Um, any animal social justice warriors know if the phrase 'dog days' is offensive? Can't be too careful these days.
In any event, thanks to the Euro next year we get an early start of the international club football season, delivering us from the tedious drudgery of the neverending baseball season. For me, the Liverpool season opener marks my athletic new year, as the spheres of competition I most enjoy are, in order:
Each of these has a number of reasons to be excited about the upcoming season. Let's take a quick look.
UEFA is a breath of fresh air, floating in a higher stratosphere than the grime, greed, and graves clouding the international game. The greatest sports entertainment engine in the world not named Mayweather, the Premiership, is ripe with quality players, coaches, and teams. The defending champions remain much the same, while everyone else in the league made notable improvements, which should ramp up the level of competition, if not quality. My favorite team is in a bit a quandary at the moment as they try to figure out if the players they have and the coach they have are ever going to be capable of producing their best work together.
Meanwhile the notable monads and dyads of the continental giants stand prepared to burn as bright as ever. Barca, PSG, Real, and Bayern all look terrifying. One of the things that I appreciate about European football is that all the best teams have a distinct aesthetic. For Bayern, Barca, and the entire country of Italy, that aesthetic is represented as a style of play. Barca, ticking with a little more bite to their taca these days; Bayern, attacking in swarming fury and smashing ten goals into the back of your net like they were doing you a favor; Italians sweeping side to side in immaculate banks of four. PSG has represented their aesthetic in their kits, for the most part, while Real simply buys the most physically attractive player from the five best players active at a given position.
The joy of the Champion's League is watching these nearly ideological clashes of aesthetic played out on the pitch,with tens of millions of dollars at stake. Well, acompanied by the brilliant football. For my money, the Champions League is the greatest tournament of any kind. It happens every year, showcases incredible talent, doesn't destabilize national economies (Greece excepted), and is spread over most of the year. I can't wait until Liverpool qualify again.
While international club football is already at hand, my excitement about the upcoming NBA season is nearly as fervered. Like the Premiership, while the champs stayed much the same, just about every good team in the NBA got better during the offseason, apologies to the notable exception in Portland. This kind of whole scale improvement to the top tier teams is ridiculous considering how high the quality was during last season. My newfound dedication to Golden State paid off in spades, but watching another round of that joy circus isn't the top of the list of things I can't wait to see this year..
While I am delighted to have settled my basketball allegiance in the Bay, I have to admit to a lingering affection for the departed former Sonics, similar to the kind of affection one might feel toward a favorite pet who had been stolen. You can wish every day that your pet comes home, but in the meantime you just hope that the bastards who stole your pet don't do something stupid like saw off the legs one at a time.
The main reason for my lingering affection, I guess, is this:
Which is also the thing about which I am most excited this coming year.
Last year we got to see a hint, just a peek, of what Prime Durant and Prime Westbrook can look like. Now that they have a coach who knows about basketball things, we might get a chance to see what they can do together. If that isn't enough, they both have reason to be angry and a little slighted, as neither of them finished in the top three in MVP voting, either the media or player versions. And Durant is in a contract year, if you hadn't heard.
This is my plea to the team management: please don't screw this up. You know, like the Harden thing. I hate to bring it up, but it's still just mind numbing to think about the trade in light of the contract you gave to Kanter. I mean, the seven best players in the League are LeBron, Steph, CP3, KD, Russ, the Brow, & the Beard, in some order. Adding Ibaka, the pet we lost had four great legs to carry a franchise, and the past is the past, but we'd love to have the hope of at least getting a three legged pet back if it ever does come home.
Just sit the man down and put two numbers on the table. The first is the deal he signs this year, for whatever the supermax 5 year deal is with the new cap. The second number is whatever the 5 year supermax is projected to be after the cap jump next year, telling him that is the deal on the table if he decides to take his first year opt out clause. Then remind him that he will never, ever, get to play with another player as good as Russell Westbrook. If that doesn't work out, well, maybe you shouldn't have dragged the team from one of the larger markets in the US into nowhere Oklahoma.
My excitement about Arizona is firing up a little earlier in the year these days, because the footishball season is actually something about which there is reason to be excited these days. Arizona has a long and storied hoops tradition, for which I have noted my deep and abiding affection many a time, but our footishball tradition is somewhat, well, lacking. I have to say, much to the (now significantly Harbaugh-reduced) chagrin of my friends from Michigan, this whole Richard Rodriguez experiment seems to be working out. It feels like a fever dream that we get to have the returning Defensive Player of the Year and Heisman Candidate Scooby Wright III coming back along with the explosive offense our young players flashed last year.
Another year of football does mean it is time for me to bring out my desperate plea. We know that the way this wonderful game is played right now can cause serious long term health problems. I suspect the problems are even broader than we know, as the most visible demographic are professional athletes, whose elite athleticism helps them minimize the damage taken on a given hit with thousands of instinctive adjustments. Less athletic players, such as those filling the ranks of the entertainment machine that is the NCAA, and the lower divisions of collegiate play, are more injury prone, and less financially supported to either rehabilitate, or pay for more expensive scans. I also can't escape the thought that the majority of collegiate players are under the age of 25, when the brain finishes its development cycle.
I enjoy this game a lot, but I am finding it increasingly difficult to rationalize watching people cause long term brain damage to each other for my simple afternoon diversion and some communal catharsis. The good Commish Roger Goodell never deigned reply to my open letter last year, so maybe this year I'll just open it as a question for the crowd:
Thoughts on culture, community, and development.