Monday, June 13, 2011

LeBron James keeps making friends

It was a time for contrition, a time for reflection, a time to be humble. Instead, it became just another reason for us to grind our teeth, grimace and shake our heads upon hearing the words, "LeBron James."

The spotlight should have been on the Dallas Mavericks, who had just won their first NBA championship Sunday night following their six-game ousting of the Miami Heat. It should have been on Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and the rest of the classy Mavs, who were now in the club James so desperately wants to join.

That is, until James took his obligatory seat in the interview room after the Heat's 105-95 loss on their home floor. He was asked, "Does it bother you that so many people are happy to see you fail?" And James responded with this beauty:

"Absolutely not. Because at the end of the day, all the people that was 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. They have the same personal problems they had today. I'm going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that.

"They can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal, but they have to get back to the real world at some point."

In other words, "I don't care what anyone thinks of me, because tomorrow, I'll still have my millionaire lifestyle, and all you little people will still be working on the widget assembly line."

Not only did James fail to deliver on the promise of "We're going to win seven titles," not only did he fail to show up in the fourth quarter of any game in this series, but he has displayed an alarming lack of self-awareness, going back to "The Decision" and everything moving forward.

Whoever is managing him -- if indeed, anyone is -- needs to do major damage control here. It's one thing to think such things -- he is only 26, after all, though he has been in the NBA for seven years -- it's quite another to speak them at a time and place when the whole world is watching.

There is much to apologize for here. As the series went on, James looked less and less like a self-assured "King" and more and more like a scared, unsure, tentative neophyte, seeming to want no part of taking big shots or handling the ball in crucial moments. Then again, that seemed to be a malady that infected the other two-thirds of the "Big Three," as people like Mario Chalmers -- Mario Chalmers! -- were the ones hoisting shots when it mattered most when James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh looked like invisible men.

I think there's something going on we don't know about -- either something personal (and I'm not talking about those ridiculous internet rumors involving Rashard Lewis and James' girlfriend) or a hidden injury -- that made James a shell of himself. But until we hear any hint of him revealing anything approaching a sense of self, he's going to continue to be the most reviled player in the NBA -- and maybe in sports. Quite a burden to bear, but since he brought most of it on himself, it's hard to feel sorry for him. And easy to break into a devilish grin.

Particularly if you're punching the clock at Widget World.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

But I wanted to be a Millionaire ...

It only took 10 minutes to go from Who Wants to be a Millionaire to The Biggest Loser.

That was not the way I had planned it, not from the time a couple weeks ago when I answered the call to audition in New York City for the popular game show. I watch it all the time -- often coming up with answers the frazzled contestants can't -- and even play the facebook version, in which I almost always finish in the top three and go to the "second round." And even though I've never pocketed the virtual million dollars, I know given the chance in the real world, I'd make a real nice run for the real green, not to mention getting a real hug -- or at least a real hearty handshake -- from Meredith Vieira.

My spirits soared when I got an e-mail telling me my "audition time" was Friday at 3:30. I was to take a written test, and if I passed I would meet with a producer, and if that went well, I would then go into the contestant pool. I also had to fill out "eligibility forms" and another form asking questions like, "What makes you unique?" and "You'd never believe it, but I once ..."

... saw Yogi Berra naked. When I was covering baseball back in the '90s, and he was a Yankees coach at the time. It was after a game, I was standing in the middle of the clubhouse, and ... it just happened. I wanted to look away ... but just couldn't. Kind of like watching a train wreck, or "The Real Housewives of New York." I wondered how I would mention this to Meredith, and whether she or anyone else would laugh, and whether it would be bleeped out. But I digress ...

Friday, 3:15 p.m. Buoyant despite the heat, thanks to my iced Pike Place Roast from Starbucks, I arrived at ABC Studios on New York's Upper West Side, and was immediately jolted back to reality. I was standing on line, along with what turned into a group of about 75 people with the same deluded dream I had. The woman behind me said she had tried out for the show a couple of years ago, got past the interview stage, but never made it on the air. There was a fellow behind her who said his wife actually got on the show three years ago and made $23,000, which they used to re-do their kitchen. Guess it was time to replace the tiles.

Reality further poked me when I saw a door open up in front of our line, where a crowd of people poured out, rejects from the previous "audition." There had to be several of these every day, over however many days and weeks they were running this exercise. I was suddenly feeling like an ant emerging from my ant hill, and looking over the horizon and seeing nothing but ... other ant hills.

We finally got out of the heat and into a big air-conditioned room, which looked to be a cafeteria. We were sat down at a series of tables, armed only with No. 2 pencils to attack our 30-question, 10-minute standardized trivia test, inside the numbered envelope given to us at the door. The number on the envelope, we were to find out, would be used to call us forward for the next phase, which seemed to be all but certain to everyone at my table. We all seemed to be fairly intelligent and outgoing sorts, and were all sure we'd do well on the show.

"Open your envelopes. Your 10 minutes start now!" Show time! I pulled out the test questions, and flew through the first few queries. Speeding is not a foul in the NBA. The Extra-Terrestrial Highway runs through Roswell, N.M. An al fresco of Washington's ascension to heaven is in the U.S. Capitol ... or is it the Washington National Cathedral? Or, according to the consensus at my table afterward, the Library of Congress? (I just Googled it ... they were right. Damn.)

But were some I had to pause and stab at, like the one that asked how many days it would take to walk from New York to Los Angeles at 3 miles an hour (I always hated those kinds of questions; the correct answer is, "I wouldn't know, I always fly. Go ask Forrest Gump.")

And on others, I was totally clueless. What delivery truck always appears in Disney Pixar films? ("No idea" was not among the four choices, unfortunately.) And another question asked to name the artist whose medium is roadkill soaked in formaldehyde. I'm serious. (I'm not sure which is more disturbing -- that there's an artist who works in that area or that anyone would actually be familiar with him. Wouldn't that mangled opossum look great on the dining room table?)

I finished the test well before the 10-minute mark. When I looked around and saw most people were still working, my confidence rose. I even had time to go over my answers: Of the 30 questions, there were 18 I know were right. There were another six or so that I thought were good educated hypotheses, and another six outright guesses. I figured if I were half-right on those last 12, that would put me around 24 correct answers, a likely neighborhood for telling a producer my Yogi Berra story.

"Pencils down!" Our sheets were quickly collected, and would be graded on the spot. Immediately, I flashed back to grammar school. Our table convened: "What did you get for that one? Did anyone know this one?" We concurred on most questions we discussed. The guy who needed new kitchen tiles said, "Either we're all getting on the show or we're all going down in flames."

"Will the following numbers please move to this side of the room," our tour guide said. My number was 227, and I was fully expecting to hear it. My heart jumped when she went down her list and said, 'Two-twenty ..." and dropped when she said, "... five."

Nine numbers were called out before this stunner: "The rest of you, thank you for coming, and please exit through the door you entered." No. 227 would not advance. Neither would anyone else at my table. I joined the rest of the flameouts as we shuffled out, glancing at the group of nine, happily high-fiving each other.

As we exited the door of dreams and re-entered the reality of the city heat, I looked to the left and saw the next ant hill already formed. A new dance was about to begin, and more fantasies would be flattened.

I turned the corner onto Columbus Avenue and smiled to myself. I had tried, and have a nifty "Millionaire" pencil and refrigerator magnet to show for it. It was time to go to work.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Time for NHL to stop pointing fingers

So when did the Stanley Cup Final become "Slap Shot 3: Give 'em the finger"?

Is this what the NHL wants its marquee event to turn into? What's next, the Bruins dressing Ogie Oglethorpe and the Canucks countering with Clarence "Screaming Buffalo" Swamptown for Game 4 Wednesday night?

It all started back in Game 1, when the Canucks' Alexandre Burrows bit the gloved finger of the Bruins' Patrice Bergeron during a scrum. Burrows should have been suspended at least a game for that, but wasn't.

The NHL's decision not to discipline Burrows bit the Bruins again in Game 2, when Burrows scored the winning goal 11 seconds into overtime to give Vancouver a 2-0 series lead.

Then, early in Game 3, the Canucks' Aaron Rome flattened the Bruins' Nathan Horton with an open ice check the Bruins say was dirty and the Canucks maintain was clean. Horton, after lying on the ice motionless for a frightful few moments, was taken off the ice on a stretcher. Rome was ejected -- probably more for his own safety than anything else -- and subsequently was issued a suspension for the rest of the Final.

I side with the Canucks on this one. I maintain the hit was clean; Rome did not leave his feet to check Horton, and because Rome caught Horton just right and the back of Horton's head hit the ice -- causing a concussion that will sideline him for the rest of the series -- it looked a lot worse than Rome intended to make it. I'll go so far as to say had Horton bounced back up and play continued, there might not have even been a penalty called.

For his part, Rome -- who plans to appeal the suspension -- was contrite, and stated his case during his hearing with NHL Senior VP of Hockey Operations Mike Murphy.

"(Rome) felt it was a hockey play, a hockey play that went bad," Murphy said. "They're my words, not his, but that's basically what he said. The puck was released, and he followed through with the hit.

"The hit was clearly beyond what is acceptable in terms of how late it was delivered after Horton had released the puck, and it caused a significant injury."

All of this gets back to what is clearly not acceptable: During just about every post-whistle get-together in the Bruins' 8-1 Game 3 victory, a Boston player would stick a bare finger in the face of a Vancouver player -- clearly unsportsmanlike, clearly taunting.

Yes, Burrows should have been suspended. But to keep this type of behavior going just sullies the game even more on its grandest stage.

How about this: Any player taunting in a similar manner during a scrum gets a two-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a 10-minute misconduct. That would stop the nonsense. At least it sounds as if Murphy is heading in that direction. He said he planned to speak with the general managers and coaches of both teams "about the crap that we're seeing, the garbage that is going on."

And hopefully keeping Tim "Dr. Hook" McCracken far, far away.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Does anyone remember D-Day?

There's a significant anniversary to commemorate today, though you might have to search a while to find any mention of it in cyberspace.

It was 67 years ago, on June 6, 1944, that the D-Day landings took place on the beaches of Normandy in Northern France in World War II. The first step in Eisenhower's "great crusade" was, and remains, the greatest amphibious assault in history. More than 160,000 troops landed via 5,000 naval vessels of all kinds. The U.S. suffered 6,000 casualties, with nearly 2,500 killed.

It's hard to believe, but it has been 10 years since Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and HBO teamed up to produce the Emmy Award-winning series Band of Brothers, which came three years after Spielberg and Hanks brought us the seminal film Saving Private Ryan.

At the time, Speilberg and Hanks both noted the importance of such undertakings as a tribute to the dwindling numbers of "The Greatest Generation," and the urgency of the projects because 1,000 World War II veterans were dying every day.

In the past couple of years alone, several of the most notable figures in Band of Brothers passed away, including its humble leader, Maj. Dick Winters. Many others have passed since the show was originally aired.

Today, a group of 40 D-Day veterans gathered on Normandy Beach to rededicate the monument to the U.S. Rangers who scaled the Pointe-du-hoc cliffs to take out the German guns there. I found that item on, which also featured a link to a story about two Normandy veterans recounting their harrowing experiences of that iconic day in history.

CBS News stands virtually alone in that regard, for among major internet news outlets, the remembrances are few.

As of this morning, I Googled "D-Day" under "news" and found 277 links, most of them to newspaper sites that published similar stories to the ones above. But a quick look around the Wed shows that D-Day has been all but forgotten:

* On Yahoo!, D-Day was not among the 20 "pictured" stories on the home page, and was not mentioned among the top 10 trending stories. Mark Wahlberg and Reese Witherspoon were.

* On CNN, which prides itself on its news coverage, D-Day had no presence, but John Edwards and Casey Anthony did (as of this afternoon, CNN had posted a link to "Remembering D-Day.")

* ABC News had nothing, but did have items on Justin Timberlake and Pippa Middleton.

* NBC News had no mention either. FOX News, which does air a weekly documentary that features World War II, missed D-Day too, but did post a video on "Tim Tebow on temptation."

I understand times have changed, and there are events in the world unfolding that affect us greatly. The visions of World War II have largely faded to sepia, with fewer and fewer people alive each day that lived through it. But I would at least expect that in today's 24-hour news cycle, there would be time and space to devote to such a profound event.

Enjoy "Dancing with the Stars" and keep up with the Kardashians. But take a moment to read about and remember D-Day. If you can find anything on the internet about it, that is.