I Just Want This One Last Thing

I don’t think that I’m a selfish sports fan. I don’t need my teams to win every year. I can be patient waiting for that next championship and not be too disgruntled when a rival wins, except if its a New York team. I am a Celtics fan but I can feel good about the Mavericks winning the NBA title this season, and not just because I despise the Heat. All that being said, there is still one sports-related thing that I really want: I want the Bruins to win the Stanley Cup.

I’ve been blessed as a sports fan. I have enjoyed two MLB titles from the Red Sox, four NBA titles from the Celtics, three Super Bowl victories from the Cowboys and five Premier League titles plus a Champions League title from Manchester United. It has been a rewarding lifetime of sports fandom, with the Celtics dominating my youth in the Eighties, followed by the Cowboys dominance in the mid-Nineties. There was a lean run until I hopped on the Manchester United bandwagon following the 2001-02 (non-title-winning) season but then the Red Sox ended 86 years of misery and Sir Alex Ferguson officially completed his goal of knocking Liverpool off its perch by winning a record 19th title this past season. The only thing missing is a Stanley Cup for the Bruins.

Now, I can’t say that I’ve been a devoted fan for all these years. I lived and died with the Bruins in the Eighties and early Nineties when I lived in New England and could watch most games on NESN. I was as big a fan of Cam Neely as I have been of any other athlete. I remember the 1988 finals loss to the Gretzky’s Oilers, a disappointment but understandable as he was the Great One. Two years later I was in the old Boston Garden for game one of the 1990 finals, the triple-overtime game that the Bruins lost, which effectively ended the series. That was harder to take. Gretzky was no longer with the Oilers and we had Neely and Bourque. It was crushing. Still, I thought we’d be back again. But Neely got hurt the next season and things got so bad that Bruins fans actually felt good when Bourque finally lifted the Cup in 2001, for the Avalanche.

I drifted from hockey in the Nineties. Unlike my contemporary Bill Simmons, I didn’t drift away because the on-ice product deteriorated, although it did, or because the Bruins’ owner was cheap, although he was. I drifted away for the reason that most of us drift away as we grow older: real life takes precedent. For those of us who don’t watch sports for a living it becomes impossible to schedule our marriages and children and jobs around sports which last all year long. My wife never asked me to give anything up but it became clear that something would have to go. Living in New York, the Bruins were the first casualty.

As an aside, I think part of the reason that NFL football retains its popularity, at least until this coming season, is because the season is short by professional sports standards and is heavily concentrated on one day a week.

Last night the Bruins evened the Stanley Cup final series against the Canucks at three games apiece. Everything will be decided in game seven in Vancouver tomorrow. I’ve had everything else but I haven’t had this: the Bruins lifting the Stanley Cup. It won’t make my life complete or anything and I will still have to face reality on Thursday morning. I want to know how it feels for my team to win the Stanley Cup.

I just want this one last thing.

Until I want the next thing, that is.

Not What We Wanted

The postmortem of the most recent NBA season is not even a day old and it is already impossible to have read everything that has been written about LeBron James’ most recent failure. Since its almost mandated that everyone weigh in, here I go.

The biggest problem for fans is that athletes do not behave as we’d wish them to behave. They won’t stop taking steroids or at least are not savvier about not getting caught. Floyd Mayweather won’t fight Manny Pacquiao. Wayne Rooney won’t quit smoking. Almost no one can resist the lure of Yankee dollars (or Red Sox dollars, if I’m honest). And no one will become the Next Michael Jordan.

Now, we all know, in our heart of hearts, that there will not be another Michael Jordan, just as Jordan was not the 2.0 version of anyone who preceded him. To get Jordan, there had to be the right combination of physical talent, mental strength and a pathological competitive streak. And to make it all even more impossible to duplicate, Jordan wasn’t even the Michael Jordan we remember for all of his career. Pretty much everything after his second trio of titles is forgotten. Still, we are always on the lookout for the next Jordan, which explains why were we are so intrigued by LeBron James.

I am not a basketball junkie but even I had head of James by the time he was thirteen. When it finally came time for James to enter the NBA draft, I had almost forgotten who he was. It had been so long since I’d first heard his name that I’d just assumed that he’d failed to make it, like most aspiring basketball players. But James did make it and he did start making a case to be the next Jordan. There was even some talk for a while that he could surpass Jordan, given that his physical gifts were greater than Jordan’s. We all collectively wondered what the ceiling was for such a player.

At this point, after another playoff disappointment in which James underperformed, we can only conclude that for all his physical gifts, James’ ceiling is his head. James doesn’t seem to want it bad enough. We want James to leave it all on the court, to expend every ounce of energy to pursuit of greatness, like we saw with Jordan and Kobe Bryant and even James’ teammate Dwyane Wade. But that is not who James is. For all his talent, James has not added a low-post or mid-range game to his arsenal. When he was a free agent last summer, James didn’t go to the place where he had the best chance to win a title (Chicago) or to the place where he would be the biggest basketball player on the planet (New York). Instead he went to the comforts of Miami to be Wade’s sidekick. We can say that now as James never seemed to want to make Miami his team. Miami belongs to Wade and James is happy to be along for the ride.

Does this make James a jerk? No. (“The Decision” already did that.) Does this make James a bad guy? No. This just makes James the latest in a long list of athletes who refuses to be what we want him to be. We want him to want to be the best of all time. James seems to only want to revel in the lifestyle that comes from being young and rich in South Beach. We had to wake up and face reality today while James never has to do the same. So the Next Jordan watch continues, at least until we get to the next transcendent athlete who becomes the new standard by which we measure those who come after.

Why Men Lick Their Balls

The Anthony Weiner scandal is only the latest example of utterly predictable behavior being discovered and everyone rushing to proclaim how shocked and outraged they are. As others have pointed out, part of the rush to criticize Weiner no doubt comes from a desire of those critics to distant themselves from that type of behavior. Mind you, I don’t approve of what Weiner did. I just can’t muster the outrage.

Men are raised to believe that having sex with as many women as possible is a measure of how manly they are. Fathers protect their daughters from priapic teenage boys and look the other way when their sons figure out ways to defeat the defenses of other parents. (My parents were decidedly not like this. Stupid Christian morality.)

I am forty-two. My favorite show in high school and college was “Cheers”. After that there was “Seinfeld” and “Frasier”. One of my favorite shows now is “Mad Men”. The central characters in all of these shows all had enviable success with members of the fair sex. Why wouldn’t I aspire to reach the same heights?

Men in positions of power, like Anthony Weiner, have an even greater incentive to indulge their inner Sam Malone; it’s easier. As the great Chris Rock said, men are only as faithful as their options. Men like Anthony Weiner have more options than the regular Joe. It must be intoxicating for someone that looks like Weiner to discover that his range with woman has increased exponentially. (I wonder if he only figured this out after he started dating the woman he recently married. She is physically out of his league.)

Most men would rather that a woman think he’s stupid than that he’s ugly. (We know that women float the idea that they are attracted to intelligence just in case the ugly guy is rich.) So it naturally follows that a guy like Weiner would take things too far once he starts to explore the new boundaries of his appeal. A good-looking guy like President Obama probably exhausted himself years ago. (Former President Clinton was a good-looking guy but he had to overcome being from Arkansas. Sure he achieved a lot in college and law-school but that just meant he was smart.)

I don’t approve of Anthony Weiner’s behavior, but I understand it. Although I live in Brooklyn, I am not in Representative Weiner’s district. If he makes it to the next election, I won’t be able to cast a vote one way or another. That being said, I don’t think I’d hold all this against him. Maybe its one of those “there but for the grace of God” things but it’s just not in me to punish the nerd who finally was in a position to have as much as the cool kids.