Ray Ratto

Quietest time in sports yields a pair of idiotic fascinations


Quietest time in sports yields a pair of idiotic fascinations

Some time not that very long ago, someone in sports management who will almost certainly spend all of eternity bobbing for razor-studded apples in a pool of lava saw an opportunity in the phrase, “The quietest time in sports.” And decided to fill it with filth.
It is believed to begin right after the end of the NBA Finals, although that artificial start date has been extended through free agency now that the NBA’s principal entertainment vehicle is the burning of money. It used to be right after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, though now it has been extended backward. And it ends roughly at the beginning of NFL and/or college training camps, depending on where you live and which of those two beasts you profess your God to be.
But let’s get back to the management succubus who has set us on the path that has led inexcusably to the current point. The idea that baseball no longer holds the interest or attention spans of the young, cool and inadequately trained in the value of money is now accepted as fact, and as any marketing nitwit will tell you, nature abhors a vacuum.
So here’s what we’ve got. Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor in what is very simply a lazy-stereotype-laden comedy tour that isn’t funny let alone even mildly convincing. They have both been on the stage too long, with a month still to go before the final shame-off August 26, where they simply enter the arena, stand with their backs to each other at the ring rope and spend 45 minutes trying to target-spit into the eyes of the high-rollers. Why the promoters didn’t just muzzle Mayweather and McGregor and use actual professionals like Key and Peele and Aisling Bea and Ed Byrne to work the crowds for a million per is simply a lack of imagination at work.
Here’s what else we have. Our idiotic fascination for Lonzo Ball’s two best Summer League games being achieved wearing shoes other than those promoted by his father/huckster as though his skills and intelligence are all in his feet.
What this actually is, of course, is people using Lonzo’s momentary and mostly microscopic achievement to call LaVar a tedious swine without ever using his name or his product catalog because he, like McGregor and Mayweather, beats down crowds and calls it entertainment, and people have signed on in a weird backdoor way – by finding reasons to like the son as a weapon against the father.
Thus, Lonzo Ball gets to learn how to be a professional athlete of note while carrying the load of his father’s impression upon the nation as well as the loads of those who believe that sins of the father must revert to the son. Popularity’s dominant property is its corrosion, and Ball will have to have very fast feet and well-constructed shoes indeed to dance away from the rising tide of a bored fan base with an ax to grind.
It isn’t as instantly gratifying a train wreck as Mayweather-McGregor, but it is a triumph of the new marketing strategy of wholesale idiocy that diminishes the watcher as well as the watched.
Neither of these events are in and of themselves interesting. Mayweather-McGregor is simply a kangaroo boxing a bear because circus entertainment no longer has circuses as venues, and Ball’s summer bears almost no relationship to the true test of his career – how to be the best player on a terrible team and then make the adjustment to being the third best player on a rebuilding team.
Ball has a longer shelf life because of that single useful component, but it is made less rather than more interesting by the presence of his father, who is now indelibly part of the tale at a time when most parents leave their children to find their fortunes by the virtues of their skills and wits.
McGregor-Mayweather has the sole benefit of being cringeworthy both before, during and after the event, a month-long smear of degradation that reduces all involved, including those who buy the fight, into penitents, into rolling apologies. It is an event in which nobody gets out with any shred of dignity, with the single revolting example of the grisly accountant-beasts who will take the Internal Revenue’s cut immediately after the fight.
And if that isn’t Satan winning, then you don’t know how to score a game in which Satan plays on all the teams at once and sees to it that the game is scheduled in the middle of July because some client of his told him it was the best time of year for personal and professional disgrace with a scoreboard on the end of it.

Sharks slowly sneaking onto the list of off-brand teams that could make a deep run


Sharks slowly sneaking onto the list of off-brand teams that could make a deep run

We put a lot of stock in “being under the radar,” as though the defining metric for anything is whether or not we pay attention to them.

This, of course, is insane, but it is a tribute to our ability to define all things based on the narcissism that comes with believing the galactic central point. It’s a lot like “he or she is the best player I ever saw,” as though you’re the one who defines such things.

That said, I give you the San Jose Sharks, who are slowly sneaking onto the list of off-brand teams that could make a deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Not deep enough to get them a parade or even a reprise of their 2016 Finals run, in all likelihood, but deeper than you thought when Joe Thornton crumpled two months ago.

It wasn’t just their 2-1 overtime win against Vegas, the NHL’s version of America’s Sweethearts, though that didn’t hurt. It wasn’t just their secondary metrics, which put them smack dab in the middle of the league, if not slightly below. And it isn’t as though they are radically different with Evander Kane, their trade deadline rental-with-an-option-to-buy.

No, San Jose has readjusted on the fly to deal with its changed circumstances, at least enough to establish one noteworthy advantage over its competitors.

They own their division more completely than any other team (20-4-3, and given the NHL’s playoff format they wouldn’t have to play outside their division until the Western Conference Final. And since their first two opponents will be Pacific Division opponents, the Sharks have a way to establish their mode of play that they would not have were they playing a team from the Central.

They match up best against Los Angeles, against which they are currently matched, with a convincing 3-1 record; against Anaheim, the other first-round alternative, they are also 3-1, though two of the wins and the loss occurred in a shootout.

Then if they get around that hurdle, they would draw Vegas, which is essentially The Team The Entire Hockey World Is Rooting For. Vegas has won two of the three matches with one to go, but each team has won an overtime game.

In other words, the Sharks’ first two opponents would likely be some combination of teams they have beaten seven times in eight regulation games, and are 3-2 in coin-flip games.

You’d take those odds, a hell of a lot sooner than a first-rounder against Nashville, Winnipeg or Minnesota, and maybe even Colorado. It is therefore helpful that the Sharks play each of them once before the regular season ends, to provide a bit more input for our pending miscalculations.

Series are not macro, after all, and matchups against individual teams matter more than records against whole divisions. Moreover, the Stanley Cup Playoffs do not necessarily go to the team with the best record but to the healthiest team with the goaltender playing the best. In that way, they more routinely represent your 2018 NCAA bracket than your NBA Playoff bracket, where the chalk prevails an inordinate amount of time.

Point is, the Sharks haven’t really inspired the outside world much – that under-the-radar thing again – but they represent the solid counterpuncher who ought to at the bare minimum punish the team that beats them sufficiently to make that team’s passage through the subsequent rounds considerably more difficult. That is more than anyone thought they would do once Thornton went down, but less than the level of notoriety of about eight other teams. They are not invisible, but they are hard to find.

But maybe if they hired a nonagenarian member of the clergy to hang around and offer scouting reports to Peter DeBoer, they could become media darlings, for what that may be worth. And let’s face it, you mock Sister Jean at your peril.

Vivek Ranadive didn't stick to sports, has his defining moment as Kings owner

Vivek Ranadive didn't stick to sports, has his defining moment as Kings owner

Vivek Ranadive has been looking for that moment that defines him as a sports owner since the day he bought the Sacramento Kings, and for the longest time he hung his hat on two hooks:

One, helping convince David Stern to lay in the tracks that were leading the team to Seattle, and two, getting a new arena built.

But those enriched him. What he did Thursday night ennobled him.

In the wake of the police shooting of Stephon Clark while he sat in his grandfather’s backyard and Sacramento’s ensuing outrage, Ranadive was presented with a difficult situation. A protest had led to the doors of the Golden 1 Center, essentially blocking the entrances for that night’s Kings-Atlanta Hawks game, and rather than insist that the police clear the entrances so an essentially meaningless game could be played without inconvenience, Ranadive decided to err on the side of the community rather than his own perquisites.

The protesters stayed, the game was played (albeit before maybe 1,500 people rather than the usual 17,583), and after consulting with his players and other employees in search of the proper tone, he spoke eloquently and acted firmly and sensitively about the Clark's family’s pain, and the town’s pain.

This became his moment to show what he stood for, and what he stood against.

This is not typically a place to find owner praise – they act in their own self-interest to such an extraordinary degree that no caricature of them as money-eating oligarchs is accurate enough. Nor is this the place to call Vivek Ranadive a hero in a tragic time – not when the issues are so much broader and the wound done to a family and the city in which they live is still so fresh. In a practical sense, what he did was relatively insignificant.

But he gave a calming voice to a volatile situation, and more than that, he was confronted by a choice between his business and that of the town in which he does it, and unambiguously chose the second option.

In that moment, he wasn’t a sports owner, he was a concerned citizen. In that moment, he could have chosen to take care of himself and instead chose the people around him. He wasn’t “the guy who owns the goofy basketball team,” he was a Sacramentan.

And in that moment, the city needed him to be the second one more than the first. It needed to vent its rage a lot more than it needed Hawks-Kings.

Again, this is a small thing, and the people who live in Sacramento and are confronting this full-on are much better equipped to explain how Ranadive’s choice fits in the city’s greater psychic landscape.

But as a member of the entertainment world’s ruling class, Ranadive chose not to act that way. He didn’t stick to sports, and in a metaphorical way, he took his knee. That is his defining moment as an owner.

And to the extent that that sort of thing matters, he chose his moment well.