Lang’s World: Ten Pearls of Whitaker’s wit and wisdom on sports and beyond 2.1.18
I’m sorry, but I just can’t do it. I can’t. I won’t. I never will.
My plan for today was to write a column that attempted to make a case for why you should cheer for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. They are great! They exude winning! They are a model of what a successful sports franchise should be!
The Patriots might be the greatest football dynasty of all-time. Brady might be the best quarterback of all-time. Bill Belichick might be the best football coach and football executive of all-time.
Yet, I just can’t bring myself to root for them.
On Sunday afternoon, I will plop down on my couch and cheer for the Philadelphia Eagles to win Super Bowl LII. Not because I am a fan of the Eagles. To be honest, I do not like the Eagles any more than I like the Patriots. The key difference between the two teams is that, while I do not have much dislike for the Eagles, I actively dislike the Patriots.
And it’s not for no reason. The Patriots broke my team -- and, by transitive properties, me as well -- during last year’s Super Bowl. They have actively hurt me and my hometown, the same way they’ve ravaged numerous NFL fanbases over the last two decades. I have a very good reason to be rooting against the Patriots.
Although, I suppose, I don’t have to give in to that impulse. As a fan of sports, part of me wants to be able to say that I am a better fan than that. I can acknowledge greatness when I see it, and the Pats play with a level of excellence that comes along rarely.
Growing up, I was never a fan of the Chicago Bulls. But I could watch them and appreciate their skill and dominance without just automatically rooting against them, even though I grew up a fan of those Atlanta Hawks teams the Bulls used to beat like a drum.
This isn’t about the players -- I bet Brady and Rob Gronkowski and the whole gang would actually be interesting to hang out with -- but it is personal. At least for me, that’s how I rationalize it.
If the Patriots win the Super Bowl on Sunday, I won’t be surprised. But I will be disappointed. I am not hating for the sake of hating. I am hating for the sake of getting some small measure of revenge.
The Patriots are awesome.
I just hope they lose the Super Bowl.
2. Secretary of Defense
As someone who grew up in Atlanta during the 1990s, you better believe I was (and still am) a die-hard fan of the Atlanta Braves. We were really good for a really long time, and went to the World Series a bunch of times, and actually won it all in 1995.
All of which made those teams crucial in my development as a sports fan. I mean, I actually wrote an entire book about this.
So in recent years, it’s been fun to watch as, one by one, members of those ‘90s Braves teams have become eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame and have been inducted year after year: Bobby Cox; Greg Maddux; Tom Glavine; John Smoltz.
This year, Chipper Jones was inducted in his first year of Hall eligibility, an honor no baseball fan (except maybe a Mets fan) would quibble with. But falling short of induction, although finishing with just over 7 percent of the necessary votes to remain on the ballot, was former Braves center fielder Andruw Jones. And there’s something wrong about that.
Let me tell you a few things about Jones. Ten times during his career he was selected the best center fielder in baseball. He played more shallow than most center fielders, and with his combination of speed and his strong arm, Jones was able to be almost predatory defensively, consistently taking away short fly balls with diving catches but still running down deep flies and making awesome over-the-head grabs. As Glavine recently said, “With all due respect to Willie Mays, who I never saw play, Andruw Jones is the best center fielder in our generation.” And while he never quite figured out how to hit the offspeed pitch, Andruw was no slouch offensively, finishing with over 400 home runs and 1,200 RBIs.
I am not a Hall of Fame voter, and I don’t know exactly what metrics one considers when deciding who gets voted in and who does not. But I watched almost every game Jones played for over a decade, and I’ve watched baseball my entire life. I’ve never seen a center fielder, on any team, who was as good as Andruw Jones. He belongs in the Hall of Fame.
3. The Crossover
While we are talking Atlanta sports, shout out to the Hawks for dipping into the well of 2000’s nostalgia and bringing former And1 Mixtape Tour dribbling wizard Hot Sauce out of retirement and giving fans the chance to go one-on-one against him. Sound easy? Think again.
You have 24 seconds to try and get a steal from one of the greatest dribblers of all time. It seems like it usually ends up going about as well as it did for this fan...
4. Make ‘Em Dance
I know James Harden can do a lot of amazing stuff and score in inventive ways. But I’d like to take a second to marvel specifically at his step-back jumper, which to me is one of the more incredible things in the NBA. Watch this video below, which shows that step-back shot a couple of times.
It’s almost like a dance routine -- the footwork is so balletic and precise, and that’s coming at the end of 46 minutes of action when his legs must be heavy.
I know footwork is pretty mundane, but it’s also really crucial. A few weeks ago before a Grizz home game, I sat courtside and watched an opposing player put up jumpers. And sure, this was just practice and nobody was keeping score, but I noticed this guy’s footwork was just a tiny bit different on every shot. And I think one thing that allows Harden to put up 60-point triple-doubles is that attention to detail. It was a little thing, but maybe that’s the size of the gap from being an NBA bench player to being an NBA Hall of Famer.
5. Deep Impact
Good news for those of you who aren’t looking forward to the Super Bowl this weekend: There’s an asteroid coming toward us at 67,000 miles an hour! This asteroid should -- SHOULD -- pass by the earth on Sunday and miss us by 2.6 million miles, which sounds like a lot but apparently isn’t. Or at least it isn’t close enough to scramble Bruce Willis and a rag-tag team of oil drillers and have them save the world.
What’s really disappointing about this asteroid, and frankly feels like a missed opportunity, is that someone decided to name this rock “2002 AJ129.” Because really, if there’s anything we all know about our society, things need a catchy name if we want them to catch on. Can’t the people at The Science Board, or whoever picks these asteroid names, be a little more thoughtful? Would Cardi B be as popular if her name was 2002 AJ129? There’s a reason a guy named Pete Hernandez started telling people to call him Bruno Mars. Science has had its own set of believability issues to deal with in recent years. If you want the public to like what you’re doing, sometimes putting science aside in favor of being catchy is the best way to win friends and influence people.
So instead of 2002 AJ129, and in the interests of branding, I vote we rename this rock ‘The #SUPERROID.’ Yes, this might sound more like a medical condition than a celestial event, but it has a hashtag and it’s memorable. I guess we have to start somewhere.
6. Who Hate Me?
Hey, did you see the big news from Vince McMahon? The XFL is back baby!
Well, it’s coming back, supposedly, in 2020. And there might be some changes from the XFL we saw when it was last around -- I do hope they continue to use the human coin toss.
Whatever changes are in store, the one thing they absolutely must keep intact is the players wearing nicknames on their jerseys. The NBA and Major League Baseball have dabbled with this in recent years, but people are still referencing He Hate Me from the original XFL run. And with the WWE marketing genius behind the XFL, I remain hopeful that the XFL can work and give us plenty of fun names.
I’ve been doing NBA Separated at Birth calls since way back in the days of SLAMonline, and I figured we should bring them back because, who doesn’t love a good lookalike? This week I thought we could start with one of my more controversial calls, because whenever I mention this one, people often recoil at the idea. But then when you look at these two men side by side, there’s definitely something there, particularly in the eyes. So let’s kick this running feature off with Golden State guard Shaun Livingston and Hollywood star Ryan Reynolds.
8. Can They Kick It?
Customizable Foamposites are coming for All-Star Weekend. Want.
9. Animal Takeover
We knew when we moved from New York City down to Memphis, we would encounter a drastically different lifestyle, especially when it came to moving from a completely urban environment to a mostly suburban environment.
Case in point: A few weeks ago, we got a few inches of snow here in Memphis, and I walked out onto our back porch and found a long turd left there in the newfallen snow by my dog. After I cleaned it up, I asked my wife why she had let the dog outside without cleaning up after her. And my wife said she hadn’t let the dog out yet. Huh, I thought, I guess another dog from a neighbor paid us a visit.
A few nights later, while we were sitting at the dinner table, I noticed a shadow dart past our window. I stood up to inspect further, and discovered that it was a raccoon, who had come to raid a low-hanging bird feeder. He seemed harmless enough, so I let him hang out and eat.
Well, I guess word gets around in the raccoon community -- my house must have been trending on raccoon Twitter -- because last night, once it was dark, I looked out back and there were FIVE raccoons having a full-on party in my backyard. One of them even strolled right up on my porch and was just kinda wandering around, seeing what was good. When I opened the door to run them off, the one on the porch leapt onto the neighbor’s fence, ran straight up, leapt into a tree and disappeared, like a raccoon ninja.
I have nothing against raccoons, and having one come around from time to time would probably be charming. But five of them is four too many for my tastes. You don’t have to go home, but y’all gotta get out of here.
10. Go Forth With Song
Mentioned Bruno Mars earlier, and I know he’s a divisive figure. But I saw him live last year in Houston a few nights before the Super Bowl, and he puts on a pretty incredible show. So in honor of his big night at the Grammys, let’s close out with some Bruno…
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Lang Whitaker are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.