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Vintage Photos of Venus & Serena Playing Tennis as Kids (1991)

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2021

Venus & Serena Williams as kids

Venus & Serena Williams as kids

Venus & Serena Williams as kids playing tennis

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is home to a collection of photographs taken by Rod Lyons in 1991 of Venus and Serena Williams practicing tennis at the ages of 12 and 10 on a tennis court near their home in Compton. Their father Richard is in the photos as well, coaching his daughters. Patrick Sauer talked to Lyons about the photos for Smithsonian Magazine:

“Where I was sent to shoot an up-and-coming tennis player was interesting because [the sport’s] ’70s [to] ’80s boom was over, so [tennis] wasn’t that popular overall, and you certainly didn’t see Black people in Compton out there playing. But other than that it was no big deal,” Lyons recalls. “I got there and started taking pictures of two young sisters named Venus and Serena, 12 and 10, taking lessons from their father, Richard. The practice session was disciplined and intense. Richard was really coaching ‘em up that day, but he wasn’t dictatorial, and [he] treated his daughters with kindness and respect.”

There’s another photo of the sisters from 1991 in this NPR piece, as well as some stories from locals about the Williams family:

Barbee was a 21-year-old limo driver and part-time tennis coach when Richard Williams invited him to train with his daughters.

“Tennis was a passion,” he says.

Barbee was a tennis prodigy himself, so when he faced Venus and Serena on the court, he had finally met his match.

“Man, it was unbelievable,” Barbee says. “Never seen nobody that good. It was something I’d never seen before in my life.”

Venus wasn’t even a teenager yet.

Training meant hitting hundreds of balls with enough force to break the strings on their racquets.

“Every other day, I was restringing my racquets,” he says. “My shoes, once a week. A hole right in my foot of my shoe. Used to tape them up.”

Here are still more photos from 1991 and you can find a photo of the sisters posing with Ronald and Nancy Reagan at Sports Illustrated.

King Richard, a biopic of Richard Williams produced by his daughters, takes place during this period of time, is now out in theaters and on HBO Max, and is getting great reviews.

How Bowling Balls Are Made

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 16, 2021

I have been a fan of how things are made videos since my Mister Rogers and Sesame Street days, so I was not expecting to be so surprised watching the video above about how bowling balls are made. It’s a ball — how complicated could it be? Well, it turns out that modern bowling balls contain an asymmetric weight block in the middle that looks a little like a car’s starter. Weird, right?

As I started to wonder why it would be advantageous to include such a lopsided core in a ball you want to roll predictably down a lane, I noticed YouTube’s algorithm doing its job in recommending that I watch Veritasium’s recent video on How Hidden Technology Transformed Bowling, which totally explains the wonky weight block thing:

The weight blocks are wonky in a precise way. They’re designed to cause the ball to contact the lane over more of the surface of the ball, giving it more traction once it hits the unoiled part of the lane, which is desirable for expert bowlers looking for a wicked hook. So cool! (thx, mick)

Update: Brendan Koerner wrote a piece for Wired several months ago about Mo Pinel, who revolutionized bowling with the asymmetric cores described in the video above.

Pinel toured Faball’s factory and examined a freshly made core that the company used in its Hammer brand. It had a symmetrical and unexciting shape — the center looked like a lemon, and there were two convex caps of equal size on either side. In a moment that has now passed into ball-design legend, Pinel grabbed the core, which was still soft because the polyester had yet to cure, and sliced off the ends with a palette knife. Then he smooshed the caps back on into positions that were slightly askew, so that the contraption now looked like a Y-wing fighter from Star Wars.

The ball that contained this revamped core, the Hammer 3D Offset, would become Pinel’s signature achievement. “That ball sold like hotcakes for three years, where the average life span of a ball was about six months,” says Del Warren, a former ball designer who now works as a coach in Florida. “They literally couldn’t build enough of them.” In addition to flaring like few other balls on the market, the 3D Offset was idiot-proof: The core was designed in such a way that it would be hard for a pro shop to muck up its action by drilling a customer’s finger holes incorrectly, an innovation that made bowlers less nervous about plunking down $200 for a ball.

(via @danhwylie)

The Ultimate Ski Run

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 04, 2021

This is a really entertaining ski video from Markus Eder that combines the playful free skiing of Candide Thovex with JP Auclair’s street skiing. My kids do free skiing — not on stuff like this quite yet — and let me assure you that as steep, fast, and big as everything looks in that video, it’s steeper faster, and bigger in real life. It took so much effort and planning to make that run look so easy.

Tiny Soccer Stars

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 01, 2021

a tiny Erling Haaland celebrating a goal

a tiny Lionel Messi celebrating a goal with a normal sized Neymar

a tiny Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring a goal

a tiny Kobe Bryant dunking

I am a little bit obsessed with Phetru’s miniaturized soccer stars (along with the occasional other sports stars or celebrities, like Kobe above or Emma Raducanu) — they’re like bobbleheads come to life. It was tough picking out just 3 or 4 to feature…each successive photo was funnier than the last.

Is the 3-Pointer Breaking Basketball?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2021

The three-point shot has become the focus of the offensive strategy of every successful NBA team. But is it also making the game boring?

The math states that scoring one-third of your shots from behind the 3-point line is as good as scoring half your shots from inside the line. In other words: Shooting as many 3s as possible will likely lead to a higher score.

The league took notice, and teams and players followed suit. 3s have become so prevalent in recent years that fans are criticizing the league for being oversaturated with them. Critics worry that the game is on the verge of becoming boring because everyone is trying to do the same thing. And that’s led some to wonder if the NBA should move the 3-point line back.

Check out the “additional reading” in the YouTube description, like The NBA is at a breaking point with three-point shooting and Is It Time to Move the NBA 3-Point Line Back? (2014).

Flat Earth FC

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 08, 2021

From 2019 to 2021, a small Spanish football team was renamed Flat Earth FC, both as a publicity stunt and because club president Javi Poves couldn’t understand how water “curves”.

“Football is the most popular sport and has the most impact worldwide, so creating a club dedicated to the flat earth movement is the best way to have a constant presence in the media,” said Poves earlier this year. “Flat Earth FC is the first football club whose followers are united by the most important thing, which is an idea.”

The club’s crest is now a circular image of the earth, pressed flat on to all kits, and fans are encouraged to spark regular conversations in their pursuit of answers from the powers that be. The team mascot? An astronaut. It’s a radical move, but the club is bringing in supporters from afar. “It’s really amazing to be part of this amazing movement,” says Flat Earth player Mario Cardete. “I think it’s more than a club.”

During the pandemic, the club also became anti-mask and anti-vax — because conspiracy theories come in price-saving 3-packs, I guess? Poves resigned in late 2020 and the club was renamed and then purchased by a larger club to become their reserve team. The Earth remains round.

Simpson’s Paradox, a Mindblowing Statistical Gotcha

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2021

Even for mathematically minded folks, statistics can be hard to grasp. Take statistical paradoxes for example: Simpson’s Paradox is a real mind-boggler. Ryan Anderson explains this paradox in a recent issue of Why is this interesting?

It’s simple to describe, yet it still stops me in my tracks when I see it in the wild. The paradox is that a measurable effect on a large population disappears, or even reverses when that population is split into subgroups. The cause of these results is almost always a material change in the denominators from one period to the next.

Showing is easier than telling with paradoxes, so here is a classic example: In 1995 and 1996, David Justice had a higher batting average than Derek Jeter in each year. However, Jeter had a higher cumulative batting average over those two years.

It’s true; look:

comparison of batting averages

Anderson continues:

How does this work? Jeter’s 1996 stats accounted for over 92% of his total performance over the two years, as he was 20 years old and only called up to the major league for a few games in 1995. Meanwhile, Justice’s 1996 stats were only 25% of his total performance due to a separated shoulder he suffered barely two months into the season. So while Justice performed better on smaller sample size, Jeter’s 183 hits in 1996 were the strongest signal for overall performance.

Read the rest of the piece; he goes on to connect statistical paradoxes to efforts to mislead people about the pandemic and vaccine effectiveness.

Update: A pair of videos on Simpson’s Paradox, in case you need some more explanation or examples.

(thx, @JunieGrrl)

Attention Deconcentration and the Secrets of Freediving

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2021

This is a lovely, almost poetic piece by Daniel Riley about the sport of freediving and one of the best freedivers in the world, Alexey Molchanov.

Freediving is, after all, a lifelong opportunity to radically reshape one’s body and mind in the process. In pursuing depth, humans must train their lungs and brains to unlock secret sources of clarity and strength and oxygen and potential that are hidden within the body. They are secrets that, once revealed, make the divers not just more effective at their craft, they argue, but more effective, conscious, skillful, and thoughtful as human beings. There is a shift in perspective. A global realignment within one’s consciousness. The look in their eyes when they talk about this thing…every diver who’s gone truly deep sounds like those rarest of individuals who’ve seen the earth from the moon, or died and been resuscitated.

Alexey learned how to excel in the sport of freediving from his mother Natalia Molchanova:

When Alexey was younger, his mother, Natalia Molchanova, was the world’s best freediver, a distinction that she held for many years. She was a pioneer in the sport and the practitioner of a mind-and-body-control technique called “attention deconcentration.” She passed her secrets to her son, who perfected them and uses the regimen to reach a state of intense calm. By doing so, he can slow his heart rate, his metabolic rate, while simultaneously slowing the activity of his brain and his body. His focus deepens. He relaxes to the point of seeming asleep. He takes deep, drowsy breaths, like a summer breeze filling a sail.

I first learned about freediving from Alec Wilkinson’s 2009 piece in the New Yorker, where Natalia explained attention deconcentration:

To still the unbidden apprehensions that might interfere with her dive - what she describes as “the subjective feeling of empty lungs at the deep” — Molchanova uses a technique that she refers to as “attention deconcentration.” (“They get it from the military,” Ericson said.) Molchanova told me, “It means distribution of the whole field of attention — you try to feel everything simultaneously. This condition creates an empty consciousness, so the bad thoughts don’t exist.”

“Is it difficult to learn?”

“Yes, it’s difficult. I teach it in my university. It’s a technique from ancient warriors — it was used by samurai — but it was developed by a Russian scientist, Oleg Bakhtiyarov, as a psychological-state-management technique for people sho do very monotonous jobs.”

I asked if it was like meditation.

“To some degree, except meditation means you’re completely free, but if you’re in the sea at depth you will have to be focussed, or it will get bad. What you do to start learning is you focus on the edges, not the center of things, as if you were looking at a screen. Basically, all the time I am diving, I have an empty consciousness. I have a kind of melody going through my mind that keeps me going, but otherwise I am completely not in my mind.”

After reading both of these great pieces, you can check out one of Molchanov’s recent world record dives:

Every Sport a Bowling Ball

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2021

What if you substituted a bowling ball for the ball in sports like ping pong, golf, cricket, tennis, and soccer — but also in darts and skeet shooting? This very funny video imagines just that.

Meet Lizzie Armanto, Olympic Skateboarder

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 09, 2021

The 2020 Summer Olympics are over, but it’s never too late to find inspiration in the athletes who competed. For the New Yorker, Nathan Fitch made a short film about professional skateboarder Lizzie Armanto, who was then preparing to represent Finland in the first ever skateboarding competition at the Olympics.

“There [are] no masters,” Armanto says. “And even the people that we call masters — they haven’t done every trick. No one can do everything on a skateboard at all times without failing. Everyone falls, and everyone will have something that they can work on.”

Armanto didn’t medal at these Games — she broke several bones and underwent surgery after a skating accident in late 2020 and was perhaps still recovering from that. But she represented Finland and her sport in fine style; she helped design the uniforms she wore:

Those distinctive squiggles were actually an homage to Finland, the country Armanto was competing for. Specifically, she was inspired by architect and designer Alvar Aalto. “In 1939, he designed a kidney-shaped swimming pool which became synonymous with pool skateboarding much later in the ’70s,” Armanto says. “The various patterns on the jumpsuits are modeled after empty swimming pools around the world.”

(thx, pete)

Track Star Races the NYC Subway

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 05, 2021

BuzzFeed enlisted NYU track athlete Jon Diaz to help answer a burning question: Can a fast runner beat an NYC subway train from one station to the next? I don’t want to spoil the answer, but they probably wouldn’t have made the video if he’d failed, right? (via clive thompson)

Update: See also subway races in other cities like London & Paris. (via @philipkennedy)

Lusia Harris, the Only Woman Drafted by an NBA Team

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 02, 2021

Before this morning, I had never heard of Lusia Harris and now she’s one of my favorite basketball players. Playing in the 1970s, before the enforcement of Title IX in athletics, the 6’3” Harris dominated in high school, led a small university to three consecutive national basketball championships in the first 5 years of the program (while averaging 25.9 points and 14.5 rebounds per game), scored the first basket in Olympics women’s basketball history, is the only woman ever officially drafted by an NBA team, and was inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame. And those aren’t even her proudest achievements — you’ll have to watch the video for that.

For an electrifying young basketball player on the national stage, success often comes with a lucrative professional contract and brand deals — but Harris’s moment came in the 1970s, decades before the W.N.B.A. was founded, when few opportunities were available to female athletes interested in pursuing a professional career. In Ben Proudfoot’s “The Queen of Basketball,” Harris tells the story of what happens when an unstoppable talent runs out of games to win.

This video is part of the NY Times’ Almost Famous series, which also includes stories about radio astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell and actress/singer Kim Hill.

The Twisties

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2021

Yesterday, world champion gymnast Simone Biles removed herself from the women’s team final at the Olympics after not doing one of the planned two-and-a-half twists on her vault and stumbling on the landing. Biles said after the final:

I just felt like it would be a little bit better to take a back seat, work on my mindfulness. I didn’t want to risk the team a medal for, kind of, my screw ups, because they’ve worked way too hard for that.

On Twitter, former gymnast and diver Catherine Burns explained that Biles was likely experiencing a case of “the dreaded twisties”.

When you’re flipping or twisting (or both!) it is very disorienting to the human brain. When training new flips and twists, you need external cues to learn how it feels to complete the trick correctly. (In diving, a coach yells “OUT” and you kick your body straight and pray).

Once you’ve practiced a trick enough, you develop the neural pathways that create kinesthesia which leads to muscle memory. Your brain remembers how your body feels doing the trick and you gain air awareness.

It’s like driving a car, she explains. At first everything you do is unnatural and requires deep concentration to learn but once you’ve got it down, you can do it instinctively, without thinking or even paying that much attention. Then sometimes, in stressful situations, you start thinking too much about how to do the familiar thing and you lose it completely:

Suddenly, in the middle of driving on the freeway, right as you need to complete a tricky merge, you have totally lost your muscle memory of how to drive a car. You have to focus on making you foot press the pedal at the right angle, turn the steering wheel just so, shift gears..

It’s terrifying. You’re moving way too fast, you’re totally lost, you’re trying to THINK but you know you don’t usually have to think to do these maneuvers, you just feel them and do them.

The twisties are like this, and often happen under pressure. You’re working so hard to get it right that you stop trusting your muscle memory. You’re getting lost in the air, second guessing your instincts, overthinking every movement.

And when you’re driving a car or performing a high-intensity sport like gymnastics, second guessing and overthinking can cause serious injury.

I used to write a lot about this kind of thing in this loosely connected series of posts on relaxed concentration. This phenomenon goes by many names — performance anxiety, stage fright, choking, the yips, cueitis (in snooker), and target panic (for archers) — and the world-class are not immune. Daniel Day-Lewis had stage fright so bad he quit the stage decades ago — an affliction he shared with Laurence Olivier, Barbra Streisand, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. If you’ve read anything at all about this stuff, Biles’ case of the twisties doesn’t seem so unusual or mysterious — it’s just one of those things that makes her, and the rest of us, human.

Update: I’d missed this yesterday: Biles herself told reporters about the twisties.

They saw it a little bit in practice… having a little bit of the twisties.

Which is something she’s struggled with before:

The twisties are an issue Biles has faced before, including in the lead up to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and prior to the 2019 season.

“2019, at the beginning of the year, I forgot how to twist and flip. It was great,” Biles told Olympics.com in January 2020.

The Alt Tour, a Self-Supported Tour de France

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 30, 2021

Professional road racing cyclist Lachlan Morton is attempting to complete the Tour de France this year. Except: He’s doing it entirely on his own, without teammates, support vehicles, and transportation from the previous day’s finish to the next day’s start (which might be dozens or even hundreds of miles apart). That means he’ll be riding an extra 1500 miles, climbing an additional 50,000 feet in elevation, shopping for his own meals, and still trying to beat the peloton to Paris. Here’s a quick explanatory trailer:

You can follow his progress on Rapha’s site and check out updates in this Instagram Story. He’s currently ahead of the peloton, even riding day four in Birkenstocks:

Ah, but — the day three press release had an ominous note in it. Right after telling us that Morton had “picked up a tub of couscous and a couple of bags of nuts for dinner” came the real kicker: our protagonist had a bad knee, and had bought new pedals to allow a switch to flat shoes.

So on day four, Morton set off with his new pedals and covered both stage four and stage five of the actual Tour de France — in a pair of Birkenstocks. Despite his sensible sandals, Morton managed to average the same speeds as the day prior, getting through the time trial in 1:17.

Lachlan Morton Sandals

(via matt)

Nikola Jokic, Unlikely NBA MVP

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2021

To the casual basketball fan, Nikola Jokic seems like an unlikely pick for NBA MVP. Outwardly, his game resembles middle-aged-guy-at-the-rec-center — “god-tier old man game” is how Gene Demby put it — but this video makes a good case that Jokic is “revolutionizing the center position”, “the best offensive passing big man ever”, and possibly even “the best offensive center in NBA history”.

Simone Biles, Mesmerizing in Slow Motion

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2021

Gymnast Simone Biles won her 7th US Gymnastics Championship this past weekend, further cementing her status as the world’s best gymnast and one of the most dominant athletes of all time in any sport. In her floor exercise routine on the first day of the competition, Biles absolutely nailed a triple double — that’s three twists while doing two backflips. Timothy Burke took the footage and slowed it down so that we can see exactly what’s going on in the air. And, Jesus, I was NOT prepared for what I saw. The two handsprings that set up the final move are beautiful slowed down, leisurely even. But then Biles launches herself impossibly high into the air — like absurdly and spectacularly high — and starts twisting and flipping at a speed that seems fast even for slow motion. And the landing — it’s like she was standing there all along, waiting for the rest of her spirit to join her. Watching the routine at regular speed makes you appreciate the move even more.

In reaction to this move, NBA head coach Stan Van Gundy, who has seen his fair share of elite athletes doing amazing things over the years, exclaimed: “How is that even humanly possible?” As if to preemptively answer him and everyone else watching, the sparkly leotard that Biles wore during her routine had a picture of a goat sown into it because she is the GOAT.

Simone Biles wearing a leotard with a picture of a goat sown into it

See also Who Could Jump Higher on a Trampoline, LeBron James or Simone Biles? (via the kid should see this)

Update: Physicist David Young analyzes Biles’ triple-double:

Assuming her rotation rates around each axis remain constant, to get three full flips in would require an extra 0.65 seconds, which requires a launch speed of 22.6 miles per hour, all other things being equal. This is not possible, even if we assume her max launch speed is 18 miles per hour, which is apparently her top sprinting speed.

However, if she could do three full flips, she would also be able to get in one-and-a-half more twists at her current rotation rate! What would this even be called?! What might be more likely would be to try to gain an extra half twist so that she would take off facing left and land facing right, still only completing two full flips.

(thx, donny)

Jumping from 25,000 Feet Without a Parachute and Landing Safely

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2021

WHAAAAAAATTT the hell did I just watch? In 2016, Luke Aikins became the first person to intentionally jump and land without the aid of a parachute or wingsuit — check out the video above to see how he does it. At one point, his heart rate is displayed on the screen and I’m certain that mine was in the same ballpark just before he landed. I recommend you also watch a video of the jump narrated by Aikins as he talks through what’s happening before, during, and after the jump.

See also Gary Connery’s 2012 jump — he fell 2400 feet from a helicopter and landed on a huge pile of cardboard boxes with the aid of a wingsuit, which slowed his vertical velocity to about 15 mph.

FYI: The jump height of 25,000 feet seems impressive (and it’s probably trickier hitting the target from higher up) but in terms of speed, about 1500 feet is sufficient for a freefalling human in the spread-eagle position to reach their maximum (terminal) velocity of ~120 mph. Anything over 1500 feet, about half the height of El Capitan’s granite face, doesn’t add any additional speed. (via @mikeindustries)

Juggling from Above

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2021

Juggling, from the usual angle, looks like a very hectic endeavor — balls and clubs and hands flying everywhere. But if you get an overhead view, as in this video from Taylor Glenn, you can see that often there’s very little movement in two of the three dimensions. The mastery of these small movements combined with the sweeping up-and-down motions creates a compelling illusion for ground-based viewers. The power of a different perspective. (via the kid should see this)

Sports From Above

posted by Jason Kottke   May 10, 2021

aerial view of a ballet dancer

aerial view of gymnasts

aerial view of synchronized swimmers

aerial view of a tennis player

Photographer Brad Walls (Insta) makes aerial photos of people playing sports, providing a new angle on the actions of divers, gymnasts, tennis players, synchronized swimmers, and figure skaters. (via petapixel)

Magnus Carlsen’s Remarkable Memory

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2021

Watch as David Howell sets up several historical chess positions and quizzes world champion Magnus Carlsen on them. Spoiler alert: he knows them all. The one he gets in just four moves after opening is just…otherworldly.

Carlsen is one of a number of world class performers that have prodigious memory skills. See also LeBron James Has a Photographic Memory, Xavi Hernández identifying goals he scored (and the final scores of those matches), Aaron Rodgers’ memory of his significant plays, and Iker Casillas remembers the score of every match he’s played. (via robin sloan)

Update: Former world champion Garry Kasparov:

I was tested similarly in my world championship days, and yes, most Grandmasters can identify thousands of games and positions. It’s not trivial, but, as Magnus said, it’s our job! But his serious interest in the past (human!) games is also a competitive advantage.

Kasparov once gave an impressive public exhibition of this skill. (via @stevenstrogatz)

What Happened with the Whole European Super League Thing?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2021

Erling Haaland

Last week, twelve of the biggest, richest, and best European soccer teams announced they were going to form a new midweek competition called The European Super League. The reaction was swift: fans revolted, soccer governing bodies threatened to kick these teams out of other competitions (with immediate effect, including the Champions League which is presently in the semifinal stage), large-scale condemnation from the press, teams started to back out, and 48 hours after the announcement, the league was all but dead.

So what the hell happened? There have been lots of takes and I obviously haven’t read them all, but here are two I found especially valuable in wrapping my head about the Super League failure and, more importantly, what it can tell us about how power, wealth, community, and attention interact 21 years into this rapidly aging century. First up, Alex Shephard writing for The New Republic: The Existential Crisis That Led to the European Super League Fiasco.

What all of these cultural dinosaurs are confronting, though rarely head on, is the fact that there is no monoculture anymore. They may occupy tremendous cultural space — and a team like Real Madrid is rivaled only by other European soccer teams in the sports world — but it is not and never will be what it was before. The mass appeal these teams enjoyed until fairly recently is not coming back, and it’s not just the fault of Fortnite or FIFA. There are simply too many competitors — and, after all, you can watch the best bits on social media anyways.

And then Ryan O’Hanlon interviewed economist Mark Blyth for his newsletter: How the Spectacular, Comical Failure of the Super League Explains the World.

O’Hanlon: In addition to the various corporate pressures, it really does seem like the fan reaction made a material difference. Do you find that heartening at all?

Blyth: I think it’s heartening in the following sense. It’s emblematic of broader shifts that are going on right now. Basically we’re all struggling to find a capitalism 4.0, and we’re all fed up with capitalism 3.0, and this is a huge example of the limits of capitalism 3.0. This “I own it. It’s my right. I’ll do what I want with it”. Except, no you won’t because there’s such a thing as a public conception of ownership of these assets, even if you formally own them. There are limits to how far you can push this market logic on the social institutions without provoking a reaction. Karl Polanyi, the Hungarian sociologist and historian from the 1940s, wrote that the big fuck-ups of the 19th century and 20th century were attempts to shove markets down people’s throats to the point where they revolted.

In a sense, what you’re seeing here is a classic Polanyian reaction. So I think it’s heartening in that it shows there are limits to how much you can commodify these social goods even if they are nominally private assets. It’s heartening in another way in that they’re gonna have to have a reckoning with these balance sheets. If you’re not Sheikh Mansour and you’re not Roman Abramovich, how are you going to fund Paul Pogba’s ridiculous salary? And it’s just not clear that you are going to, so there may need to be a restructuring, which would be great because the model is there. Look at how the Germans do this. They invest heavily in talent. They invest heavily in youth, they buy, but they buy judiciously. They don’t pay ludicrous salaries. And the funds own 51 percent of the companies. It’s a perfect model, right? Because they’ve got cooperative ownership between the people who are the kind of social owners. And then you’ve got the titular owners who do the investment, and there’s a balance of those interests.

Let me know if there are other Super League pieces out there that I should read — I’ll add them to this post. (Photo above of Erling Haaland because he is a goofy beast and one of the 12 Super League teams is going to pay an absolutely obscene amount of money for him in a few months.)

The Worst NBA Player Is Way Better Than You

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2021

Last month, a video of a high school kid challenging former NBA player Brian Scalabrine to a game of 1-on-1 went viral. Scalabrine, of course, won easily: 11-0. As this Sports Illustrated article about the video put it: “Even NBA benchwarmers are ungodly basketball players.”

The video is a reminder of just how much better pro athletes are than regular Joes. Scalabrine was not a good NBA player. Considering that he played 11 years in the league, it might not be fair to call him a bad NBA player, but he was certainly one of the least productive players in the league during his career. But even almost a decade removed from his last NBA season, he’s still capable of schooling (almost) any person who hasn’t played at least college basketball. Don’t be fooled by the red hair and the fact that he tucked his hoodie into his sweatpants.

Sopan Deb interviewed Scalabrine and a couple of other NBA & WNBA players to find out if these challenges are common, why they happen, and why they almost always end the same way.

“Being a white N.B.A. player from the suburbs, I have to level up,” said Scalabrine, who is from Long Beach, Calif., and was often referred to as the White Mamba, a play on Kobe Bryant’s Black Mamba nickname.

“People don’t understand how a little bit nuts you have to be to sustain an N.B.A. career,” Scalabrine said. “Especially when you’re not that talented. You have to be ready. You have to be up for the fight. You have to be like that every day. And if you’re not, you lose your livelihood.”

Scalabrine told another challenger years ago: “I’m closer to LeBron than you are to me”.

Gene Demby’s thread about the Scalabrine video is full of stories and videos of other former elite athletes easily besting all comers. This is a favorite:

I had a friend in high school who was at a camp & David Robinson showed up. My friend was feeling cocky after dunking on the Admiral twice. The Admiral told him he’d give him $1000 if he did it again. My friend walked away with a story about how he dunked on David Robinson twice.

A few years ago, WNBA player Devereaux Peters wrote about how these types of challenges are different when you’re a woman.

I’m a tall woman at 6-foot-2, and almost everywhere I go, people notice me. The first question is: Do you play basketball? When they find out I’m a professional player, some are just impressed and want to know more about the life of a pro athlete. Most of the men I talk to, though, ask me to play one-on-one.

If you’ve ever had that impulse, let me stop you here. I’m not going to play you one-on-one. I’m never going to play you one-on-one. I have been playing basketball my entire life, and for just as long I have been challenged by men who think they are better than me. I had to prove my skill in middle school against the boys who thought girls couldn’t play basketball. I had to prove my skill in high school when the guys’ egos were hurt because the girls basketball team was more successful and more popular than theirs. I had to prove it in college when grown men started challenging me to one-on-one games because there was no way this college woman was better than they were. Time and time again, I have trounced men — far too many to count. Now I have nothing to prove.

My kids and I have been discussing a related question recently: in which sport would it be easiest for a normal person with some athletic skills to score against or produce some kind of positive result against a professional player. For example: get a hit off of a major league pitcher, beat Steph Curry player 1-on-1, win a set (or even a point) against Serena, score a penalty shot in hockey, or score a rushing touchdown (or even survive the day) from the 5-yard line against an NFL team. That last one may not even be the right scenario, but you get the idea. The best answer we’ve come up with so far is scoring a penalty kick against a goalkeeper — I think if you gave a person who played soccer in high school 12-15 years ago 10 chances against a world-class keeper, I suspect they would score a few. Or perhaps that’s too easy of a challenge — after all, most penalty kicks succeed. Maybe the appropriate challenge would be to stop penalty shots from someone like Messi or Alex Morgan, surely a nearly impossible task.

Update: In 2018, BuzzFeed invited some normal folks to try scoring from the spot against MLS goalkeeper Tyler Miller. Admittedly Miller is not one of the best keepers in the world and who knows how hard he was really trying, but a few shots did get past him.

In Europe, where you’re much more likely to find folks on the street who grew up living & breathing soccer and can put the ball in the corners with some pace, I suspect the success rate would be higher, even against the likes of ter Stegen, Alisson, or Navas.

Ted Lasso Season 2 Teaser Trailer

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 20, 2021

Apple just announced that season two of Ted Lasso will be premiering on Apple+ on July 23. That’s it, that’s the news. Watch the trailer. Rejoice. Be happy.

See also Ted Lasso, a Model for the Nurturing Modern Man.

‘Private Choices Have Public Consequences’

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2021

This is a very good and bracing essay from David Roth for Defector about a certain type of knee-jerk libertarian response to the pandemic in the US.

In place of any actually ennobling liberty or more fundamental freedom, contemporary American life mostly offers choices. But since most of these are not really choices at all in any meaningful way, it might be more accurate to say that we’re offered selection. The choice between paying for health insurance and running up six figures of non-dischargeable debt because you got sick, for instance, is honestly less a choice than a hostage situation. But because the second outcome is still extremely possible even if you choose to pay for health insurance, it’s more correct to say that the choice is already made, and that the decision is more about choosing from an array of variously insufficient and predatory options the one whose name or price or risk you like most. Sometimes there isn’t even that, and the choice is a binary one between something and nothing. None of this is really what anyone would choose, but these ugly individuated choices are what we get.

And then:

The broader complacent and unreasoned acceptance that props up our otherwise untenable status quo is shot through all these facile “it’s a private matter and a personal choice” formulations; if you have accepted that mostly useless choices between dreary outcomes are all you could ever get as a citizen in the wealthiest and most powerful country on earth, then you have also accepted that these choices are actually very important, and that making them is the thing makes you free. None of these personal choices actually make anything better for the person making them. In the case of the vaccine, those choices have devastating downstream impacts for all the people who glance off the choice-maker as they carve their personal hero’s journeys through the world. None of this matters as much as the idea that the choice is theirs to make.

The Rules of Dozens of Sports Explained in Short Videos

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 08, 2021

On his YouTube channel, Ninh Ly has created almost 100 short videos that clearly and simply explain the rules of all kinds of different sports. Basketball? Explained. Cricket? Explained. (I feel like I finally understand cricket!) Snooker? Explained. Jai Alai? Explained. Curling? Explained. Quidditch?! Explained! The rules of some sports are more complex than others and the explanations move along at a pretty good clip, so decreasing the playback speed (click on the gear at the bottom of the video player) is advised.

This will be essential when the next Olympic Games roll around and everyone gets intensely interested in the rules of handball, fencing, and badminton for two weeks. (via open culture)

Re-Wilding Yourself by Swimming in Nature

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2021

In this short film called Hydrotherapy, Laura Owen Sanderson talks about how she found relief from a life-changing illness through wild swimming.

I wasn’t afraid to die. I was more afraid, or angry if you’d like, that I hadn’t lived, that I hadn’t made the most of every opportunity. So I was waiting for a day that might never come — when you retire or when you’re thin enough or when the kids have grown up — and there was a sudden realization that that day might never come.

If you’d like to reconnect with nature through wild swimming or cold water swimming, check out these two videos for some handy tips on how to get started and do it safely. (via huit denim newsletter)

Ballhaus, the Art of Basketball

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2021

Ballhaus

Ballhaus

Ballhaus

The @ballhaus Instagram acct is pairing photos of basketball players with art. From top to bottom: Luka Dončić × Correggio, Obi Toppin × Myron, C.J. Miles × René Magritte. (via austin kleon)

Topps Marks 70 Years of Baseball Cards with Special Artist-Designed Cards

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 02, 2021

Topps baseball card

Topps baseball card

Topps baseball card

In 1951, Topps released their first set of baseball cards, hoping to entice people into buying their chewing gum. Instead, they created a sports collectable industry that’s still going strong 70 years later. To celebrate the anniversary, “artists and creatives around the globe are revisiting and reimagining 70 years of iconic baseball card designs” as part of Project70.

They’re releasing a few cards at a time for a limited time — you can find the current selection in the Topps online store. I’ve included three of my favorites above: 1976 Mike Trout by Fucci, 1953 Rickey Henderson by Pose, and 1983 Roberto Clemente by Sean Wotherspoon.

Question: Since the case is now part of the collectable being sold, do you have to put the whole thing in a bigger case to preserve its overall mint condition? Where does this end? (via print)

1000 Fails Lead to a Single Success

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 09, 2021

Pro freestyle mountain bike rider Matt Jones wants to try a new trick, something no one has ever done before. In this video, you see him go through the entire process of bringing a new idea or invention into the world:

  1. The idea. It’s based on a previous trick but is more difficult; standing on the shoulders of giants. He suspects it’s possible, but doesn’t know for sure. Only one way to find out…
  2. The prototype. Jones takes a bike frame (no wheels, pedals, etc.) to the local swimming pool to do flips with it off the diving board. The price of failure is low, so it’s easy to try out all sorts of different things. The mad inventor is gawked at by the public but presses on.
  3. Visualization. Now that his body knows how it feels to perform the motion in the pool, he can perform the trick in his mind over and over again, syncing brain & body. He’s starting to believe.
  4. Trial and error. With the basics down, it’s time to tinker with all the different variables — over and over and over and over and over and over again. An airbag breaks his falls, enabling experimentation.
  5. Failure. You see Jones try this trick over and over again in the video and very few of them are successful — and I bet a lot more failure happened off camera. Hundreds of tries, hundreds of fails. This is the way.
  6. Self-doubt. The trial & error, failure, and self-doubt stages all overlap. You can see him struggling with this on top of the tower. He still believes but this trick is dangerous. Body and mind are battling hard.
  7. Success. It all comes together at last.

This was one of three new tricks that Jones wanted to do last year and you can see more of his progress and process with those in these three videos. (thx, matt)

How Prince Won Super Bowl XLI

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 06, 2021

The best Super Bowl halftime performance, by a comfortable margin, is Prince’s performance during Super Bowl XLI in 2007. Anil Dash has a great writeup that contextualizes the song choices and what it all meant to Prince.

Prince’s halftime show wasn’t just a fun diversion from a football game; it was a deeply personal statement on race, agency & artistry from an artist determined to cement his long-term legacy. And he did it on his own terms, as always.

Opening with the stomp-stomp-clap of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, Prince went for crowd participation right from the start, with a nod to one of the biggest stadium anthems of all time — and notably, is one of the songs in the set that he never performed any time before or after. Indeed, though his 1992 song “3 Chains O’ Gold” was clearly a pastiche of the then-rejuvenated “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Prince had rarely, if ever, played any Queen covers at all in his thousands of live shows.

But with that arena-rock staple, Prince was signaling that he was going to win over a football crowd. He launched straight into “Let’s Go Crazy” at the top of the set. As one of the best album- and concert-opening songs of all time, this was a perfect choice. Different from any other Super Bowl performer before or since, Prince actually does a call-and-response section in the song, emphasizing that this is live, and connecting him explicitly to a timeless Black music tradition.

You can watch his entire performance here. But if you’ve seen it before and you’re strapped for time, check out the full-on mini-concert Prince performed at a Super Bowl press conference a few days before the game:

Incredible. I move that going forward all “this is more of a comment than a question” comments during conference Q&As are immediately cut off with blistering guitar riffs of Johnny B. Goode. Seconded?