Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Value Of Things

Posted by Sean Doyle on June 10, 2014

Investing Legend Benjamin Graham was famous for saying "price is what you pay, value is what you get."  This past week ex-Microsoft big Steve "Bald Savage" Ballmer blew the top off the sports franchise valuation market by dropping 2 yard on the LA Clippers.  We know now the price Ballmer paid, but what exactly is the value of what he got?

Think of it, just a month back the smart set chastised Wes Edens and Marc Lasry for laying out a then-record $550 million to purchase the lowly Milwaukee Bucks.  Now ask yourself how much have the Bucks appreciated in just the last few days?  Two hundred million?  Three?  Four (gulp)??  When the smart money gets dumb, and the dumb money gets lucky, you know we are entering a whole new paradigm.*(1)

Value is, of course, an elusive concept.  Merriam-Webster defines it as "a fair return or exchange in goods, services, or money for something exchanged."  Ok. Vague, but decipherable.  Perhaps however, a degree of ambiguity is necessary when dealing with such a subjective abstraction as "value."  After all, isn't one man's trash another man's treasure?

Over the last four decades there was perhaps no sports franchise as synonymous with "trash" as the Los Angeles Clippers.  Under Donald Sterling's horrid stewardship the team managed just 7 postseason appearances in 33 years.  (And this in a league where half the teams make the playoffs annually, and many of them with losing records. )  What's worse, the Clips only had five winning seasons total over that time span.  There were so inconsequential that I didn't even realize that LA had two professional basketball teams until 1996. *(2)

Despite their legendary ineptitude, despite being owned by an aloof racist brand-destroying slum lord, despite not even being the most popular basketball team in their home arena, the Clippers just got sold for a number near equal to the Gross Domestic Product of Guam!  How did this happen?


Like many of his Forbes 400 contemporaries, Steve Ballmer had long desired to be the owner of a major American sports franchise.  He watched in quiet admiration as fellow Mister Softee*(3) alum Paul Allen crafted a sterling*(4) reputation as an NBA owner with the Portland Trailblazers (19 playoff appearances in 26 seasons) and NFL owner with the Seattle Seahawks (reigning Super Bowl champions).  Ballmer whiffed in his prior two attempts to enter the owner's box with the Sonics in 2008, and the Kings in 2012.  He was not going to be denied a third time.

However, Ballmer's quest was about more than just entering the "world's most exclusive club," for he had posterity on the brain.  Donald Sterling's anti-black screed crafted a truly unique scenario, a narrative imperative just screaming for a hero to ride in and save the day.  Oprah Winfrey, David Geffen, and Larry Ellison all lined up to play the protagonist opposite Sterling's reviled antagonist.  How much would they pay for that white horse?  What exactly is the hero's premium?  Well, we all found out when Steve Ballmer outbid them all, paying three times the fair market price for his glory steed.  He won the Clipper auction, thus securing for himself a favorable piece of American history, and in doing so he turned the entire sports industrial complex on it's head. (See chart below)

Ultimately this all comes back to the notion of value.  What is of true value to a man like Steve Ballmer with net worth of $20 billion dollars?  With a bankroll like that, he could buy almost every team in the NHL, and still have enough leftover to go private island shopping.  No, this purchase is all about reputation.  It is the one thing even the richest amongst us (Donald Sterling), can't salvage once it's sullied.  Steve Ballmer is well known and highly regarded on both Wall Street and Silicon Valley, but he is hardly a household name.  With one stroke of the pen he has entered the collective psyche of the American public, colored bright with a hero's glow.  But, it's what he does next that will show if he creates any value for the Los Angeles Clippers.  The hard part starts now.


(1) I'll leave it to you to guess who I meant.  Or perhaps I meant nothing, and was merely being rhetorically clever.  Or not.

(2) Admittedly, I was a casual fan of The Association from the late eighties until the early nineties, but still.

(3)  This is old stock trader lingo.  Mister Softee is a nickname for MSFT, Microsoft's stock ticker.

(4) See what I did there?  Of all the aspirational WASPy surnames that Donald Tokowitz could have possibly chosen, it is a delicious irony that he picked a word so completely antithetical to his own character.

Monday, December 2, 2013

An Unserious Man In Full

Posted by Sean Doyle, December 2, 2013.
Image edited by Sean Doyle

When exactly did Jim Dolan officially jump the shark?  Was he ever really on the other side of it?

There is a breed of owner, senile Grandpa Al types with gin-flecked breath and yellowy eyes, ever ready with a unfashionable quip about race or gender or some such unmentionable thing, who despite it all still retain an oddball's charm.  Well, that's not Jim Dolan.  He's not even that guy. I'm racking my skull attempting to divine one endearing thing he's ever done, in 14 years just one moment of levity.  There is none.  The man simply fails all tests of sympathy  He is mercurial without being meaningful, mean-spirited without being impactful.  Therefore, in the happy spirit of the holidays, let's deconstruct the Knicks' owner by running him through the friendly confines of the Dummy Bros. scorecard.  Let the evisceration begin!

Range (+10 to -10) 

- Firing GM Glen Grunwald, Replacing him with Steve Mills
By all accounts Steve Mills is a competent and accomplished man.  However, Mr. Mills one major contribution to the New York Knicks franchise was the hiring of Isiah Thomas.  Oops. This was an unforgivable decision and one that us fans are still frankly paying for 10 years later.  In contrast, Glen Grunwald helped to build the 2012-13 Knicks, a likable 54-win squad that were (in my opinion) slight overachievers.  (Honestly, there was simply no way the Knicks were beating the younger, stronger, longer Pacers in a best-of-seven.  54 wins and a competitive second round series was best case for New York.)  Grunwald wasn't perfect, but he did nothing to cause such an abrupt and rude dismissal.

DUMMY SCORE: - 8 (Dolan doesn't like anyone smarter than him. Goodbye, Grunwald and Walsh. Hello Isiah!)

- Benching The Knicks City Dancers
Since the advent and evolution of advanced metrics in pro sports one data point in particular has proven axiomatic.  All the finest minds from Sloan and MIT to the sports blogosphere are in uniform agreement on this point.  What is this unassailable metric you ask?  It's the DWTR (or dancing-to-win rate-correlation %).  Simply put, the DWTR measures (using impossibly complex algorithms) the inverse correlation between the number and length of the home team's cheerleading/ dancing routines and the winning percentage of said home team.  While many pundits saw Dolan's near extermination of the popular Knicks City Dancers as a petty move, I saw a brainy, modern owner embrace the latest in advanced criteria to improve his team's chance at winning.

Disagree?  Ok, ok, I know, (I kid) it was a petty and pointless move made by an imbecile asshole.  I'm sure Dolan doesn't even know how to spell metric.  Moving on.

DUMMY SCORE: - 10 (There are no words...)

- Hiring A Stooge To Follow Head Coach Mike Woodson Everywhere He Goes
WTFF?  Look Jimbo, if you don't trust the guy, then fire him.  If you do trust him then by all means stop fracking spying on him 24/7!!!  Why does everything Dolan does remind me of the final days of the Nixon White House?  He's like pro sports' very own Kim Jong-un.  I honestly thought this story was a swerve when I first heard it.  Really I did.  Mainly because isn't this type of thing, well, illegal?

DUMMY SCORE: - 9  (Just in case Woody does have a few skeletons in his walk-in closet)
Image edited by Sean Doyle

- Mr. Smith Goes To Broadway
Can we talk about Chris Smith?  Is it safe?  Look, I truly admire JR Smith's blood loyalty.  Blood is blood, and family is family, and you can't fault a man for trying to help his brother's dream come true.  Having said that, roster spots in the NBA are precious few (particularly for playoff caliber clubs).  This rouse is yet another illustration of Dolan's "Boss Tweed" sensibility.  There were at least a dozen better candidates for this final roster spot that I can think of off the top of my head and I'm half-drunk.

DUMMY SCORE: - 8 (The Knicks are 3-13 for chrissakes!  We could use all the help we can get.)

- Crushing Linsanity
Allow me to throw a scenario at you...

Lets say you are a team that has had only one winning season in the last ten years.  A team wherein finishing 12th in the Eastern Conference is actually considered a better than average season.  Then, let's say (for sh*ts and gigs) this team was run by a clueless GM (later removed), who when he wasn't sexually harassing a female co-worker, and dishing out racist dismissals of the team's fan base, he was assembling the most expensive, least likable roster in the history of the Association.  Then, after spending said decade roving in the bleak winless wilderness of Jerome James and Renaldo Balkman and Stephon Marbury and the like, this team happens upon an undrafted third string point guard from Harvard and boom!  (The biggest pop culture phenomenon in recent NBA history is born!)  They called it Linsanity, and it was like a a gift from the basketball gods.  Finally, after a decade of darkness there was a bright beautiful light at the end of the tunnel.  Can you guess what happened next? Can you?  Well, Boss Dolan didn't like Jeremy Lin's "surly" attitude or some such thing and next thing you know Lin is in Rocket red and we've signed a bunch of half-done fifty-year olds with the money. Dolan made it all about himself, and not what was best for the team. And did I mention that we are 3-13 so far this year?.

DUMMY SCORE: - 10 (Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Still shaking my head.)

Image provided by the NYPD's "Special Victim's Unit."

- Expecting The 2013-2014 Knicks To Win the NBA Championship
"He stood straight up and looked the world squarely in the fields and hills.  To add weight to his words he stuck the rabbit bone in his hair.  He spread his arms out wide. "I will go mad!" he announced."
                                      - Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Omnibus

Madness has a certain vital charm to it.  Honestly, I hesitate to use any phrase that might bestow, however indirectly, a layer of romanticized depth to a man (Dolan) I believe is lacking in the requisite insight to even attain the minimum standard for such an insult.  Having said that, Dolan is just batshit nutty if he thinks the '13-'14 Knicks have a shot at an NBA Championship this season.   The Knicks have no power forward, a star player (Melo) who is unwilling to play defense, an aging (at times awkward) roster, and a salary cap situation that makes adding another good player very difficult, if not downright impossible. They may be good enough for a 6 or 7 seed, and a competitive first round series, but that is it.  Dolan's insanity notwithstanding.

DUMMY SCORE: - 7 (Did I mention that The Knicks are currently 3-13?  I did?  Ok.)

- Blaming Donnie Walsh's Wheelchair For  The Knicks Failure To Sign LeBron
There are many reasons LeBron James did not sign with the Knicks in the summer of 2010.  Just jotting a few off the top of my head here: mediocre roster, demanding (and knowledgeable) fan base, aggressive 24/7 media presence, lack of future draft picks due to terrible trades (Isiah), unsuccessful and erratic ownership group, salary cap concerns, the fact that the Knicks had one winning season in the previous ten and had become a universal punchline in pro sports, etcetera etcetera. Not a single one had to do with Donnie Walsh being in a wheelchair during the negotiations.

But Jim Dolan, in his infinite wisdom, saw fit to blame Walsh (one of the NBA's most respected minds) and the aesthetics of the older man's temporary impairment due to hip surgery, for the Knicks failure to land King James.  As if LeBron wasn't going to sign with the team that gave him the very best opportunity to win multiple championships and cement his legacy as an all-time great, but with the team that gave the flashiest pitch.  I'm certain Dolan is convinced to this day that if he brought in Usher riding sideways on a Bengal tiger singing "New York, New York," while Isiah flew around him on a hoverboard lobbing benjis his way, that LBJ would be wearing the blue and orange right now.

DUMMY SCORE: - 10 (A truly mean-spirited thing to do, Jimbo)

- Firing Marv Albert, Standing By Isiah Thomas
Marv Albert is arguably the best play-by-play man in NBA history. (And a hometown guy to boot) Isiah Thomas is arguably the worst GM in modern NBA history.  Guess which one Jim Dolan exiled and which one he supported in perpetuity like a beloved son?  Exactly.


- No Playoff Wins for Ten Years (2001-2011)
In the previous ten year period (1991-2001) the Knicks had 67 playoff victories!  Is it any coincidence then that Dolan started asserting himself as owner in 2001? Only Charlotte, an expansion team with serious ownership issues of it's own, matched New York for futility in that dark decade.

DUMMY SCORE: - 10 (See above chart...)

- Opening For The Eagles
I would never begrudge a man for pursuing his passions.  I love music and I love playing music and if I had Dolan's bankroll (from his Daddy of course) I'd probably assemble a quality roster of top flight musicians to play with myself.  In addition, I think it's really cool that his son plays in the band as well. Really I do.  Ok, now that I've gotten all jazz out of the way, let me say this...If Dolan wasn't a billionaire he would be lucky to be selling day-old pretzels and bootleg t-shirts out of the back of his truck in the parking lot during an Eagles' concert, to say nothing of opening for the Hall of Fame act!  The Eagles are one of America's greatest living bands and the notion that Jim Dolan would be anywhere near that stage sans his family's immense fortune and connections is a world class farce.

DUMMY SCORE: - 10 (The Eagles? Really?)

Final Grade: - 92 (Verdict: All-Time FAIL)

Let me conclude by saying this, I don't believe Jim Dolan to be purposely fiendish.  Rather, I think of him more as incomprehensibly foolish.  He seems to be a man with no innate ability to gauge his own mistakes.  As a Knicks' fan I'm still rooting for him to figure it all out.  Because if he succeeds, we all succeed.   Let's just say however that I'm not holding my breath.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

World Without End, Amen.

Posted by Sean Doyle, October 5, 2013
Image by Sean & Colin Doyle


It's an odd thing being a Yankee fan.  On one hand (fat with pride) you have the Iron Horse, the Babe, the Mick, 27 rings, 56, 61*, Donnie Baseball, Mr. October, Mr. November, Mo, Munson, and Yogi.  On the other hand you have a fistful of confutations, ever ready for that new acquaintance who looks terminally ill at the moment you inform him/her of where your baseball loyalty lies. "The Yankees?" They say with a sneer which proudly displays their contempt. "Really? Ugh!! Why?" No sports team forces it's fans to expound upon their philosophy of fandom more so than the New York Yankees.  No other organization is used so readily to establish one's character.

Graphic by Sean & Colin Doyle

What does being a Yankee fan say about you? Are you a mean-spirited, front running, self important putz with a fragile ego who blindly salutes the dark flag of a corporate monolith? Or are you an earnest, reflective follower of the great national pass time and it's most honored ball club? Or perhaps both, a conflation of pride and greed, tradition and vulgarity?(1)*  I will say this, there is something quite contrived about the typical "Yankee-Hater" with all their posing and posturing and half-hearted protests about payroll inequality and "Goliath" name calling.  These are the same fans in Boston, Chicago, Philly, Detroit, Atlanta, and LA who rave like lip-quivering tweens at Bieber convention every time their team scoops up a prized free agent, but can't quite square the circle when the Bomber's do the same.  It's fine of course, and painted in the landscape when you are on top, it's just the outrage always came in a tad too manufactured for my taste. 

To their credit, the Yanks have often made it laughably easy for their detractors (see Here and Here), serving up a detestable moments and questionable decisions with the casual frequency of franks at a ballgame.  After all, we as humans are hardwired to root for the underdog and the Yankees are most certainly not (and never, ever will be) the underdog. They play in the number one city ever, have the number one player (Ruth) ever, have the most championships of any major American franchise ever.  It seems there is no end to the hyperbolic adverbs one can attribute to the pinstripes. They are ballgame uber alles, an Empire without end.

So great is their cultural saturation that the word "Yankees" is now synonymous with both baseball and success.  Merely utter the word Yankees aloud in a room full of strangers and you're likely to pop the temperature gauge a few nods.  Love them or despise them, the Bombers do inspire a genuine passion in all.  Ask yourself, How many "Bleacher Creatures"would gladly step in front of a bullet for Derek Jeter? Now ask, how many Royals', Ray's or Buc's fans would so the same for their lead dog?  And gladly? Not a chance.



When George Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees in January 1973, the bombers hadn't been to the playoffs in eight seasons, hadn't finished higher than 5th in five of those eight.  Over the subsequent nine seasons they had five 1st place finishes, won four Pennants, and captured two World Championships.  As the great Lou Mannheim aptly observed, "You can't get a little bit pregnant, son."  This is sage advice, particularly as it involves running a baseball team in the Bronx. (Basically, Hal, you are either in or you are out.)   Thus, you can't run the Yankee's like something else, because they aren't something else, they are the YANKEES.  It's win now, win forever, or die trying.  The Boss understood this axiom as well as he understood the very city itself.  It was a rare symbiosis he achieved, and sustained, between himself and the fan base. His sons seem oblivious to this great bargain. 

The Yankees finished 85-77, in 4th place, 12 games behind the division leading Boston Red Sox. That last sentence was difficult to write.  See, I don't necessarily mind missing the playoffs, or even going through a mild rebuilding process, as long as there is some kind of coherent strategy inspiring the downswing.  Near as I can see, the only motivation for the mediocre product on the field is Hal Steinbrenner's peculiar luxury tax reduction fetish. (2)*  When historians look back 100 years from now, they'll see that one man placed a mild balance sheet improvement ahead of glory.  The irony is that Hal will be rich whether or not the Yankees pay the luxury tax for the next ten straight years, or never pay it again. 

So here's the rub Hal, you will never be known for anything but owning the Yankees (and that's not a knock, its just the odds of him being involved with something of greater import than NYY is highly statistically slim) therefore you will be judged solely for what happens during the small period of time you are blessed to run this historic franchise.  For better or worse, these are the metrics that posterity will use to judge, and all the important numbers are running right away from you.


Attendance has declined virtually every year since the new ballpark opened in 2009.  That's somewhat to be expected, as many other ball clubs have experienced a similar drop once the "new toy" honeymoon period winds down.  Sure the shine can't last forever kid, but only five years later and we're diving faster than the Mets in September (Or any other month, for that matter).

Of greater concern are the television ratings.  It's one thing to decide to save a couple hundred bucks and forgo a long car ride by staying home, it's entirely different when you are simply ignoring the product when it's sitting free in your living room.  Currently, the Yankees are averaging half (HALF!) the television ratings they were getting in 2009, down from nearly 5 to 2.52, and dropping.  There is no greater measure of fan apathy than that metric.  

 Is it simply wins and losses?  Perhaps, but I'd say it goes deeper than that.  This harks back to the aforementioned symbiosis between the owner and his/her fan base.  It's a relationship like any other.  Let's face it, for the longest time us Yankee fans had a sugar daddy who spoiled us rotten and it occasionally made it feel "as when the world was new."  Now, the Yankees don't feel special anymore.  We have a bloated payroll larded with refugees from the netherworld of bad contracts (Vernon Wells, Alf Soriano, etc), a lackluster farm system, and worst of all, a disinterested dance partner.  Listen Hal, you have to be honest with yourself... did you really give it your best short or did you half-heartedly assemble a roster of middling mid-carders? See that's my whole issue with Prince Hal's hapless reign, his heart just doesn't seem that into it.  Nobody wants to be on the bad side of an asymmetric relationship.  No matter how weird, or (at times) abusive George was, we always knew he loved us and would take care of us. We forgave his sins because he always minded the big picture.  For Boss George it was win the last game of the season, or call it failure.


Is this to be the new Bronx paradigm? 80-90 wins a season? An occasional wild-card berth every 3 years? Sixty to seventy percent attended home games?  2.0 (and below) TV ratings?  A couple of aging (smirking) veterans helping us scrape along? A dispassionate lukewarm borderline absentee owner?  A championship (maybe) every fifteen to twenty years? In other fucking words, every other team in baseball!  WTFF??   We committed to a certain way of doing things here in NY the day Harry Frazee sold us Babe Ruth for a sack of magic beans (or whatever).  Now ninety-some odd years later we are turning into the Milwaukee Brewers East??  Hal, If you want to manage a balance sheet and eek out a small profit then why don't you go run a couple of West Tampa Golf Courses, because in the Bronx we are in the Empire Business.  That's our tradition. You know what? Screw Prince Hal, this is New York!  Bring on Halsenberg!

Because nothing stops this train, nothing.      

*(1) I certainly proved to be both with this article...

*(2) I'm well aware of the potential savings to be had by (the Yanks) dropping below the $189 million payroll threshold in 2014.  The Bombers could in such a scenario reduce their forward luxury tax rate from 50% to 17.5%.  This hypothetical reduction would have enormous prospective economic benefit for the organization.  My contention lies with the idea that several seasons should fall casualty to this ambition.  If we can pull it off - great, if not - oh well, but I don't want to lose two or three years of competitive baseball for it.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Brooklyn Nets: Alternative History, Vol. II

Posted by Sean Doyle, July 25, 2013
Graphic by Sean & Colin Doyle

December 7, 2010
A date which will live in infamy...

The Nets fall to The Hawks in Atlanta, 116-101, dropping their record to 9-13. It is their fourth straight loss and third consecutive drubbing by double-digits. Shortly following the game, reporters huddled around the locker of starting point guard John Wall.  Wall, the number one pick in the previous June's NBA Draft, appeared despondent, never once lifting his eyes to meet this surly disquisition. The young point guard, his gaze fixed on the rubber-pocked locker room floor, offered only fleeting tones.  It was the same question after all, (EVERY DAMN TIME!!) just dressed in different accents, sometimes smiling, but mostly just leering. It went something like this..."How does it feel to lose your spot in the starting lineup, kid?"

How would you feel, old-blood?

Back beyond the vendor's gate, near the visitor's press room, Coach Cal paced about. After all, he was earning a near record $134,146 dollars per game on his massive five year $55 million contract. Nine wins out of twenty-two would hardly earn him a banner in Bed-Stuy, much less appease the towering Russian himself.  Coach dug five fingers through his burnished mane.  This rare act of slovenliness invited chaos into the highly ordered singularity of pomaded hair, styled by the Coach, and known to all great men as "The Gordon" look. "Fug it all, I don't care," he thought aloud.  Muttering now, "Nine years in Memphis, eight in Massachusetts,...reviving Kentucky Blue for chrissakes!!!  But all the lemmings wanna scribble on is Calipari can't handle the NBA!!  Cal is a college coach!! Well, I've got two words for that shi-!""

Coach Cal side-kicked a stack of used soda cups, sending them a good dozen or so feet across the hall.

Here we go again...

December 8, 2010
It was always the same dream...

Mikhail rolled out of bed.  It was 3:47 in the am.  The great city just beyond was silent, it's unbending roar hushed by the cold black waters of the East River.  The rangy Russian wrapped himself in a Siberian cloth robe and made his way to the private deck adjoining his 2,700 square-foot master suite.  As he wandered past the sliding glass gateway, a familiar digital voice intoned "Good morning Master Prokhorov, it is currently 38 degrees in Manhattan with a slight tailwind from the northwest. Be sure to attire appropriately for this cold setting, sir."  Cold?  Thought Mikhail...Cold??  HA!  Cold is when your spit freezes before it hits the ground!  This is like summertime in Moscow, old boy!

"No man is an island," wrote the great poet John Donne.  And yet, here on Deck 2A-A of his $300 million dollar custom yacht, Mikhail Prokhorov felt very much the island.  His ship, which he dubbed "Koschei" after the deathless antagonist of Slavic mythology, was moored evenly between the twin empires of Brooklyn and Manhattan; one conquered, the other ripe for conquest.  Never the less, here Mikhail now stood, a man apart, with one eye on his past and the other eye disquisitive, peering forever forward.

"And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

It was the same dream.  It was always the same dream.  Mikhail sees himself stumbling through the worn back alleys of the Golyanovo District of Moscow, everything topped in a fresh coat of black snow, when he happens upon James Dolan.  The two exchange pleasantries, and then, like gentlemen of old, immediately begin fighting.  It takes little effort to subdue the smaller Dolan, but when he does, Mikhail starts choking the very life from out of him.  I can feel my hands squeezing this little Irish bug, and I'm about to pop his ruddy head right off, when he just up and disappears!  He always just disappears.  It is like I get so very close to victory, and at the last moment...the very last moment... it eludes me...He eludes me.  It's always then that Mikhail wakes up.

The tall Russian gazes towards Manhattan, the last great unconquerable field.  "It eludes me...He eludes me," Prokhorov announces to himself.  "But not forever..."

Photo by Sean Doyle

It's 4:03 am.  A text message comes through.  The tall Russian glances down at his phone.  It is from Hova, and it reads "We need 2 meet. Coach Cal wants to quit."

To be continued...

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Regression To The Mean

Posted by Sean Doyle
Chart Graphic by Sean & Colin Doyle

In his last seven pay-per-view appearances (1)*, Ryback has a 0-6-1 record. This tidy performance converts into a 0.0 winning percentage. In other words Ryback doesn't just lose, no sir, he loses with a devoted consistency that would make Barry Horowitz himself, blush.

Yes, yes, of course, we all know pro wrestling is a work.  From the carny days to the current corporate variation, wrasslin' always been a morality play staged with oddballs and strongmen, played with pulled punches and chair shots.  Nobody "wins" in the Olympic sense. However, wins and losses are a bit like equity.  Each "win" bestows credibility, while each "loss" tarnishes it (and yes, perhaps not to an equivalent degree - as cheap heel (villain) wins are a common place multipartite strategy used to protect the loser (babyface), draw heat on the winner (heel) all while extending the narrative to it's inevitable blowoff conclusion).  Given this structural imperative, I feel comfortable devaluing losses relative to wins to say a .75 or three-fourths of a whole, level. (2)*

More on this later. (3)*

Even within the walls of this debased paradigm, Ryback is still lacking credibility.  First introduced to us as an indestructible monster, Ryback made his way through a series of slack-jaw jobbers, rag-dolling them and becoming a minor YouTube sensation in the process.  From there he leapfrogged the obligatory mid-card title run (I.C. or  U.S.) and found himself square in the main event opposite WWE Champion and future Hall of Famer CM Punk.

Whatever equity was created in those first few squash-filled (and fun) months was about to be squandered over an unprecedented losing streak that stretches 8 pay-per-views and counting.  At this point, barring a major reclamation project, Ryback is little more than the American coequal of The Great Khali. (That is to say, a mid-card cartoon monster with just enough credibility to sell action figures but not nearly enough stroke to sellout buildings.)

One wonders if this was McMahon's strategy all along.  The Chairman of The Board loves to puff up monster heels (and faces, to a lesser extent) and then serve them up, fat with hype, to an established hero or veteran baddie of his choice.  It's a time honored sacrifice in the business and a much needed one, (4)* as a superstar is only as great as his/her competition.

And yet, one can't help but feel the nagging sting of buyer's remorse with Mr. 'Back.  Only six months ago the Post-Apocalyptic Turtle from Texas was the hottest act in the sport.  Arena's across the world were larded with lively FEED ME MORE!!! chants, with each Monday night refrain driving a tick louder on the noise-o-meter than the last.  The top spot on the card seemed all but perfunctory then, for the man born Ryan Reeves, and that's about the precise moment he got lost on the Road To Wellville...

Piloting a rising star's ascension is always tricky, particularly in the Information Age.  Fans are savvy to all the old hooks, and weary of them, all while paradoxically yearning to be hooked at every turn.  It is a modern Promoter's nightmare, this Brave New World, a non-linear multiverse of irony layered upon "reality" with a measured dose of smark, and all threaded together by the (occasionally) oppositional forces of dramatic correctness and profit seeking. The superstars who best adapt to this emerging standard will succeed big - think: Daniel Bryan, AJ Lee, The Shield, Damien Sandow, and Punk.  These performers are amongst the gifted few who can go modern or traditional without losing a step.  Listen, on a long enough time-lime, we are all hipsters. It is just a matter of who gets there first.

Ryback, by comparison, is a throwback. He's an old school beast who isn't defined by his move-set or wink-wink promo skills, but by his ability to destroy, and destroy with efficiency. In that regard, he's pure traditional.  And it's a tradition crafted on the value of appearing eternally invincible (think: early Mike Tyson, Clubber Lang, Goldberg, Heel Andre, H.O.P. Mark Henry, Ivan Drago, Typhon, Doomsday, or Larry King). It's within the holds of this hard mythos where the cold arithmetic of wins and losses reemerges, thus regaining its value.

Which brings us back to 0-6-1.

If your character's sole raison d'etre lies within it's imperishable nature, and the whole "what you see is what you get," swag, then what we get had better be greater than 0-6-1 in money matches, which is the mathematical equivalent of fuck all.  Now Ryan Reeves doesn't book the matches, but he does wear the boots.  He'd do well to add some depth behind those grunts.  Ryback has the look and intensity of a superstar, but unless he discovers his "inner man" he may find himself on the high ash heap of history with Vince McMahon's other broken toys.


*(1) Not counting the Royal Rumble match, where technically there are no individual losers.

*(2) Why not devalue wins instead? Because lets face it, a win is a win, and we all love winners. In the uniquely American cultural commitment to victory, a little hustle (mild rule bending) is to be respected (albeit begrudgingly so).

*(3) I've often wondered just what a statistical revolution (a la Sabermetrics) would do to the traditional storytelling models and business imperatives of "sports entertainment." As both a simulated sport, and a long form dramatic narrative, pro wrestling would appear to have conflicting mandates.  But what if a sharpened understanding of the relative value of "wins" and "losses," winning percentage, reign length, ppv streaks, and the like, could lead to a better product overall?

*(4) Just ask any heel who worked for the WWF from 1984-1991. Or any of The Italian Stallion's opponents from Rocky's II-V.  Or any of Taylor Swift's ex-boyfriends...

Friday, June 14, 2013

We Are Back From The Dead

Two years to the day!! More pseudo-intellectual hipsterrific redundancies to come!!! Stay tuned. Or don't...


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

4th And Gone: The Great Narrative.

Posted by Sean Doyle, June 14, 2011.
Photo Courtesy of DeShawn Stevenson.

On July the 8th, 2010 in a moment of pure media infamy, LeBron James announced his "decision."  Decked out in his best blipster-hipster farm gear and sporting a barely cloaked smile, James announced to the world that he was "taking his talents to South Beach."  It was a deliciously devious declaration and instantly transformed the likable James into the biggest heel in sports.


On June the 12, 2011 in a moment of pure athletic defeat, LeBron entered the media room following a bitter Game 6 loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA finals.  Glassy eyed and shaken, and sporting a barely cloaked frown, James announced to the world that "all the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today."  It was an acrimoniously acidic announcement and permanently transformed the unlikable James into heretofore unseen levels of pure villainy.

In between those bombastic bookends, lays the stuff of great legend....

Part I:  Talk Is Cheap 

There are many ways to say "fuck you!" Like, "I'm taking my talents to South Beach," or "How's my Dirk Taste?" But some essential communications are of the non-verbal variety. Coming into Game 6, Dirk Nowitzki had outscored "King" James 52 - 11 in the 4th quarter. Think about that for a second.  By the primary metric by which we judge them, Dirk had been 5x as good or 500% better then the man who proclaims himself basketball royalty. When it really matters (And nothing matters more than 4th quarter performance in the NBA Finals. Nothing! Particularly for future Hall of Famers. It is the stage of stages.) Lebron played hide and seek. That is, he hid on offense and defense (setting an NBA record for biggest drop in PPG from the regular season to the Finals at - 8.9) oft dishing to a decrepit Juwan Howard (JUWAN HOWARD!?!?!) in clutch moments all while getting beat easily on d. Thus, the big German said "fuck you" to LeBron without uttering a single dirty word.

Part II: Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and A Bad Haircut.

Ok I stole that title from one of my favorite humorists, P.J. O'Rourke.  Nevertheless, it works just fine here. The striking sight of 37-year-old Jason Kidd whipping up and down the hardwood dishing and swishing like a man half his age whilst baby legs 'Bron-Bron played peek-a-boo with Mario Chalmers was more than enough to convince me that this series was over by game 5.  You have to want a championship, not just feel that your South Beach talent deserves one.

Add 37-year-old Kidd to 32-year-old MVP Nowitzki, 33-year-old Shawn Marion, 34-year-old Brian Cardinal, and 33-year-old Jason Terry and you have the makings of a fine senior league squad.  But like very good wine this group just got better with age. 

Now, there has been some debate as to whether or not Dallas won this series or Miami just simply lost it.  For the record I am in the former camp.  Dirk, Jet, Kidd, JJ and the rest played like true warriors and beat Miami straight up. No excuses.

Part III: Stop Selling And Start Buying.

I could sit here all day and rap my keyboard silly with LBJ insults. Millions of people are doing so now and perhaps rightfully so.  The truth is for all the hyperbolic hoo-ha LeBron James remains one of the most gifted athletes of all time. He's built like a power forward, passes like an elite point, and runs like a super speedy two guard.  What he isn't yet is a winner. He doesn't have that Michael Jordan or Larry Bird gene. For 8 years we've been sold on the grand "King" James narrative by Nike, ESPN, the NBA, Worldwide Wes, and by the man himself.  Frankly, we are having buyer's remorse.  It's clear now that we are not looking at another Michael Jordan. Not even close.  Instead of looking to MJ, LeBron should look to Dirk.  Dirk never stopped working and evolving his game till that trophy was in his hands.  Perhaps one day, with a lot of hard work and humility, LeBron can be the next Nowtzki.  Now there is a story line that I can buy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Raiders Of The Fan's Wallets

Posted by Sean Doyle, March 22, 2011.
Image By Colin & Sean Doyle.

We are now 16 games deep into the Melo Era and my scorecard reads 7-9. That's .438 basketball folks.  Hardly worthy of the hyperbolic hoo-ha we were force fed by the Garden machine.  Now don't get me wrong I was for the Carmelo trade.  I believed (and still believe) that having two stud assets like Stat and Melo flowing synchronically in their prime years was the Knicks' best chance at glory.  Moreover, I'm the patient sort, more than willing to let these ballers adjust their unique bent to the manic rush of the D'Antoni system.  Where my patience does wane however is at the lusty cash grab being orchestrated by Garden boss "Big" Jimmy Dolan.

Now, normally I'd refrain from criticizing a fellow Irishman this close to St. Paddy's Day (even one as grievous as himself). But jeez Jimbo, a 50% increase in ticket prices! The Knicks were already the most overpriced ticket in entertainment. (and I say that as a lifelong fan)  Now we're just in silly town!  Look Jimbo, I know you have to pay for that "glorious" $800 million dollar renovation to MSG somehow.  But picking the pockets of your long suffering but intensely loyal fan base? Well, that's just unconscionable.

Last night we fell to the championship caliber Boston Celtics. No harm there except for the fact it was our sixth loss in seven games.  (1-6 in our last 7 games, that's not just bad, that's Isiah Thomas bad). What's more galling is that four of those six losses were to losing teams. (Detroit .357, Milwaukee .406, Indiana .437 twice...TWICE!!).  That's right we are not just losing, we are losing to shit teams with devoted consistency.  Ordinarily I'd say I was embarrassed but after the last decade I'm numbed to such emotive postures.

Madison Square Garden's publicly traded stock (MSG) was initially boosted by the Carmelo trade, rising some 10% in the giddy days that followed. However, as you can see by the chart below the stock quickly fell back to Earth.  What caused this sharp redaction to the mean?  Was it the Knicks' mediocre play?  Or the swift and negative reaction to Dolan's cash grab?  Or perhaps institutional investors just balked at backing a multi-billion dollar corporation fronted by an enigmatic 26-year old named "Melo."

Furthermore, the Knicks have a roster completely lacking in size and toughness in the middle.  (They are either using Ronny Turiaf, a back-up power forward or Sheldon Williams, a third-string power forward as starting center) They are soft defensively, allowing 105.5 points per game, good for 3rd in the league.  They have absolutely no chemistry. None!  This I blame on Carmelo, who has deferred to neither  Stoudemire's leadership nor D'Antoni's coaching system.  Right now they are truly an unwatchable mess.

If Dolan wants to bleed his fanbase dry to pay for his shiny new luxury boxes the least he could do is wait to see if Carmelo actually makes the Knicks any better. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Brooklyn Nets: An Alternative History

Posted by Sean Doyle, March 7, 2011.
Image by Sean & Colin Doyle

"Dont rely on chance..."
                                           - Old Russian Proverb.

On May 18th of last year, the New Jersey Nets entered the NBA draft lottery with a 25% chance of winning the top pick. This percentage was tops amongst the 14 teams participating in this annual "losers" lottery.  After suffering through a nightmarish 12-70 record in the '09-10 regular season many felt the Nets were destined (and deserving) to win the lottery and it's golden ticket, Kentucky's John Wall.  Unhappily though, the dark clouds which have long followed this luckless organization were encircling the studio that evening.  The Washington Wizards, with barely a 10% chance of victory, won the draft lottery.  In that instant, the fate of many organizations, players, and cities was forever changed.  And none more so than the New Jersey Nets.  But what if the balls had bounced differently?  What if Prokhorov and Jay-Z had won the day?  I contend that getting John Wall may have set the stage for something quite special for those hard luck Nets. So here's my timeline for an alternative history...

May 18, 2010.
Mikhail Prokhorov could barely contain his glee!  The rangy Ruskie, not known for his outward displays of emotion, was beaming.  He waved his cyclopean fists in the air, flopping about as he fought off an eager grin.  "Ves! Vess!!!" he shouted, his Russian crushing his English.  The Nets had won the NBA draft lottery!  Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver announced this and then fleetly exited stage right leaving Mr. Prokhorov in all his inelegant glory.  It was another lucky step for the towering tycoon in a lifetime marked by them.  Offstage, Jay-Z had a laugh about his partner's impropriety.  Said Jay to a friend, "I've never even seen him smile before..."

June 9, 2010.
ESPN's Chris Broussard is reporting that John Calipari has agreed to a five year $55 million dollar deal to become the Head Coach/ GM of the New Jersey Nets.  This will likely reunite Calipari with John Wall whom the Nets are all but guaranteed to select with the first pick in the NBA Draft later this month.  Many insiders feel that Calipari is being offered the job because he is close with LeBron James.  William Wesley, otherwise known as "Worldwide Wes," is telling insiders that this hiring will go a long way towards "swaying the King come signing day."

June 24, 2010.
"And with the first pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, the New Jersey Nets select John Wall from the University of Kentucky!"

July 1, 2010.
The Nets contingent arrives at the LRMR office in Cleveland. Amongst those repping the Nets are Majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov, minority owner Jay-Z and his wife Beyonce, new Head Coach/GM John Calipari, and #1 draft pick John Wall.  "It is certainly a star studded group to say the least,"said an anonymous source.

Prokhorov's pitch goes something like this: I have heard the rumors that you are leaning towards signing with Miami. Look, New York is the number one media and sports market in the country with a greater urban population of 18.2 million people compared with only 1.1 million in the greater urban population of Miami. We are 18x bigger than Miami and at least a 100x more important to the global economy!  Miami is a small and weak sports market. I am the wealthiest NBA owner with a net worth of over $20 billion dollars. If you truly aspire to be a billionaire it will only happen in New York and only through me, and I will make it happen. We have by far the best core of young talent...Brook Lopez, Devin Harris, and John Wall, and tons of draft picks and cap space going out for many, many years. We have your favorite Head Coach in John Calipari, a proven winner.  We have Jay-Z, who is the biggest star in music and his wife, Beyonce, who together know everybody in Entertainment and can get a thousand projects launched for you. We have the cap space this year to add you and Chris Bosh. This would mean a starting five of  Lopez (C), Bosh (PF), LeBron (SF), Devin Harris (SG), John Wall (PG). An all-star at every spot and in my opinion the best starting five in the game. Miami does have Dwayne Wade but nothing else. Would Miami trade Wade for Lopez, Harris, and Wall? Of course they would. In a New York minute!  Three stars for one superstar, you make that trade a hundred times out of a hundred!  Oh, and by the way we are opening a brand new state of the art Arena that will be the very best in the game in the hippest part (Brooklyn) of the greatest city in the history of the Earth. To me LeBron, this is the easiest decision you will ever have to make.

Image by Colin & Sean Doyle.

July 7, 2010.
Chris Bosh announces he has signed a max contract with the New Jersey Nets. Nets point guard John Wall leaves B.E.S.T and signs an exclusive deal with LRMR, LeBron's marketing company. The speculation begins!!

July 8, 2010.
LeBron informs Cavs owner Dan Gilbert of his intention to sign with the Nets in a heartfelt tear-filled phone call. This news leaks to the press creating an absolute frenzy.  When LeBron informs Prokhorov of his original intention to announce the signing on a primetime TV special thus breaking the hearts of his fellow native Clevelanders and ruining his brand in the process, the sturdy Russian puts the kibosh on that dippy mess. "That's the stupidiest fucking thing I've ever heard," remarked Prokhorov, adding "remember what Buffet said...'It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it." Instead he instructs LeBron to call Gilbert and do this the "honorable way."

July 9, 2010.
9 p.m. Eastern: LeBron gives a subdued interview with Jim Grey at his home in Cleveland discussing his decision to sign with the Nets. Also there are former teammates Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao. "I've invited Mo and Andy here because they are family and I care about them. I wanted to do this the right way. I love Cleveland, and I love it's people. But the opportunities in New York with this growing organization are just too great. I will always cherish my seven years here and my friendship with Dan Gilbert," remarked a notably somber LeBron James. The press is surprisingly positive for LeBron with most national sportswriters (save for Cleveland) agreeing with his decision and with the way he conducted himself. LeBron's Q Score, already the highest in history, actually grows by 6%.

Image Courtesy of Katchop.com.

October 26, 2010.
Opening night in the NBA.  The Nets beat the Celtics 107-99 behind a 33 point 7 rebound 9 assist 2 steal performance by LeBron James. Rookie John Wall debuts with 14 points and five assists. Bosh chips in with 24 points and 13 rebounds.  Head Coach John Calipari announces after the game, "this is the start of something really special."

To be continued...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Cavalier Exile of Baron Von Munchesalot.

Posted by Sean Doyle, March 6, 2011.
Image by Sean & Colin Doyle

We'll always have the KIA, Baron...

After a salty six-year sojourn to the western territories, the rotund Baron has been exiled.  His old nemesis the vile Viscount Donald Sterling hath banished his former charge to the port city of Cleve. Baron, a man of epic proportions (and appetites), who grew his considerable frame whilst a Clipper captain is said to be chapfallen over the disbarment.  Said the Plump Baron, "Woe is me! For my feasting days in the Angelic Commonwealth have topped off!  I now take my yearning goblet to the land of Cleve!  Beware all ye bread houses for I am a man whose gluttony is legend!!"

Beware, indeed.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

So Long Anthony Randolph, We Hardly Knew Ye!

Posted by Sean Doyle, February 1, 2010.
Picture by Sean & Colin Doyle

Indeed your dancing days are done
Oh (Anthony) I hardly knew ye
                                                    - Old Irish Folksong

In the summer of 2010, the Knicks traded their star player David Lee to the Golden State Warriors for three players, the most prominent of which was Anthony Randolph. (The other two were Ronny Turiaf and Kelenna Azubuike, thrown in for salary cap purposes.) At the time, Randolph was considered the second biggest "get" of the 'Bockers offseason and had many NYC hoop aficionados buzzing about his singular game. As a power forward with an uncommon skill set he was revered by many perceptive NBA observers.  Bill Simmons listed Randolph along with LeBron, Wade, Paul, Duncan, Kobe, Durant, and Howard as one of only eight players on his "There's no way I'm missing them if they're in town" list. That is heady company when you consider every one of those players is a near certain first ballot Hall of Famer, and at least three of them (LeBron, Kobe, Duncan) are top ten all time players!

So just how did Randolph fall so far so fast? Many theories abound...

Theory #1:  20 Games.
According to Coach Mike D'Antoni it takes about 20 games for a player to adjust to the pace of the Knicks' offense. Therefore given the fitful nature of Randolph's feast or famine game the Knicks just couldn't risk putting him out there for a quarter season while he adjusted his unique skill set to the stylings of the infamous "7 seconds or less" offense.

Theory #2:  It's The Attitude, Stupid.
When Randolph first entered the NBA, he often butted heads with Warriors head coach Don Nelson. (Nelson, who by the way has quite an enormous head. I know this because I once sat directly behind Nellie and the visitors bench at a Knicks-Warriors game and requested to be moved up to the nosebleeds so I could get a better view of the action. That cranium is so immense I still have sweat-strewn nightmares about it. But I digress...)*   However, when he came to the Knicks last summer, Randolph was quoted as saying, "It's all on me right now. If I don't succeed it's my fault. It's not on anybody else." Hardly sounds like a hard case right?

Theory #3: The Hyperbole Factor.
Perhaps we as fans just got ahead of ourselves.  It wouldn't be the first time. (Think Darius Miles) We hoopsters often go ga-ga for the "Undiscovered Country," that elusive multi-positional, omnidimensional, raw heap of super-potential prospect who will pass like Stockton, bound like Rodman,  shoot like Miller, guard like Artest, all while playing point-center on his tippy-tippy toes.  Maybe Randolph was just another long-on-potential, short-on-ability prospect who we badly over-hyped. Or maybe he's just a good all-around baller lost in system that doesn't allow him reach his full potential.

Theory #4: Respect The 'Stache.
Mike D'Antoni likes his rotations tight and closed. Just ask Nate Robinson, Larry Hughes, Roger Mason, Al Harrington, Andy Rautins, Tim Mozgov, Jordan Hill, etc.  It takes a lot to break into a D'Antoni rotation.  If you don't show Coach something, you ain't getting in and that's that.

In the final analysis, it's probably some combination of all four theories, and then some.  While we now lament never witnessing a Randolph dunk on the hallowed floor of the Garden, sending us fans into a tizzy of ecstatic joy, we should appreciate the fellow who was a throw-in in the deal and now has become an indispensable stalwart of the Knicks rotation...Ronny Turiaf, this bud's for you.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

American Idle Redux?

Posted by Sean Doyle, January 22, 2010.

So let me get this straight.  Brian Cashman was against the signing of Rafael Soriano, but for the signing of Carl Pavano?  I see.  Cash wanted nothing to do with the best AL reliever of 2010 (45 Saves, 1.73 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 57 K in 62 Innings) but was willing to bring back arguably (not from me) the worst Yankee in modern history (and by modern history I mean since they dropped the ol' Highlander team name.)  Say what?

By now we all know the sordid tale.  Pavano inked a fat $40 million dollar deal in the cold winter of 2004 and proceeded to start 26 out of an expected 128 games (26 out of 128!!) over the lifetime of the contract.  This Anti-Gehrig-esque performance* earned Carl the ire of teammates and fans alike. Even Derek Jeter, everybody's best friend, confronted Pavano about his utter lack of heart. In all my years as a Yankee fan I cannot think of one man so eagerly detested by the core fan base. He's like Pedro Martinez, Cliff Lee, Curt Schilling, and Larry Lucchino mixed together with all the charm of a late night New York City cab driver.  Me thinks Cash better lay off the hash!

Could you imagine the press conference? A ruddy faced Randy Levine introducing Pavano to a dumbfounded press corps all the while avoiding strong eye contact with every person there.  Hell, I'd buy a press pass just to swim about in that awkward mess.

* Pavano was paid $40 million dollars over four years.  He only made 26 starts (out of a possible 128) thus earning an average of  $1.53 million per start. To make matters worse he only won 9 of those 26 starts, meaning he earned an average of $4.4 million per victory.  That has to be some kind of all-time record for sucky-ness.