Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bowlers and Wicketkeepers - Cricket in the United States

Cricket is an intriguing game.  I was interested in going to a match last year in Boston, but when I looked up the schedule of the Massachusetts State Cricket League, I discovered that I was too late, that the season was already over.  I guess I had to wait until the following Spring to see a match - this Spring.  Going into the game, I was aware of only a few of the rules.  That the Bowlers tried to get the batters out by hitting the wickets behind the batter or by catching a hit ball.  The batters tried to score runs by running back and forth across the pitch after hitting a bowled ball.  Not surprisingly, there is a lot more to this game than this rudimentary understanding.

Wrentham, MA.  12pm.  We decided to see what the game was all about.  I select the game that is closest to us, at the old Development Center (Loony bin as I like to call it) in Wrentham.  When we arrive, we notice that there are a number of cars parked on the grounds.  But alas, they were there for Terrier Day (seriously) and for miniature plane flying (even more seriously).  This was a man-child's dream (if that man child still lived in his parents' basement). The kids then spot a parking lot closest to where the Cricket match is being played.  We decided to park there.  In my infinite wisdom, I decided that we would watch from the car.  Another rule that I remembered was that these matches could last forever - literally days.  I felt it impolite if we watched for an hour and then up and left in the middle of an inning.  So we settled in and started watching the bowlers and the hitters from the comfort of our own heated car.

This is as close as we're allowed.
Immdeiately, the boys started asking about the rules.  They have been taught a lot about baseball in recent years and certain aspects of cricket looked familiar, yet foreign at the same time.  Why was the pitcher running toward the batter and bouncing the ball?  Why are there fielders in front of and behind the batter?  Why were they running back and forth between bases when they hit the ball?  What were those sticks in the ground near the batters?  These were only a couple of the questions that I fielded.  I was able to answer those questions pretty easily, those were basic rules.  Some basic rules...

1.    The field consists of 11 players on the fielding (bowling) side (one bowler - pitcher, one wicket keeper - catcher, and nine fielders), two batsmen on the batting side and two umpires.  Behind the batters are wickets that hold the three stumps (wooden stakes sticking out of the ground) and the bails (two modules loosely connecting the stumps to one another.)  The pitch is the area from bowler to batter - similar to a  pitching mound to home plate.  The batting side also contains 11 players, but only two hitters are up at one time.

2.   The batters have two objectives:  score runs and prevent the bowled balls from hitting the wickets.  Two batters at a time are on the pitch and when a ball is hit, both batsmen run from one end of the pitch to the other trying to register runs.  If a batted ball goes far enough on the ground, 4 runs are automatically scored (think ground rule double) - if far enough in the air, then 6 runs are scored (a home run) and either way no running is necessary.  The batting side is considered out when 10 men have been put out (the 11th batter needs to have a partner in order to continue batting).  Batting is seen as defensive, because a batter remains up until the wickets are hit and this becomes the most important aspect of batting.  Runs may be scored at will and thus are cheap to come by.

3.  The bowling/fielding side, on the other hand, is trying to get the batting side out (or having the batting team lose wickets).  While there are a number of ways this can happen, the four most common ways of getting a batter out are:  (1) bowled out - hitting a wicket such that the bail becomes dislodged from the stumps - this would be akin to a strikeout; (2) Caught - after a ball is hit, one of the fielders catches the ball on the fly; (3) Run out - a fielder has broken down the wicket before a batsmen has scored a run - similar to an outfielder throwing a runner out at home; and (4) a leg before wicket (this has no real baseball cross reference - essentially if a batter obstructs a bowled ball from hitting a wicket with his leg, then he can be called out).  When the bowler gets 10 men out in one of these fashions, the fielding team is then up (these are called innings).

This being a game that originated in England, there are numerous other rules and regulations that go on to make this game polite and unceasingly self-important.  I think that in test cricket, the teams actually take a break for tea.  While the game itself is exciting to watch, the rules (laws as they were) become a little too much - its a game, folks.

Back to our match.  After a while, the kids start getting restless and need to be fed.  They start to honk the car horn and squirm their way into the front seat with us.  The players start to look around, and I wonder if its because of us.  It's time to go, I think.  I asked the kids if they learned anything about the game today.  I receive back some blank stares, mostly because they were hungry.  We'll try it again; they'll be the only people in their group of friends who know about this interesting sport.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Reversal of Fortune, Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs and the IFOCE - Qualifying Round

One of the most cherished traditions in the JMR household does not fall on Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter.  It doesn't involve singing songs or going somewhere special.  In fact, all our most cherished tradition involves is some hot dogs and a TV (HD not preferred).  You see, every Fourth of July, our attention turns to Coney Island and a little contest that Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs holds every year - the annual Hot Dog Eating Contest sponsored by Major League Eating and the International Federation of Competitive Eating.  Competitive eating enthralls me.  Ever since I saw that contest on TV several years ago, I always looked forward to the 4th of July.  Not for days at the beach, fireworks or parades, but for Crazy Legs Conti and Joey Chestnut.  For the 40 year old, 115 pound woman who is one of the best competitive eaters in the world.  But can I pass this tradition on to my children?

Foxboro, MA.  1pm.  Fortunately for us (I'd like to think), one of the qualifying rounds for the Nathan's Famous  challenge was held at Patriot Place.  The grand prize was a seat at the Coney Island World Championship.  I managed to talk G in to going with me.  I told him about the possibility of eating a ton of hot dogs for free.  He immediately agreed to accompany his old man.  No one else wanted to be disgusted quite like us.  Their loss.

Hey is that the Skeevy Guy from Suffolk Downs?
When we arrive, all we can smell is raw meat and cologne.  The challenge was taking place in the end zone concourse, right next door to the Patriots Hall of Fame.   I saw that entertainment was going to be provided by My Blue Heaven and by bouncy houses and basketball hoops.  A wonderland to my 6 year old; I hope he wants to see the contest, despite the stench of raw meat.  And it wouldn't be an event at Gillette unless the Patriots Cheerleaders and Pat the Patriot were there.

But I was there to see some gluttony and the excitement was building.  Maybe some reversal of fortune and maybe some new blood that will be able to take on Takeru Kobayashi, Eater X and Joey Chestnut in a couple of months.  Things started slowly, however, as it became apparent that the nice weather - or fear of a guy named Pretty Boy -  drove off some of the competitors.  A kind of casting call was put out into the crowd looking for a couple of guys and a couple of women to compete.  Judging by the crowd, it didn't seem like there would be a problem finding some guys able to throw some hot dogs down, maybe even the next Eater X (I love that name!)

The emcee for the afternoon, some guy named Dave Keating, was shouting at us hoping that us 400 spectators could scream like four thousand.  Unfortunately, the sound guy (that is the band's sound guy who wasn't happy to be taking on double duties) wouldn't cooperate as the sound shorted out at least five times during the event as the Band was finishing up.  No matter, Keating was calling up lawyers, truckers and some obese sweaty guys to the podium to pulse pounding music.  Finally, to Eminem "8 Mile," in what seems like an ongoing gimmick, we are told that Competitive eating is akin to God battling Lucifer for humans' souls and only competitive eating could decide the battle.  Nice touch considering it was Rapture Day.  5 judges were called up from the crowd to make sure no one has any reversals of fortune as that is a call for automatic disqualification.  The Patriots Cheerleaders were present to hold up "number of hot dogs eaten" signs.

Boston's own Pete Davekos, who goes by the ironic nickname of Pretty Boy (honestly all of these competitive eaters seem to have ridiculous nicknames) now steps up to the podium.  Keating is introducing him like he's about to go into the ring with Mike Tyson.  He's the 15th ranked international competitive eater and the reigning spinach eating champ.  G is disgusted.

"Why is he proud of eating some much spinach, that's gross, Dad!"  Not as gross as what we're about to watch, son.  Not even close.

Yeah, this was was pretty disturbing.
The four horsemen of the esophagus.  I'm ready.  G's ready.  The timer clicks down 3, 2, 1 and the race to indigestion begins.  I'm impressed with the Pretty Boy.  He's definitely got the technique down as he engulfs two hot dogs and then dunks the bread in his coffee (I guess that what was in his Box of Joe from Dunkin' Donuts; please don't tell me its an endorsement) and downs those separately.  The five civilian judges and the Cheerleaders look horrified as bread, pieces of meat and water start flying around and off the table.  How do I know this is all happening?  We can walk literally right in front of them.  We begin to walk closer and closer to the table to get a view, but I step back when I'm warned by Keating that we chose to be this close to the competition.  I forgot to bring my slicker. I also notice that the women competitors are consuming hot dogs very slowly.  One of the women called up, obviously the girlfriend of the drummer, can barely get one down.

"Dad, I could totally beat her!"  My 6 year old says to me.  Despite the fact that he would be disqualified for not eating any of the buns, maybe.  I just feel bad for the girl's drummer boyfriend.  Who would want to be dating/married to woman who was a competitive eater?  That's just really, really nasty.  He must be really psyched right now as I see him scanning the crowd for a hook up after his girlfriend goes into a food coma - hey buddy the cheerleaders are right over there!

3 minutes left.  The 10 minute competition is more than half way through and I'm fascinated by the sheer forces of will its taken to keep these hot dogs down.  Pretty Boy is clearly in the lead.  A skinny guy from Somerville seems to be in second, although with all the hot dogs and buns smeared around, I have no idea how many have been eaten. A couple of minutes later, my son starts to lose interest (Thank God) and moves back over to the basketball shooting game.  I start to drift over with him as it becomes a foregone conclusion that the Pretty Boy is going to win, and win handily.  I'm not sure who is going to qualify on the women's side, although whoever does wont have a chance against Sonya Thomas.

The final buzzer mercifully rings.  As expected, Pretty Boy is crowned qualifying round champion and has stamped his ticket to Coney Island.  Fortunately, they had way too many hot dogs for the competitors and started giving them away to the spectators.  I think that's disgusting, but I went over to G who was now playing a pitching baseball game to see if he wanted a hot dog.

"No thanks Dad.  I'm not hungry anymore."

No kidding, neither am I.  But you know where we'll be on July 4.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How the Portland Timber And Seattle Sounders Can Save the MLS

Does the MLS need saving?  It wasn't that long ago when the NASL was one of the most popular leagues in American professional sports.  In the 1970's, football and hockey were just starting to gain popularity.  The NBA and the MLB were mainstays at the time, but many kids and young adults were looking for something different than what their Fathers were watching.  At the same time, professional soccer was starting to grow by leaps and bounds in the United States.  Relegated to the minor leagues for much of its early existence, the NASL started courting famous international soccer stars like Pele, Giorgio Chanalia and Franz Beckenbauer.  Soon, the league's popularity started soaring; teams were added at a break neck pace to keep up with National demand.  Two teams that personified this excitement back then were the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers.

I don't know what it is about the Pacific Northwest and soccer.  I asked my Brother, who lives in a suburb of Portland, why the sport was so popular back then.  He explains that he read that the 1975 playoffs really started the histrionics between the teams as the Timber defeated the Sounders in a fierce playoff battle.  Despite the rivalry, 1982 saw the Timbers and Sounders last game played against one another.  Portland folded after the 1982 season and Seattle followed suit in 1983.  They just couldn't keep up with their richer neighbors in New York.  Even the promise of indoor soccer (something most Pacific Northwesterners would have enjoyed) could not save these franchises from their overspending ways.

Timbers Army or G20 Summit?                 
Fast forward 25 years to the MLS.  Begun in 1993 in reaction to the successes of the Men's and Women's US World Cup teams, (the U.S. women actually won the Cup the following year in 1994), the MLS had been similarly mired in the minor leagues of soccer, a stepping stone to the riches of the Barclays Premiere League, and the league has had difficulty shedding this reputation.  International imports such as David Beckham and Thierry Henry have been expensive busts, and the league has had to contend with controversies regarding both player salaries and team payrolls.  A familiar refrain for those businessmen desperate to make soccer succeed in the United States.  Interestingly enough, those same couple of teams that personified the electricity of the NASL, are being asked to inject new life into this league as well.

The Seattle Sounders started in the MLS in 2009, followed suit by the Portland Timbers in 2011.  These two franchises have the makings of a heated rivalry similar to the old rivalry enjoyed by the Portland Trailblazers and the former Seattle Supersonics.  Although the Sounders play in a stadium meant for Football and the Timbers play in a refurbished old stadium that only seats about 18,000 fans, these teams fans have been described as loyal, loud and rabid.  Games in these home venues are not only exciting but intimidating for rival clubs.  Something rarely seen in the MLS.  My Brother commented that the Timbers' fans get really excited about a lumberjack named "Timber Joey" who cuts a piece of wood at home games after every goal.  Sweet Jesus, that's corny.

11pm.  Home.  The Timbers are facing the Sounders at Qwest Field in the first rematch for the Cascadia Cup in 29 years.  The ESPN2 announcers, not surprisingly, lead off the program describing how loud and rambunctious each of the teams's fans really are, finishing the opening with a montage of Timbers fans flying their flags as they walk to their seats surrounded by the enemy Sounders' fans.  A melee almost erupts when the Timbers' contingent are told that Timber Joey couldn't wield his chainsaw for the match.  I'm serious.  29 years ago was their last meeting and it shows.  I sit down to watch the game and judge for myself how crazy these fans really are.

It's Emerald Green against Rose Red as the players begin the match.  The Sounders' best player, Fredy Montero, immediately heads out to make the first play of the game as he kicks the ball far right of the goal.  The fans groan in disappointment.  I notice that the field is wet from a heavy rainstorm that occasionally makes the picture appear fuzzy.  Welcome to Seattle, boys!  It doesn't seem to stop all the drunk rowdy Sounders' fans from engulfing the screen on every live action shot or temper their excitement as they playfully engage in a "We got spirit yes we do we got spirit how 'bout you?" shouting match with no one in particular.  A graphic is shown that shows that  Sounders attendance is 11,000 greater than its nearest rival the L.A. Galaxy (and this city couldn't hold onto its basketball team?  Where's the justice in that?)

A lot of back and forth action.  A lot of flopping (even the announcer a couple of times explained that he didn't see much contact, right before the little ESPN-sanctioned buzzer hurt his ear for saying something negative about ESPN programming.  A lot of back and forth action, a lot of groaning from the fans after every shot wide or high (or both).  At halftime the teams are still scoreless.  

I notice that Sounders' Forward, Alvaro Fernandez, starts the second half strong, shooting up and down the pitch just barely missing connections with his other forwards.  And right as I write that in my notes, he takes a ball that is failed to be cleared and shoots it past the outstretched arms of the Timbers' goalie for a 1-0 lead in the 52nd minute.  Pandemonium ensues.

Not for long though, as just 12 minutes later, the Timbers star from their win over Philadelphia in their previous match, Futty Danso, scores on a header off a free kick in the 64th minute tying the score at 1-1.  The play by play guys is delirious as proclaims Danso Portland's new folk hero for these last two goals.  Settle down big guy.  He didn't win the MLS Cup.  A lot more back and forth action through 90 minutes and 4 minutes of injury time.  But no more scoring.

The Game ends in the 1-1 tie.  The teams both remain in the middle of the pack in the Western Conference.  Seattle forward Nate Jaqua speaks for the all of his teammates when he dejectedly states that the Sounders need to win these home games to take advantage of their homefield advantage.

But back to the fans.  The MLS, after 10 disastrous years where it lost hundreds of millions of dollars, is finally starting to turn around toward profitability.  And it's not the international stars that it brings in that will bring the league success (Beckham's loan arrangement with AC Milan has tempered the bump the league got when he joined and Henry's appearance didn't even register with sports fans).  It will be the generation of the slow buzz at venues like Vancouver, Seattle and Portland that will prove the league successful.  Enjoying these crowds and the excitement that they bring will be the difference between the MLS becoming just like the NASL (a moderately successful league that folded under its own weight) or into the fifth major US sport.

Good luck to you fellas.  And here's to your fans.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The 2011 Kentucky Derby at Suffolk Downs?

The Kentucky Derby is the pinnacle of the Spring horse racing season.  Yes, the stakes are greater for the November running of the Breeders' Cup.  The Dubai World Cup similarly has larger purses than the Derby.  But when you ask thoroughbred trainers, when you ask jockeys and when you ask the ordinary person on the street, the Kentucky Derby is the most important horse race each year.  The fastest two minutes in sports, the sport of Kings, the First Saturday in May, they all mean the same thing.

Same here.  Instead of enjoying the race at home with our friends like we did in the 136th Run for the Roses last year, we decided this year to celebrate the Derby at the home of another venerable horse racing institution, Suffolk Downs in East Boston.  Once the home of the some of the most famous horses ever to run the oval tracks, Seabiscuit and Cigar just to name a few, Suffolk Downs has recently fallen on some hard times.  The MassCap, the big race at Suffolk Downs, hasn't been run since 2008 (Commentator blew away the field by about 50 lengths).  Just recently, a dispute erupted between the track's owners and the New England Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association about purses and number of racing days.  But not today.  Thousands of cars lined the enormous parking lot as we circled the lot in the rain looking for a spot close to the entrance.  I just wanted to get in to start looking at the horses.

4pm.  East Boston, MA.  There are four distinct chapters when gambling at the track:  figuring out which horse to bet on, actually making the bet, watching the race you've just bet on and figuring out if you won and the ramifications of that knowledge.

Who's the Skeevy guy next to you?
Handicapping.  We arrived about two hours before the Derby.  Because this was a party, we were not only doing some handicapping, but we also had a chance to talk to some of the New England Patriot's Cheerleaders, watch as the Aerosmith cover band tried to decide whether to play through the rain or not as a couple of fans milled around breathlessly awaiting their decision and look around for some of the promised BBQ.  We knew we were at the track too when a fellow who did not look destitute asked us for fifty cents.  I remained silent letting the LC answer for us.

"I'm sorry we're a plastic only family"  I started smiling as I wondered if I could bet on Nehro using my Visa Card.

Placing our Wagers.  I finally decided on a win, place and show on Nehro and an exacta box on Nehro and Mucho Macho Man.  Both of those horses showed tremendous closing speed at shorter distances.  I thought that with the 10 furlongs, they would both clear the field in the last furlong.  And I never like horses on dirt if they've only run on turf or synthetics.  LC picked Midnight Interlude and Mucho Macho Man, both to win.  I had spied a little nook near the Legends Bar to make our bet since all of the conventional betting windows were extremely busy.

A little too busy for a couple of old timers, I guess.  As we were waiting in line to place our bets, two 75 year old gentlemen started pushing each other because one had pushed the other out of the way to place his bet.  "I was here first!" I heard one of them shout at the other.  A security guard came over to break up the fight, to everyone's relief.  Noone wants to have to pick up the pieces from an old man fist fight.

"I've been coming here for 35 years, sonny. F*ck you!"  We all looked around at each other - did this guy just yell at a security guard to go f*ck himself?  After permitting him to make his bet (of course) the vulgar old man was escorted out of the Track by the First Security Guard and his back up.  A large intimidating gentlemen who I will call "Shorty."  Shorty menaced at this guy for a couple of minutes until he finally started shuffling out.  Meanwhile the other guy was merrily making a bunch of $1 bets.  I preceded to watch him go up at least three more times before the race.  My wife indicated that he was on the vulgar old man's side until he swore at the guard.  He started giving her some jaw too.  Oh for Christ's sake, can I just make my bet here?

Watching the Race.  After finally making our bets, we staked out a place to watch the race.  My kingdom for a HD TV!  We watched the race on 29 inch TV along with 30 other people.  Each TV had 30 people huddled around it, everyone clutching their tickets like they are holding a lottery ticket.  The excitement was palpable.  I'm not sure I can the TV I remember thinking.  But this was the biggest TV we could watch.  Finally, the race started.

This horse cost me a betting clean sweep
Unfortunately, as I thought, the TV was too small and the place too loud to really see what was going on.  I saw that Shackleford had the lead for most of the race.  I saw that my long shot was well out of it.  I couldn't tell what my other horses were doing.  Regardless, the excitement started to grow as the horses made the turn for the homestretch.  All I could tell as that a horse with two numbers had the lead.  Since we had horses 13, 15, 17 and 19 in some form or another, we felt good about our chances.  I start yelling for my horse to keep running, even though I wasn't sure if my horse was actually in the lead. 

Whichever horse won, it won by at least two lengths.

Post Race.  I was afraid to ask anyone who won.  The guy dressed in an orange suit, walking cane and sunglasses (we were inside on a rainy day, mind you) didn't seem to know who won, either.  An older gentleman pointed at the TV and told my wife that the 11 horse won.  He seemed confused because she told him that that was just the 11th race that he saw.  Even as the horse was interviewed on the track, as is NBC's tradition, we couldn't tell the winner.  After an exhausting trip around the track to see if i could find out the winner without looking like an idiot (too late), we found out that the winner was Animal Kingdom, the 16 horse, followed by Nehro and Mucho Macho Man.  I was a disqualification away from hitting all of my bets (I resigned myself to thinking)!  I did manage to win my Place and Show bets on Nehro, though.  So after all of the bets we made, I figured out that after all of that, we won 2 bucks.  Where's that guy looking for 50 cents, I can help him out now!!

Seriously, though, I'm not sure where I'm going to spend my $2 in winnings.

I'm cashing my winning bets and I see the old guy who got the other old guy thrown out of the place.  He's look at his tickets, tearing each one up as he scans them and rescans them.  He looks so sad about the losing.  Like I said, the fastest two minutes...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Vancouver Grizzlies Against the Seattle Supersonics

Huh?  The Memphis Grizzlies against the Oklahoma City Thunder, to be exact.  In the Western Conference Semifinal, the former Seattle Sonics are playing against the former Vancouver Grizzlies.  This could have been one of the most interesting match ups in years as Seattle and Vancouver are separated by about two and half hours' driving distance, less than the distance it takes Spike Lee to be chauffeured from his posh Manhattan penthouse to the Boston Garden.  Instead, we are witnessing two of the smallest markets battle it out for the smallest market to ever host a Western Conference Finals game.

It's really too bad.  I've visited both Vancouver and Seattle.  These are proud cities, proud of their professional teams and proud of themselves.

Before all of the Big Macs
I remember going to KeyArena (its former name before the Bank obviously dropped their naming rights.) to see the Sonics play about 10 years ago.  Anchoring one end of the Seattle Center (where the Space Needle calls home), we were struck by how few people were actually walking around.  We didn't know where to go to have a good time before the game, the place was deserted.  We ended up drinking some beers before the game in the adjacent Lower Queen Anne neighborhood and talked to other "tailgaters."  Everyone was excited for this game, despite it being only mid March.  The Sonics were good at that point.

Comparing the KeyArena to the brand new TD Bank Garden which was built about 5 years before we arrived in Seattle, even I noticed that the stadium seemed a little out of date.  A relic of what the former Seattle Center once was, I suppose.  Little did I know that the Sonics weren't doing that great at the gate and the arena didn't hold enough luxury boxes for Microsoft engineers to buy.  Eventually, Starbucks's founder Howard Schultz made the mistake of selling the team to an ownership group headed by Clay Bennett, naively believing that Bennett would not move the team to his hometown of Oklahoma City.  A year later Bennett did exactly that.

All those guys over there are better than you
The Grizzlies have a similarly checkered past.  The team entered the NBA in 1995 with the Toronto Raptors.  Despite having to choose its team through an expansion draft - meaning all of the players sucked - the other league owners wouldn't permit the team to have a draft pick in the top 5.  It was the so-called Orlando Magic effect.  Unfortunately, this draft yielded the ultimate stiff in Bryant Reeves, who led the Grizzlies to only two 20 win seasons in the six years that the team played in Vancouver.  Believe me, the other years were much MUCH worse.  After flagging attendance, a familiar refrain for many teams this season, the team's new owner at the time, Michael Heisley, after promising to keep the team in Vancouver moved the team to Memphis after the 2000-01 season.  Word has it that the Grizzlies' Number 1 draft pick in the 2000-01 draft, Mike Bibby still denies that he ever played for the Vancouver Grizzlies.

Now my kids don't even know who the Seattle Supersonics are.  Thanks to NBA2K11, they know that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are the Thunder's best players, they know that Eric Maynor is awful, and they ask why Kendrick Perkins hasn't been traded to the Thunder yet for Nenad Kristic and Jeff Green.  Even my 6 year old's favorite player, Nate "Mini man" Robinson is on the team.  When I ask them if they know who Sean Payton is, or Shawn Kemp, they just look at me with a glossy look on their faces.  A look they often reserve for my request that they finish their vegetables. 

"Dad, will you just unpause the game, KD was about to hit that free throw?" Yes I will resort to that sort of distraction to win at NBA 2K11.

Now the Memphis Grizzlies are one of the up and coming franchises.  Now the Thunder are one of the best teams in the league, poised to come out of the Western Conference to play for the NBA Championship.  It could have been a a great matchup.   

Like I wrote, it's really too bad.  Having lost a favorite team myself, I know how Seattle and Vancouver feel as they watch these two teams play against each other for the right to play for the Western Conference Championship.  I think I'll unpause the game now.