03.15.17

CSTBracket 2017: To Err, Forever

Posted in Basketball, College Spurts, Sad Toilets at 12:06 am by

One does not simply whelp oneself. For one thing, it’s hard to know exactly what whelping means, because it is both a noun (a pup) and a verb (to produce a pup), and for another I was not even really a pup, as it might be understood relative to a human life-span, when our host GC noticed what an unpleasantly persistent comment section presence I was and offered me a chance to write on the site. I was not quite a whelp, and more a late-gestating dude with a lot of problems who’d found a website he liked; GC did not quite whelp me so much as he gave me a login, which I repeatedly forgot. But it was the start of my life as someone who makes a living by being wrong, strenuously and often at length, about sports. Whatever happened, however it happened, I wound up well and truly whelped. And, at the risk of belaboring the point about how good and cool I am, I never forgot what made me: being wrong as hell about pretty much everything.

It’s not fair to say that the CSTBracket is a tribute to that, although being wrong about our predictions is the one thing that every CSTBracket participant has in common with every other. Mostly it was just a thing I liked doing—being wrong, but also picking a super-shitty NCAA Tournament bracket—and which GC let me do when I asked if he would let me do it, a little over ten years ago. That is a long time to keep doing anything, especially if that thing is Overestimating Purdue Literally Every Single Year For Some Reason. But, as it happens, it is not actually that much work to set up a NCAA Tournament bracket on Yahoo Sports. For instance, I was able to do it myself in just a couple minutes. Click here and you’ll find the group; enter “cstb” as your password, without the quotes, and you will gain entry. None of this is difficult. I already knew this.

The difficult part, as always, as is not being wrong about too many games. It’s difficult because college basketball is insane, at least when it’s working properly, and because being surprised is the whole point of it. The idea is to be wrong. The idea of the CSTBracket was always to be wrong together. Whichever one of us winds up being least wrong will luck into some prize pack of GC’s choosing—last year it was some good stuff from 12XU and a saucy autographed photo of Marcus Fizer. This year, we might as well presume that there’s a Wally Szczerbiak bathing suit photo involved. Honestly, if you’re thinking about what you might win, you’ve already lost. Getting things right is not what this is about, or has ever been about.

It’s about getting shit wrong, gambling and losing, overthinking it or leaning too hard into what is not in fact a load-bearing hunch. That’s the point. That’s always been the point. Get the people together. Fuck it all up, get it all wrong. Do it again next year. This has always been what it’s about; it’s never really made sense as anything else. It is a privilege to be this wrong. It is an honor, always, to exercise it.

03.17.15

CSTBracket IX: [The Fast And The Furious Joke TBD]

Posted in Basketball, College Spurts, Internal Affairs at 10:37 pm by

Of the first 20 players taken in the 2006 NBA Draft, an even dozen did not play a single minute of NBA basketball in 2015, Tyrus Thomas played seven over the course of a 10-day contract that was not renewed, and another—first overall pick and human Crying Loudly emoji Andrea Bargnani—is Andrea Bargnani. Nine years sounds like a long time to do anything, let alone do it poorly, but perhaps this is a way to make that more clearly understood.

When the CSTBracket first became a thing, those of us picking our brackets were trying to ascertain just how far Shelden Williams could carry Duke, or whether Michigan State’s pro-ready trio of Maurice Ager, Shannon Brown, and Paul Davis would be enough to get them to the Final Four. We parsed Patrick O’Bryant, and then we did it again to be sure, and then made our (incorrect!) picks accordingly. If you are old enough to remember those names and those considerations, you are wincing, and not just because you—as I did, as most of us do—were also likely wrong about them. If you are not, then you are wincing at how old those wincing old fucks are. Either way, we should get used to it. This is the wincing season, and the CSTBracket is how we craft and create new winces, for a new era.

I know, as someone who wrote basketball cards—not just one, but like a dozen different ostensibly collectible little blurblets about Hilton Armstrong and Leon Powe and Cedric Simmons, all of whom are demonstrably and Google-ably real—just how little there is to know about all this. It is not that these players aren’t interesting or worth speculating about, and anyway who are we to not-speculate about things like this. It’s that we don’t know, we never know, and that the fullness of time reveals how little we know just as surely as the first four days of the tournament do. That is: viciously, totally, inexorably, and in a way that is both painful and fun.

So yeah: let’s get back to it. Nine years is a long time to be wrong. So is eight. So is Thursday. We will not stop being wrong, and college basketball—all beautiful and dumb and flawed and broken and great—is not going to stop making us be wrong. So let’s keep at it. Let’s be wrong together again. The password is cstbracket, and to click here is to be invited.

The gift bucket will, once again, be provided by our generous host GC—it will be either an autographed Vin Baker photo from his legendary tenure with the New York Knicks (autographed by GC, not Vin himself) or a championship-grade collection of 12XU swag. Only one of us will get to win it. The rest of us will only win the privilege of being wrong, in this way and around each other, for another year. Which, at least, is something worth coming back for.

03.18.14

CSTBracket VIII: Two Terms of Intermittent Competence

Posted in Basketball, College Spurts, Internal Affairs at 6:42 pm by

(we are not awarding the winner of the 2014 CSTBracket a copy of College Slam for the Sega Genesis because a basketball biting a rim is thoroughly unreleastic)

Eight years is a long time to be wrong. Most humans have been wrong about at least one thing for at least that long, with the exception of people under the age of eight and Mike Francesa. But still. This is the eighth year of the CSTBracket’s existence, which means that it’s old enough that someone — I’m not going to say who this person is or what his role is in writing this blog post — almost certainly picked a bracket in this contest based in part on reasoning that involved an abiding belief in Acie Law IV. It worked out as well as might have been expected.

That is: I was wrong LAMF, and I have mostly stayed wrong in varying degrees of likeness to a MF about college basketball for these eight years. And yet it all just sort of rolls off and rolls by, this near-decade of not knowing what the hell I’m talking about more or less ever. Time passes — 2010 winner Hot Shit College Student could be done with medical school at this point, for all we know — and it doesn’t ever quite seem to matter that much.

It’s a happy, safe sort of incompetence, and I am in no hurry to stop believing what is probably not true, being shown that I was wrong to believe it, briefly being frustrated, and then opening a beer. I am, in fact, in a hurry to do all that again, and trust that I’m not alone in this. And so: for the VIIIth year, here is the CSTBracket: a chance to be wrong about Aaron Craft and the Mountain West and a bunch of other mostly insignificant stuff, as per tradition, and with people who share a similar taste in sports blogs.

Or it’s here, rather, with the password being cstbracket and the stakes, as ever, being fairly low. It is, as ever, free to enter. It will, most likely, entitle the winner to a gift bucket of 12XU goodies courtesy of our gracious host. (A photograph of me in my Corliss Williamson Arkansas jersey has been a part of the prize package for years now, and has inexplicably not once been claimed.) Enjoy it. We may never get to be wrong this way again, although honestly we probably will.

03.19.13

CSTBracket VII: Dream Warriors

Posted in Basketball, College Spurts at 2:49 pm by

(not only is the above ad deeply sexist, but it also suggests a vasectomy reversal might be the best way to watch the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight in relative peace and quiet)

It seems strange and a little contradictory, the way that college basketball’s image-makers gloss over its teenage churn and general feudo-corporate sketchiness in selling the college game as the tradition-friendly True Basketball alternative to the flashy, for-the-money and otherwise code-worded NBA. Sure, college basketball has plenty of history behind it, many dusty decades and all flavors of dated dominance and boxer-brief shorts and Lorenzo Charles-ian random instances of grace, but in the present it is pure chaos. None of this is a bad thing, really; it’s just that the thing as marketed is different than the thing as consumed.

But there is room for tradition within college basketball’s familiar anarchy. There are things that endure from year to year, graduating class to graduating class, consistent and persistent and true. There is the observation that Mike Krzyzewski looks like the puppet from the popular Saw series, which grows only more true with the years. And there is also the CSTBracket, which returns for its seventh year. That’s a feat matched in the NCAA Tournament field only by Minnesota big man Trevor Mbakwe, who played in his first college game when Bill Clinton was President. Time flies, in other words, but what endures, endures.

As in the past, there will probably be a prize of some sort, and as in the past I don’t really know what it will be yet. In the past, GC has generously offered an amusingly outdated basketball-related video game — I’m pretty sure last year’s grand champion received a copy of Eric Montross’s Know Your Limitations Hoops ’97 for TurboGrafx 16 — and I suppose my (oddly still-unredeemed) offer from a few years back to send a photo of myself wearing my Corliss Williamson jersey to the winner still stands. But the important thing is not the prize: the important thing is participating in a tradition that now stretches back years, and which offers all of us an opportunity not just to participate in a living part of college basketball history, but to be totally wrong about Belmont’s bracket-busting abilities in the exact same way we were last year.

This is what it’s all about, and what it has always been about. To join the bracket, go here. The League ID is 101646, the password is cstbracket, and history will be there with you, as you pick a hugely flawed bracket that will, more or less inevitably, still be more correct than mine.

03.13.12

CSTBracket VI: Where The Elite Meet To Overestimate The ACC

Posted in Basketball, College Spurts, Internal Affairs at 8:00 am by

(WRONG BRACKET! GODDAMN ART DEPT.)

Things change. Six years ago, when the CSTBracket started, John Calipari was a coach with a talented roster and some Shout-proof gravy stains on his reputation, Michigan State was a topsoil-dull title contender defined by a feels-like-getting-a-headache style and a bunch of chunky elbow-tossing 6-8 forwards, and Duke was regarded as both typically loathsome and unusually flawed. But look at us now, living in a future in which which CSTBracket VI now officially a thing, wondering how things such as those described above could ever have been true. Funny old world and so on.

But yes. Yes, because it is March and because one of the internet’s most storied sporting traditions isn’t going to go away just because Colorado somehow won the Pac-12, CSTBracket VI is here, and if it’s not quite better than ever, it’s at least worth mentioning that you will no longer have to try not to win because you don’t want me to send you a photograph of myself in a Corliss Williamson jersey or some gross shorts. This year, this time, please feel free to pick without fear, because the actual prize — a selection of premium-grade 12XU swag, courtesy of GC — is an actual prize, in the sense that it consists of things that are actually desirable. As opposed to the Turbo Grafx16 “Vernon Maxwell’s Howling Mad Hoopz” cartridges and Patrick O’Bryant rookie cards that have traditionally been our prizes. This year, in other words, you’ll win more than bragging rights if you win. Although anyone bragging about finishing ahead of GC or me in a NCAA bracket contest hasn’t paid much attention to previous CSTBracket outcomes.

So: your window to enjoyable frustration and predictive inadequacy is here; it’s a public league, and as such there’s no password. I will be the person overrating Belmont for reasons I can’t explain without drugs or alcohol. You will be a few slots ahead of me. In that sense, not much has changed.

08.07.11

The Man Who Was Atlanta: SB Nation’s Kirk Hands Deion Sanders Keys To The ATL

Posted in Baseball, Gridiron, Sports Journalism, The Internet at 3:09 pm by

One of the signal pursuits on the baseball side of SB Nation — and it’s one I endorse all the way, despite/because of how subjective and fundamentally impossible it is — is determining which player is “The Most [Team Name Goes Here] Of All Time.” This sort of arbitrary thing-ranking is a very (the most?) sports internet thing to do, of course. What elevates SB’s efforts in this area above the hilariously windy, dead-serious list-maintenance at Grantland or the endless, brainless inna-slideshow-stylee ranking of the universally loathed Bleacher Report is that 1) SB Nation, unlike the gasbaggy tryhards at Grantland or the wince-induction specialists at B/R, is that SB’s actually mining some intentional (if very specific) comedy, and has savvy, funny enough writers to pull it off and 2) that everyone involved actually takes the pseudoscientific endeavor seriously in the right way. (The same was true of the much more serious ’90s First Baseman Week project at Pitchers and Poets) It makes a difference, although taking yourself less seriously than Grantland or quality control more seriously than Bleacher Report aren’t really huge accomplishments.

And while the whole endeavor is admittedly kind of a joke — the (great) Jon Bois’s methodology in determining the Most Expansion Team Player of All-Time, for instance, is not something that’s going to wind up in a peer-reviewed journal — there’s also something about it that resonates when the question concerns a team you care about. I was a part of Bois’s Twitter survey of various Mets-fan types on the Most Mets Player of All-Time (I somehow got quoted endorsing Charlie Puleo, who seemed like a reasonable-enough pick for the pre-Keith Hernandez team), but that wasn’t the first time I’d considered the question — at the risk of it sounding like bragging, I do have some friends, and they are dork enough to go over the specific ratio of likability-to-loathability-to-ineptitude-to-inspirational-attributes that it takes to comprise The Ur-Met. (It is Butch Huskey, by the way)

In an essay at SB Nation Atlanta, Jason Kirk tackles the question of whether Deion Sanders is The Most Atlanta Athlete on record that gets at the best (and funniest) aspects of SB Nation’s official question. It’s pretty good on the intermittently beloved and consistently hilarious Prime Time, too, but it’s best at examining the two-way transference and multi-level projection of identity, personality and performance between players and fans, and about the complicated/ridiculous depth of the relationships that creates. “Whatever Atlanta is, drawing a dollar sign in the dirt on Yankee Stadium’s home plate is … I mean, that’s too Atlanta for words,” Kirk writes. “Kinda think having a rap career managed by Evander Holyfield tops even that, though. Let’s move on.” He does, and it’s good stuff:

If we’re talking the most Georgia athlete ever, the discussion beyond Herschel Walker would probably center around Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Chipper Jones and Jessie Tuggle.

Deion wouldn’t qualify for the finals in that conversation. Turning down a scholarship offer from Vince Dooley isn’t Georgia at all — doing so over redshirting is so very Atlanta. Though he’s country — his favorite meal is Golden Corral, his only arrest was for fishing on private property, I say again he was friends with Travis Tritt, and he used to set up rasslin’ matches in Atlanta’s locker room — he’s still big city.

Big, black, southern city that’s obsessed with football, has bizarre and complicated sporting allegiances, attends church and the club with equal measure, cannot simply go to a baseball game without mocking the other team via threats of scalping, will never stop surprising you and will never stop telling you how great it is.

05.13.11

Boston (Sports Guy) Is Burning: Hard Words For Grantland’s Soft Launch

Posted in Blogged Down, General, Sports Journalism at 1:50 pm by

Bill Simmons is many things — a partial list would include “well-compensated,” “hugely popular,” “owner of a surprisingly high-pitched voice,” “an unintentionally crypto-Borgesian accidental avant-gardist.” And there are also many things that he is not, which things are generally better covered here at CSTB than the other. “Intellectually curious” would seem to rank pretty high among these things-Simmons-is-not.

It’s not even clear to me that Simmons would object to that assessment, which he does little to conceal. He has his half-dozen film touchstones — the first two Godfathers, the first three Karate Kids and The Shawshank Redemption — and all the music he has ever copped to caring about in his decade-plus of writing would leave space in a five-disc changer. Book-wise, he reads about sports and is a fan of Chuck Klosterman and Malcolm Gladwell; if he has ever mentioned a novel, I missed it. Simmo watches about the TV shows that you’d expect, and while he is reliably caught up on whatever meatish Real World/Road Rules Challenge is currently airing, he watches your more blue-chip dramas at his own pace, which explains the oddness of him writing a 9,000-word (seriously) two-part column on The Wire and the NBA Playoffs last week. He doesn’t seem to have any politics, really. Again, these aren’t judgments of the guy: this, proudly, is the entirety of what he is working with in terms of non-sports referents, and I guess it’s to his credit that he has never tried to conceal any of that. It’s hard to argue that it hasn’t worked, both for his career and as often as not (if with decreasing frequency) in his columns. If his last few years have been peevy and thoroughly half-assed, his first few years were also legitimately new-seeming and often insightful. You already know all this. And you probably also know about Grantland, the (maybe a little grandiosely named) literary online sports magazine that Simmons is starting up at ESPN. Where it gets confusing for me, and maybe for you, is how or why the guy described above even comes to want his own literary magazine.

The ambition, of course, is both laudable and understandable — Simmons co-created ESPN’s eminently excellent 30 for 30 documentaries, and the idea behind Grantland may just be a literary version of that, in which writer types would have the room to stretch out and write long, interesting pieces. Whether he wants it to be The Awl or N+1 or Vanity Fair For Him isn’t clear yet, but that he wants it at all is kind of remarkable. The obvious problem with actually doing it, though, would be that while we know that Simmons watches plenty of television and (just in terms of Karate Kid re-watches) many hours of movies, it’s not at all apparent from Simmo’s work that the guy actually reads anything not written by 1) Bob Ryan or 2) Bill Simmons. But while Simmons regularly confuses length for depth in his own writing — and I know I’ve dropped some MF’ers, word count-wise, here and elsewhere, but also: 9,000 words on how the NBA is like a TV show that ended in ’08 — there’s also nothing that says that Grantland can’t work. Personally, I am not checking for middlebrow heavyweights such as Klosterman and Gladwell, who will contribute to the site, but other people are, and some of Grantland’s other hires are notably more interesting. And while the two pieces released last month as part of Grantland’s soft launch — a passionate but severely under-edited 5,000-word piece on the Knicks by the very excellent Katie Baker and a replacement-level summer movie thing by Molly Lambert, whose stuff is new to me — were not rapturously received, it’s still tough not to pull for Grantland. It might seem sky-high on its own supply — Dig the disclaimer, which reads in part “Before you read, remember: This will be a free-flowing narrative that occasionally touches on mature subjects” — but if Simmo creates a market for (paid) long-form sportswriting, then… well, it would be good for me, and also probably good for anyone who likes to write or read.

So, yeah: it’s too early — being that we’ve seen two pieces and one very unfinished-looking page design, and given that the site isn’t even supposed to launch until June — to judge Grantland. But that doesn’t mean people aren’t doing it anyway. In a meticulous, merciless and Shermanesque razing of Simmons and his biggish idea, the pseudonymous (unless…) blogger Mobutu Sese Seko reduces Grantland to rubble and calls the whole enterprise into question, at the (aptly named) blog Mr. Destructo:

If at any moment either [ESPN or Simmons] had walked away from their relationship, it would have given the lie to ESPN’s claims to print things more subversive than “SportsCenter You Can Read” and Simmons’ claims that he had any ideas to be held back in the first place. Thus the need to create something like Grantland, which allows ESPN to pretend it’s breaking new ground by printing Gawker content from 2005, while Simmons gets to play the bad-boy who replaced his short woven corporate dog leash with the open-road freedom one of those really long clicky-handled corporate dog leashes.

…Bill Simmons has a perspective problem, and yet another vanity project like Grantland seems only to add to the evidence of it. A good argument against that conclusion could be made if the site had any kind of purposeful coherence. Allegedly it’s a serious sports website maintained by a man whose critical rigorousness about sports can often be measured by going to the IMDB “memorable quotes” page for a movie and trying to apply it to some random category like “interceptions made by New England Patriots, 2001-2010.” Allegedly it’s a serious cultural website maintained by a man whose cultural mind looks like one of those spooky MRIs of “ecstasy brains,” with all the black dead spots, and a bit where someone burned “SWEEP THE LEG” into it with a laser scalpel. Its celebrity contributors list reads like a Who’s Who of people whose only metric for understanding the human experience is the singular preciousness of themselves or the nauseating insipidity of corporate-retreat science. Then there’s the preposterousness of the name. Bill Simmons is to Grantland Rice what Tucker Max is to Hunter Thompson.

The piece is not always fair and I don’t agree with some sizable-ish portions of it, but the Taibbi-an scope and scale of its bile-spray is impressive. It won’t happen — ESPN is nearly as thin-skinned as Simmons, and neither is treated very kindly in the essay — but if Simmons really wanted to surprise people, he should hire Mobutu. Mature subjects, mature approach, all that.