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kottke.org posts about sports

Neighborhood Golf Association

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2019

Street photographer Patrick Barr has been out photographing NYC since the 1990s. Barr also goes by the name of Tiger Hood (or Nappy Gilmore) and when he’s out on the street selling prints of his photographs, he passes the time playing a street golf game of his own invention.

It’s a game that requires only three items: a golf club, a newspaper-stuffed milk carton, and a crate. What was initially just a way for Barr to pass time has gained traction from major news outlets and celebrities on a global scale. However, street golf seems to overshadow his true passion… photography. Barr’s archive consists of thousands of mind blowing film photographs of NYC from the 1990’s to 2000’s. His goal was to preserve a time and place that he predicted would dissolve in the coming years. With his archive as evidence, he predicted correctly.

You can find some of Barr’s photos on Flickr and Instagram but if you want to buy a print, you’ll have to catch him on the streets of lower Manhattan.

Buy the Cheap Thing First

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 08, 2019

cast iron skillets.jpg

Beth Skwarecki has written the perfect Lifehacker post with the perfect headline (so perfect I had to use it for my aggregation headline too, which I try to never do):

When you’re new to a sport, you don’t yet know what specialized features you will really care about. You probably don’t know whether you’ll stick with your new endeavor long enough to make an expensive purchase worth it. And when you’re a beginner, it’s not like beginner level equipment is going to hold you back…

How cheap is too cheap?

Find out what is totally useless, and never worth your time. Garage sale ice skates with ankles that are so soft they flop over? Pass them up.

What do most people do when starting out?

If you’re getting into powerlifting and you don’t have a belt and shoes, you can still lift with no belt and no shoes, or with the old pair of Chucks that you may already have in your closet. Ask people about what they wore when they were starting out, and it’s often one of those options…

What’s your exit plan?

How will you decide when you’re done with your beginner equipment? Some things will wear out: Running shoes will feel flat and deflated. Some things may still be usable, but you’ll discover their limitations. Ask experienced people what the fancier gear can do that yours can’t, and you’ll get a sense of when to upgrade. (You may also be able to sell still-good gear to another beginner to recoup some of your costs.)

Wearing out your beginner gear is like graduating. You know that you’ve stuck with the sport long enough that you aren’t truly a beginner anymore. You may have managed to save up some cash for the next step. And you can buy the nicer gear now, knowing exactly what you want and need.

This is 100 percent the truth, and applies to way more than just sports equipment. Computers, cooking, fashion, cars, furniture, you name it. The key thing is to pick your spots, figure out where you actually know what you want and what you want to do with it, and optimize for those. Everywhere else? Don’t outwit yourself. Play it like the beginner that you are. And save some scratch in the process. Perfect, perfect advice.

What Time Is the Super Bowl? (According to a Theoretical Physicist)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2019

Ever since the Huffington Post struck SEO gold in 2011 with their post about what time the Super Bowl started, pretty much every online publication now runs a similar article in an attempt to squeeze some of Google’s juice into their revenue stream. My “attempt” from last year: What Time Isn’t the Super Bowl?

For this year’s contest, Sports Illustrated decided to ask theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli, author of The Order of Time, his thoughts on time and Super Bowls.

6:30 p.m. is the time the Super Bowl will start in Atlanta. Most of us are not in Atlanta. So for us, the game will start later than that. You need the time for the images to be captured by the cameras, be broadcasted to air or cable, be captured by my TV screen, leave my TV screen, get to my eyes (not to mention the time my brain needs to process and decode the images). You may say this is fast — of course this is fast. But it takes some time nevertheless, and I am a physicist, I need precision. For most of us, the game will actually start some time later than the kickoff in Atlanta.

Not only that, but time moves at different speeds for each of us:

We have discovered that clocks run at different speed depending on how fast they are moved, and depending on how high they are positioned. That’s right, it is a fact: Two equal clocks go out of time with respect each other if one is moved and the other is kept fixed. The same will happen if one is kept, say, above your head, and the other lower, say, at your feet. All this was discovered by Einstein a century ago; for a while it was just brainy stuff for nerds, but today we are sure it is true. A good lab clock can check this, and it is truly true. Your head lives a bit longer than your feet (unless you spend a lot of time upside down).

So, the clock of the guy up in the high sections of the stadium runs faster than the clock of the referee on the field. And Tom Brady’s clock (if he were to wear one) runs slower, because Tom moves fast (okay, maybe not “fast,” but faster than the people sitting and watching him).

P.S. The Super Bowl starts at approximately 6:30pm EST on Feb 3, 2019. (via laura olin)

American Football Commentary, Animated!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2019

For this video, freelance animator Nick Murray Willis took the audio from football commentators and made these little animated vignettes to go along with each line. Here’s a sample:

The Bears Have Won

My only complaint about this video is that it was over too quickly. Luckily Willis has done the same thing in videos for NBA, soccer, movie lines, etc.

The World’s Fastest Human on a Bike

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2019

In 1995, Fred Rompelberg set the record for the fastest speed on a bicycle: 167 mph. In September 2018, drafting behind the same custom-made dragster that Rompelberg used to set his record, Denise Mueller-Korenek smashed that record by almost 17 mph.

Mueller-Korenek mounted a specially equipped bike with a massive gear and tethered it to a race car, which then accelerated to 100-plus mph-the velocity necessary for the rider to turn over the cranks on her own volition. Then she unhooked from the car and stayed in the slipstream, smashing the pedals around to hit the highest speed possible under her own power.

Her speed on her final mile on the Bonneville Salt Flats was 183.93 mph. This short film from WSJ shows how Mueller-Korenek became the world’s fastest human on a bike. The salty maelstrom whipped up as she pushed past 180 is incredible. Tough. As. Nails.

Gritty, the Philly Sports Messiah

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 14, 2018

Gritty 01.jpg

Like any once-and-hopefully-future resident of the great city of Philadelphia, I’m entranced by Gritty, the new mascot for the Philadelphia Flyers. Now, full disclosure: the Flyers were not one of the teams I initially adopted when I moved to Philadelphia, because my hometown Detroit Red Wings were still great in 2002, and so I was all set, hockey-wise. I picked up the New York Rangers when I moved to New York in 2012, when Henrik Lundqvist was winning Vezinas and stunting on fools. But Gritty is sufficiently compelling that I might have to add the Flyers to the Eagles, Phillies, and Sixers, becoming a full Philadelphia sports fan.

Why is Gritty captivating the world? Is it because or despite of his muppet-like googly eyes and shaggy appearance? I mean, when you really dig into it, it’s not like there’s a whole lot there. But a sufficiently advanced cipher can become a multilayered text to the devout, and that’s what’s happened with Gritty. Fans turned what was briefly an object of ridicule into an icon of devotion. And a legend was born.

For a deeper look into the Gritty phenomenon, seek no further than The Ringer, the website that was designed from its origins in the late, beloved Grantland to get to the bottom of sports questions like this. Michael Baumann’s “The Monster In The Mirror” is insightful, and nearly exhaustive, in answering why people inside and outside of Philadelphia have taken to Gritty so strongly. It also doubles as a psychological profile of one of my favorite cities and their sports fans.

Some excerpts:

In the past two and a half months, Gritty has proven to be an overwhelming success as a mascot. More than that, he’s become a legitimate cultural phenomenon, a weird and scary avatar for a weird and scary time. He is all things to all people.

“Gritty is fairly appalling, pretty insurrectionary for a mascot, and I don’t think there’s any question that that’s our kind of symbol,” says Helen Gym, an at-large member of the Philadelphia City Council. “There’s nothing more Philly than being unapologetically yourself.”

And:

The Flyers, Raymond says, had long resisted the idea of creating a mascot, at the insistence of founding owner Ed Snider, whom Raymond calls “old-school.” The Flyers unveiled a furry mascot called Slapshot in 1976 but quickly shelved it, leaving the team without a mascot for more than 40 years. But after Snider’s death in 2016, the team’s marketing department pushed ownership to reconsider, Raymond says, and after overcoming so much institutional inertia, they weren’t going to be half-hearted about their new mascot.

One part of doing a mascot right, Raymond says, is sticking to the bit no matter what, rather than submitting the mascot to the public for approval, a lesson learned from the Sixers’ failed mascot vote in 2011. Philadelphians, and people on the internet in general, can sense uncertainty and will punish it.

On Gritty’s Hensonian roots:

Mascots are always at least a little silly and ridiculous because at their core, they’re created more for children than adults. Gritty is no exception. His hands squeak, and his belly button—which Raymond calls a “woobie”—is a brightly colored outie. The woobie, says Raymond, was the brainchild of Chris Pegg, who plays Rockey the Redbird for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds and is a mutual friend of Raymond and Flyers senior director of game presentation Anthony Gioia.

When the Flyers unveiled such a weird, menacing mascot, it brought to mind something Frank Oz said about his longtime collaborator and Muppets creator Jim Henson: “He thought it was fine to scare children. He didn’t think it was healthy for children to always feel safe.” According to Raymond, in any sufficiently large group of children, a mascot, even a familiar one, will make at least one of them cry. Not Gritty.

“I’d never seen a mascot rollout anywhere where I didn’t see at least one kid running, crying in terror, trying to grab on to their mother’s legs,” Raymond says of the Please Touch Museum rollout. “I didn’t see any of that [with Gritty]. The kids were dancing and hollering and calling for him to come over, but no kid looked terrified.”

And on Gritty’s additional incarnation as the subject and vehicle for leftist political memes:

Some Gritty memes, however, are not just funny or scary, but overtly political. Gym’s resolution addressed this issue head-on; “non-binary leftist icon” was one of the descriptions quoted in the resolution. The resolution itself goes on to praise Gritty for his status as a political symbol: “Gritty has been widely declared antifa, and was subject to attempted reclamation in the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal. It has been argued that he ‘conveys the absurdity and struggle of modern life under capitalism’ and that he represents a source of joyful comic respite in a time of societal upheaval.”…

“The great thing about memes—as ridiculous as this sounds—is they create an instant mass internet mobilization,” FWG says. “Memes can be used to perpetuate systematic oppression, or they can be used to burn down the prison-industrial system or talk about police brutality.”

This identity is independent from — this is to say, it has been thoroughly stolen from — Gritty’s original role as a corporate sports mascot.

There’s a danger to wrapping up one’s identity in anything one can’t control, whether it’s an artist, a sports team, or a fuzzy orange monster. And if Gritty played it safe, he’d stop being worth investing in; the reason Gritty is so popular is because he’s weird and unpredictable in a way that isn’t cultivated to be “edgy.” Fear of being let down might just be the price of trying to live with empathy in a society that frequently elevates the cruel. It’s worth thinking about something FWG said: that their Gritty is not the same thing as the Flyers mascot.

“I think that the spirit of Gritty will be fulfilled through the proletariat,” FWG says. “As the spirit of Gritty moves people, that’s how the people will act.”

This is serious business! But as Walter Benjamin wrote, in a time of crisis, the here-and-now becomes shot through with messianic time. Gritty recalls the Phillie Phanatic, Sesame Street’s muppets, and Blastaar from the Fantastic Four, but puts all of their energy to use in a sense of futurity, that hope for the future that sports fandom echoes, however dimly. To quote Benjamin again:

It is well-known that the Jews were forbidden to look into the future. The Torah and the prayers instructed them, by contrast, in remembrance. This disenchanted those who fell prey to the future, who sought advice from the soothsayers. For that reason the future did not, however, turn into a homogenous and empty time for the Jews. For in it every second was the narrow gate, through which the Messiah could enter.

It’s ridiculous to see Gritty, the googly-eyed, outie-bellybuttoned Philadelphia Flyers mascot, as a messianic figure of the revolutionary left. But is that any more ridiculous than everything else that is happening in our fucked-up present? No. No, it is not.

paul-klee-angelus-novus.jpg

James Niehues: The Man Behind the Map

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2018

I’ve you’ve ever skied or snowboarded in the US, Canada, or many other spots around the world, chances are you’ve used a ski map painted by James Niehues. He’s hand-painted almost 200 trail maps for places like Alta, Vail, Big Sky, Okemo, and Mammoth.

Ski Magazine regularly ranks the Top 50 resorts in North America. Jim has hand painted 45 of them. His tools of choice are a camera, a notepad, a paintbrush and a canvas. Every painstaking detail — peaks, cliffs, trees and shadows — is painted by hand. Jim’s large and beautiful paintings have helped generations of skiers navigate and capture the unique character of each mountain. He has had more impact on the image and feel of skiing than almost anyone, yet few people know his name.

With the help of a small team, Niehues is publishing a hardcover coffee table book featuring all of his work along with a series of prints. Here are a couple of the maps that will be in the book:

Niehues Maps 01

Niehues Maps 02

The Best Table Tennis Shot of 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 27, 2018

This is probably the craziest and most unlikely table tennis shot you will ever see. Just watch. The guy who pulls it off is Christopher Chen from the Trondheim Table Tennis Club in Norway. I haven’t watched ESPN in years so I don’t know if “getting on SportsCenter” is as big a deal as it used to be, but if so, this should get on SportsCenter.

See also the table tennis volley that sounds like the Super Mario Bros theme song and The Community of the Tables.

Scuba Diving in an Underwater Wheelchair

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 21, 2018

For a cultural program to accompany the 2012 Olympics in London, artist Sue Austin created a video of herself exploring a coral reef in a wheelchair outfitted with motors and wings to help it steer and go through the water.

It’s a tiny bit surreal to see how freely she moves around in something that many of us associate with an absence of a particular type of movement. But as Austin explains in her 2013 TED Talk, she thinks of her wheelchair in terms of freedom of movement, which is highlighted for others by the underwater video. (via colossal)

What the Hell Happened to Darius Miles?

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 06, 2018

Darius Miles was drafted 3rd overall by the LA Clippers in the 2000 NBA Draft. After 8 seasons, a major injury, and $62 million, Miles was out of the league and bankrupt. In this entertaining and affecting article for The Players’ Tribune, Miles explains how he got to the NBA and what went wrong.

It’s crazy to think about, but six years after we were at the peak with the Young Clippers, I was basically out of the league. I was 27 years old, and I had doctors telling me that my knee was too messed up to play basketball ever again.

My whole life, I used basketball as an escape. When you grow up how I grew up, I think you’re probably bound to have some kind of PTSD. I ain’t a doctor, but when you grow up running from gunshots all the time, I think there’s something inside you that never leaves. I used to feel this pressure on me — I’m talking like a physical pressure, you know? But I used to be able to go out onto a basketball court and just unleash it. You could let it all out. You could dunk the shit outta that motherfucker in front of 100 people or 20,000 people and feel good for a minute.

Basketball got taken away from me at 27, and I was lost. I was just kind of going through the motions. Then a couple years later, my momma got taken away from me, and I pretty much went insane.

Miles’ friend and former teammate Quentin Richardson edited the piece and wrote one of his own for the Tribune as well.

Take the Ball, Pass the Ball

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2018

In his four seasons as manager for FC Barcelona, Pep Guardiola led the club to 14 trophies, including winning the Champions League twice and La Liga 3 times. Sure, he had players like Messi, Eto’o, Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, Alves, Henry, and Ibrahimović, but as the trailer says, he also knew exactly what to do with them. Take the Ball, Pass the Ball is an upcoming documentary about the Guardiola years at Barca. I’m excited for this…Pep’s first year was right around when I started watching the team in earnest.

What’s My Name?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2018

What’s My Name? is an upcoming HBO documentary about Muhammad Ali. This is a teaser trailer so there’s not much to go on but LeBron James and Maverick Carter are executive producing and the director is Antoine Fuqua, who directed Training Day in 2001. What’s My Name? will air in two parts in early 2019.

Some (Older, Whiter, More Conservative) Audiences React Negatively to Kaepernick’s Nike Ad

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2018

A research company called Morning Consult had 1900 people watch the new Nike commercial featuring Colin Kaepernick and record their reactions in realtime. The video above shows the commercial and the graphed reactions of four age groups: Gen Z (18-21, white line), Millennials (22-37, teal line), Gen X (38-53, yellow line), and Boomers (54-72, red line). The report also has graphs showing results by race and political affiliation (the dashed line is when Kaepernick first appears on screen).

Nike Ad Graph

Nike Ad Graph

Gen Z & Millennials rated the ad higher than the older viewers throughout and had a less negative reaction to the polarizing parts. Now, the report only mentions the effect of Kaepernick appearing on the screen, but to my eyes, there are four distinct moments when the opinions of some viewers (white, older, Republican) turn negative:

1. Right before Kaepernick is shown for the first time, ratings start to decline when the ad refers to LeBron James as “the best basketball player on the planet” and “bigger than basketball” for recently opening his I Promise School.

2. Kaepernick’s first appearance in front of an American flag with his large Afro triggers a steep decline in favorability among older viewers, particularly Boomers and Republicans.

3. Serena Williams being billed as “the greatest athlete ever” results in the steepest decline during the entire ad…and this was before the controversy at the US Open. Across all groups, only black Americans had no problem with that characterization whatsoever (Gen Z & Millennials showed only slight declines).

4. Immediately after that, Kaepernick is shown again and there’s a continued follow-on decline from Serena.

So that’s interesting! What’s going on here? [insert an entire apologist NY Times Op-Ed piece here about how famous athletes are polarizing no matter what, particularly when accompanied by best-ever proclamations, etc. etc.] But of course, it’s probably racism with a side of sexism — three outspoken black athletes, one of them a woman, are uppity. That’s the simplest explanation.

The Community of The Tables

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 29, 2018

The Tables is a short documentary about the ping pong tables in NYC’s Bryant Park and the cast of characters who play there frequently — homeless folks, pro players, bike messengers, and a guy who uses a block of wood for a paddle.

“I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights”

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2018

Beto O’Rourke is running against Ted Cruz for one of Texas’ two Senate seats. At a recent event, he was asked if he thought that NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest police violence against black people was disrespectful.

I kind of wanted to know how you personally felt about how disrespectful it is — like, you have the NFL players kneeling during the national anthems. I wanted to know if you found that disrespectful to our country, to our veterans, and anybody related to that.

O’Rourke’s answer, which connects this protest to past non-violent protests undertaken by black Americans, is pitch-perfect — honest, respectful of the questioner & the audience, and inclusive.

I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights anytime, anywhere, any place.

That’s how you politic.

P.S. In his campaign against Cruz, O’Rourke is relying solely on individual donors, no PAC money. If you’d like to help him out, you can donate to his campaign here.

Where do common sports idioms like “out of left field” come from?

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 08, 2018

Victor Mather wrote about the origin of sports idioms like “wild-goose chase”, “hands down”, and “sticky wicket” for the NY Times. Some of these I didn’t even know were sports terms. “Back to square one” is an interesting entry:

As with many terms, there is a colorful explanation of the origin and a more prosaic and realistic one, though both originate with competition.

First the colorful one: When soccer was first broadcast on the radio in the 1920s in Britain, there was concern that fans would not be able to visualize the field well. So the field was divided into numbered squares, with charts published in newspapers. That way the announcer could say, “The ball is passed into Square 4, then dribbled into Square 6,” and fans used to watching games in person would understand what was going on. Square 1 was the area with the goalie, so a pass back to Square 1 would be a restarting of an offensive move.

The Oxford English Dictionary deflates that theory though, pointing out that the term’s use really began in the 1950s, some decades after the soccer broadcasting scheme stopped. It suggests the term actually comes from board games like chutes and ladders, in which players can find themselves sent back to the start.

That soccer explanation is more compelling, even if untrue. It’s fun to hear how practitioners of early media tried to represent sports to people who couldn’t view the game. For a time, baseball games were broadcast to viewers using various machines and even actors who “played” the game as reports came in via telegraph.

“A novel feature of the report was the actual running of the bases by uniformed boys, who obeyed the telegraph instrument in their moves around the diamond. Great interest prevailed and all enjoyed the report,” read the Atlanta Constitution on April 17, 1886. (And as if that wasn’t enough to entice you, the paper also noted that “A great many ladies were present.”) Although this live-action reenactment attempted at the opera house in Atlanta may have been the closest approximation of a real baseball game, it does not seem to have ever spread beyond Georgia.

The Blind Skateboarder

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 21, 2018

Dan Mancina has lost 95% of his eyesight but that hasn’t kept him from skating. Red Bull has an interview with Mancina, who stopped skating for a couple of years after he went blind, thinking that it wasn’t something a blind person would or could do.

There wasn’t a defining moment that changed my mind as to what a blind person was, but the day I started to build that bench sort of started it, and sparked this passion and stoked this urge to skate again.

Seeing how people responded to that, that’s the shit I was searching for. To see me not as a blind person, but as a normal person, a skater.

Ever since I was seven, that’s who I was. I am a skateboarder, I just lost it for a while. I bought into people’s ideas of me and what a blind person is, and really I should’ve been searching for who I was and what I wanted to do.

People who are really good at something talk about doing it “by feel” or being able to do it “in their sleep”. Mancina’s skating ability is a good reminder that after you pass a certain threshold of expertise, so much of athleticism is just your body’s ability to unconsciously perform.

You can watch more of Mancina’s skating on his Instagram account.

Iceland’s goalkeeper directed a TV commercial for the World Cup

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2018

The Iceland men’s soccer team is nearly impossible not to root for in this World Cup. They are the smallest nation by population ever to qualify for a World Cup. Their coach is a dentist and still maintains his hometown dental practice. The Skol chant done by the team’s fans is a great addition to the collection of international soccer chants & songs. All great underdog stuff.

Adding to that, their goalkeeper Hannes Thor Halldórsson is a former film director who, until four years ago, pursued soccer as a second job. In anticipation for the World Cup, Halldórsson stepped back into his old job to direct a commercial for Coca-Cola featuring the Icelandic men’s national team and the Skol chant.

Pretty good for a keeper. Is this the best commercial ever made by someone who has also kept clean sheets against both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo?

Who could jump higher on a trampoline, LeBron James or Simone Biles?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2018

Biles Vs Lebron

An interesting question, courtesy of Marginal Revolution:

Who could launch themselves higher on a trampoline? LeBron James or Simone Biles?

James has more mass & height and is stronger in an absolute sense but Biles is extremely strong for her size and is one of the world’s leading experts in launching herself of off trampolines (or more properly, vault springboards).

The answer would depend a great deal on what is meant by “launch themselves higher”. If the height is judged as a percentage of body weight or height, Biles wins easily. If you’re talking about absolute height (as measured from the lowest point on their body at the jump’s peak), James’ greater mass and absolute strength works for him but Biles’ ability to time her jumps to build momentum and her acrobatic skill in getting more of her body higher may put her ahead of James. If their bodies need to remain vertical at the highest point in the jump (think a basketball player’s form vs. a high jumper’s), perhaps that favors James, even though his legs are much longer than Biles’, measuring from their centers of gravity.

From a pure physics perspective, is the trampoline just a multiplier of a person’s max vertical? James’ max vertical is said to be around 40 inches. Biles’ max vertical is harder to determine because gymnasts jumps are measured differently, but she can get her body about 53 inches off the floor (according to this analysis). Can James get his entire body 53 inches off the floor? What’s his box jump height? I imagine with various slow-motion videos, you could figure out which of them can get their center of gravity furthest off the ground…but handspringing into a layout, dunking, and bouncing on a trampoline are still not equivalent activities. The only real way to settle this is clear: let’s get James and Biles together at a trampoline park and have them go at it. Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, or Twitter…make this spectacle happen!

A related question: Can Simone Biles dunk a basketball? A regulation hoop is 10 feet tall. I’m assuming she can’t palm a basketball but she might still be able to do a one-handed dunk with practice. Her height plus her floor exercise max height is 110 inches, about 9’2”. I don’t know how high her standing reach is, but assuming a similar ratio to mine (my reach is 25% of my height), that puts her theoretical maximum jumping reach, with many caveats, at about 124 inches (10’4”). A regulation WNBA ball has a diameter of about 9 inches. Soooooo….maybe but probably not? But if not, she could surely come closer than any other person in the world who is 4’9”.

The Last Dance, a 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan

posted by Jason Kottke   May 17, 2018

A 10-part Netflix/ESPN documentary series on Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls? Sure, I will watch the hell out of that. The Bulls were my team1 when I was a kid and for me, Jordan is still the greatest basketball player of all time. Ok, I am admittedly biased and you could probably talk me into Bill Russell (all those championships), Kareem (stats, championships, longevity), or more recently, Tim Duncan (championships, longevity, consistency)…they were certainly all far more decent people than Jordan, an ultra-competitive dick, was.

But you can get out of here with your LeBrons and Steph Currys…until they start stringing together back-to-back-to-back championships, they are not in the conversation. Jordan had the stats and the championships; the Bulls were a proper dynasty. I’ll put it this way: for eight straight years in the NBA, the most intensely competitive sports league in the US, when Michael Jordan played a full season (in six of those years), his team won the NBA championship. They had it on lock. When he didn’t, they didn’t. Case closed.

(Also, I don’t want to tell the filmmakers their business, but if one of these episodes isn’t just 50 straight minutes of Jordan highlights, they’re cheating the American public.)

  1. I lived in Wisconsin, so the Bucks really should have been my team (this was pre-Timberwolves). But we got WGN on cable, so the Bulls were on TV all the time and the Bucks weren’t. Plus, Jordan was electrifying to watch and Dale Ellis wasn’t. WGN availability of games is also why I was a Cubs fan as a kid instead of a Brewers or Twins fan. It’s tough to be a fan when you can’t watch the team.

Alan Turing was an excellent runner

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2018

Alan Turing Runner

Computer scientist, mathematician, and all-around supergenius Alan Turing, who played a pivotal role in breaking secret German codes during WWII and developing the conceptual framework for the modern general purpose computer, was also a cracking good runner.

He was a runner who, like many others, came to the sport rather late. According to an article by Pat Butcher, he did not compete as an undergraduate at Cambridge, preferring to row. But after winning his fellowship to King’s College, he began running with more purpose. He is said to have often run a route from Cambridge to Ely and back, a distance of 50 kilometers.

It’s also said Turing would occasionally sometimes run to London for meetings, a distance of 40 miles. In 1947, after only two years of training, Turing ran a marathon in 2:46. He was even in contention for a spot on the British Olympic team for 1948 before an injury held him to fifth place at the trials. Had he competed and run at his personal best time, he would have finished 15th.

As the photo above shows, Turing had a brute force running style, not unlike the machine he helped design to break Enigma coded messages. He ran, he said, to relieve stress.

“We heard him rather than saw him. He made a terrible grunting noise when he was running, but before we could say anything to him, he was past us like a shot out of a gun. A couple of nights later we caught up with him long enough for me to ask who he ran for. When he said nobody, we invited him to join Walton. He did, and immediately became our best runner… I asked him one day why he punished himself so much in training. He told me ‘I have such a stressful job that the only way I can get it out of my mind is by running hard; it’s the only way I can get some release.’”

I found out about Turing’s running prowess via the Wikipedia page of non-professional marathon runners. Turing is quite high on the list, particularly if you filter out world class athletes from other sports. Also on the list, just above Turing, is Wolfgang Ketterle, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who ran a 2:44 in Boston in 2014 at the age of 56.

Sporting events compressed into single composite photos

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2018

Pelle Cass

Pelle Cass

Pelle Cass

Photographer Pelle Cass has been constructing composite photos of groups of people for some time now, photoshopping the action from dozens of photos into a single frame.

With the camera on a tripod, I take many dozens of pictures, and simply leave in the figures I choose and omit the rest. The photographs are composite, but nothing has been changed, only selected. My subject is the strangeness of time, the exact way people look, and a surprising world that is visible only with a camera.

More recently, Cass has turned his attention to sporting events, capturing competitors playing basketball, diving, playing lacrosse, running track, and playing hockey. The project is called Crowded Fields; it’s not up on his website yet, but you can see some of the images on Instagram and Booooooom.

I love this sort of thing, whole stretches of time compressed into single frames or short videos. See also time merge media, Peter Funch’s Babel Tales, Dennis Hlynsky’s bird contrails, and busy day at the airport. (via colossal)

The unusual winners of the 2018 Boston Marathon

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2018

The Boston Marathon was run yesterday under terribly rainy and windy conditions and many of the top competitors didn’t do so well. But as Dennis Young explains, that made room for some unusual names at the top of the winners’ list. The winner on the men’s side was Yuki Kawauchi, an amateur Japanese runner who runs in about one marathon a month (the elite pro runners only do ~2-3 a year), trains in his spare time from his government job, but has run the most sub-2:12 marathons ever.

This was at least his 71st competitive marathon since the beginning of 2012-averaging just under one a month. Overall, he’s run in at least 81 marathons.

He’s run 26 of them faster than 2:12 and 79 of them under 2:20. Both of those numbers are world records.

In January, Kawauchi ran a 2:18:59 marathon in Marshfield, Massachusetts in one-degree weather. He was the only finisher.

That race gave him the most marathons ever run under 2:20; he finished two more between then and Boston. (Obviously he was the only one of his competitors to have already run a marathon this year. Today was his fourth of 2018.)

Oh, and to prep for Boston, he ran a half-marathon in a panda suit. More on Kawauchi and his unusual training methods here. On the women’s side, Desi Linden was the first American woman to win the race in 33 years, beating the field by over four minutes, even after she hung back mid-race to help a fellow American runner re-join the pack.

She told an interviewer on the broadcast that she felt so bad early on that she figured she’d do what she could to help an American win. When Shalane Flanagan sprinted off the course for a bathroom break roughly 12 miles in, it was Linden who hung back and waited for Flanagan before helping her re-catch the pack. A little more than an hour later, Linden had the title wrapped up.

The women’s second place finisher was perhaps even more surprising. Like Kawauchi, Sarah Sellers is an amateur runner with a full-time job (she’s a nurse in Arizona), but unlike the prolific Japanese marathoner, Boston was only Sellers’ second marathon. She didn’t believe she’d gotten second, even when officials told her, which reminded me of Ester Ledecka’s Super-G victory in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

In what other highly visible and competitive sport can amateurs fare so well against professionals? Aside from the accountant who recently played goalie in an NHL game, it’s nearly unimaginable for an amateur to step into one of the major team sports and compete at a high level. Maybe golf?

The NBA Court Database

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2018

NBA Courts

NBA Courts

NBA Courts

NBA Courts

Flickr user kodrinsky has compiled a massive collection of more than 1100 illustrations of NBA courts dating back to the 50s, an online museum of basketball hardwood. The collection contains floors for every NBA team with additions documenting even small changes in arena names, team logos, free-throw lane layouts, paint schemes, sponsors, and even wood patterns.

Above are the courts for the Boston Celtics (1964-1966), the Golden State Warriors (1975-1979), the Philadelphia 76ers (1978-1979), and the Milwaukee Bucks (1977-1979).

How Bill Russell stopped Charles Barkley from complaining about taxes

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2018

In a recent podcast interview with David Axelrod, former NBA star Charles Barkley talks about how NBA legend Bill Russell persuaded Barkley to stop publicly complaining about how much income tax he paid (transcription by Steven Greenhouse).

Bill Russell called me one time… He says, “Charles Barkley.” I said, “Yes, sir, Mr. Russell.”

“You grew up in Alabama. Right?” I said, “Yes, sir.”

He says, “Did you go to public school?” I said, “Yes, sir.”

He says, “Did the cops ever come to your neighborhood?” I said, “Yes sir.”

He said, “Any of the houses ever on fire and the firemen come?” I said, “Yes, sir.”

He said, “I don’t want to see your black ass on TV complaining about your taxes anymore.” I says, “What do you mean?”

He says, “So now that you got money you don’t want to help other people out, but when you were poor, other people took care of you.” And I says, “You know what, Mr. Russell, you will never hear me complain about my taxes again.”

And it was a very interesting lesson for me, because I do think rich people should pay more taxes. I’m blessed to be one of them, and we should pay more in taxes. I learned my lesson. I never complain about taxes.

I think Bill Russell needs to make a few phone calls to Congress…

Being Serena

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2018

Being Serena is a five-art HBO documentary series on Serena Williams that focuses on her pregnancy, the birth of her daughter, and her determination to get back on the court and compete at a championship level.

I don’t know if there’s anything left for me in tennis, but I’m not done yet.

The first episode will air on May 2. Deadline has further details.

How the US women won gold in the women’s cross-country team sprint

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 28, 2018

One of my favorite moments from the 2018 Winter Olympics was the US team of Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall winning the women’s cross-country team sprint. In this episode of How the Race Was Won, Cosmo Catalano deftly breaks down how the pair did it, from start to finish (along with a little social commentary about how shitty parental leave policy is in the US). As Matt Haughey said, “This is a better explanation of the women’s sprint cross-country ski race than any Olympics TV coverage anywhere.”

I’ve watched the end of the race about 20 times and that shot (at 4:07 in the video) of how hard Diggins charges coming off that final corner gets me every fucking time. She just wanted it more. Maximum effort. So hardcore.

The Winter Olympics, male & female physiology, and socially constructed bodies

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2018

This is a fascinating thread by Milena Popova about the differing performances of male and female athletes at the Winter Olympics. As they point out, humans are sexually dimorphic but the story doesn’t end there. Bodies are also socially constructed.

Physiology is a thing, but physiology is shaped and mediated by our social context.

Look back at those pictures of “women”. Those petite, delicate bodies, those faces we process as “beautiful”. Those are the qualities that globally dominant Western cultures associate with “femininity”.

And sport is one of the institutions that fiercely guards and reproduces dominant ideas about gender, masculinity and femininity. This plays out differently in different sports.

Generally, men and women compete separately. And for the purposes of sport “men” and “women” are defined as people whose bodies were assigned male or female at birth and whose gender matches that assignment.

The obvious example here is South African runner Caster Semenya. But Popova continues with a more subtle (and admittedly speculative) situation:

Now, what really gets me is snowboarding. Because on the face of it that’s not a sport that’s judged on the same gendered criteria of artistry and aesthetics as figure skating or gymnastics.

You’d think under all the skiing gear, helmets, scarves and goggles, it would be quite hard to perform femininity.

And still, as my friend whom I made watch slope style and half pipe for the first time in her life last night pointed out, the body types of the men and women riders are really rather different. You can tell even under all the gear.

And that translates to performance. Women get an amplitude of about 3m above the half pipe, men about 4-5m. The best women do 1080s (three revolutions), the best men 1440s (four revolutions).

But much like any other subculture snowboarding reproduces hierarchical structures. Moves are named after people, some people find it easier to access than others (hint: it’s a massively expensive sport), some people set trends.

One of the structures it reproduces is a gendered hierarchy. It’s a very masculine culture. Women find it harder to access the sport, find it harder to be taken seriously as athletes in their own right rather than “just hangers-on”.

And I have the sneaky suspicion that because the people with the most subcultural capital tend to be men and they decide whom they will admit and accept to the community, there are certain looks and body types of women who find it less hard (not easy!) to gain access.

And those happen to be the body types that may find it harder to do 1440s and to get 5m amplitude above the half pipe.

Another example from figure skating is Surya Bonaly, a French figure skater who landed a backflip on one skate in a performance at the 1998 Olympics. While backflips weren’t banned because of Bonaly’s relative ease in performing them (as claimed here), her athletic style was outside the norm in women’s figure skating, in which traditional femininity is baked right into the rules & judging. This was also a factor in Tonya Harding’s career (as depicted in I, Tonya).

Anyway, super interesting to think about.

My recent media diet, special Black Panther & Olympics edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2018

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month or so. I have fallen off the book reading wagon…I really really need to find some time to start reading more. Maybe after the Olympics are done and I’ve made it through all of the levels in Alto’s Odyssey

2018 Winter Olympic Games. Yes, the Olympics are corrupt & corporate and NBC’s coverage is often lacking, but on the other hand, all of America gets a two-week look at all of these amazing women, immigrants, children of immigrants, and openly gay athletes (some of them just children) displaying many different kinds of femininity and masculinity while performing amazing feats and suffering humbling defeats. The Olympics, as the joke goes, is the future that liberals want and America is watching and loving it. (A-)

Black Panther. Really entertaining and affecting after an expositional slow start. (B+)

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. Leonardo da Vinci is not overrated. (B+)

Alto’s Odyssey. A worthy successor to one of my favorite games. (A-)

Reply All: The Bitcoin Hunter. Is admitting that you bought illegal drugs on Silk Road a thing you can do without the risk of being prosecuted? (B+)

Black Panther The Album. I can’t wait to drive around playing this as loud as I can. Also, based on my experience, movies should put more effort into their soundtracks. The really good ones (like this one) inspire repeat viewings and cause me to remember the movie more fondly. (A-)

Paddington. If more people in the UK over 65 had watched Paddington, Brexit wouldn’t have happened. (A-)

Paddington 2. Seriously, these Paddington movies are better than they have any right to be. Smart and lots of heart. (B+)

See You in the Cosmos. Read this to the kids as a bedtime story over the past few months. We all loved it. Rocketry, Carl Sagan, the Voyager Golden Record…what’s not to like? (A-)

Allied. Bland and forgettable. (C-)

On Being: interview with Isabel Wilkerson. An excellent interview of the author of The Warmth of Other Suns, one of the best books I’ve read in recent years. (A-)

Phantom Thread soundtrack. More strong work by Jonny Greenwood. But don’t listen if you want something upbeat. (B+)

Song Exploder. A podcast where musicians break down their well-known songs. Always solid. I recently caught the episodes about the Stranger Things theme song and DJ Shadow. Oh, and I’m going to give the Arrival score a listen soon. (A-)

Apollo 13. One of my I’ll-watch-this-whenever-it’s-on movies. Love the scientific and engineering detective scenes. (B+)

Alias Grace. Several people asserted this was a better Margaret Atwood adaptation than The Handmaid’s Tale, but I didn’t think so. (B)

I, Tonya. I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. (A-)

Goodthreads T-shirt. Goodthreads is one of Amazon’s house brands. Ordered a couple of these after a recommendation from Clayton Cubbitt and damn if they’re not some of the most comfortable and best-fitting t-shirts I’ve ever worn. And only $12! My new go-to. (A-)

Sleep. One of the best things I’ve done for my work and my sanity is going to bed at about the same time every night and getting at least 6.5 hours (and often 7-8 hours) of sleep every night. (A+)

This American Life: Chip in My Brain. Holy parenting nightmare. (B+)

Professor Marston & The Wonder Women. The surprising role of BDSM in the development of Wonder Woman. (B+)

Atomic Blonde. John Wick-like. I wanted to like this more but the plot was a little muddled. (B)

SpaceX launch of Falcon Heavy. That choreographed double booster landing… (A)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

The wonderful sounds of black ice skating

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2018

Recently frozen lake ice has some interesting properties: it looks completely black and makes some interesting sounds when you skate over it. Swedish mathematician Mårten Ajne is a black ice skating enthusiast and he demonstrates his technique in this National Geographic video. You’ll want to turn up the sound or use headphones…the ice sounds like a cross between sci-fi phaser fire and getting pinged by sonar in a submarine.

The most desirable condition is virgin black ice, when a lake has caught its first ice cover and it has grown just thick enough to bear your joy. In favorable weather conditions this will take two days after freeze-over.

Five centimeters [2 inches] is often the limit [to how thin it can be]. If you’re close to shore, you can go thinner, up to about 3.5 centimeters, before it breaks. That’s for fresh, cold black ice. Brackish ice, which contains salt, needs to be thicker and is more difficult to assess.

At one point, Anje measures the ice with a caliper — it’s only 45 mm thick — but what really illustrates the crazy thinness of the ice is that you can see the surface flex as the water moves under it (wait for him to skate by the camera at ~1:42 in the video) and the ice cracking behind him (at ~2:02). Whaaaaa?!! (via the kid should see this)