How I Learned To Stop Hating and Appreciate LeBron

Quick trivia question:

Who was the last Eastern Conference team to make it to the NBA Finals without LeBron James on the roster?

If you were thinking the 2010 Boston Celtics, congrats, you get a prize.

It is wild to consider just how much has changed in the league, and the world for that matter, since he last did not participate in the Finals.

Since then, and for the last seven seasons, the NBA championship road in the East has gone through LeBron.

With the Cavaliers making yet another trip to the finals, LeBron is arguably having his greatest postseason and possibly en route to the greatest postseason ever.

Cleveland steamrolled its competition in this postseason, winning 12 of 13 games. In fact, James’ dominance over the Eastern Conference over the last seven seasons is so pronounced that he and his teams have defeated every team in the conference at least once.

In short, LeBron is performing at a God-like level and only Golden State can convert him back into a mere mortal.

In the meantime, I am sitting back in awe.

That, in fact, is a rather remarkable transformation from my own attitude toward him from just a few seasons ago.

Like many NBA fans not from either Miami or Northeast Ohio, I can state without equivocation that I once despised LeBron James.

The following phrases usually came to mind: Flopper. Overconfident. No loyalty. Selfish. Media manipulator. Will never be like Michael Jordan.

I am certainly not alone in echoing those sentiments. Look at much social media discussion on LeBron, and you will encounter these sentiments on the daily. As a Chicago Bulls supporter, I believed those things with every fiber of my fandom. Many still do, but the stance is more a product of fierce, undying loyalty to the legend of Jordan and, cynically, the franchise’s inability to vanquish a LeBron team. After all, the Bulls have never beaten LeBron James in the playoffs and haven’t won a championship in nearly a generation.

Often times, the hatred of another team or player is motivated from a sense of jealousy of their success. For Bulls fans especially, such visceral hatred is as much jealousy of LeBron’s success as it is a natural tendency to want to defend Michael Jordan. If there is anything Chicago sports fans are more proud of, it is the pride of claiming the GOAT. Chicago sports fans cannot stand the thought of any other player being considered greater than Michael Jordan. I totally understand that.

Unfortunately, that has made too many Chicago sports fans irrationally and irredeemably hate Lebron.

Yet, Chicago fans should rest assured that even if LeBron wins six or seven championships, he still cannot be compared to Jordan. Michael Jordan did not only never lose in the NBA Finals, he changed the sport in a way no other player can claim. Michael Jordan turned the NBA into a brand — a global brand. Comparing Michael Jordan to LeBron is a futile exercise; much better for arguments at the local dive bar or in the Facebook comments section.

Ideally, Jordan and James should stand in their own categories without needing to be constantly compared.

Beyond the knowledge that Jordan will always be the GOAT, what truly motivated my transition on LeBron is not the result of any of his continuing dominance but what he represents beyond the highlights or the stat sheet.

To be honest, most of my LeBron hatred stems from 2010’s “The Decision.” I, and many others, were incensed that LeBron orchestrated an entire media spectacle simply to announce where he was taking “his talents.”

Where was his sense of civic loyalty? Where was his humility? Michael Jordan would never do that! True winners never team up with two other of their superstar friends just to win championships?

Yet, in a way, LeBron James’ decision to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh was a radical act and a powerful way of rebuking the control of NBA ownership. In sports, vacuous values like loyalty and humility often deployed to rein in the players.

A player leaves the team that drafted him for a chance at more money or championships? Not loyal! That player is too emotional or celebrates too much? Not humble!

Of course, in American sports those ideas function as a not-so-subtle form of racial control. Given the history of this country and the prevailing values that still pervade cultural and social institutions, demanding that players give into those lofty concepts is often aimed at black and Latino players with an especially high and unattainable standard.

Those lofty, noble ideals, while on their own valuable, become sinister when used and abused by white owners to police the actions of a majority black workforce.

The NBA, while majority black, is still a white institution controlled by white owners and executives.

Baseball, for example, has been thrown into the spotlight for the obsessive imposition of “unwritten rules”. These archaic bylaws have been put into question by the “conflicting values” of exuberance and celebration displayed by the game’s Latino players (case in point: bat flipping).

The mere act of a black player exercising his autonomy by joining forces with two of his other black friends was an act of defiance against a system of ownership in American sports that subordinates the players below the owners.

What LeBron did in 2010, while more subtle than Colin Kaepernick, was a shock to the system of American sports. Just consider the tantrum thrown by Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. It is not an exaggeration to infer that Gilbert’s anger largely stemmed from his own inability to properly control his “asset.”

This is also indicative of why so many negatively compare LeBron to Jordan; Jordan never upset the equilibrium of the NBA or the American sporting hierarchy. Famously, Michael Jordan isolated himself from taking stances on socially-relevant issues.

LeBron is, for the most part, the opposite.

LeBron has developed a powerful, articulate voice on race. His voice was at the forefront of athlete activism around the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and recently the Tamir Rice case.

In fact, this voice was on display once again yesterday after LeBron was asked by the media to state his reaction to his LA home being vandalized and graffitied with the N word. LeBron powerfully invokedthe lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 to to explain how the racial animus that era still pervades today.

LeBron understands his own role and the role of other athletes in the process of social change. I certainly admire him for that.

Over the recent years, as my awareness of racial politics has evolved as has my appreciation of the involvement of athletes in socially-relevant causes, I can no longer bring myself to harbor any ill feelings toward LeBron.

Without exception, black athletes are held to a profoundly higher standard than white athletes in America. We expect black athletes to succeed on the court or the field, but also be involved in the community, set a good example for kids, stay out of legal and personal trouble, and remain humble — all simultaneously.

LeBron James has done all those things, and then some, and he is still not good enough for too many people. He is still just too cocky; he complains just a bit too much to the referees. At some point, we must realize that it is not LeBron who is the problem but our racialized conception of the “ideal athlete”.

Finally, I have realized that watching LeBron is watching the unfolding of history. I often wish born 10 years earlier just to have been able to appreciate watching Michael Jordan.

NBA fans of the future will wish they had been around to witness a LeBron chasedown block or watching him collapse in tears of happiness and relief in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals.

Watching a historical moment unfold in such a culturally important institution as the NBA must be cherished. As I get older, I have realized that.

This by no means signifies that I will become a Cavaliers fan or actively root for LeBron but that I have no interest in devoting any energy to hating him. There is no point, and doing so is to subject oneself to needless bitterness and saltiness.

I am not a witness but an appreciator. In short, what LeBron James represents and the dominance he has displayed in these 2017 playoffs is why my perception of him has so radically shifted.

I hope my fellow NBA fans follow suit and that other current LeBron heaters soon to change their tune.

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In Montana, Medicare for All’s First Big Test

November 2018 may seem like a lifetime away, especially with the overwhelming pace of today’s political news.

Except, the road to the 2018 midterms and, by extension, the first electoral referendum on Trump and the GOP Congress begins this Thursday.

Rejoice, political junkies!

Of course, I am talking about Montana’s special at-large election for the state’s only congressional seat, pitting Democrat and country music icon Rob Quist against Republican millionaire businessman Greg Gianforte.

The election is to replace former Congressman Ryan Zinke, who in January accepted the role of Secretary of the Interior in the Trump Administration.

Most of the coverage in this special election has centered on its importance as the first real political test for the Democratic Party in building off the surging anti-Trump political energy. Equally, it has been seen as a bellwether for the upcoming midterms in 2018 — similar to the special election in Georgia in June.

Yet, the more underrated storyline of this special election, and the one I find more instructive for the future of the Democratic Party, is that it is the first test, electorally, for the increasingly popular Medicare for All position on health care in liberal, Democratic and left-wing circles.

Quist is ostensibly running on a platform to not only protect the Affordable Care Act but to dramatically expand health care access in the form of Medicare for All.

This is partly the reason why Sen. Bernie Sanders has become such a faithful and enthusiastic supporter of Quist.

Back in November, Trump won the congressional district (also the entire state) by 20 points over Hillary Clinton. When Zinke vacated his congressional seat, it was expected that the GOP would breeze to an easy victory with Democrats unable to put up any real fight.

Now, on the eve of the election, the GOP is verging on a full-fledged panic attack that a normally safe district may flip blue.

According to some recent polls, Quist only trails his Republican opponent by 2 to 4 points.

Quist’s support on the campaign trail for a Medicare for all single-payer system has clearly resonated with voters in a conservative district, which is why he will make national Republicans sweat on Thursday. While he is certainly not the favorite to win, even a narrow victory for Gianforte portends a terrifying short-term political future for the GOP.

Quist has further galvanized support by attacking Gianforte’s on the record support for the American Health Care Act — already a uniquely unpopular piece of legislation.

It further plays into Quist’s hands that Gianforte is seen as an out of touch millionaire unable to connect with everyday Montanans. Gianforte, the former CEO of a software company, is also seen as a carpetbagger since he was born, raised and educated in New Jersey. The Republican candidate has thus far raised $4.7 million via outside groups.

Quist, on the other hand, is seen as a humble, earthy, cowboy hat-wearing and shotgun-toting folk singer able to connect with the natives. Compared to his opponent, the Democrat has emphasized that he does not accept contributions from lobbyists or corporate PACs. Nonetheless, from the beginning of April to May 5, Quist raised an impressive $2.4 million.

While Quist now has a legitimate shot at pulling the upset, even a narrow loss in Thursday’s election is a harbinger of the potential political success of Democrats running on and emphasizing a platform of Medicare for All.

To paraphrase Alex Pareene in Fusion last month, Democrats are convinced their policy agenda is unpopular with the majority of Americans, whereas Republicans have convinced themselves that their policy agenda is indeed massively popular. The kicker is that the opposite is true.

On health care policy, this theory is proven startlingly accurate. In fact, recent polling indicates that 60 percent of Americans favor expanding Medicare to cover every American.

Despite the striking popular of Medicare for All, many national Democrats have still not totally embraced it, though since the presidential election there has been a major mobilization in favor of it among Democratic voters and progressive and left-wing activists.

Opposing the AHCA is not enough for Democrats. For the party to truly rebuild itself in the Trump era, it is a political necessity to embrace a positive vision of healthcare reform.
While it should remain important for liberals and the left to defend Republican attacks on the ACA and its popular provisions like the Medicaid expansion and protections for those with pre-existing conditions, doing so is still at the end of the day a defensive politics.

If the party leadership were to join its base in enthusiastically touting the Medicare proposition, it would set the lines of demarcation on healthcare policy in the starkest manner imaginable.

On one end, you have Democrats supporting a plan that leaves virtually no Americans uninsured; whereas, on the other hand, you have Republicans supporting a plan that leaves 24 million uninsured.

This is a variation on a theme originally articulated by Ryan Cooper in The Week.

After all, the Affordable Care Act was not the be-all and end-all of healthcare reform; it was simply an incremental reform. The incremental, managerial liberalism of Barack Obama and the Clintons, while not without certain benefits, is not a positive enough vision for the party, especially since such incremental reforms are on the cusp of being chiseled away by the GOP Congress.

Among many leftists and the left wing of the Democratic Party, it has become conventional wisdom that it is not enough to be anti-Trump. It must oppose the GOP agenda in all its forms because, after all, Donald Trump is simply a manifestation of Republican policy and politics for the last 30 years — though Trump is a louder, more vulgar and more comically incompetent version of it.

If a progressive policy like Medicare for All can find a base of support and mobilization in the reddest of red states, then the Democratic Party must run on it for 2018 and beyond.

Perhaps the darkest legacy of the Obama era was that Obama’s political talent covered up for the dissolution of the Democratic Party in Congress and on the state and local level. Medicare for All might just be the salvation.

We shall see, as its first big test comes Thursday in Big Sky country.

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Milo and UC-Berkeley: Free Speech, Narratives and Oppositional Strategy in the Trump Era

milo-2

In case you may have missed it, unrest engulfed the UC-Berkeley campus last night. In opposition to a scheduled speech by alt-right commentator/media personality Milo Yiannopolous, many of the protesters turned violent. In response to the violence and rioting, the university administration canceled Milo’s speech.

While last night’s events can spark discussion in a myriad of different directions, I would like to focus on what those events tell us about free speech, the importance of narratives, and oppositional strategy in the Trump era.

1. The reactions to the unrest and eventual cancellation of the speech on multiple sides of the social media political spectrum were quite predictable. The alt-right reacted predictably by condemning the events as simply another example of the noxious attitude toward free speech and general propensity for violence among leftists. Liberals reacted by defending Milo’s right to speak freely, though vehemently disagreed with his viewpoints. Leftists reacted by defending the actions of the protesters, painting the violence as merely reacting to the violence perpetrated by Milo’s ugly, bigoted ideology. While each reaction may be valid, they are all relatively simplistic narratives.

2. Strictly and legally speaking, Milo’s rights to free speech was not curtailed. Given that the First Amendment applies only to infringements on free speech by the state, this is certainly true. Yet, in the abstract and philosophical concept of free speech, protests that become violent and aggressive to the point that a speaker is unable to engage in political speech is functionally an infringement upon free speech.

In an era and an environment around the globe (from the US to Europe to Turkey) where freedom of speech and freedom of the press are witnessing tremendous assaults and challenges, it is crucial that the Left not abandon a commitment to free speech and press. The real threats to those freedoms comes not from the so-called “regressive left” (which wields little political power) but from right wing regressives — particularly, right wing populism in the West and Islamism in Turkey and MENA.

In the US alone there are countless threats to free speech from the state, such as the Trump administration’s hostility toward the press, efforts to delegitimize nonviolent protest and recent moves to stifle pro-Palestinian activism and the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement. Furthermore, expect the administration to oversee a further expansion of the surveillance state, in addition to a broader crackdown on Black Lives Matter and Dakota Access Pipeline protesters.

In these trying times, it is for the long-term survival of free speech and the independence of the press that liberals, progressives and leftists are truly the defenders of those critical human values. It is beyond clear that the alt-right and others on the Right pay lip service to those freedoms merely to distract the broader society of the right wing regressive threats to those values. Many in the alt-right movement have a very particular strategy to play up viral examples of left-wing violence and other misbehavior to paint themselves as the true heirs of free speech and the First Amendment. Though I myself am skeptical of the widespread power and influence of the “regressive left”, the movement among certain segments of the Left toward regressivism must be scrutinized and called out.

3. Politics, while above all being a battle for material resources, is equally a contest of competing narratives. It is difficult to see how the anti-Milo demonstrators conceivably emerged victorious in the narrative war. In many ways, Milo is primarily a troll and provocateur that seeks to push the opposition to him toward the most extreme methods— in this case, violence. The protesters were successful in the sense that Milo’s speech was actually canceled though they ultimately handed Milo and his alt-right allies a narrative victory.

It serves as a narrative victory for the alt-right and Trump supporters in that it effectively allows them to paint the Left and the broader anti-Trump opposition movement as riddled with violent, left-wing radicals. That belief, in turn, delegitimizes any meaningful opposition and criticism about Trump — an attitude fundamentally corrosive to democracy. In reality, those engaging in violence last night represent the tiniest sliver of the Left (not a homogenous group). Those violence protesters don’t represent the Left any more than Black Bloc anarchists that conveniently show up at every left-wing protest.

Narratives are largely how the apolitical mass of Americans formulate opinions on substantive political issues, especially protest movements. For the average American watching CNN or checking Twitter, especially those Americans willing to “give Trump a chance”, it is impossible not to see how those individuals will be turned off by such a display. The existence of such a narrative, even if oversimplified and untrue, is undoubtedly difficult to counter and gets in the way of the true art of politics — winning converts as a means to take power and deliver tangible policy results.

4. The anti-Milo protests at Berkeley can and should be thought as essentially as a proxy for the anti-Trump movement. In this lens, it is important to judge the tactics displayed at UC Berkeley not only in their efficacy but more so in how they compare to methods employed in other anti-Trump protests since January 20. The women’s marches and the airport demonstrations in response to Trump’s Executive Order on immigration and refugees were powerful and effective in illustrating their ability to show the potential political power of a unified, energetic progressive movement., Those specific protests were affected largely because they were not simply anti-Trump; instead, themes of immigrant rights, reproductive rights and climate justice, among others, were plentiful.

As noxious as Milo’s views certainly are, I fail to see the point of the protesters. While the protesters at Berkeley are ostensibly anti-racist and anti-Trump, discerning their larger theme was considerably more difficult than for the Women’s March and the airport demonstrations. The protests and eventual violence in Berkeley were, in my mind, motivated as much by antipathy toward Milo as toward his ideology. Yesterday’s violent display illustrates the futility and counterproductivity of performative protesting (and eventually rioting) by certain leftists and anti-fascists without any real demands beyond an opportunity to cause trouble and to intentionally antagonize anybody outside the group. The movement against Trump and his ideology (of which I vehemently oppose) must be strategic and based on themes that go beyond simply being anti-Trump. I failed to see that last night. While it is important not to assume that the protesters and rioters represent the mass of those opposed to Trump, such displays should be roundly criticized as undemocratic and counterproductive. I am also not one to condemn any and all riots as counterproductive as in some cases rioting is a legitimate reaction by marginalized and ignored populations, though it is not the case in Berkeley by any stretch.

The recent protests in opposition to Trump and his agenda have been incredibly galvanizing for the left and illustrate an incredibly exciting opportunity to manifest that opposition into political victories and to rebuild the Democratic Party.

While the left should not consume itself with spending energy to condemn the events in Berkeley, it is instructive that progressives, liberals and leftists view the events in Berkeley as wholly unproductive and the opposite of a model of opposition to Trump.

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2016 Swing State Predictions

heavy-votingwebIn a bit over 48 hours, our nearly 18 months long national nightmare will be over (or continuing, depending on where one’s allegiances lie).

This post, though, isn’t for me to wax poetic on the importance and magnitude of the election for the future of our nation or for me to go out of my way to endorse one candidate over the other. At this point, most have already made up their minds to support, and are more interested in who will win the election anyway.

With this in mind, I will list each of the “battleground states” (according to RealClearPolitics), along with my predictions for each with a brief rationale for my prediction.

Arizona: The much-discussed transition from deep red to purple is finally here in this election cycle, mostly due to Trump underperforming in traditional Republican strongholds. According to RCP, Trump only leads by an average of four points, which is about five points less than Mitt Romney’s winning margin in 2012. Where Clinton is clearly overperforming a typical Democratic candidate in the state (mostly due to the state’s Latino population and the surge in early voting turnout among Latinos), 538 nonetheless gives Trump a 74.1 percent chance to take the state. Latinos, whom make up about 30% of the state’s electorate (according to the Pew Research Center), are making the state more of a possibility for the Clinton campaign, though Arizona turning blue would likely only occur in the event of a Clinton landslide (a ship that sailed weeks ago).

Arizona stays red as Trump wins with 48.2% of the vote, to Clinton’s 44.5%.

Nevada: If any state should be easing the anxieties of Democrats, Nevada is starting to look like that state. As a state where early voting is more personal than in other places, things are looking good for Clinton. According to noted Nevada politics expert John Ralston, Trump is down by about 40,000 after the conclusion of early voting. For Trump to have any hope in Nevada, the campaign needs a massive to tomorrow and it must win election day voters by 10 points. Latino turnout (evidenced by the long lines at a local Mexican supermarket) is proving to be a disaster for the campaign. Despite the great results for Clinton in early voting, polls still predict a tight race in Nevada (though, to be clear, Nevada is a notoriously difficult state for pollsters). The polls did, after all, underrate Obama’s performance in 2012. Don’t be surprised to see a similar polling error in favor of Clinton this time around.

Trump gets better results on Election Day in Nevada than in early voting, though Clinton takes the state by about five points.


Virginia
: Ever since the Clinton campaign chose Tim Kaine as Hillary’s running mate, Virginia has solidly held as part of Clinton’s electoral college “firewall”. Clinton currently leads by an average of 5.2 points, and holds an 82 percent chance to win the state, per 538. Notwithstanding a Hampton University poll that gives Trump a three-point lead, Virginia (which Obama won by 3.9 points in 2012) should remain blue once again.

Clinton wins again by about four points, proving all along that choosing Kaine as VP was a strategically genius move.

Utah: If election night really wanted to go crazy on this, Utah would probably be its first choice. This isn’t to say that Clinton has a chance to win in Utah (she doesn’t), but the prospect of independent candidate Evan McMullin pulling off one of the biggest political upsets ever and winning the state. McMullin, a former CIA agent and a Mormon, is running as a conservative independent candidate, gain support from Mormons opposed to trump and other anti-Trump Republicans and conservatives. According to 538, McMullin is currently polling at about 28 percent compared to 38 percent for Trump.

Election night doesn’t go too mental on us as Trump comfortably wins Utah, though McMullin finishes with about 30 percent of the vote.

Iowa: Demographically, Iowa has always been advantageous for Trump, and likely the easiest state for Trump to turn red. According to the Census Bureau, the state is about 91 percent white and only 24 percent of the state has a bachelor’s degree or higher. This is part of the vaunted demographic group of whites without a college degree the Trump campaign is hoping puts their candidate over the top. As such, Trump holds a three-point lead in Iowa as the state has gradually trended more solidly toward Trump as his chances to win the state are about 70 percent in the 538 forecast.

Trump succeeds in turning Iowa to red, winning by about 2 1/2 points.

Ohio: Trump turning Ohio red also should not be much of a surprise this election cycle, given Ohio’s demographic similarity to Iowa. The state also boasts a high percentage of white voters without a college degree — a group that makes up almost 62 percent of voters. According to RCP, Trump holds a 3.3 point lead in the state with 538 giving him a 69 percent chance to win, though Upshot gives him a more modest 55 percent to win. It is looking like the Clinton campaign can’t count on in massive turnout among black voters to swing Ohio their way. Early voting turnout in Cuyahoga County (the state’s biggest county that includes Cleveland and Ohio’s largest concentration of black voters) is considerably down from 2012. A decline in turnout among black early voters should not come that much as a surprise, though, as in 2014 the state cut early voting by one week.

Trump turns Ohio red, winning by about four points.

Maine: At this point, winning the statewide vote in Maine is looking like a pipe dream for the Trump campaign as he has only led in one poll in the state since mid-September. Clinton holds a solid 4.5 point lead in the state, per RCP. Clinton has a 77 percent chance to win the statewide vote. Maine, though, awards two separate electoral votes to the winner of its two congressional districts (the 1st and the 2nd).

Maine’s 1st Congressional District is solidly in the bag for Clinton as 538 gives her a 90 percent chance to win with a 13-point lead. The 2nd congressional district, on the other hand, is a much greater chance of going to Trump. According to the 538 election forecast, Trump has a 55 percent chance of winning the district as he currently holds a one point lead. The biggest difference between these two districts is in educational attainment as 37 percent of people in the first district have a bachelor’s degree or higher, while only 22 percent do in the second district.

Clinton wins three of the four electoral votes in Maine as Trump narrowly wins the second congressional district.

Pennsylvania: The Trump campaign has been making a late push for Pennsylvania (which certainly makes sense given that Trump needs to turn as many blue states read as he can), though it remains to be seen if this strategy will work. Pennsylvania has gotten closer over the last few weeks as Trump now trails in the state by 2.4 points. Nonetheless, Clinton has about a 75 percent chance to win the state. Pennsylvania, though boasting a similar percentage of white voters, has a lower percentage of voters without a college degree compared to Ohio, along with a higher percentage of voters identifying with the Democratic Party. (Check out this interesting feature by Nate Silver on some of the demographic differences between Pennsylvania and Ohio.) For those reasons, Clinton should hold on to Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania is a little bit closer than most expected, though Clinton holds on to win by about 4 1/2 points.

Michigan: Clinton’s underperformance in the Midwest continues with Michigan. Though she is still leading in the RCP average by 3.6 points, Trump is only a surge of white voters without a college degree from pulling an upset in Michigan. Nonetheless, according to 538, Clinton has a 77 percent chance to win the state, albeit massively underperforming Obama’s seven-point victory in 2012.

In a much closer race than expected, Clinton takes Michigan by about four points.

Wisconsin: Like Michigan, Wisconsin is another state the Trump campaign is wise to make a run at. It is, after all, a relatively white state in a region (the upper Midwest) Trump is expected to overperform in. Despite this renewed focus on the state, Clinton’s lead continues to hold up as she leads by 5.5 points. 538 gives her about a 78 percent chance to win.

Clinton wins Wisconsin comfortably with about a six-point victory.

Colorado: The Rocky Mountain state is equally crucial for both campaigns. For Clinton, Colorado exists as her firewall if she were to lose North Carolina and Florida, for example. For Trump, Colorado is the perfect state to court as a means to expand a relatively unfavorable electoral map. Unfortunately, for the Trump campaign, though Colorado has gotten closer over the last few weeks, its chances to win are still not ideal. Currently, Clinton holds a steady, though not completely safe 2.9 point lead, as 538 gives her a solid 72 percent chance to win the state.

The Clinton campaign sweats out a close race in Colorado, winning by about three points.

New Hampshire: If there ever was a state to watch for a Trump resurgence, New Hampshire it was. Now, it looks as if the Trump comeback in New Hampshire as complete as he now leads by 1.7 points. Even with this small lead, 538 still gives Clinton about a 60 percent chance to win the state. New Hampshire, though, has solidly shifted toward Trump in recent weeks.

Expect to Trump’s resurgence in New Hampshire to be complete, as he steals its four electoral votes from Clinton by about two points.

Florida: The big kahuna, folks. Trump cannot win the election without Florida in the same way that Clinton’s is all but guaranteed the White House by winning Florida. According to 538, Florida has a 17 percent chance of tipping the election. Considering some of the recent developments in the state, especially in relation to early voting, the Trump campaign should start to worry. Democrats currently boast a lead in early voting over Republicans. More concerning for the Trump campaign, though, is the surge in early voting among Florida Latinos. Latino early voting is up 139 percent from 2012, and Clinton is leading that demographic by almost 30 points. The folder concerning news for Republicans is that according to some estimates 28 percent of Republicans that have voted so far have voted for Clinton. Below, are the expected voter demographics for election day in Florida, which clearly benefit Clinton at this moment:

Clinton takes Florida by about a similar margin (72,000 votes) as Obama did in 2012, though it is not called by the networks until the early hours on Wednesday.

North Carolina: Second behind Florida, the other most important state in the selection is North Carolina — and it is expected to be close. Currently, according to RCP, Trump is up by 0.8 points, whereas, according to 538, Clinton is up by 0.7 points. Accordingly, 538 is Clinton about a 55 percent chance to win the state. The early voting situation in North Carolina portends some negative trends for the Clinton campaign headed into tomorrow. Democratic turnout is currently below 2012 levels and, especially concerning for the Clinton campaign, is the lagging turnout among black voters. This, though, is likely not because of lack of enthusiasm for Clinton among black voters but by the large reduction in polling places throughout the state (or, in other words, “voter suppression” aimed at black voters in North Carolina). The Upshot recently conducted an experiment to predict the final outcome in based on early voting. Based on the project’s estimates, Clinton will win the state by about one point. The results in North Carolina will come down to voter turnout, particularly whites without a college degree turning out for Trump.

Clinton barely pulls out North Carolina, reminiscent to Obama winning the state in 2008 by 0.3 points.

My predicted electoral map:


Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com

Hillary Clinton wins the election with 318 electoral votes to Donald Trump’s 220 votes. In the popular vote, Clinton wins somewhere between three and 4 1/2 points.

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The Colin Kaepernick Saga: Football, Patriotism and Protest

The great American writer and novelist James Baldwin once wrote: “I love America more than any other country in this world, and for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” In light of recent controversial events from the normally drab world of preseason football, this quote reverberates ever strongly.

By now, most have likely heard about Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand up during the playing of the national anthem in protest against “a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Kaepernick’s act of protest is the most striking, divisive and controversial political statement made by an athlete since Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the medal stand in Mexico City in 1968. While it would be historically inaccurate to make a direct comparison between Kaepernick and Smith and Carlos as the racial politics of the eras are so different, though there is enough in common between 2016 and 1968 for the comparison to still stand.

The Kaepernick national anthem controversy comes at a challenging historical moment when what it means to be patriotic is changing in modern America, as is the relationship between sports and politics.

First, though, a quick word on the reaction toward Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the national.

Many critics have focused, at times obsessively, that Kaepernick is a multimillion dollar NFL quarterback, and for that reason alone, his protest is the height of hypocrisy. When, exactly, did one’s level of financial and career success detract from one’s ability to have a social and political conscience? This is a simple way to attack the messenger, drawing the criticism away from the point of his message and toward Kaepernick as an individual.

There is no debating that Kaepernick has done very well for himself financially, though his protest had nothing to do with himself. As a man that passes as black (and, in the racial history of this country, that means he is black), Colin Kaepernick has a legitimate feeling of solidarity with fellow black people. Yes, Kaepernick may be a millionaire and may not be “oppressed”, though he should be able to feel solidarity with those like that are oppressed.

An American Christian, though clearly not oppressed in his own country, can absolutely still feel solidarity with oppressed Christian in Iraq or China. The lack of oppression and existence of success should never function as exemptions to empathy.

Also, if history tells us anything, success for black Americans is not a shield against racial oppression and discrimination. Just ask Jesse Owens.

Second, many have also incessantly focused on his use of the word “oppression.” Oppression, one of the strongest words in the English language, when used in discussions related to race in America, tends to result in nothing but semantic arguments. People argue back and forth if “oppression” is really the most accurate term to use, while the debate on important racial issues become secondary. Definitions are important but debates over them should not overshadow the more crucial debates over the issues.

To many Americans, the word “oppression” keys up images of dictators and violent massacres, and that is why some might balk at its use in discussions of the issues affecting black people and people of color in modern America. That’s completely understandable, though one must remember that “oppression” can exists much more subtlely than a dictator killing and starving his population.

Maybe we could use the terms “discrimination” and “systemic inequality” instead, yet even those phrases would generate more annoying semantic arguments.

Lastly, claiming that Kaepernick has the right intentions but went about it the wrong way is another distraction. Kaepernick could not have gotten his point across without such a strong symbolic gesture of not standing during the national anthem. He could not have gotten his point across in any other manner for us to have the same power. Just look at how his critics have reacted if you want to understand why he chose protest like that.
Arguments of that nature, as described above, always remind me of one of Martin Luther King’s most indelible quotes that reads:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

Now, back to the original discussion of what Kaepernick’s protest says about patriotism.

Kaepernick’s protest has to be one of the most overt acts that calls into question the entire model of patriotism the NFL has inculcated four years now. The NFL, with generous donations from the Department of Defense, has actively pushed for a model of patriotism that stresses blind devotion and reverence for the United States military. To be a patriot in this sense means to be an individual that bases their own feelings of patriotism on an overbearing fetishization of military might. Arguing that Kaepernick’s protest is effectively an attack on soldiers and the military just reinforces that idea.

Honestly, I have always felt that patriotism in professional sports, especially the NFL, is forced and inauthentic. It is a far cry from the much more natural and organic sense of patriotism seen at the Olympics and the World Cup.

Of course, the Star-Spangled Banner (as objectionable as it may very well be) and the flag are not solely symbols of the military but the country as a whole and particularly the values it should uphold.

Symbols themselves should not be expected to be respected as more important than the values those symbols ought to represent.

For Kaepernick, at this point, the country I presume he cherishes is not fulfilling those noble values supposedly represented by the national anthem and the flag.

Kaepernick has well articulated a more nuanced, critical model of patriotism. One of the most patriotic acts one can commit is to subject one’s country to criticism as a means to improve it.

The United States in particular, unlike any other country, was established on the ideal that liberty and justice for all will expand every successive generation. Colin Kaepernick should be celebrated for his commitment to this, as uncomfortable his method of protest may be to some.

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The Meaning of Paris

Eiffel-Tower-390271

Barbarism has once again descended on the French capital. Yesterday’s terrorist attacks in Paris, which have left 129 dead and hundreds others wounded, have unleashed a profound sense of panic as well as a mass mobilization of solidarity around the world for the victims that will – hopefully – serve as the antidote to the unprecedented terror that has now gripped the iconic city.

In events like these it is easy for well-intentioned individuals to want to avoid thinking about any broader social and political implications. But as these discussions will invariably appear, they must be considered.

Paris was already reeling from January’s attack on Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish deli but these most recent attacks – again on locations that define “normalcy” for most Parisians: the national stadium, a concert hall and restaurant – may ultimately be what breaks the proverbial camel’s back.

Now that the world’s fears have come to fruition and Daesh (ISIS or the Islamic State) have claimed responsibility, France and its allies’ strategy in fighting the group in Syria and Iraq will undoubtedly be reconsidered. Now that French President François Hollande has dubbed the attacks an “act of war”, the logical next step is to assume that France will ramp up its bombing campaign.

Now, we must also ask: how will the US response?

Friday’s act of terrorism will now put Pres. Obama under the microscope for his recent comment that ISIS’ threat was “contained” – and rightly so. Obama will now be forced to reconsider, by political forces at home and abroad, his own military strategy.

Will more airstrikes be a possibility? Will the President send more special forces? Will “boots on the ground” no longer be theoretical, but a reality?

Given Syria’s nature as a proxy war between the US and its Western and Arab allies, and Russia, Iran and other Shia militants, the possibility of all this dragging out of “proxy mode” may have just increased.

But above even questions about this attack’s geopolitical implications lie its potential effects on the current refugee crisis – the most pressing since World War II.

Poland has already announced its intention to drop out of the EU refugee program, and GOP presidential candidates have already denounced any plans to take in 10,000 refugees into the US. The status of these thousands of refugees has become inexorably more complicated in the wake of this attack.

Don’t be surprised to see a surge in support among anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic parties across Europe – especially the National Front in France.

The fact that one of the terrorists involved in the attack arrived from Syria into Europe through Greece will unfortunately only hurt the case of these refugees were fleeing the exact violence that took place on the streets of Paris.

Calls to close the borders across Europe and to expel refugees will invariably become stronger, yet we should resist any attempt to close off any pathway for these refugees to settle in Europe.

There is no problem with using more thorough screening methods for any refugees that apply for asylum in European countries but to flat-out deny admittance to any refugee is a simple affront to our so-called “enlightened” liberal values as well as a vacuous indication of anti-humanitarian ethos akin to the United States’ denial to Jews fleeing Germany in the 1930s.

This brings me to another broader societal implication of this terrible event in France – Islam. Simply perusing social media will show two specific trains of thought: one that will use this attack as a referendum on Islam in its entirety and another that will claim that “terrorism has no religion.” In my opinion, both of these thoughts miss an important point.

Assigning collective responsibility to a diverse group of over 1 billion people the actions of one specific militant group is a tremendous error in logical and moral reasoning. Despite the protests of some, blaming this attack on Islam as a whole simply validates Daesh’s worldview of a battle between Islam and the West.

At the same time, it would be woefully unwise to evade a pointed criticism of very particular strains of Islam – notably Wahhabism and Salifism. The Islamist ideologies Daesh prescribes to are inherently totalitarian and anti-democratic, and it would be foolish not to admit this.

This is not to say that Islam as a whole is incompatible with Western, democratic values – as some have claimed – but that we should not be afraid to call out these dangerous worldviews. The brand of Islam Daesh is dedicated to is outrageously antithetical to all the values of Western democracy.

The distinction must be made between not only Islam and Muslims but also Islam and its various sub-groups. Clearly, the vast majority of Muslims detest these radical Islamic purveyors of violence and terror yet well-intentioned liberals and progressives in the West should avoid falling into the trap of not being able to criticize any aspect of Islamism (not Islam) for the fear of being labeled “Islamaphobic.”

***

Yes, the social and political implications are important to keep in mind but lest we forget the humanity that was lost.

129 individuals enjoying what is supposed to be a relaxing Friday night, indulging in life’s pleasures – attending a concert, watching a soccer match, eating at a restaurant – were gunned down in cold blood.

The loss of humanity in such a senseless manner reminds us how our sense of normalcy can be shattered from one moment to the next – a feeling of the people of Paris have become all too familiar with over the last year.

Given this is a blog that addresses the connection between sports, politics and society, these three were connected in the most gut-wrenching of ways in Paris. We all know by now the first bombs the just steps away from the stadium where France was hosting rival Germany in a friendly. The French national team has always been an iconic symbol of France, so hearing bombs go off in the background puts into perspective how this attack was an attack on everything French society sees as an escape to all the doom and gloom out there today.

It was in this moment that I was struck by a video I came across on Facebook of fans in the stadium singing La Marseilles in a moment of unity and solidarity.

I may have never been to Paris in my life but – like Boston – my admiration for it and its citizens have simply grown exponentially.

It was in a moment of carnage and other devastation that Parisians put up #PorteOuverte (door open) on Twitter in a powerful showing of compassion and hospitality in such a desperate time.

It is in this entire moment of grief that the world has truly come together to support the brave citizens of Paris.

We also cannot forget the victims of the suicide bombing in Beirut the day before – also perpetrated by ISIS – a country with historical connections to France in fact.

Even though the attacks in Paris and got considerably more media attention – for reasons that don’t need to be discussed right now – both are victims of the same menace: senseless, ideological violence.

Aujourd’hui, je suis Français, je suis Libanais, et je suis un Parisien.

Liberté! Égalité! Fraternité!

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3 YouTube Channels You Should Follow

YouTube-logo-full_color

It goes without saying, but the Internet has fundamentally changed our lives in a way no other technology has in human history. It has developed to a point where most of our lives revolve around it from our work to our entertainment to our personal lives. The Internet has truly dominated our daily lives as we use it for everything from applying for jobs to keeping up with old friends to posting funny memes to even attempting to change the world. Simply put, without it our lives wouldn’t be the same.

When I’m not using the Internet for school or work I typically use it to check the latest scores and highlights, follow the news and surf through Facebook. Every now and then, though, I opt to use the Internet to become more informed and to get inspired. This isn’t to criticize anyone for opting to use it to watch the latest cat video but the Internet is a massive place so it is important to use it for your own intellectual curiosity.

Learning more about the world and wanting to better your own life can be done with the Internet as a tool – even though it clearly is not as effective as reading a book or taking a stroll in the outdoors. Believe it or not, YouTube is a great resource to do this.

Here are three YouTube channels you ought to follow:

3. TestTube News

If you have an interest in current events or want to know more about the issues of importance both domestically and internationally, this is a channel for you. TestTube News is a channel of short, informative videos on a wide range of issues – of domestic and international impact – that affect the economic, political and social health of the world.

On this channel you will find all sorts of videos that explain crucial issues in a concise yet in-depth manner. If you want to know anything about international issues such as the rise of ISIS, the Greek financial crisis or the ongoing conflict in East Ukraine you can do so on this channel. Likewise, you can find videos explaining domestic issues such as the most recent presidential hopeful announcing their candidacy, the intricacies of the justice system or explanation of the Federal Reserve. You can even find videos explaining more obscure topics such as the illegal ivory trade or the drug trade in China.

I enjoy the videos on this channel since they are simple and easy to understand yet not simplistic. They are very informative but not filled with complicated and complex explanations that will go over your head. In a world where there is frankly too much information about any topic, these videos nicely explain the most important things to know about the issues that that matter in people’s lives. The videos don’t contain enough information for you to become an expert on any one topic but they do provide enough to understand topics much more than you did just three minutes prior.

Below are a few examples of videos on the TestTube News channel:

2. Ted Ed

If you are a fan of Ted Talks, then this channel would definitely be of interest to you. Essentially, this channel contains all sorts of videos of lessons on topics like science, math, literature and history. The biggest difference between these videos and traditional Ted Talk videos is that Ted Ed videos contain vivid, creative animations that truly make the topics come to life.

Many of the videos on this channel address scientific and historical topics that impacts our everyday lives. A bulk of the videos raging on topics from the origins of the English language to the math behind Michael Jordan’s jumping ability to explaining different blood types.

If you have any questions regarding language, human anatomy, physics and astronomy among others, this channel can address those through an informative and interactive medium.

Here are some examples of videos that show what Ted Ed is all about:

1. The School of Life

Of all of the YouTube channels I follow or have watched, this is the channel that has likely given me the most insight into the most important questions in life. The best way to describe The School of Life is as a digital, animated medium that seeks to answer life’s most pressing questions with the goal of allowing viewers how to live more meaningfully.

For example, some of the questions the channel attempts to answer include; How to find meaningful work? How to develop long-lasting relationships? How to be a better person?

The overarching theme of the channel is to provide life lessons on subjects people are likely not taught in college. Through discussions of often very philosophical topics, the videos on this channel largely exist to provide young people with advice on how to construct meaning in life in the face of all sorts of societal expectations.

Many of the videos discuss important ideas and philosophers – and how those ideas and individuals impact modern-day life. Other topics discussed include art, literature, philosophy, history and economics in order to illustrate how these issues can allow one to become fulfilled in life.

Some of the videos may be on topics and philosophers that may be a bit obscure, but in general, most of them provide great insight into how college students and young adults can find meaning in the real world.

Some interesting videos include the following:

Whenever you have free time on the Internet, I highly suggest looking up these three channels on YouTube. You might just become a better, more informed, more fulfilled individual.

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South Carolina’s Stand with Historical Truth

SC-flagster

I normally prefer to avoid the use of profanity in this blog simply as a means to keep things professional but there are times when the world is so absurd that swearing is the only way to make sense of things. Case in point: the recent discussion occurring in this country on the meaning of the Confederate battle flag.

The entire narrative revolving around the flag as representing Southern pride and resistance to federal government tyranny as opposed to white supremacy and base racism is absolute, unequivocal bullshit. It is historical revisionism of the most vile variety and an unwitting endorsement of institutional racism.

Luckily, much to the pleasure of the historically astute, the South Carolina Senate and House of Representatives voted to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the statehouse.

It was a long time coming but thankfully South Carolina took a leap forward of cleansing itself from a symbol that harkens back to some of the darkest epochs in American history – chattel slavery in the antebellum South, the Civil War and Jim Crow. For that, we should applaud the legislature in South Carolina.

It is most unfortunate, though, that it took the murder of nine individuals in the church known for its resistance against slavery, segregation and other forms of institutional racism to take a critical look at a flag that perpetuates a racist ideology and an entire society constructed on (un)free labor.

But truth be told it typically takes acts of violent barbarism that rob societies and cultures of their humanity to address dark events of the past and, of course, institutions and attitudes that perpetuate all forms of oppression.

It took the murder of 6 million European Jews and millions of ethnic Poles, Soviet POWs, the mentally and physically disabled, homosexuals, communists, trade unionists, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses and countless other subversives and “undesirables” for the world to examine the mortal dangers of nationalism, anti-Semitism and militarism.

Unfortunately, it is almost a default position for people to only examine the dark heart of society in the aftermath of terrible human suffering.

One thing I admire most about history are the tools it gives individuals and societies attempt to understand the worst aspects of our past, and develop methods to create a better, more prosperous, more peaceful world.

That, of course, is one of the major reasons I have become so adamant in South Carolina and other states to remove the Confederate battle flag. The only way to truly address racism at both the individual and societal level is to first remove a marker that represents so many terrible things to so many Americans throughout history from government institutions.

I don’t want to use this post to excoriate all the reasons put in defense of flying the Confederate flag or put forth reasons why it should be taken down but it is nonetheless important to briefly mention those reasons.

Any nonsensical talk of the flag representing Southern pride and culture is just that – nonsense. I could list many more things that more adequately represent Southern pride and culture than the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. Eating barbecue, listening to the blues or Lynryd Skynyrd, reading William Faulkner and watching the SEC on a Saturday are much fuller representations of Southern culture than the Confederate flag will ever be.

I don’t even want to mention the historical inaccuracies and flat out untruths of any idea that the CSA seceded for any reason other than to preserve the institution of slavery. The real causes of the Civil War, and all the revisionism about those causes, our best laid out in three recent articles; one by Prof. James W. Loewen, another by Civil War historian James McPherson and another by Ta–Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic.

The fact that people want to defend a nation that seceded to protect an immoral and inefficient economic system is beyond me. Not to mention, the fact that people wish to associate themselves with a flag that clearly represents racism given that it wasn’t used in the 20th century until the Civil Rights era by Southern state governments and the Dixiecrats to protest the desegregation.

Despite the fact that flying the flag is the height of historical ignorance combined with a subtle endorsement of racism will, individuals will continue to fly it (which they should have the right to). That is why South Carolina’s move to possibly finally remove the battle flag is such an important step.

It would signal to other states and individuals all across the country that flying in and insisting it represents anything but white supremacy, treason against the United States and ugly racism is inappropriate and distasteful.

Of course, that could also cause a backlash and cause more people to fly the flag. I’m always hopeful though.

As a Northerner, as much as I enjoy chiding and joking about the South, I can’t help but feel an underlying sense of pride in South Carolina has taken a stand with historical truth, and to relegate a symbol of our nation’s dark past to the history books and to Civil War documentaries.

This obviously won’t cure our society of all our racial wounds but if we can’t address the existence of racist icons nothing will ever be accomplished.

The insistence with flying the Confederate battle flag is all too common in many corners of American society, and unfortunately represents an increasing battle against uncomfortable historical truths. From banning ethnic studies courses to designing AP American History to only teach subjects that paint the US in a positive light to the rewriting of history textbooks history the past, especially the unsavory details, is under attack.

It is important to have a robust debate about how history impacts us today but it is not a sign of progress to argue about historical facts and attempt to ignore the worst aspects of the past.

The fight against the whitewashing of history is important and will continue to rage for the foreseeable future (and likely forever) but everyone should give South Carolina a round of applause for taking a stand with historical truth.

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NBA Finals Preview Extravaganza

Obtained via Creative Commons

Obtained via Creative Commons

Here it is, folks! The NBA Finals have finally arrived.

In what has quickly become one of the more anticipated Finals in some time, there are plenty of storylines to go around in making this matchup incredibly intriguing. We’ve got the best player in the world going up against what may end up becoming one of the best single-season teams in NBA history.

In another corner we’ve got a former MVP matching up against the reigning league MVP. We’ve got two first-year coaches strategizing to lead their respective squads to a title. In sum, there are countless plots and subplots in these Finals it may seem daunting to even attempt to analyze each and every one of them.

That said, here are some of the areas within the game that will ultimately decide if the Warriors win their first championship since 1975 and if the Cavaliers win their first championship in franchise history:

On the Glass:

The most definitive edge the Cavs hold over the Warriors is their prowess on the offensive glass. Throughout the playoffs, Cleveland has led the league in offensive rebound percentage at 28.5 percent. The Cavs also ranked third among playoff teams in offensive rebounds per game at 12.1. If Golden State is to minimize Cleveland’s edge of the offensive glass it is imperative that you keep track of Tristan Thompson at all times, and boxing him out with Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green. Nearly half of Thompson’s total rebounds in the playoffs have been of the offensive variety – making him a key reason why Cleveland ranks second in the league in second chance points. It is crucial that Golden State always put multiple bodies on Thompson anytime he goes up for an offensive rebound – though that still remains a difficult proposition as Thompson is among the playoff leaders in contested rebound percentage at 44.9 percent.

An important key for the Warriors to properly neutralize the Cavs’ advantage on the offensive glass is to utilize their own size to beat the Cavs at their own game. That is not completely out of the question as Bogut, Green and Festus Ezeli (who played key minutes off the bench against the Rockets) boast good size to effectively matchup against Thompson and Timofey Mozgov (who himself has a contested rebound percentage of 55 percent).

Cleveland is too deadly from three-point range to be given extra opportunities. Likewise, Golden State’s second-ranked defense is too strong that if Cleveland cannot frustrate the Warriors by snatching offensive boards, expect the Dubs to put a stranglehold on the Cavaliers’ offensive attack.

Below is a highlight video from the Cavaliers game against the Bulls way back at the start of the regular season showing Tristan Thompson’s strength as an offensive rebounder. Thompson is such a powerful force in the offensive glass that he can single-handedly change the complexion of this entire series, as he did for Cleveland in this regular-season matchup.

The Transition Game:

All season the Warriors have been at their most dynamic when able to force their opponents into turnovers and missed field goals, and turn those misses and turnovers into easy transition baskets. Subsequently, the Warriors ranked first throughout the season in fast-break points per game at 21. What makes Golden State so scary in transition is not only their ability to create quick offense off drag screens but also the marksmanship abilities of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Curry and Thompson are both shooting a strong percentage from pull-up shots as they boast an effective field-goal percentage on pull-up shot attempts of 49.9 and 44.3 percent, respectively.

Given Golden State’s potency in transition, Cleveland must limit their turnovers to keep the Dubs from running up and down the court like Wiley E Coyote. Cleveland’s only hope to slow down the Warriors and their machinelike offensive efficiency is to force them to execute in half-court sets.

Below is a video highlighting Golden State’s dynamic ability to transition from defense to offense, and finish with easy baskets at the rim and open threes. Though from a game against the Timberwolves in the regular season, there prowess in transforming misses and turnovers into easy offense still will apply tremendously in the Finals. This is what Cleveland will be up against, so all the more reason for the Cavs to gobble up offensive rebounds and take special care of the ball.

Defending LeBron:

Golden State’s game plan for defending James has already been broken down constantly throughout the week in the media but it bears repeating. Throughout the postseason, James has continued his ascent as one of the league’s premier post up players. He has averaged 7.2 post up attempts per game throughout the playoffs, shooting 50 percent from the floor in those attempts. He has also shot close to 60 percent on drives throughout Cleveland’s postseason run. LeBron has been absolutely deadly when beginning to post up 18 feet from the basket, which allows him to weigh his options to either finish at the rim or laser a pass to one of Cleveland’s potent three point shooters. Once he catches the ball on the 18 foot block, it is pick your poison for the Warriors.

Given his size over Klay Thompson, Steve Kerr will likely delegate Harrison Barnes to do most of the defending on James. While Barnes will likely not be able to stop James once he posts up, he must stand his ground and defend James as best he can one-on-one. Barnes’ ability to avoid foul trouble is something to closely watch out for. Golden State must avoid the urge to double-team James within 18 feet from the basket. Throw in a double-team at him on that area on the floor is just asking for trouble as James remains one of the best passers in the league, evidenced by his 8.3 assists averaged through the postseason and the fact that he has, through his assists, created 21 points for his teammates. Due to Cleveland’s strong three-point shooting from JR Smith, Iman Shumpert and James Jones – all of whom have shot over 50 percent in terms of effective field-goal percentage throughout the playoffs – the Warriors will very likely suffer if they choose to double-team LeBron.

Instead of throwing double teams at him, Golden State should be content to defend James one-on-one with Harrison Barnes, sometimes even putting Draymond Green on him. It is crucial that Barnes force James to catch the ball closer to the three-point line, which will allow Barnes to force him into low percentage jump shots (similar to the way Jimmy Butler and the Bulls forced him into shooting a low percentage from the field). If Cleveland is going to win the series, Golden State must force LeBron to win the series instead of getting beat from beyond three-point range by role players.

Prediction:

Golden State in six. The Warriors have too much depth, and are too efficient offensively. Cleveland’s only way to win the series is to slow down the pace, and Golden State is too strong in forcing the issue on both ends of the floor. Whichever team controls the pace in the series will emerge victorious, and Golden State has been too effective in doing so all season long. That will continue in the Finals, even against the best player in the world.

Bold Prediction:

As good and fun to watch as Steph Curry has been throughout the season as the reigning MVP, I predict the Finals MVP to be awarded to Draymond Green. Green has been the workhorse for Golden State on both ends of the floor throughout the entirety of the season, and he ultimately will be the reason why they win their first title in 40 years. He will be able to effectively neutralize Tristan Thompson’s ability to dominate the offensive glass and make things difficult whenever Cleveland attempts to drive the lane or force the issue in the paint. Green’s ability to do the small things on the floor such as setting screens to give Thompson and Curry open shots is also nothing to sleep on.

Below is a video showing just why Green is such a vital cog in what the Warriors are able to do offensively and defensively. Watch for him to play a major role in Golden State’s transition attack that will most likely tilt the series in their favor.

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A New Era in Chicago Basketball

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Well, Bulls fans, a new era has arrived on the West Side. In the most unsurprising announcement, the Bulls have selected Fred Hoiberg as their next head coach. There was nothing quite shocking about this decision since it has been an open secret in the NBA for some time now. There are many things to consider in evaluating this decision by the Bulls’ front office so let’s dig in to my thoughts and observations regarding the hiring of Hoiberg.

Prior to getting into those thoughts and observations, though, I want to express my thoughts on the end of the Tom Thibodeau era in Chicago. As much as I was upset at the way the front office dealt with the entire situation (especially the completely unnecessary, passive-aggressive statement from Jerry Reinsdorf), looking back, especially in light of how the Bulls went out in the playoffs to LeBron and the Cavs, it was ample time for a culture change at the United Center. This isn’t to say that Thibodeau did not have a extremely successful tenure (he absolutely did), it is just that you can only lose to the best player in the sport so many times before management thinks it is time to move on. This year may have been the Bulls best chance to make it to the Finals during the Thibodeau era, given the injuries sustained to key performers on the Cavs and the Hawks; so clearly the way the Bulls were eliminated in a listless, uninspiring Game 6 debacle at home did not help make his case to the front office to let him finish out his contract.

There is no question that Thibodeau had tremendous success (five consecutive playoff appearances is definitely nothing to sneer at) but for a team with the talent and depth as the Bulls have had in recent years Thibodeau was not without significant flaws. Primarily, his unwavering devotion to coaching every regular season game as if it were an elimination game and his stubbornness in resting players. Many of the injuries the Bulls have suffered in recent seasons can arguably be attributed to his inability to rest players in meaningless regular-season games. As the common sports cliché goes – the season is a marathon not a sprint – and, unfortunately, much to the disadvantage of the Bulls, Thibodeau did not properly take into account that trite, overused adage. For Thibodeau, every single game coached was like a life or death Spartan standoff against waves of marauding Persians. For the Bulls, Thibodeau’s style seemingly left the team always gasping for air at the finish line before being overrun by a familiar enemy. As much as the hard work and devotion of Thibodeau should be praised, it is hard to argue that it was just simply time for the entire organization to head in a new direction – free from the overbearing expectations of Tom Thibodeau and the rigid system key put in place on the team. Devotion and hard work without playoff success will not get you too far in the NBA, and Tom Thibodeau found this out.

With that said, enter Fred Hoiberg and a new era of Chicago Bulls basketball.

5.One of the most important things that Hoiberg has going for him is the mere fact that he played on the Bulls during his career as an NBA player. This is something most coaches making the transition from college to the NBA cannot claim, and is one reason why Hoiberg’s transition from the college to the NBA game should be relatively smoother than it would be for other coaches. Unlike Tom Thibodeau who never played in the NBA, Hoiberg understands the importance of rest in the regular season and the simple fact that not every regular-season game must be played with the same intensity of a Game 7. Hoiberg will also empathize with each and every one of the players on the team as he intimately knows the mountains and valleys that occur in a typical NBA season. Though Hoiberg was not a particularly impactful NBA player, he will certainly be able to relate to the players in the way that Thibodeau could not. Hoiberg also had experience in the NBA as an executive for the Timberwolves for three years between 2006 and 2009 before returning to his alma mater. Though Hoiberg has been away from the NBA game for almost 6 years, his past experiences both the player and executive will ease his transition from Iowa State to the Bulls.

4. Hoiberg cannot be any more different than Thibodeau in terms of coaching style. Thibodeau demanded a tremendous amount of intensity in every shootaround, practice and game – regardless of the situation. The intensity he demanded was likely more than any other coach in the league. Judging from reports in the media, this style wore extremely thin with the front office and eventually the players as well. With Hoiberg now leading the Bulls, expect a much more laid-back atmosphere in the locker room. It will certainly demand a certain level of hard work and intensity, it will likely be nowhere near the level demanded by Thibodeau. As successful as Thibodeau was in molding the Bulls over the last five seasons in his image, the culture change that will be brought by Hoiberg will be a welcome change for the entire organization. Don’t expect players to be benched simply for taking an ill-advised shot in the first quarter of a meaningless November game against the 76ers.

3. It remains to be seen who Hoiberg will hire to fill out the coaching staff, though it would be in the best interest of the team and Hoiberg himself to retain Adrian Griffin as an assistant. This would be a wise move not only to retain it continuity between one coaching regime to the next, but also to keep intact the defensive principles breached by Thibodeau that led to the Bulls becoming one of the stingiest defenses in recent NBA history. Hoiberg undoubtably has a brilliant offensive mind, but not completely starting from scratch on the defensive end will work to the benefit of the bulls in the long run. Perhaps the most important aspect in a coach’s transition from college to the NBA is the ability to trust assistant coaches that have already gone through multiple seasons of experience dealing with all the stress associated with coaching the highest level of basketball in the world. Hoiberg’s success throughout the next five years largely depend on who he can look to on the bench for guidance, and Griffin is obviously that guy.

2. The thing that makes Hoiberg such an exciting hire is, as mentioned earlier, his brilliant offensive mind. At Iowa State, Hoiberg led one of the most dynamic offenses in college basketball that ranked among the top 20 in various offensive categories such as points per game, offensive efficiency and field-goal percentage. For example, in 2014 the Cyclones ranked 22nd in offensive efficiency, 12th in points per game and 19th in field-goal percentage. Even in three offensive categories from just one season, it is clear that Hoiberg has achieved tangible results in creating a potent offense able to score in bunches. Now, given the offensive talent of the Bulls, Hoiberg will have all the tools at his disposal to build a dynamic offense in the NBA.

One of the reasons Hoiberg was so successful in building a potent offense at Iowa State was his expert use of drag screens in creating early shot opportunities in transition. A drag screen allows the point guard to drive to the basket before the defense is set, and thus create high percentage shots for the driver or the opportunity to hit an open shooter in rhythm. Moreover, offensive sets in transition that make use of drag screens will allow Derrick Rose to make use of his offensive skill set and have the option of coming off ball screens set by Joakim Noah or Pau Gasol for pull-up jump shots, drives the basket or finding a shooter in the corner for an open three-pointer. It is difficult not to be excited in analyzing how Hoiberg can maximize Rose’s effectiveness as a point guard. Hoiberg can take the bull’s offense to heights that Thibodeau never would have been able to. Under Thibodeau, especially as seen in the Cleveland series, the Bulls often ran incredibly stagnant offensive sets – and more often than not took too long to get into their offensive sets. Expect the Bulls offense under Hoiberg to look to get shots up early and often. Transition sets involving the drag screen have become a staple for the Spurs and Warriors, among other teams in recent years. Given the success of those teams and building dynamic offenses, Hoiberg should be right at home in the modern NBA. With a healthy Derrick Rose, the further emergence of Jimmy Butler and the development of shooters such as Tony Snell, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic, the Bulls have all the pieces to allow the Hoiberg offense to thrive at the UC.

Below, you can watch the Hoiberg offense in action:

1. Given the track record of recent coaches to enter the league without any prior NBA coaching experience, Hoiberg has the potential to make the smooth transition to professional basketball and, at the same time, succeed instantaneously. College coaches who have gone on to coach in the NBA historically have struggled to succeed, though many of those coaches don’t have the same experiences both the player and NBA executive as does Hoiberg. Also, as recent NBA trends indicate, history is on the side of the Bulls highlighted by the relative past success of college coaches who have transitioned to the NBA game – evident by the success of Brad Stevens with the Celtics. Though the Celtics are admittedly a much less talented team than the Bulls, Stevens has thus far constructed a fundamentally sound, hard-working squad in Boston that has the potential to develop into a decent Eastern Conference team. If Brad Stevens can succeed in the NBA with no experience as either a coach, player or executive in the league than Bulls fans should rest assured that Hoiberg can continue what was built by Tom Thibodeau.

It’s difficult not to draw similarities between Fred Hoiberg and another former Bull turned NBA head coach in Steve Kerr. Both played for the same team (though Kerr obviously had a greater deal of success) and held positions as NBA executives (Kerr for the Phoenix Suns). Hoiberg and Kerr both are also ingenious offensive tacticians, especially evident by Kerr’s ability to construct the Warriors into one of the most dynamic offensive machines in league history, and of course the team’s first trip to the NBA Finals in 40 years after a 67 win season. If Hoiberg can duplicate what Kerr did at Golden State the season, Bulls fans should be thrilled.

Ultimately, the front office brought Fred Hoiberg to bring the Bulls were Tom Thibodeau could not – the NBA Finals and the team’s first championship since 1998. Now, the task Hoiberg is to build an offensive system that can score just enough points to get past LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love (maybe) and JR Smith.

Embrace it, Bulls fans; a new era in Chicago basketball has arrived.

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2012 College Football Preview

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It is the best time of year again; college football season. 2012, like every year before, promises to be another season full of shocking upsets, legendary performances, and the renewing of rivalries. In this post, I will offer my predictions of who will win each conference. Predicting who will be in every bowl game is simply impossible given the utter unpredictability of the BCS. My predictions are below:

Big Ten: Michigan Wolverines- The men from Michigan have their most crucial test in years as they face off against the defending national Champion Alabama Crimson Tide. This week one showdown has the potential to define the 2012 campaign for the wolverines. Regardless if they win or lose, with Denard Robinson returning for his final season Michigan is the favorite to emerge as Big Ten champions. Offensively, this team is easily the most explosive in the conference and it only helps that their quarterback is a top Heisman Trophy candidate. Defensively, the Wolverines still have room for improvement, but it will definitely be upgraded by the return of four members of the secondary. I definitely expect the Maize and Blue to be the favorites over Wisconsin and Michigan State.

Pac-12: USC Trojans- In senior and Heisman hopeful Matt Barkley’s final season in Southern California, I expect the Trojans to both win the pack 12 and have a prime opportunity to play in the national championship. This is a big season for USC as they will be looking to come off their two season bowl ban on a strong note. The Pac 12 will be a fascinating conference to watch, especially the matchup between Oregon and USC. That game, which will take place at the LA Coliseum on November 3, will be the definitive match up to see if the Trojans finally put an end to Oregon’s run of dominance in the conference. With 19 starters returning from year ago, the Trojans look like a lock to play in the PAC 12 championship game against, you guessed it, Oregon.

SEC: Alabama Crimson Tide- The defending national champions may have lost a ton of talent on both sides of the ball from a year ago but this program resupplies talent like no other program in the country. The defense is clearly the most intimidating in the country, even to their SEC counterparts. The offense will certainly improve as quarterback A.J. McCarron gains another year of leadership and experience under his belt. Even with all this talent, Alabama still must get past LSU just to get to the SEC championship game before they can even think about a return trip to the national championship. Their rivals in Baton Rouge are definitely going to give the Crimson Tide a run for their money, even without suspended cornerback Tyron Mathieu.

Big 12: West Virginia Mountaineers- I’m going to go with a sleeper pick to win the Big 12. In a conference that has changed dramatically in a very short amount of time, with many teams exiting and entering the conference, I expect the Mountaineers to come in under the radar and take the conference crown from the conference powerhouse Oklahoma Sooners in their first season in the conference. West Virginia boasts a high octane offense led by quarterback Geno Smith that will only improve as the season wears on. After embarrassing Clemson in the Orange bowl last season, I expect the Mountaineers to continue their momentum from last season and surprise many as conference Big 12 champions.

ACC: Florida State Seminoles- The Seminoles were rated very highly going into last season, only to fall short of those expectations and have an underwhelming season. This season Florida State has a chance to redeem themselves as the bulk of their highly rated defense returns and quarterback EJ Manuel has and another year to acclimate himself as the team’s quarterback. I don’t have a ton of trust in this pick, given how the Seminoles performed with equally high expectations a season ago, but I’ll go with Florida State because of the fact that they are the most talented team in the ACC.

Big East: I’m not going to waste my time and your time analyzing a conference with only one team in the AP Top 25 rankings. The Big East is by far the nations weakest conference and should definitely no longer have an automatic BCS berth given to the conference champion. It’s a great basketball conference but football is not this conference’s strong suit, especially now that West Virginia has bolted West to the Big 12.

A couple weeks from now I’ll probably be regretting about have of these predictions but that’s the beauty of college football. It is the most impossible sport to predict and and the chances of one predicting every conference champion correctly is as common as solving a Rubik’s cube on your first try. I’ll cut this short now, as I have a fantasy football draft to get to.

Happy college football new year!

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A Surprising, Yet Potentially Dangerous VP Pick

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Ever since the Olympics began, my attention has shifted away from the Presidential election. Both candidates were exchanging immature insults at each other and the ads were getting more and more ridiculous and over-the-top. It’s the dog-days of the election as Obama and Romney have bored and the election has drifted from policy to personal attacks. That all changed last night when Romney ended all the speculation of who he would choose as his running-mate and injected some excitement into an increasingly boring campaign. Last night Romney tabbed Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his pick for VP. I was somewhat surprised by this pick as expected Romney to choose Rob Portman from Ohio or Marco Rubio as his VP.  As I analyzed the pick of Paul Ryan this morning I came to the conclusion that the Romney campaign made a mistake. There are three reasons why I came to this conclusion:

1. Paul Ryan is not a “game-changer”: This pick was too orthodox for Romney. Ryan is a well-known Congressman, but he is too much of a policy wonk and budget expert to make a statement outside of Wisconsin and outside of the Republican/Tea Party activists. The pick was too meek and only attracts a small minority of Republicans to truly be enthusiastic about Paul Ryan. Choosing Marco Rubio or even Condoleezza Rice would have been bold enough to have a discernible impact on the election. Rubio because he would have brought many Hispanics to support Romney and possibly given Romney a huge boost similar to the boost many Hispanics gave to Bush. Rice because of the foreign policy expertise and experience she would have brought to Romney, since he has virtually no foreign policy experience.

2. The pick doesn’t not captivate swing states: Ever since the 2000 election, Florida and Ohio have been the two most important states for candidates to win. A choice of Portman or Rubio would have possibly given Romney an advantage over Obama in the two most crucial swing states. Wisconsin is also a swing state, but does not have the weight of Ohio (18 electoral votes) and Florida (29 electoral votes), with only 10 electoral votes. Ryan, who is a divisive politician in his own state, may only give Romney a few extra percentage points in Wisconsin. VP picks rarely damage the candidate (with the exception of 2008), but at the same time won’t make the the difference between a win and a loss.

3. The Ryan Budget: This is the biggest benefit and also most burdensome aspect of the choice as Ryan as the VP. The Ryan budget was the key policy that added to his status as high-ranking and influential House member. For the conservative base, his budget is the ideal ideological supplement to their support of a smaller federal government. For the liberal base, his budget would is a severely austere budget that would vastly change Medicare. (I will go more into depth about my thoughts on the Ryan Budget in a later blog post). The changes the Ryan advocates to Medicare will certainly bring a wide range of criticism from the Obama campaign and their supporters. The association of Paul Ryan and his budget can be curse for Romney campaign in that it can galvanize many elderly voters, who have the track record of voting in large number, who rely on Medicare to vote against Romney. Talk of vastly changing Medicare and Social Security is politically dangerous for the Romney campaign and something that will certainly put Romney on the defensive.

The pick of Paul Ryan as VP in long-run will little effect on the result of the election. The good thing about the pick is that it finally shifts the debate between the candidates back to policy and ideology, and away from sophomoric jabs.

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