kottke.org posts about sports

GoPro, circa the 1960sApr 14 2014

Back in the olden days, you just tied your cameraman right to the car:

GoPro 1960s

Looks almost as goofy as Google Glass. Legendary F1 driver Jackie Stewart wore this stills-only proto-GoPro at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1966 (though not during the actual race):

Gopro 1960s Stewart

Stewart ended up winning that race. I believe Stewart is also the model for this contraption, which looks like a film camera counterbalanced with a battery pack?

Gopro 1960s Stewart

That couldn't have been comfortable. For some reason, neither of Stewart's helmet cams are recognized by Wikipedia as being the first documented helmet cam, which is instead attributed to a motorcycle race in 1986:

Motorcycle Helmet Cam

Update: Another early use of the helmet cam comes from the world of skydiving. Here's Bob Sinclair with a camera setup from 1961:

Gopro 1960s Parachute

(thx, david)

Update: Not even a bulky taped-up helmet camera can keep Steve McQueen from looking cool:

GoPro 1960s McQueen

Well, he just barely looks cool. McQueen wore the helmet during the filming of 1971's Le Mans. While researching this, I came across another film featuring McQueen that used helmet cams to get footage: 1971s On Any Sunday, a documentary about motorcycle racing. (via @jackshafer)

Mercedes is dominating F1 so far this yearApr 09 2014

Coming into this season, Formula One made a lot of rule changes: new engines, better turbo systems, two different power sources (fuel & electrical), fixed-ratio gearboxes, etc. The cars had to be redesigned from top to bottom. Whenever a situation like this occurs, there's an opportunity for technical innovation (rather than the gradual improvements that tend to occur when the environment remains mostly unchanged). This year, the Mercedes team built their engines to get more out of the new turbo system than the other teams.

What Mercedes' boffins have done, according to Sky Sports F1 technical guru Mark Hughes, is split the turbo in half, mounting the exhaust turbine at the rear of the engine and the intake turbine at the front. A shaft running through the V of the V6 engine connects the two halves, keeping the hot exhaust gases driving the turbo from heating the cool air it's drawing into the engine.

Aside from getting cooler air into the engine and extracting more power (maybe as much as 50 horsepower), this setup also allows Mercedes to keep drivetrain components closer to the center of the car. It also allowed the team to use a smaller intercooler, which cools off the heated air before going into the engine, compared to the rest of the cars.

And the result so far? Utter Mercedes domination. Out of the three races this year, the two drivers for the Mercedes team (Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg) have three first-place finishes and two second-place finishes (Hamilton had to retire with engine issues in the first race). Mercedes was certainly competitive last year, finishing second, but Red Bull-Renault easily beat them in the points race and one of their drivers finished 1st in 13 out of 19 races. More relevant to the discussion here is how easily these races are being won by Mercedes. In each of the three races, a member of the Mercedes team qualified in pole position, recorded the fastest lap, and beat the other teams' drivers by more than 24 seconds in each case. To put that last stat in perspective, last year the winning team beat the second place team by more than 20 seconds in only three races, with the margin typically in the 3-10 second range.

So yeah, Mercedes is killing it so far. And the other teams aren't happy about it. Shades of the situation over Speedo's LZR Racer swimming suit.

Update: I said earlier that one of the changes was "no refueling during races" which has been the case for a few years now (hence the 2-second pit stop). Also, this video is a great explanation of how Mercedes turbo is designed and how it helps make their car go faster:

(thx, @coreyh & @gazbeirne)

The scourge of coffeeMar 20 2014

Khoi Vinh tells us how he really feels about coffee.

In the West, and particularly in urban centers of the United States, we've turned coffee into not just a daily habit, but a totem of conspicuous consumption. They are "rituals of self-congratulation" (a choice phrase I believe I read from Sam Sifton, but which I can't seem to source) wherein we continually obsess over certain coffee purveyors or certain methods of brewing coffee - each new one more complex, more Rube Goldbergian and more comically self-involved than the previous brewing fad.

I don't drink coffee either (don't even like the smell), but as someone who regularly indulges in other addictions and "rituals of self-congratulation", I don't take issue with other people's enjoyment of coffee...as long as I'm out of earshot when the "perfect grinder for pulling a great shot" discussion starts.

Coffee, like almost everything else these days, is a sport. Everyone has a favorite team (or coffee making method or political affiliation or design style or TV drama or rapper or comic book), discusses techniques and relives great moments with other likeminded fans, and argues with fans of other teams. The proliferation and diversification of media over the past 35 years created thousands of new sports and billions of new teams. These people turned hard-to-find nail polish into a sport. These people support Apple in their battle against Microsoft and Samsung. This guy scouts fashion phenoms on city streets. Finding the best bowl of ramen in NYC is a sport. Design is a sport. Even hating sports is a sport; people compete for the funniest "what time is the sportsball match today? har har people who like sports are dumb jocks" joke on Twitter. Let people have their sports, I say. Liking coffee can't be any worse than liking the Yankees, can it?

The shoe masterMar 18 2014

Hitoshi Mimura

That is a bespoke running shoe made by a small company started by Hitoshi Mimura, who is considered one of the top shoe designers in the world. Mimura had great success at Asics, outfitting Olympic gold medal runners with shoes lighter, grippier, and more breathable than those worn by competitors, but now he has struck out on his own.

"I take 13 measurements of the foot, each foot has to be measured separately," explains the sensei of shoemaking. "I only trust hand-measuring. Currently, each shoe takes about three weeks to make, mainly due to determining which materials to use." Preparation is also key. "For a world championships or Olympics I check the course once or twice. I went to Beijing three times."

A NY Times feature on Mimura written before the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing emphasized the designer's reliance on rice husks in the soles for grippiness. Mimura takes his job and his responsibility to the runners very seriously:

Surreptitiously, Mimura made soles of two slightly different thicknesses, to compensate for the fact that Takahashi's left leg was eight millimeters -- about a third of an inch -- longer than her right leg. She had tried a pair of the uneven soles before the Sydney Olympics, but felt uncomfortable.

Still, Mimura felt Takahashi needed such shoes to win and to avoid a recurrence of pain caused by the disparity in her legs. Without Takahashi's knowledge, Mimura gave her the uneven soles, then wrote a letter of resignation, in case she failed to win gold.

"I decided to take full responsibility because I made this pair against her wishes," Mimura said of the letter. "I didn't have to hand it over. It's still in my desk."

That is belief in yourself and in your craft. Many people believe in "giving people not what they want but what they need" but how many of them will put their livelihood on the line for it?

2014 Winter ParalympicsMar 10 2014

The 2014 Winter Paralympics opened in Sochi, Russia a few days ago. In Focus has some photos from the early competitions.

2014 Winter Paralympics

The competition runs through March 16th. The best way to watch in the US is on NBC Sports Network...they're showing 52 hours of programming from the Games over the next two weeks.

Mini golf perfect gameMar 05 2014

Superb short documentary from Grantland about a perfect 18-hole game of mini golf:

(via @torrez)

No pain, possible gainMar 04 2014

Three years ago, Kayla Montgomery was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Faced with the prospect of being confined to a wheelchair someday, Montgomery, one of the slower runners on her high school cross country team, told her coach she was short on time and wanted to run faster. Now she's one of the fastest runners in the country and perhaps the MS has something to do with it.

Kayla Montgomery, 18, was found to have multiple sclerosis three years ago. Defying most logic, she has gone on to become one of the fastest young distance runners in the country -- one who cannot stay on her feet after crossing the finish line.

Because M.S. blocks nerve signals from Montgomery's legs to her brain, particularly as her body temperature increases, she can move at steady speeds that cause other runners pain she cannot sense, creating the peculiar circumstance in which the symptoms of a disease might confer an athletic advantage.

But intense exercise can also trigger weakness and instability; as Montgomery goes numb in races, she can continue moving forward as if on autopilot, but any disruption, like stopping, makes her lose control.

"When I finish, it feels like there's nothing underneath me," Montgomery said. "I start out feeling normal and then my legs gradually go numb. I've trained myself to think about other things while I race, to get through. But when I break the motion, I can't control them and I fall."

Montgomery's story reminds me of ultra-endurance racer Jure Robic, particularly this bit in a NY Times profile:

Researchers, however, have long noted a link between neurological disorders and athletic potential. In the late 1800's, the pioneering French doctor Philippe Tissie observed that phobias and epilepsy could be beneficial for athletic training. A few decades later, the German surgeon August Bier measured the spontaneous long jump of a mentally disturbed patient, noting that it compared favorably to the existing world record. These types of exertions seemed to defy the notion of built-in muscular limits and, Bier noted, were made possible by "powerful mental stimuli and the simultaneous elimination of inhibitions."

Questions about the muscle-centered model came up again in 1989 when Canadian researchers published the results of an experiment called Operation Everest II, in which athletes did heavy exercise in altitude chambers. The athletes reached exhaustion despite the fact that their lactic-acid concentrations remained comfortably low. Fatigue, it seemed, might be caused by something else.

In 1999, three physiologists from the University of Cape Town Medical School in South Africa took the next step. They worked a group of cyclists to exhaustion during a 62-mile laboratory ride and measured, via electrodes, the percentage of leg muscles they were using at the fatigue limit. If standard theories were true, they reasoned, the body should recruit more muscle fibers as it approached exhaustion -- a natural compensation for tired, weakening muscles.

Instead, the researchers observed the opposite result. As the riders approached complete fatigue, the percentage of active muscle fibers decreased, until they were using only about 30 percent. Even as the athletes felt they were giving their all, the reality was that more of their muscles were at rest. Was the brain purposely holding back the body?

"It was as if the brain was playing a trick on the body, to save it," says Timothy Noakes, head of the Cape Town group. "Which makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. In fatigue, it only feels like we're going to die. The actual physiological risks that fatigue represents are essentially trivial."

The way of the swordMar 03 2014

From The Avant/Garde Diaries comes a brief lesson in Japanese sword fighting from master kendo sensei Shozo Kato.

Western beauty is radiance, majesty, grandness and broadness. In comparison, eastern beauty is desolateness. Humility. Hidden beauty.

David Attenborough narrates curlingFeb 19 2014

BBC Radio 1 recorded David Attenborough doing nature-style commentary for curling, but the YouTube video isn't available in the US, but luckily there's a copy on LiveLeak:

For the curious, here are the rules of and other assorted information about curling.

Running from the knowledgeFeb 17 2014

Every year, a bunch of folks play a game called Last Man, in which the participants attempt to be the last person to find out the result of the Super Bowl. TLDR did an entertaining podcast on this year's contestants.

Sports Illustrated: "No girls allowed!"Feb 14 2014

Writer Mary Beth Williams tweeted the following this morning:

No actively competitive female sports figures on SI cover since Olympic gymnast team. July 2012.

Intrigued, I went back through Sports Illustrated's cover archive and counted the number of covers featuring active female athletes. I only needed one hand:

2013: 0
2012: 1 (US Women's Gymnastics Team)
2011: 1 (Hope Solo)
2010: 3! (Serena Williams, Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso & Vonn)
2009: 0

Pathetic. And ESPN the Magazine isn't any better...most of the female athletes on their covers over the past five years are naked. Well, except for this one of the incredibly talented skier Lindsey Vonn with her face photoshopped onto Sharon Stone's body in the leg uncrossing scene from Basic Instinct.

As Williams notes on Twitter, Sports Illustrated "could show women as more than bikinis. As athletes." and "I want my daughters to read sports magazines & see themselves represented, not Barbie." Seems like we need a Title IX for sports magazines.

Update: Vonn's face was not photoshopped onto Stone's body. Which is...better, I guess? Maybe?

NYC snowboardingFeb 14 2014

This is fucking great and crazy...when the snow hit NYC yesterday, Casey Neistat grabbed his snowboard and went snowboarding behind a Jeep in the East Village.

Vintage snowboarding footage from 1977Feb 13 2014

From 1977, a video of someone snowboarding on one of the first commercially made boards:

I'm not completely sure who the rider is (probably Dimitrije Milovich), but the board is a Winterstick. A company who owns the Winterstick trademark still makes a version of the split-tail board you see in the video.

Winterstick

From what I can tell, Winterstick was the first modern snowboard company but was quickly eclipsed by rivals Sims and Burton, with Burton emerging in the 1990s as the growing sport's 800 lb gorilla.

Photos of the first 12 Winter OlympicsFeb 13 2014

Andrea Mead Ski

1948 Pentathlon

Following the film footage of the 1932 Winter Olympics (ice skating on stilts! Keystone Cops ski jumping!), here's a collection of photos from In Focus of the first 12 Winter Games, from 1924 to 1976.

Footage from the 1932 Winter OlympicsFeb 12 2014

Here's a bit of film footage from the third-ever Winter Olympics, held in Lake Placid, NY in 1932. The ski jumping segment is amazing and terrifying.

Here's how those Games compare to the modern day Olympics.

F1 pit stop balletFeb 11 2014

Watch Ferrari's F1 pit crew do a pit stop in a bit over two seconds:

I wish this were in slow motion because I've watched this three times now and I still cannot understand how it's done. My favorite part is how calm they all are about it. Here's a longer video that shows the process over and over from several points of view, including from a GoPro mounted on the chest of the wheelgun man:

Watch for the guy on the front jack pirouetting out of the way. I would love to read a long piece on how F1 pit crews train and practice. There are tantalizing bits in shorter articles, like this one from Autosport.com:

With three people per wheel, two jack operators, and a handful of mechanics fulfilling other functions, each pit crew comprises nearly 20 people.

Each is trained for a specific role and teams take their preparation as seriously as drivers', managing crewmen's fitness and diet.

They are drilled incessantly at both the factory and during race weekends, with hundreds of pitstop practices until the process is instinctive.

Although problems such as faulty guns are rehearsed, everyone focuses on their own job -- in a two-second pitstop, there is no time to see what everyone else is doing. By the time an error has been alerted, the car has often already pulled away, as was the case at the Nurburgring.

And this one from the AP:

Teams now spend huge sums to design their own equipment and improve the fitness of their teams who also work as mechanics. McLaren is working with the English Institute of Sport to hone their 24-member team's technique while Williams has partnered with Olympic champion Michael Johnson's Performance Center to work on everything from diet to eye-hand coordination to core strength.

Training has also been ramped up. Most teams have rigs to practice on in the factory and pit stops are practiced as many as 70 times over a typical race weekend. Each stop is timed and videotaped for later review.

"When you had to go from 3.5 seconds down to a lower number, then you really need to be very specific and accurate on how you train because everything needs to be very synchronized to achieve that level of fast time and consistency," said Williams' chief race engineer Xevi Pujolar, whose team had its fastest pit stop this season in Spain after making changes to its crew but still is almost a second behind the top teams.

"There still a lot of room for improvement and we are working hard to catch up to these guys that do close to two seconds," Pujolar said. "If you look at video of pit crew and how they move during pit stop, everything is so well coordinated. To achieve this level of coordination on every pits stop requires a lot of training."

As well as this series about pit stops by Williams on YouTube. (via digg)

BMX riding as conceptual artFeb 07 2014

A few months ago, the site featured the BMX tricks of Tim Knoll, which were some of the most unusual tricks I'd seen. (That semi trailer limbo!) Tate Roskelley's tricks are even weirder, so much so that they seem more like an artistic statement on tricks than tricks themselves:

I think the "artist's statement" on YouTube is spot on:

Tate's got just about the most original perspective on BMX you can imagine. I think years ago when Jim C said "I just want to see what's possible", Tate took his words at face value. His riding is less about making a statement and more about asking questions. What is a bike trick? What is a street spot? The answers aren't always pretty (I'm sure he isn't going to start riding around with his stem bolts loose full time) but they're always interesting and Tate is always having fun.

Diego Maradona's Goal of the CenturyFeb 06 2014

For Howler Magazine, Sam Markham writes about Diego Maradona's second goal against England in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal, aka Probably The Best Goal of All Time. Markham focuses on how a pair of radio commentators -- one English, the other from South America -- called the goal.

Morales's ecstatic commentary of Maradona's second goal is itself iconic in Argentina, and his lyrical expression "Barrilete cosmico!" (Cosmic kite!) is now shorthand in Argentina and much of South America for Maradona. His narration is a frenzied mix of poetry, yelling, and sobbing that ends with a prayer: "Thank you, God, for football, for Maradona, for these tears, for this-Argentina 2, England 0."

Even if you don't care about soccer, you should give this a listen...the dude absolutely loses his shit:

An alternate view of the spectacular goal has recently been found. Oh, and my favorite weird thing about this goal: Lionel Messi is considered by many to be Maradona's heir (both are small, Argentinian, and otherworldly talented) and in 2007, at the age of 19, he scored this goal against Getafe:

As you can see in the side-by-side comparison, it's extremely similar to Maradona's goal. Even the commentator loses it in a similar manner.

The Manhattan Winter OlympicsFeb 05 2014

I love this sort of thing: visualizations of Olympic venues plopped into Manhattan to provide a sense of scale. My favorite is the bobsled run in Times Square:

Times Square Bobsled

My son and I were just talking about this and when he asked me, I had no idea how big the track actually was. Can't wait to show him this when I get home tonight.

In other news, the news media has arrived in Sochi and the town doesn't seem to be ready for the Games. Oopsie!

Breaking MaddenJan 31 2014

Jon Bois attempted to create the most lopsided game ever in Madden NFL on his Xbox. He beefed up the players on one team (7'0", 440 lbs, good at everything) and put a bunch of scrubs on the other team (5'0", 160 lbs, bad at everything). He started playing and was on pace to score more than 1500 points when...

With just under two minutes left in the first quarter, I was winning 366 to zero. I realized that I was on pace to score 1,500 points in a single game. I had never conceived of such a high score. I'd never even heard anyone talk idly about such a thing. There was absolutely nothing the Broncos could do to slow down my pace. I could score just as surely as someone can point and click. It was great. I wanted to ruin Madden in a way I never had before, and I was doing it.

And then it happened. Before I tell you what happened next, I want to lay out a couple of things: first, I made no actual hacks to this game. I didn't have some special jailbroken Xbox, nor a special copy of Madden, nor anything like that. I bought my Xbox at Target and bought my copy of Madden off Amazon, and that's that. Second, I stake whatever journalistic integrity I have upon the statement that I didn't Photoshop any of this, and that it happened just as I say it did.

This is LOL funny in several places...particularly the GIFs. (via @delfuego)

The decline of snowboardingJan 29 2014

I wasn't aware of this: snowboarding numbers are down across the board...revenue from snowboarders is down, snowboard visits to resorts are down, sales of gear is down, the number of first-timers under 14 years-old is down, etc.

Each February I experience the unrestrained joy of attending the ski and snowboard trade show in Denver. Here's what I see when I walk the snowboard section: Underage snowboarders puking in the corridors after one too many keg stands-at 10 a.m. And overseeing all this fabricated youthfulness? Fifty-year-old white dudes in flat-brim caps, tight jeans, and designer flannel. Chuckleheads. Leveraging snowboarding's rebel cred, they modeled its image on skateboarding and aimed it almost entirely at teenagers.

That worked great for a while. Then snowboarding went mainstream-the X Games, Mountain Dew ads, Shaun White-and, inevitably, it lost a bit of its mojo. The first generation of riders got real jobs and started having kids, and snowboarding's image never matured to accommodate them.

As snowboarding went narrow, skiing went big. Today's skiers can choose to carve turns, launch off the slopestyle jumps, hammer bumps, navigate steeps, tour the backcountry, rip bottomless pow, race in a beer league, or just go skiing like a vacationer from Chicago or Boca Friggin' Raton. It's cool; there's a place for you and a group of likeminded folks who would love to have you. Cooler still if you're a lifelong enthusiast? Dabble in all the above. Skiing isn't golf; there's always some new adventure waiting for you.

But industrialized snowboarding hates diversity.

The 2013 NFL season in 160 secondsJan 28 2014

If you haven't been watching the NFL at all this season but are planning on tuning into the Super Bowl, this video by ESPN will prepare you by recapping the entire season in under three minutes.

If you want something more specific, try Wikipedia or SB Nation. (via devour)

Skate or nap!Jan 28 2014

Kahlei Stone-Kelly is two. He's still in diapers. And he's a way better skateboarder than you are:

Oh, and barefoot! YouTube is very emasculating sometimes. (via @DavidGrann)

More hilarious bad lip reading of NFL playersJan 24 2014

The first installment was a classic, but this second video of NFL players and coaches overdubbed with alternate dialogue is pretty great as well.

(via devour)

Hoop Dreams is 20 years oldJan 15 2014

Hoop Dreams is a tremendous documentary that will be re-screened at Sundance this year, two decades after its initial release. Here's an oral history of the making of the film.

Basketball fanatics Steve James, Frederick Marx, and Peter Gilbert originally set out to make Hoop Dreams as a half-hour doc for PBS that would focus on the culture surrounding streetball. But as quickly as they got on the blacktop, they left it. The dreams of their subjects, Arthur Agee and William Gates, were too grand for just the playground, and instantly, the filmmakers were immersed in the young men's lives, showcasing both the good and bad.

Twenty years after the film premiered at Sundance and was awarded the festival's Audience Award, it's grown into an iconic work. Its snub in the Best Documentary category at the 67th Academy Awards in 1995 led to changes in the voting process. NBA players treat the movie as their own life story. It's been added to the Library Of Congress' National Film Registry. And when looking back on the film's 15th anniversary, Roger Ebert declared it "the great American documentary."

The green Flying TomatoJan 14 2014

Video of Shaun White snowboarding at age 10:

A view from a ski jumpJan 13 2014

Ride along with Anders Jacobsen as he takes flight off the end of a ski jump in Lillehammer, Norway.

Very nice, but this fourth grader's first time on a bigger ramp is by far my favorite ski jump video of all time.

On the intelligence of football playersJan 10 2014

Michael Lewis made the case in The Blind Side that football players are the smartest in sports because the game is complex and moves fast. For the New Yorker, Nicholas Dawidoff takes a look at what makes a football player smart.

The Redskins' London Fletcher is undersized and thirty-eight years old, but he's been able to play for so long because he is a defensive Peyton Manning: seeing the game so lucidly, yelling out the offensive play about to unfold, changing alignments before the snap, organizing the field in real time. Similarly, Lavonte David, who has been with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two years, is just two hundred and thirty-four pounds -- ten to fifteen pounds lighter than most at his position -- the Wonderlic scores out on the Internet for him are not especially high, and, like all players, he makes the occasional boneheaded play. But he possesses dedicated study habits and a football clairvoyance that, come Sunday, finds him ignoring the blocking flow only at the one moment during a game when the offense runs the ball away from it.

The Hall of Fame Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Alan Page weighed two hundred and forty-five pounds, the dimension of a modern fullback. Even so, Page was terrifying. His forty-yard-dash time wasn't anything special, either, but he says that he could run down faster opponents because he always had sense where he was in relation to the blur of bodies around him-he could "understand the situation." Page is now an Associate Justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court. "Being a football player requires you to take your emotional self to places that most people shouldn't go," he said. "You wouldn't want to get to know the person who was in my head on a football field. I likely see some of these people in my current job -- those who can't control that person -- and they do not very nice things."

I asked him, "You could control that person on a field?"

"Most of the time," Page said.

The safety, standing at the rear of the defense, must compensate for the mistakes of others; football intelligence matters more at this position than any other on the defense. At five-eight, a hundred and eighty-eight pounds, the Bills safety Jim Leonhard, a nine-year veteran, is among the smallest and also the slowest starting defensive backs in the game. And yet, watching him on film, he appears to teleport to the ball. Leonhard's name seems to enter any conversation about football intelligence; he knows every teammate's responsibilities in every call, and understands the game as twenty-two intersecting vectors. "He'd walk off the bus and you'd think he was the equipment manager," Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "He's still in the league because he's the quarterback of the defense."

The best and worst NFL announcersDec 30 2013

Aaron Gordon of Sports on Earth watched 32 NFL games to determine the best and worst NFL announcers.

In general, there are three types of announcer comments: good, neutral and bad. Good statements offer some type of insight into the game. This is inherently subjective, since different people know different things. Neutral statements constitute the bulk of their utterances: neither offensive nor insightful. As a result, I decided to measure the bad statements.

I divided announcers' verbal infractions into six categories that are not simply pet peeves, but likely to be annoyances for a majority of NFL viewers.

Happy to see Chris Collinsworth near the top of the heap...he's my favorite and, while a bit goofy sometimes, offers the best post-Madden analysis in the game. Siragusa and Gruden are like nails on the chalkboard, surprised they didn't rank much worse.

The case for Dennis RodmanDec 19 2013

At Skeptical Sports, Benjamin Morris (who was just hired at FiveThirtyEight) has an extensive series of posts about Dennis Rodman. The conclusion he arrives at after many graphs and a dozen different posts is that Dennis Rodman was probably way better at whatever it was that Dennis Rodman did than any other NBA player was at what they did over the past 25 years.

While there may be room for reasonable disagreement about his character, his sportsmanship, or how and whether to honor his accomplishments, my research and analysis has led me to believe -- beyond a reasonable doubt -- that Rodman is one of the most undervalued players in NBA history.

I admit to not reading the whole series, but the ramifications of Rodman being "the best 3rd-best player" in the history of the NBA by a wide margin laid out in the finale was fascinating:

"Well, it's not like he's as valuable as Michael Jordan, but he's the best 3rd-best player by a wider margin than Jordan was the best 1st-best player."

"So you're saying he was better than Michael Jordan."

"No, I'm not saying that. Michael Jordan was clearly better."

"OK, take a team with Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman on it. Which would hurt them more, replacing Michael Jordan with the next-best primary scoring option in NBA history, or replacing Rodman with the next-best defender/rebounder in NBA history?"

"I'm not sure, but probably Rodman."

"So you're saying a team should dump Michael Jordan before it should dump Dennis Rodman?"

"Well, I don't know for sure, I'm not sure exactly how valuable other defender-rebounders are, but regardless, it would be weird to base the whole argument on who happens to be the 2nd-best player. I mean, what if there were two Michael Jordan's, would that make him the least valuable starter on an All-Time team?"

"Well OK, how common are primary scoring options that are in Jordan's league value-wise?"

"There are none, I'm pretty sure he has the most value."

"BALLPARK."

"I dunno, there are probably between 0 and 2 in the league at any given time."

"And how common are defender/rebounder/dirty workers that are in Rodman's league value-wise?"

"There are none."

"BALLPARK."

"There are none. Ballpark."

"So, basically, if a team had Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman on it, and they could replace either with some random player 'in the ballpark' of the next-best player for their role, they should dump Jordan before they dump Rodman?"

"Maybe. Um. Yeah, probably."

"And I assume that this holds for anyone other than Jordan?"

"I guess."

"So say you're head-to-head with me and we're drafting NBA All-Time teams, you win the toss, you have first pick, who do you take?"

"I don't know, good question."

"No, it's an easy question. The answer is: YOU TAKE RODMAN. You just said so."

"Wait, I didn't say that."

"O.K., fine, I get the first pick. I'll take Rodman. . . Because YOU JUST TOLD ME TO."

"I don't know, I'd have to think about it. It's possible."

"So there you go, Dennis Rodman is the single most valuable player in NBA History. There's your argument."

I loved watching Rodman play when he was on the Bulls. (One of my early web efforts was The Dennis Rodman Hair Page, which used JavaScript to change Rodman's hair color.) The guy had such a weird role that he often seemed to be doing either the wrong thing or nothing. But the sheer number of rebounds and his defensive effort were hard to deny.

The discussion of Rodman's worth reminds me a bit of Rickey Henderson, another unconventional player and a favorite of my pal David, who is always saying Henderson doesn't get the credit he deserves as one of the best players of all time. (via @pieratt)

Trench run in a wingsuitDec 18 2013

As if wingsuit flying wasn't insane enough, here's a guy in a wingsuit flying down a trench in Chamonix, like he's Luke trying to blow up the Death Star.

I don't even. (via devour)

The best bike trick of 2013Dec 18 2013

Ethen Godfrey Roberts pulled off a trick called a Superman double backflip the other day and it is a thing to behold:

Sploid says the trick "seems to murder the laws of physics" but if you can close your mouth long enough to stop drooling (this took me several views, BTW), the law of conservation of angular momentum is responsible for the optical illusion that makes the trick look so cool. The trick begins with a tight backwards flip, which happens quickly because all of the weight (human + bike) is distributed close to the center of gravity. By opening his body up in the middle part of the flip, Roberts slows down the rotation, just like a figure skater, diver, or ballerina would by throwing out their arms or legs. And then he gathers himself back onto the bike, which spins quickly again because the weight is all back close to the center. Boom, physics.

The best golf shot of 2013Dec 18 2013

Backed up against a fence with no room to swing in a recent tournament, Matt Wheatcroft hit a shot straight out of Happy Gilmore, more miniature golf than golf.

(via devour)

What the puck didDec 13 2013

Goalies in the NHL didn't used to wear masks...they didn't become common until the 60s. For an article in 1966, Life magazine had a professional make-up artist recreate the injuries and more than 400 stitches that goalie Terry Sawchuk accumulated during his 16-year NHL career.

Terry Sawchuk

Sawchuk has sustained other injuries not shown here: a slashed eyeball requiring three stitches, a 70% loss of function in his right arm because 60 bone chips were removed from his elbow, and a permanent "sway-back" caused by continual bent-over posture.

Competitive teeter-totteringDec 09 2013

The teeterboard is an acrobatic apparatus that looks like a seesaw. This is a pair of acrobats training on a Korean-style teeterboard, where instead of getting catapulted off the board, the participants land back on the board after each jump:

Magnus Carlsen's "nettlesomeness"Nov 21 2013

The Chess World Championship is currently underway in Chennai, India. Through nine games, challenger and world #1 Magnus Carlsen is leading reigning world champ and world #8 Viswanathan Anand by the score of 6-3. It seems as though Carlsen's nettlesomeness is contributing to his good fortunes.

Second, Carlsen is demonstrating one of his most feared qualities, namely his "nettlesomeness," to use a term coined for this purpose by Ken Regan. Using computer analysis, you can measure which players do the most to cause their opponents to make mistakes. Carlsen has the highest nettlesomeness score by this metric, because his creative moves pressure the other player and open up a lot of room for mistakes. In contrast, a player such as Kramnik plays a high percentage of very accurate moves, and of course he is very strong, but those moves are in some way calmer and they are less likely to induce mistakes in response.

Or perhaps Carlsen's just inspired by the lovely chess set they're using? Either way, he needs just one draw in the remaining three games to win the Championship. Or putting it another way, Anand has to win all three of the remaining games to retain the title.

The non-World Cup all-starsNov 20 2013

The teams for the 2014 World Cup are almost all set (one qualifying game remains) and there are a lot of world-class players who won't be playing in the tournament. ESPN FC has compiled a team of the best players who will miss out:

ESPN World Cup Missing All Stars

Bale, Lewandowski, and Ibrahimovic. That's an amazing front line. If not for his hat trick yesterday, Cristiano Ronaldo, perhaps the best player in the world right now, would have made the roster in Ibrahimovic's stead.

Football as FootballNov 14 2013

Football as Football is a collection of American football team logos in the style of European football club badges. Here are badges for the Detroit Lions (in the Italian style) and New England Patriots (in the Spanish style).

 
Football As Football 01

 
Football As Football 02

The coach who never puntsNov 14 2013

Kevin Kelley is the head football coach at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock, Arkansas. In games, he instructs his team to never punt, to never receive punts, and almost always onside kick.

The numbers Kelley cites are that eye-popping. And he isn't cooking the books: Cal professor David Romer concluded that teams should not punt when facing fourth-and-4 or less; NFL stats analyst Brian Burke has detailed the need to rethink fourth-down decision-making; Football Outsiders has conflated punts with turnovers. You've even read about it on this site. Most fans and analysts who are willing to accept that change is a fundamental part of life have embraced the idea that automatically punting on fourth down doesn't make sense.

Since Kelley took over, Pulaski is 124-22 and has won three state titles.

Fastest bow in the westNov 11 2013

Archer Lars Andersen can shoot 10 arrows in less than 5 seconds, without sacrificing power or accuracy. Andersen learned his technique by studying ancient archery practices...the key is holding the extra arrows in the hand and instinctive shooting.

(via @psillin)

More former NFL stars have head troublesNov 07 2013

Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett is among a growing group of former NFL players who have been diagnosed with diseases caused by years of head trauma and other injuries.

The former Cowboys running back, now 59, said that when he took his Oct. 21 flight from Dallas to Los Angeles for testing, he repeatedly struggled to remember why he was aboard the plane and where he was going. Such episodes, he said, are commonplace when he travels.

Dorsett said he also gets lost when he drives his two youngest daughters, ages 15 and 10, to their soccer and volleyball games.

"I've got to take them to places that I've been going to for many, many, many years, and then I don't know how to get there," he said.

The 1976 Heisman Trophy winner and eighth all-time leading NFL rusher said he has trouble controlling his emotions and is prone to outbursts at his wife and daughters.

"It's painful, man, for my daughters to say they're scared of me." After a long pause, he tearfully reiterated, "It's painful."

And I missed this last year, but former Bears QB Jim McMahon is suffering from early-stage dementia.

In an interview with Fox affiliate WFLD-TV, aired Wednesday, the 53-year-old McMahon says he knows where he's going when in an airport. But when he meets people, "I'm asking two minutes later, 'Who was that?'

"When my friends call and leave me a message ... I'll read it and delete it before I respond and then I forget who called and left me a message."

McMahon says he is not worried about his mind withering away. He says he still reads a lot and is doing other things to keep his mind active. However, he said he doesn't know whether he is getting worse.

These stories are just going to keep coming. Perhaps a true tipping point will come when one of the league's past megastars is dianosed with CTE...if Brett Favre or Dan Marino or John Elway or Troy Aikman or Ray Lewis or any of the other former players that appear regularly on NFL game broadcasts announces he has CTE or dementia, maybe then the league will take real action? Or not? (via df)

What if baseball moved to a 16-game season?Nov 04 2013

Joe Posnanski thinks about how baseball would change if MLB moved to a 16-game schedule like the the NFL. I love stuff like this.

4. Baseball would become dramatically more violent.

I'm not 100% certain of this, of course. But I am probably 75% certain. Right now, we don't tend to think of baseball as a contact sport. There IS contact -- plays at the plate, double-play meetings at second base, the occasional hit-by pitch and ensuing bench-clear -- but it's mostly tangential to the game. Football, meanwhile, is violent at its core. Or anyway, that's what we think now.

Except -- baseball was extremely violent in its early days. And I think that if the game was played just once a week, if you faced each team only once or twice a season, if every game was critical, there would be a lot more violence in baseball. Collisions at the plate would be intensified. Nobody would concede the double play without really taking out the fielder. Pitchers would be much more likely to send message pitches. And I think you would probably find violence where there is none right now.

(via mr)

MLB player quits baseball for creative writingOct 31 2013

Adrian Cárdenas, formerly a player for the Chicago Cubs, quit baseball to pursue an education in creative writing and philosophy.

I wish I had looked up more often, even at the cost some of my success. The American dream didn't tell me that an experience only matters if I acknowledge it, that losing yourself in the game is a good way to lose what makes life meaningful. When you're standing at the plate and you hit a sharp foul ball to the backstop, the spot on the bat that made contact gets hot; the American dream forgot to tell me to step back and enjoy the smell of burnt wood.

Cheerleader does 44 backflips in 34 secondsOct 24 2013

This video of Atlanta cheerleader Mikayla Clark breaking the world backflip record is mesmerizing. I did not know there was a world backflip record, but here is someone breaking it last year, too.

Yes, it is gymnastics day on kottke.org, what of it?

Amazing robot gymnastOct 24 2013

I wasn't expecting a whole lot from this video of a robotic gymnast doing a routine on the high bar, but holy cow! I audibly gasped at the 33-second mark and again at 57 seconds.

Looks like a home-built, just some guy in his garage. The robot has learned some new tricks since that video was made. Here's a quintuple backflip landing:

A double twist that it didn't quite land:

And it does floor exercises as well...here's a double back handspring:

(via @moth)

Mike Tyson's life as a young thugOct 21 2013

In New York Magazine this week, Mike Tyson writes about growing up in Brooklyn and his discovery of boxing as a way out and up.

Having to wear glasses in the first grade was a real turning point in my life. My mother had me tested, and it turned out I was nearsighted, so she made me get glasses. They were so bad. One day I was leaving school at lunchtime to go home and I had some meatballs from the cafeteria wrapped up in aluminum to keep them hot. This guy came up to me and said, "Hey, you got any money?" I said, "No." He started picking my pockets and searching me, and he tried to take my fucking meatballs. I was resisting, going, "No, no, no!" I would let the bullies take my money, but I never let them take my food. I was hunched over like a human shield, protecting my meatballs. So he started hitting me in the head and then took my glasses and put them down the gas tank of a truck. I ran home, but he didn't get my meatballs. I still feel like a coward to this day because of that bullying. That's a wild feeling, being that helpless. You never ever forget that feeling. That was the last day I went to school. I was 7 years old, and I just never went back to class.

The piece is adapted from Tyson's upcoming memoir, Undisputed Truth. Tyson wrote the book with Larry Sloman, author of Reefer Madness who has also ghostwritten for Howard Stern, Anthony Kiedis, and KISS's Peter Criss.

Update: Spike Lee directed a documentary version of Undisputed Truth; it'll air on HBO on November 16. Here's the trailer:

20 minutes at Rucker ParkOct 18 2013

Flinder Boyd follows streetballer TJ Webster on a cross-country bus trip for an opportunity to play his way onto a team in the prestigious EBC tournament at storied Rucker Park.

Despite his small size and light frame, he carries, like a weapon stashed under a vest, a 38" vertical jump. Along with his self-proclaimed "great" outside jump shot, he knows that during this 20-minute open tryout he'll have to do enough to impress one of the handful of coaches glaring at him from the stands. They represent teams in the upcoming Entertainer's Basketball Classic, an eight-week long tournament and the jewel of New York's basketball summer circuit.

Just two days ago, TJ stepped off a cross-country bus with every penny to his name wedged into the bottom of his bag for a chance to change his life. It's a long shot; he understands that, and so do the other nine players on the court. There are only two ways to make an EBC team, either by reputation or by being selected after your performance in the open run.

Each year, one, maybe two players, at most will be good enough to be granted a jersey and, in essence, a pass inside the halls of the cathedral of street basketball; a chance to feel the nearly religious power of Rucker Park - the same court that has hosted some of the greatest players to ever play the game.

Sometimes dreams are best kept that way.

The most difficult hole of golf in the worldOct 17 2013

630 yards. Par 3. Tee is accessible only by helicopter. $1,000,000 for a hole-in-one. Meet the world's most difficult hole of golf:

(via quora)

Wingsuit flyer lands safely on waterOct 15 2013

(Just so I don't bury the lede too much here: THIS IS INSANE.) Wingsuit flyers keep upping the ante. For awhile, it was enough to glide at 100 mph a foot or two off the ground. Then they started flying through gaps between skyscrapers. And then through holes in mountains. Last year, Gary Connery landed safely in a pile of cardboard boxes without the use of a parachute. And now, watch as Raphael Dumont, straps on his wingsuit, climbs an Italian mountain, and LANDS SAFELY ON A LAKE WITHOUT A PARACHUTE.

Raphael Dumont, human seaplane. That shit cray.

Update: Rumblings on Twitter are indicating that this is fake. I WANT TO BELIEVE. (But that footage of the landing is shot on the world's shakiest camera for no reason so...)

NHL goal of the year?Oct 09 2013

The NHL season is only a few days old, but Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl may have already scored the goal of the year. This is crazy:

Also, that was his fourth goal of the game. (via grantland)

League of DenialOct 09 2013

League of Denial, the Frontline documentary on the NFL and concussions, is available online for anyone to watch for free.

Kayaking down a drainage ditchOct 04 2013

Watch as several kayakers rocket down a drainage ditch in BC at speeds approaching 35 mph.

That looks like a lot of fun. See also what fast looks like. (via devour)

Michael Jordan returning to the NBA for one game?Oct 03 2013

In talking to Bill Simmons for a Grantland NBA preview show, former NBA star Jalen Rose predicts that Michael Jordan will play one game for the Charlotte Bobcats this season.

Per Betteridge's law of headlines, Jordan will not play in the NBA this season, but it's an intriguing possibility. Jordan's 50 years old but he owns the team so you never know.

NFL deliberately campaigned against science regarding head injuriesOct 02 2013

According to an upcoming book by ESPN reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, the NFL "conducted a two-decade campaign to deny a growing body of scientific research that showed a link between playing football and brain damage".

Excerpts published Wednesday by ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated from the book, "League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth," report that the NFL used its power and resources to discredit independent scientists and their work; that the league cited research data that minimized the dangers of concussions while emphasizing the league's own flawed research; and that league executives employed an aggressive public relations strategy designed to keep the public unaware of what league executives really knew about the effects of playing the game.

Excerpts of the book are available from ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated. An episode of Frontline based in part on the book airs next week. Interestingly, ESPN was collaborating with Frontline on this program, but they pulled out of it in August.

Meet the players in the East/West College BowlOct 01 2013

Saw this awhile ago and was reminded of it b/c of a clip on Monday Night Football last night: comedy duo Key & Peele poke fun at the increasingly creative names and alma maters of football players in this sketch.

Nyquillus Dillwad, D'Pez Poopsie, Fartrell Cluggins, Ladennifer Jadaniston, and Benedict Cumberbatch are all on my fantasy team this year. See also last year's video. (Davoin Shower-Handel!)

How the NFL fleeces taxpayersSep 24 2013

It probably doesn't come as much of a surprise that the NFL is a highly profitable business. But it might come as a shock that the league enjoys nonprofit status. From Gregg Easterbrook: How the NFL Fleeces Taxpayers.

Taxpayers fund the stadiums, antitrust law doesn't apply to broadcast deals, the league enjoys nonprofit status, and Commissioner Roger Goodell makes $30 million a year. It's time to stop the public giveaways to America's richest sports league -- and to the feudal lords who own its teams.

The Shaq baby boomSep 17 2013

When Shaquille O'Neal entered the NBA in 1992 after starring at LSU, people had already begun naming their children after him. 20-something years later, some of those kids are starting to play college basketball themselves. Ken Pomeroy is tracking the Shaq babies as they show up in their schools' line-ups and offers a look at the future of children named after NBA stars.

We can never know those reasons for sure, but we can say that since 1997, Kobe has been the name of choice for parents opting to name their children after basketball players. (Lebron has yet to crack the top 1000.) From this we can be confident we'll see the first-ever college basketball player named Kobe sometime in the 2016 to 2018 seasons. And while the supply of Shaqs will peter out right quick, Kobe's name will be appearing on college basketball rosters well into the 2030's. Kobe Bryant may have skipped college, but Kobe will be playing college basketball for many, many, many years to come.

(via http://marginalrevolution.com/)

Easy NFL/Netflix/Hulu region unlock using DNSSep 16 2013

Lex Friedman details how to use DNS services (like AdFree Time) to route around region-specific content locks, so you can do things like watch all NFL games in HD from anywhere, change Netflix regions (for access to different content), etc.

Third-party services like AdFree Time offer up a DNS-based solution: Pay a monthly fee and use their DNS services, and the NFL's website treats you as if you're coming from Europe. You thus get to watch every NFL game streaming online in high definition, since the league offers that option to folks in Europe at no charge. Americans, usually, miss out. I could pay for DirecTV's insanely overpriced Sunday Ticket, but I think it's a ripoff when I'm only looking to watch about six to eight Eagles games that won't show here.

This beats hate-reading the NFL TV maps every weekend.

Wonderful animated soccer vignettesSep 12 2013

Richard Swarbrick makes these great impressionist animations of sports events, mostly soccer but also cricket and basketball. Here's one to get you started...the 5-0 drubbing FC Barcelona handed to Real Madrid during a 2010 Clasico:

It's amazing how much Swarbrick's illustrations communicate with so few strokes...Mourinho's face is my favorite. Here's the actual match for comparison purposes. And here's Maradona's sublime goal against England in the 1986 World Cup (original video):

You can find many other examples of Swarbrick's work on his web site and on his YouTube channel. (via @dunstan)

When legends gatherSep 11 2013

Barber Valentine Terry

I watched a lot of pro wrestling when I was a kid and this photo of Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake, Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, and fashion photographer Terry Richardson is just too much for me. If nostalgia truly is death, someone better make some arrangements for me.

(If you're not with me on this whole reminiscing about 1980s professional wrestlers thing, Richardson also recently took a photo of Miley Cyrus eating a salad, so you're basically all caught up on current events and you're welcome.)

Citi Bike tricksSep 11 2013

BMX rider Tyrone Williams checks out a Citi Bike and puts it though its paces, first with a wheelie or two and eventually on a dirt track.

(via animal & @claytoncubitt)

NFL TV maps for 2013Sep 08 2013

It's NFL season again and it's time to tune into the NFL TV maps site to find out when your favorite team isn't on TV because the network is contractually obligated to show the pathetic Jets.

Teahupo'o: Inside the MonsterSep 04 2013

Inside the Monster is a 25-minute documentary (in French w/ English subtitles) on Teahupo'o, a Tahitian locale known for its spectacular waves.

Crazy the way those waves rise out of almost nowhere. My favorite photo of Teahupo'o is this one (view larger):

Teahupoo

All that water hanging out 14 feet higher than it should be....it ain't natural!

How cranberries are harvestedSep 03 2013

This video seems like it was made specifically for kottke.org. In the first half of it, you learn how cranberries are harvested. In the second half, there's gorgeous HD slo-mo footage of wakeskating through a cranberry bog.

And with a Tycho soundtrack no less...it's all too perfect. (via ★interesting)

Standing between harm and othersAug 29 2013

I played football in high school, specifically offensive line, defensive line, and linebacker. So did my older and younger brothers, and my older brother coaches linemen and defense at a high school in Michigan. I started out first in middle school and high school as a defensive specialist, which makes sense given John Madden's theory of linemen.

Madden used to say that offensive linemen were overwhelmingly big kids who grew up to be big men, who'd always been told not to pick on but to protect kids smaller than them. Defensive linemen, on the other hand, were little kids who grew up fighting with other little kids (and often bigger kids) but who grew up to be big men. That's what I was: a skinny kid who became a fat adolescent who became a big, strong teenager. (Now I'm a strong, fat writer, so that's how that turned out.)

Madden said the problem is that offensive linemen still need to be as tough and aggressive as defensive linemen, but they always hold something back. Some of this is part of the rules of football: offensive linemen literally can't do everything a defensive lineman can do to them. So what Madden would do is take a tackling dummy and let his offensive linemen beat the hell out of it. Punch it, tear it, throw it across the room, it doesn't matter. Help them get to a point where they're no longer worried about being over-aggressive.

College football reporter Spencer Hall writes:

You should know this about offensive line coaches: they are large, demanding men with Falstaffian appetites, jutting jaws, and no governors on their speech engines. They eat titanic portions. They cram their lips full of dip in film study like they are loading a mortar. They drink bottled water like parched camels, and in their leisure time would consider a suitcase of beer to be a personal carry-on item for them, and them alone. They are terrifyingly disciplined in the moment, and nap like large breed dogs when allowed.

Now, even if Madden's amateur psychobiography of linemen were true when he was coaching, it's not true any more. In the 1990s, coaches got really good at taking tall but relatively slender athletes from every position, bulking them up, and sticking them at offensive line.

In high school, we played this guy named Jon Jansen, who ended up becoming a star offensive tackle for the Washington Redskins, then coming home to Detroit and playing one year for the Lions before becoming an announcer. In high school, he weighed almost 100 pounds less than he did as a pro. He was listed then at 6'8", 230 lbs, and played tight end and middle linebacker. He was FAST. They moved him all over the field, catching touchdowns and uprooting people. It was chaos.

He went to Michigan, they redshirted him for his freshman year, and came back weighing 300 lbs and playing offensive line. Jansen told Bob Costas that he thought between 15 to 20 percent of NFL players were using illegal performance enhancing drugs, noting that the NFL didn't then test for human growth hormone. I remember when I was still in high school reading a long profile of the University of Nebraska's offensive linemen that attributed their huge gains in mass and strength to weightlifting and creatine. Draw your own conclusions about what was happening in pro and college football at the time.

This is all to say that what offensive linemen do in football is not well understood. When the NFL finally started to act on widespread concussions and the resultant uptick in chronic traumatic encephalopathy — if you never have, please read about the life and death of Dave Duerson — they focused on open-field helmet-to-helmet hits and defensive players targeting quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers (so-called "skill positions"). They ignored the constant battering that offensive linemen take, how repeated brain injury poses the greatest risk for long-term problems, how linemen are rewarded for staying on the field and playing through pain, and the ways in which they're encouraged to both be more aggressive and prioritize someone else's safety over their own.

Kurt Vonnegut said that his chief objection to life in general was that it was "too easy, when alive, to make horrible mistakes." This is what offensive line coaches live with: the notion that for every five simple circles drawn on a board, there are a nearly infinite number of possible threats looming out in the theoretical white space. Offensive plays give skill players arrows. Those arrows point down the field toward an endzone, a stopping point, a celebration. Those five simple circles stay on the board in the same place, and are on duty forever.

They are rough men in the business of protection.

Today, Hall has one of the most beautiful, thoughtful, human pieces on offensive linemen I've ever read, and which I've been quoting here throughout. It's called "The Business Of Protection," and subtitled "It Is Never, Ever About You." It's a story about Vanderbilt University's offensive line coach Herb Hand, who suffered a sudden and life-threatening brain hemorrhage waiting in line at a hotel breakfast bar on a recruiting trip. But Hand's story manages to become equally about football, fatherhood, the brain, the heart, how we defend ourselves from what's horrible in the things we love, and how we defend the people closest to us from ourselves.

When Hand had to have the impossible conversation — the one where you, with cellphone, stuck in a hospital far away from home, might have to say the last words you ever say to your children — he did what he was trained to do. He told them that he loved them, and that everything would be okay. The second part of that might not have been true at the time. The emergency room doctor certainly didn't think so, and neither did Hand. But standing between harm and others is what linemen do, even if there's little hope to be had in the face of numbers, size, and speed. There is a dot on the board, and a shield held against whatever slings and arrows lurk in the ether. It stands against harm until it cannot any longer.

Update: While I was writing this post, the NFL and 4500 former players (about one-third of the 12000 still living) reached a mediation agreement to settle a number of lawsuits over concussions for $765 million.

This figure includes legal fees, medical exams, the cost of noticing former players, and $10 million for research and education on the long-term effect of brain injuries, leaving $675 million to compensate former players who've suffered cognitive injuries (or, if dead, their families). The settlement applies only to players who've retired by the time court approves its terms. Current players will need a separate agreement to be compensated for existing and future injuries, and the NFL admits no liability.

As Buzzfeed sportswriter Erik Malinowski notes on Twitter: "Holy crap, what a bargain... ESPN pays $1.9 billion *every year* for Monday Night Football. 4,500 ex-players will get 40% of that (once) for decades of head trauma."

Yo-yo tricks through the agesAug 22 2013

Here's a video of the 2013 World Yo-Yo Contest winner, Janos Karancz. His motion is so delicate and intricate, it's almost like he's doing needlepoint or something:

Contrast that with the winner of the 2000 World Yo-Yo Contest, Yu Kawada. Much simpler tricks, more showmanship, like it's a dance:

Here's some footage from a 1989 yo-yo contest. Lots of throwing tricks and fewer spinning tricks. Contestants competed in blazers!

And finally, a Duncan yo-yo commercial from 1976. Super simple tricks and more blazers!

Rowing across the oceanAug 09 2013

The team is rowing in a wild nighttime sea when a rogue wave the size of a small house hoists their boat, tosses it into a valley and crashes over it. The force of the water snaps one of the oars in Kreek's hand.

What happens when four guys try to cross the Atlantic...in a rowboat.

Bob Burnquist does amazing things on a MegaRampJul 31 2013

I dunno, this may be the most bonkers skate video you've ever seen. It starts a bit slow but stick with it: Bob Burnquist shows us what he can do on his backyard MegaRamp.

This video is also a fantastic demonstration of the principle of Chekhov's helicopter, which states that if you see a helicopter sitting next to a MegaRamp in the first two minutes of a skate video, a skater must absolutely drop in to the MegaRamp from the helicopter in the last part of the video. (thx, dusty)

A video for Danny MacAskillJul 24 2013

Five-year-old Jack is trials rider Danny MacAskill's biggest fan. (Don't know who MacAskill is? Start here.) Inspired by his hero, Jack made a video of himself riding his bike around and doing some tricks.

Oh man, there's water coming out of my face now. #cryingatwork (thx, meg)

Golf Ball Innards or Bowl of Gelato?Jul 19 2013

Today's fun game is: Golf Ball Innards or Bowl of Gelato? Let's get started. Is this a creamy bowl of lemon-lime pistachio gelato or the inside of a golf ball?

Golf Ball Innards

Ok, that was an easy one. How about this one...is this half of a crazy-ass golf ball or a delicious bowl of watermelon bubble gum gelato?

Golf Ball Innards

It's gotta be gelato, right? Ok, last one: gelato or cross section of a golf ball from a project called Interior Designs by photographer James Friedman?

Golf Ball Innards

Yum, I can almost taste the blueberries through the screen. Well, that's all the time we have today, folks. You've been a great group of contestants, and we hope to see you next week on Golf Ball Innards or Bowl of Gelato? (via edible geography)

Feeding the Tour de France ridersJul 17 2013

Hannah Grant, a chef who used to work for highly influential Noma (among other places), is now the chef for the Saxo-Tinkoff cycling team currently competing in the Tour de France. She cooks for the entire team out of a food truck.

First of all, I set the menu. I mean, they can request stuff, the riders, if they want. I'll note it and I'll do it if it's possible. But, obviously, then there's rules to how to assemble the menu. Today's a rest day, so we do a low-carb lunch for them. They're not going so far, they just want to keep their legs going, so we don't want to fill them up too much. And we don't want to go too hard on the carbs so they don't gain weight.

Then we have a philosophy of using lots of vegetables, proteins, and cold-pressed fats, and then we use a lot of gluten-free alternatives. So we try to encourage the riders to try other things than just pasta and bread. I do gluten-free breads as well.

It's all to minimize all the little things that can stop you from performing 100 percent, that promote injuries, stomach problems, all those things. So that's a big difference (from cooking in a restaurant), because I have to follow all those rules. I can't just cook whatever I think is amazing. It has to be within those guidelines.

Then I take it as my personal job to take these guidelines and then make an incredible product from it, so they don't feel like they're missing out on things. It shouldn't be a punishment to travel with a kitchen truck and a chef who cooks you food that's good for you.

Grant's cooking seems to be paying off for the team...Saxo-Tinkoff currently has two riders in the top five and is in second place overall in the team classification. (via @sampotts)

How to bike limboJul 03 2013

Last month, we posted a video of Tim Knoll doing ridiculous and panic-inducing circus style tricks on his bike. In the video below, he explains how he does the bike limbo, riding under several semi trucks in a row. Just because he tells you how to do it, does not mean you should try it. In fact, it is the expressed opinion of this blog you should not try it. However, if you do try it and you do feel yourself falling -- which you will, because let's be honest -- don't try to lift your head up. Just fall, because as Knoll says, "scrapes are better than stitches."

(via ls)

Duct tape surfingJun 25 2013

Pascale Honore enjoyed watching her sons surf but couldn't participate because she's been a paraplegic for the past 18 years. But then Tyron Swan, a friend of her sons, duct taped her to his back and took her out on his board.

Man, that smile is incredible. What a great video. Pascal and Tyron are trying to raise funds to take their show on the road. Backed. (via ★interesting)

Bad British baseball commentaryJun 17 2013

Ok, it's no NFL bad lip reading but this fake commentary by a British broadcaster of a baseball game is still pretty hilarious.

He runs in to bowl...Mork and Mindy, that's going for six! No! Caught by the chap in the pajamas with the glove that makes everything easier. And they all scuttle off for a nap.

The awful truth about joggingJun 11 2013

Tired of all the lies, Allison Robicelli finally discovers the awful truth about jogging.

I despise everything about running. I hate the New York City Marathon, which bisects my neighborhood every year, making my commute to work or any theoretical trips to the emergency room completely impossible. I hate people who are constantly posting about running over on Facebook, casually humblebragging about how they fit in a "quickie 5K" between picking up the dry cleaning and the children. I hate 5Ks, even though, where I live, they usually conclude with free beer and six-foot-long heroes (Bay Ridge, Brooklyn: Turning Everything into an Excuse for Day-Drinking Since 1853). I hate "fun runs" because, seriously, fuck you.

The last of the 16-bit heroesJun 07 2013

When Grant Hill and Jason Kidd retired from the NBA this week, they were the last players who appeared in the NBA Jam video game from 1994. There are still three active NHL players who appeared in the classic NHL '94: Teemu Selanne, Roman Hamrlik, and Jaromir Jagr. Kotaku's Owen Good takes a look at which athletes were the last men standing from 8-bit and 16-bit sports video games.

Landeta, whose last game was in 2005, is the last man on the Tecmo Bowl roster to appear in an NFL game, beating out the Raiders' Tim Brown, the 49ers' Jerry Rice and Minnesota's Rich Gannon, all of whom retired in 2004.

The Big FundamentalJun 03 2013

Lovely piece by Joe Posnanski about Tim Duncan, who at the age of 37 and in his 16th NBA season, finds himself in the Finals again seeking his fifth NBA championship.

Duncan almost certainly would have been the first pick in the draft after his sophomore year, but he came back to Wake Forest. He would have been the first pick in the draft after his junior year, for sure -- and just about everyone thought he would go out -- but once more he went back to Wake Forest to complete his senior year. Odom says that they were in the car after Duncan's junior year and heading to the airport for the Wooden Award ceremony (Duncan did not win it until his senior year). He told Duncan, "You will get a lot of questions there about why you're coming back to Wake Forest."

Duncan, typically, looked out the window and did not say anything.

"No, Tim, this is important," Odom said. "Let's pretend I'm one of those reporters? Was it a hard decision to come back to Wake Forest?"

Duncan kept looking out the window, but he said: "No. It wasn't hard."

Odom: "It wasn't? You didn't agonize over leaving millions of dollars on the table?"

Duncan said: "I didn't agonize. I just thought, why should I try to do today what I will be better prepared to do a year from now."

Odom looked over at the best player he would ever coach, and he wondered: "What kind of college junior thinks like that? Who has that sort of confidence, that sort of patience, that sort of inner peace? And then Duncan said the words that Odom thinks about almost every day."

He said: "You know something coach? The NBA can do a lot for me. It really can. But there's one thing it can't do. The NBA can never make me 20 years old again."

In 2003, Duncan was 27 years old and the MVP of the NBA and the Spurs won their second championship. Ten years later, at 37, his statistics (per 36 minutes) are remarkably similar:

2002-2003: 21.3 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.7 blocks, 0.6 steals.
2012-2013: 21.3 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 3.2 blocks, 0.9 steals.

Soccer's knuckleballMay 30 2013

"Bend it like Beckham" has given way to "knuckle it like Ronaldo" in European football. During free kicks, players like Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Tottenham's Gareth Bale put little or no spin on the ball, which tends to give it the unpredictable movement of a knuckleball in baseball. Bale recently explained his technique:

So where does the 'knuckling' effect come in?

Well, as we've said, if the ball is struck without spin, it is more susceptible to movement as it flies through the air.

If there are imperfections on the ball, such as specks of mud or grass, then random movement is more likely. Bale would be well served to rub the ball around in the grass as he places it.

Even the seams of the ball's panels can generate a degree of unpredictable movement.

Bale is not the first exponent of 'knuckleball' in the game, of course. Ronaldo has a subtle variation that has wowed fans the world over, while the former Lyon player Juninho Pernambucano did much to perfect the style in the noughties.

YouTube is crap for finding good soccer highlights in HD (FIFA, the European leagues, and their broadcast partners are fanatic about yanking footage) so there's not a great view of Bale's technique, but you can kind of see it in this video of his two goals against Lyon earlier this year. The knuckler is also in evidence in this Ronaldo compilation, particularly with goals #7 and #3. Especially #7...Ronaldo hits it right at the keeper, who looks completely baffled by the speed and movement of the ball.

The WTF pitchMay 29 2013

Angels pitcher Robert Coello's unique pitch has knuckleball movement but is thrown with a fastball grip & pitching motion and has a bit more speed on it than a typical knuckleball. His catchers and opposing hitters call it the WTF pitch.

Physicist Alan Nathan, a professor at the University of Illinois who studies baseball and has a particular interest in the knuckleball, hadn't ever seen a pitch like Coello's. His preliminary theory on the pitch: His thumb on the underside of the ball exerts backspin, counteracting the tumbling effect his top fingers put on the ball and balancing the torque so perfectly that the pitch has a knuckleball effect with superior speed (around 80 mph).

Be sure to wait for the slow motion at the end of the video.

Kenyan high jumpersMay 29 2013

This is a video of a pair of Kenyan high schoolers competing in a high jump contest, skillfully using a throwback technique rarely seen these days.

Cool, right? They're using a scissors-jump technique that was popular in international competitions prior to the early 1900s, when landing areas were sand pits rather than the huge foam pads you typically see today. Various techniques followed the scissors-jump, with each making higher jumps possible until Dick Fosbury invented his Flop in 1968. All international competitors use the Flop today.

Interestingly though, the Fosbury Flop is not the instantly disruptive innovation I'd always thought it was. Fosbury started sailing over the bar backwards as a senior in high school in the mid-1960s. He refined his invention for years until his gold medal at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics attracted the attention of other jumpers, who recognized the potential of the technique. But if you look at the progression of high jump world records, there was no huge jump (sorry) in record heights because of the Flop. Ten years after the Flop's big-stage debut at the Mexico City Games, the world record holder Vladimir Yashchenko still used the straddle technique. And in the 1980 Olympics, three high jump finalists didn't use the Flop. Like most new promising technologies, the Flop took time to catch on, even though 45 years on, it's the clearly superior technique. (via @dunstan)

Miguel Cabrera's fantastic plate coverageMay 28 2013

Earlier this spring, Drew Sheppard created a layered animated GIF of Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish's pitching delivery. This type of GIF has become something of a meme on baseball sites. The latest to get the layered GIF treatment is Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera hit for the Triple Crown last year (led the league in batting average, RBIs, and home runs) and is trying to do it again this year. Sheppard put together this GIF to show "Cabrera's impressive all fields hitting and ability to cover the full strike zone with power":

As the image plainly shows, Cabrera can launch home runs from anywhere...even a pitch that's almost a foot off the plate. Are they showing this stuff on SportsCenter yet? Can only be a matter of time. (thx, david)

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 20 things I wish I'd knownMay 03 2013

Basketball Hall of Famer and "secret nerd" Kareem Abdul-Jabbar shares a list of 20 things he wish he'd know when he was 30 years old.

18. Watch more TV. Yeah, you heard right, Little Kareem. It's great that you always have your nose in history books. That's made you more knowledgeable about your past and it has put the present in context. But pop culture is history in the making and watching some of the popular shows of each era reveals a lot about the average person, while history books often dwell on the powerful people.

NBA player comes out of the closetApr 29 2013

NBA player Jason Collins is the first active player in a major US sport to come out of the closet. He explains why in a piece for Sports Illustrated.

Loyalty to my team is the real reason I didn't come out sooner. When I signed a free-agent contract with Boston last July, I decided to commit myself to the Celtics and not let my personal life become a distraction. When I was traded to the Wizards, the political significance of coming out sunk in. I was ready to open up to the press, but I had to wait until the season was over.

A college classmate tried to persuade me to come out then and there. But I couldn't yet. My one small gesture of solidarity was to wear jersey number 98 with the Celtics and then the Wizards. The number has great significance to the gay community. One of the most notorious antigay hate crimes occurred in 1998. Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming student, was kidnapped, tortured and lashed to a prairie fence. He died five days after he was finally found. That same year the Trevor Project was founded. This amazing organization provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention to kids struggling with their sexual identity. Trust me, I know that struggle. I've struggled with some insane logic. When I put on my jersey I was making a statement to myself, my family and my friends.

The strain of hiding my sexuality became almost unbearable in March, when the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for and against same-sex marriage. Less then three miles from my apartment, nine jurists argued about my happiness and my future. Here was my chance to be heard, and I couldn't say a thing. I didn't want to answer questions and draw attention to myself. Not while I was still playing.

GIF of Yu Darvish's consistent deliveryApr 25 2013

One of the most formidable tools in a pro baseball pitcher's arsenal is the consistency of pitching motion when throwing different kinds of pitches. If your delivery looks the same to an opposing batter when throwing a 95-mph fastball, a 80-mph curve, and a 85-mph change-up, well, you've really got something there. Texas pitcher Yu Darvish is ripping up the AL this year with a 4-1 record, 1.65 ERA, and 49 strikeouts, which prompted Drew Sheppard to layer five of Darvish's pitches on top of one another in an animated GIF:

Yu Darvish

All the Darvishes use the same delivery but the five balls end up crossing the plate at very different times and locations. A perfect use of time merge media to illustrate just how difficult it must be stand in there against the controlled athleticism of a pitcher at the top of his game. "The Mona Lisa of GIFs" indeed. (via @djacobs)

Update: Here's a video demonstrating similar consistency in Roger Federer's serve:

I remember NBC using this technique at various points during the last couple of Olympics as well. (via @agonde)

Free thrownApr 24 2013

Buried in this column about the 2013 NBA playoffs is an astounding statistic:

Dwight Howard missed more free throws this season (366) than Lakers teammate Steve Nash has missed in his 17-year NBA career (322). Howard: 355 for 721 this season, 49.2 percent; Nash: 3,038 for 3,360 from 1996-97 through 2012-13, 90.4 percent.

Now, Howard takes more than double (and sometimes triple) the amount of free throws than Nash does, partially because center/forwards get fouled more than point guards. But Howard also gets intentionally fouled because he's such a bad free throw shooter whereas a reach-in foul on Nash is almost as good as a basket and so players almost never do it, unless they want to find their asses on the bench.

Which of these two displays of athletic quickness is more incredible?Apr 18 2013

The first features TAKASKE, a Dance Dance Revolution player with ballerina-quick feet. Here he plays all eight footpads at ludicrous speed.

Then there's Cara Black, a higly-ranked women's doubles tennis player with a killer net game. Here she's practicing volleys off the wall at close range.

She reels off 115 volleys in 43 seconds, beating the performance of her 16-year-old self.

Combat jugglingApr 18 2013

Major League Combat is a sport that combines juggling, rugby, Capture the Flag, and maybe Quidditch? I can't make out how you score, but keeping your juggle from end-to-end seems important.

Weird sport or the weirdest sport? It's definitely up there with chessboxing. (thx, benjamin)

Insane wingsuit flight through a hole in a mountainApr 17 2013

Watch as wingsuit pilot Alexander Polli flies through a hole in a mountain. And it's not that big of a hole either.

Watching this, I kept seeing an image of Wile E. Coyote wearing an Acme-brand wingsuit smacking into the side of the mountain. (via stellar)

Dealer admits doctoring rare Honus Wagner cardApr 12 2013

A former baseball card dealer now admits he cut the edges of the world's most expensive baseball card to make it appear in better condition. The card in question is the T206 Honus Wagner card once owned by Wayne Gretzky; this video is a great overview of the card's history.

One question I always had about the card was: why did Gretzky ever sell it? The Wagner might just have been an investment for him, but if you're rich and a huge sports guy and you own the most pristine copy of the world's rarest and most valuable sports card, why would you ever sell it? One possible answer: you suspected (or discovered) that the card had been doctored and got rid of the damn thing before the truth came out. That Gretzky, always skating to where the puck is going to be.

One Real Madrid fan's magical adventureApr 11 2013

Abel Rodríguez waxes floors for a living in Los Angeles and takes two weeks of vacation a year to work gratis for Real Madrid when the European football club trains in Los Angeles every summer. He had always dreamed of seeing Real Madrid playing their Spanish rivals Barcelona in Madrid, so his family persuaded him to go. He went. With no hotel or ticket to the game, he sat outside the club's training complex for hours until manager José Mourinho spotted him as he was leaving..."Stop! It's the guy from Los Angeles." Thus began Abel Rodríguez's magical journey.

You never know when karma will come back and reward you for something. For seven summers Rodriguez worked for free for Real Madrid, even when the club was willing to pay him for his efforts in Los Angeles. Now he was about to experience the thrill of a lifetime.

Oh man, I've got something in my eye.

How baseballs are madeApr 10 2013

I remember tearing baseballs apart as a kid and seeing the rubber core, but I guess I had forgotten that a baseball is mostly a leather-covered yarn ball. See also how footballs are made and homemade soccer balls. (via @marklamster)

Lionel Messi vs. robot goalkeeperApr 08 2013

Someone built a robotic goalkeeper and then someone else had the bright idea to pit reigning best player in the world Lionel Messi against it:

Iker Casillas, your job is in jeopardy. But maybe not quite yet...by the final attempt, Messi seems to have figured out how to send the goalie the wrong way, at least for an instant. (via digg)

Two 90-year-olds do the 100 meter dashApr 01 2013

If you need a little pick-me-up, try this video of two nonagenarians racing each other in the 100-meter dash. Seems like there's gonna be a clear winner from the start but...

Both men were born in 1918; if the video were filmed this year, that would make them 95. (via @gavinpurcell)

Mind over mountain: the all-terrain human beingMar 20 2013

Kilian Jornet Burgada might be the world's best and most dominating athlete. Or at least he derserves to be in the conversation. Jornet competes in a number of sports but his two main ones are endurance running and ski mountaineering.

His versatility amazes other runners, including Jurek, who today is a friend. Jornet has been able to run the very short mountain races like a vertical kilometer race that's over in a couple of hours, Jurek says -- and then, he adds, Jornet can turn around and win the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run in California's Sierra mountains, arguably the world's most prestigious ultrarun. (Jurek himself won the Western States seven consecutive times between 1999 and 2005.) It's a little like an Olympic-champion sprinter winning the Boston Marathon.

How is Jornet able to do these things? In part because of his upbringing in the mountains:

Even among top athletes, Jornet is an outlier. Take his VO2 max, a measure of a person's ability to consume oxygen and a factor in determining aerobic endurance. An average male's VO2 max is 45 to 55 ml/kg/min. A college-level 10,000-meter runner's max is typically 60 to 70. Jornet's VO2 max is 89.5 -- one of the highest recorded, according to Daniel Brotons Cuixart, a sports specialist at the University of Barcelona who tested Jornet last fall. Jornet simply has more men in the engine room, shoveling coal. "I've not seen any athletes higher than the low 80s, and we've tested some elite athletes," says Edward Coyle, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin, who has studied the limits of human exercise performance for three decades.

He also seems at one with nature and the mountains more than most people:

Observers and competitors describe him as someone who draws endurance and vitality, Samson-like, from being among high peaks. Runners who have served as pacesetters for him have told me with amazement how, when he was midrace at Lake Tahoe, Jornet didn't run with his head down in focused misery but instead brushed the hairgrass and corn lily that grew along the trail with his fingertips and brought the smell to his nose, as if he were feeding off the scenery. Sometimes in his all-day solitary runs, stopping only to eat berries, he can seem half-feral, more mountain goat than human. He likes to move fast and touch rock and feel wild, he told me; he feels most at ease and performs best when wrapped by the silence and beauty of the mountains. He can't abide cities for more than a few hours. The sea -- its unrelenting horizontality -- scares him. Leading long races like Western States, he's been known to stop and exclaim at a sunrise, or wait for friends to catch up so he can enjoy the mountains with them instead of furthering his lead. "It's almost insulting," Krupicka told me. But it's just Kilian being Kilian, Krupicka said. "He's not rubbing it in anyone's face. He's truly enjoying being out there in the mountains, and he's expressing that."

Wingsuit flying in Rio de JaneiroMar 16 2013

Watch as Ludovic Woerth & Jokke Sommer fly through a hole in a building in central Rio de Janeiro that looks not much more than 15 feet wide. Jesus.

And speaking of Jesus, another pair of wingsuiters flew under the arms of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio a few years ago. (via @rands)

Remembering Roberto Clemente's 3000th hitMar 12 2013

This story by Kevin Guilfoile about his aging father (who worked for the Pirates and the Baseball Hall of Fame) and the mystery of what happened to the bat that Roberto Clemente got his 3,000th hit with is one of my favorite things that I've read over the past few months.

[My father's] personality is present, if his memories are a jumble. He is still funny, and surprisingly quick with one-liners to crack up the staff at the facility where he lives. He is exceedingly polite, same as he ever was. He is good at faking a casual conversation, especially on the phone. But if you sit and talk with him for a long time, he gets very anxious. He starts tapping his forehead with his fingers. "Shouldn't we be going?" he'll say. You tell him there's no place we need to be, but 30 seconds later he'll ask again, "Shouldn't we be going?"

What happens to memories when they're collapsed inside time like this? They don't exactly disappear, they just become impossible to unpack. And so my father, who loved stories so much -- who loved to tell them, who loved to hear them -- can no longer comprehend them. The structure of any story, after all, is that this happened and then that happened, and he can't make sense of any sequence.

That is the real hell of this disease. His own identity has become a puzzle he can't solve.

Objects have stories, too. Puzzles that need to be solved. Like a pair of baseball bats, for instance, that each passed through Roberto Clemente's hands before they passed through my father's. One hung on my bedroom wall throughout my childhood. The other is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

These objects never forget, but they never tell their stories, either.

Without a little bit of luck, we'd never hear them.

Or more than a little luck:

My father has lots of old baseball bats given to him by players he worked with over the years. He has Mickey Mantle bats from his years with the Yankees, and Willie Stargell and Dave Parker bats from his days with the Pirates. The one I always loved best was an Adirondack model with R CLEMENTE embossed in modest block letters, instead of the usual signature burned into the barrel. On the bottom of the knob, Roberto had written a tiny "37" in ballpoint pen, presumably to indicate its weight: 37 ounces. It also had a series of scrapes around the middle where someone had scratched off the trademark stripe that encircled all Adirondack bats. Former Pirates GM Joe Brown gave my dad this bat several years after Roberto died. For much of my childhood it hung on the wall of my bedroom, on a long rack with about a dozen other game-used bats.

My dad had been working at the Hall of Fame for more than a decade when, in 1993, his old friend Tony Bartirome, a one-time Pirates infielder who had become their longtime trainer, came to Cooperstown for a visit. Tony and his wife went to dinner with my folks and then came back to our house to chat. The only way to go to the first-floor washroom in that house was through my old bedroom, and on a trip there, Tony noticed that Adirondack of Clemente's hanging on the wall.

Tony carried it into the living room. He said to Dad, "Where did you get this bat?" My dad told him that Joe Brown had given him the bat as a gift, sometime in the late '70s. "Bill," Tony said. "This is the bat Roberto used to get his 3,000th hit."

My father was confused by this. "That's impossible," he told Tony. "The day he hit 3,000 I went down to the clubhouse, and Roberto himself handed me the bat he used. I sent it to the Hall of Fame. I walk by it every day."

"Well," Tony said. "I have a story to tell you."

It's a wonderful story, read the whole thing. Or get the book: the story is excerpted from Guilfoile's A Drive into the Gap, available here or for the Kindle.

Ice climber takes a tumbleMar 11 2013

While ice climbing in Wales, Mark Roberts gets hit by some ice and falls more than 100 feet...and his helmet cam caught the whole thing.

He was not seriously injured but that fall went on for way longer than I expected. (via @DavidGrann)

Introducing the referee camera angleMar 07 2013

Broadcasters are starting to experiment with using footage taken from cameras worn by in-game referees. Here's footage from a rugby ref's vantage point:

And from a hockey ref:

PRIDE Fighting Championships has been using ref cams since at least 2004. Also: roller derby, girls high school basketball, and paintball. (thx, david)

The T206 Honus WagnerMar 04 2013

Grantland's 30 for 30 short documentary series continues with a piece on the most famous and valuable baseball card in the world, the T206 Honus Wagner.

The world's greatest badminton shotFeb 25 2013

You've gotta wait for it. Nope, not that one. Not that. Or that. THAT. THAT'S THE SHOT.

Literally unbelievable. Totally lucky but unbelievable. (via @DavidGrann)

What was it like guarding Michael Jordan?Feb 21 2013

Michael Jordan just turned 50 and so Deadspin's Emma Carmichael asked former Cavs guard Craig Ehlo what it was like to guard Jordan in his prime. Sometimes Jordan would tell Ehlo what he was going to do ahead of time and still score.

Usually, Ron Harper would start on him, then I would come in and go to him, and Ron would go to Scottie Pippen or something like that. I always felt very lucky that Coach Wilkens had that faith in me to guard him. Michael was very competitive when he got between the lines. He was never a bad talker or too arrogant, but it was just like what Jason [Williams] said: He'd tell you. He only did that to me one time, from what I remember. It was his 69-point game, and things were going so well for him that I guess he just went for it. We were running up the court side-by-side and he told me: "Listen man, I'm hitting everything, so I'm gonna tell you what I'm gonna do this time and see if you can stop it. You know you can't stop it. You know you can't stop this. You can't guard me.

"I'm gonna catch it on the left elbow, and then I'm gonna drive to the left to the baseline, and then I'm gonna pull up and shoot my fadeaway."

And sure enough ...

Ehlo famously guarded Jordan during The Shot:

See also Michael Jordan Has Not Left the Building and Jordan's top 50 greatest moments.

Super Bowl preview for non-football fansFeb 01 2013

If you don't know anything about football and yet are interested in (or being coerced into) watching the big game this weekend, here are some players' stories that might make it more interesting for you.

Whether actively experiencing the spectacle or not, there are a few reasons to like the Super Bowl in 2013, besides the fact that the Baltimore Ravens are the first major professional sports franchise, so far, to be named after a 19th century poem. For starters, in a sports year that's already brought us doping cyclists and fake dead girlfriends, the teams in this year's contest are welcome standouts. The San Francisco 49ers were the first NFL team to join the "It Gets Better" campaign, and their opponent, the Ravens, has a team captain who is the most outspoken advocate of LGBT rights in the NFL, and whose presence has evolved the once overtly homophobic locker-room culture of his entire team.

I loved this line in reference to Colin Kapernick's replacement of Alex Smith as the 49ers' starting QB:

The deliberate, steady bus was replaced by a flaming Apache helicopter flown by a nude Vladimir Putin.

Bonus: nothing about the Harbaugh brothers.

The world's fastest rugby playerJan 31 2013

Carlin Isles is one of the world's fastest men at the 100 meters but that wasn't good enough to make the US Olympic team. So he looked for other sports in which to make his mark and settled on rugby sevens. The difference in speed between him and the other players on the field is startling.

I saw this video back in December and didn't think much of it, aside from "wow, that dude is fast". But on Twitter the other day, Robin Sloan suggested it was Kottke-esque. Now that I've watched it again, I think I know what he was getting at.

People in tech talk a lot about innovation and disruption but there's a lot of hand-waving that happens when you attempt to pinpoint what those things mean. One of the reasons I enjoy following sports -- and in particular the sporting world's outliers (Messi, Jordan, Billy Beane, Rodman, Magnus Carlsen, Vonn, Belichick, Federer, knuckleball pitchers, Barry Sanders, Serena, etc.) -- is that you can see innovation and disruption in action, more or less directly. When Carlin Isles takes a pass from one of his teammates and blazes past the other team, it's clear he's playing an entirely different game than the other 13 players on the field and profiting handsomely from it...innovation results in disruption.

(Oh, and it's not that Isles is necessarily any good at rugby...that remains to be seen. But the combination of speed and size that he brings to the game is a disruptive innovation and opposing teams will have to change the way they play when he's on the field.)

Update: Like I said, it remains to be seen whether or not Isles has a big impact on rugby, but Jonah Lomu was a star rugby player who had a long-lasting influence on the game:

Lomu in his prime was not quite as fast as Isles (10.13s vs 10.8s in the 100 meters) but at 6'5" and 276 lbs, he had a brutal combination of pace and size. (via @dan_connolly)

Which sport's athletes are the best?Jan 30 2013

Sports fans are always looking for new ways to argue about sports. This, from Jeff Ely, is a pretty fun game: which sport's athletes are better at their sport than other athletes are at their sports?

The thought experiment is to compare players across sports. I.e., are basketball players better at basketball than, say, snooker players are at playing snooker?

Unless you count being tall as one of the things NBA basketball players "do" I would say on the contrary that NBA basketball players must be among the worst at what they do in all of professional sports. The reason is simple: because height is so important in basketball, the NBA is drawing the top talent among a highly selected sub-population: those that are exceptionally tall. The skill distribution of the overall population, focusing on those skills that make a great basketball player like coordination, quickness, agility, accuracy; certainly dominate the distribution of the subpopulation from which the NBA draws its players.

Here's Ely's lists of such sports: table tennis, soccer, tennis, golf, and chess. This question is similar to another I asked awhile back: which athlete is better at their sport than almost anyone else is at anything at some point in the past 5-6 years?

Off the top of my head, possible candidates include Roger Federer, Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Lindsey Vonn, Tiger Woods, Marta, Shaun White, Jimmie Johnson, and Annika Sörenstam.

There is also Joe Posnanski's question about which athlete you'd choose to play for your soul.

The question Posnanski is essentially asking is: who is the most dominant athlete of all time across any sport? But not quite that question...Babe Ruth was quite the slugger in his day, but he might not fare so well against modern pitching. Same with Wilt, Jim Thorpe, Babe Didrikson, or even Gretzky. The game played is a factor as well. Aside from variants such as speed chess and Chess960, chess is chess and the board is the board...home field, wind, and teammates aren't really a factor. (Is chess a sport though? If so, I might take Kasparov against anyone.)

Love this stuff. (via marginal revolution)

Possible test for CTE in living patientsJan 22 2013

CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), the degenerative brain disease that could dramatically change the way pro football is played in the future (if it's played at all), can't be identified in victims until after death. That makes it difficult to prove (or disprove) the connection between pro football, concussions, and death from CTE. But researchers have discovered a possible technique that could diagnose CTE in living patients.

Last year five retired N.F.L. players who were 45 years and older and suffered from mood swings, depression and cognitive problems were given PET, or positron emission tomography, scans. The authors of the study said those scans revealed tau protein deposits in their brains, a signature of C.T.E. While not definitive, the distribution of tau in the retired players was consistent with those found in the autopsies of players who had C.T.E.

If it's actually possible, this could be huge. Many more players, current and former, can be tested and diagnosed and if CTE was found regularly and consistently, you'd think that insurance companies would flee from the NFL like rats leaving a sinking ship and football would have to adapt (to be more like soccer? flag football?) or die.

The NFL, a theater of painJan 18 2013

Tom Junod's just-posted piece in Esquire is a good companion to the interview with former NFL star Jason Taylor. In it, Junod talks to several current NFL players about injuries and pain.

"The worst injury I've ever had on the field -- for my wife and kids, at least, and my mom and dad -- was an injury I got against the 49ers," says Matt Hasselbeck. "Patrick Willis hit me as I was diving for the goal line. He hit me, and twenty minutes later I'm in an ambulance on my way to Stanford Medical. I'd broken a rib on the left and I'd broken a rib on the right. The rib on the right was right next to my aorta, and it was really dangerous for my health. I couldn't breathe. It was like there was a weight on top of me. It's a scary thing, because it feels like you're drowning. I couldn't breathe at all, and I got up off the field because it was a two-minute situation - I didn't want the team to have to take a time-out. I tried to run off the field, and when the trainers met me they saw I was, like, purple in the face. And they immediately put me on the ground. Sometimes they'll put you on the ground to evaluate you and sometimes to give the backup quarterback a chance to get loose. They put me on the ground because I was purple."

That instinct - the instinct to run when you can't breathe in order to save your team a time-out - is not one often encountered in civilian life. Indeed, it is one encountered almost exclusively in war, in which people's lives, rather than simply their livelihoods, are at stake. Now, the NFL is replete with military symbolism, not to mention military pretensions. But the reality of injury is what makes it more than fantasy football, more than professional wrestling, more than an action movie, more than a video game played with moving parts who happen to be human. The reality of injury - and the phantasmagoric world of pain - is what makes it, legitimately, a blood sport. And it is what makes Dr. Yates, the Steelers' team doctor, define his job simply and bluntly: "My job is to protect players from themselves."

Junod adds, via Twitter:

Concussion: the global warming of the NFL. We feel bad about it. But what we really worry about is someone taking our football away.

Hilarious bad lip reading of NFL playersJan 15 2013

Take footage of NFL players, coaches, and officials talking, dub it poorly with alternate dialogue, and you get a bit of genius.

Let's not beat around the bush: this is the best thing ever. (via @gavinpurcell)

Pain is routine in the NFLJan 15 2013

Former NFL star Jason Taylor was so injured (and yet still playing every week) that for a period of two years, the 6'6" 240-pound linebacker couldn't lift his kids into bed. So how did he play? Shots to kill the pain and then more shots to kill the pain of the first shots. And so on. Until he almost had to have his leg amputated.

The trainer rushed to Taylor's house. Taylor thought he was overreacting. The trainer told him they were immediately going to the hospital. A test kit came out. Taylor's blood pressure was so high that the doctors thought the test kit was faulty. Another test. Same crazy numbers. Doctors demanded immediate surgery. Taylor said absolutely not, that he wanted to call his wife and his agent and the famed Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion. Andrews also recommended surgery, and fast. Taylor said, fine, he'd fly out in owner Daniel Snyder's private jet in the morning. Andrews said that was fine but that he'd have to cut off Taylor's leg upon arrival. Taylor thought he was joking. Andrews wasn't. Compartment syndrome. Muscle bleeds into the cavity, causing nerve damage. Two more hours, and Taylor would have had one fewer leg. Fans later sent him supportive notes about their own compartment syndrome, many of them in wheelchairs.

Taylor's reaction?

"I was mad because I had to sit out three weeks," he says. "I was hot."

He had seven to nine inches of nerve damage.

"The things we do," he explains. "Players play. It is who we are. We always think we can overcome."

At the New Yorker, Reeves Wiedeman reminds us that the NFL is unlikely to change because so much of what happens with injuries is hidden from view.

As we watch a game that we know is dangerous, we soothe ourselves with the idea that these men must be aware of the risks, too; that they are being well compensated to take on those risks; and that, at least when they're on the field, in front of the cameras, they are living the dream that we all craved as kids, and they're having fun.

But what we can take from this story, and from the fact that, on the surface, this weekend's games were filled with such excitement, is the fact that so much of football's barbarism takes place beyond our vision and behind closed doors.

(thx, meg)

Here is what happens when Troy Aikman does your NFL broadcastJan 11 2013

Troy Aikman moves around the field at Cowboys Stadium as if he owns the place, but in a previous-owner kind of way. He'll soon call a game here for Fox. People scream his name from the stands as he moves toward midfield to meet a head coach and a PR man. The sportcaster's partner, Joe Buck, sits up in the booth, preparing. The Cowboys. The Saints. Thanksgiving Day. Here's the behind-the-scenes look at how Fox's broadcast of the game happens.

If Aikman -- and Buck, too -- have any misconceptions about their comedic chops, it's because, for several months out of the year, they are surrounded by people who laugh too hard at their jokes or anything that even seems like a joke. The next day, Aikman makes the slightest quip about the size of the enormous screen that hovers above the field at Cowboys Stadium -- certainly strip-mined ground even a couple of months after the place opened. The reaction he receives would seem improbable even if Louis C.K. had delivered the line.

Pretty interesting. Aikman and Buck are among my favorite football announcers, but they're not as good as Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth or John Madden and Anyone At All.

Junior Seau had brain damageJan 10 2013

Recent analysis by specialists shows that Junior Seau, the former stand-out NFL linebacker who committed suicide last year, suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) at the time of his death. CTE is associated with repeated trauma to the head and has been found in many ex-NFL players, including a few that have committed suicide.

"I think it's important for everyone to know that Junior did indeed suffer from CTE," Gina Seau said. "It's important that we take steps to help these players. We certainly don't want to see anything like this happen again to any of our athletes."

She said the family was told that Seau's disease resulted from "a lot of head-to-head collisions over the course of 20 years of playing in the NFL. And that it gradually, you know, developed the deterioration of his brain and his ability to think logically."

Experts caution that correlation is not causation, but as these incidents mount, the NFL is going to come under increasing pressure to act, causation or no.

100 greatest sports photosJan 02 2013

From Sports Illustrated, their picks for the 100 greatest photos of sports.

Ali Liston

Rodman rebounds

Climate change slows skiing downDec 13 2012

Climate change, already on the hook for potentially killing spaghetti, will have a big impact on downhill skiing and snowboarding in the United States.

Under certain warming forecasts, more than half of the 103 ski resorts in the Northeast will not be able to maintain a 100-day season by 2039, according to a study to be published next year by Daniel Scott, director of the Interdisciplinary Center on Climate Change at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.

By then, no ski area in Connecticut or Massachusetts is likely to be economically viable, Mr. Scott said. Only 7 of 18 resorts in New Hampshire and 8 of 14 in Maine will be. New York's 36 ski areas, most of them in the western part of the state, will have shrunk to 9.

The Kobe AssistDec 10 2012

The trouble with using statistics to improve the performance of sports teams is the difficulty in choosing what stats to track. Kirk Goldsberry makes that case that we should be tracking a new statistic called the Kobe Assist, which is actually a good kind of missed shot.

Kobe was wide-open; he caught the ball and shot without hesitation. He missed, and despite the great screen by Howard and the great playmaking by Nash, this beautiful basketball sequence was seemingly fruitless. Nash would not get his assist.

However, while Nash was busy playmaking and while Kobe was busy jump shooting, Dwight Howard had taken about seven steps toward his happy place -- the restricted area -- fought off the gigantic DeMarcus Cousins, and gained optimal rebounding position. Kobe's miss ricocheted upward from the rim before descending back down into the hands of Howard, who quickly put the ball in the basket; the Staples crowd went wild (in the dark). Did Kobe just miss a shot or did he just inadvertently set up Dwight Howard for an easy score? Are some of Kobe's missed shots actually good for the Lakers? Are some of his misses kind of like assists?

Novak Djokovic buys all the donkey cheese in the worldDec 10 2012

While you ponder what that might be a euphemism for, I'll just tell you that in actual fact tennis player Novak Djokovic has purchased the entire 2013 supply of cheese made from donkey milk. Only £800 per kilo.

Wimbledon winner and world No 1 Novak, 25, wants the donkey's milk cheese to supply a new chain of restaurants in his Serbian homeland. The delicacy, known as pule, is made in Zasavica, Serbia, and is described as similar to Spanish manchego. Donkey milk is said to be very healthy for humans as it has anti-allergen properties and is low fat.

(via @tylercowen)

The hurry-up marching bandDec 05 2012

As the pace of play-calling in college football has sped up, college marching bands have had to adjust as well.

What followed was something like the movie scene where every non-essential part on the plane is removed in order to make it light enough to take off from the short, improvised runway. First to go were any tunes longer than 30 seconds. Then, after the 2009 season in which Kelly became Oregon's head coach, Wiltshire ditched the flipbook on which the songs were written in favor of hand signals. "By the time I flipped a page," he says, "it was already too late." Knowing he had to serve two masters -- playing faster while still engaging the audience -- Wiltshire hit upon a new idea: theme music. Now whenever one of Oregon's star players gets a first down, the band plays the first five chords of a recognizable song: the "Hawaii Five-O" theme for quarterback Marcus Mariota (because he's originally from Hawaii); "Mambo No. 5" for De'Anthony Thomas (because his nickname is "the Black Mamba"); and the "Superman" theme for Kenjon Barner (because he's really good).

Homemade soccer ballsNov 15 2012

Photographer Jessica Hilltout has documented the game of soccer/football/futbol around the world, from the secondhand footwear to the improvised goals to the makeshift balls:

Jessica Hilltout

A soccer ball for everyoneNov 14 2012

Frustrated by the lack of durability of traditional soccer balls and encouraged by an investment by Sting, Tim Jahnigen invented and is selling a more durable ball made out of hard foam.

Tim Jahnigen has always followed his heart, whether as a carpenter, a chef, a lyricist or now as an entrepreneur. So in 2006, when he saw a documentary about children in Darfur who found solace playing soccer with balls made out of garbage and string, he was inspired to do something about it.

The children, he learned, used trash because the balls donated by relief agencies and sporting goods companies quickly ripped or deflated on the rocky dirt that doubled as soccer fields. Kicking a ball around provided such joy in otherwise stressful and trying conditions that the children would play with practically anything that approximated a ball.

"The only thing that sustained these kids is play," said Mr. Jahnigen of Berkeley, Calif. "Yet the millions of balls that are donated go flat within 24 hours."

You can buy one online and for every ball that you buy, one will be donated to a community in need.

Princess Bride lines as play by playNov 13 2012

Last week, the hosts of NFL Kick Off on ESPN, Trey Wingo, Mark Sclereth, and Tedy Bruschi, jammed as many Princess Bride references as they could into their half hour show. Jack Moore collected them. Genuine guffaw at "There will be no survivors" from around :45.

(thx, Alex)

Sixth man infraction spotted 19 years after Rockets/Sonics gameOct 23 2012

This is one of the nuttiest sports things I have ever seen. Ethan Sherwood Strauss was rewatching a second round game from the 1993 NBA playoffs. Shawn Kemp's Seattle SuperSonics vs. Hakeem Olajuwon's Houston Rockets. Game seven. Overtime. Hakeem has the ball in the closing moments of the game. And suddenly, Strauss spies a sixth player on the court for Houston. The refs missed the extra player and so did most everyone else for the last 19 years. Take a look for yourself...the play in question starts at 16:50:

Number 22 just wanders off the bench and into the game!

Pitching the shoesOct 17 2012

Brian Simmons is one of the two best horseshoe pitchers in the world. Without giving too much away about the story, he's overcome a lot to reach that status.

Brian Simmons does not like the clay at this year's World Horseshoe Tournament in Knoxville, Tenn. It's powdery, slippery. Even the non-horseshoe pitchers can tell this, because the bleachers in the convention center, where the tournament is being held, are coated in a light gray dust and the concrete floor has gotten more slick with each passing day. The clay dust gets on Simmons's shoes and then the shoes slip out of his hand. It's supposed to be Kentucky Blue Clay but that is hard to believe. More like Kentucky Synthetic, one man says. It makes it damn hard to pitch a horseshoe with the accuracy normally attributed to a man like Simmons.

This is what Simmons is thinking about as he stares down a 14-inch tall stake. He is thinking about the slippery clay, and how he might adjust his release point, and as these thoughts slip into his brain, he has lost without even pitching the shoe.

Also, I have been throwing horseshoes wrong all these years.

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