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Friday, 18 March 2011


"So anyway, if you live elsewhere in the world and your American friends, colleagues, and business associates suddenly and inexplicably seem distracted and unable to do simple things like answer emails and send faxes and pay attention to matters pertaining to business, well, now you know why."

Funny. I hadn't noticed. Must have something to do with the cricket World Cup.

I wonder, of all the sports, which one is the most photogenic? Basketball ranks pretty high up there for me.

In most countries it is correctly identified as "boring" and that it "only exists to sell shoes to children"... ;-)

"...all this absurd, wasteful squabbling as to which side shall put the ball through which goal - and when and how often - as if this weren't a matter that could be settled in an adult and sensible manner round a table beforehand..." - N. F. Simpson

The best response I ever heard to, "Gee, you're tall, do you play basketball?" Was, "No, do you play miniature golf?"

Well, you can find basketball all around the world. But the thing one outsider (as me) can't comprehend is your version of... football. Sure it's a version of rugby, but that's not really the point; it's about the SuperBowl thingie.
I can't wait for your next *SA explaining that, as detached as you did now; somehow can't imagine it, seeing as even this blog has gold&green all around.

As someone who grew up in the Midwest, I suspect March Madness is a way of sublimating the genuine March madness people in that region experience knowing that the rest of the country is enjoying spring while in Michigan it's still freezing, slushy, gray, and miserable, and will be for at least another month. That only excuses the Midwest, but in my experience it reaches the most ridiculous excesses there.

That's the most accurate description of the game that I have ever read. Helped me, even as an American, to fully understand it.

Mike says "All other games are bad games."

Not if your team is down by say 15 and they come back and win.(bummer if your team was the one up by 15.)

Having reached the towering adult height of 5'6" I was always near last when getting picked for basketball. Like you I wasn't all that good at it either.

Some of your international friends are also mad about this madness.

Go Hoyas!!

I grew up in Montreal, and had never even seen a basketball game, when in grade 8 gym class, our teacher decided to spend one of our periods having us play basketball. The rules weren't explained to us, that would take too long, and at that point, I didn't even understand why they keep bouncing the ball instead of just carrying it around like in football. I am not sure I understand it now.

Anyway, I was short, still am, so was picked for the 3rd, and last, team roster. Before we began our "scrimmage" (no, I don't know the correct word), the teacher prefaced our game by saying, "Now, we will see how terrible these guys are", and laughed.

My already low opinion of that imbecilic pinhead teacher dropped a few more points. I don't remember anything about my 5 minutes on the court, and I still don't understand basketball. It was only about 4-5 years ago that I found out that you can score 3 points by throwing the ball from outside some line or other. So, tell me, why do they bother trying to get closer to score only 2 points? If you earn 64 million dollars a year, and do nothing but play the stupid game all day, why can't you sink it from the 3-point line all day long?

"Speaking as someone who never, ever causes anyone to waste time during work hours (because of course you only ever read TOP on your own time), I find this shocking, and of course I disapprove."

There is virtually NO worthwhile new content on any of the sites which I follow until after exactly 9 AM (Eastern time).
On the other hand, as a side benefit, access to porn sites becomes almost instantaneous after that.

Mike was opting out not an option,or is it not allowed in schools in your part of the world?

I watched a basketball game once. I had to: on a business trip to Baltimore, on my own I went into a restaurant to enjoy a meal. It was the sort of place that had giant TV screens all over the place, tuned to about 20 different sports channels, and the one in front of me had basketball.

I couldn't understand why the ball went from one end to the other so predictably, resulting in nearly perfectly matched scores. It was if no one ever made a mistake in shooting, dropped the ball, fumbled a pass, or somehow screwed up. At the end of the match it was something like 92-90, and the scores had never been more than two points different throughout the match. Frankly, I couldn't think of a worse spectator sport, but then I imagine that most Americans would make the same remarks about watching Geoffrey Boycott playing in a five day test (cricket) match, and they'd probably be right!

It's a common theme around the world: many seem excessively consumed by pro and semi-pro sports. If it's not basketball, it's football, cricket or buzkashi.
I fear, however, that your basketball confessions will give comfort to those who claim that those who can't (fill in activity), teach; those who can't teach become coaches, those who can't coach become sports writers, and those who can't write sports become photographers. It's all calumny, of course, but I wonder a little about what would follow next in that series . . .

Basketball baffles me. I thought I knew one rule: its illegal to pick up the ball and run with it. But it looks to me that this happens all the time.

I hate to say it but hockey is similar. Are there ANY rules to hockey whatsoever?

You mean "de facto", I think, not "ex post facto".

Seriously... Who the hell still sends faxes!?!

"In "good" games, two teams trade these point-scoring "baskets" more or less one-for-one until the last few minutes of the game"

You sound like a couple of my friends who suggest that games be shortened to two minutes, since the first 38 don't count. They're fans of hockey and soccer. (Skating/running around pointlessly for an hour knowing that 99% of the time your efforts are in vain).

> All other games are bad games.

Nah, it's all good :)

Canadian TV news had a piece on last night about March Madness, mentioning some Canadian players who seem to be doing well for their US teams. http://watch.ctv.ca/news/top-picks/march-madness/#clip435199

They contrasted the "enthusiasm" down there (you do know we refer to you as "down there"?) with the recently concluded Canadian university championships. Carleton U returned to Ottawa with the national championship and were greeted at the airport by excited, screaming fans. All 4 of them!

BTW You may want to reconsider whether your cousin Linda is reading this column. The Batchelor concluded on Monday this week. Just sayin'

Actually, 4 of the remaining 6 teams get to play in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) instead, leaving only 2.


I had a friend in college who was 6'8" tall. He had a couple t-shirts made up to wear when he went out on weekends to parties and bars. It said...

I AM 6'8"




Go Univ. of Arkansas Little Rock! ;-)

I know this was all sarcastic/tongue in cheek; But to put the number of teams involved in perspective, it's 68 playoff teams out of 346 division I teams. So that's only 19% of the teams.

NFL? 35%
NHL? 50%
NBA? 50%
MLB? 25%
NCAA Football? 2%
EPL? 0% (they should add a playoff!)

"Mike was opting out not an option,or is it not allowed in schools in your part of the world?"

I actually went to a college--a very prestigious one--that had a swimming requirement.


Of the 2,347 things I care about least, basketball (in any fashion, pro, college, or driveway horse) doesn't rank high enough to make the list.

It's so far down in the nether regions of my consciousness that when I view the on-line cable guide to t.v. programs only blank spaces appear where BB is being broadcast.

Give me a REAL sport. Like NASCAR...
"Yeah, lookit that! They're making another left turn...".


If we (Americans) would spend as much time studying the Constitution (the paper, not the ship) as we do trying to beat the point spread we'd be better off.

It simply amazes me that people (who have no financial or institutional stake in the results) can become so involved with sports teams. When the Detroit Tigers win a game it's all over the office- "We won". I disagree. "We" didn't win anything. A team of pro athletes who happen to play in the metro area won. (I can't use the Detroit Lions as an example, because when they win people don't talk about it at the coffee machine, they go outside to watch Halley's comet, which happens by about as frequently as a Lion's win).

Maybe if the school band played jazz over the loud speaker system at BB games...but you can listen to jazz home and the hot dogs are cheaper there.

"Madness", in this instance of human activity, is probably more accurate than we would care to admit.

This site covers everything from the sublime (primers on Jazz) to the ridiculous (explanation of why, if the United States is ever again invaded, it should be done in March; nobody is guarding the door, we're all watching BB on cable).

BB to me is like jazz is to others; "If you have to ask, you'll never know...". (attributed to Louis Armstrong, an actor and sometime trumpet player).

For those that like college hoops...see you when you return to Planet Earth in April.


See, this post is exactly what I enjoy most about sports of any kind; bemused commentary that touches least on the specifics of said given sport.

However, I was positively informed with your experience in getting chosen at school...I believe I now understand all that can be understood about our American political process...

"It was only about 4-5 years ago that I found out that you can score 3 points by throwing the ball from outside some line or other. So, tell me, why do they bother trying to get closer to score only 2 points?"

It's harder to throw the ball into the basket from farther away.

Also, there is a very highly paid professional basketball player (Shaq) who cannot make free throws. This is when you get to stand in the exact same place, take all the time you want, and try a shot without being guarded.

Shaq is my great connection to the great game of basketball, because I can make as many freethrows as he can. Unfortunately this is not enough, by itself, to earn me a $100 million contract, or even a reasonable fraction thereof. But who said there was justice in the world?


Well, I do put basketball a small notch above another inane sport...golf. Why spend thousands of dollars on a weighted stick, just to hit a white ball far far away (assuming you can hit the ball far far away, as most golfers seem to be unable to do) to only just chase it down and hit it again? I've heard folks say that it's to be outdoors and be with nature (on an man made landscape?). Others claim it for exercise...as they climb into their golf carts with the beer cooler strapped to the back. I guess I'm one of those in the minority that doesn't understand many of these "games" or "sports"...pardon me now, have to get into my wetsuit and jump in to photograph a shark! ;-)

"It simply amazes me that people (who have no financial or institutional stake in the results) can become so involved with sports teams."

My uncle, from basketball-crazy Kentucky, used to drive as far as 50 miles from home to be a spectator at high school basketball games. When it came to the U. of K., that's when he really got serious as a fan.


P.S. All this is tongue very much in cheek, but in truth basketball can be very exciting to watch. One of my high school's teams did well one year and I attended every game I could, and really got into it. When I was a student, I mean. Same with hockey in college--it's a great spectator sport that just doesn't translate to television very well.

Your comment is completely incomprehensible to me. I love watching golf on TV, and in fact have even considered getting cable just so I can get the Golf Channel. By far the most fascinating game ever invented.


The thing about trading baskets is, that is the beauty of the game. Blowouts are boring (unless your team is stomping a hated rival). Ideally you're watching two well matched opponents locked in struggle, with X in the balance. Suspense is built on the question of who will elevate their level of play or make some grievous error. And most people like suspense, otherwise half of the books and movies ever made wouldn't have been. Sports, to quote a friend, is redneck ballet.

That's why, in the case of March Madness the seeding has always been a fly in the ointment to me, as you have a number of games upfront with are intended to be blowouts, where the worst team in the division has to play the best. Occasionally this produces a decent game where the designated dogs play over their heads (and are thus stuffed into the annual Cinderella Story narrative - see Richmond's upset of Vanderbilt), but more likely these kids get their brains beat in by a semi-pro D1 team.

Hi Mike

I think on of my Dad's greatest disappointments is that I never took up the sport...his greatest was that I took up scuba diving! Heh heh. At least now, he's working on my 3 year old son and got him his playschool golf set.

Then again for me, diving was the epiphany that got me interested in photography...


Having re-read my earlier comment about basketball, I'd like to make another about a different north american sport that really did get my juices flowing.

In 1988 I spent 6 months at a British military training base in Alberta. One weekend, with several others I went to Edmonton, and there we got tickets to see the Edmonton Oilers playing the LA Kings at ice hockey. It was the first time I had ever seen ice hockey live, and it was also the last time Wayne Gretzky played for the Oilers. Not that I knew the importance of that, but it did seem to attract a huge, pulsating and very partisan crowd.

What a night, and what a game. Apart from the slight difficulty we all had in not being able to follow the puck at high speed (not used to the game, I suppose), there was the novel spectacle of an organ playing cheesy tunes, a 4-sided big screen with a commentator, the near vertiginous seating, and several vicious looking fights that in any English sport would have the players banned and investigated by the police for attempted murder. All that plus beer, hotdogs and miniskirted cheerleaders on ice skates during the interval.

Now, that was entertainment. Well worth the price of admission.

Dear Mike:

Where is the ballot to elect you Commissioner? I am all for it.

With best regards,


The thing about golf that I learned from watching my son play is that some thing, some technique, you can do at the beginning of a round you may not be able to do at the end. Something goes wrong, usually in your head, and certain skills evaporate, poof, just like that.

Skilled players, even professional ones, go into prolonged funks where they are unable to achieve at the level they used to, then they change one little thing, or many little things, and it all comes back together. Witness Mr. Woods.

It is the most fascinating game ever invented, and the most maddening.

Personally, I find the NIT far more puzzling. The tournament winner can proudly boast of being the 69th best team in the country.

I just knew somebody would insult golf before this commentary was finished. I won't dignify the insult with a reply, I'll just go sulk in the bedroom, and maybe polish the head of my almost brand-new Calloway Razr Hawk driver, the one that will make this upcoming golf season different than all those that went before...

I would be tempted to use the "X is like Jazz, you either get it or you don't," but I see it's already been taken. Besides, golf isn't like jazz. Jazz is more like basketball. Golf is more like an intricate simulation of life, that tantalizes you with the idea that it might almost be comprehensible.


Basketball... pfft
American Football... pfft
Baseball... pfft

The only good thing about any of them are the cheerleaders, the one great US contribution to the sports world. (At least I THINK baseball has cheerleaders; maybe not, I've never seen enough of a game to know. And frankly, I'm happy that way.)

Cricket, on the other hand, is a game that is indeed best enjoyed on the radio - see Bill Bryson's book 'Down Under' for the best and funniest explanation of radio cricket I have ever read. Somehow though, I doubt that cricket is exactly the forum for displaying pretty girls in short skirts who jump around and wave their pom poms.

Of the three great US sports actually invented by Canadians (Hockey, Basketball and Football, the last of which comes from Harvard's adoption of McGill University's preferred Rugby rules back in the 1880's), the one that really matters right now is Hockey, as the run to the NHL Playoffs is happening right now (and of course, the Toronto Maple Leafs are, as usual, failing).

RobG is obviously unaware of Twenty20 cricket and the Indian Premier League. it's all glitz, glamour and sleaze!

A tremendous video clip on the IPL.


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