Prince holds court while King James falters

Prince holds court while King James falters

J.V. Club is Drew Toal’s roundup of recent games, controversies, triumphs, mishaps, and other amusements in the world of sports.

Sub-global warming

In a rematch of last year’s spectacular NBA Finals, the Heat traveled to San Antonio for a long-awaited series opener on June 5. Not a whole lot has changed for either of these teams since last season. Miami continues to trot out old guys who can shoot and stretch the floor, allowing James, Bosh, and Wade to operate with relative impunity. But for San Antonio, this is a reckoning, and Manu Ginobili’s bald spot isn’t getting any smaller.

The story of the night, though, quickly went from ravaged hairlines and Stan Van Gundy’s coaching prospects to the malfunctioning air-conditioning system in the AT&T Center. It turns out that Texas is rather hot in June, and without A/C, temperatures in the arena quickly went north of 90 degrees. The Heat, though, looked unperturbed by the sauna-like conditions and controlled the contest until disaster struck at a critical moment in the fourth quarter: LeBron James suffered severe cramping and left the game. Obviously, the Internet immediately carpet-bombed James with all of its cleverest troll-incendiaries. But it wasn’t just fat, underemployed electricians in Akron laughing at the imperiled King. The official Gatorade Twitter account also made several jokes at LeBron’s expense, saying, “The person cramping wasn’t our client. Our athletes can take the heat.”

Sick burn, Gatorade. LeBron, a prominent member of Miami’s metaphorical Heat, cannot himself take the actual heat of the un-air-conditioned AT&T Center. This, in turn, led to a million terrible puns and a bunch of creative types going on Instagram and “LeBroning”—miming James’s pained visage and becramped condition. (This is a twist on the equally tiresome “Tebowing” trend that saw Twitter types genuflecting in the fashion of failed missionary NFL quarterback Tim Tebow.)

I loathed “The Decision” as much as anyone, but all of this piling on has gotten a little lazy—not to mention the fact that it’s rather unfair to a world-class athlete and competitor whose career to date has been a privilege to watch. And I hate you forever, Internet, for putting me in the position of having to defend that big, crampy baby. Then again, James can stick up for himself: He led the Heat to a win on Sunday to even the series in a cool, dry AT&T Center.

Not for nothing

One of my favorite Bugs Bunny cartoons is “Baseball Bugs,” in which the wascally wabbit single-handedly takes on a bunch of hirsute galoots called the Gas-House Gorillas. Bugs resorts to all manner of loony shenanigans, including his patented “slow ball”—a pitch so improbably slow that he retires the side with three strikeouts before it crosses home plate. 

I thought of that bit while watching a clip of a recent in-game “eephus” pitch from Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters right-hander Kazuhito Tadano. In true ham-fighting fashion, Tadano threw this balloon ball for a perfect strike against dumbfounded Hanshin Tiger Mauro Gomez. At least, it should have been a perfect strike, except the umpire was likewise stupefied by the looping trajectory. He called it a ball.

Before seeing this video, I had never heard of the eephus. My dad has his own version, which he dubbed the “dipsey-doodle,” but I was pleasantly surprised to happen upon a bit of unfamiliar baseball terminology. What does “eephus” even mean, though? The Wikipedia entry tantalizingly scrapes the etymological surface but draws no definitive conclusions. It speculates that the word “may come from the Hebrew word אפס (pronounced “EFF-ess”), meaning ‘nothing.’” Nothing? Nothing? 

We here at the J.V. Club greatly appreciate junk pitches, ancient Biblical languages, and mainly just effective gimmicks of any kind. To us, at least, the eephus is not “nothing,” and that pitch was clearly a strike. You may not have gotten the call, Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighter Kazuhito Tadano, but we salute you anyway.

Latest Madden cover athlete to claim he’s not concerned about the Madden curse right before he’s struck down by the Madden curse

Congratulations, Richard Sherman, on becoming the next Peyton Hillis. At least you have that Stanford education to fall back on.

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me 13 times, shame on me

Professional horse California Chrome became the 13th horse since 1978 to win the first two legs of the sport’s Triple Crown only to fall short at the Belmont Stakes. Every time this happens, a cottage industry springs up to speculate whether this is finally the year that a horse breaks through, but I’m not sure Bob Costas can take another letdown after this. Chrome’s co-owner, Alternate Universe Wilford Brimley, certainly couldn’t take it. He can be seen at the end of the video above rootin’ and/or tootin’ about his view that the long period between Triple Crown winners is a product of the format, which allows fresh horses to run the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont against horses who have competed in the first two legs and are probably tired. The owner, whose actual name is Steve Coburn, completed his post-race public meltdown yesterday with a teary apology on Good Morning America.

Down but never out in Beverly Hills

The 2013-2014 Los Angeles Kings might be the most resilient sports team I’ve ever seen. They beat San Jose after falling behind 3-0 in a best-of-seven series. They survived two more game sevens, one of which came against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. Even those pesky Rangers have given them fits, and the Kings have fallen behind by two goals in each of the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals, yet on both occasions they somehow snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and put themselves in a strong position to win their second title in three years.

A once-amusing trend that needs to die (from old age or otherwise)

Freestyle soccer wizard Sean Garnier recently went all Kyrie Irving on a bunch of randos and crashed a neighborhood game dressed as an old codger. Much like in the Irving spot, a disguised Garnier shambles around at first, earning the scorn of the younger players, who clearly have no respect for their elders. Soon enough, though, Garnier unleashes his superhuman footwork on the incredulous onlookers. 

There’s no denying Garnier’s impressive skills, but it’s time for the old man thing to be euthanized, advertorially speaking. At this point, if an old man shows up at a pickup game, you can be relatively sure he’s some kind of sports dynamo in disguise. Still, just to be sure, maybe wait to confirm there’s a superstar under the gray hair before checking your buddy’s grandpa into the boards.

Five-peat

Does anyone bother watching the French Open anymore? Because until Rafael Nadal retires, there’s not much point, unless you’re into foregone conclusions. Nadal won his record fifth straight title at Roland Garros—and ninth overall French Open title—beating Novak Djokovic on Sunday 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4. Nadal is still somehow only 28, but this win tied him with Pete Sampras for second place on the all-time Grand Slam victories list, just three wins behind a fading Roger Federer. 

Even if you don’t give a fig about professional tennis, you have to appreciate such a long string of utter dominance. Nadal is practically tennis royalty at this point. But that doesn’t impress Prince, who was in the stands watching the proceedings while wielding his regal ennui and silver scepter. Now there’s a guy who knows how to work the royalty angle.

Next time on J.V. Club

The World Cup gets underway, and Brazil furiously clicks an AmeriDebt ad.

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