This is a weekly column from Leitch.
As anyone who has been unfortunate enough to come across my turgid prose over the last few years knows, I have a difficult time working up much enthusiasm for the NFL or NBA Drafts. Drew made a solid case as to why I'm wrong a few weeks back, but I just can't help it: I'm never going to be convinced that watching men in suits read names off index cards for several hours is a productive use of my time. Agree, disagree, whatever, we're both right and we're both wrong.
But I'm about to gut my point. Because I love tonight's deformed third cousin to the NBA Draft: The NBA Draft Lottery. This makes no sense, of course; the only real advantage the NBA Draft Lottery has on the NBA Draft is that it is shorter. But I love it anyway. There's something about watching representatives of professional sports franchises — people who, by definition, are control freaks — put on suits and piss themselves in fear while the indifferent hand of chance either grasps their bosom or slaps them across the face.
Last year was a particularly great one: The Bulls somehow lucked into Derrick Rose, and we got to watch someone named Steve Schanwald, executive vice president for basketball operations, display his balding middle aged white guy pumped-up face. This was legitimately the closest Steve Schanwald will ever come to any semblance of athletic activity, and it was glorious: He looks like a guy who just pulled out an amazing final-round victory at Trivia Night at Applebee's. The only reason Schanwald was there in the first place was because the Bulls had such small odds to win the top pick: If they were at 4:1, you'd have to think they would have sent a Paxson, or even a Bob Love out there. But instead: Steve Schanwald. Awesome.
There's something inherently lovely in watching defeated, doomed losers — who, after all, were the worst teams last year — beg ping-pong balls for a deus ex machina to save them from their own ineptitude. (Bill Simmons' "Elgin Baylor is a Draft Lottery veteran" riff still makes me laugh.) Most in sports is visibly merit-based: This throws fate into the mix. It's always there, of course, fate: It's just now we can see it plain and clear. Right next to desperation.
Who are the highlight reps this time? The Sacramento Kings have the best odds, and we're lucky to have Chris Webber on stage. This guy reps the Clippers, the always-great Kevin Love stands up for the Timberwolves, Allan Houston limps on stage for the Knicks and we'll see Larry Bird out there for the Pacers, which is something he must just love. It's fractions and decimals and the mercilessness of luck, for us all to watch. And it'll be over in 20 minutes.
Maury Brown. Big happy warm girl hugs to Maury Brown from The Biz Of Baseball for providing an easy one-stop resource to see every single member of the Baseball Writers Association of America's "badge list." The association, which has always had a certain Skull & Bones feel to it, has finally started accepting people like Rob Neyer, Will Carroll and Keith Law, but it took forever, and I assume it involved some truly terrifying hazing. The longest current tenure for a member of the organization belongs to Seymour Siwoff of the Elias Sports Bureau, who first got his "badge" in 1952 and, according to my research, is 176 years old. It's a fascinating list to dig through.
Things I learned:
*** Jayson Stark and Tim Kurkjian are a lot older than I thought they were.
*** Jay Mariotti is actually a member, though he probably hasn't been to a game in decades. Amusingly, even though he's fully employed by AOL Fanhouse, they still list him as "at large," because listing where he actually works would presumably be an affront to the great name of the BBWAA.
*** Considering the percentage of new additions over the last few years, they're going to need to add a "BBWAA (and Japan)" at the end of their name.
*** The BBWAA still hasn't figured out what to do with reporters who cover the team for MLB.com. The BBWAA rules explicitly state that "employees of MLB.com shall not be eligible," which is why some of the best beat reporters around aren't allowed in. This is a problem now, but it's about to become more of one. Look at Brian McTaggert, who is about to move from the Houston Chronicle to MLB.com, who is actually the chairperson of the BBWAA's Houston bureau. Does he get kicked out now? Considering that in some cities the team sites' beat reporter is one of the few people left to cover the team, what happens now? And more to the point: How does this affect Mike Lupica's table at the yearly banquet? It's still at the front, right? Better be.
Mark Harmon. Something else I learned from that Bracketology book: Mark Harmon, the guy from the "NCIS" television show that's insanely popular even though I've never met a single person who has seen it, was actually the starting quarterback for UCLA. For two seasons, actually; his father was Tom Harmon, the guy who won a Heisman Trophy for Michigan. This makes me respect him more as an actor than it does as a former athlete: You have to admire a matinee idol ex-jock willing to play Ted Bundy. I was 11 years old when that movie came out, and I was absolutely terrified by men with mustaches for the next 10 years because of it. At least I hope that was why. Memory repression can be a terrifying thing.
James Harrison. It's difficult to be offended by the Steelers' James Harrison skipping out on his team's White House visit, and I'm not quite sure why it's news at all: He didn't go see President Bush in 2006 either, which is a shame, because James Harrison seems like the type of guy who would throw a shoe at the President, if just due to an itch. What I love about Harrison's attitude is that it's not a political thing, or even a laziness thing: He legitimately doesn't see what the big deal about going to the White House is. And even better: He's offended that, had the Buzzsaw won the Super Bowl rather than the Steelers, they would have been invited to the White House instead of the Steelers. "If you want to see the Pittsburgh Steelers, invite us when we don't win the Super Bowl. So as far as I'm concerned he would have invited Arizona if they had won." This is fantastic: I believe this makes James Harrison the first athlete to play the "You didn't RESPECT us!" card with the President of the United States.
Dwight Howard. Congratulations to the Magic center for securing himself a solid spot in the alpha dog upper echelon of NBA superstars: His obligatory cash advances from fake-nutritious colored water products are already on the way, I'm sure. Howard's one of those guys who is difficult to figure out. On one hand, he makes a big show of being a devout Christian — going so far as claiming he only listens to gospel music, which I highly, highly doubt — and on the other, he had a baby with a team dancer (seriously, a team dancer) and leaves tickets for porn stars. I have no specific problem with this, of course — who would?! — but when the spotlight focuses on him a little more, you wonder if roaches might sneak around when someone flips the switch. But man, I hope not. Considering the Magic are likely to be down 3-0 by the time the next one of these columns run, I won't stick around long enough to find out, I promise.
Glenn Kenny. The preternaturally skilled film critic and journalist not only runs a vital movie blog, but he also shows up in Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience, a non-porn film featuring porn star Sasha Grey as a modern-day high-priced escort in Manhattan. (I reviewed it here.) Kenny plays a creepy message board writer famous for "reviewing" the escorts he uses, and he's just about the creepiest, most slimy guy imaginable: Considering it's his first movie role, and Soderbergh picked him out specifically, you have to wonder what the director really thinks about the guy. Anyway, he interviewed Grey for The Daily Beast, and it's kind of amazing how every single person who interviews Grey these days comes away completely in love with her. (This is one of the main points of the film, it's worth noting.) I'd never seen a Sasha Grey porn film, so I assumed they were these erudite, somewhat subversive films that displayed her subtle, quiet artistry. This does not turn out to be the case. (Needless to say, NSFW.)
Jack Kerouac. The Beat writer, known to most of you as the guy you read a ton in college before selling all his books for cash midway through the first year at your first job, turns out to have been a closet fantasy baseball fan. This makes a certain amount of sense: Obsessive minds tend to gravitate toward obsessive hobbies, and fantasy baseball is, at its best, a borderline psychotic activity. (I say this with love in my heart and a full-throated plea of "guilty.") But his embarrassment about it — and his insistence on hiding it from his "cool" friends (most of which he was having sex with, I might add) — severely damages one of my theories about fantasy sports: There's absolutely nothing dorky about it at all. (Or, at least, it's not any more dorky than actually being a sports fan.) For some reason, the idea that it's "dorky" to be in fantasy sports continues to fester, and I always thought it was because studio analysts and professional/retired athletes loved to make fun of people who played. (Until the networks realized how much money was in it, anyway.) But apparently people have been thinking this for decades. Next thing you know, someone's going to inform me it's dorky to own this DVD set. The more you know, I guess.
Tony Kornheiser. The now-former "Monday Night Football" analyst faced criticism of his stint in the booth almost immediately, but it was never as vitriolic as it was for other failed MNF analysts (Dennis Miller, Dan Fouts) because most people who would write media criticism know Kornheiser and like him. The irony of his tenure — which ESPN is kindly letting him slide out using the "I was ready to leave and, oh yeah, totally afraid to fly" excuse; kudos to them, by the way, for somehow avoiding leaks before their announcement — is that if they would have just left him alone to be Tony Kornheiser, he wouldn't have been successful on the show, but at least he would have been tolerable. That is to say: Kornheiser never really fit on "MNF," and the mistake was thinking he possibly could. When Joe Theismann was fired, Kornheiser lost the only path toward this working: Being the guy who drove Joe Theismann crazy on the air. Ron Jaworski is a better analyst than Theismann — by a factor of about 35,000 — but he was too amiable to bounce off Kornheiser. Now, the result of the team of Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden and Jaworski will be a dull, x-and-o description of what's actually going on in the game. Imagine that. Happy trails, Tony.
Bob Ley. Today's "celebrity" to follow on Twitter: Bob Ley! I've always liked Bob Ley — I'm hardly alone in this — and his ability to remain something resembling a normal human being despite being at ESPN from the very beginning of their insane, Vader-ish rise to the top of the sports industrial complex is an accomplishment that must have required a sort of Zen alchemy. He was actually 24 when he started at ESPN, which makes me laugh: It's hard to imagine Bob Ley ever being 24. (Peter Gammons is the same way: I'm having a hard time even conjuring up an image of Peter Gammons as a teenager.) Anyway, Ley's Twitter page is mostly just programming notes, though I did enjoy a playful tweak of Will Carroll and a live blogging of a Bruce Springsteen concert. Also, Bob Ley keeps score at every baseball game he goes to, and if that's not a reason to like a guy, I don't know what is.
Tommy Morrison. I wrote a piece for the magazine last week about athletes who hurt their careers by unretiring, and it got me to thinking about Tommy Morrison. Good ole Tommy Gunn, if you didn't realize, is still fighting even though he, uh, is HIV-positive. (Even if he has convinced himself that he isn't.) He fought in January — note to self: Do not choose the West Virginia Athletic Commission as my primary care provider — and is looking to fight in Australia sometime later this year. (The two men he was planning on fighting have both lost this year, perhaps out of self-preservation.) You can fight as Tommy Morrison in the new Fight Night game, though not while having unprotected sex with animals that recently traveled in Africa.
Lars Von Trier. If you're one of those normal human beings with some semblance of a recognizable existence on a planet of sunshine and hope, you probably don't know who Lars Von Trier is. He's the old purveyor of the "Dogme 95" cinematic technique — which basically boiled down to "just point a camera and shoot, and make it cheap," something he invented and then ignored — and he directed the films Breaking the Waves (great), Dogville (great), Dancer In The Dark (pretty good, plus, it features Bjork being hanged) and Manderlay (pretty awful). Well, he has a new film coming out this summer, and, well, screenings at the Cannes Film Festival are revealing it to be a heartwarming night at the movies. It's called Antichrist, and it's about a grieving husband and wife trying to kill each other. And it features the following scene.
From what we gather, here's how it goes down, more or less: After knocking him unconscious, Gainsbourg bores a hole in Dafoe's leg with a hand drill and bolts him to a grindstone to keep him from escaping. Then, she quickly smashes his scrotum with some sort of blunt object (the moment of impact happens slightly below the frame). We don't actually see his testicles become disengaged from this body, though it's apparently implied. Next, she bring him to a climax with her hands and he ejaculates blood (yes, it shows this).
Well, that's pretty much the exact description of how I felt watching the first Transformers movie, so, you know, sign me up.