Why We Fan

bismack-biyombo-560x391

It’s a feeling unlike any other.

As a diehard sports fan who hasn’t had much to cheer about throughout my life, I have had a lot of fun teams to root for. My childhood sports experience was dominated by the Vancouver Canucks, Pavel Bure, the “West Coast Express” line and the never ever to be duplicated Sedin twins. I’ll go to my grave with the belief that there has never been and there will never be a happier first baseman in the world than Carlos Delgado. The Blue Jays have fluked their way into year after year of home run mashing teams ever since Jose Bautista arrived on the scene. Chris Bosh was one of the best almost-superstars.

The point is, in spite of my lack of major professional sports championships experience (it’s zero, by the way), there has been a lot of joy along the way. I’m not jaded. At least, not yet.

The Toronto Raptors are doing their best to keep it that way for me. After a stunning victory in game 4 over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Raptors are legitimately still in the thick of what was supposed to be a 3 team playoff race.

While I’ve watched more than my fair share of sports over the years, it’s hard for me to explain why this Raptors run is nothing like anything I have ever experienced as a Canadian sports fan.

The Toronto Blue Jays went on an incredible, magical run last year. It was amazing. However, it never felt this way.

The Vancouver Canucks went to game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011. It was also amazing. However, outside of Alex Burrows’ game winning goal in round 1 against the Chicago Blackhawks, it never felt this good.

The only explanation I can come up with for why the past few days have been so different is the nature of the victories. The season was almost over. Twice. This series was definitely supposed to be over by now. That was a foregone conclusion. After game 2, I had an intense text discussion with a friend about whether the Raptors should let Demar DeRozan walk this offseason.

Here we are though, 2-2. This is why you play the games.

Since Saturday’s unexpected victory over Cleveland, I have been downright giddy. Consuming every bit of Raptors news and analysis that I possibly can. I thought the season would be over by now. We all did. I wonder how many people feel the way I do.

This is the reason that I don’t care about bandwagon jumpers. Come on aboard. The bandwagon fans don’t bother me because I know they can never feel this good. At the risk of sounding cliché, it is only the ones of who have been through the lows who get to experience the highs.  The diehards.

The ones who watched far too many Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay clanked jumpers, Rafael Arajuo attempt to play NBA basketball, Hedo Turkoglu believe he needed more “ball” and Jay Triano try to coach a team to play league average defence.

I’m still young. A part of me believes that the chase is more fun than actually winning. This, of course, coming from a fan who has never experienced actual winning. It may be a defence mechanism or I simply might not be jaded enough yet.

Nevertheless, it’s the past few days that instill in me this possibly ridiculous belief that I would rather cheer for my hapless group of teams than be, say, a San Francisco Giants fan. If I had grown up a Boston sports fan, what would I have to cheer for? I have no idea if I am in the minority on this but I wouldn’t trade what I have for anything…I think.

Yes, as Herm Edwards so famously said, you play to win the game. At the same time, the journey matters just as much, if not more for sports fans. Winning is not the be all and end all. It can still be a heck of a lot of fun even when your chances of winning a championship are slim to none.

And isn’t that the point of all this?

Sports have been around for centuries for our entertainment. We watch because it is fun.

We have fun watching Bismack Biyombo wag his finger like he’s the second coming of Dikembe Mutombo. We enjoy, or at least some of us enjoy, witnessing the national media skewer LeBron for flopping around like he isn’t 6”8, 260 pounds.  Most of all, we love the fact that we were all wrong about the Toronto Raptors’ chances in this series. Regular season Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan are alive.

I recognize that it’s absurd to be this excited about a series that will probably end in 6 games. This isn’t even the NBA Finals. But I had to document this moment. I want to remember what it felt like when the Raptors pushed the Cavaliers and King James to their limits. . I want to remember why I do this to myself. Why all of us sports fans do this to ourselves.

It’s this weird, lasting feeling of mild euphoria that is impossible to explain and even harder for most people to understand. You have to be one of us to truly get it. It’s a small club. I’m just happy I get to be a part of it.

The Definitive Answer to the Hatred of LeBron

LeBron James sad

It was a demise that was as quick and painless as it gets. For a team that had reached the finals for three consecutive seasons, it was like going in for surgery, being put under and waking up not being quite sure where you are or whether the doctor actually removed your tonsils. Popovich and the Machines dismantled the Miami Heat in a fashion that few could have prophesized outside of the San Antonio locker room.

As a result, the Spurs have unintentionally fueled another fun-filled calendar year of LeBron James talk show fodder. Off-season speculation of where LeBron might be headed and how it will affect his legacy. MJ vs. Kobe vs. LBJ. And Skip Bayless doing the whole Baylessian ratings whore thing.

Hours will be spent dissecting a man who plays basketball really well for a living. The impossible task of discerning how good LeBron is compared to people he will never have the opportunity to compete against. The more reasonable task of hating on LeBron or attempting to explain why the haters should stuff their one-liners in a sack will be undertaken.

However, when it comes to LeBron’s status in professional sports, there is one explanation that is rarely brought up when attempting to illustrate the reasoning behind the polarizing nature of the King. Even though it is a defining aspect of our everyday non-online, non-twitter related interactions with other humans, there is one factor that we often fail to account for when examining our sports figures.

The likeability factor.

It is a factor that is as intangible as intangibles get. Forgive me for mentioning the man twice in one post, but likeability is almost as undefinable as the intangibles that Skip Bayless drones on about.

There is no rhyme or reason to likeability. Determining likeability is instinctual. We get a feeling of how much we like someone five seconds after meeting them and go from there. First impressions can really be everything. There is often no concrete rationale for liking someone. We just do. It’s human nature that has probably evolved from the time when we were monkeys or gorillas or whatever we were way back when.

Our world is built upon likeability, especially so in the entertainment industry. Similarly to just about any personal quality we possess, it is God-given. People base careers solely off of being likeable. Paul Rudd has been doing it for years.

While professional athletes amaze us with feats of spectacular athleticism and physicality, they are nothing more than entertainers. Most of us watch sports for the same reasons that we go to the movies, see Cirque de Soleil or pay 200 bucks for Britney Spears to lip sync “Oops I did It Again” for the 1335th time in her life. We want to be entertained. An athlete’s personality may not define their livelihood in the same way that traditional entertainers do but public perception of an athlete is an inevitable consequence of the way our primitive animal brains are wired.

Consequently, athletes who are equipped with a character that is unappealing to our animal brains, for whatever variety of reasons, are subject to the cruel reality of the entertainment industry, which is that likeability has the power to trump everything.

This is where LeBron James falters. There is no way to put it other than the man is not likeable. It may be more opinion than fact but it is an opinion that is unquestionably shared by a vast majority of basketball and non-basketball fans alike. He is a tremendously gifted basketball player who is just that. A tremendously gifted basketball player.

LeBron was an ordinary basketball star before ‘The Decision’ rocked our world. The most talented player since Kobe Bryant played in a boring city (sorry, Cleveland!) and wasn’t overwhelmingly adored or despised by fans.

‘The Decision’ was the turning point in LeBron’s career, obviously. It fueled the public’s hatred of LeBron James, many of whom were indifferent to him when he was with the Cavaliers. It showed many a side of him that they didn’t know was there. ‘The Decision’ itself did not cause people to hate LeBron. Rather, it was the gateway for people to see LeBron for the type of superstar that he is. ‘The Decision’ isn’t the type of thing that likeable people do. It’s the type of thing that people who self-proclaim themselves ‘The King” and tattoo ‘Chosen1’ across their back do. No one was going to let LeBron off the hook for this one and his introduction party with partners in crime Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh confirmed that.

Once ‘The Decision’ was made, there was no coming back. The hole was dug too deep for a King who was not worshipped by his subjects. James was revered for his basketball ability alone, which left him vulnerable to the brutality of the court of public opinion. He had nothing to fall back on other than what he does with a basketball. By the time he stepped on the court though, his fate with the public had, for all intents and purposes, been decided.

Athletes become stars because of their physical abilities. The stardom develops into adoration through an unquantifiable mixture of star quality and athletic prowess.

As is the case with many star athletes, LeBron is unable to get away with his mistakes because he lacks the charm and likeability we desire in our entertainers. That is the true difference between Michael and LeBron. People can point to LeBron’s off-court joking, antics and photo-bombing all they want, but that proves nothing. LeBron was blessed with insane physical abilities but cursed with an inability to combine that with superstar charisma. Michael Jordan, however, was blessed with insane physical abilities and combines that with effortless likeability.

Michael Jordan is not a good human being. He is a notorious asshole and story after story proves that. He punched Steve Kerr in the face for disagreeing with him in practice. In his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech, he unnecessarily chewed out everyone from his high school coach to the Hall of Fame itself. He’s a billionaire (according to Forbes) but, apparently, a bad tipper.

Yet, it doesn’t make any difference because he is likeable.

We like Michael Jordan. We built up, and continue to build up, his legendary status because that’s what we do to people we like. We don’t mind that he is a gambling addict. We were enthralled with his decision to take a stab at minor league baseball in favour of going for a 4th straight championship. We omit many of his past failures to support the favourable narrative of a guy we like. The man starred in Space Jam for heaven sakes.

Although Twitter may not be the greatest indicator of public sentiment, not long after the Heat’s loss in game 5, ‘Kobe 5X Champ’ was trending worldwide. Of course, another shot at LeBron’s 2 measly championship rings. Kobe Bryant is no Michael Jordan in the likeability department either but what he has done on the court has been enough to earn the public’s respect.

Throw out all the stats you have. How well or poorly LeBron plays only serves as a gauge for which a good percentage of the public uses to determine how loudly or softly they can lay it on LBJ until the next game. It doesn’t make sense that we heap endless amount of praise on Michael Jordan and find every reason to poke holes in the armour of LeBron. Too bad for LeBron that likeability is a senseless endeavour. Not everyone is going to like you nor is everyone going to hate you. The thing is, there is not a damn thing you can do about it.

There is a reason why George W. Bush served TWO, count ‘em, TWO freaking terms as President of the United States. Why Bill Clinton can get away with an affair to end all affairs.

We still cheer for Tiger Woods (who is also a bad tipper) despite the fact that he cheated on his wife a million times. Most of us don’t even know that Steve Nash cheated on his pregnant, now ex-wife with the woman who is his current girlfriend. Charles Barkley can say anything he wants about the supposed fat women of San Antonio.

We still love them (well, except for George Bush). It may be irrational but likeability is irrational. When you’re 5 years old and you go to your first day of Kindergarten without knowing a single person, you don’t gravitate to the person who becomes your best friend for the next 10 years because you have made a list of pros and cons about their worth as a human being.

It is impossible to try to make sense of it. Unfortunately for LeBron James, he does not possess the magic aura of likeability that sports fans gravitate towards. The hatred is less for LeBron James than it used to be. He’s too good of a basketball player for the 2011 level of animosity to endure.

But LeBron is once again the goat, and not the good kind of GOAT. More of the Charlie Brown kind of goat. He went to Miami to win “not 4, not 5, not 6” championships and has only come up with two in four years. That’s not good enough for someone trying to dethrone the true King of the Hill and all-around superstar.

LeBron wore the number 23 until he got to Miami. He happily invited the comparisons to Michael Jordan because he wanted to be bigger and better than MJ. Little did LBJ know that he was doomed from the very beginning. It was too late before he realized that he did not stand a chance against the larger than life expectations. The pushback was unescapable because we like Michael Jordan too much.

LeBron James. He just doesn’t have…it.

Agree? Disagree? Reply in the comments section below or e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com

Also, you can follow me on twitter @chrisrossPTB and I will happily return the favour.

Old School

Michael Pineda

The silliness of Major League Baseball was captured in one single moment last night on the mound at Fenway Park. The umpiring crew surrounded Michael Pineda as crew chief Gerry Davis examined New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda after the accusation from Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell that Pineda had pine tar “all over his neck”.

Of course, there was pine tar. Pineda was cheating. He was subsequently ejected in the 2nd inning to the dismay of Yankees manager Joe GIradi. No one is too shocked or outraged. This is Major League Baseball. Wake us up when something newsworthy happens, right?

It is a cliché to call any type of backwards thinking Neanderthal-like but that’s what Major League Baseball is. Aside from FIFA, there isn’t a league in the world that is more behind the times than the MLB. Despite the abundance of statistics that is so pervasive in the game these days, the old school mentality from managers, coaches and commentators still dominates many aspects of the way the MLB operates.

Michael Pineda and pine tar-gate is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with baseball yet the MLB is about as active as a Prince Fielder in the off-season in changing the game for the better. Pineda was put on “unofficial probation” after camera’s caught him using pine tar in his April 10th start against the Red Sox with no regard for discretion or subtlety. Pineda did not care and neither did the Red Sox apparently.

Pineda’s use of pine tar on April 10th was about as discreet as a pot smoker on 4:20 but the umpires didn’t do a damn thing about it because no one brought it to their attention. It’s part of the large unwritten “code” in baseball that pitchers use a variety of foreign substances to help them on the mound.

Don’t ask, don’t tell.

For some reason, everyone involved around the game of baseball accepts it for what it is. There isn’t a sport where cheating is more universally recognized and allowed within the confines of the game than baseball.

The substance abuse problem among pitchers is the MLB’s version of the don’t ask, don’t tell policy and it is just the tip of the iceberg. While America’s pastime has been surpassed by both football and basketball in the last decade, Bud Selig and Major League Baseball have sat back and watched it happen. Wilfully blind to the plethora of issues that need to be addressed. They foolishly allow the game to be subjugated to the “this is how the game was always played” old school mind-set.

Coming up with solutions to the game, any game, is America’s true greatest pastime. Everyone thinks they have the answers, if only someone would listen to them.

However, some of the fixes needed in the MLB are so obvious, a six-year-old child could figure out what the right thing to do is. Even a first-grader knows the difference between right and wrong, and a number of problems in the MLB simply have to do with enforcing the rules.

In this post-steroid age, scoring runs are at an all-time low in the MLB but the league continues to give the pitcher every advantage possible. This isn’t 1964 anymore. Blatant stupidity/laziness from guys like Michael Pineda should not be the only cases where enforcement of the rule should occur. The don’t ask, don’t tell policy regarding pine tar, sunscreen or any other foreign substance is as nonsensical as it gets.

Hitting is harder than ever with constant defensive shifts, 95mph fastballs as common as the cold and guys like Pineda given mostly free rein to do whatever they want to the baseball on the mound. Nevertheless, we have the old school commentators like Buck Martinez and Joe Buck clamouring that the strike zone needs to be more liberal than it already is to speed up the game.

Make hitting harder to speed up the game? Fixing one problem by exasperating another is not how you go about improving anything.

If baseball could learn anything from football and basketball, it’s that more scoring is the goal. Bud Selig, or anyone who works at Major League Baseball for that matter, has yet to get the memo. In 2013 and 2014, the amount of runs scored per game in the MLB has not been this low since 1992.

The most frustrating aspect of this is some of these problems are as simple as ensuring umpires do their jobs and carry out the rules properly. Don’t allow pitchers to use foreign substances. Don’t allow pitchers to throw strikes three inches off the plate. Don’t allow pitchers to take over 30 seconds in between pitches.

I doubt Bud Selig has any trouble sleeping, but if he ever lies in bed at night wondering why they’re losing out to the NFL and NBA, maybe he should realize that not many people can handle three to four hours of pitching dominance.

Michael Pineda and pine tar-gate, in itself, is not all that interesting. Pineda will get suspended, come back and probably do it all over again. Nothing will change as a result of this story. Major League Baseball will continue to stand idly by as the NFL and NBA surpass them in every possible way.

The issues the league faces are not complicated. Any small child could understand what needs to be done. Enforce the rules.

But then again, that would be too easy.

Agree? Disagree? Reply in the comments section below or e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com

Also, you can follow me on twitter @chrisrossPTB and I will happily return the favour.

The Next A-Rod

Johnny Manziel

Johnny Football is out of control.

He’s a runaway freight train. The fat kid winning a trip inside Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Miley Cyrus getting ready to twerk.

Unstoppable.

We didn’t learn much about Johnny Manziel last year for a number of reasons. Freshman players at Texas A&M aren’t allowed to speak to the media. Manziel hadn’t yet morphed into Johnny Football. Most importantly, the college football world had only begun treating him like the guy Tim Tebow worships.

But now, Johnny Manziel is showing his true colours and they couldn’t be any uglier.

Obviously, the NCAA’s half game penalty to Manziel didn’t teach him a lesson. The slap on the wrist simply inflated Mr. Football’s ego. It confirmed his belief that he is invincible.

Time after time this off-season, Manziel has thrown the middle finger in the face of his critics. He didn’t care that he was sent home from the Manning camp. He knew it would cause an uproar going to a University of Texas frat party. He signed autographs in exchange for money even though his family is rich as holy hell.

Johnny Football don’t care because Johnny Football is above the law. At least, that’s how Johnny Football views the world.

After his performance on the field today, it is clear as to how Johnny Manziel perceives his place on this earth. He taunted a defender by pretending to sign his autograph. He celebrated on two occasions by giving the ca$h money sign with his hands.

I hate to put it in such a low brow way but Manziel is a douche bag. He isn’t just a douchebag. He is lord of the douchebags and seems perfectly happy with carrying that title.

By making reference to his recent mini scandal multiple times on national TV, Johnny Manziel is carving out his place as the next Alex Rodriguez in professional sports.

Manziel is the kind of douchebag that you can’t quite define. I’m all for taunting on the field but when Chad Ochocinco tries to bribe a referee with a dollar bill, it comes off as endearing. When Johnny For whatever reason, Manziel throws up the ca$h money sign with both hands, I’m pissed off. It’s not very hard to picture him as the dude wearing the Delta Kappa Epsilon t-shirt as a head band during college orientation week.

Douchebag.

If Manziel is able to translate his skills to the next level, he will become the NFL’s most polarizing figure. It’s incredibly simplistic to attribute his actions to “just being a kid” or “boys will be boys”. There are lots of “kids” who have been showered with praise in the manner that Johnny Manziel has without transforming into raging ego-maniacs. Tim Tebow, LeBron James and Sidney Crosby are names that immediately come to mind.

As much as people may hate LeBron James, it is not because he has that douchebaggy, A-Fraud kind of aura to him.

Sadly, Johnny Manziel gives off that vibe and it won’t serve him well moving forward. Alex Rodriguez is lucky he plays what is essentially an individual sport. As much as we hear reports that Manziel’s teammates adore him, those college kids who look up to him now will turn into grown men in the NFL.

Manziel isn’t merely enjoying the fruits of his labour at this point. He goes out of his way to flaunt his success in everyone’s faces. His ego has become the size of Barry Bonds’ head circa 2001. It’s a huge turn off.

If you look at the greatest leaders in the NFL, they aren’t frat boys who happen to play football really well. If Manziel continues down this path, ‘haters gonna hate’ will become his go to phrase on twitter.

Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin has to bench him. Benching him for a half will do a whole lot more than the NCAA’s pathetic double standard of a suspension did. He needs to take a page from Don Mattingly’s book. Yasiel Puig, who has been basking a little too hard in the glow of his own phenomenon, forced Mattingly’s hand. There were rumblings that players were getting upset and understandably so.

Puig’s ego ain’t got nothing on Johnny Football.

While Manziel’s future success is far from a guarantee, there are other things that are certainties. Professional football players won’t tolerate Manziel the way he handles that ego. The media won’t give him any breaks. Diehard football fans can be as ruthless and unforgiving as they come.

It is possible that Manziel will mature and shed this other label he is creating for himself. However, someone has to stop him in his tracks. And fast.

Because Johnny Football appears to be just getting started.

Agree? Disagree? Reply in the comments section below or e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com

Also, you can follow me on twitter @chrisrossPTB and I will happily return the favour.

This Needs to Stop

Alex Rodriguez

Other than FIFA, the MLB is the world’s most archaic league. No professional sports league in North America is as slow at adapting to modern changes than Major League Baseball. It took a lifetime in and a half for Bud Selig to finally install an expanded replay system.

While the importance of history in the game of baseball cannot be underscored, its rich history prevents the league from moving forward. The illogical phrase preventing change of “this is how it has always been done” rings truer in the game of baseball than it does anywhere else.

Last night, Boston Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster gave us his variation of the ever-constant vigilante justice we see in baseball. Dempster took it upon himself to send a cryptic message to Alex Rodriguez. He threw one pitch behind his knees, two pitches far enough inside for a half-blind person to understand what was going on and finally plunked A-Rod high and tight.

It was an unprecedented moment in MLB history.

I can’t lie. I smiled after seeing that 4th pitch bean baseball’s most polarizing figure since Barry Bonds retire. My baseball coach in high school, Dave Empey, was Ryan Dempster’s coach and is still his friend to this day. When I saw that 4th pitch fly into A-Rod’s elbow, I could hear Dave, in his old, cranky voice telling us in one of his pre-game speeches, “Ryan Dempster was a man!” Granted, Ryan Dempster doesn’t have to bat in the American league.

However, the biggest takeaway from this incident has to be the MLB’s ignorance of the vigilante justice that has been as integral to the game of baseball as the Kardashian’s are to late-night TV writers. Players and fans accept it, as we do with so many other things in society, because “that’s the way it has always been done.”

The vigilante justice pitchers impose when they bean an opposing does make some sense. Human beings are wired for revenge. An eye for an eye, right?

In this day and age though, that foolhardy acceptance of such a simple concept needs to change before someone gets hurt.

There has been no hotter topic than the issue of concussions in sports over the past few years. The NFL and NHL have gone out of their respective ways in attempts to minimize head injuries. The games have changed as a result of it.

The MLB is happy with vigilante justice. It means that, for the most part, they don’t have to deal with the straining process of determining suspensions. Accepting and recognizing it as simply a part of the game ensures that they don’t have to be the bad guy. Say what you want about Roger Goodell, but he has no qualms with being the bad cop.

Although the concept of vigilante justice does make some sense, when you break it down, it’s about as ridiculous as a monkey wearing a cowboy hat and riding a dog. Players hurl a rock hard object, the baseball, at the bodies and sometimes heads of opposing batters at speeds of 90-100 mph from 60 feet away. It may be considered justice in the game of baseball but, in a court of law, that sounds a helluva lot like assault with a deadly weapon.

Yet the majority of players and fans still seem to be fine with it.

Ryan Dempster continued to pitch. Joe Giradi was ejected for standing up for what was right. Curt Schilling said on the radio this morning that he couldn’t believe that C.C. Sabathia didn’t take it upon himself to stand up for his teammate.

Baseball mentality at its finest.

The MLB has been lucky. Despite the countless number of balls that have flown intentionally and unintentionally at the heads of players, no one has been seriously injured or killed. This may sound crazy but the ‘law of being due’ ominously looms over the game like a dark, stormy cloud. With the amount of balls that are purposefully flung at delicate human heads, it’s only a matter of time before someone sustains a life threatening injury.

It just takes one ball to hit the wrong spot, helmet or no helmet.

Major League Baseball has to get a better handle on this. Pitchers who intentionally toss balls at players should be suspended. A zero tolerance policy. It takes something to the degree of what Ryan Dempster did yesterday for the MLB to hand out one of those 6 game, 1 start suspensions.

Those 6 game suspensions have to be the bare minimum. Even though I still smirk when I think about Dempster’s best Batman impersonation, he needs to be made an example of. I know he won’t be but he should be. It can’t be up to the pitchers to do the dirty work. It’s not fair to the pitchers and it’s even less fair to the often time’s innocent (star) players who have to bear the brunt of the pitcher’s dirty work.

I don’t think I can count on my fingers how many times Bryce Harper has been thrown at in his very short MLB career.

Like so many things in life, significant penalties are the only way to change the culture. It’s the only way vigilante justice in baseball can be reined in. We can’t continue to stand idly by and tolerate players putting their lives on the line every time a team feels the need for retribution.

This is an important issue that is constantly swept under the rug by that dreaded nostalgic mantra. I get it. That’s how it has always been done.

But, come on. Let’s not wait until something tragic happens.

Agree? Disagree? Reply in the comments section below or e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com

Also, you can follow me on twitter @chrisrossPTB and I will happily return the favour.

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