Ray Ratto

Hats off to the famous, but healing Houston will come from everyday heroes

harvey-ap.jpg
AP

Hats off to the famous, but healing Houston will come from everyday heroes

There is a sudden burst of NFL owners deciding to give $1 million to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, the latest two being Baltimore’s Steve Bisciotti and Detroit’s Martha Ford. These acts of generosity are not to be dismissed because Houston and the entire western gulf coast need all the help, both monetarily and otherwise.
 
But while we are counting the pledges as though this was a tribute to the Jerry Lewis telethons (and wondering why the 131 people who control the 147 North America pro franchises in the five major sports didn’t just decide via conference call to do a million apiece), we might want to remind ourselves that money given by celebrities, while indisputably noble and needed, is not how the resuscitation of Houston will be accomplished.
 
So here’s to the folks on the ground who wrangled boats and opened shelters and ferried in food and drinkable water and are getting the power back up and are organizing the actual day-to-day cleanup, and the people who live in all the towns that need rebuilding. They’re the ones who will get this done, and lacking famous names doesn’t mean they aren’t the ones doing the most important work.
 
Hats off to J.J. Watt, to be sure. He used his gift – being famous – to be a provider. And to Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander, who gave $4 million, then jacked his donation to $10 million two days later. And Houston Astros owner Jim Crane, who tossed in $4 million himself. And to all the other “name” names who made their money count rather than making it just to count it. I’m sure there is a list somewhere with all of the givers, and here’s hoping you can find yours somewhere (hint hint).
 
But in the end, the ones who will make the area whole again are the ones hip-deep in water, the hands and feet and vehicles and buildings who gave freely of their time and possessions. Here’s hoping this is a better and more complete job than the one in New Orleans for Katrina.
 
And here’s hoping that the federal government, no matter who is running it, finally decides to do something with FEMA rather than use it as a political stalking horse to reward friends and punish enemies. Here’s hoping it is so lavishly funded that the next victims of nature’s sharp hand can feel confident that there is more than just the kindnesses of rich strangers keeping them from desolation. Because that, ultimately, is what government is for.

The NFL uses the most NFL way possible to deal with nagging non-problem of players kneeling

The NFL uses the most NFL way possible to deal with nagging non-problem of players kneeling

The National Football League has come to grips with social protest among its employees in the classic NFL way – as an optics problem.
 
And the solution is to let protest reign, as long as nobody sees it.
 
The 32 owners decided Wednesday to introduce a new rubric for individual teams to use in dealing with the nagging non-problem of players kneeling for the National Anthem – namnely, to offer the option of staying the locker room during the anthem. But the back hand of that is that teams that choose to be in plain view during the song cannot “disrespect” the anthem by not conforming to standing at rigid attention.
 
In other words, it put a band-aid on a paper cut and acted like it had casted a broken tibia.
 
Granted, there wasn’t a lot the league could do because, as has been the case throughout the last half-decade or so, it is lousy at contributing its voice to social issues. These are turbulent times, and the NFL has always worked best when conformity is the preferred public mood.
 
So the anthem solution, which is largely a red herring when it comes to deciphering why the league is losing ratings points and children’s attention spans, represents the NFL trying to simply hide the issue so that people will forget that it exists at all. And that may work for the moment because we as a culture believes that how things look are more important than how they actually are.
 
But the real issues besetting football are elsewhere. They are rooted in the game’s perpetual safety failings, the diminishing number of kids playing the sport, and the growing number of kids who don’t want to invest three-plus hours of watching on the weekends because “that’s what Dad does.”
 
It is, however, easier to kick the can down the aisle on those slowly building issues and deal with the barking dog of anthem disrespect. Kneeling for the anthem represents a social statement about our societal failings to the protesters, but to the NFL it represents a level of individualism and independent thought in a sport and business that greatly distrusts both of those things.
 
So the anthem issues will go away, but if the ratings are still decreasing at the end of this year of visual obedience, the NFL will be faced with the issue they thought they could clothe with a winter coat made of the American flag:
 
That maybe the sport wasn’t hurt by players' exercises of free speech but by evolution itself. Maybe, despite the shoutings of the true believer robots, football has finally crested in America, the guarantees of continued rampant growth no longer guaranteed in a country that is changing in more ways than sideline decorum can address.

Rockets-Warriors is finally a series -- we just have no idea how to make it make sense

Rockets-Warriors is finally a series -- we just have no idea how to make it make sense

So after seven games in the Western Conference Finals, including the four Tuesday night, this series is tied at two games each.

The Golden State Warriors won by nine and 17 points. The Houston Rockets won by 16 and 13. Each team covered the spread twice, and Houston got extra credit for scoring 25 of the last 35 points en route to a 95-92 no-rules cage match victory in Oakland.

Now based on what you’ve seen, go ahead and make sense of Game 5 Thursday night. I dare you to try.

This game was not only the closest of the eight conference finals games so far, it was the most bizarre of the postseason, and one of the three or four most aggressively wack of the entire season. And depending on how you choose your wardrobe, this was either a triumph of Houston’s ornery nature or a monument to Golden State’s gift for offensive impatience and Curry-less confusion.

Most likely both, to be honest, which means there will be very little linear basketball played in the final two or three games. Ruined possessions will bleed, turnovers will be stab wounds, missed shots will flay the skin off your head and not getting off shots in time because a play has been destroyed at its inception will be coin of the realm.

Elegance, you see, has probably run its course in this series, and the less elegant the game, the better Houston will like it.

And no excuses are allowed, because both teams had multiple opportunities to break the game to their separate wills. The Warriors missed Andre Iguodala because of a leg bruise, and Curry because of foul trouble (though he completely repo’d the third quarter as he did in Game 3, scoring 17 points and going 5-of-8 from three), but Golden State still took two separate 12-point leads, one in the first and one in the fourth quarter, which should have been sufficient.

And three years ago it would have been. And one year ago, the first lead would have held up.

But then it all decomposed in the fourth, because Golden State lost the ability to sustain a coherent offense. They missed 13 of their final 15 shots and their last seven three-pointers, many of them either hurried, challenged or at the end of mangled possession. That they only committed three turnovers in going from ahead 82-70 to done, 95-92, is amazing, but the resemblances to the implosion at the end of Game 7 of the 2016 Finals against Cleveland are hard to miss.

And like that collapse, this was driven in part by Houston’s toughminded mean-spiritedness, at least when it wasn’t powered by their meanminded toughspiritedness. Houston deserved to lose by a considerably deflating margin after the odd quarters, but like most games, this one ended on an even quarter, and this time with the Rockets standing boldly on Golden State’s regal neck.

Kevin Durant scored an almost distasteful 27 points on 24 shots, never finding anything even close to a rhythm. Even worse, Klay Thompson had his third unimpressive shooting performance and added a knee bruise that could have been even more serious. Worse, Steve Kerr had to play his starters almost the entire third quarter to get back into the game and create a margin the Warriors thought would be sufficient in the fourth.

Instead, the exertion of the third quarter bit them in the fourth, and the 80 Percent Hamptons Five – Durant, Thompson, Draymond Green and Stephen Curry – ended up playing a whopping 166 total minutes, including 45 by Green and 43 by Durant.

But Houston has not only shortened its rotation but actually eliminated it. Four of their five starters played more than 40 minutes, led by P.J. Tucker’s 44, and Eric Gordon played 34 as one of only two players to come off Mike D’Antoni’s bench. Everybody’s hurt, everyone is tired, and nobody cares. You do, or you do not, period.

If momentum between games exists, it has been impossible to find in this series, thus there is no guarantee that Game 5 will play in any particular way. Each team has split its home games with a vengeance, a major deviation from the playoff-long trend of home dominance, and now the job gets hard – for the Warriors, Oklahoma City-in-2016-level hard, and for the Rockets, ain’t-never-been-here-before hard.

In other words, we finally have a series. We just have no idea how to make it make sense.