish, not British), and Spider-Man (who is portrayed by a British citizen currently but who is not, in and of himself, British).
WILLIAM REGAL: We admit that professional wrestler William Regal is indeed British, but we doubt that Prince Charles would agree to “tap out” to a commoner.
MASS EXECUTIONS: Your suggestion to reunite the cast of Monty Python and then squash them all with a giant metal foot was unfortunately not well-received, as the various Pythons all expressed disinterest at the idea of being crushed to death, even if it would be extremely symbolic. (Eric Idle was prepared to concede minor lacerations and one broken limb so long as he got to sing “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life,” but the other Pythons vetoed this idea.) Similarly, the cast of “The Young Ones” did not understand why they would be crushed by a giant foot, nor did Tom Baker, Jeremy Clarkson or Benedict Cumberbatch. Perhaps you are not aware of this, but not all British television actors are regularly crushed by giant animated feet (much less giant metal ones). Besides, none of these actors deserves to be executed on live television. At most, Jeremy Clarkson deserves a severe flogging rather than death.
MILTON KEYNES: We are not sure why you devoted 750 pages of your missive to a celebration of Milton Keynes, but in any case we do not agree with your proposals in this regard. Frankly, Milton Keynes is sort of depressing.
GIANT RAIN MACHINE: Finally, your proposal to “invent some sort of weather control device to ensure that it rains during the ceremony so everybody experiences Britain properly” is, unfortunately, financially and scientifically unfeasible. Besides which, it will probably rain anyway, so your secondary measure of a system of enormous sprinklers is, we feel, extraneous.
However, despite our creative disagreements, we do note that Kenneth Branagh was very taken with your idea of having him portray “an evil Bob Cratchit who is lord and emperor of all he surveys,” and we will be using elements of that idea without crediting you. Our thanks.
Sincerely, etc. etc.
I’ve occasionally wondered if the MGK.com audience is interested in professional wrestling analysis, and I suppose there’s no better reason to test the waters than what Dave Meltzer calls “the biggest money-drawing pro-wrestling show of the last 130 years.” (It is a little known fact that the Earp brothers and the Clanton gang actually settled their differences with a eight-man tag in front of a sellout crowd at the Tombstone Sportatorium.)
The sensibility that WrestleMania is a special show on the WWE calendar is somewhat artificial. There’s no particular reason that WWE couldn’t save their biggest matches or their stadium events for, say, SummerSlam or Survivor Series. But WrestleMania has an aura about it, primarily because of epic matches like Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant (1987), Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior (1990), the Rock vs. Steve Austin series (1999/2001/2003), Hogan vs. the Rock (2002) and Shawn Michaels vs. the Undertaker (2009-2010). For WrestleMania XXVIII, WWE is poised to deliver the same kind of big-time, clash-of-the-titans feeling with a main event the company has been hyping since about a month before WrestleMania XXVII. It’s just that big!
John Cena vs. The Rock
I’m not sure the wrestling fandom has anticipated a match this much since Hogan and Andre. For over a year I’ve heard serious discussion about whether fans in the Sun Life Stadium will riot if the Rock loses in his hometown. There’s been tons of buildup for this one, as Rock and Cena have traded “is this a fake storyline or something more?” barbs at each other for years. Ostensibly, the story is that Rock retired in 2004 to make movies, and now he feels like coming back but Cena resents that the “people’s champion” walked out on the people. Recently the Rock has added the wrinkle that he wants to prove he’s the greatest of all time by becoming the only man to defeat Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, and John Cena at WrestleMania.
The real story, though, is as follows:
Basically, this match is every online Superman vs. Batman debate made manifest. Up to and including the part where nobody notices that Batman is just Superman with a blue cape.
Who will win? Let’s put it this way: WWE is hoping this will be the highest-grossing WrestleMania of all time, and very few people are paying to see the Rock lose.
Who should win? My personal WrestleMania experience would be perfect if I could hear millions of butthurt Cena-haters wailing as one on April 1, so I’m rooting for John Cena.
1) Bears punter Devin Hester died at some point during the 2010 season. Bears head coach Lovie Smith used unholy rituals to bind his spirit to this earth, in order to force him to act as a ghostly punt returner for the team. This can sometimes unnerve opposing punters. (“It’s got to be tough for [the Green Bay punter], with the spectre of Devin Hester downfield waiting for him.”)
2) Lions quarterback Shaun Hill makes a terrible mattress. (“You should never sleep on Shaun Hill, I’ll tell you that.”)
3) The injuries to Seahawks quarterback make it very difficult for him to insert a football into his rectum at the current time. (“He’s having trouble opening up his hips and really driving through that football.”)
4) Rams running back Stephen Jackson is a compulsive masturbator, but one with impressive stamina. (“I just gotta touch it 25-30 times a game.”)
There is a school of geekdom that shows no interest in professional sports. To them, I say, there is nothing quite like a group of men having to speak extemporaneously for several hours using terminology that can quite easily be taken wrongly.