Thursday, February 14, 2008

Shyonelung at the Game

Went to see the Phoenix Suns play the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena in Oakland last night. Shaq was in the building, folks although he was in street clothes. I did notice he was joking and laughing with his new teammates. Alas, the Suns lost in a track meet but they did seem a little more freer than they've been this season. Like maybe they were having fun again. Ah, the weight of expectations. The impact of the big fella will interesting to see, the most interesting game coming up on Feb. 20, right after the All-Star Break against the Lakers and their new acquisition.

Here's some pictures from the game Wednesday night. Click on any of them to see them actual size.

Steve Nash, using his feet in pregame warmups

Shaquille O'Neal sighting. (He's the one in street clothes).

Baron Davis in the lane. Grant Hill (33) and Raja Bell closing in.

Mismatch. 6-2 Baron Davis tries to guard 6-11 Amare Stoudemire

Al Harrington driving to the hoop.

Artistic shot of Amare

Steve Nash and Boris Diaw

Warriors young star in waiting Monta Ellis

Warriors 'Captain' Jack -- Stephen Jackson, driving late.

Suns forward Amare Stoudemire goes up to rock the rim

Ellis driving the lane. He scored 37 points in the win.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Rocket Juice

After the Storm
I've been avoiding the baseball steroids stuff. For no other reason than it makes me feel dirty just to talk about it.

I have mixed feelings about steroids. I mean I understand the outrage by parents who don't want their kids to follow their "heroes" and juice up. But on the other hand, I've seen and heard and read enough to seriously wonder if steroids are as bad as they're made out to be. I mean last week even, the New York Times' George Vescey mentioned Lyle Alzado in a cautionary tale column about the downside of steroids. Alzado, for those of you don't remember that the Oakland Raiders were once in Oakland and that John Madden was once a coach, was the gregarious, hard-living face of the Just Win, Baby Raiders.

He is also one of the first professional athletes to publicly acknowledge steroid use. He claimed that his addiction to steroids, begun in the late 1960's, led to his contracting brain cancer, which killed him in 1992 at the age of 43. For many years, Alzado has been the poster athlete against steroid use -- use them and you will die. But the truth is more complicated and even though his personal physician repeatedly said that steroids had nothing to do with Alzado's illness, the myth lives on. Even, apparently, the mind at least one NY Times columnist.

The cheating part of steroids irks the hell of me which only serves to highlight my particular naiveté, one shared by many other sports fans and that is that sports is the last arena where competition is mostly fair, where character and heart are revealed in sometimes starkly simple ways. Don't sorry, I have that other, more cynical side of me too. I know that baseball tacitly approved steroid use at a time when it needed fans more than it needed to give players piss tests. I was happy, in fact, when the Mitchell Report, for the most part, did not take prisoners, particularly among the upper echelon of baseball officials. Names were named for better or worse, no matter who they were or how good they turned out to be for their cheating - or even if their uniform was a business suit.

One of those names is Roger Clemens, the fire-balling, hot-headed Texan who many consider to be among the top five pitchers ever to play in the big leagues. Like another famous accused steroid user, Clemens has vociferously denied using steroids. Indeed, he has mounted a relentless campaign to clear his name, which was muddied by the accusations of his one-time personal trainer who claims to have personally injected 'roids into Clemens' ass.

This coming Wednesday, Congress is getting involved as the House Oversight Committee is holding hearings on steroid use. I'd like to say right now that these hearings are a perfect example of an issue where Congress doesn't belong. It seriously boils me that my tax money is paying for a hearing that isn't necessary and in fact, is more likely to turn into a public relations photo-op for the Congressmen involved. I bet attendance will be 100 percent.

And yet, in the weeks leading up to this ridiculousness, has not been devoid of juicy details, if you'll pardon the pun.

I would argue that Clemens, who has assembled an expensive, high-class defense team, is not getting his money's worth. He's either a complete and utter egomaniac who is blind to reality or he is getting the worse legal advice in the history of the world.

After all, Clemens went on "60 Minutes" and denied steroid use even though right after the report was released his bestest baseball buddy, Andy Pettitte, was shared Clemens' trainer and was also accused by him, admitted to using steroids. Then last week, Clemens was one of several people subpoenaed by the House to give sworn depositions about this week's testimony. Which, by the way, he did. Can we all stop and spell stupid?

Giving a sworn deposition to Congress is the same as in a court of law. If you are caught lying under oath to Congress, it's a felony punishable by up to five years in jail. I mean, duh. When Clemens' accuser Brian McNamee produced used syringes (along with other alleged evidence) he claims have traces of both steroids and Clemens' DNA on them, it put the seven-time Cy Young Award winner in a serious, serious situation, one that could end up with him pitching in pinstripes.

(Let me talk for a moment about these alleged syringes. Lots of folks have wondered why the fuck McNamee held onto them years after he claimed he used them on Clemens. I mean it's not like he could sell them on eBay. I don't pretend to know why and a part of me thinks it's all too convenient to be The Smoking Gun, but if it's really true, I have a guess as to why he kept them. I think McNamee was close enough to understand who Clemens is and he was worried about his future. The general feeling about the Rocket around baseball is that he wasn't exactly the world's nicest guy. Ornery, tough, a little bit of an asshole at times and while loyal to a small group of his insiders, tended to be aloof, a guy who looked out for Number One. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's probably a pretty good self-defense mechanism for a guy as big and as great as Clemens. The way he pitched, living on chin music in an era when most pitchers shied away from throwing inside, you can understand his "me against the world" mentality.

It's possible few people really understood this part of Roger's ego, than McNamee, his long time trainer, confidante, friend. I mean who knows an athlete better than his trainer? A guy you see every day, who knows all your imperfections (literally), who has pushed you to the breaking point and held your hand beyond it?

Maybe McNamee was afraid that Clemens wouldn't protect him, if the shit ever hit the fan, that Clemens would not have his back, that in fact he might sell his ass down the river to protect his own legacy. Or maybe he didn't want to be his Greg Anderson. Maybe he thought that Clemens might have to be convinced to pay for his silence or that he would never be convinced to pay up or maybe he didn't think he could stomach the lies and was afraid his old friend and boss wouldn't understand. So maybe, just maybe he saved those syringes for that rainy day when he would he would be left twisting in the wind. I have no idea if this is true but don't tell me it's not a reasonable theory. )

Back to the present.

Tonight, word comes out that Pettitte, who also gave a sworn deposition last week, has asked to be excused from testifying. Speculation is that he may have implicated his old friend in the depo and doesn't want to make the situation worse by saying it in front of the world. And he won't have to testify according to reports which now say only Clemens and McNamee will be giving testimony at the Wednesday hearings. If y'all aren't feeling dirty yet, this ought to seal it.

Things are looking very dicey for Clemens about right now. Give the guy credit for facing the music but this all feels like he's protesting way too much. Everybody on his team is claiming he never took steroids, even as the evidence seems to be mounting with every vehement denial. It's been one public relations disaster after another. Can it all be unseen forces out to ruin a star's reputation?

Indeed, Clemens has a lot to protect. His legacy for one. His getting voted into the baseball Hall of Fame but now his reputation -- added to the mix by the Rocket himself. What if it comes out that he really did do steroids now? He might have been able to admit it two months ago and survive, but now that he's stuck with his story so vehemently, going back now seems like an impossible mountain to climb. I'm not sure even Checkers could save him now. It's possible the damage to his legacy might even be beyond repair.

I never thought I'd be watching these hearings but I admit I'm thinking about it now, especially now that Roger Clemens has turned himself into the tragic figure (or unrealistic egomaniac) at the center of this brewing storm.

One guy who must be okay with all this is Barry Bonds if only because nobody's been talking about him much lately.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Pencils Up?

Do I get to eat now?
Today (around 3 a.m. this morning actually) members of the Writers Guild of America received official word via email that our negotiating committee has reached a tentative agreement with the AMPTP (studios and big producers) to settle our three-month long strike.

I've only done a cursory review of the deal memo and I'm no expert in these things, but it looks like it's a deal, while below what we were asking, is still much more than any of us expected. There are aspects to it I don't like, but still it seems to be a good framework for future increases and coverages for all the new media that is surely coming down the pipeline.

Big meeting tonight down in Los Angeles so the committee and WGA leadership can give us the scoop on why they think we should take the deal and from the email sent this morning, they want us to take it.

What does this mean? We get to go back to work and Louie the Pug gets to eat again. Seriously, this could end up being a really, REALLY great week for shyonelung and especially for all the writers who stayed resolute on the picket lines and who gave up so much to make this happen.

Not to jump the gun or anything but even if this deal isn't palatable to everyone, I've got a feeling we're ready to end this thing. I think we got a lot more our efforts and we proved we could shut down this town and maybe even in the process got a little more respect. Maybe now people in and out of Hollywood realize that there wouldn't be a Hollywood without us.

Let me take a moment to imagine this strike is truly over and thank all the people and companies and friends, members of SAG and below-the-line workers and the celebs who came out on our side and supported us through these last grueling, uncertain three months.

Check out for updates better than I could give you.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Shocking the World

Super Tuesday folks and what did I do? I watched the TV coverage of the New York football Giants ride floats down the Canyon of Heroes. This is coming from a former political junkie, but these last couple of campaigns have really turned me off of politics. It’s not that the bad guys won (or I should say the worst guys beat the bad guys, cause they’re all full of shit far as I’m concerned), it just feels like the presidential campaign has turned into something Paddy Cheyevsky might have created. At least it would be fun.

Worse, I hadn’t even decided who to vote for when I discovered today that my registration got screwed up and my polling station location was 30 Pico Blvd. In Santa Monica. As in 500 miles away from where I live now.

The problem has been corrected but not in time for me to vote in the primaries. I’d be okay with either Obama and Clinton. Shoot, I kind of liked Edwards too. Which is to say after eight years of George W. Bush, I’ve really lowered my expectations. As I write this, it looks like Clinton is slightly ahead in the 10-state primary race, having been declared winner in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Tennessee and is holding on by a percentage point in the Show Me State, while Obama looks to have taken Georgia, his home state of Illinois and has a pretty good lead in Colorado with 63 percent of the vote counted. Still out is Arizona (59 percent votes counted as of this posting) and California (14 percent) with Clinton ahead by double-digits in both so far.

But the two of you who dropped in to read this, can surely find a better place on the web to check in on political pontification. For right now, I’ll stick with something I know. Seriously, the world would be a better place if it were more like sports. How about a presidential election where intelligence and ability counted for more than how much money you spent? Where we could see candidates perform under pressure and witness the depth (or lack thereof) of their character? I’m just saying...or should I say dreaming?

Back to my New York Giants. Who I picked to win the Super Bowl. Shyonelung is proud of herself, I tell you.

I admit to still being as stunned as Michael Strahan, who told the crowd at the Giants victory parade this morning that he’s been floating in a haze since his team shocked the world by busting up the previous undefeated New England Patriots and winning the Super Bowl 17-14.

To be honest, the fact that they won didn’t even set in for me until I watched the last six minutes of the game again late last night. Even watching it knowing how it all turned out, I was still nervous. It’s like us Mets fans watching a reply of Ron Swoboda making that sensational catch in the ’69 World Series. You can watch him lope (and he was loping) across the outfield grass 1000 times and still be sure he’ll never get to that ball. And yet he does.

It’s the same feeling I had watching the Third-and-Five Miracle when Eli somehow some way manages to get out of the grasp of the Patriots’ rush to unload a 32-yard pass to David Tyree who somehow, some way manages to hold onto the ball with his hands, his helmet, whatever.

It’s not just that play. There’s dozens of moments in the last four minutes of the game where the Giants could have easily lost. Dozens of moments that in this season of dominance, have more often than not come down in favor of the Patriots.

Not this day. This day belonged to the Giants and the football world is still trying to figure out what the hell happened.

Damned if I know.

I do think the weight of expectations may have finally caught up to the Patriots. Andyet even as I say that I give them credit for playing so hard even when it was pretty clear they couldn’t match the intensity or physicalness of the Giants. I mean people say this game exposed Tom Brady. Yeah, it exposed how good he is. The guy spent half his time looking over his shoulder or up from the turf. His running game was non-existent and his vaunted front line was getting whupped on but good. Still, Pretty Boy took hit after hit after hit and he got up after each one and he led his team to what would have been the game-winning TD if 1000 things that could’ve have gone wrong, didn’t go right for New York.

Seriously, all props to the Patriots. An upset win isn’t worth shit if the other team isn’t a worthy opponent. Who needs to gloat on the Patriots when the magnitude of the accomplishment itself is enough. I hope my fellow Giants fans will remember that. Win with grace.

Losing with grace, however, doesn’t seem to be the forte of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. You can count me as a fan of this surly, miserable, freakishly focused genius of a football coach. To be dominant in the NFL in this Era of Parity is an accomplishment that puts Belichick at or near the top of any list of all-time great football coaches. He has molded a dominating franchise by being smarter and working harder than everybody else. Until Spygate is proven to have given them a real advantage, I’m giving the benefit of the doubt to Belichick’s genius.

His bush league performance at the end of the Super Bowl Sunday when he ran off the field when there was still one second on the clock, and kept on running off like a petulant teenager and then afterward in the post-game press conference, dealt a serious blow to my high opinion of him.

It’s a tradition to get a few quiet words from the losing coach after the Big Game. They usually say something like “we played hard, all props to the other guys etc.” The point being it smarts like hell to lose and I’m bummed but I tip my hat to the winners. I remember watching head coach Lovie Smith last year, for example, after his Bears lost to Indy and the other Manning. One hundred percent class.

Belichick didn’t have any of that. “Disappointed,” was but one of the barrage of single-word sentences the Hoodie uttered through gritted teeth as if he were spitting up like the E-Trade baby. His congratulations to the Giants was so flat, so unbelievably disingenuous -- spoken like a man in the throws of post-traumatic stress disorder. Count magnanimous as not a word in Belichick’s dictionary.

It’s not that I expect him to be all smiles but he should have taken a cue from one of his players, linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who made it a point to personally search out Giants coach Tom Coughlin and offer his sincere congratulations.

A true example of the best in sports, just like the game itself, which apparently was just too damned difficult for Belichick to stomach. What a serious bummer. Really, when the loser acts like, well, a fucking loser, it really diminishes the whole affair. And that’s not just wrong, it makes me wonder if maybe old Bill needs to take some time off and get a life.

Monday, February 4, 2008

World Champion New York Giants

Told you so. I'll write more in a day or two, but allow me a moment to bask in the sunshine of gloatville.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Giant Upset?

It’s really hard to find someone who is picking the Giants to win the Super Bowl on Sunday. Oh, sure if you surf on over to the website of the New York Mets (and who would except me, the world's nuttiest Mets fan), there’s a video featuring the Mets players’ predictions. Not one of them picked the undefeated juggernaut that is the New England Patriots. Not a one. Those boys are smart enough to know not to pick against the hometown team. Even the King himself isn’t immune to that sort of backlash.

Before I make a fool out of myself by trying to predict the outcome of tomorrow's Super Bowl XLII (that's 42 for those of you who do not speak Roman Numeral), let me give a shout out to cool cat who I only know by his moniker Oliver 62 at and his fabulous photography. Oliver lent me the use of the photo on this page. Please check out his other great photos by clicking on the image above or going here.

Okay, now for my bold prediction, as in boldly going where no sane sports prognosticator would dare go. But hey, I'm a nut, remember?

Really, how can you not pick the Patriots? No team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins has run the table in the regular season and few have been as dominant in the NFL's current Era of Parity as New England, winners of three Super Bowls this decade. They have one of the most dominant receivers in Randy Moss and another receiver, Wes Welker, who may be the best offensive player nobody’s heard of. A strong running game, a small but disciplined front line and a defense that is underrated, mostly because the offense is so freaking good. They have the consummate field general in Tom Brady, a player who seems to do nothing but win and they have the best coach of our generation, a man that is not only freakishly focused on football (say that 10 times fast) but has somehow imprinted his personality on his team so that they are as freakishly focused on football as he is.

Everybody expects the Patriots to win because they just keep on winning. And they’ve been winning every which way and then some. Close games, crazy games, high scoring, low scoring, defensive, offensive, ugly, pretty, whatever, whenever, however, these guys find a way to get the W. And no matter what happens with the renewal of Spygate, it’s surely not going to rattle this team. Fact is, controversy makes them play even harder. Seriously, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team play so well and have such a ginormous chip on its shoulder.

From what’s been said and written, maybe the Giants would do better to not even show up.

I do think the Patriots are the better team. I think as a general rule, they’re better coached. I think giving Belichick two weeks to prepare for a team is like letting the Patriots play with 12 men on the field. I think the Giants, as loose as they appear, are not prepared for the glare of the game’s biggest stage. I think they will have to play near perfect football to even have a shot at winning tomorrow.

I think they're basically outmatched, outgunned, out everything. And yet.

And yet.

Ah, hell. And yet, you know what? I think they’re going to win.

There. I said it. It's out there in cyberspace. The Giants are going to win the damn Super Bowl.

I’ve had a feeling since the final game of the regular season between these two teams that they would be facing each other again in the Super Bowl. I think the Giants, even though they knew they’d be underdogs, were secretly hoping to get another shot at the team they led by 12 points going into the fourth quarter.

Because that game, which I wrote about here, was THE game for the Giants, the moment in their season when they measured themselves up against the best and played as if they belonged on the same field. It was a loss that showed them how much they had to gain. It was the defining game that sent them on a rampage straight to Glendale, Arizona and a date with destiny. (Man, don't ya just love sports?)

I also think the Patriots are human. The pressure is on them. Almost going undefeated isn’t going to look so hot when the reward is finishing second. There’s a weight on their shoulders and its name is History and right about game-time tomorrow who would blame them if running out on the field feels like they’re lugging an 8,000-pound guerrilla on their shoulder pads?

Tom Brady is not 100 percent. Randy Moss has proven in the past that he doesn’t play well with distractions. The Patriots’ defense is vulnerable to a team that can pass and run, and the Giants have been the most balanced team during the playoffs.

My two X-factors in this game are Eli Manning, the Giants young and until this last month, mostly disappointing quarterback and Michael Strahan, the Giants veteran leader and captain and defense end.

Manning has a knack of rising to the occasion and has consistently played well in big games. He just seems to sparkle in meaningful moments, a player who seems to play to the level of his competition, an even-keeled kind of guy who almost never gets rattled. He’s playing the best football of his life and I expect Sunday will be his moment in the sun. Manning will lead the Giants to victory.

Strahan is at the end of his career and even considered retiring before this season. He is one of only two current Giants who were on New York’s last Super Bowl team (a dispiriting loss in 2000 to Baltimore) and he has been waiting his entire career to have a second shot at glory. I really don’t think you can put too much emphasis on this fact and I think Strahan, a certain Hall of Famer, will leave everything on the field and then some to stop Brady and his boys.

If there’s any position on defense that can be a difference-maker, it’s the defense end, a player who is charged with rushing the passer and disrupting the line of scrimmage. Strahan won't be the youngest DE on the field on Sunday but he'll be the best.

If there’s any will involved, Strahan has the strength of his to overcome any obstacles New England throws in his way. He knows what it’s like to lose a Super Bowl and he doesn’t want that bitter taste in his mouth in this, is last chance for the crowning moment of his career.

I think it’s going to be a great game, with both teams scoring points early before it settles into a struggle of defenses. And I think the Giants will win time-of-possession behind a disciplined offense and its one-two punch of a running game.

In the end, it’s gonna be the upset of the century, kids.

Giants 30, Patriots 24

Enjoy the game.