Monday, February 6, 2012

An old Tiger Woods piece I thought I'd throw up here

The world of sports is full of long, lonely walks. From the centre circle to the penalty spot, the backcourt to the free-throw line, the bullpen to the mound in the bottom of the ninth. In these moments, the athlete is alone in a crowd of thousands. The whole world slows almost to a stop, then everything rushes back into focus, and then…The great ones revel in these moments, when every eye is on them, waiting to see what comes next.

For Tiger Woods, every step he takes on the course must feel just as lonely, just as surreal. Except, for him, the long, lonely walk never ends. Every swing counts. Every moment on the course is scrutinized and analyzed. There is no teammate to relieve the pressure with a joke, no loving wife waiting at home to console him if he fails, no one to offer him the unconditional support of a parent. He plays for no badge but his own. Tiger Woods is truly all alone. He used to relish in it, when he stood alone on the summit of professional golf, the only player anyone wanted to see. They still want to see him, but the eyes aren’t as friendly now.

It is the nature of the sport of golf which has contributed most to Tiger Woods’ astonishing freefall (78th, 28th, 12th, and 11th in his last 4 tournaments). It has been suggested that what Tiger needs is just to get out on the course, that he will escape his problems by playing golf, which will lead to him playing better golf. I don’t see it. Tiger Woods will not play his best golf until he has moved on from this scandal. Golf won’t help him. The mental must be sorted out before the sport; it won’t come the other way around.

Sports like basketball, soccer, football and the rest can be a haven for the troubled mind. There’s no time to think, only to react, and it’s easy to lose yourself in the game. Take the recently presented example of Wayne Rooney, England’s premier soccer star. Just days after a scandal, similar to Tiger’s and involving prostitutes and pregnant wives left in the dark, broke, Rooney was able to conjure up two vintage performances for England, seeing off Bulgaria and Switzerland in the European Championship qualification campaign. Rooney’s young family is in jeopardy, yet he was able to escape between the lines, at least for a little while. Golf is not like soccer, and it is not like other sports. The moments of athletic escape are few and far between. While other athletes only have moments to collect their thoughts, golfers only have moments to escape theirs. That’s fine if all you’re thinking about is the next shot, but how could that be all Tiger thinks about when he takes his long walks.

There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel. Tiger Woods’ inclusion in the American Ryder Cup team could not have come at a better time for him, personally and, therefore, professionally. The tournament, which will be played at Wales’ Celtic Manor Resort, from Oct. 1-3, will give Tiger the opportunity to be in the public eye under the protection of something bigger than himself, the American flag. When he steps up to the tee-box, people won’t just see Tiger Woods, adulterer, but Tiger Woods, American golfer. The value of this cannot be overstated. To be able to play knowing that the people watching him care about more than just salacious tabloid gossip, but want to see him succeed or fail based on the colours he represents, will be a tremendous relief for Tiger. For the first time in what seems like a long time, there will be people around him that genuinely want him to do well. The team environment is a cure for many ills, and I expect the same to be true in October. Furthermore, the more respectful nature of British golf fans should provide the perfect platform for Tiger’s continued rehabilitation. I fully expect Tiger Woods’ game to improve markedly during and after the Ryder Cup. Will he be amazing as soon as he puts on the American jersey? I think that it would be unrealistic to expect that, but certainly not outside the realm of possibility for the most talented golfer of his, or perhaps any, generation.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Early Impressions of the NBA

My Dad gave me money and told me to get a job, my Mother gave me a hug and told me to get a girlfriend, but on Christmas Day, the NBA gave me the best gift, one that keeps on giving; professional basketball is back, and not a moment too soon. The last two weeks have been predictably packed with intrigue for NBA fans and now feels like a good time to reflect and take stock of the new season, so for those of you with jobs and girlfriends, let me catch you up on what's been going on.

Before I talk about anything else, there’s something I have to get off my chest right away. I’m not a New Yorker, or even particularly a Knicks fan, but what is going on in New York right now cannot be allowed to continue for even a moment. Watch the Knicks play defense, rebound the basketball…watch how they work without the ball. Then look at the reaction from the head coach…nothing. A man that can watch that and not react does not deserve to be allowed to continue as the head coach of basketball in the Mecca of Basketball. It’s an insult to all of us, straight up. Stephen A.? Can I get an amen?

But I don’t want this to be about hate…we’ve got great games every day and there’s too much to love to get caught up with criticisms. What do I really know about the inner workings of the Knicks anyway? Maybe D’Antoni’s preaching defense all day, every day, and the players just won’t respond. Anyway…on to the love.

KAAAAAAAHN!!! RUBIOOOOOO!!! LOOOOOOVE THE TIMBERWOLVES!!! There’s a theme developing in the NBA and it’s the redemption of franchises that have too long been in basketball purgatory. It took the Wolves all of about 10 seconds of Rubio time to cement themselves as the League Pass Champ of this season. Kevin Love is becoming a legitimate superstar, Rubio’s got that European soccer vision in an NBA body, Derek Williams still gives Duke fans the cold sweats from time to time and Rick Adelman is, without doubt, one of the best coaches in the league. If you haven’t already, get on this’s a lot of fun.

PS. Dear Minnesota PA Guy: The Big Bad Wolf by Duck Sauce…you’re welcome.

Rubio is probably the most hyped rookie in the league, but he’s far from the only causing a buzz in NBA stadiums with his early exploits. I have a theory about these guys, who seem to be doing a great job, across the board, of doing what they were drafted to do, but staying in their lane at the same time. Consider: the modern generation of player has grown up with round the clock coverage and analysis of everything to do with the NBA. On the court, off the court…everything is way more accessible than it used to be. It makes sense that the modern player is more aware than ever before of how to go about his business. Information that used to come with experience: how to prepare, how to carry yourself, even how to play the game is all there to be learned by anyone who pays attention. Thus, we have more rookies who are better prepared to start their career on the right track than ever before.

One guy who caught my eye immediately is Marshon Brooks in New Jersey (20-1 to win ROY last time I checked). To me, this guy looks like Kobe with a conscience. I’m not saying he’s going to be the next Kobe as in, 5 titles, one of the greatest ever, etc., but he’s got the same kind of game as Kobe, he's not afraid to take on the responsibility of scoring. And we’ve seen over the years, a guy who has good length at the guard spot and is a threat to shoot and get in the paint and finish at the rim is a very, very valuable commodity in the NBA.

Finally, how about a note on the Toronto Raptors? I’m Canadian and if we don’t talk about the Raptors, who will? Nobody, that’s who…unless it’s to make some smartass comment. Don’t worry though, Raptors fans, there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel in the shape of Dwane Casey. All due respect to Jay Triano, but you’re not going anywhere if you don’t have a real coach and the signs are there that Raptors might have found one. Casey is a respected figure in the league, coming off a title run as an assistant with the Mavericks, who has the Raptors, right in the conversation for least talented team in the league, playing hard on both ends of the floor and punching above their weight. Andrea Bargnani is being put in a position to succeed with what is an effective, but limited, skill set. Jose Calderon is more aggressive on offense, which he needs to be on this team and everyone is playing hard on both ends of the court. It’ll take some time, but this is a team heading in the right direction. There’s a man in New York City who should be taking notes.