Friday, June 24, 2011

Darius Morris to the Lakers

Yesterday, I went out for a drink with my girlfriend to meet one of her cousins and her slightly older (well, significantly older) boyfriend. The Houston Rockets had just made the #23 overall pick and it wasn't Darius Morris so, disheartened by the situation, I felt it was OK to step away from the TV. At said social engagement, the fellow seemed nice enough: he had a firm handshake and left his iPhone on the table--like me--checking for updates on the NBA draft. I mentioned that I'm a Michigan fan and Detroit product. He was snooty about this. My interest in Morris came up and I told him that he'd be a perfect fit for the Lakers, to which he responded something along the lines of, "I don't want a Michigan guy. I can understand why you like football: the tradition. But I don't want a Michigan guy." I'm excited to see him at Thanksgiving.

Aside from Morris landing in his home town, there really weren't many situations better suited for him. The Lakers point guard position has been their Achilles heel for the last two years; fast PGs (see Aaron Brooks, Chris Paul, or JJ Barea) have dissected the Lakers defense with regularity. Derek Fisher has become less consistent with the ball, too slow on defense, and even his three point shooting has been in marked decline. Their other options were Steve Blake or forcing Shannon Brown into the role. The Lakers need a point guard.

But more than all of that, Morris' deficiencies (his shooting primarily) is something that won't become an issue for a few years. With Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol consuming 53.6% of the Lakers possessions last year (and Fisher only using 12.7%), Morris won't be asked to do a lot of shooting early on. The Lakers have the players to take and hit shots, but they don't have a legitimate floor general that's looking to create for others. In addition, Morris' size and defensive abilities will allow Kobe to cross match against a lot of teams, saving his energy for the offensive side of the ball.

What Michigan fans want to know is whether or not Morris made the Right Decision. The Wolverine Blog thinks so and I was inclined to say yes prior to the draft, but I'm not entirely sure anymore. Morris lucked into the perfect location and didn't go undrafted a la Manny Harris a year before, but it's clear that the Lakers drafted Morris for a try-out, not necessarily to take the helm of the team. Drafted just five spots after Morris was Andrew Goudelock, a shooterly point guard in keeping with their franchise stalwart Fisher, who Kobe loves dearly. If Morris can make the roster and earn significant minutes in his rookie year, he probably made the right choice. But if he finds himself cut from the team or riding the pine, his increased draft stock after a third year at Michigan (the likes of which would've risen to first-round status) will be a wasted opportunity.

Best of luck to Darius though. Hopefully I'll be able to catch more than a few Lakers game this year and check him out in person.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Stripes /= Corporate Takeover

When images of Michigan's "throwback" jerseys first leaked, I was kind of horrified. Then, as I took a little more time to look at them, they didn't seem quite so bad. They were blue, the same color blue that Michigan always wears. They had a big maize Block M in the middle, the likes of which Michigan has worn before. There were stripey things on the shoulders that players used to wear in the 1800s (albeit not in games). And there are numbers on the helmets, which Michigan has worn before. All-in-all, when taken as a whole, the jerseys themselves were pretty unobjectionable.

Now that we've seen players modeling the jerseys, they still look alright and, more importantly, they still look like Michigan, albeit kind of a wonky Michigan. But that's not what's bothering people. It seems like everyone is terrified that stripey shoulders equals corporate takeover doom, but frankly, I don't see it.

MGoBlog has been predictably and admittedly Get Off My Lawn-y about the whole situation when not reporting on the man childs committing to the program. (Sidenote: Have you seen Erik Magnuson? I know he's probably a viking, but there's no way that human is any younger than 28 years old.) But his fears seem a little irrational. I mean, there's a big difference between Michigan's throwback jerseys and the rainbow of color that is OregOMG

One of these is an honest attempt at creating a throwback jersey. The other is a new line of Ed Hardy clothes. Michigan took the high road.

If we live in a world in which college football is in the business of making money and not a contest of athletes led by Horace Prettyman, exhibiting their virtue and hard work, then throwback jerseys and night games, which, by the way, breaks the hallowed Michigan tradition as well but no one seems to care because it gives the school exposure and prime time TV revenue, are part of the game. At least we have an athletic department and sponsor that's made a concerted effort not to piss on all of Michigan's traditions.

The stripes on the shoulders are there for a reason. Whether or not the team has ever worn them in a game, there is historical evidence that something approximating those stripes is part of Michigan's tradition. Same goes for the numbers on the helmets and the Block M on the front. Yes, the school hopes to make a buck off of these jerseys, and that's fine. It's the nature of the business. But there are real, logical allusions in all of these features because Dave Brandon gets Michigan tradition. Say what you will about the coaching search (and Lord knows I disagree with it), but Brandon legitimately cares about the school's tradition and you can see that tradition was a major component in the design of these jerseys.

Honestly, what's worse: Creating new "throwback" jerseys that openly cop to moments in the program's history or making very slight cosmetic changes to the existing jersey and telling the fans they're too stupid to tell the difference and should buy it anyway? College football is a money business and this is one of the most common tactics. We should be thankful that we have an AD in place that isn't willing to let Adidas go all Nike on Michigan's jerseys and have the team run out in a bunch of Maize pajamas.

Is this going to turn into a recurring thing? Is Michigan going to wear these jerseys or, gasp, other throwback jerseys in subsequent years? Maybe, I don't know really. But these jerseys aren't totally objectionable and the administration has already shown that they're unwilling to totally break from tradition when designing something new. So what other avenues will Adidas be able to explore? And maybe that's the fear. If this is successful enough, the administration will start pushing for new jerseys every year and Michigan will end up with the rest of the churn, wearing things that resemble a Lady Gaga red carpet ensemble.

But for me, I just don't see it. These jerseys openly address Michigan's traditions but are different enough to be something the school can profit from. Until we start seeing wolverine claws on the gloves or shoulders, I won't be too worried.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

On Grantland and Bill Simmons

Because the only news in the sports world that I currently care about is the further destruction of Columbus and analyzing why, exactly, Lebron James goes 3-11 in an NBA Finals game, I have a bit of extra time to commit to talking about things like the new Bill Simmons ESPN mothership site Grantland. Free Darko (RIP) founder Bethlehem Shoals spoke more eloquently on the topic on his Tumblr than I will be able to:
My main gripes, other than being robbed of a Major Cultural Event, are more esoteric...

I’m wary of, as a reader, being coerced into a holding pattern, or being told that I’m a feral prick if I seek to draw any conclusions before the appointed date (Launch 2?). Grantland isn’t process, or becoming; it’s a major market initiative by a company flush with cash, and whether as art or commerce, should be able to at least make its intentions clear (no, telling isn’t the same as showing). I respect its right to grow and find itself organically. At the same time, at some point its identity has to become fair game. That’s not just about would-be critics, either. It’s about keeping the loyalists awake and charged, too.

My biggest complaint might not have anything to do with the site at all, but rather Simmons, and his existence in the sports journalism community as a Regular Guy. Simmons is a writer/blogger that made it big through non-traditional means and has tried to maintain an air of other-ness throughout his career--whether it's fighting with the big wigs at ESPN or feigning contrarian attitudes. So he talks about his dad and Coldplay and A Bunch of Dudes. But in the intro to Grantland, he talks about having been in Jimmy Kimmel's Entourage (yes, in reference to that Entourage) since 2002 and spending his days hanging out with sports stars, actors, and living the life of a certified celebrity.

At some point, Simmons has to give up this everyman shtick, and by all standards, he couldn't rightfully lay claim to it for almost a decade now. And so the idea that Grantland is a site by writers (read: bloggers) for writers--ostensibly what they're selling here--feels hollow. What is Bill Simmons anymore besides another entrenched columnist at the largest sports media outlet on the planet? What realistically can Simmons write anymore that isn't ESPN approved? He said "fuck" in the intro, and I'd bet ESPN would pare that out of a column appearing on their front page, but otherwise, what can Simmons offer anymore that's dramatically different from anything he can write on the platform he already has at ESPN? He hangs out with celebrities, has courtside tickets to the Clippers (say what you will about the Clippers, this is still not a luxury that your up-and-coming writer can fathom), and is so far removed from anything resembling a blogger that Grantland appears to be additional ad space for ESPN to sell.

But Simmons may just be the name on the marquee to attract an audience. The site is being billed as a forum for emerging writers to discuss sports and popular culture, but to what end? On the site, there are several pieces: one about HBO's reuse of actors, a Chuck Klosterman essay about watching a JUCO basketball team win a game in which they played 3-on-5, and an essay about Donnie Walsh, among others. Simmons has become a pivotal sports writer because he's Bill Simmons and people know what they're going to get. But right now, Grantland is a hodgepodge of ideas and essays, all unrelated except for the fact that they're written by people who are good at writing.

It's not difficult to recruit writers when your topic constraints are "write about sports and/or pop culture", especially when you have the financial resources of ESPN. There's backlash-to-the-backlash already floating around the internet that "Writers think this is stupid but they'd all love to write there", to which any reasonable person says, No shit. Grantland is an open forum for a lucky few writers to be paid exorbitant amounts of money to write about the topics they're probably already writing about. The dirty secret about the writing community: Lots of us don't like one another but are forced to work together. It happens, especially in an industry that requires you to aggressively state and defend your (probably extreme) opinions.

But I digress. People read MGoBlog for one of a few reasons (Michigan fan, Random Big Ten fan, college football fan), much like people read this blog for only a few reasons. The same goes for websites like Pitchfork or ESPN or CNN: you have some sort of interest in the topic and return to the site to find relevant information. But when the parameters of a site's scope are, basically, "anything you come in contact with on a daily basis", you run into a problem. I could write endlessly about pop culture and sports. I have essays in mind on just about every topic you could imagine, but no one would want to read a blog like that unless they were my dear friends or found my writing especially captivating.

And this is why the site is both forced to make itself About the Writers and why they have to hire the Chuck Klostermans of the industry: if the content is too disperse and no one cares about the authors, the site will fail. So when Andy Greenwald writes, in apropos of nothing, a piece about HBO, we're told to care because he's someone we're supposed to care about, not because what he wrote has any relevance to the site, current popular culture, or sports. With good writers--the likes of which Grantland has falling out of its ears--this process is sure to produce a smattering of really incredible material, but it's also always going to feel a little bit like the disjointed site preview that launched a few months ago (Why was this written and why should I care?).

Grantland isn't a bad idea so much as it's not an idea at all. If the objective is to let writers write, that can be done more effectively and with greater purpose elsewhere. But when you get a cultural force like ESPN behind it, the site becomes a magnet for advertising and big-name stars to get their work out to a public that may or may not be familiar with it. And while getting people reading more compelling writing on a consistent basis is a virtuous concept, Grantland is always going to feel a little too scattered to get anyone to care consistently. But if you bring in enough stars (and enough of their devoted audiences), that gives ESPN the site metrics they'll need to sell ads and keep it alive.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Pryor calls it quits at Ohio State

A few minutes ago, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Terrelle Pryor will forgo his senior season, to which I say