Hold onto your protective gear because this column races quickly through notes on the NBA finals, the NHL Stanley Cup, the Red Bull Arena debut, and a bit of World Cup coverage. There’s a lot of yardage—or meters—to cover, so I have numbered these thoughts to keep us all on track.
1. The Celtics lost game three. Here is what I think Doc Rivers should have said at halftime in the locker room: “Every time there is a momentum swing in our direction, the play gets sloppy. I want you to be present. Do not relax after we score.” Although this sounds like something Phil Jackson might say.
2. The Celtics could have lost game two. Here is what Doc Rivers might have said in the locker room during halftime just after he watched their 13-point lead dwindle down—a lead directly resulting from Ray Allen’s record-setting three-point shooting hot streak: “Have you ever heard of the New York Knicks? Because that’s who you look like right now. And have you ever heard of a player named Patrick Ewing? Because that’s how you are all treating Ray Allen right now. Do not let Ray Allen down.”
3. Future sports column: I will attempt to record all of the imaginary locker room, time out, and between-innings speeches I invent for various coaches.
4. But the Celtics won games four and five! And speaking of the Knicks, it is possible that both of these victories were due, at least in part, to a certain former Knick, Nate Robinson, creating energy and urgency off the bench. What I saw unfold last night was this: the Celtics might really want this more than the Lakers. Not more than Kobe Bryant, but Kobe Bryant a whole team does not make. More thoughts on Bryant are forthcoming.
5. Next up, hockey. The Chicago Blackhawks bring home the Cup after nearly fifty years. Good for them. But what happened to the Washington Capitals along the way? My brother is a Caps fan—he’s a transplant to the D.C. area and because the area’s humidity drives him nuts, it makes some sense to me that he would hold onto his football Giants affiliation, and take on the cooler stadium Caps. Note that he was also a Rangers fan during the gloomy 70s when I recall that hockey games consisted of helmet-less players pinning each other against the boards endlessly. So I suppose there wasn’t much to lose by his switching allegiances.
But what happened this year? Where was Alexander Ovechkin? Was it hubris? But if it was, what explains the success of the hubristic Kobe Bryant and the meltdown of Ovechkin? At work must be a crucial sports psychology differentiation that I know nothing about. So I will research this further and move on, noting only that perhaps this is why I do not like Kobe Bryant. Future column: I will attempt to figure out why I do not like Kobe Bryant. I admit my sentiment really makes no sense.
6. I love Canada and I love King James. They have health benefits in Canada, so maybe that’s why Steve Nash is not afraid to sacrifice his body and ends up bloody in nearly every game. I really wanted Steve Nash to go to the NBA finals. I also wanted Lebron James to win it for Cleveland so that he would feel free to come to the Knicks.
7. Now, on to soccer, or football. Before I move into World Cup thoughts, I will begin locally, with some reporting on the Red Bull soccer stadium—a structure that is supposed to signal the “arrival” of soccer enthusiasm to this area. A friend of ours got free tickets to the Red Bull Arena debut back in March. I was excited to go, and I want to thank this friend very much for his efforts and the invitation. It was, however, a rather messed-up night. Not because of the Red Bulls. Not because of the company. But because of the stadium design.
Writing this, I realize that I am truly my father’s child. My father once quizzed me by asking, “What is the primary purpose of a dust pan?” My answer: “To receive what the broom sweeps.” He pushed me further, asking, “Then what is its most important design feature?” My answer was correct: “The lip that meets the floor must be thin and straight.” And he said “Exactly, which is why this dust pan,” the one he was holding up and showing me in the middle of K-Mart, “is no good.”
Back to stadium design issues. First, it was quite cold. I know there is nothing the stadium designers could have done about that. But the low temperatures made standing in line for more than a half hour for hotdogs particularly painful. As I approached the front of the line, word began to spread that they were running out of concessions. The stadium was not even filled to capacity, but I ended up with the worst hamburger I have ever had.
And when the game let out, all seating tiers funneled out onto only one level with access to the exits. There were no ramps and wide passageways, and this caused a massive jam up of people. Note on pedestrian flow: it takes many more seconds, and these seconds build up, for large crowds to navigate stairs where they must look down, make turns, and negotiate landings. It is far easier to meander down a winding ramp after having had a couple of beers. Yet, pressed against the shuffling crowd, finally getting warm, I felt grateful for U.S. soccer only for its lack of hooliganism.
Then there was the promise of public transportation. Yes, NJ Transit’s Harrison station is “right there,” but the station was never built to handle so many people trying to crowd its two entrances and narrow stairwells nearly all at once. The crowds pressed and pressed until I didn’t trust the average fan’s patience and we split off, took the train in the opposite direction, and transferred in Newark for the Manhattan-bound track.
To sum it up: it is somehow poetic that while soccer/football shows signs of coming alive in this country, this new stadium is still not quite right. Perhaps saving money and quick construction was the goal—and not good design. So much for the thoughtful shape of things, so crucial for the “beautiful game.”
8. But the Red Bulls won! Or as a writer for NorthJersey.com put it: “The new Red Bulls actually won,” with an emphasis, most likely, on “actually.” There was crisp passing, good triangulation out on the pitch, and amazing goal tending from Bouna Coundoul. And I came to find out that they have a tenacious new midfielder from Estonia, Joel Lindpere. My father is from Estonia. There might be a sports column yet when I do not mention this fact of relationship; so far, there are none. But it is sports—supremely gendered and nation constructing—so should I be surprised? And in a statement that seemed, to me, to say it all about “being Estonian,” the general manager of the Red Bulls said of Lindpere: “He doesn’t always play well, but he never plays bad.”
9. Probably the news you had been waiting to read: the World Cup is upon us. I note these familiar, if dubious, themes: soccer is global, that it is “more than a game,” and the World Cup in South Africa is a sign of that country’s “progress.”
And I am sure that many of you are thinking about the U.S. versus England match where the England goalkeeper gave the U.S. a goal as the ball bounced off his hands and went into the “back of the old onion sack,” as they say. The sports headline from the Post was “Hah” as if the Yanks had used sneakiness once more to win the revolution.
Just how good is the U.S. team? Everyone is saying, “the U.S. team actually looks good” with an emphasis on “actually” and a shrug of the shoulders. In fact, according to the Associated Press, “Nielsen Media Research said 46 percent of North Americans believe that the United States is going to shock the soccer world and take home the trophy.” I am quite sure they will not. Still, eager to see the “most anticipated match in U.S. soccer history,” I skipped the “Rethinking Poetics” conference at Columbia University this weekend in order to watch.
10. Bad news for me and football, and possibly this sports column: my household has downgraded our cable to “basic.” Therefore, our selection of World Cup games will be limited. This development has something to do with me loving Canada for their health benefits. We are two “culture workers,” as they say, trying to make a sporting go of it, and so we are attempting to “trim the fat.” There went cable and texting. Stay tuned as I report from various local drinking establishments with cable, or witness my Spanish sports vocabulary grow—Univision will carry some games. Those are two good pretty good outcomes after all. Note: I watched footage of U.S. soccer star Landon Donovan speak Spanish on Univision and felt truly proud. ¡Qué bueno!
But without cable television at home comes a true test of my sports aplomb. For without ESPN’s SportsCenter, will I have anything to re-say about sports?
11. A final note on bars, art, and sports: apexart, the downtown gallery, is running continuous television coverage of the World Cup as part of their “Men With Balls: The Art of the 2010 World Cup” show. But any self-respecting poet/sports columnist such as myself would not be caught dead near a venue that attempts to mesh sports and art. Too much witty banter about the broadcaster’s commentary, camera angles, poetics, and subtexts. Not enough naïve nationalism and beer!