Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lin Brings Out Asian Hate.

I still can't believe I saw and heard this.

Late one afternoon, at a sports-oriented bar in West Los Angeles which is a hangout for San Francisco 49er fans, two boozed-up, thirtyish guys--one black and one white-- were arguing about Asian-Americans, and who hated them more. That's right, these two nitwits, sittiing at the bar, were locked in a rather loud dispute about who was more anti-Asian-American. The bar was nearly empty and, fortunately, as far as I could see, there were no Asian-Americans present.

On the TV above the bar, they had just watched highlights of New York Knicks' Asian-American Jeremy Lin making some other point guards looks like clumsy boobs. The Lin success story had spurred the argument.

Back and forth, back and forth, these boobs were one-upping each other. "I hate them more," said the black, who was wearing an expensive-looking leather jacket. "No, no, I hate them more than you do, " countered the other guy, a short, nattily dressed blond.

Were these guys serious? The bartender, who admonished them and ordered them to pipe down, insisted they weren't joking. Their obnoxious banter continued.

"Since this Lin thing happened, Asian-Americans are the big topic in here," the bartender said about the upscale bar, which has a diverse clientele, mainly in the 25-50-age range, but apparently including very few Asian-Americans.. "Listening to bar talk I find out what people feel about Asian-Americans. I'm constantly surprised. It's not good."

Before Linsanity, Asian-Americans, he explained, had been flying under the radar and you never knew what people thought about them. But no more. Lin kicked the hornet's nest and racism came flying out. Apparently, said the bartender, customers have fun with Asian-American stereotypes and tell laundry and Chinese food jokes. Sometimes, he added, he sees people scouting the area to make sure there's no Asian-Americans around before they do their racist thing.

Assessing the attitudes that have surfaced since Linsanity surfaced, the bartender explained mournfully, "Hostility and disrespect. And these are basically decent people. You'd never think they were racist."

The two jerks were still tearing down Asians when a tall guy walked in and started talking to them. Suddenly he kissed the black guy lightly on the lips. Then the three walked out.

Picking up that I was surprised at the kiss and the questions it raised, the bartender smiled and said, "Yes, they're gay."

So these guys, who are in a minority, and are disliked and disrespected by many, are trashing another minority. "What the hell?...," I asked.

Perplexed, shaking his head, the bartender walked away.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Time To Get Rid Of UCLA Coach Ben Howland?

While watching the UCLA men's basketball team (15-12) get knocked off by wimpy St. John's (11-16) on national TV, it was hard to ignore the question bubbling like hot oil under the Bruins' many losses. It's this--is it time to say farewell to coach Ben Howland? He's been living off the good will generated by that spate of Final Four appearances last decade. But that was then and this is now, and now sucks.

To the question: "What have you done for me lately?," regarding Howland, the answer is a resounding "Not much." Losing to St John's on national TV was embarrassing. The Pac 12, which has been trashed all season, took another blow to the gut. It doesn't look good when a mid-level Pac 12 team gets knocked out by a Big East bottom-feeder.

UCLA had another reason for wanting to win this game. St. John's is coached by former Bruin coach Steve Lavin. Beating their old coach would have been a thrill for UCLA, even though Lavin is recovering from prostate cancer surgery and hasn't coached since November. But it didn't happen. From the opening tip, it was clear that St. John's was the better team.

Not the giant-killer of last season. St. John's is a bad team flopping around the nether regions of the Big East, which is mostly mediocre, a shadow of last year's monster. St; Johns' was ripe for a beatdown. A half-decent team would have left them in ruins, administering a double-digit whipping. But the Bruins, these days, aren't a half decent team.

Too often, the Bruins, who don't have a real star, looked slow and confused, prone to bad decisions, making dumb turnovers and settling for perimeter shots. They didn't look like a well-coached, motivated team. Remember, that was a constant complaint during the Lavin years. That's why the Bruins dumped him.

What makes this situation so irritating is that Howland does have talented players. These guys aren't a bunch of stiffs that no other colleges wanted. There's no Kevin Love or Russell Westbrook, but there's enough talent for the team to have a better record than 15-12. With some smart, insightful coaching Howland could have boosted the Bruins to a few more wins.

OK, it's not his fault that his best player, Reeves Nelson, is a bonehead and a locker-room cancer who had to be cut loose. And you can't blame the coach for the Josh Smith fiasco. Like everyone else, the coach wishes his prize center wasn't a lazy, fast-food junkie who's fat, out of shape and a slug in the paint.

What about next season? Howland needs more quality players. Signing super-sized, hotshot Jersey guard Kyle Anderson is a step in the right direction. Hopefully the coach can sign a few more of that calibre. And maybe he can do some good, old-fashioned coaching and help these current players reach their potential. If not, and there's another woeful season like this one, where the Bruins are barely NIT-worthy, maybe it's time for a new coach.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Jeremy Lin and The Race Card

New York Knicks' point guard Jeremy Lin's explosion to fame is a rosy, rags-to-riches story. Everybody likes to see an underdog make it. But underneath the sugar-coating, the inspirational, feel-good story, is some plain, old-fashioned racism.

Quite simply, Lin was overlooked for so long because nobody wanted to gamble on a Asian player. That was definitely the case when he was trying to get into college.

Racial stereotyping is something college coaches don't talk about honestly. But two scouts who funnel players into colleges, often with under-the-table deals, do. They remember Lin very well, when he was a very talented player in high school in Palo Alto, Calif.

Recalled one scout: "He was a good shooter and he could pass and he had decent size. You look for good floor vision and he had that. He was quick enough and he had good moves to the basket. His defense was pretty good. He was coachable--real smart and learned quickly. He wasn't athletic, like some of the black kids, but his quickness and smarts made up for that.

"A lot of kids who weren't as good as Lin got scholarships. He got killed by racial stereotyping. He could have played in the Pac 10 or the WAC or a lot of conferences. He was good enough for somebody to take a chance on. Hell, he played in Stanford's backyard and he's smart enough to get in the school. They were stupid not to sign him."

What haunted Lin, said one of the scouts, was the perception that, because he's Asian, he can't be a good player. "The coaches said they didn't want to waste a scholarship on an Asian guy who's a pretty good player.They would say they had nothing against Asians. It wasn't that they didn't like Asians. It's just they didn't think an Asian could turn into a good college player. Nobody could point to a great Asian player in college or the pros. Nobody could see him turning into a really good player.

"Here's the point. If he's the Asian Michael Jordan that's different. If he's a great player, nobody cares what color he is. But back then, he was just a good player. If he was white, with the same skills, somebody would have taken a chance on him. You saw plenty of white guys like him in college ball. But no Asians. Because he's Asian, nobody wanted to take a chance on him."

Since each school has so few, basketball scholarships are gold. Coaches don't want to  make a mistake. "Lin was a gamble that nobody wanted to make," explained one scout. "Coaches love stats. Show me one great Asian player, they'd say. Nobody could do that. Yao Ming (the Houston Rockets' center) would come up but everybody said he didn't count. They said he was freak because he was so tall and he wasn't a guard, so he didn't belong in the argument."

So Lin wound up at Harvard which, like all Ivy League schools, doesn't offer athletic scholarships and would covet a bright, skilled player like him. He merely added another stereotype to his resume. Not only is he an Asian but he also comes from a conference that has produced just a handful of pro players.

Concluded one of the scouts: "Going to Harvard made it even tougher for him to get to the pros. But he was a gutty, gritty kid. He was a smart kid who would go through a brick wall to get what he wanted. You could see that quality in him then. That's why he's setting the world on fire now."

Monday, February 13, 2012

Linsanity? Is It Doomed?

Jeremy Lin, the Chinese-American, Harvard-educated, New York Knicks point guard who's been a national sensation lately, is worn out.

Fatigue whipped him in the second half of the Minnesota game on Saturday. His legs were dead. That was clear from his second-half stats--one basket in 12 shots, after hitting 7 out of 12 in the first half. Without leg strength to elevate, jump shots go awry--and his certainly did. Three-point shooting is the real weakness in his game. He's only 3 for 17 during the Linsanity streak. In the second half of the Minnesota game he was really off target.

But Lin did score 20, guiding the Knicks (13-15), who were circling the drain not too long ago, to their fifth straight win since he's become their main point guard. The Minnesota game, which followed Friday's Laker contest, was his first back-to-back effort as a starter. Back-to-backs are tough. Playing many more minutes than he's used to finally caught up with Lin. Remember, a short while ago he was off the radar screen, buried in the minor leagues, in Erie, Pa. So playing starter's minutes, particularly in the back-to-back grind in the majors, takes some adjustment.

So where does Lin go from here? Could he become the steady, solid point guard the Knicks have desperately needed? Look at what he's done in only ten days--taken a bunch of so-so starters and backups and energized them into a winner. In the Minnesota  game, guard Iman Shumpert scored 20 points and was a major factor in the win. Credit Lin for some of that. Shumpert, a rookie some had written off as a bust, has blossomed in the last few games with Lin at the helm.

As of Tuesday, things will be different. One of the Knicks' Big Two--Amare Stoudemire--absent during nearly all of Linsanity because of a death in the family, is back. Lin will have to alter his game,  take less shots and learn to feed Stoudemire. That may not be so tough since Lin, a pick-and-roll wizard, will get to use that lethal offensive weapon with another master--Stoudemire.

What will take some adjustment is playing on the road. Tuesday's game, in Toronto against the Raptors, will be Lin's first outside Madison Square Garden since the onset of Linsanity.

Another adjustment for Lin will be learning to play starting-point-guard minutes with Carmelo Anthony--the other half of the Knicks' Big Two-on the floor. Due back at the end of the week, Anthony, who's been out during most of Linsanity with a groin pull, is a notorious ball hog who disrupts any offense. Since he was traded from Denver, the Nuggets, jelling around team-play principles, are much better without  him. Now he's the Knicks' headache. He'll be Lin's headache too.

That's not all. Another ego looms in the background. When injured point guard Baron Davis is healthy, does he take over the starting job, putting Lin back on the bench and maybe putting an end to Linsanity? It'll be interesting to see how coach Mike D"Antoni handles this one.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Kicking the Football Habit Is Hell

Do you have any of these symptoms?

Maybe you're cranky, snapping at everybody for no reason, listless, a bit depressed. Even worse, are you constantly staring aimlessly into space, experiencing a knawing feeling in the pit of your stomach or breaking into tears every hour or so? And you don't know what's bothering you.

Think about it. What's not there now, something that's occupied your weekends since late August? It's football--you're missing football. With the Super Bowl now history, this is the first weekend without football. It's a horrble, unpleasant, empty feeling. You're going through pigskin withdrawal. That's what's ailing you. Turn on the TV and there's no current football games, no pigskin comfort. Oh, what a pain.

For some people this is really serious business. I know a hard-core football gambler who, for a month after football, suffers intense stomach aches and a bad case of the shakes. Call him for the next few weeks and he doesn't even answer the phone. Ever see the 1955 Frank Sinatra drama "The Man With the Golden Arm" or the 1962 movie, "Days of Wine and Roses," starring Jack Lemmon? The Sinatra character was a junkie who eventually slogged through an ugly heroin withdrawal, while Lemmon played a drunk forced to endure the same agony when he kicked the booze habit. My gambler pal doesn't suffer at that level, but it's still high-level misery.

How do you treat it? There's really no remedy. One possible answer is to get your football fix in other ways. Some guys watch classic football games on ESPN or wallow in whatever programming is being offered on the NFL Network. Others, with foresight, tape games during the season and watch them when the withdrawal symptoms are too painful to endure, particularly during the first few weeks after the Super Bowl.

How about spending the extra time reading or involving yourself in a hobby? I know another football fanatic who spends the football off-season doing charity work. Of maybe you'll spend more time with your wife, family or girl friend. These are the people who generally get neglected when you're buried in football.

There are remedies to avoid. One unwholesome buddy stays drunk during most of the football off-season. Strangely, he doesn't touch a drop during the season. Another, a dedicated family man in the fall and early winter, handles his pigskin withdrawal by burying himself in two mistresses.

Be smart. Manage your withdrawal sensibly. Follow the good guy's route. Don't take the degenerate's way out.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Jeremy Lin? Who The Hell...?

Now that the New York Giants have a Super Bowl win in their back pocket and football is on hiatus, sports-minded New Yorkers have to focus on something else. That something else is as unlikely as it gets.

It's Jeremy Lin, an American-born, Chinese point-guard for the New York Knicks with--no kidding--a Harvard degree. Like another recent out-of-nowhere sports hero, Tim Tebow, Lin is a heavy-duty Christian. That's not all. He's not only the fourth Asian-American to ever play in the NBA but also the first Harvard student in the league since 1954.

Just last week, no one had heard of Lin. Suddenly, as the Super Bowl smoke clears, he's the toast of New York. What happened?

Well, Knicks' coach Mike D'Antoni, in desperation, found him on the end of the bench, gave him major playing time and Lin, who's 23 and 6' 3," led the team to three victories. That's quite a feat. Wins don't come easy for this sub-.500 (11-15) Knicks team. Right now they're really in trouble. Two stars are out, Amare Stoudemire, due to a death in the family (his older brother was killed in an auto accident) and Carmelo Anthony, with a pulled groin muscle.

A third-stringer just last Saturday, Lin, whose previous high was 13 points, came off the bench against New Jersey, shocking everyone with 23 points and 7 assists. He was just getting started. Monday, as a starter against Utah, it was 28 points and 8 assists. Wednesday his streak continued, with 23 points and 10 assists against Washington--the Knicks third win in a row with their new point guard.

Just last week New York's newest hero was hanging by a thread, without permanent quarters, sleeping on the couch in the apartment of his brother, an NYU grad student. But by Tuesday he had worked out a contract with the Knicks, for just under $800,000--chicken feed by NBA standards but a lot for Lin.

Early in his career, Lin, a Californian, had some success but few thought he could ever shoot or pass well enough to be a starting NBA point guard. After leading his Palo Alto, Calif. team to a state championship in 2006, he was an outstanding player at Harvard. When the NBA ignored him in the draft last year, as the league routinely does with Ivy League players, that didn't stop him. Lin showed enough in the Dallas Mavericks' summer league to get signed by Golden State and Houston late last year but, due to circumstances that had nothing to do with skill, both dumped him.

That left the door open for New York, where the point guard position has been a mess, to sign him. None of the other candidates had worked out. Promising rookie Iman Shumpert got hurt early and Toney Douglas sunk into a shooting slump. Veteran Baron Davis, supposedly the savior, did what he usually does--get hurt when everyone is counting on him. This time it's a banged-up elbow that's keeping him out  indefinitely.

But wait a minute. Is Lin a long-term answer? He's starred in only three games. Yes, like any canny point guard, he's a decent shooter, knows how to spread the floor and run the pick-and-roll. But he also can be turnover-prone. And what happens when Stoudemire and Anthony come back and the offensive focus changes? What happens when the rest of the league looks at tapes, examines his tendencies and devises plans to limit his effectiveness? What happens when the Knicks play on the road, outside the cozy confines of Madison Square Garden? What happens when he faces the better teams in the league?

Does the Lin phenomenon, dubbed Linsanity, come to an end on Friday, when the Knicks tackle the Lakers, a good Western Conference team, at the Garden? Fortunately for Lin, the Lakers will not only be playing their second game in two nights (they beat Boston in OT on Thursday) but they also have weak point guards.

Don't be surprised if Linsanity lives at least one more game.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Giants Will Win Super Bowl

Who's going to win today's Super Bowl? Will the victor be the New England Patriots, a three-point favorite, or the New York Giants?

The nod goes to the very capable underdog. All week, I've been presenting evidence why the line is off base and mainly based on the perception that Pats' QB Tom Brady is some kind of Superman and so much better than Giants' QB Eli Manning. Those pro-Pats bettors are in some dream world

In the playoffs, Manning has been the world-beater. He had to navigate a much tougher course to get his team to the Super Bowl. The Giants not only had to beat the Packers in Green Bay, with mighty Aaron Rodgers at QB, but they also had to whip the San Francisco Giants, the NFL's best team, on the road, in the rain. What have the Patriots done? Just trashed an overachieving Denver Broncos team and got lucky and slipped by a Baltimore team that actually outplayed them. The Giants earned their spot. The Pats are fortunate to be in the Super Bowl.

The betting line doesn't reflect this reaility, just bettors' blind faith in Brady and Pats' coach Bill Belichick. There's this feeling that, given time, like the two weeks between the conference championship game and the Super Bowl, that Belichick will miraculously dream up some schemes to lead his team to victory.

When you bet, though, it's wise to be rooted in reality. Here are some facts: Giants' QB Eli Manning is red hot, just like he was four years ago when they upset the Patriots, who then really were the better team; the Giants have a devastating pass rush; the Giants' defense is far superior to the Pats' D, which is one of the worst in the NFL; the Giants, who, in early December, looked like they wouldn't even make the playoffs, got hot and are on a roll--just like they were four years ago.

If you follow the facts, you'll conclude that the Giants will win handily. Manning should breeze through the bad Pats' defense, scoring 3-5 TDs. The Giants' defense, featuring an unstoppable pass rush, should clamp down on Brady, particularly with his best receiver, Rob Gronkowski, slowed by an bad ankle.

The only thing that could ruin the Giants is, of course, the inevitable X factor--turnovers. They've avoided such mistakes so far, so it's possible that the law of averages will catch up with them and they'll be undone by a rash of turnovers.

So if you bet, do you count on New York turnovers and miracles by Brady and Belichick or do you follow common sense and wager on the Giants?

My money is on the Giants.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Key Matchup--Brady vs. Giants' Pass Rush

Once again.

That three-point spread favoring the New England Patriots over the New York Giants in the Super Bowl says the worshipers of Pats' QB Tom Brady continue to bet with their hearts rather than their heads--the supreme no-no in gambling.

Forget idolatry. Think twice. Check out the key matchup in this game. It's not in New England's favor.

Quite simply, this contest rides on how well Brady handles the Giants' notorious pass rush. Can this quick, lethal front seven, lead by Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, harrass Brady into bad decisions and off-target throws? Remember, the Pats' passing attack already has one strike against it with No.1 receiving weapon Rob Gronkowski hobbled by a left-ankle sprain. Slow down the Pats' passing and you cripple the whole offense, since they'll never win on their second-rate rushing game alone. This is a pure passing team that runs primarily as a change of pace. None of their RBs is a real threat.

Undoubtedly the Pats have scoured the tape of the NFC Championship game. They've been watching in horror as the Giant pass rushers force San Francisco 49er QB Alex Smith into a so-so game. On third down plays, he was a total bust. Three things won that game for the Giants--Eli Manning's sharp passing, Kyle Williams' two colossal blunders and the Giants' brutal pass rush. In the two previous playoff games, the Giants pass rushers badgered Atlanta's Matt Ryan and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers into ineffective performances.

Will it be any different for Brady? His offensive line is hardly a steel curtain. Yes, anchored by guard Logan Mankins and tackle Matt Light, the Pats' O line has provided some stellar protection for Brady, allowing just one sack in two playoff games. But holding off the Denver and Baltimore pass rushers is a lot easier than stopping the rampaging Giant rush.

The Pats do have an antidote for the Giants' pass rush. Brady's vaunted quick release can neutralize it to a degree. Also, Brady doesn't have to hang onto the ball very long since the Pats thrive on short and medium passes, which take less time to execute.

But are Brady's quick release, the Pat's O line and a solid short passing game enough to ward off the disruptive effects of that murderous Giants' pass rush?

Don't bet on it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Patriots vs. Giants--Vital Betting Info-Pt. 3

Here's a tip to all you bettors who're dead set on wagering on a Patriots' win over the Giants in the Super Bowl, where the Pats are three-point favorites.

Examine the performance of the Giants in the NFC Championship game against the 49ers. It's a good guage of how they'll play Sunday. That Championship game, by the way, featured the two best teams of the NFL Final Four. If the Giants can whip the superior 49ers, they certainly can topple the Pats, who are not only saddled with a weak defense but will have to play with their second best offensive player, tight end Rob Gronkowski, hobbled by a bum ankle.

In the NFC Championship game, the Giants' QB Eli Manning was mercilessly harrassed by the Niners, who sacked him six times. The rush was particularly brutal in the second half. Yet he escaped time after time, engineering clutch connections with receivers. The Giants' passing game survived an attack by the best front-four in football--on the road and in the rain, no less. In the Super Bowl, the situation will be more passer-friendly. They'll not only be in a fast-tracked, weatherproof stadium but will contend with a considerably less dangerous front four.

The Pats' front seven is just OK. Quick, agile Patriots' defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, who's murder to guard as he rushes up the middle,  is the main threat. With pass-rushing DE Andre Carter out, no one else is a real danger. You know the Giants' offensive line, which was really shaky most of the season but rallied in the last few games and the playoffs, is secretly happy to face the Pats' front seven. Vulnerable to big plays and not known for being particularly quick or powerful, this Pats' unit will be much easier to handle than that nightmare Niners' unit. With no ferocious pass rush to worry about, Manning, who's thrown no picks in the playoffs, is more likely to be consistently on target.

In addition, the Giants' have a mental edge, having triumphed in their last two key clashes with New England--both times as heavy underdogs. Four years ago, in the Super Bowl, at University of Phoenix stadium, the Giants, a 12.5 dog supposedly overmatched by the undefeated Pats, won 17-14. More recently, on Nov 6, as a nine-point road dog and without Ahmad Bradshaw, the Giants beat the Pats, 24-20.

This time, as a slight (three-point) underdog, do you think the Giants are quaking in their boots?

More tomorrow.