Phil Jackson Makes Me Feel Like Barack Obama Used To

Written by Shwin

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In March of this year, Phil Jackson was introduced as the new President of Basketball Operations for the New York Knicks.  Up here in Knick-land, we had long hoped for a person of Jackson’s caliber, someone who could stand up to owner James Dolan, to join the Knicks organization and begin cleaning house – but we never expected that day to come.  Great things like that just didn’t happen to us. But somehow, some way, James Dolan had pulled a rabbit out of his ass and acquired Mr. Jackson. I had to pinch myself, we had the Zen Master.

A change in leadership, whether it is President of Basketball Operations, President of the United States, or Head Janitor, can make an big impact to morale (if not actually policy) immediately. New leaders usually come in with a long list of goals and aspirations, but more often than not, they have been brought in to clean up the shit left by their predecessors.  Jackson was no exception.

While managing to scrap together a modicum of respect over the last few years in the Melo/Stoudemire/Chandler era, by and large, the Knicks were still recovering from more than a decade of overpaid stars, ill-conceived trades, and draft picks that were given away like the AmNew York newspaper in a sweaty subway station.  The Knicks organization had tried repeatedly to bring in new talent to elevate the franchise to contender status, but often at too high a price. Sometimes even the good news felt like bad news (see: Amare, Melo, Bargnani).

But lo and behold, Phil Jackson, basketball philosopher, owner of 13 NBA championship rings, former coach of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neil and many more, had decided to work for – the Knicks??? By many accounts the stumblingest, bumblingest organization in the NBA, if not all of professional sports.  The team owned by the meddlesome James Dolan, and best known for its unique strategy of buying high and selling low (see: Starbury, Eddy Curry, draft picks) had acquired one of basketball’s living legends.

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Jackson immediately signaled that this was the start of a new era, a new mentality, and a renewed focus on basketball.  In the months following his hiring, Jackson did the following:

  • Fired a head coach (Mike Woodson)
  • Hired a head coach (Derek Fisher)
  • Made a difficult but prudent trade to give away the aging Tyson Chandler and our fat point guard, Raymond Felton
  • Acquired 3 draft picks where the Knicks previously had none
  • Acquired a quality veteran point guard in Jose Calderon, along with several more role players
  • Re-signed Carmelo Anthony (thanks for the “discount”, Melo)

Jackson got a lot done in just 6 months, and I found myself fantasizing about a miracle trade to acquire a 2nd star, about flipping Andrea Bargnani for a center who can play defense, and about Carmelo hoisting the Larry O’Brien championship trophy on the floor of Madison Square Garden in 2016…

This is one of the powers of new leadership.  It makes you believe that even if everything around you is the same as it used to be, maybe, just maybe, things are going to be different now.  We will work smarter, we will sign a second star, we will win a championship, we will stop global warming, we will send a man to Mars! Hell, I think racism in America might be dead, after all! Where are the balloons and cupcakes!?

So this brings me to Barack Obama.  I am a liberal. Not a bleeding blue liberal, but a liberal indeed.  As Obama took office in 2009, I was amongst the millions who were swept up with feelings of hope and optimism for a more cooperative, a more harmonious, a more bipartisan future.  In the coming years, these hopes and dreams plummeted back to Earth like a fat man on a hang glider. It became apparent that Barack Obama too had become a prisoner of our noxious political system, and much to my disappointment, he was not going to be the shining prince who would fix it.

Yet, as all the Hope-y Change-y-ness evaporated into the ether, I was left with one feeling toward the President of the United States that I had never experienced as an adult: “I might not always agree with him, but at least he’s not an idiot”.  This is when I tell you that I’m 31 years old.  You’re smart, I know you can do the math.  You know what I’m saying, right*? I was reassured in knowing that Barack Obama was a smart man, an intellectual man even!  What a rarity in these times, with politicians who are greater parts crony and egomaniac than they are intellectual.

I have a similar feeling today towards Phil Jackson.  Eventually he will make a bad trade, or he won’t be able to sign the best free agent (I’m looking at you, Marc Gasol), but I will rest my head on my pillow knowing that we have a true basketball intellectual making the important decisions.  Inevitably, when Amare gets injured in December, or JR shoots 38% for two months, or Jim Dolan rears his ugly head again, there will be calls to fire the head coach.  There will be calls to blow up the team and start over.  There may even be calls to fire Phil Jackson.  But I won’t be screaming for blood with the anti-intellectuals, because I know we have the Zen Master at the helm.

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Will Phil Jackson be the change we were hoping for?  Will he be the Knicks’ shining prince? Will he bring us the championship? Maybe not, but I know he’s not an idiot, and that makes me happy.

 

* Ol’ GWB was not the smartest

The State of Soccer in America Today (or Kobe Bryant and Andrew Luck Trade Stickers)

Written by Phattioli

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Many fans and media types have spent probably too much time examining whether American interest in the World Cup is a sign of soccer’s long-heralded ascendency to a more permanent place in the American zeitgeist[1] or, more simply, an event-specific[2] moment akin to more Americans watching television during an Olympics. Or even some composite of the two.[3]

Regardless of soccer’s place in the US sporting hierarchy, it is true that a lot of people in the US were watching the World Cup. It was then incumbent upon marketers and companies to find a way to get their messages and their products through to all these eyeballs.

Kobe Bryant and Andrew Luck both spent parts of their childhood abroad, and, according to a recent ad campaign[4] by Panini Group[5], various aspects of soccer helped build a foundation that made them stars in their respective sports. It is a nice thought and may even be true and the commercials, for the most part, do an interesting job of tying this idea together.

Like, here, when Luck says, “Before I ran an offense, I ran the field, I felt the pain of the tackle.” In the commercial, at least, some chubby young Luck stand-in did:

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Please don’t cry chubby-Andrew-Luck-child-symbol-of-pain-and-growth. One day you are going to grow up and trade tiny stickers with Kobe Bryant.

For Kobe’s part, a preceding[6] commercial to the final “Showdown” commercial between Kobe and Luck has Kobe stating that “Before my no look pass, I had my no look pass.”

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Ok, I’m sorry, but, Kobe, fuck you. You are an all-time great basketball player, but your no-look pass should not have been one of your highlighted skills. Kobe’s soccer equivalent should have him shooting from the center circle. Oh, wait:

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Kobe does not take any plays off[7] and knows that the building blocks to a successful career are built while no one is looking. That’s the most intense center-circle free kick in an unattended stadium by an athlete playing a sport other than his own while wearing Keds that you will ever see.

The final “Showdown” commercial between Luck and Kobe includes a mix of foundational scenes from their respective single ads and then shows them lined up on each side of the center-circle ready to attack a ball placed between them.

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It should be pointed out that, in a nice nod to the US Men’s National Team, they are wearing USMNT jerseys. But, wouldn’t that mean that they are on the same team in this scenario? Also, why are they running at the ball like this anyway? The XFL had a similar start to their games, wherein a member from each opposing team would run from their end zones at a football that was placed at the 50 yard line. The player that recovered the football would win possession for his team.[8] Maybe that’s what Kobe and Luck are doing here? But there doesn’t appear to be any other members on either of their teams. One-on-one soccer on an entire soccer field sounds fucking exhausting.

I get it, I get it, it’s another symbol. This time it is of want and will and the payoff is:

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Young Kobe and a young Hispanic child reading a picture book about Italia ’90 – the 1990 World Cup? What happened to chubby-Andrew-Luck-child-symbol-of-pain-and-growth? Luck was born in 1989 and would have been nine months old during the 1990 World Cup, but is this commercial really that interested in historical accuracy, or, you know, accuracy at all? Is that Kobe and young Jose Calderon?

But then, finally, we are given the point of this whole campaign:

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I told you, chubby-Andrew-Luck-child-symbol-of-pain-and-growth, I told you. We are all selling something, I guess. Even a basketball and football player playing each other in a violent, Running Man style soccer match that ends with them trading tiny stickers. Imagine the campaign above with Peyton Manning and Prince Fielder playing hockey against each other before exchanging tiny stickers of hockey players.[9]

The whole campaign reminds me of when Fox brought in Michael Strahan prior to a Champions League match to discuss the similarities between football and fùtbol to help dummy Americans better connect with soccer.

I don’t know if soccer has made it in the US or if it ever will. I’m pretty sure that Kobe and Luck trading tiny stickers isn’t helping that cause.

[1] http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/27/opinion/foster-simeon-soccer-new-america/

[2] http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/06/no-record-breaking-world-cup-ratings-dont-make-soccer-a-mainstream-us-sport/373216/

[3] http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2107687-world-cup-ratings-show-america-loves-big-eventsand-yes-soccer-too

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfYeIHQ-6Ko

[5] They sell collectibles, like trading cards and stickers.

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gY18FzuvJpk

[7] Except he doesn’t really play defense anymore.

[8] This concept was eventually scrapped because too many players were getting injured. The league was scrapped shortly thereafter.

[9] Now imagine Prince Fielder as a hockey goalie and wonder why all hockey goalies aren’t just replaced with sumo wrestlers wedged into the goal. I know, right?